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Watchdog Reporting


New York Times: Trump consultants exploited Facebook data of millions

As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem. The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work. So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

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AP Exclusive: Kushner Cos. filed false documents with NYC

When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit. But that's exactly what the company then run by Jared Kushner did, and with remarkable speed. Two years later, it sold all three buildings for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than it paid. Now a clue has emerged as to how President Donald Trump's son-in-law's firm was able to move so fast: The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds. While none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature, they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the president of the United States. "It's bare-faced greed," said Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants' rights watchdog that compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with The Associated Press.

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Los Angeles Times: Drivers out of control

Valentina D’Alessandro was at a party with a few girlfriends in 2013 when one of them got sick. They accepted another teenager’s offer to drive the girls home in his red Mustang. In a commercial area of Wilmington, at the intersection of two four-lane boulevards, a car pulled up alongside the Mustang. The race began. Minutes later, Valentina, 16, was dead, her body wedged in a passenger side window following a crash. Police found her high school identification card at the scene. She was one of at least 179 people who have died in Los Angeles County since 2000 in accidents where street racing was suspected, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of coroner’s records, police reports and media accounts from 2000 to 2017.

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Commercial Appeal: A look at the paper’s coverage of black events

On a rainy afternoon a half-century ago, the accidental deaths of two African-American sanitation workers in Memphis unloosed long-suppressed racial tensions and ripped open a new chapter in the civil rights movement, one that began with a bitter labor walkout and culminated with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But as far as much of the Memphis media was concerned, there was a bigger story to chase that soggy Feb. 1, 1968: Elvis Presley’s daughter was born. “Newest Presley Has Audience,” beamed a section-front headline accompanied by three photos in the next day’s edition of the Memphis Press-Scimitar, an afternoon newspaper that devoted days of coverage to the birth of the singer’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. Deep inside the Feb. 2 paper, on Page 10, was a story documenting the deaths of Robert Walker, 29, and Echol Cole, 35, who had been crushed when a packer on a garbage truck malfunctioned. A grim reminder of the workers' low pay, nonexistent benefits and brutal working conditions, the fatalities galvanized some 1,300 employees to launch a strike that convulsed the city. The coverage of that seminal event foreshadowed how one of the biggest stories in Memphis’ history — an unfolding drama that garnered national and global attention — befell a local media establishment stuck in a different era. In contrast to the reporting that lent moral force to civil rights crusades elsewhere, the city’s media generally responded with tepid interest to the workers’ plight and unalloyed hostility to the walkout and “outsiders” like King.

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Washington Post: Trump Cabinet accused of living large on taxpayer money

During a Cabinet meeting at the White House last October, President Trump extolled the virtues of the men and women surrounding him at the table. “A great trust has been placed upon each member of our Cabinet,” he declared. “We have a Cabinet that — there are those that are saying it’s one of the finest group of people ever assembled . . . as a Cabinet. And I happen to agree with that.” Less than five months later, Trump finds himself presiding over a Cabinet in which a number of members stand accused of living large at taxpayer expense — often by aggressively embracing the trappings of their high government posts. At least a half-dozen current or former Trump Cabinet officials have been mired in federal investigations over everything from high-end travel and spending on items such as a soundproof phone booth to the role of family members weighing in on official business.

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Trump wildlife protection board stuffed with trophy hunters

A new U.S. advisory board created to help rewrite federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions and rhinos is stacked with trophy hunters, including some members with direct ties to President Donald Trump and his family. A review by The Associated Press of the backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 board members appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicates they will agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging wealthy Americans to shoot some of them. One appointee co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with Trump's adult sons. The oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., drew the ire of animal rights activists after a 2011 photo emerged of him holding a bloody knife and the severed tail of an elephant he killed in Zimbabwe.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: ‘Buy local’ programs often deceive shoppers

If you live in New York, you have likely spotted the state's food branding programs pop up on product packaging, store signs and billboards. But what do they really mean? And should you pay more for those products? The growing movement to support locally sourced food has increased awareness and scrutiny of where the food you put on your family’s table came from and whether it was produced safely.  A nationwide USA TODAY Network investigation found that state-branding programs designed to help inform consumers and support local farmers are largely deceptive and virtually unregulated.  A team of reporters reviewed programs in every state and found a hodgepodge of rules and regulations far more focused on marketing than enforcement. More than half the states put “local” labels on products even if 50 percent of the ingredients come from outside the state, and more than a dozen states have no minimum ingredient requirement at all. In short, shoppers across the country are being sold a bill of goods — and they likely are paying extra for those products.

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New York Times: ‘Testilying’ happens in NY police cases

Officer Nector Martinez took the witness stand in a Bronx courtroom on Oct. 10, 2017, and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. There had been a shooting, Officer Martinez testified, and he wanted to search a nearby apartment for evidence. A woman stood in the doorway, carrying a laundry bag. Officer Martinez said she set the bag down “in the middle of the doorway” — directly in his path. “I picked it up to move it out of the way so we could get in.” The laundry bag felt heavy. When he put it down, he said, he heard a “clunk, a thud.” What might be inside? Officer Martinez tapped the bag with his foot and felt something hard, he testified. He opened the bag, leading to the discovery of a Ruger 9-millimeter handgun and the arrest of the woman. But a hallway surveillance camera captured the true story: There’s no laundry bag or gun in sight as Officer Martinez and other investigators question the woman in the doorway and then stride into the apartment. Inside, they did find a gun, but little to link it to the woman, Kimberly Thomas. Still, had the camera not captured the hallway scene, Officer Martinez’s testimony might well have sent her to prison. … “Behind closed doors, we call it testilying,” a New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, said in a recent interview, echoing a word that officers coined at least 25 years ago. “You take the truth and stretch it out a little bit.” An investigation by The New York Times has found that on more than 25 occasions since January 2015, judges or prosecutors determined that a key aspect of a New York City police officer’s testimony was probably untrue.

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Kansas City Star: Missouri is destination wedding spot -- for 15-year-old brides

In the dark before sunrise, high school sophomore Brittany Koerselman, belly bulging, seven months pregnant and feeling like a cow, tucked herself into the borrowed white prom dress that would be her wedding gown. The Iowa teen didn’t want to be a child bride. But the cops were coming. She was 15, not even old enough to drive on her own. Jeremie Rook, her boyfriend and the father of her baby, was 21. It didn’t matter how “infatuatedly in love” she was then with everything about Jeremie — his long chocolate hair, his bad-boy attitude, tongue stud and 28 tattoos. In Iowa, a 21-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old is statutory rape. The evidence was alive in her womb. “I never wanted to get married, ever, like in my life,” Brittany recalled recently. “But I did it anyway, because it was either that or he go to prison, like, forever.” So on a cold morning in March 2014, she piled into a car with her family and sped south for six hours and 400 miles from Little Rock, Iowa, near the Minnesota border, to get to the one state that possesses the most lenient law in the nation allowing 15-year-olds to wed: Missouri. The Kansas City Star publishes a series of stories investigating the phenomenon.

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Asheville Citizen Times: Video shows Asheville policeman beating man

Police in January launched a criminal investigation into whether an officer used excessive force in the arrest of a man suspected of jaywalking and trespassing after he walked across the parking lot of a business already closed for the day. Police body camera video obtained by the Citizen Times shows Officer Chris Hickman beating Johnnie Jermaine Rush with punches to the head while Rush was being restrained by Hickman and another officer. In the video, from a camera worn by Hickman, Rush says multiple times that he can't breathe as he is restrained. He also was shocked twice with a stun gun while being held on the ground. Hickman, who had been awarded a department medal of honor for actions taken in 2014, resigned sometime before Jan. 19, according to a memo obtained by the Citizen Times.  … Police body camera video is not considered public record. A copy of the recording was given to the Citizen Times.

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Los Angeles Times: EPA chief excludes public from policy discussions

As Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt jetted around the country last year, regularly flying first or business class at hefty taxpayer expense, his stated mission was often a noble one: to hear from Americans about how Washington could most effectively and fairly enforce the Clean Water Act. Yet when Pruitt showed up in North Dakota in August to seek guidance on how to rewrite a landmark Obama-era water protection rule, it was clear there were some voices he did not care to hear. The general public was barred from participating in the roundtable Pruitt presided over at the University of North Dakota. An EPA official even threatened to call security on reporters who tried to linger. What happened at the meeting is still a mystery to all but the invitees, a list dominated by industry and Pruitt's political allies. The same is true of many of the other 16 such roundtables Pruitt held as he developed his plan to weaken a federal rule that protects the drinking water of 117 million Americans.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Water agency in turmoil

DeKalb County’s crippling water main break last week marked the latest large-scale failure of metro Atlanta’s fragile infrastructure, while amplifying a new chapter of turmoil in an agency that’s been at the center of a series of scandals for more than a decade. The break in an underground pipe off Buford Highway upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, compromising the water supply stretching from Decatur to Perimeter Mall. Doctors couldn’t perform surgeries. Students couldn’t go to school. Businesses hemorrhaged revenue as employees went home and restaurants shut their doors. But even as the DeKalb Watershed Management Department scrambled to return service, an unrelated drama was unfolding behind the scenes. The department’s top leader — an engineer who stepped down two days before — lodged explosive allegations against top county officials in his resignation letter, accusing them of blocking him from carrying out his duty to protect residents from water pollution. The accusations, detailed in documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, raise questions about whether the state’s fourth-largest county has the will to fix the dysfunctional department and the county’s never-ending water and sewer problems.

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Sarasota Herald Tribune: Legislation follows paper’s investigation on racial disparity

The Florida Legislature has approved a bill to bolster transparency in the criminal justice system, a reform experts hope will address rampant racial disparities in sentencing exposed in reporting by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The effort to improve data collection in the criminal justice system passed as part of a swap between the Florida House and Senate of priority criminal justice reforms. House leaders agreed to a plan pushed by Senate President Joe Negron aimed at increasing the use of civil citations and pre-arrest diversion programs for juveniles who commit minor crimes. Senate leaders agreed to the data-collection proposal, which had cleared the House last month. The legislation now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for approval. … Herald-Tribune investigations — “Bias on the bench” and “One War. Two Races” — found that when a black and white defendant commit the same crime under similar circumstances, Florida courts sentence the black offender to far longer in lockup on average. The disparities are exacerbated in the war on drugs.

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Indianapolis Star: The making of a monster

The phone rang. It was Dr. Larry Nassar. "Hey, man, what’s going on?" Dr. Steven Karageanes recalls saying. Nassar got straight to the point: "I just wanted to call and let you know that I’ve been accused of sexual assault." It was Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, just four days before allegations against Nassar would be made public. Karageanes, a former president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine, said he took his phone into another room, away from his family. For the next 21 minutes, he listened as a fellow osteopath he had known for 25 years strongly denied the allegations of two former patients. Nassar asked whether Karageanes would speak to Michigan State University Police and explain pelvic medical procedures, Nassar’s chosen specialty. Nassar also asked his friend to write a letter of support and help gather other doctors. … It was only after additional evidence piled up that he and others realized how fully Nassar had used them. "He groomed me for 28 years to help him commit sexual assault," Karageanes said in a statement read by a prosecutor during Nassar’s January sentencing on seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. … What comes through loudly in his and more than 150 other court statements — and in interviews conducted by USA TODAY Network reporters in Michigan and Indiana — is that the hundreds of girls Nassar molested over three decades were not the only people groomed to perpetuate his abuse. When the truth came out, parents, coaches, trainers and medical professionals felt they had been duped for years into believing in a man who had carefully cultivated a wholesome, helpful image, and attained near celebrity status as the foremost medical expert in a niche sport.

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Courier-Journal: It’s all relative

Nearly a decade, 10 raises and three job title changes after he was hired to his first full-time job at the University of Louisville, Mark Jurich left the school last month as the athletic department’s eighth-highest paid administrator, yet university records reveal a spotty paper trail documenting his meteoric rise. Less than six months since the University of Louisville's new policy on hiring relatives took effect, a months-long Courier Journal analysis has uncovered a pattern of undocumented pay increases and promotions to positions that appear to have been created specifically for him while he effectively worked under his father, former athletic director Tom Jurich. The analysis also revealed disputed fundraising records that call into question just how much money Mark Jurich brought to the university.

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Baltimore Sun: Abuses in early release program

In February 2017, armed robber Sheirod Saunders had served less than three years of an eight-year prison sentence when a judge ordered him released to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Baltimore. Saunders promptly escaped from the unsecured facility, authorities say. He scooped up bags holding the belongings of other patients, they say, ran out the front door, jumped into a light green car and headed off. They’ve been searching for him ever since. Across the state, dozens of inmates convicted of violent crimes — carjackings, shootings and attempted murder — are using a Maryland law intended to help addicted offenders get drug treatment to win early release, sometimes years before they are eligible for parole. … In the last fiscal year, 152 people convicted of violent crimes were released from prison early through what the legal community calls the 8-505 or 8-507 program, after the laws that authorize evaluations and drug treatment instead of incarceration. The offenders are supposed to remain in treatment, often for a year, and then typically are released under state supervision. But the treatment centers are not secure facilities, and the convicts routinely abscond. In the past five months, 47 of 164 individuals placed into treatment facilities went missing, state records show. State health officials couldn’t say if any have been located.

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Oregonian: Failed mill cost taxpayers $7 million

When state and federal officials approved $8 million in taxpayer financing for a Southern Oregon sawmill project, they did so on the premise the investment would bring back jobs, The Oregonian reports. But officials greenlighted the project despite warning signs the plan to retool the mothballed mill was likely doomed to fail. Sure enough, even with the expensive taxpayer-provided upgrades, the reopened Rough & Ready mill operated for less than 20 months before shutting down for good. Its equipment has been auctioned off, the land sold and the promised jobs only briefly delivered. The failed project was overseen by Portland environmental nonprofit Ecotrust. Taxpayers ultimately poured more than $12 million into the small-scale family-owned mill. On the day the land was sold, only $5 million of it remained.

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Indianapolis Star: Are America’s surgery centers safe?

The surgery went fine. Her doctors left for the day. Four hours later, Paulina Tam started gasping for air. Internal bleeding was cutting off her windpipe, a well-known complication of the spine surgery she had undergone.  But a Medicare inspection report describing the event says that nobody who remained on duty that evening at the Northern California surgery center knew what to do. In desperation, a nurse did something that would not happen in a hospital. She dialed 911. By the time an ambulance delivered Tam to the emergency room, the 58-year-old mother of three was lifeless, according to the report. If Tam had been operated on at a hospital, a few simple steps could have saved her life. But like hundreds of thousands of other patients each year, Tam went to one of the nation’s 5,600-plus surgery centers. … An investigation by Kaiser Health News and the USA TODAY Network has discovered that more than 260 patients have died since 2013 after in-and-out procedures at surgery centers across the country. Dozens — some as young as 2 — have perished after routine operations, such as colonoscopies and tonsillectomies.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Prescription for secrecy

Like traveling medicine hucksters of old, doctors who run into trouble today can hopscotch from state to state, staying ahead of regulators, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Instead of snake oil, some peddle opioids. Others have sex with patients, bungle surgeries, misdiagnose conditions or are implicated in patient deaths. Even after being caught in one state, they can practice free and clear in another; many hold a fistful of medical licenses. Stories about individual doctors avoiding discipline in a second state have been reported before. An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today shows how widespread the problem is: At least 500 physicians who have been publicly disciplined, chastised or barred from practicing by one state medical board have been allowed to practice elsewhere with a clean license.

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Boston Globe: In the maestro’s thrall

As Albin Ifsich, a young violin student, stood in the doorway, the conductor wanted to know one thing: If he could save just one person, who would it be — the conductor or the violinist’s own mother? “If you pick your mother,” Ifsich recalled the conductor telling him, “you will walk out this door and never see me again. If you pick me, you will close the door, step into this house, and be with me forever.” It was the fall of 1968, and for Ifsich, a 20-year-old student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the answer was clear: He must choose James Levine, the magnetic conductor who’d developed a provocative cult-like following among a small group of students at the institute and who, 50 years later, would be accused of sexual assault while leading the school’s University Circle Orchestra. Rumors of Levine’s alleged sexual improprieties have hounded the conductor for decades, even as he became one of the country’s most revered artists during his 40-year reign as music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. … Interviews with nearly two dozen former students and musicians from Levine’s Cleveland days, including six from the maestro’s inner circle, indicate the conductor’s alleged sexual behavior was part of a sweeping system to control this core group. As Levine yoked his musical gifts and position to a bid for power, he dictated what they read, how they dressed, what they ate, when they slept — even whom they loved.

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Arizona Republic: Dozens of charter schools at risk of closing

The abrupt closure of a Goodyear charter school in January left hundreds of parents scrambling to find a new school and teachers without jobs. An Arizona Republic analysis of charter-school finances statewide shows dozens of other schools could be on the brink of similar financial ruin, and the state has little power to intervene. Charter holders of 40 schools were labeled as "going concerns" by their auditors in the 2016-17 school year, a subjective measure meaning there was concern that they could close within a year due to their finances, according to The Republic's analysis. Charter holders of 125 schools — 28 percent of those with available data —  failed at least three of four quantifiable measures of financial health set by the state charter board, according to the newspaper's analysis of financial reports of operators representing 454 schools.

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Orange County Register: Addiction advertising can trick you to death

People looking to quit alcohol or other drugs typically find treatment the same way they might search for take-out food or a mechanic – by typing search words into Google. Once there, addicts and their families can get trapped in a tangle of lies, the Orange County Register reports. The deception has taken many forms:

— Competitors hijack online traffic from established centers by buying common misspellings and iterations of rehab names and key phrases.

— Rogue treatment centers create hundreds of blogs and websites hammering crucial keywords to take advantage of Search Engine Optimization, directing addicts to sites that promise far more than they actually deliver.

— Phone banks and boiler rooms have paid hundreds of dollars for choice Google AdWords, making their sites come up first in searches such as “drug treatment Los Angeles.”

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New York Times: Kushner’s family business got loans after White House meetings

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris. The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper. Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show. It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

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Washington Post: Kushner’s overseas contacts raise concerns

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.  It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.

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Los Angeles Times: Dozens race to register as foreign lobbyists in US

No one knows how special counsel Robert S. Mueller's sprawling investigation into Russian political interference and potential White House obstruction will end, but Mueller is already changing how the nation's capital does business. His prosecutors have taken the rare step of pursuing some of President Trump's former senior aides for failing to register as lobbyists for foreign governments, rattling the rarefied world of highly-paid professionals who advocate in Washington for traditional foreign allies, unsavory strongmen and other overseas clients. Partly as a result, the number of people registering as "foreign agents" for new clients — meaning they lobby for foreign interests — jumped from 68 in 2016 to 102 in 2017. A total of 422 such lobbyists are currently registered, although some lawmakers believe many more are still in the shadows.

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Orange County Register: Forensic work isn’t always like what you see on TV

Bite marks and blood spatter? Any fan of any iteration of television’s “CSI” franchise knows full well that both can be used to easily solve crimes. Same for tire impressions, hair comparisons, knife analysis. All those fields are science, right? And, as such, they’re inviolate and solid; sources of evidence that, when artfully described by a prosecutor in a court of law, can erase the “reasonable doubt” level of uncertainty that jurors are supposed to evict from their heart before voting to convict. Too bad much of that science is bogus. Or, short of bogus, it’s questionable. In real life, the staples of crime scene TV shows — in fact, most forensic evidence other than human DNA — are viewed by scientists as anything from potentially fallible to pure hokum. Many once-solid fields were debunked in a groundbreaking 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled: “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” Since then, little has changed, even as experts around the country — including defense lawyers and forensic scientists — have debated the merits of using different types of scientific evidence in court. … The report noted a second, potentially deeper problem: The vast majority of crime labs in the United States aren’t truly independent. Most (including most of the crime labs in Southern California) are run by prosecutors, law enforcement departments, or both — entities that have a vested interest in convicting people.

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Des Moines Register: Debt rising for college students

Zane Satre expects to have about $27,000 in student loans to repay when he graduates in May from Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. His hopes to land a television job as a meteorologist that will likely pay him $30,000 or less — barely enough to make payments and still support himself. "Finances will be tight, and it won't be pretty," said Satre, 22, who grew up in Ogden. "I know I won't be able to start a savings account or buy a new car. "But I will be able to at least pay on the loan." In the past decade, average student-loan debt among the nation's college graduates has swelled nearly 70 percent to about $34,000, according to a recent Federal Reserve of New York report. In Iowa, the student debt load has grown at a slower but still alarming pace, rising 28 percent over the past decade to an average $29,800, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. … And there are worrisome signs that future students will be forced to borrow even more to get their degrees.

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Detroit Free Press: 250,000 jobs gone forever?

Judging by the past few years, Michigan’s economy has come roaring back from the Great Recession. Unemployment has dropped dramatically, the state has added roughly a half-million jobs since 2011 and auto companies have posted record or near-record sales for several years in a row. But that upbeat narrative masks the deep trough that Michigan fell into during its lost decade of the early 2000s. It is yet to fully climb out — and may never. Donald Grimes, an economist with the University of Michigan, said something vanished forever when the domestic auto industry imploded and Michigan shed jobs for 10 years in a row. “That was a permanent adjustment of the auto industry to the loss of its monopoly power,” Grimes said of 2001-10. “We’ll never get back to where we were in the year 2000.” Statistics bear that out. Michigan hit peak employment in 2000 and today, despite recent growth, remains about 250,000 jobs below that mark.

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Akron Beacon Journal: Who does NRA back in Ohio politics?

In the week since a school shooting in Florida claimed 17 lives, survivors seeking gun reform are questioning how the political influence of the National Rifle Association will affect the gun debate. “Sen. [Marco] Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” asked Cameron Kasky, a junior who survived the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “The answer is that people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment,” said Rubio, who pressed on through boos at the CNN town hall to explain that he would support any law that “would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer.” The NRA is spending unprecedented amounts in American politics, with record spending in the 2016 election cycle. For perspective, the $30.3 million spent to elect Donald Trump as president was more than the gun lobby spent in all federal elections — including all U.S. Senate and House races — in 2008 and 2012 combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog that tracks political spending. Trump and six federal candidates received 96 percent of campaign spending in 2016, including $2.2 million for the re-election of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. … Federal Elections Commission reports show that the National Rifle Association of America Political Action Fund spent $5.1 million in the past 13 months, all while nearly doubling its cash reserves from $1.5 million to $2.9 million. Some of that money, paid out of the organization’s political operation in Fairfax, Virginia, has trickled to Ohio.

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Philadelphia Inquirer: City’s trash tirade

Jonathan Jacobs’ one-mile trek from Point Breeze to the Center City nonprofit where he works is a minefield of dirty distractions - a shattered TV on the sidewalk, trash bags overflowing with discarded clothes, storm drains stuffed with food wrappers. As much a part of his morning routine as his bowl of Raisin Bran and mug of coffee, Jacobs stops repeatedly along the way to snap photos of the litter and report it on the city’s 311-complaint app. In three years he has submitted 4,000 complaints — yes, that’s an average of four per day — in the hopes the city will clean up the filth. “It drives me nuts,” said Jacobs, 43, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and has also lived in Orlando, Chicago, and Virginia. “This has got to be the dirtiest neighborhood I’ve ever seen. Ever. I can clear the block today, and it’s filthy by tomorrow.”

Jacobs may be 311’s most prolific user, but he is among thousands of Philadelphians who have complained about litter to the city’s main hotline for quality-of-life issues. And residents are complaining more than ever.

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Tennessean: Mayor’s bodyguard earned thousands in overtime

Super Bowl Sunday at the mayor’s house. Loretta Lynn and Jason Isbell concerts at the Ryman. Late-night dinner at a posh Gulch seafood restaurant. An evening at Brad Paisley’s home.

Mayor Megan Barry’s official calendar included these engagements, and many more, during 2017. Often at her side was Sgt. Rob Forrest, the former police bodyguard with whom she had an affair starting in spring 2016. Out-of-state trips have been a focus of the scandal involving Barry and Forrest. But a USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee review of Forrest’s schedule and Barry’s calendar for 2017 shows Forrest racked up hundreds of hours of overtime in Nashville, escorting the mayor to hot yoga classes and hockey games, late-night concerts and trendy restaurants.

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Montgomery Advertiser: Sex offenders in school

The parents of a young Alabama sex crime victim want something done. Three years ago, their daughter was victimized by a then-14-year-old boy. What happened next combines the heartache of a family trying to get back to “normal,” a young man paying his debt to society, old wounds being reopened and a bureaucratic maze of board of education meetings and potential legislative action. … The names of the victim’s parents in this story are not used, so as not to identify the victim. The young man was found guilty — or “adjudicated delinquent” in juvenile court terms — of enticing a child for immoral purposes, the victim’s parents said. They attended the hearing before Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth, who handles juvenile case in the county. At the time of the incident, their daughter was younger than 12, the parents said. There are no jury trials in juvenile court; the judge makes the decisions. Under Alabama law, the young man is considered a sex offender. At the time, the young man was enrolled in an Autauga County high school. In the wake of the court’s action, he was expelled from Autauga County Schools for one year, the girl’s parents said. It was time to try and put the pieces back together. … At the start of this academic year, the victim’s older brother was an incoming freshman at an Autauga County high school. When getting ready to start school, the brother spotted the convicted juvenile sex offender at the school. The young man had re-enrolled. … The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is charged with maintaining the registry of juvenile sex offenders. ALEA also maintains the statewide adult sex offender registry, which is open to public view.

As of Jan. 16, there were 1,305 juvenile sex offenders on the registry, ALEA data shows.

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New York Times: Louisiana communities left  to the tides

From a Cessna flying 4,000 feet above Louisiana’s coast, what strikes you first is how much is already lost. Northward from the Gulf, slivers of barrier island give way to the open water of Barataria Bay as it billows toward an inevitable merger with Little Lake, its name now a lie. Ever-widening bayous course through what were once dense wetlands, and a cross-stitch of oil field canals stamp the marsh like Chinese characters. Saltwater intrusion, the result of subsidence, sea-level rise and erosion, has killed off the live oaks and bald cypress. Stands of roseau cane and native grasses have been reduced to brown pulp by feral hogs, orange-fanged nutria and a voracious aphid-like invader from Asia. A relentless succession of hurricanes and tropical storms — three last season alone — has accelerated the decay. In all, more than 2,000 square miles _ an expanse larger than the state of Delaware _ have disappeared since 1932.

Out toward the horizon, a fishing village appears on a fingerling of land, tenuously gripping the banks of a bending bayou. It sits defenseless, all but surrounded by encroaching basins of water. Just two miles north is the jagged tip of a fortresslike levee, a primary line of defense for greater New Orleans, whose skyline looms in the distance. Everything south of that 14-foot wall of demarcation, including the gritty little town of Jean Lafitte, has effectively been left to the tides. Jean Lafitte may be just a pinprick on the map, but it is also a harbinger of an uncertain future. As climate change contributes to rising sea levels, threatening to submerge land from Miami to Bangladesh, the question for Lafitte, as for many coastal areas across the globe, is less whether it will succumb than when — and to what degree scarce public resources should be invested in artificially extending its life.

(New York Times with Times Picayune)

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Medical College knew about claims of unnecessary surgery

A few days before cardiothoracic surgeon Christopher Stone was to begin treating patients for the Medical College of Wisconsin, one of his fellow doctors warned the dean that Stone had allegedly performed unnecessary surgery at another hospital, according to records in a civil lawsuit, interviews and a trail of emails obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. So serious was the charge that soon afterward, Dean Joseph E. Kerschner met with other senior staff, then sent an email saying: “We believe that the case brought forward suggests that Dr. Stone performed unnecessary surgery.” But the dean’s email, sent to five other colleagues on Aug. 31, 2012, cautioned that if the Medical College terminated Stone’s contract, it risked losing the considerable amount of surgeries and income he had been bringing into his small group practice. Moreover, he could be hired away by a local rival, United Hospital System in Kenosha. On Aug. 11, 2014 — five months after receiving two more complaints about Stone surgeries — the Medical College told the doctor his contract would not be renewed when it expired one year later.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: New York’s grocery stores are being graded

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports New York state shoppers will soon have a better sense of the cleanliness of their local grocery store or corner deli. On Jan. 1, the state Agriculture Department started a new letter rating system for its food safety inspections of retail food stores. It's pretty simple: It's an A, B or C grade. The aim of the extra measure of transparency is to help assure shoppers that the food they gather for themselves and their families is safe. In January, nearly 2,200 stores statewide received grades, according to data obtained by USA TODAY Network’s Albany bureau. By year's end, about 28,000 supermarkets and convenience stores will get a grade that needs to be posted in a visible location for customers, the department said. Consumers want to know now more than ever about their food, including how it was handled from farm to table," said state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball.

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New York Times: To stir discord in 2016, Russians most often turned to Facebook

The New York Times reports that in 2014, Russians working for a shadowy firm called the Internet Research Agency started gathering American followers in online groups focused on issues like religion and immigration. Around mid-2015, the Russians began buying digital ads to spread their messages. A year later, they tapped their followers to help organize political rallies across the United States. Their digital instrument of choice for all of these actions? Facebook and its photo-sharing site Instagram. The social network, more than any other technology tool, was singled out Feb. 16 by the Justice Department when prosecutors charged 13 Russians and three companies for executing a scheme to subvert the 2016 election and support Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. In a 37-page indictment, officials detailed how the Russians repeatedly turned to Facebook and Instagram, often using stolen identities to pose as Americans, to sow discord among the electorate by creating Facebook groups, distributing divisive ads and posting inflammatory images.

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Newark Star Ledger: New law is driving big time coaches out of high school sports

The Newark Star Ledger reports that seven years after New Jersey enacted landmark anti-bullying legislation, the law is being used to target an unlikely group: high school sports coaches. Don’t like your daughter’s playing time? The coach is a bully. Someone on the school board upset their son was cut from varsity? The coach is abusive. Your kid unhappy on the bench after losing the starting job? Time to run the coach out of town. The impact of a law meant to stamp out kid-on-kid bullying is being felt by coaches around the state. Thirteen public school coaches with at least 175 years of combined experience have lost their jobs or moved on since the law was enacted after being accused of some form of bullying, according to an NJ Advance Media analysis. Others have been accused and have fought for their jobs but the allegations never come to light, attorneys say. Coaches describe an uneasiness hanging over the profession, worried that one allegation — legitimate or not — can derail their career.

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Boston Globe: Modeling’s glamour hides web of abuse

The Boston Globe reports that the fashion world offers the prospect of glamour, celebrity, and wealth for adolescents blessed with willowy good looks, but, for many, the beginning of a modeling career can be something quite different. On her first test shoot as a 15-year-old, Dasha Alexander said, a photographer held a camera in one hand and digitally penetrated her with his other — a move, he explained, that would make the pictures more “raw” and “sensual.”

When Coco Rocha refused to get naked on set as a 16-year-old, she said, the photographer replaced her with a girl who was younger and more obedient. Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, more than 50 models spoke to the Globe Spotlight Team about sexual misconduct they experienced on the job, from inappropriate touching to assaults. Some are seeking to expose serial predators and those who enable them. Others are demanding new legal protections and calling for radical reform of a youth-obsessed industry they say has left them feeling exploited, treated like “meat” and “clothes hangers,” and, in the words of one model, “pimped out” by their agents.

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Baltimore Sun: Police records remain shielded despite evidence of misconduct

The Baltimore Sun reports that while federal authorities continue to probe Baltimore’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, police commanders are pledging internal investigations aimed at finding and rooting out corruption. But by law, those findings will never see the light of day. Maryland is one of nearly two dozen states that shield the personnel and disciplinary records of police officers from public disclosure. With the convictions of eight task force members on federal racketeering charges — and leaked documents that showed that some of the officers had histories of discipline — some are calling for change. “Given everything that was brought to light recently, the issue of disclosure and transparency warrants a fresh look,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said through a spokeswoman. City solicitor Andre Davis said last week that Mayor Cather9ije E. Pugh is planning to propose legislation that “will among other things make it possible to bring greater transparency and fairness to the entire process of police discipline.” He did not provide details.

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Indianapolis Star: Potholes plague Indianapolis’ streets

The Indianapolis Star reports Indianapolis’ decaying, pothole-ridden roads are on the cusp of a catastrophic collapse unless hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to fix them quickly. An internal city analysis paints a bleak picture of future road conditions, calling the amount of work and money needed to repair 8,100 miles of streets lanes “staggering.” Years of neglect and a lack of funding are the culprits, according to the review. “This deferred maintenance and lack of improvement have resulted in severe deterioration to the city’s transportation facilities,’ the audit, conducted by the Department of Public Works, concluded. Officials estimate it will cost $732 million for city streets to be upgraded to fair condition from the current rating of poor. To keep the streets in fair condition — a 4 on a 10-point scale — another $178 million a year would be needed for upkeep, more than double the current annual funding that Indianapolis has available for all roads, bridge and sidewalk projects.

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Washington Post: Aide to mayor resigns after school lottery investigation

The Washington Post reports the top education aide to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) resigned after helping the public schools chancellor bypass the city’s notoriously competitive lottery system and secure a coveted slot for his teenage daughter at a top high school. The lottery system, used to place students in the District’s traditional public and charter schools, is intended to ensure that all families have an equal shot at the best schools. But it has been a longstanding source of tension, and was engulfed in scandal not even a year ago when investigators discovered that a previous chancellor allowed well-connected parents and government officials to skirt lottery rules. The revelation emerged as the D.C. Public Schools struggled to address a separate crisis involving high school graduation, and it threatened to further erode public confidence in a school system heralded as a model of urban education.

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Hartford Courant: Drug overdose deaths top 1,000 in Connecticut

The Hartford Courant reports that accidental deaths involving the synthetic drug fentanyl jumped in 2017 as overall drug overdose deaths exceeded 1,000 for likely the first time in Connecticut. Accidental drug overdoses have increased by nearly 200 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to data released by State Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill. Gill said preliminary numbers show that about 1,040 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. In 2016 that number was 917. It marks the fifth straight year that drug overdose deaths have risen. Gill testified before the legislature’s appropriations committee, seeking more funding to hire additional medical examiners to handle the increase in autopsies. The medical examiner performs autopsies and toxicology tests on all suspected drug overdose deaths. The number of autopsies actually decreased in 2017 when the office did 2,349 after doing 2,386 in 2017. But just five years ago the office did only 1,382 autopsies, Gill said.

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Denver Post: Is Colorado ready for electric cars?

The Denver Post reports that, ready or not, the electric vehicle revolution is here. That’s the key takeaway from auto manufacturers, that — propelled in part by governmental pressure across the globe to boost fuel efficiency and cut back on pollution — are now investing heavily in electric drive trains with one foreign automaker, Volvo, planning to drop out of the gasoline-powered market entirely as soon as next year. One industry forecast from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that electric cars could be as cheap as their traditional counterparts by 2025 — and could overtake them in sales by 2038. So whether Colorado has nearly 1 million electric cars by 2030, as Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed, or merely a few hundred thousand, electric vehicles are primed to multiply. And that’s going to change not only how we use our roads, but also how we pay for them.

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San Francisco Chronicle: Republicans struggle to raise money in California

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that if campaign cash is a signal of political enthusiasm, California’s beleaguered congressional Republicans are a dour-looking bunch these days. Already outnumbered 39-14 in the state delegation, GOP House incumbents are finding it harder than ever to raise re-election money in a strong Democratic state that’s trending even bluer. Of the 10 Republicans targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in this year’s midterm elections, five of the GOP incumbents raised less money than their Democratic opponents in the final quarter of 2017 and two others abruptly announced their retirements rather than face an uncertain re-election. In a sign of the breadth of the Republican cash crunch — and the extent of Democratic optimism — incumbents in two of the GOP’s safest seats  found themselves out-raised by little-known opponents with only a long-shot chance of winning in November.

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Sacramento Bee: Science project on race tests boundaries of free speech

The Sacramento Bee reports that as society grows ever more polarized and controversial statements quickly go viral on social media, school leaders are increasingly confronting the boundaries of when freedom of speech crosses the line on a school campus. A sciemncefair project at McClatchy High School in Sacramento drew nationwide media attention when it attempted to link IQ and race to explain racial disparities in the campus’ high-achieving program. The project was on display for two days before school officials removed it, saying that it had disrupted the learning environment. While students questioned why the project was allowed to remain for days despite complaints, some conservatives wondered if the student’s free speech rights were violated when it was taken down.

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Houston Chronicle: Business along Texas border fear future without NAFTA

The Houston Chronicle reports that despite the international border, El Paso and its Mexican neighbor, Ciudad Juarez, have knitted themselves into a single, interdependent economy, especially since 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement lowered barriers to trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada. As trucks owned by Erives and other local companies carry billions of dollars in merchandise in long, lumbering lines across the border, at least one in every four jobs in El Paso can be traced to manufacturing plants in Juarez. But the fate of this link between Mexican factories and Texas companies hinges on fraught negotiations to update NAFTA, scheduled to resume in Mexico City later this month. Businesses on both sides of the border are increasingly worried that President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to pull the United States out of the treaty, undermining the free flow of goods and services that has sustained them for more than two decades.

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Oregonian: Low vaccination rates put some charter schools at risk for measles

The Oregonian reports that many charter schools in Oregon have such low student vaccination rates for measles that they'd be at risk if the bug – once declared eliminated in the United States – infected anyone in their school. An analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive shows that nearly 65 percent of the state's public charter schools lack what scientists call herd immunity against measles, meaning not enough children are immunized to prevent the disease from sweeping through their immediate community. Those charter schools serve nearly 13,000 students across the state, from Portland to Grants Pass and Silverton to Baker City. A much smaller percentage of traditional public schools fall into the same category, but they have more students, so the potential exposure is greater. Just over 60,000 students attend those schools, also spread across the state. The risk worries health officials. Measles is highly contagious, potentially fatal and has made a resurgence in recent years.

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New York Times: Kentucky rushes to remake Medicaid, other states to follow

The New York Times reports that with approval from the Trump administration fresh in hand, Kentucky is rushing to roll out its first-in-the-nation plan to require many Medicaid recipients to work, volunteer or train for a job — even as critics mount a legal challenge to stop it on the grounds that it violates the basic tenets of the program. At least eight other Republican-led states are hoping to follow — a ninth, Indiana, has already won permission to do so — and some want to go even further by imposing time limits on coverage. Such restrictions are central to Republican efforts to profoundly change Medicaid, the safety net program that has provided free health insurance to tens of millions of low-income Americans for more than 50 years. The ballooning deficits created by the budget deal that President Trump signed into law Friday and the recent tax bill are likely to add urgency to the party’s attempts to wring savings from entitlement programs.

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Boston Globe: Look at the arrest record of a commuter rail engineer

The Boston Globe reports Roberto Ronquillo III was so drunk that August night in 2012 that his girlfriend begged him to let her out of the car. Instead, Roberto Ronquillo III drove on until his gray BMW veered up onto the sidewalk of Commonwealth Avenue and smashed into a parked car, a witness told police. Then, he drove off, but police found him a few blocks away, passed out in the driver’s seat with the engine still running.

Within days, Ronquillo went back to work — learning to drive trains for the MBTA commuter rail. The next month, he was certified as a professional train engineer. Ronquillo, 35, has a long, notably poor driving record — printed out, it exceeds 80 pages — including multiple stops for drunken driving and 10 license suspensions. But that didn’t prevent him from working as a full-time engineer for almost four years on a commuter rail system that carries more than 100,000 people daily. His most serious violations apparently went undetected by rail operators, raising questions about whether the vetting process for engineers is rigorous enough.

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Maine Sunday Telegram: Maine sees worrisome increase in sex diseases

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports sexually transmitted diseases are climbing at an alarming pace in Maine and across the country, especially common bacterial infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea, threatening the long-term health of thousands of Mainers and millions of Americans. Chlamydia cases climbed to 4,551 in 2017, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to 2,586 cases in 2010, a 76 percent increase. The cases have been rising steadily every year. Meanwhile, gonorrhea cases rose sharply in 2017 to 577, after 451 cases in 2016, a 28 percent increase. There were 162 gonorrhea cases in 2010. Syphilis cases also increased, from 48 in 2016 to 84 in 2017, an 83 percent increase. In one bright spot, HIV-positive cases declined from 47 in 2016 to 32 last year, down 47 percent. The overall trends are worrisome to Maine public health experts, who are puzzled by the increases. Sexually transmitted diseases are also on the rise across the United States.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgians now immersed in health care changes

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that on Jan. 1, the Washington politics roiling health insurance hit home for Georgians. Overnight, policyholders on Georgia’s individual market saw their premiums spike about 50 percent. Blue Cross stopped insuring individuals in metro Atlanta and Columbus. The ones who bought new insurance were forced into health management organizations. Others just didn’t buy insurance. Insurers, analysts and health care advocates warned all lst year that the changes coming from Congress and the White House would result in trouble for patients. For many people, it did. Patients across the country and in Georgia are seeing momentous shifts in the 2018 individual market. They’re mostly driven by money. Among the Georgians trying to ensure coverage for their families on the individual market, there have been winners and losers — and some who left the playing field in search of a new game.

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Miami Herald: Travelers keep falling for “free’ cruise schemes

The Miami Herald reports nearly everyone is familiar with the call: A too-good-to-be-true offer for a “free” cruise, promising a stress-free Caribbean getaway — as long as you BUY NOW. But it’s when would-be travelers actually start to look at the details of their “free” vacation that things can get messy. Available dates may be severely limited. The seller may try to add on a hotel stay — for a price. Travelers may find out they’ll need to first sit through a timeshare presentation or pay government taxes or port fees — despite the prohibition by Florida law that the only allowable charge for a prize is the cost of delivery. And those who cancel may find getting a refund to be nearly impossible. Still, many travelers bite, lured by a steeply marked-down vacation. All too often, such “free” travel offers can be deceptive schemes perpetrated by Florida-based companies trying to piggyback on South Florida’s status as the Cruise Capital of the World.

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Sun Sentinel: For cash and prostitutes, agent helped drug lord avoid arrest

The Sun Sentinel reports that when a federal agent by the name of Christopher Ciccione decided to sell out to a powerful Cali cartel drug lord, the price of his integrity was surprisingly cheap. For $20,000 in cash bribes, a sex party with Colombian prostitutes at a Marriott hotel in Bogota, a Rolex watch, cocktails and an expensive dinner, the former Homeland Security Investigations agent altered criminal records and told bold-faced lies to his colleagues, bosses and federal prosecutors. The former South Florida-based agent’s corruption paid off hugely for his cartel buddy. He succeeded in getting federal drug-trafficking charges dropped against Jose Bayron Piedrahita Ceballos in one of the biggest cocaine-smuggling cases in U.S. history. The drug lord, Piedrahita, will likely never face justice on the dismissed charges in the U.S., prosecutors said. But he was recently arrested in Colombia and may be extradited to face conspiracy, corruption, bribery and fraud charges linked to the agent’s prosecution.

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Washington Post: Is Kraton a natural pain remedy or an addictive killer?

The Washington Post reports kratom, an herbal supplement, is rapidly rising in popularity as a readily available pain remedy that is safer than traditional opioids (such as oxycodone), an effective addiction withdrawal aid and a pleasurable recreational tonic. Kratom also is assailed as a dangerous and unregulated drug that can be purchased on the Internet, a habit-forming substance that authorities say can result in opioid-like abuse and death. Now, the compound is at the center of an acrimonious battle on social media, in federal agencies and at all levels of government — a fight over whether kratom could help curb the nation’s opioid epidemic or make it dramatically worse. The Drug Enforcement Administration is weighing whether to place kratom, which comes from a leafy Southeast Asian tree, in the same category of illegal drugs as heroin. It’s the second time the agency has tried to curb access to kratom, delaying a final decision in 2016 after an outcry from the public, dozens of members of Congress and a demonstration at the White House.

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Hartford Courant: Police to get drones, but city has no rules

The Hartford Courant asks how far can law enforcement go in flying drones over public protests or rallies? In Hartford, there are no rules. And while police are still months away from using the machines to fight crime, concerns about them have started to mount. Skeptics fear the devices will have a chilling effect on protests, that they could undermine Hartford’s reputation as a welcoming city for immigrants and that they would violate people’s privacy. Days after learning that Hartford had received a state grant to purchase two drones – and as many as 200 new cameras – the head of Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union authored an internet post on the pitfalls of increased surveillance. The flood of new cameras, paired with the drones, “could be a nightmare for anyone who cares about safety, justice, equality and freedom,” executive director David McGuire wrote.

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Arizona Daily Star: Drug-smuggling sentences vary wildly along Mexico border

The Arizona Daily Star reports prison terms for drug smugglers vary drastically depending on where arrests are made, federal data show. Courts in the District of Arizona hand down far shorter sentences on average than in other districts, particularly in the Southern District of Texas where defense lawyers say federal prosecutors draw a harder line with plea offers. Arizona’s federal courts issued 10 times more prison sentences for conspiracy to smuggle drugs, one of the most-common charges used along the length of the border, than South Texas courts in fiscal 2017. But average prison terms for conspiracy charges were nearly eight times longer in South Texas than in Arizona, according to federal data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which has a longstanding public records request with the Department of Justice and other agencies.

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Indianapolis Star: Buyers who fuel the sex trade seldom held accountable

On the day she met Marcus Thompson, the girl later told the FBI, she had been ready to leap from a bridge to end her life. She was only 15, pregnant and alone on the streets. And in this wounded child, Thompson saw a means to make money. He promised that if she left her small Illinois town with him, he would make her a model. Grasping for hope, she climbed into his truck.
But the promise was a lie. Instead, in the summer of 2015, Thompson and his wife, Robin, forced the girl on a nightmarish six-week trek across the southern United States. Photographed in suggestive poses and marketed online, she was sold out of hotel rooms and truck stops to any man with the money and the desire to buy sex. In this case, the victim was rescued and provided with treatment. The traffickers who exploited her pleaded guilty and were sent to prison. But what of the men who paid to rape this child? What consequences did they suffer?
Not a single one was ever charged. That same breach of justice is the norm in thousands of trafficking cases. About 10,000 children a year suffer the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. Globally, according to the International Labour Organization, buyers pay to abuse more than 1 million children a year. Yet the buyers are seldom held accountable.

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Los Angeles Times: Homeless caught in vicious cycle

Los Angeles police found Reed Segovia slumped in a folding chair near the Venice boardwalk early one spring morning in 2016 and shook him awake. The officers handed the homeless street artist a ticket for sleeping on the sidewalk. Three months later, LAPD officers were citing Segovia again when they discovered an unpaid ticket for sleeping on the beach. This time, they handcuffed him, loaded him into a squad car and took him to jail. L.A. officials have denounced "criminalizing" homelessness. But as Los Angeles struggles with a growing homelessness crisis, arrests of homeless people have gone up significantly, a Times analysis of police data shows. And the most common offense — the one Segovia was arrested for — was failure to appear in court for an unpaid citation. Officers made 14,000 arrests of homeless people in the city in 2016, a 31% increase over 2011, the Times analysis found. The rise came as LAPD arrests overall went down 15%. Two-thirds of those arrested were black or Latino, and the top five charges were for nonviolent or minor offenses.

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Orange County Register: Students in crisis

Health science and policy major Nayana Bhaskar was about midway through her sophomore year at UC Irvine, when she felt herself falling apart. She’d always been a driven student, landing a 4.0 grade point average in her first quarter. She relished intellectual conversations with professors and friends. She joined school clubs. But by her second year, that initial excitement of college was waning. In its place, feelings of despair and isolation were seeping in — feelings strong enough that, eventually, they proved overwhelming. Bhaskar, who grew up in Orange County, had struggled with similar sensations on and off since middle school. But this time, distanced from the hometown friends she once confided in, the feelings were more profound.

She began skipping classes. When she did go to lectures, she was so filled with anxiety that she had to leave. “I was like, I need to do something. I have no choice but to seek help.” Thousands of people Bhaskar’s age are making similar choices. Across Southern California and nationwide, unprecedented numbers of college students are seeking counseling for mental and emotional difficulties. In a 2013 survey by the RAND Corp., almost 1 in 5 California college students reported psychological distress within the prior 30 days, a rate of crisis that’s more than five times higher than the general population. Nationally, between 2009 and 2015, campus counseling centers saw a 30 percent jump in the number of students seeking help, according to Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

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Chicago Tribune: Pollution-related penalties fall under Republican governor

Well before the Trump administration began shifting responsibility for enforcing environmental laws to the states, Illinois already had slowed down the policing of air and water pollution under Gov. Bruce Rauner. A Tribune analysis of enforcement data shows that since the Republican businessman took office in 2015, penalties sought from Illinois polluters have dropped to $6.1 million — about two-thirds less than the inflation-adjusted amount demanded during the first three years under Rauner’s two predecessors, Democrats Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich.

Rauner’s enforcement record during the past three years also pales in comparison to the final year in office of the state’s last Republican governor, George Ryan. Adjusted for inflation, the penalties sought since Rauner took office are less than half the amount demanded as Ryan wrapped up his four-year term in 2002.

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Indianapolis Star: Police shootings don’t get required review

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is supposed to conduct a review every time an officer shoots at somebody. But the Indianapolis Star found that in 19 incidents over two years, including in at least six fatal shootings, that never happened. … No one in IMPD leadership seems to know why these particular 19 shootings were never reviewed. A few others were reviewed at the time. All of the shootings, which happened in 2015 and 2016, were investigated by criminal detectives when necessary to ensure no crimes were committed, IMPD says.

But the cases lacked a crucial step of oversight: the convening of a firearms review board, comprised of three commanders and two other officers. Policy requires the boards to look through both criminal and internal investigations before delivering a report to the desk of the chief. IMPD chiefs use that report — and the board members' findings — to determine whether an officer's use of force meets standards set by the department. Falling short of those standards can result in a firing or other discipline.

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Detroit Free Press: Banking on benefactors

Executives at some of the nation's top investment firms donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the University of Michigan while the university invested as much as $4 billion in those companies' funds, a Detroit Free Press investigation found. More than $400 million of that amount was sent into funds managed by three alumni who advise the university on its investments. Critics worry Michigan’s approach of investing with some of its top donors, who also help guide the university's nearly $11-billion endowment, creates a conflict. … Thousands of miles from the Ann Arbor campus, the university's Investment Advisory Committee last May joined top university officials, including its chief financial officer, at dinner for 22 inside the historic bay-view home of San Francisco technology investor Sanford Robertson. The next morning, the group reconvened for a closed-door university briefing and strategy session at the Four Seasons hotel. Records show the University of Michigan invested in companies at the time owned or co-led by at least four of its nine current committee members, including Robertson. On top of working capital, their companies, based on industry practice, likely charged millions of dollars in fees and profit-sharing as a price for managing the university's money; exact figures remain secret.

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New York Times: Molested as FBI case plodded for a year

For more than a year, an F.B.I. inquiry into allegations that Lawrence G. Nassar, a respected sports doctor, had molested three elite teenage gymnasts followed a plodding pace as it moved back and forth among agents in three cities. The accumulating information included instructional videos of the doctor’s unusual treatment methods, showing his ungloved hands working about the private areas of girls lying facedown on tables. But as the inquiry moved with little evident urgency, a cost was being paid. The New York Times has identified at least 40 girls and women who say that Dr. Nassar molested them between July 2015, when he first fell under F.B.I. scrutiny, and September 2016, when he was exposed by an Indianapolis Star investigation. Some are among the youngest of the now-convicted predator’s many accusers — 265, and counting. … The F.B.I. declined to answer detailed questions about the speed and nature of its investigation, or to provide an official who might put the case in context. Instead, it issued a 112-word statement asserting that the sexual exploitation of children “is an especially heinous crime,” and that “the safety and well-being of our youth is a top priority for the F.B.I.”

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New York Times: The Follower Factory

The real Jessica Rychly is a Minnesota teenager with a broad smile and wavy hair. She likes reading and the rapper Post Malone. When she goes on Facebook or Twitter, she sometimes muses about being bored or trades jokes with friends. Occasionally, like many teenagers, she posts a duck-face selfie. But on Twitter, there is a version of Jessica that none of her friends or family would recognize. While the two Jessicas share a name, photograph and whimsical bio — “I have issues” — the other Jessica promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan. All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.

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Arizona Daily Star: School district blacklisted hundreds of former workers

Hundreds of former employees of Arizona's second largest school district by enrollment were blacklisted from ever working for the district again, despite never having serious disciplinary issues on their employment records, the Arizona Daily Star reports. And it's unclear why many of the ex-workers for the Tucson Unified School District were ever put on a long-rumored blacklist or who put them on it. Many of the former employees were never told they were blacklisted, the paper reported. District officials say the former employees were put on the blacklist because of "personality clashes" with supervisors, poor evaluation scores and using all of their vacation time. None of those infractions are grounds for firing or blacklisting, the newspaper reported. The district recently publicly acknowledged for the first time that it kept a secret "Do Not Hire List" that dated back two decades and contained as many as 1,400 entries.

Newly-hired district Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo ordered an audit of the list, which found only 516 people had been justifiably blacklisted. Those people had either been fired for cause or had resigned and signed a separation agreement stating they would not be eligible to work in the district again. The other roughly 900 employees had been wrongly blacklisted.

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Modesto Bee: Sexual harassment costs state millions

Four young men who were locked in a youth correctional facility in Southern California accused a male staff counselor of coercing them into sex acts in exchange for contraband and special treatment. The cost to taxpayers to settle their lawsuit: $10 million. At California State University, Fullerton, a female student in her 20s reported that her professor encouraged her to drink whiskey with him in his office and advised her to masturbate during the week to relax, then report back to him on her progress. The cost? The CSU system paid $92,000 to settle her case, while the student became fearful and anxious after the encounters and her “quality of life declined,” her lawsuit contended. And at California State Prison-Corcoran, which has housed the likes of Juan Corona and Charles Manson until his recent death, a female correctional officer said a fellow guard repeatedly made explicit sexual comments, stared at her breasts and crotch, touched her with his hands and pelvis and called her at home,according to court documents and interviews. The state settled her case for $750,000. While public attention has been riveted on sexual harassment allegations in the California Legislature, with sordid charges and counter-charges swirling around a handful of lawmakers, the issue and its related costs extend far beyond the Capitol dome.

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Hartford Courant: Addiction on the job

Out of work and addicted to the anti-anxiety medication Klonopin, Heather Delaney, a licensed practical nurse from Stratford, checked herself into Bridgeport Hospital in 2011 when she could no longer handle withdrawal without medical help. After a brief hospitalization following a suicide attempt the previous fall, Delaney spent two horrific months on her own in the throes of withdrawal. The corners of her eyes felt “chapped,” and “it felt like somebody had wrapped me up in a scratchy blanket of needles,” said Delaney, who had given up her nursing license after being caught altering her Klonopin prescription. Sara Kaiser, an LPN living in Manchester, stole morphine from the nursing homes where she worked and was addicted to heroin from age 18 to 24. She spent time homeless and in prison, ultimately going through 14 rehab programs before getting sober in 2010. Both were disciplined by the state Board of Examiners for Nursing, but after years of hard work, they are among 18 nurses who have gotten their licenses back in the past three years. Delaney, 40, now sober and living in Oxford, is a certified nursing assistant who is looking for a nursing job. Kaiser, 32, works in addiction recovery. … A Conn. Health I-Team analysis of the board’s cases between 2015 and 2017 shows that drug use is common among the disciplined nurses in Connecticut. Of its 282 cases, 82 percent involved substance abuse: 23 percent related to alcohol, and 77 percent were drug-related. More than 64 percent of those drug-related cases—113—involved opioids, including oxycodone, morphine, heroin and Fentanyl.

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Miami Herald: Citizenship census question floated

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami. Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire. “The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted.” The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

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Boston Globe: Theft at nonprofits ‘shockingly common’

A board member for the Somerville Homeless Coalition was reviewing the nonprofit’s annual financial documents in 2015 when he spotted something odd. The forms said the chief operating officer, the No. 2 executive, earned $12,000 more than the organization’s top executive the previous year. Could that really be correct, he asked? Turns out it wasn’t a typo. It was theft.

Somerville Homeless soon discovered that the COO — who handled all the finances — allegedly embezzled approximately $108,000 over 18 months. The charity said he brazenly added some of the money directly into his paycheck — where it showed up on the group’s annual financial forms — used the organization’s credit card for personal expenses, and added his middle-aged son to the group’s health insurance. “The whole thing has been a nightmare,” said Mark Alston-Follansbee, executive director of the Somerville nonprofit, which provides food, shelter, and other assistance to about 2,000 people annually. “The money he stole from us could have prevented 100 families from going homeless.” More than 1,100 tax-exempt organizations nationwide have reported theft, embezzlement, or other major diversions of assets over the past seven years, according to electronic filings with the Internal Revenue Service. And experts say the total number of thefts is almost certainly far higher, because most cases of fraud are either never detected or reported in the digital filings.

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Philadelphia Inquirer: Father. Son. Cellmates.

As the bus rattled toward the State Correctional Institution-Graterford, Jorge Cintron Jr. could barely contain his excitement, a nearly childlike giddiness. Though the journey had been 14 hours, most of it in shackles, he wasn’t close to tired. To the other weary inmates in mustard-yellow “D.O.C.” jumpsuits, what loomed ahead was just another prison: same bars and barbed wire, same bland food, same thin mattresses. But Cintron was about to be with his father, his namesake — the role model he had followed into the drug world, into court on murder charges, and then into prison, their twin life sentences imposed eight years apart. It had been 20 years since he had last seen the man everyone said he took after. “Lil Lolo,” his father’s friends from Philadelphia’s Fairhill section would call him. Now, he was about to come face to face with Jorge Cintron Sr., Lolo himself. “I hadn’t hugged my father in so many years, or heard his voice,” Cintron Jr. said. “It was bittersweet, because we’re both in prison and having to see each other in here.” Since that day in 2011, Cintron Jr., 38, has lived on the same cell block as his father, who is 58. … All around them are inmates who come from the same neighborhoods, the same city blocks or even the same households. … According to one criminologist’s analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, 5 percent of families account for more than 50 percent of all arrests.

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AP: Hundreds of New Mexico inmates held past parole date

Joleen Valencia had resisted the temptation to count her days to freedom. She had learned inside a New Mexico prison that tracking time only added to the anxiety of serving a two-year drug-trafficking sentence that started in the spring of 2015 — especially after her mother died and granddaughter had been born. She wanted nothing more than to return to her family's home amid mesas on a reservation north of Albuquerque, and to stay clean after recovering from a heroin addiction. But rather than agonize, she kept busy. She worked daily dishwashing shifts, some lasting as long as 12 hours, to earn 10 cents an hour and eventually enough "good time" for what authorities said would be her new parole date: July 13, 2016. "They would tell you, don't count your days, because it's going to make it hard," said Valencia, now 50. But she couldn't resist as her parole date neared. And that made it all the more frustrating when the day came and went. For three more months, Valencia remained incarcerated, one of more than 1,000 inmates identified in New Mexico Corrections Department documents as serving what's known as "in-house parole." Often, those who should be freed are held because they are unable to find or afford suitable housing outside prison. Other times, missing paperwork or administrative backlogs can rob them of the freedom they've earned.

(This report is part of the CJ Project, an initiative to broaden the news coverage of criminal justice issues affecting New Mexico's diverse communities, created by the Asian American Journalists Association with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For more information:

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Los Angeles Times: Borrow $5,000, repay $42,000

JoAnn Hesson, sick with diabetes for years, was desperate. After medical bills for a leg amputation and kidney transplant wiped out most of her retirement nest egg, she found that her Social Security and small pension weren’t enough to make ends meet. As the Marine Corps veteran waited for approval for a special pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs, she racked up debt with a series of increasingly pricey online loans. In May 2015, the Rancho Santa Margarita resident borrowed $5,125 from Anaheim lender LoanMe at the eye-popping annual interest rate of 116%. The following month, she borrowed $2,501 from Ohio firm Cash Central at an even higher APR: 183%. “I don’t consider myself a dumb person,” said Hesson, 68. “I knew the rates were high, but I did it out of desperation.” Not long ago, personal loans of this size with sky-high interest rates were nearly unheard of in California. But over the last decade, they’ve exploded in popularity as struggling households — typically with poor credit scores — have found a new source of quick cash from an emerging class of online lenders. … Hesson’s $5,125 loan was scheduled to be repaid over more than seven years, with $495 due monthly, for a total of $42,099.85 — that’s nearly $37,000 in interest.

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Washington Post: At Trump’s inauguration, eager Russian Elites

In the days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, a wealthy Russian pharmaceutical executive named Alexey Repik arrived in Washington, expressing excitement about the new administration. He posted a photo on Facebook of a clutch of inauguration credentials arranged next to a white “Make America Great Again” hat, writing in Russian: “I believe that President Donald Trump will open a new page in American history.” Throughout his trip, Repik had prime access. He wrote on Facebook that he got close enough to the president-elect at a pre-inaugural event to “check the handshake strength of Donald Trump.” He and his wife, Polina Repik, witnessed Trump’s swearing-in from ticketed seats in front of the U.S. Capitol. … The attendance of members of Russia’s elite at Trump’s inauguration was evidence of the high anticipation in Moscow for a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations following a campaign in which Trump stunned U.S. foreign-policy experts by repeatedly praising Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

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Miami Herald: Dirty gold, clean cash

When Juan Granda ventured into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to score another illicit load of gold, he boasted that he felt like legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. “I’m like Pablo coming ... to get the coke,” he told two co-workers in a text message in 2014. A 36-year-old Florida State University graduate who once sold subprime loans, Granda was no cartel kingpin. But his offhand comparison was apt: Gold has become the secret ingredient in the criminal alchemy of Latin American narco-traffickers who make billions turning cocaine into clean cash by exporting the metal to Miami. The previous year, Granda’s employer, NTR Metals, a South Florida precious-metals trading company, had bought nearly $1 billion worth of Peruvian gold supplied by narcos — and Granda and NTR needed more.

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Idaho Statesman: Health care battery law results in felony charges against patients

Amy Johnson was in the Ada County Jail and didn’t know what she’d done. Two days earlier, Johnson had called a friend to pick her up from work. She has bipolar disorder and felt a manic episode coming on. Colors were getting brighter. Her thoughts ricocheted from one thing to another. She couldn’t sleep. Her friend and boyfriend were ready to help her through it — with written instructions Amy had given them in case this ever happened. But instead of getting well at a psychiatric hospital, the 41-year-old university employee was arrested. She could face up to six years in prison. … Johnson is one of hundreds of Idahoans charged under a law passed in 2014 making battery against health care workers a felony. … A 2014 law was intended to protect those workers. It also had cultural importance — making it clear that healthcare workers are specifically worth defending. But as it made its way through the Idaho Legislature, an exemption for mental illness was removed.

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Indianapolis Star: Trump makes first year bountiful for religious right

A year after President Trump moved into the White House, many of the Christian conservatives who helped put him there are counting their blessings. Johnnie Moore, an informal spokesman for the group of evangelicals who advise President Trump, says the administration has “been a dream.” The head of Focus on the Family estimates the administration has taken about 17 actions on the pro-life agenda alone — a tally that Jim Daly said adds up to the greatest gains by an administration since the Supreme Court legalized abortion. And Paula White, the televangelist and spiritual adviser to Trump, calls the president’s first year of accomplishments “absolutely astounding.” It’s not just leaders of the Christian conservative community who think Trump has been delivering on his promises to them — from judicial appointments to policy changes, and from personnel appointments to access to the White House. … Religious conservatives had high hopes for their agenda once Trump chose Christian conservative Mike Pence as his running mate and promised on the campaign trail that the “first priority of my administration will be to preserve and protect our religious liberty.”

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Des Moines Register: Pay gap remains for state workers

Median pay for women working in Iowa state government is about $5,300 less a year than men, a dollar gap that has changed little over the past decade, a Register analysis has found. In fiscal year 2017, median pay for male government workers was $55,879, about 11 percent more than the $50,537 median for female workers. While the gap in median salaries between the two genders has dropped in the last decade from 15 percent to 11 percent as pay for both rose, the dollar gap remains virtually unchanged. A typical male worker earned $5,476 more than a female worker in 2007 and $5,342 more in 2017. The pay gap is much larger in several university jobs, such as assistant and associate professors and lecturers, where men make 25 percent to 33 percent more than their female co-workers, the Register found. It's an issue that, if left unaddressed, exposes the state to class-action lawsuits, as well as an erosion of talent within its workforce, state and national critics contend.

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New York Times: He fought harassment, then settled own case

Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement. A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her — first in person, and then in a handwritten letter — and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said. Life in the office became untenable, so she initiated the complaint process, started working from home and ultimately left the job. She later reached a confidential agreement with Mr. Meehan’s office that included a settlement for an undisclosed amount to be paid from Mr. Meehan’s congressional office fund.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Lunch shaming

The cafeteria cashier at Greece Odyssey Academy told David Leonard that his mom needed to add more money to his account, but — typical eighth-grader — he forgot to let her know. He qualified for reduced-price lunch, just 25 cents, so a small deposit would have gone a long way. As it was, though, he went back through the lunch line the following day and got to the register with a hot meal with no money to pay for it. No money, no food, the cashier told him. She took his tray and sent him away empty-handed, according to his mother, without even the peanut butter and jelly sandwich mentioned in the school district's written policy. … Every day in schools across Monroe County, children likely have the same experience as David Leonard, even as districts move to change their policies on 'lunch shaming.'

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: City’s ‘single stream’ recycling doesn’t quite work

Kyle Winkler follows his gut: he jumps from the back of the hulking blue recycling truck to inspect a plastic “Grandma’s Original Recipes” potato salad container on the curb of Midland Street in Brookline. Inside, the city’s recycling supervisor finds some shriveled cherry tomatoes mixed in with a clump of black dog hair, large enough to fill the entire container. A disposable foil pan sits beside it, cake mashed and stuck to the sides. He declares both items too contaminated to toss into the truck. “We see a lot of, let’s say, situations,” says the driver, Tyrone Wright, 66, of Manchester. Mr. Wright says he doesn’t always have time to scrutinize but employs his “spidey senses” to detect things that are non-recyclable — clamshell take-out containers, porcelain dishes, or yard debris stuffed into blue bags. … Because the city doesn’t require residents to sort recyclables, it means they pay someone else to do so, increasing costs and decreasing the value of the recycling effort. A portion of what you put in the bag ends up in a landfill, on a boat to China, or sitting in a warehouse waiting for prices to improve. And city officials can't say exactly how much of what's collected is actually recycled, or where the recycling goes after city trucks drop it off. Despite the good intentions of household recyclers, several waste experts and recycling industry workers say the city’s program — and American recycling in general — is broken.

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Appleton Post-Crescent: Wisconsin fumbles fixes for teen suicide

Youth suicide rates have been rising nationwide since 2007. Wisconsin's numbers have been worse than the national average every year.  For the past two years, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin has been examining the root causes of this rise with a “Kids in Crisis” series. Each suicide triggers the question: How did this happen? Whispers spread. Fingers point. Sometimes another suicide follows. Pursuit of the question can be a debilitating spiral.

But through the fog of grief, there's another question. How do we stop this from happening again?

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Arizona Republic: ‘Loophole’ in DACA provokes criticism

Carlos Mundo and Dulce Hernandez were once among the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants temporarily shielded from deportation and granted work permits under former President Barack Obama's DACA program. But while DACA recipients are now anxiously waiting to see if Congress passes legislation allowing them to stay permanently in the U.S. or whether they will once again face possible deportation, Mundo and Hernandez are home free.

They are among a little-known but sizable group of nearly 40,000 DACA recipients who have already obtained green cards. Many of them were able to permanently legalize their status by taking advantage of a provision within Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The provision allowed DACA recipients to travel outside the U.S. and then return legally through what's known as advance parole, which made some DACA recipients eligible to get green cards, an opportunity that otherwise didn't exist for them. … Some critics, among them several Republican lawmakers in Congress, have labeled the advance parole provision a "loophole" they say improperly allowed some DACA recipients to exploit the immigration system to get green cards.

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Washington Post: 24-year-old helps lead Trump drug policy office

In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St. John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organized a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families. Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House office responsible for coordinating the federal government’s multibillion dollar anti-drug initiatives and supporting President Trump’s efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Weyeneth would soon become deputy chief of staff. His brief biography offers few clues that he would so quickly assume a leading role in the drug policy office, a job recently occupied by a lawyer and a veteran government official. Weyeneth’s only professional experience after college and before becoming an appointee was working on Trump’s presidential campaign.

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Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Officials vow changes after alert system goes awry

After people across the state were told for months to prepare for a possible nuclear attack from North Korea, for 38 terrifying minutes on Saturday morning the deadly moment seemed to have arrived. A state employee in a Diamond Head bunker clicked his mouse twice and informed a million and a half residents and tourists that the missile was on its way. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the warning stated. No, it wasn’t a drill. It was a mistake. “Human error,” said Gov. David Ige.

A mistake that left many shaken, angry and questioning the credibility of their government.

Tourists in Waikiki were asked to go into the basement of their hotels, passengers at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport were not allowed to check in and were sent down to the baggage claim area, and families at parks ran to their cars for shelter.

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Chicago Tribune: Murder on the margins

More than 10 years have passed, but Margaret Gomez’s family members still look for the man they believe strangled the 22-year-old and left her in a muddy lot in the shadow of the Stevenson Expressway. They don’t expect to find him but feel it’s something they must do. That and pray. “Lately, I said a prayer to the Virgin Mary,” the mother, who shares the same name as her daughter, told a reporter in a quiet voice. “And then you called. Maybe it’s a sign?” Other families have waited even longer for an answer. Over the last 17 years, at least 75 women have been strangled or smothered in Chicago and their bodies dumped in vacant buildings, alleys, garbage cans, snow banks. Arrests have been made in only a third of the cases, according to a first-ever analysis by the Tribune.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: Worker shortage worst in decades

Kevin Yakes spends so much time trying to keep his Golden Valley construction firm staffed, he sometimes feels like a full-time recruiter. During a recent family getaway in Florida, Yakes hopped in the car and drove more than an hour to have beers with a refrigeration technician he wanted to attract to Minnesota. “It’s like dating,” Yakes said. “I’ve never, ever, had such a hard time trying to find people.” Nearly a decade after the U.S. economy collapsed and construction workers fled the industry, Twin Cities builders and contractors are in the midst of one of their busiest years. But a shortage of skilled workers means that new projects — from modest office renovations to soaring new apartment towers — are costing more and taking longer to finish.

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New York Times: Male models accuse photographers of sexual exploitation

For a fashion model, success is the ability to incite desire. The job requirements often include nudity and feigning seduction; provocation is a lever for sales. In the industry, boundaries between the acceptable and the unacceptable treatment of models have been etched in shades of gray. This has allowed prominent photographers to cross the line with impunity for decades, sexually exploiting models and assistants. The experience, once seen as the price models had to pay for their careers, is now being called something else: abuse of power and sexual harassment. Fifteen current and former male models who worked with Bruce Weber, whose racy advertisements for companies like Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch helped turn him into one of the foremost commercial and fine art photographers, have described to The New York Times a pattern of what they said was unnecessary nudity and coercive sexual behavior, often during photo shoots. … In accounts going back to the mid-1990s, 13 male assistants and models who have worked with the photographer Mario Testino, a favorite of the English royal family and Vogue, told The Times that he subjected them to sexual advances that in some cases included groping and masturbation.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Carjackings rise as technology slows parked car thefts

Analicia Kocher had just pulled up outside her home in the Shaw neighborhood early one morning last month when she saw someone running up to her car.The 29-year-old, who had already had a weird feeling as she drove home from a comedy show, quickly locked the doors. But the man, who was wearing a ski mask and holding a gun, ordered her out and threw her to the ground when she opened the door. A masked accomplice then jumped in, and the pair took off. When police arrived, Kocher learned that she was the latest victim of a growing problem.

Carjacking in St. Louis has doubled in recent years. And it’s also growing in surrounding areas. … Richard Wright, the chair of the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department at Georgia State University, published a paper on carjacking in St. Louis in 2003, when he was working at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Wright said carjacking has become increasingly popular over the last decade, in part because technology is making it harder to steal parked cars. Many can’t be driven without a key fob nearby.

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Detroit Free Press: Theft plagues unions across US

As the UAW, Fiat Chrysler and federal investigators unravel a scandal over the misappropriation of millions of dollars meant for worker training, federal records show that embezzling from union offices is endemic around the country. U.S. Department of Labor documents obtained by the Free Press show embezzlement from hundreds of union offices nationwide over the past decade. In just the past two years, more than 300 union locations have discovered theft, often resulting in more than one person charged in each instance, the records show. Two UAW incidents uncovered in 2017, one in Michigan and the other in New Jersey, exceed the $1-million mark, among the biggest labor theft cases in a decade. … “Unions are not unique,” said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Wayne State University. “Another group hit hard by embezzlement are churches. You can’t train people to be ethical. It’s just access to money.”

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: High school, college concussions have health impact

Drew Bouché loves to play catch with his son, Abram. The two often can be seen on The 400 Block public square in downtown Wausau, Wisconsin, tossing a football, smiles on their faces.

Football is deeply rooted in both of their lives. Abram, who is 11 years old, can't wait to play just like his father did before him. At Wausau East High School, Bouché was a running back, a fixture in local sports coverage and someone recognized throughout the community. Bouché's dad, Abram's grandfather was the East football coach. Bouché went to South Dakota State University to further his career, but he never got the chance to shine. He left the sport in his freshman year after a blow to the head left him unable to walk off the field. He lives the consequences of those brain injuries every day. He struggles with extreme and sometimes violent mood swings, migraines, days when depression makes it hard to get out of bed and forgetfulness can cause him to lose track of conversations or what task he's supposed to accomplish. He thinks his struggles with alcohol stem from the injuries, too. Bouché is experiencing what doctors say is typical of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. … Most of the national media attention around CTE has focused on former NFL players, who've won a $1 billion settlement against the league. But Bouché is among countless football players who believe they suffered brain damage without ever playing beyond high school or college.

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AP: Most big public colleges don't track suicides

Nearly half of the largest U.S. public universities do not track suicides among their students, despite making investments in prevention at a time of surging demand for mental health services. Tabulating student suicides comes with its own set of challenges and problems. But without that data, prevention advocates say, schools have no way to measure their success and can overlook trends that could offer insight to help them save lives. "If you don't collect the data, you're doing half the job," said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon who became a prevention advocate after his son, Garrett, took his life in 2003 while attending college. "We need information in mental health if we're actually going to be able to better tailor health and healing." The Associated Press asked the 100 largest U.S. public universities for annual suicide statistics and found that 43 currently track suicides, including 27 that have consistently done so since 2007. Most others said they don't track suicides or could provide police reports for only a few cases known among campus administrators. Schools that don't track suicides include some of the nation's largest, including Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin.

Des Moines Register: An aging, childless Iowa

The playground at the center of Wiota, Iowa, is ghostly silent. No kids in sight.  Empty swings sway in the wind. Much of this weather-beaten equipment was handed down from the former high school that closed half a century ago. The few young residents in town are easy to spot, often seen on Wiota's eastern outskirts. They're a wild bunch, with names like Red, Mini, Sock, Bear, Blossom, Bailey and Rooster. They're horses. It's more a sad reality than a joke: In Wiota, horses outnumber children, 7-to-2. The town of 100 people just east of the Cass County seat of Atlantic is almost exactly halfway between Omaha and Des Moines, making for a long commute to either metro hub. A dwindling number of children, matched by an increasingly older population, is threatening to turn more and more small towns across rural Iowa into retirement communities. That eventually could prove fatal for Iowa towns built around family farms, jobs at small factories and neighbors of all ages who could rely on each other.

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New York Times: Unlikely source propelled Russian meddling inquiry

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role. The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.

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Washington Post: Seniors hope they can quit working in a few years

Tom Coomer of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has retired twice: once when he was 65, and then several years ago. Each time he realized that with just a Social Security check, “You can hardly make it these days.” So here he is at 79, working full time at Walmart. During each eight-hour shift, he stands at the store entrance greeting customers, telling a joke and fetching a “buggy.” Or he is stationed at the exit, checking receipts and the shoppers that trip the theft alarm. “As long as I sit down for about 10 minutes every hour or two, I’m fine,” he said during a break. Diagnosed with spinal stenosis in his back, he recently forwarded a doctor’s note to managers. “They got me a stool.” The way major U.S. companies provide for retiring workers has been shifting for about three decades, with more dropping traditional pensions every year. The first full generation of workers to retire since this turn offers a sobering preview of a labor force more and more dependent on their own savings for retirement.

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Chicago Tribune: Suburbs fail to turn in camera studies

Since red light cameras were introduced in Chicago’s suburbs a decade ago, state and local officials have routinely ignored requirements to analyze the safety impact at the intersections where cameras were placed, a Tribune investigation has found. The result: The state has not ordered a single camera removed for ineffectiveness as suburbs have collected millions of dollars in fines — sometimes in places where crashes increased after cameras were turned on.

When the cameras were proposed a decade ago, supporters pledged their primary purpose was to reduce crashes. To prove they worked, a rigorous process was carved into state law and Illinois Department of Transportation policies that supporters said would show the cameras improved safety, not just filled town coffers. Under that process, suburbs were supposed to conduct two studies of crash figures at red light camera intersections, and if crashes actually increased, a third, deeper study to figure out why. Yet for years, the Tribune found, those requirements were often sidestepped, with towns failing to turn in complete reports, or any reports at all, and with IDOT failing to follow up.

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Baltimore Sun: Wind power faces gusts of opposition

David Friend began scouting the former strip coal mine here 16 years ago, with visions that it could one day produce a different sort of energy. The developer persuaded landowners along the blustery ridge in Western Maryland to bless his plans for more than two dozen wind turbines that would tower more than 40 stories high. But after a years-long battle with Allegany County officials and concerned neighbors — a saga that has passed through the local zoning board and state Public Service Commission, and reached Maryland’s highest court — the clear-cut hilltops remain bare. The modern windmills that are visible from Interstate 68 are mostly in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Tens of thousands more have sprouted across the country.

It’s one of many examples in Maryland showing that, despite rhetoric to the contrary, it’s not always easy going green. … While Maryland leaders bill the state as a progressive adopter of green energy, not all of the subsidies support clean projects. Proposed wind farms like the one on Dan’s Mountain have sputtered while much of the ratepayer investment is subsidizing the incineration of household trash, a paper-making byproduct known as black liquor and other fuels that emit greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants.

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New York Times: Out of chaos, Trump reshapes immigration

Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers, President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly enraged.

Five months before, Mr. Trump had dispatched federal officers to the nation’s airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation’s borders.

But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said. According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting, Mr. Trump then began reading aloud from the document, which his domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting. The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017. More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained. Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there. … While Mr. Trump has been repeatedly frustrated by the limits of his power, his efforts to remake decades of immigration policy have gained increasing momentum as the White House became more disciplined and adept at either ignoring or undercutting the entrenched opposition of many parts of the government. The resulting changes have had far-reaching consequences, not only for the immigrants who have sought to make a new home in this country, but also for the United States’ image in the world.

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Charlotte Observer: 45 prison officers fired for sleeping since 2012

Toward the end of her 18-hour shift, prison officer Anita Merritt fell asleep while guarding an inmate in a hospital bed. The prisoner should have had his hands restrained but didn’t, according to a superintendent’s letter. Merritt, an officer at Pender Correctional Institution, was fired for the 2016 incident at UNC Hillsborough Hospital. “Your failure to remain alert could have jeopardized the safety and the security of the hospital staff, visitors and other patients within the facility,” the dismissal letter said. Merritt was among more than 45 North Carolina prison officers who were fired for sleeping on the job since 2012, a Charlotte Observer investigation found. Some dozed inside hospitals with loaded guns at their sides while inmates they were supposed to be guarding sat nearby. Others were found sleeping in control rooms where officers watch inmates, or in vehicles used to monitor prison fence lines. It’s a problem that endangers officers and inmates, as well as the public, experts say. … State officials have contributed to the problem. Prison leaders have burned out some officers by forcing them to work dangerous amounts of overtime, current and former staffers say. And pay for prison officers – which is set by state lawmakers – remains so low that many work second jobs, a fact that has made a perilous situation more so, current and former officers told the Observer.

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Honolulu Civil Beat: Insurance “Hell” leaves many injured workers broken

The Honolulu Civil Beat reports after an eight-month investigation that Hawaii’s workers’ comp system forces many injured workers with long-lasting or complex injuries to battle insurance companies and their hand-picked doctors to get treatment and disability payments. The 501(c)3 tax-exempt news organization says the system was designed to be “no-fault,” much like auto insurance – you get hurt, you get treatment. But for some workers, it too often turns into a litigious nightmare. While workers often prevail, it can mean hiring lawyers and waiting for years as the insurers deny treatment plans and appeal administrative decisions over and over again on the same or similar grounds. In the meantime, disability payments and treatment are cut off. The insurers can afford to wait out workers. Many workers decide to accept lump-sum settlements rather than continue to fight.

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Los Angeles Times: L.A. keeps building by freeways where people get sick

The Los Angeles Times reports that for more than a decade, California air quality officials have warned against building homes within 500 feet of freeways. And with good reason: People there suffer higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and pre-term births. Recent research has added more health risks to the list, including childhood obesity, autism and dementia. Yet Southern California civic officials have flouted those warnings, allowing a surge in home building near traffic pollution, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Census data, building permits and other government records. In Los Angeles alone officials have approved thousands of new homes within 1,000 feet of a freeway — even as they advised developers that this distance poses health concerns. The city issued building permits for 4,300 homes near freeways in 2015 — more than in any year over the last decade — and signed off on an additional 3,000 units last year.

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Arizona Republic: Many dead immigrants along Mexico border uncounted

The Arizona Republic reports that the bodies of hundreds of immigrants who died illegally crossing the southwestern border with Mexico are found each year. Border Patrol agents encounter some of the dead, and count them in the agency's annual report that constitutes the only official reckoning of the death toll. But an investigation by the USA TODAY NETWORK has found many migrant deaths are never accounted for — including when bodies are discovered by sheriff’s deputies, police, ranchers, hikers and humanitarian groups. Illegal crossings along the southwestern border have claimed 7,209 lives over the past 20 years, according to official Border Patrol statistics, but the actual number is far higher. A USA TODAY NETWORK investigation found federal authorities largely fail to count border crossers when their remains are recovered by local authorities, and even local counts are often incomplete.

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Washington Post: DEA agents say big investigation ended in a whimper

The Washington Post reports a team at the Drug Enforcement Administration was ready to move on the biggest opioid distribution case in U.S. history. They wanted to close some of the 30 drug warehouses of McKesson Corp., the nation’s largest drug company, and to fine the company more than $1 billion. And they wanted to bring the first-ever criminal case against a drug distribution company. But top attorneys at the DEA and Justice Department struck a deal in January with the corporation and its powerful lawyers. It illustrates the long-standing conflict between the drug investigators, who have taken an aggressive approach to a prescription opioid epidemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people in the past 16 years, and government attorneys, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.”

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Honolulu Star Advertiser: Proposed “tent cities” rouse debate

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that legislators and Gov. David Ige fundamentally disagree on whether the use of legalized homeless camps known as safe zones are an effective way of helping the state’s massive homeless population. The disconnect doesn’t bode well for the upcoming legislative session, where the issue of homelessness is sure to be a top priority. Lawmakers, including the chairmen of the House and Senate housing committees, assert that government-sanctioned safe zones, sometimes referred to as tent cities, need to be part of the effort to eventually transition homeless individuals off the streets. But the governor isn’t sold on the idea, and preliminary recommendations from a working group headed by the governor’s coordinator on homelessness do not include any proposals for creating safe zones on Oahu.

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Topeka Capital-Journal: Police actions cost city

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that when former Topeka police officer Jeremy Carlisle-Simons made the unlawful arrest in September 2014 that would lead to his departure from the force, he threw an uncooperative subject to the ground, screamed obscenities and pounded his fist into the man’s back. The city of Topeka would pay $50,000 for his actions, contributing to more than $400,000 in total settlements and claims related to police activity since 2010. As the threat of a civil lawsuit influences the city’s response to the fatal police shooting in September of Dominique White, a Kansas Open Records Act request by The Topeka Capital-Journal revealed dozens of payments ranging from $300,000 for a notorious shooting involving off-duty Topeka police officers to $16 for a driver’s license taken by an officer and never returned. The police department also agreed to provide a video of the Carlisle-Simons arrest, which hasn’t been seen publicly until now.

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Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Elder abuse reports tossed in trash

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the abrupt firing of a senior regulator at the Minnesota Department of Health is unleashing a torrent of complaints by employees who describe dysfunction and disarray at the state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable adults at senior care facilities. In interviews with the Star Tribune, employees described an office so overwhelmed by backlogged cases that workers dumped dozens of maltreatment complaints into recycling bins without reading them. Others said unread complaint forms piled up into stacks 2 feet high and went unexamined for months. Workers contacted the Star Tribune after learning that Nancy A. Omondi was terminated last month as director of the agency’s health regulation division. Her firing came just weeks after the Star Tribune published a five-part series documenting that ­hundreds of residents at senior care centers across Minnesota are beaten, sexually assaulted or robbed each year.

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Kansas City Star: Don’t expect action on racial profiling cases in Kansas

The Kansas City Star reports there have been 592 racial profiling complaints

made to Kansas law enforcement agencies and the Kansas Attorney General’s office in the past five years. But in most cases, the complaints are not substantiated — a result that critics say is not only hard to believe, but raises questions about the state’s nearly 20-year effort to combat racial profiling. Despite the passage of two laws to address the issue, The Star found that Kansas’ system of tracking racial profiling complaints is ineffective, opaque and deeply flawed — from incomplete data collection to redacted records to agencies simply not participating. A recent investigation by The Star showed that secrecy is pervasive in the Sunflower State. The state’s handling of racial profiling complaints is another example.

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New York Times: You still won‘t be able to file your taxes on a postcard

The New York Times reports that the Republican tax bill does not pass the postcard test. It leaves nearly every large tax break in place. It creates as many new preferences for special interests as it gets rid of. It will keep corporate accountants busy for years to come. And no taxpayer will ever see the postcard-size tax return that President Trump laid a kiss on in November as Republican leaders launched their tax overhaul effort. This was not the grand simplification of the code that Republicans promised when they set out to eliminate tax breaks and cut the number of tax brackets as they lowered rates. As their bill tore through Congress, their ambitions fell to the powerful forces of lobbying and the status quo. Killed tax breaks returned to life. New ones sprung up beside them. A plan for three individual tax brackets became five, and finally eight.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Waiting for Social Security disability decisions

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that for tens of thousands of Ohioans applying for Social Security disability benefits, an underfunded and inadequately staffed federal system means months, and even years, of waiting to get in front of a judge and receive a decision on a claim. More than 1 million people across the country are waiting on average more than 600 days--about 19 months-- for these hearings. In some parts of the country, the wait is longer than two years. The Social Security Administration's problems processing disability claims stretch back decades and track closely with the funding the agency receives through the Congressional budget process. The agency has seen an 11 percent budget cut since 2010 and could see another 4 percent drop next year. Hiring freezes, staff cuts and other cost-saving measures because of this belt-tightening have adversely impacted disabled people who are out of work and need help, experts say. Judges argue it's impossible for them to handle the current workload without more support staff.

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The Oregonian: Fired but fit for duty: Impunity for bad policing in Oregon

The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training wins national praise for holding police officers accountable for bad behavior. Academics, journalists and regulators in other states describe the department as a model. But an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found that state regulators took no action to sideline dozens of officers fired for chronically inept police work. Or worse. The department let fired officers remain eligible to work even after they accumulated records of brutality, recklessness, shoddy investigations and anger management problems. Regulators have chosen to shy away from some of the public's greatest concerns about policing, interviews with agency officials show. They don't think it's their job to punish officers for brutality. They don't think it's their job to punish officers for incompetence. They don't think it's their job to even contemplate punishing officers who haven't been convicted of a crime or who haven't lost their jobs.

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Toledo Blade: Ohio renters often left in dark about lead and health risks

The Toledo Blade reports more than 500 addresses were on a list released by the Ohio Department of Health in May with orders to vacate due to untreated lead hazards. In each of these homes, at least one child had been poisoned and property owners have not submitted evidence that the required improvements have been made. Blade reports in May found more than half of the more than two dozen homes in Lucas County were occupied, and many of those residents said they had not been informed by their landlords or the health department that there were orders to vacate. The health department acknowledged it was not actively checking to ensure the homes were vacant. In August, Blade journalists used the most recent list published by the state health department and visited every house in Cuyahoga, Hamilton, and Franklin counties, which had the most properties on the state list, with about 210 properties among them. In each of these homes, a child has been lead-poisoned, local health departments investigated the properties and ordered improvements and upgrades. And, owners of each of these homes have not complied, resulting in notices of noncompliance or orders to vacate.

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AP: San Diego’s sunny identity threatened by homeless crisis

The Associated Press reports that like other major cities all along the West Coast, San Diego is struggling with a homeless crisis. In a place that bills itself as "America's Finest City," renowned for its sunny weather, surfing and fish tacos, spiraling real estate values have contributed to spiraling homelessness, leaving more than 3,200 people living on the streets or in their cars. Most alarmingly, the explosive growth in the number of people living outdoors has contributed to a hepatitis A epidemic that has killed 20 people in the past year — the worst U.S. outbreak of its kind in 20 years. Deplorable sanitary conditions help spread the liver-damaging virus that lives in feces.

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AP: State lawmakers' outside jobs present possible conflicts 

The Associated Press reported that state lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers and sometimes their personal finances. An analysis of disclosure forms and legislative votes by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press found numerous examples in which lawmakers' votes had the effect of promoting their private interests. Even then, the votes did not necessarily represent a conflict of interest as defined by the state. That's because legislatures set their own rules for when lawmakers should recuse themselves. In some states, lawmakers are required to vote despite any ethical dilemmas. Many lawmakers defend votes that benefit their businesses or industries, saying they bring important expertise to the debate.

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AP: North Carolina steps in on child abuse cases involving sect

The Associated Press reports that North Carolina’s state child welfare agency will participate in reviewing every new allegation of abuse and neglect involving a controversial church that has been the focus of an Associated Press investigation exposing years of physical and emotional mistreatment of congregants, including children. Under North Carolina’s child welfare system, county agencies are responsible for investigating abuse allegations. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services provides oversight and training, but generally does not get involved in a county agency’s daily operations. The state would not say what prompted the move, but it follows a series of AP stories that have cited dozens of former Word of Faith Fellowship members who say congregants are regularly beaten to “purify” sinners. Founded in 1979, the evangelical sect has grown to about 750 congregants in North Carolina and a total of nearly 2,000 other followers worldwide.

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Arizona Republic: Officers under scrutiny at one agency often move to others

The Arizona Republic reports that police officers who are fired for misconduct or resign before the hammer drops are able to move from agency to agency. In Arizona, no central repository exists of police officers’ career records, which makes it impossible for hiring departments, and the public, to get a full picture of the complaints against them and how they have been handled, according to an Arizona Republic investigation. A state agency, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, or AZPOST, provides basic monitoring and certification designed to make sure officers meet minimum standards. It tracks officer terminations and resignations and highlights internal investigations and criminal charges.

But there are loopholes in the oversight.

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Sacramento Bee; Stressed California dams often go years without repairs

The Sacramento Bee reports that when it comes to inspecting dams, California is second to none. A panel of national experts examined the state’s Division of Safety of Dams last year and declared it tops in the field, citing inspectors’ knack for flagging small problems before they turn serious. Getting dam owners to fix those flaws quickly is another matter. A Sacramento Bee investigation prompted by the nearly catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam’s flood-control spillway in February found that owners of some of California’s most important dams – those whose failure could cause residents downstream to lose their lives – often allow deficiencies to linger for years – even though these shortcomings get cited repeatedly in annual inspection reports.

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Los Angeles Times: A secret list of police with histories of misconduct

The Los Angeles Times reports there is a secret Sheriff’s Department list that now includes about 300 deputies with histories of dishonesty and similar misconduct. The newspaper’s investigation found the list is so tightly controlled that it can be seen by only a handful of high-ranking sheriff’s officials. Not even prosecutors can access it. Amid growing public scrutiny over police misconduct, Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to give the names on the list to prosecutors, who are required by law to tell criminal defendants about evidence that would damage the credibility of an officer called as a witness. But McDonnell’s efforts have ignited a fierce legal battle with the union that represents rank-and-file deputies. The dispute, which the California Supreme Court is expected to decide next year, is playing out in a state with some of the nation’s strictest secrecy laws on police misconduct.

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Denver Post: In rural Colorado, no one replaces dying and retiring doctors

The Denver Post reports health care in rural America is ill. Dozens of studies have documented the symptoms: People who live in rural areas are more likely to die from heart diseasestrokecancerinjuriesdrug overdosescar crashes and suicide. Women are more likely to die in childbirth. Children are more likely to die as infants.

Dozens more studies have sought to diagnose the cause. Rural areas generally have higher rates of smoking and povertylower quality of vegetables in the grocery store, and longer drive times to reach trauma care. But, mostly, the studies keep coming back to the same problem. There just aren’t enough doctors and other medical providers. Nationally, fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s physicians practice in a rural area — even though such areas hold 20 percent of the U.S. population. In Colorado, there are 13 counties — all rural — that do not have a hospital, including two without even a clinic. Two counties, including Crowley, don’t have a single doctor.

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Hartford Courant: Five years after Sandy Hook, schools violating safety rules.

The Hartford Courant reports how five years ago the world was stunned by a crime unprecedented in its horror — the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults. State legislators reacted to the massacre not only by enacting tougher gun laws but also by earmarking millions to make Connecticut schools safer, including addressing concerns raised after the shooting about access to school buildings, communication failures and multi-agency coordination gaps. But now a Courant investigation has found that those efforts, started when the pain of Sandy Hook was fresh, have largely dwindled. Nearly half the school districts in the state are violating at least some aspect of the law requiring them to submit school security information, a Courant review of state records reveals.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Medical board easy on opioid violators

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that over the past decade the state death toll from opioid-related overdoes has exploded, last year claiming 982 lives. Many more could have died: Emergency workers in Georgia administered opioid overdose-reversing medications nearly 10,000 times last year. To attack the epidemic, Georgia this fall formed a statewide opioid task force whose goals include taking a hard line against doctors who deal. But an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the arm of state government charged with protecting the public from dangerous doctors — the Georgia Composite Medical Board — rarely yanks the licenses of physicians who behave more like dealers than healers. Years into the opioid crisis, the Georgia board has taken public action against only a handful of doctors a year for improper opioid prescribing, the AJC found in a review of board actions since 2011.

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Chicago Tribune: Commercial and industrial property assessments defy logic

The Chicago Tribune reports that amid the most tumultuous real estate market since the Great Depression, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios produced valuations for thousands of commercial and industrial properties in Chicago that did not change from one reassessment to the next, not even by a single dollar. That fact, one finding in an unprecedented ProPublica Illinois-Chicago Tribune analysis of tens of thousands of property records, points to a conclusion that experts say defies any logical explanation except one: Berrios failed at one of his most important responsibilities — estimating the value of commercial and industrial properties. What’s more, a separate analysis reveals commercial and industrial property assessments throughout Cook County were so riddled with errors that they created deep inequities, punishing small businesses while cutting a break to owners of high-value properties and helping fuel a cottage industry of politically powerful tax attorneys.

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Baltimore Sun: Paper mill burns a polluting sludge called black liquor

The Baltimore Sun reports the paper mill in Luke, Maryland, is the town’s largest employer and has powered the economy in its corner of Appalachia for generations, producing paper for countless Campbell’s soup labels and glossy covers for National Geographic and Playboy. Even as other factories in this stretch of Western Maryland have closed down, this mill has managed to survive. That’s in part because the 10-story-high boiler deep inside the mill burns a sludge known as black liquor. The substance, a mix of caustic chemicals and wood waste left over from the papermaking process, was once pollution, a byproduct that fouled the rocky banks of the Potomac. Now, Maryland calls it green energy. It’s not a particularly clean form of energy. Burning black liquor releases carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that causes climate change.

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Boston Globe: Boston. Racism. Image. Reality

Google the phrase “Most racist city,” and Boston pops up more than any other place, time and time again. It may be easy to write that off as a meaningless digital snapshot of what people say about us, and what we say about ourselves, except that Boston’s reputation problem goes much deeper than an online search. The reputation is real, and pervasive — but, most important, is it deserved? The Globe Spotlight Team analyzed data, launched surveys, and conducted hundreds of interviews, to answer just that question. Spotlight examined the core of Boston’s identity: our renowned colleges and world-class medical institutions; the growth that keeps expanding our skyline; business and politics; and our championship sports teams. And the Spotlight reporters, to get a sense of how much black residents are part of the mainstream of the city, did something decidedly old-school: They visited a number of iconic Boston places and simply counted the number of black people they saw. All told, the findings were troubling. The reasons are complex.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Vows of transparency lost behind veil of dark money

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported In January 2016, Eric Greitens, then one of a crowd of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Missouri governor, vowed that the public would always know where his political funding was coming from. Less than a year into his tenure as governor, Greitens has not merely joined in the "game" of hiding financial information from the public — he has mastered it. Today, Greitens is one of the least transparent elected officials in modern state history. Among the information Greitens and his inner circle have withheld from the public: The source of one of his largest campaign contributions; how his campaign obtained a donor list it wasn't supposed to have, and how much money it brought in; the amounts that corporate donors, lobbyists and others paid toward his inauguration festivities; anything about his personal finances; and who is currently funding his public policy campaigns. 

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Las Vegas Review-Journal: Private business conflicted with state job

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports a state Funeral Board official, acting on a tip, in January found unrefrigerated bodies — some decomposing — and a box of limbs in a Reno funeral home warehouse. The business was in violation of state regulations. In some states, a failure to refrigerate human remains would cost a funeral home its license. But the investigation and prosecution of Shaun Bowen, the owner and then-managing funeral director of La Paloma Funeral Services, was far from simple. Bowen had another job: He was a deputy chief investigator at the Nevada attorney general’s office, and it was the responsibility of his colleagues to prosecute the civil charges against him and his business. Bowen, who works in the office’s Medicaid fraud unit and makes $118,000 a year in salary and benefits, had not disclosed his role as the facility’s top boss. He also failed to request approval for the outside job last year, as state regulations require

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New York Times: 2020 census raises worries about fairness and accuracy

The New York Times reports that census experts and public officials are expressing growing concerns that the bedrock mission of the 2020 census — an accurate and trustworthy head count of everyone in the United States — is imperiled, with worrisome implications. Preparations for the count already are complicated by a sea change in the census itself: For the first time, it will be conducted largely online instead of by mail. But as the Census Bureau ramps up its spending and work force for the 2020 count, it is saddled with problems. Its two top administrative posts are filled by placeholders. Years of underfunding by Congress and cost overruns on the digital transition have forced the agency to pare back its preparations. Civil liberties advocates also fear that the Trump administration is injecting political considerations into the bureau, a rigidly nonpartisan agency whose population count will be the basis for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts in the early 2020s.

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The News and Observer: Parents reject vaccinations on religious grounds

The News and Observer reports that the number of N.C. kindergarteners opting out of required childhood vaccinations on religious grounds more than doubled in the five school years from 2012 to 2016. And both public health officials and anti-vaccine advocates agree that the exemption is being claimed by parents whose true objection to the shots has nothing to do with faith. “I’ve had parents tell me they use it because there is no way for the state to decline it,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Mecklenburg County. In 2015, he introduced a bill that would have eliminated the religious exemption for all children except those who are homeschooled. He and his co-sponsors dropped the bill within two weeks because of opposition from those who say the government should not force anyone to be injected with anything.

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AP: FBI gave heads-up to fraction of Russian hackers’ US targets

The Associated Press reported the FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. Nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. “It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was notified by the AP that he was targeted in 2015. “You’ve got to tell your people. You’ve got to protect your people.” The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but did provide a statement that said in part: “The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of potential threat information.”

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AP: Big contracts, no storm tarps for Puerto Rico

The Associated Press reported that after Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico, a newly created Florida company with an unproven record won more than $30 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs. Bronze Star LLC never delivered those urgently needed supplies, which even months later remain in demand by hurricane victims on the island. FEMA eventually terminated the contracts, without paying any money, and re-started the process this month to supply more tarps for the island. The earlier effort took nearly four weeks from the day FEMA awarded the contracts to Bronze Star and the day it canceled them. Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain homeless, and many complain that the federal government is taking too long to install tarps. The U.S. territory has been hit by severe rainstorms in recent weeks that have caused widespread flooding.

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AP: Why Republicans who once fought budget debt now embrace it

The Associated Press asks: When did Republicans stop worrying and learn to love budget deficits? Over the next decade, their tax plan would add at least $1 trillion to the national debt. That would be on top of an additional $10 trillion in deficits over the same period already being by forecast by the Congressional Budget Office. As a share of the economy, the national debt would be rising to levels last seen during the height of World War II. This borrowing spree would mark a sharp reversal for Republicans who made a career of sounding the alarm that mounting national debt would ultimately crush the economy and perhaps impoverish future generations. So what changed? Republicans gained control of the House and Senate as well as the White House, said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an advocate for fiscal responsibility. Its all-inclusive control gave the party the leverage to focus on slashing tax cuts, rather than taking the sometimes painful steps required to curb the debt.

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San Francisco Chronicle: A year after fire, inspection troubles persist

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a year after the Ghost Ship fire, people are still living in unlawfully converted artist warehouses throughout Oakland, and city officials have yet to fully correct deficiencies in their inspection programs to prevent another disaster. The city still has a backlog of roughly 1,000 commercial properties it has not inspected as required by state law. And 21 of 32 buildings brought to the city’s attention after the Ghost Ship fire for possibly holding unauthorized events or residents remain out of compliance with building and fire codes. Some are used as dwellings. The city acknowledges it probably does not have a full tally on illegally converted buildings or the hazards they may hold. City officials have defended their response to shortcomings that drew scrutiny after the fire, saying they have taken steps to make Oakland safer than it was a year ago.

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Sun Sentinel: Downtown development could overwhelm leaky sewer system

The Sun Sentinel reports that Fort Lauderdale’s downtown sewer system was already straining two years ago, but the city kept approvals flowing for thousands of new condos, hotel rooms and stores. A South Florida Sun Sentinel review of development and sewer records shows a system groaning under the city’s momentous growth. A utilities expert said the downtown sewer pump was working at its maximum two years ago and could not support more development. But since then, the city has approved 26 downtown projects with 6,368 residential units, plus 104 hotel rooms, 285,378 square feet of retail and 1 million square feet of office space, records show. No downtown high-rise has been rejected because of the city’s deteriorating infrastructure. With a series of yes votes over the past five years, the city has ushered in the largest sustained period of development in the downtown’s history, records show.

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New York Times: Tax victory in sight, Republicans eye next step: Cut spending

The New York Times reports that as the tax cut legislation passed by the Senate hurtles toward final approval, Republicans are preparing to use the swelling deficits made worse by the package as a rationale to pursue their long-held vision: undoing the entitlements of the New Deal and Great Society, leaving government leaner and the safety net skimpier for millions of Americans. Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other Republicans are beginning to express their big dreams publicly, vowing that next year they will move on to changes in Medicare and Social Security. Their nearly $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, a plan likely to win final approval in the coming days, could be the first step. But their strategy poses enormous risks, not only for millions of Americans who rely on entitlement programs, but also for Republicans who would wade into politically difficult waters, cutting popular benefits for the elderly and working poor just after cutting taxes for profitable corporations.

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Chicago Tribune: Can these Chicago high schools survive?

Theron Averett Jr. was one of 250 students enrolled this year at the South Side’s Tilden High School, which Chicago Public Schools says has room for about 1,900 students. Dwindling enrollment has cut Tilden's budget. The school now offers only a small slate of classes. Tilden's football team forfeited most of its season for a lack of players, leaving homecoming without a game to celebrate. Last year's graduating class, on average, scored 14.5 on the ACT, far short of what's considered college-ready. In Chicago, where funding follows students, Tilden is one of more than a dozen shrinking neighborhood high schools that has been starved of resources. Using academic, demographic and enrollment data — in addition to criteria CPS employed to close 50 schools in 2013 — the Tribune identified 17 neighborhood high schools hardest hit by dwindling enrollment and poor academics.

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Des Moines Register: Despite GOP warnings, few Iowa farmers face estate tax

The Des Moines Register reports that if the tax reform packages that have now passed the U.S. House and Senate become law, at least one thing appears likely: The federal estate tax will be slashed and perhaps eliminated altogether. That will represent a victory for Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation, who have consistently opposed the tax and argued it unfairly lumps in the state’s farmers with some of the country’s richest families. But a review of federal tax data and nonpartisan research on the subject shows that family farmers and small business owners represent a tiny share of estate tax payers, and that the taxes they owe rarely force them to sell land or quit farming. The number of Iowans paying the estate tax actually numbers in the dozens each year, out of roughly 1.4 million who file federal tax returns each year. IRS data from the last five years shows the number of Iowa taxpayers owing estate taxes ranged from 32 in 2012 to 61 in 2015, and that the vast majority of those probably were not farmers or small business owners.

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Topeka Capital-Journal: Official defends free connection to sewer system

The Topeka Capital Journal reports that Riley County Commission Chairman Ron Wells defends a secret deal that enabled his family’s property where he lives on the edge of Manhattan, Kansas, to be connected, free of charge for decades, to the city of Manhattan’s sewer system. The arrangement saving the Wells family thousands of dollars during the past 35 years was stumbled upon by a Riley County environmental health employee looking into the commission chairman’s belated building permit application for work to convert part of a barn into an apartment. County staff were surprised to discover Wells didn’t have county-approved sewer service at two addresses on the property, including the apartment where Wells lives and his mother’s former residence. Wells responded to inquiries from county government colleagues by claiming the existence of an agreement that, since at least 1981, had excluded the payment of monthly fees for sewer lines serving the property.

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Boston Globe: Warming waters dim hope for lobster south of Cape Cod

The Boston Globe reports that in the colder waters off the coast of Maine, lobstermen have been hauling in record catches. But south of Cape Cod, where rising sea temperatures have contributed to the decimation of the lobster population, the industry has collapsed. In some areas, catches have plunged 90 percent below their peak in the late 1990s, leaving scant hope that a once-storied fishery can recover. The steep decline has left regulators in a quandary: Should they tighten fishing restrictions in the hope of preserving what’s left of the lobster population? Or accept that conservation efforts may be futile and let lobstermen continue setting thousands of traps? Even scientists who have sought tighter restrictions in hopes of saving the region’s lobster population acknowledge such efforts may be in vain. For an iconic New England industry, the picture is devastating.

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Record: Management exodus at N.J. Transit

The Record reports that NJ Transit lost a quarter of its railroad managers in the two years prior to a fatal 2016 crash in Hoboken, according to a document the agency sent to federal regulators. The exodus squeezed the agency from both sides: As 49 of NJ Transit's most senior rail supervisors retired between January 2014 and July 2016, a group of younger potential replacements, including some who were considered rising stars, left the agency for jobs from Connecticut to Florida. The Record and obtained the list through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Railroad Administration. A total of 93 managers left NJ Transit from January 2014 to July 2016. There were 376 rail management positions then. The names of the 93 managers who left the agency were redacted from the documents The Record received. However, the documents do show the titles, departments and years of experience they had.

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Newark Star Ledger: NJ Environmentalists use new strategy to fight pipelines

The Newark Star Ledger reports that over the years, environmental groups opposed to the expansion of oil and natural gas pipelines across the nation have tried various ways to fight against pipeline projects. Now, Garden State environmental advocates think they've found a way to stop pipeline companies from acquiring the land they need in the first place, and a pipeline project in New Jersey may serve as the legal battleground. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the grounds that the agency's use of eminent domain to take over land for the construction of interstate natural gas pipelines is often unconstitutional. The NJCF is represented by the Eastern Environmental Law Center and the Columbia University Environmental Law Clinic. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in November, cites the Fifth Amendment requirement that any eminent domain action be made for "public use.

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News and Observer: Faulty radios put prison officers in danger

The News and Observer reports that more than a dozen current and former prison employees described in interviews a potentially life-threatening problem: The two-way radios that officers are issued often don’t work properly, leaving them without a crucial safety tool. The disclosures – made by officers who worked at nine different prisons – come during a deadly time for North Carolina’s prison employees. Since April, five workers have died as a result of attacks inside the prisons. In response to questions from the Observer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety said that managers have directed all prisons “to inventory and assess their radios and PA systems.” But prison leaders say better technology has made radios more reliable, and that only 5 percent of radios now malfunction. They say they are quick to repair and replace broken radios.

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Dallas Morning News: More women jailed in Texas though arrests dropped

The Dallas Morning News reports that across Texas, the number of women awaiting trial in county jails has jumped by 48 percent since 2011, according to an analysis of state data. At the peak this year in August, more than 6,300 women were jailed before trial, up from under 4,000 in early 2011. Using monthly headcounts that sheriffs reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the newspaper found significant increases in women inmates at many jails, especially in rural counties.  During the same time period, men in Texas county jails pretrial increased only 11 percent. The surge doesn’t seem to reflect a crime wave. The number of women getting arrested has actually dropped by 20 percent since 2011, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. (Arrest data don’t necessarily reflect every time an inmate is jailed.)

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AP: Toxic algae: Once a nuisance, now a severe nationwide threat

The Associated Press reported Lake Erie and other waterways are choked with algae that’s sickening people, killing animals and hammering the economy. The scourge is escalating from occasional nuisance to severe, widespread hazard, overwhelming government efforts to curb a leading cause: fertilizer runoff from farms. Pungent, sometimes toxic blobs are fouling waterways from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay, from the Snake River in Idaho to New York’s Finger Lakes and reservoirs in California’s Central Valley. Tourism and recreation have suffered. An international water skiing festival in Milwaukee was canceled in August; scores of swimming areas were closed nationwide. Algae are essential to food chains, but these tiny plants and bacteria sometimes multiply out of control. Within the past decade, outbreaks have been reported in every state, a trend likely to accelerate as climate change boosts water temperatures.

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AP: Radioactive waste continues to leak at Illinois nuclear plants 

The Associated Press reported radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon's Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found. Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows. No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company. The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon's Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago.

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Birmingham News: Why Alabama locks up teens as adults

The Birmingham News reports that in Alabama, unlike in most other states, teens who are 16 and 17 are automatically charged as adults for certain crimes, including burglary and murder. Advocates expect reforms to come before the Legislature next year. ="We are in a minority of states that continue to follow a process that I think legislators and constituents and other jurisdictions have decided is barbaric," said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been advocating for juvenile justice system reform. In Alabama, kids as young as 14 can be charged as adults if a juvenile court judge so orders after reviewing a case. But during the "tough on crime" 1990s, state legislators passed a law that bypasses judges and prosecutors for some crimes and some kids. If a 16 or 17-year-old is accused of one of the felonies on the list, they're charged as an adult. There's no judicial review where a judge decides what's appropriate. Prosecutors don't get much leeway.

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Washington Post: When will sexual abuse in Olympic sports end?

The Washington Post reports more than 290 coaches and officials associated with the United States’ Olympic sports organizations have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since 1982, according to the newspaper’s review of sport governing body banned lists, news clips and court records in several states. The figure spans parts of 15 sports and amounts to an average of eight adults connected to an Olympic organization accused of sexual misconduct every year — or about one every six weeks — for more than 36 years. The figure includes more than 175 officials convicted of sex crimes as well as those who never faced criminal charges and have denied claims, such as Andy Gabel, an Olympian and former U.S. Speed skating president banned from the sport in 2013 after two women alleged he forced himself on them; and Don Peters, the 1984 Olympic gymnastics coach banned after two women alleged he had sex with them when they were teenagers.

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Arizona Daily Star: Unapproved economics class tied to Koch network

The Arizona Daily Star reports Tucson’s largest school district has allowed a controversial economics class with a biased textbook and ties to the Koch network to slip through the cracks and be taught at four high schools without being properly vetted or approved. Now, in the middle of the second year of the yearlong class, the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board is scrambling to decide what to do with students who are currently enrolled and grappling with the consequences of having already graduated students who technically didn’t take an approved, required economics class. Critics of the class say the way it was quietly inserted into district curriculum highlights the worst aspects of both the Koch network and TUSD — that the former is attempting to fund an ideological revolution through its clandestine infiltration of public institutions, and the latter is too incompetent to notice a contentious, unapproved course in its schools.

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San Francisco Chronicle: “Build-it-yourself” handguns bypass tough state laws

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the man who shot five people to death on a rampage through a small town in the northern Central Valley couldn’t buy guns legally, but by building his own untraceable weapons, he was able to amass an illegal arsenal. Kevin Janson Neal used at least two homebuilt semiautomatic rifles to massacre his wife and four other residents of Rancho Tehama Reserve in Tehama County, authorities who seized the weapons said. Such “ghost guns” are slipping through a loophole in California’s tough firearms laws, according to gun control proponents. One manufacturer of the technology that makes such weapons easy to build says the state’s tough-on-guns stance has created a demand for workarounds that is making him rich.

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Miami Herald: Florida deletes online inspections of troubled nursing homes

The Miami Herald reports how it and other media wrote extensively about the troubling regulatory history at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills where 13 frail elders died last September in the sweltering aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which knocked out the home’s cooling system. The newspaper also reported on AHCA’s subsequent decision to heavily redact state reports on nursing homes.. Soon after, with no announcement or notice, AHCA wiped its website clean of all nursing home inspections, shielding the industry to the detriment of consumers. Online, AHCA now refers consumers to a separate website managed by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, though that site does not include as much material as the state previously provided. AHCA does maintain spreadsheets online that rate homes on a host of criteria, and allow consumers to compare.

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Chicago Tribune: Sandhill cranes bounce back from brink

The Chicago Tribune reports you can once again hear the rolling bugle call of long-necked sandhill cranes gliding overhead. They are appearing with increased frequency across northern Illinois, part of a widespread regional recovery. Once nearly vanished from the Midwest, sandhill cranes have bounced back and returned by the thousands. The population is booming. “It’s an incredible recovery. It’s one of the best Midwest bird stories,” said Rich Beilfuss, president and CEO of the International Crane Foundation. “They’re back in people’s lives in a way we really haven’t seen in a while.” In the 1930s, only two dozen breeding pair of sandhill cranes lived in Wisconsin. The population in the upper Midwest is now between 65,000 and 95,000, researchers estimate. The biggest boost for the sandhill cranes’ re-emergence in the region, scientists say, is the conservation and restoration of wetlands, marshes and prairies, the birds’ preferred habitat for nesting and breeding.

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Lexington Herald-Leader: Kentucky taxes coffins but not tombstones

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports how for 41 years Kentucky has given a tax break to the bereaved: When a loved one dies, you don’t have to pay the state’s 6 percent sales tax when buying a gravestone. The report is the fifth in a series of stories about tax breaks and incentive programs that cost Kentucky billions of dollars each year, leaving lawmakers little money to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems. The tombstone tax exemption is one of hundreds on the books that cost Kentucky about $13 billion a year. That’s more than the state collects in taxes for its General Fund each year. Aside from the headstone exemption, all the other tangible goods used in a funeral — caskets, flowers, urns, stationary — get taxed when they’re bought by a funeral home.  “We exempt far too many things,” Gov. Matt Bevin recently told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “We have tax exemptions to the tune of billions and billions of dollars that other states don’t have.”

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Baltimore Sun: Baltimore resident: “I don’t really feel safe anywhere anymore.”

The Baltimore Sun reports that even in a city where crime seems like a chronic rather than an episodic disease, the recent string of killings, shootings and robberies has felt qualitatively different. Mayor Catherine Pugh says the violence is out of control. Three years into a historic spike in killing, it’s not clear that anyone has any idea how to curtail it. In conversations private and public, in neighborhood gathering spaces and on social media, fear is rising. On Nov. 15, Baltimore showed it still had the capacity to shock, in the fatal shooting of police Detective Sean Suiter. The 18-year veteran, who joined the homicide unit in 2015, as the violence began rising, was investigating one of last year’s 318 killings. He became this year’s 309th. The shooter remained at large, even as police descended on the Harlem Park neighborhood, shut down streets and banged on doors in search of the suspect or evidence that would lead to him.

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Maine Sunday Telegram: State largely ignores role as seas grow more acidic

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that at last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Germany an issue of vital importance to Maine fishermen and shellfish growers took the international spotlight: the increasing acidity of the sea, which is making it harder for some shellfish to grow their shells. The governors of Washington state and Oregon joined the fisheries minister of Fiji, the meeting’s official host nation, to announce the expansion of a year-old international alliance to combat the problem. It now includes four states, two Canadian provinces and nine national governments. Maine isn’t one of them, nor was anyone from Maine state government at the conference. Nearly three years ago, a bipartisan panel of experts convened by the Legislature concluded that ocean acidification – a byproduct of global warming – represented a potentially catastrophic threat to Maine’s marine harvesters and issued a series of recommendations. But state government and legislators have done little to implement the panel’s recommendations.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: Gun-related cases running at 20-year highs

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Minnesota prosecutors have taken aim at criminals with guns, sending more to prison for gun-related convictions than at any time in at least two decades. In 2015 and 2016, prosecutors statewide received about 1,200 gun-related cases each year from police, according to a report from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. That’s up more than 50 percent from a decade earlier and more than double the cases forwarded for prosecution in 1996. Lawmakers recently toughened the penalties for illegal possession, extending the law to bullets. Defense attorneys say that this year they’re seeing more gun charges going to trial than ever before. The bulk of the cases come from Hennepin County, where prosecutors have collaborated with the U.S. attorney’s office to go after illegal gun possession. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman forbids prosecutors from being lenient on guns to strike plea deals.

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Mississippi Press: Mayor removes Mississippi state flag from city hall

The Mississippi Press reports that on Shea Dobson's first day in office July 3, he made the decision to return the Mississippi state flag to the flagpole outside his office window at Ocean Springs City Hall. Dobson's decision reversed the action of his predecessor, Connie Moran, who had the flag removed years earlier. Earlier this week, however, Dobson changed course and had the flag taken down after months of complaints and protests from those opposed to the state flag, which has become a source of division among Mississippians for the inclusion of the Confederate battle emblem. "It wasn't an easy decision," Dobson told The Mississippi Press. "But it had become clear it was affecting a lot of people in the community, affecting business, affecting our ability to get things done and move forward, so I made the tough call to take it down."

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The Record: Write-in candidates successful across New Jersey

The Record reports voters went to the polls across New Jersey on Nov. 7 to find school board races without any candidates, or races where there were more seats than people on the ballot. These seats were clinched by write-in votes — in one case, as few as eight. In recent years, interest in school board positions has waned and more races have attracted just one candidate or none at all. Political activists say communities lose out when they don’t have a rigorous debate on education issues, but they acknowledge the difficulty in fielding school candidates in a state with nearly 600 school districts, some of which are so small that they have just one school. Across New Jersey, there were 128 school board positions on the ballot without candidates, out of a total 1,590 seats up for grabs in the election.. Another 758 seats were uncontested, meaning they attracted just one candidate, not exactly a picture of vibrant democracy.

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Newark Star Ledger: More guns on streets in New Jersey. Question is Why

The Newark Star Ledger reports the guns being taken off the streets in Newark, New Jersey, these days often range from the firepower of a combat weapon, to modern semi-automatics little different than those carried by police. And in a place where gang violence and illicit drug dealing account for much of its serious crime, there has been a big surge this year in the number that are turning up. Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said what they are seeing is far different  from the cheap "Saturday Night Specials" that were once a staple of urban violet crime. Last month in Newark, a search by police of a rental car driven by North Carolina man turned up two revolvers, a semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 military-style rifle. Already this year, 449 weapons have been recovered or seized in the state's largest city, up from 377 during the same period a year ago, according to Ambrose.

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New York Times: When unpaid student loans mean you can no longer work

The New York Times reports few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work. As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive. Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked. Determining the number of people who have lost their licenses is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information.

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Oregonian: How Oregon let clean energy program enrich rule beakers

The Oregonian reports a Seattle-based energy consultant and the state employee he’s accused of bribing became the public faces of corruption charges at the Oregon Department of Energy after their arrests last summer. But it wasn’t one rogue employee who enabled consultant Martin Shain to reap $12 million in green energy tax credits for solar projects that should have failed to qualify, according to thousands of records reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Four other Energy Department employees, including the director, helped Shain obtain the credits by circumventing program rules and ignoring deadlines lawmakers insisted on. None of the four has been accused of wrongdoing. All four employees declined to answer questions about their particular roles in greenlighting the tax credits. But records illustrate that officials scrambled to ensure success of the politically high-profile project. Documents also show how the culture of the agency contributed to the misuse of millions in taxpayer funds.

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Dallas Morning News: The airlines are packing ‘em in for profit

The Dallas Morning News reports that as travelers head to the airports this holiday season, those who haven’t flown for a while could be forgiven for wondering if the plane is a bit more cramped than they remembered. For decades, airlines have worked to find new ways to fit as many seats as possible on their aircraft, a trend that hasn’t let up even as carriers are coming off a stretch of record profits that in 2016 totaled $13.5 billion industrywide. But with labor costs rising and gas prices and airport fees steadily inching upward, the pressure is on to control expenses and keep revenue growing apace. Packing even a few more seats onto an aircraft is an efficient way to spread costs over more passengers and ideally earn a few more dollars per flight.

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AP Exclusive: Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news 

The Associated Press reported disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year's presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton's campaign. An AP analysis of since-deleted accounts shows tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as "America_1st_" and "BatonRougeVoice" on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. AP's analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.

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Arizona Republic: Foster care boards don’t look like their communities

The Arizona Republic reports that experts have long recognized inequalities in America's child-welfare system: When kids share identical circumstances except for race, black and Native American children enter foster care more often, spend more time in the system and wait longer to be adopted. In an attempt to ensure fair treatment for kids taken from their parents, Arizona lawmakers decades ago mandated that Foster Care Review Boards — which help decide the fates of children in foster care — mirror the races, ethnicities and income levels of the communities they serve. They don't. Though children of color represent about 60 percent of kids in out-of-home care, Foster Care Review Boards are overwhelmingly  overwhelmingly white. State records indicate nearly 90 percent of board members in Maricopa County and 100 percent of board members in six other counties identify as "Anglo American."

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Miami Herald: Want to see emergency plan for mom’s nursing home? Good luck

The Miami Herald reports that to protect the elderly and disabled residents of Florida’s 683 nursing homes from the ravages of an Irma-like storm or other disaster, state law requires that administrators submit detailed emergency plans to regulators every year. Will residents have enough food and water to survive a prolonged siege? Where will they go during a mandatory evacuation? How will they get there? Is there a generator to operate air-conditioning systems or respirators? But if viewing the emergency management plan is on your checklist of things to do before moving a loved one into a South Florida nursing home, good luck. What information is available points to a troubling reality: Many of the plans will be of little help the next time a hurricane rumbles through.

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Orlando Sentinel: Election officials say online voter registration a “great tool”

The Orlando Sentinel reports most people do just about everything online today. They pay their bills. They make hotel reservations and file their income tax returns. Now, residents can use their computers to register to vote or change their party affiliation as Florida recently joined 35 other states and the District of Columbia to offer online voter registration. Central Florida elections officials are lauding the online service as a “great tool” that will encourage more people to sign up to vote and improve the accuracy of voter rolls. “The online voter registration process has opened the door to a lot of folks who have not previously registered to vote,” said Michael Ertel, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections. “When I first registered to vote back in the late ’80s, I had to take a forward step. I had to go to the supervisor of elections office. Since that time, elections offices have come to the voters.”

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Pison hospital a breeding ground for infection

The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional reports the unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Georgia’s flagship prison medical facility are worse than previously reported and could jeopardize the health of inmates already dealing with cancer and other serious illnesses, newly obtained photos and documents reveal. Photos obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the last two weeks show standing water and filth from leaking ceilings only feet away from the operating room, pads on the floor to soak up leaking rain water and air vents covered with dust and other debris at Augusta State Medical Prison. The AJC has also obtained recent letters and emails in which two inmates diagnosed with cancer described broken and dirty toilets and showers as well as other germ-related issues in the dormitories where they were required to recover after surgery. Both inmates said they found the place so unsanitary that they would resist further treatment if they had to have it there.

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Times-Picayune: How city council spent $155,000 in travel expenses

The Times Picayune reports the prospect of new malls and retail outlets was enticing enough to attract New Orleans City Council staff and two council members themselves to Las Vegas in May 2016. The trip cost taxpayers a combined $14,230 in travel expenses, however, raising questions about what benefit their fact-finding and promotional efforts brought to the city's economy. Records show that wasn't the only retail conference trip to Vegas for Council members Jared Brossett, Nadfine Ramsey and James Gray or their staff. They each went at least once more or sent staffers, spending a combined $36,158 in Las Vegas trips over four years. Those were among dozens of out-of-state trips taken by six out of the council's seven members or their staff using city-issued credit cards in the past five years, according to a | The Times-Picayune analysis of credit card records. In all, council credit cards were charged more than $155,300 for out-of-state trips since 2013, records show.

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Baltimore Sun: Gun arrests decline after indictments of gun task force members  

The Baltimore Sun reports the corruption indictments this year against Baltimore’s elite Gun Trace Task Force has produced an unintended — and undesirable — consequence: a major decline in gun arrests in the city. As Baltimore struggles under surging gun violence, gun arrests are down 25 percent from last year. Much of the decline has come from the police department’s operational intelligence division, of which the task force was a part. The division has made 277 fewer gun arrests this year, a 67 percent drop. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the dissolution of the task force in March has been a factor. The end to “their methodology of work certainly has contributed to a decline in gun arrests,” Smith said, adding that some of the successes claimed by the unit “might not have been lawful arrests.” The task force was assigned  a job that Police Commissioner Kevin Davis described as a key to quelling the city’s historic violence: getting illegal guns out of the hands of trigger-pullers.

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Minnesota Star Tribune: Abused, ignored in senior homes across Minnesota

The Minnesota Star Tribune reports that every year hundreds of residents at senior care centers around the state are assaulted, raped or robbed in crimes that leave lasting trauma and pain for the victims and their families. Yet the vast majority of these crimes are never resolved, and the perpetrators never punished, because state regulators lack the staff and expertise to investigate them. And thousands of complaints are simply ignored. State records examined by the Star Tribune show the scale of the failure. Last year alone, the Minnesota Department of Health received 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts in state-licensed homes for the elderly. Ninety-seven percent were never investigated. That includes 2,025 allegations of physical or emotional abuse by staff, 4,100 reports of altercations between residents and 300 reported drug thefts.

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Kansas City Star: Kansas: “One of the most secretive, darkest states”

The Kansas City Star reports that Kansas runs one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, and its secrecy permeates nearly every aspect of service. From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle, the Star found in a months-long investigation. “My No. 1 question to anybody who opts in favor of nondisclosure is, ‘What are you trying to hide from us?’” said former Rep. John Rubin, a Johnson County Republican, calling Kansas “one of the most secretive, dark states in the country in many of these areas.” The examples, when stitched together, form a quilt of secrecy that envelops much of state government. Many lawmakers who have attempted more openness in government say accountability has withered in Gov. Sam Brownback’s era.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: How states spend your money on Hollywood

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that although Florida has sunny skies, beautiful beaches and luxurious locations to shoot movies and TV shows, it lacks one key attraction: lucrative tax credits. As a result, the cameras have shut off, and the stars have moved to other states. Even HBO's Ballers, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, which glamorizes South Beach, left for California after Florida's tax incentives dried up. The situation in Florida has played out in states across the nation, an investigation by the USA TODAY Network found. Some states have increased public spending to bring in shows and films, creating a competition among New York, California, Georgia, Louisiana and other states with big incentives. But other states like Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan have done away with their programs, concluding the tax breaks weren't producing enough of a return on investment.

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Philadelphia Inquirer: A $1 million clause in gaming bill for a casino

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in a last-minute maneuver before the state Senate last month passed a sweeping expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania, lawmakers added a 28-word amendment, cloaked in legalese tucked halfway into the 939-page bill. Pennsylvania has 12 casinos. But that single sentence could be worth millions of dollars to one: Mount Airy Casino Resort. The bill paved the way for so-called mini-casinos to open around the state, requiring only that they be at least 25 miles from one of the larger, established gambling halls. More important, it guarantees that the Mount Pocono destination remains the closest and most accessible casino for the thousands of New Yorkers who flock each week to the commonwealth to gamble.

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Dallas Morning News: Pain creams caused death, cost government millions

The Dallas Morning News reports the Harris County medical examiner ruled that 22-year-old Desiree Ford’s November 2014 death was caused by toxic effects of two drugs in the pain cream she used, which came from a Houston compounding pharmacy called Diamond Pharmacy. The doctor who prescribed it, Michael Kelly, never talked to or examined Ford. But he did take a kickback for writing the script, prosecutors said. Kelly and four others connected to the pharmacy were convicted of fraud in federal court in Houston for the $17 million scheme. Kelly, 71, who surrendered his medical license, died earlier this year before he could be sentenced. Federal prosecutors are bringing similar fraud cases against doctors, pharmacies and marketers from Dallas to Houston to the border. The feds say they bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars and endangered patients with the dubious creams, some costing as much as $28,000 per container.

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Seattle Times: County that voted for Trump shaken as immigrants disappear

The Seattle Times reports that many in Pacific County thought President Donald Trump would take away “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” with his immigration crackdown, but they were shocked to see who started to go missing. That kind of shock is reverberating throughout the county as Trump’s toughened immigration policy hits home. ICE has arrested at least 28 people in the county this year, according to numbers provided to the Sheriff’s Office. While that’s just a small share of the roughly 3,100 ICE arrests overseen by its regional office in Seattle it represents a pronounced upward trajectory. In a county of small, close-knit communities — Long Beach, population 1,400, is one of the largest — it’s noticed when someone goes missing. The number is magnified by those who have moved, gone into hiding or followed family after a deportation. People have lost neighbors, schools have lost students and businesses have lost employees.

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