WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-29-15
Los Angeles Times: Homeless camps stretch beyond downtown LA
The Los Angeles Times reports that Louis Morales and his 18-year-old stepson, Arthur Valenzuela, who were evicted from their Highland Park apartment four months ago, live half-hidden by brush along a nearby riverbed. Morales, 49, keeps a framed bible verse and a stuffed monkey in his tent. Water hauled by bike from a park heats up on the camp stove. Next door, their friend Johnny Salazar fixes bikes and shattered computer screens on the cheap for people who live in the neighborhood. A brother and sister Morales has known for years live up the river, and three couples stay down by the bridge. "Everybody here is from Highland Park," Valenzuela said. "We don't allow other people." Over the last two years, street encampments have jumped their historic boundaries in downtown Los Angeles, lining freeways and filling underpasses from Echo Park to South Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency, received 767 calls about street encampments in 2014, up 60 percent from the 479 in 2013.
Washington Post: African Americans who bought homes watch wealth vanish
The Washington Post says that African Americans for decades flocked to Prince George’s County to be part of a phenomenon that has been rare in American history: a community that grew more upscale as it became more black. The county became a national symbol of the American Dream with a black twist. … But today, the nation’s highest-income majority-black county stands out for a different reason - its residents have lost far more wealth than families in neighboring, majority-white suburbs. And while every one of these surrounding counties is enjoying a strong rebound in housing prices and their economies, Prince George’s is lagging far behind, and local economists say a full recovery appears unlikely anytime soon.
Miami Herald: How Bush’s sweet deal went sour
Jeb Bush was out of the Florida governor’s mansion for less than a year when he signed a $15,000-a-month consulting deal with InnoVida, a Miami start-up promising to revolutionize affordable housing with remarkably sturdy and lightweight building panels, according to the Miami Herald. But InnoVida never delivered. Instead, the company crashed amid bankruptcy and fraud investigations that ultimately landed its charming CEO, Claudio Osorio, in federal prison for nearly 13 years. A bankruptcy trustee went after Bush’s fees, and in 2013 the former two-term governor agreed to pay back more than half of the $470,000 he collected as a consultant between late 2007 and the fall of 2010. Bush, who also served on InnoVida’s board, was never accused of wrongdoing in Osorio’s Ponzi-like swindle that prosecutors said netted him and other co-conspirators about $50 million. But InnoVida occupies noteworthy real estate in the broad landscape of Bush’s business dealings, since it’s the only one to have ended in the kind of full-blown scandal that occurs when a CEO is led away in handcuffs.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article8030382.html#storylink=cpy
Chicago Tribune: Furniture firms shun toxic flame retardants
The Chicago Tribune finds that new safety regulations allow upholstered furniture to be made without flame retardants, but consumers may find it difficult to tell whether a retailer's new couches and chairs are free of the toxic, ineffective chemicals. A handful of industry leaders say they have largely purged flame retardants from their supply chains. Others are more vague about their plans. Some decline to address the issue at all. The inconsistent messages mean consumers must ask retailers pointed questions if they want to ensure a particular couch or chair doesn't contain flame retardants linked to cancer, developmental problems, reduced IQ and impaired fertility. They also can check the label commonly found underneath seat cushions. Under a new California law that manufacturers are applying to products sold nationwide, furniture made after Jan. 1 features an updated label that clearly states whether or not flame retardants were added to "upholstery materials." The new label is among the policy changes prompted by a Tribune investigative series that exposed a deceptive campaign by the tobacco and chemical industries to promote flame retardants, despite research showing the chemicals provide little protection from furniture fires.
Detroit Free Press: GED overhaul produces tougher test, less success
The Detroit Press finds that a year after the GED exam underwent a massive overhaul - one that made it far more difficult but more in line with what's expected of today's high school grads - there has been a steep decline in people taking and passing the test. Preliminary numbers from the GED Testing Service estimate that 90,000 people nationwide earned the General Educational Development diploma, a high school equivalency credential, in 2014. That's down from 540,535 in 2013 and 401,388 in 2012.
Similar declines are happening in Michigan, where the number passing in 2014 was 1,472 for people in the general population, down from 13,651 in 2013 and 10,290 in 2012.
Most education experts expected a decline because the number of people passing always drops when the GED introduces a new exam. But last year's drop was worse than the last overhaul in 2002, when there was a 53 percent decline in people passing the test. Last year, the drop was 83 percent. GED officials expect the numbers will rebound.
Post-Crescent: Lack of punishment for sex offenders
The Post-Crescent looked at the prosecution of sex offenders in Wisconsin. It found, for example, that Ronald Kupsky is a free man, despite having sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl and facing pending charges of a second child assault and an investigation into a potential third victim. Kupsky is not on Wisconsin's sex offender registry and has no probation agent. He is required to follow certain rules as part of his bond _ including no unsupervised contact with minors _ but prosecutors say he violated the conditions before.
A Post-Crescent Media review found that Kupsky's case is not isolated. While prosecutors and defense attorneys debate the need to protect the public while ensuring a presumption of innocence for the people accused, the review showed that convictions on original charges are rare, and plea agreements allow some offenders to avoid prison or sex offender registration. The newspaper found that in the 153 child sexual assault cases filed in Outagamie County between September 2009 and August 2014, more than half of the defendants were released from jail during court proceedings. Of those, 43 received signature bonds and 34 were granted reduced bonds upon request.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-22-15
Arizona Daily Star: Property managers are under scrutiny
The Arizona Daily Star reports that first, the rent checks from Mark Poppe‘s tenants – processed by a property manager – started arriving a little late. Then a month late. Within six months, by October 2012, Poppe couldn’t even reach property manager Gregory Goldshteyn, whose real-estate license was revoked the following year. By the time he was indicted on more than 20 charges related to real-estate fraud and theft, Poppe was out $7,300 in lost rent payments and security deposits. … Arizona was among the states hit hardest by the housing crisis, making affordable properties appealing for local and out-of-town buyers. Those investors contributed to rising demand for property-management services – and a surge in property-management violations.
Sacramento Bee: Jail care provider has seen 92 deaths
On a Saturday morning in 2010, police in Clearlake, California, showed up at the home of 38-year-old Jimmy Ray Hatfield after he barricaded himself in his bedroom and told his parents he had a bomb, the Sacramento Bee reports. Hatfield was mentally ill and thought someone was going to kill him, his parents told police. After a lengthy standoff, he was brought to a hospital, given an antipsychotic and a sedative and transported to the Lake County jail, records show. The jail nurse received paperwork from the hospital detailing his psychotic state, but said she did not review it because that was the job of another nurse. That nurse wasn’t scheduled to work for another day and a half. By then, Hatfield was found unresponsive in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet. The company responsible for the jail’s health care, California Forensic Medical Group, was accused by Hatfield’s family of negligence in his death and settled the case for an undisclosed amount. It has faced allegations that it failed to provide proper care in dozens of U.S. District Court cases over the last decade. … In a 10-year period ending in May 2014, 92 people died of suicide or a drug overdose while in the custody of a jail served by CFMG, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of a state Department of Justice database.
Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article7249637.html#storylink=cpy
Denver Post: Low rate of inspection for day-care providers
A Denver Post review of state data has found that at least 24 children have died since 2006 in licensed day-care facilities across Colorado, a state with one of the weakest inspection programs in the nation. Colorado inspects licensed child-care providers far less frequently than most states, and when state inspectors do find hazardous conditions, they often allow the facilities to stay open, the investigation by The Denver Post found. From 2006 through last March, at least 43 child-care operators in the state amassed five or more licensing violations apiece, ranging from staff drug use to harsh treatment of children, but only six were closed, according to The Post's review of state inspection data.
Twenty-four children died from injuries at licensed facilities in Colorado between 2006 and 2012, public health records show. Of those, at least 10 occurred at providers with previous complaints or licensing violations, The Post found.
Baltimore Sun: Data hacked often in 2014
The Baltimore Sun reports that it was a typical winter morning on the Twitter feed of Eastern Shore television station WBOC: a stream of messages about snowfall and a reminder to download the station's weather app for the latest updates. Then the Cyber Caliphate arrived. Just after 11 a.m., the station's logo was replaced with the image of a masked man, and a torrent of propaganda supporting the Islamic State spewed onto the feed. "Infidels, New Year will make you suffer," the account's new controller warned. The cyberattack grabbed national headlines. But it was just one among scores of hacks that have affected Marylanders in the past year, according to records released by the state attorney general's office. The data reveal a constant assault on information: On average, two companies that do business in the state fell victim each week in 2014. … Companies told the state that in 2014 the personal information of as many as 26,000 Marylanders — addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card information and the like — had been compromised by hackers or malicious software. The true number is likely far greater. Not all of the reports are detailed, and the records do not list how many people in Maryland were affected by known breaches last year at Home Depot, Staples, eBay and the University of Maryland, College Park.
Kansas City Star: Ill-gotten guns
Paul Hamilton’s week was supposed to be coming to an end when the fatal shooting began, according to the Kansas City Star. Bullets flew inside the She’s A Pistol gun store at 57th Terrace and Nieman Road. By the time Hamilton, a police sergeant and co-leader of Kansas City’s “gun squad,” arrived shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 9, three of four suspected robbers lay wounded. The store’s co-owner would later die of his injuries. The weekend had just begun. Last Sunday, the squad — a special unit of Kansas City police and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — would be called to the killing of Alexis Kane, 14, whose body was found near The Bay Water Park at 7101 Longview Road. “Shell casings were found,” Hamilton said. Monday night, the squad would be standing at 63rd Street and the Paseo assisting homicide cops with another murder. “Two people shot,” Hamilton said. “One guy died from his injuries.” Although the crimes were unrelated, to Hamilton and squad co-leader Eric Immesberger the common link was as sharp as a muzzle blast: guns illegally used and, almost invariably, illegally gotten.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article7227620.html#storylink=cpy
New York Times: Odd byproduct of legal weed -- homes blow up
The New York Times says that when Colorado legalized marijuana two years ago, nobody was quite ready for the problem of exploding houses. But that is exactly what firefighters, courts and lawmakers across the state are confronting these days: amateur marijuana alchemists who are turning their kitchens and basements into “Breaking Bad”-style laboratories, using flammable chemicals to extract potent drops of a marijuana concentrate commonly called hash oil, and sometimes accidentally blowing up their homes and lighting themselves on fire in the process. The trend is not limited to Colorado — officials from Florida to Illinois to California have reported similar problems — but the blasts are creating a special headache for lawmakers and courts here, the state at the center of legal marijuana. … There were 32 such blasts across Colorado in 2014, up from 12 a year earlier, according to the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which coordinates federal and state drug enforcement efforts. No one has been killed, but the fires have wrecked homes and injured dozens of people, including 17 who received treatment for severe burns, including skin grafts and surgery, at the University of Colorado Hospital’s burn center.
Austin American-Statesman: A separated city
The divides between greater Austin, Texas, and its African-American population threaten both the region's progressive reputation and its economic potential. Austin's rapid development has overrun many of its African-American institutions and neighborhoods, and the loss of those cultural anchors has helped harden many of the gaps between Austin's majority and black populations, as well as existing and newly arrived black residents. The American-Statesman has prepared a three-part series on the problem, including videos, photos, documents and interactive maps.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: No new conviction, but back in prison
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that more than half of the nearly 8,000 people sent to Wisconsin’s prisons in 2013 were locked up without a trial — and they weren't found guilty of new crimes. Some were punished for violating probation or parole by doing things such as accepting a job without permission, using a cellphone or computer without authorization, or leaving their home county. Some were suspected of criminal activity, but not charged. Re-incarcerating people for breaking the rules costs Wisconsin taxpayers more than $100 million every year. The process that forces violators back behind bars relies largely on the judgment of individual parole agents, which can vary widely. Once accused of violations, people on parole can be sent back to prison for years without proof beyond a reasonable doubt — and they are left with little chance of a successful appeal. … In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 7,727 people were sent to prison in Wisconsin. According to the Department of Corrections, 2,668 were there as a result of a new criminal conviction. Another 1,010 were locked up because they did not follow the rules of their parole or supervised release and also were convicted of a new crime. The rest — 4,049 — were there only because probation and parole agents determined they violated the rules or suspected they had done something illegal. They were not convicted of breaking the law while on supervision.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-15-15
Orange County Register: Gender switch in Orange County prostitution battle
In the latest sign of shifting tactics to fight prostitution across Orange County, state data show local law enforcement agencies are arresting fewer women and more men involved in the sex trade. Local officials say the trend likely marks the beginning of a sea change in how police approach prostitution. More agencies are coming to view prostitutes as victims of abuse rather than criminals, and are making greater efforts to connect them with counseling rather than jail cells. In 2013, county agencies logged the fewest female arrests since 2001 and the most male arrests since 2006. Female arrests still eclipsed male arrests, but the gap between genders was the narrowest in a decade. Instead of focusing enforcement on the predominantly female prostitutes, police are more often snapping handcuffs on the trade's predominantly male johns and pimps, who in some circles are called “sex purchasers” and “human traffickers.”
New Haven Register: Death by suicide on the rise in U.S.
Death by suicide has been on the rise in Connecticut — nearly one a day — with experts pointing to the ease of acquiring deadly opioids such as heroin and the stresses of middle age.
“Here at our clinic, I do have to say that we are seeing more suicides, because we track them,” said Barbara DiMauro, president and CEO of Bridges in Milford, which provides mental health services. “We had more suicides in 2012 and 2013 than we did in previous years.” In addition, DiMauro said, “Suicide is largely under-reported. I do believe there are many more (self-inflicted deaths) annually than the numbers we see documented” because of unexplained causes of death and other factors. … According to the state medical examiner’s office, suicides in Connecticut rose to 358 in 2010, the highest total since 1991, and spiked to 372 in 2012, the latest date for which figures are available.
Sun Sentinel: Cuban criminal pipeline plunders America
U.S. policy created for humanitarian reasons 50 years ago has fueled a criminal pipeline from Cuba to Florida, enabling crooks from the island to rob American businesses and taxpayers of more than $2 billion over two decades. A yearlong Sun Sentinel investigation found money stolen in the United States streaming back to Cuba, and a revolving door that allows thieves to come here, make a quick buck and return. Cuba has become a bedroom community for criminals who exploit America’s good will. “There’s a whole new sub-class of part-time residents that flow back and forth,’’ said Rene Suarez, a Fort Myers attorney who represents Cubans charged in criminal schemes. “They tell me stories and live very comfortably in Cuba with the illegitimate money that they’re able to obtain here in the United States.” The Sun Sentinel traveled to Cuba, examined hundreds of court documents, and obtained federal data never before made public to provide the first comprehensive look at a criminal network facilitated by U.S. law.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Affidavit details school's aberrant spending
When state officials questioned more than $10,000 in public funds paid to a purveyor of essential oils, the former director of a Kalihi charter school under investigation for racking up suspicious charges credited the therapy for "remarkable" results in averting a heart attack and healing a spinal injury, broken bones and other everyday ailments afflicting Halau Lokahi Public Charter School students and staff. The payments to Rainbow Healing Arts are among nearly $102,000 in school expenses throughout 2013 and 2014 flagged as suspicious by the state Public Charter School Commission, and that prompted a raid of the campus in November by the state Attorney General's Office. … Court documents seeking a judge’s approval for a search warrant, recently obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, reveal details about the state’s investigation into suspected first-degree theft, money laundering, and other allegations.
Los Angeles Times: Wrongfully convicted inmates fight for compensation
When DNA evidence exonerated Andrew "A.J." Johnson of rape after 24 years in prison in Wyoming, he got his picture in the paper and his freedom. What he did not get was help starting over from the state that had imprisoned him. He emerged from behind bars in 2013 at the age of 64, unemployed and in debt: $4,611.55 in child support had accrued while he was in prison. "If I die today," Johnson said recently, "I can't afford to be buried." The number of prisoners exonerated of crimes has grown substantially with the advent of DNA testing and better forensics. But 20 states, including Wyoming, do not pay compensation for the years lost behind bars. The falsely imprisoned in these cases are forced to file expensive lawsuits or seek special legislation from lawmakers who may be reluctant to pay, especially in cases where someone who spent years in prison for a crime they didn't commit may have been guilty of others in the past.
Newark Star-Ledger: How a “free” chopper cost $2 million
The 42-year-old Vietnam-era OH-58A Bell Kiowa helicopter, a U.S. Army hand-me-down, came at a very good price. It was free. So the Newark Police Department took two – one to operate and the other for spare parts. And that’s when the bills started to fly. Newark’s police helicopter looks new and is loaded with state-of-the-art equipment that can keep an eye on the crime-ridden streets below. But an examination of public records shows the city, beset by budget problems that have forced layoffs and cutbacks in police staffing, has spent more than $2 million to refurbish, maintain and operate the aging aircraft, which does not fly all that often.
New York Times: Warning, that tan could be dangerous
On their way home from an SAT tutoring session, the Van Dresser twins, Alexandra and Samantha, 17, popped into Tan Fever & Spa, a small family-owned salon tucked into a strip mall between a bar and a supermarket in Tequesta, Florida. They wanted to get tan before the prom, and the salon was the perfect combination of fast and cheap: Twenty minutes in a tanning bed cost just $7. “It’s the quickness of the tanning bed,” Alexandra explained one afternoon last year. “We don’t have time to lay out on a beach.” Indoor tanning might seem like a fashion that faded with the 1980s, but it remains a persistent part of American adolescence, popular spring, summer and fall but especially in winter, when bodies are palest. … For decades, researchers saw indoor tanning as little more than a curiosity. But a review of the scientific evidence published last year estimated that tanning beds account for as many as 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year, including 6,000 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form.
Oregonian: The politics of potholes
Portland leaders blame the poor condition of city roads on many things: stagnant gas taxes, powerful business opponents and the cost of police, firefighters and parks. They could also blame themselves. The City Council has ignored its own spending guidelines for the past 27 years, redirecting nearly $200 million targeted for transportation projects to unrelated efforts, according to an analysis of city financial documents by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Instead of tending to Portland's crumbling roads, the City Council approved nearly dollar-for-dollar spending on arts programs, downtown beautification and school bailouts, among other so-called "special appropriations," the review found. As a result, Portland streets have plummeted into disrepair, with more than half now rated in poor or very poor condition. And because roads cost exponentially more to rebuild than maintain, officials missed a crucial window: Repair costs have spiraled from a relatively manageable $38 million in 1988 toward a staggering $1 billion.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Scrutiny on dining safety
Has your favorite Center City restaurant ever been closed for food-safety violations? Has it been taken to court? Or is it squeaky clean? In Philadelphia, it can be tough to tell. The city does post all inspection findings online, but they're not easy to find, and it can take a detective's zeal to decipher them. No A-B-C letter grades are posted out front, as in Los Angeles and New York. There's no consumer-friendly summary that is mandatory in New Jersey ("satisfactory/conditionally satisfactory") and widespread in Pennsylvania ("overall in/out of compliance.") … Philadelphia public health officials say that their efforts are roughly in line with other major cities' and that they help to prevent foodborne illness.
To better understand how the city enforces food regulations, The Inquirer and Philly.com created a database of nearly 70,000 inspection reports. The public can query www.philly.com/cleanplates for restaurants, school lunchrooms, nursing homes, even prisons (they are particularly clean), back to mid-2009. Some inspectors' comments are not for the squeamish.
Austin Statesman-American: Investigation of Child Protective Services
In 2009, the Legislature ordered Child Protective Services to publicly record every abuse- and neglect-related death in the state in hopes of identifying patterns and discovering ways to prevent abuse deaths. But the Statesman has learned that CPS has not systematically analyzed those reports, meaning that in important ways, Texas’ child protection workers effectively have been operating with blinders, missing deadly patterns and key pieces of information that could help protect kids. For the last six months, Statesman reporters Andrea Ball and Eric Dexheimer analyzed each of those 779 reports and uncovered a series of troubling findings:
Texas is not publicly reporting hundreds of abuse- and neglect-related child deaths each year. Between 2010 and 2014 the Department of Family and Protective Services did not publicly report 655 child abuse-related fatalities, even though the department confirmed that those children had been mistreated prior to their deaths.
Nearly half of the children who died were already on CPS’s radar. Of those 380 fatalities, 144 families _ more than a quarter _ had been the subject of a CPS investigation at least 3 times. In 12 instances, CPS had seen the family 10 or more times. CPS had contact with one family more than 20 times before the child died.
Appleton Post-Crescent: Doing the crime, fleeing the time
In the past 11/2 years, the number of fugitives who are not being pursued by authorities beyond Wisconsin's borders has increased by 29 percent, according to the latest analysis by USA TODAY and Gannett Wisconsin Media. The FBI database, also called the National Crime Information Center, lists 10,700 arrest warrants for suspects across Wisconsin. Of those, 648 fugitives _ including 33 accused of committing violent crimes such as rape and armed robbery _ will not be returned to Wisconsin if they are found in another state. In May 2013, the database had 499 fugitive warrants from Wisconsin. Police and justice officials cite dwindling resources, a patchwork of jurisdictions and shuffling priorities as reasons for the growing list.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Previous lives projects focuses on gun violence
Think about a 10-year-old girl you know. A granddaughter, a niece, a neighbor or friend, maybe even your own child. Now picture her dancing on a playground one afternoon after school, then gunfire, now picture her dead. That's what happened last year to Sierra Guyton. Now think about a 5-year old, sitting on her grandfather's lap when bullets rip into the home. Laylah Peterson is gone, too. Now a 13-month-old, shot and killed while visiting relatives at a home that, apparently, a drug dealer mistook for a nearly identical one on the same block. That was Bill Thao. This all happened last year, in Milwaukee, in our city. That is one reason the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is participating in Precious Lives, a wide-ranging effort that will explore the causes and consequences of gun violence, examine ways to make the city safer and — importantly — tell the stories of the young victims, their families and others affected by violence. A centerpiece of the two-year project is 100 weekly radio stories, developed by the documentary firm 371 Productions and aired on WUWM (89.7 FM) and WNOV (860 AM). … Other media partners include the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which like the Journal Sentinel will produce stories that explore the issue in depth. Precious Lives also involves a community engagement campaign. That portion includes more than 40 civic partners, including the Milwaukee Health Department and groups such as Urban Underground, that plan to use the stories as part of a community-wide effort to end the cycle of gun violence among young people. Funding is provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the Helen Bader Foundation.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 1-8-15
Idaho Statesman: Defense, intelligence whistleblowers remain mired in broken system
When Ilana Greenstein blew the whistle on mismanagement at the CIA, she tried to follow all the proper procedures. First, she told her supervisors that she believed the agency had bungled its spying operations in Baghdad. Then, she wrote a letter to the director of the agency. But the reaction from the intelligence agency she trusted was to suspend her clearance and order her to turn over her personal computers. The CIA then tried to get the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of her. Meanwhile, the agency’s inspector general, which is supposed to investigate whistleblower retaliation, never responded to her complaint about the treatment. Based on her experience in 2007, Greenstein is not surprised that many CIA employees did little to raise alarms when the nation’s premier spy agency was torturing terrorism suspects and detaining them without legal justification. She and other whistleblowers say the reason is obvious. “No one can trust the system,” said Greenstein, now a Washington attorney. “I trusted it and I was naive.” Since 9/11, defense and intelligence whistleblowers such as Greenstein have served as America’s conscience in the war on terrorism. Their assertions go to the heart of government waste, misconduct and overreach: defective military equipment, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, surveillance of Americans. Yet the legal system that was set up to protect these employees has repeatedly failed those with the highest-profile claims. Many of them say they aren’t thanked but instead are punished for speaking out. More than 8,700 defense and intelligence employees and contractors have filed retaliation claims with the Pentagon inspector general since the 9/11 attacks, with the number increasing virtually every year, according to a McClatchy analysis.
Read more: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/12/30/3565648_intelligence-defense-whistleblowers.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
Bergen Record: Overtime bonanza at Port Authority
Three years after New York state issued a scathing report criticizing what it characterized as excessive overtime at the Port Authority, 131 of the agency’s employees worked so much overtime in the first nine months of this year that they already more than doubled their annual base salaries. Thirteen agency police officers received more in salary, overtime and other payments in that period than did Executive Director Patrick Foye, whose annual salary is $289,000. Most of the top overtime earners are police officers, including one who has been averaging an estimated 100 hours of work a week this year, including 60 hours of overtime. That is the equivalent of working more than 14 hours a day, seven days a week. The top 10 overtime earners are averaging an estimated 46 extra hours each week, a workload that experts say raises questions about efficiency and public safety, and is quite high even in a profession where significant overtime is routine.
Los Angeles Times: Many recalled vehicles do not get repaired
Each day, attorney Terry Harris sets out in his trusty 2002 Honda Civic, which has 150,000 miles – and has been recalled for a variety of defects considered dangerous by safety regulators. Two are for air bags that can explode, sending shrapnel into the cabin. Another aims to fix a wiring problem that could make the headlights shut off suddenly. "I think probability works in my favor. I don't feel that it is urgent," Harris said. "If I ever take the car into the dealership, I will get it fixed. But it is not at the top of my things-to-do list." Automakers recalled about 60 million vehicles in the U.S. this year, almost double the previous record set a decade ago.
But as many as 35 million of these vehicles have not been repaired, according to some estimates, even though many have defects that have been linked to multiple fatalities. "Any vehicle that is unrepaired is a risk," said David Friedman, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's deputy administrator. GM has repaired a little more than 60% of almost 2 million older cars equipped with a defective ignition switch linked to at least 42 deaths. But that leaves about 700,000 unrepaired cars on U.S. roads.
Washington Post: Critical decisions after 9/11 led to decline in quality for Secret Service
The Secret Service began struggling to carry out its most basic duties after Congress and the George W. Bush administration expanded the elite law enforcement agency’s mission in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to government documents and interviews with dozens of current and former officials, the recent string of security lapses at the White House resulted from a combination of tight budgets, bureaucratic battles and rapidly growing demands on the agency that have persisted through the Bush and Obama administrations in the 13 years since the attacks. At the same time, the Secret Service was hit by a wave of early retirements that eliminated a generation of experienced staff members and left the agency in a weakened state just as its duties were growing.
Los Angeles Times: Before explosion, NASA knew aging Soviet engines posed risks
Years before an unmanned rocket erupted in a fireball in October, NASA officials knew the metal in its 50-year-old Soviet-made engines could crack, causing fuel to leak and ignite, government documents show. As early as 2008, a NASA committee warned about the "substantial" risk of using the decades-old engines, and a fire during a 2011 engine test in Mississippi heightened the agency's concern. The engines had a "fundamental flaw in the materials," said a top manager for NASA's contracted rocket builder, Orbital Sciences, in a 2013 interview with an agency historian. The Soviet engines were built in the 1960s and 1970s in a failed attempt to take cosmonauts to the moon. "They were never designed to be in storage that long," said the Orbital manager, Ken Eberly, deputy director for the rocket program.
Miami Herald: Florida keeping records under wraps
It was a dark year for sunshine in Florida in 2014. Legal fights by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida kept crucial documents under wraps long enough to dilute their impact once they were released. The governor took the state’s public records tradition a new direction as he used taxpayer money to defend his attempts to shift the burden for holding the public records from the state to individual employees, and his lawyers opened a new legal vein with his interpretation of the blind trust law. A lawsuit over the state’s congressional redistricting was fought without the aid of emails that showed GOP political consultants conspired to manipulate the process with false witnesses and gerrymandered maps. A legislatively commissioned report to make the state’s budgeting process more transparent was ignored by legislators. Scott continued to be the first governor in modern history to shield all record of his travel from public view, and his office defended efforts to erase events from calendars before turning them over as public records.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article5394603.html#storylink=cpy
New York Times: F.B.I. employees with ties abroad see security bias
The F.B.I. is subjecting hundreds of its employees who were born overseas or have relatives or friends there to an aggressive internal surveillance program that started after Sept. 11, 2001, to prevent foreign spies from coercing newly hired linguists but that has been greatly expanded since then. The program has drawn criticism from F.B.I. linguists, agents and other personnel with foreign language and cultural skills, and with ties abroad. They complain they are being discriminated against by a secretive “risk-management” plan that the agency uses to guard against espionage. This limits their assignments and stalls their careers, according to several employees and their lawyers. Employees in the program _ called the Post-Adjudication Risk Management plan, or PARM _ face more frequent security interviews, polygraph tests, scrutiny of personal travel, and reviews of, in particular, electronic communications and files downloaded from databases. Some of these employees, including Middle Eastern and Asian personnel who have been hired to fill crucial intelligence and counterterrorism needs, say they are being penalized for possessing the very skills and background that got them hired.
Arizona Daily Star: Fate of migrants can seem arbitrary
From Tucson to Denver, from Phoenix to Philadelphia, nearly a dozen immigrants sought sanctuary in 2014 for the same reason: a last shot at being able to stay in the country they’ve called home for years. But while officials are operating under the same set of guidelines, what happens after immigrants set foot inside their local church can be vastly different depending on where they are or how their case developed. As of Nov. 30, about 41,000 immigration court cases _ 7 percent of total closures of such cases _ have been based on prosecutorial discretion, data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University show. They vary greatly by location and court. Tucson has one of the highest percentages of closures based on prosecutorial discretion, at 36 percent. Phoenix is not far behind, with 18 percent of closures since October 2012 based on prosecutorial discretion.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 12-18-14
Columbus Dispatch: Home-care: Fraud costs taxpayers, vulnerable Ohioans
The Columbus Dispatch reports a nationwide shift away from nursing homes and institutions has fueled an industry that sends workers into the homes of ill, disabled and elderly Ohioans who need help with the daily tasks of living. But in the Columbus metro area, home health care isn’t merely expanding. It’s exploding. Among the nation’s 50 largest metro areas, central Ohio has the most Medicare-certified home health agencies per person, a Dispatch analysis has found. The business bonanza has a dark side. Unscrupulous home-care providers and recruiters troll the streets and knock on doors seeking the clients they need to rake in millions of dollars from the government. Forged time sheets, fly-by-night agencies and workers billing for home care for times when patients were hospitalized are all symptoms of an epidemic of home-care fraud largely invisible to the public.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Radio signals crossed
The Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle reports Monroe County officials are building a multimillion-dollar radio system that's supposed to make it easier for emergency responders to talk to each other. But the county's handling of the project is getting major static from some of the very people it's meant to help. This isn't just a behind-the-scenes debate about technical mumbo jumbo. The outcome could affect tax bills for property owners in fire districts across the county. Firefighters also say that their safety — and the well-being of the people they protect — hangs on making certain the new communication network is reliable. Fire district leaders have raised financial and technical questions about the new system for the past year. Representatives of most fire districts in Monroe County this fall took a vote of no confidence in the project, according to a letter obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Home care marketing shifts into high gear
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the explosive growth in the number of frail and elderly Americans who need care at home is producing wrenching changes in the industry they rely on. The once-amicable and highly local business of home caregiving has become a multibillion-dollar industry marked by for-profit franchising and cutthroat competition. At the center of this transformation is a new category of caregiver: the national home care chain. Like the fast-food franchises they emulate, many of these chains rely on a low-wage army of caregivers who often feel little loyalty to their clients or to the corporations that employ them. The chains now operate more than 5,600 outlets — filling a vast need for help but leaving many frail adults with substandard or inconsistent care, say elder care advocates.
Miami Herald: Inmate deaths prompt federal study of Florida prison system
The Miami Herald reports that Florida’s prison system, with 320 prison inmate deaths tallied as of Dec. 8, is on track to have the deadliest year in its history. This rise in prison deaths coincides with an aging of the prison population, but also with a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by officers over the past five years. Now, six months after the Miami Herald began an investigation into the questionable deaths of inmates in Florida’s state prisons, the U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the agency has violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The Justice Department has sent letters to Florida’s three U.S. attorneys informing them of the inquiry. State lawmakers also are scrutinizing the prison system -- the third-largest in the nation, with 101,000 inmates and a $2.1 billion budget – in the wake of a public outcry by human rights groups and prison reform activists.
Washington Post: Social Security continues to pursue families for old debts
The Washington Post reports the Social Security Administration, which announced in April that it would stop trying to collect debts from the children of people who were allegedly overpaid benefits decades ago, has continued to demand such payments and now defends that practice in court documents. After The Washington Post reported in April that the Treasury Department had confiscated $75 million in tax refunds due to about 400,000 Americans whose ancestors owed money to Social Security, the agency’s acting commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said efforts to collect on those old debts would cease immediately. But although some people whose refunds were seized were reimbursed in recent months, some of those same taxpayers have since received new demands from Social Security, asserting that the debts remain and seeking repayment.
Orange County Register: Business license crackdown gets slammed
The Orange County Register says tax authorities have visited nearly 56,000 Orange County shops through a program run by the Board of Equalization, the state's tax regulator, which reported last year it found more than 1,000 businesses in the county operating without permits since 2008. Its intended goal is to sniff out business owners who are skirting state-tax and licensing laws, and bring them into compliance. But not everyone's happy with the operation. Critics – including elected officials, taxpayers and cities – say the program, among other issues, has morphed from what was pitched as an educational initiative into what’s been described an intimidating program that triggers state-tax audits.
Los Angeles Times: Rates for medically uninsured drop but who benefits?
The Los Angeles Times reports that hospitals and health insurers have reaped a financial windfall from the 2014 rollout of the federal health law, even beyond what was expected. Now, employers and consumers are seeking a share of the Obamacare dividend. Insurance companies and hospitals have told Americans for years that one reason their health insurance bills were so high was because they were paying the hidden cost of medical care for the uninsured. The Affordable Care Act sought to remedy much of that by unleashing the biggest expansion of insurance coverage in half a century. Ten million Americans became newly insured, and federal officials estimate that $5.7 billion in uncompensated care was wiped out this year as hospitals received more paying patients.
New York Times: Life insurers use state laws to save billions in taxes
The New York Times reports some companies have been called economic traitors for seeking to lower their tax bills by moving overseas, but life insurers are accomplishing the same goal without leaving the country, saving as much as $100 billion in federal taxes, much of it in the last several years. The insurers are taking advantage of fierce competition for their business among states, which have passed special laws that allow the companies to pull cash away from reserves they are required to keep to pay claims. The insurers use the money to pay for bonuses, shareholder dividends, acquisitions and other projects, and because of complicated accounting maneuvers, the money escapes federal taxation.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 12-11-14
AP: Indicting a police officer is rare in USA
The Associated Press reported at least 400 people are killed by police officers in the United States every year, and while the circumstances of each case are different, one thing remains constant: In only a handful of instances do grand juries issue an indictment, concluding that the officer had committed a crime. Successful prosecutions generally involve officers who have lied about what they’ve done, tried to cover up their actions, or used excessive force to inflict punishment, authorities say. Police who get caught lying tend to get charged. So do those who use force to inflict punishment rather than to protect themselves, or who instigate physical confrontations for reasons that seem personal, rather than professional.
Columbus Dispatch: U.S. website tallies payements to specific doctors
The Columbus Dispatch reports a new government database publicly links specific Ohio doctors and teaching hospitals to more than $25 million in royalties, licensing agreements, consulting fees and expenses such as food, travel and lodging during the final five months of 2013. It has become common in the past five years for pharmaceutical companies to release such information publicly — often to help settle lawsuits — but such transparency had not been required. The Affordable Care Act mandated such disclosures. The public now can search for payments that cover August through December 2013 through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website www.openpaymentsdata.cms.gov. A full year of data, including 2014 payments and some 2013 records that are currently not identified, will be released in June.
New York Times: Energy firms in secretive alliance with attorneys general
The New York Times reports an email exchange it obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda. The investigation by The New York Times has found attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year. They share a common philosophy about the reach of the federal government, but the companies also have billions of dollars at stake. And the collaboration is likely to grow: For the first time in modern American history, Republicans in January will control a majority — 27 — of attorneys general’s offices.
Los Angeles Times: Hardship on Mexican farms a bounty for U.S. tables
The Los Angeles Times reports farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers. American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on. These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers. But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.
Sacramento Bee: Fewer uninsured in ERs after Affordable Care Act
The Sacramento Bee reports fewer uninsured Californians are seeking treatment in the state’s emergency rooms, a decline that experts say is a direct result of the federal Affordable Care Act. The trend represents welcome news for previously uninsured patients who had trouble affording a trip to the emergency room. But it has not brought down ER treatment costs for everyone else, health care experts said, nor has it slowed a years-long increase in overall emergency room traffic. The new figures, reported by hospitals to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, show that about 337,000 uninsured patients visited California emergency rooms between April and June, down by 90,000, or 20 percent, from the same quarter in 2013. Put another way, 12 percent of emergency room patients lacked insurance this year, down from 16 percent in 2013.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Authorities struggle to deal with blight
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports investigators busted drug sales operations at the Jeff Street Apartments at least 11 times in four years. Elected officials fielded complaints about trash, junk and rats. Atlanta police were called there for fights, drugs and other crimes some 500 times since 2009. Still, illicit businesses thrived for a decade in and around the two battered buildings just west of the Falcons stadium downtown, according to law enforcement records and neighbors. Dealers sold drugs in broad daylight, and one was shot dead there. Stolen cars stripped of parts turned up in its parking lot, and a bootleg liquor store was run from one apartment. The history just shows how difficult it is to clean up properties that pose even the most obvious threats to safety. Police, city and county officials have limited powers to pressure property owners to keep criminals away and fix up blighted buildings.
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Indianapolis Star: Charter school offers free degree with a catch
The Indianapolis Star reports the strongest selling point of the Early Career Academy, a tax-funded charter school scheduled to open next year in Indianapolis, is that its high school students will earn an associate degree free of charge. But the degree comes with a catch: The credits from that degree likely will not transfer to any major university in the state if the students want to pursue four-year degrees. There is, however, one institution guaranteed to accept the credits — the for-profit college sponsoring the charter school. And that college — ITT Tech — is being sued by the federal government over claims that ITT provides an inferior education, charges steep tuition, and uses high-pressure sales techniques to lock students into an education most are unable to finish and into loans many are unable to pay off.
Baltimore Sun: Seafood fraud cases plummet as NOAA cuts investigators
The Baltimore Sun reports seafood fraud is a highly lucrative enterprise. American consumers ordering a sushi platter, fried crab cake, broiled sea bass or other seafood might not realize that about 25 percent of all wild-caught seafood imports are part of the illicit trade, according to a study published this year in the journal Marine Policy. Those illegal imports are worth $1.3 billion to $2.1 billion annually across the United States, the world's second-largest importer of seafood. Despite calls in Washington for a crackdown — to protect consumers as well as law-abiding American companies and fishers — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization has been slowly whittling down the team of agents that handles complex investigations. That decline in enforcement — along with its impact — is a tale of a bruising political fight that has pitted many Northeastern fishers and their allies in Congress against federal regulators.
Boston Globe: Heavy toll, light penalties for police who drive drunk
The Boston Globe review has found that at least 30 Massachusetts law enforcement officials have been charged with drunken driving while off-duty since the start of 2012. The crashes collectively killed three people and injured more than a half-dozen others. Though some officers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave after the charges, a majority kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension. The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” The Globe also found the vast majority of officers refused to take a breath test, making it harder to prosecute them criminally for drunken driving. And departments frequently went out of their way to accommodate them — keeping officers on the payroll even after they temporarily lost their licenses for refusing the test and could no longer do their regular duties.
Kansas City Star: Merger of highway and waterway patrols a failure
The Kansas City Star reports a merger of two state patrols was billed as smart government, a way to save taxpayer money and put more officers on Missouri’s waterways. People would be safer. Only they aren’t. No money was saved, and promises were broken. Nearly four years after state legislators merged the Missouri Water Patrol into the Highway Patrol, many residents report seeing fewer officers patrolling rivers and lakes. They describe some, including the Niangua River and the Lake of the Ozarks, as more dangerous. An examination of the 2011 merger shows it failed to do what legislators intended. Instead, it removed full-time veteran Water Patrol officers in key locations and jeopardized safety on Missouri’s busiest waterways. Instead of saving money, combining the patrols has cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars more each year, according to a state audit.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: City pays out millions in lawsuits against police
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that while the Department of Justice believes Cleveland police officers’ use excessive force, poor training and a lack of accountability violate the constitutional rights of citizens, similar issues also cost the cash-strapped city money – a minimum of $10.5 million in lawsuit payouts in the past decade. The largest settlements and court judgments against the city or its officers came in cases that involved police beat-downs, shooting deaths or wrongful arrest. But a review of dozens of other cases where the city paid more than $1,000, revealed that taxpayers footed the bill for misconduct, recklessness and poor training similar to what was highlighted in the Justice Department's 58-page letter to Mayor Frank Jackson. The $10.5 million figure doesn't include the cost of litigating hundreds of cases or a recent $13.2 million judgment upheld in a case where a jury found that two city detectives used faulty evidence to put a public housing security guard in prison for a murder the evidence later showed he did not commit.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 12-4-14
Charlotte Observer: Drop in autopsies troubles police, medical officials
The Charlotte Observer reports the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner asked staff last year not to autopsy the bodies of hundreds of people who died in suspicious or unexpected circumstances, lowering the use of the state’s best tool for determining an exact cause of death. A June 2013 memo, obtained through a public records request, outlined the types of cases that pathologists in Raleigh should not autopsy on a regular basis. Included were the bodies of people older than 40 in apparent natural deaths, victims of alcohol or cocaine poisoning, or those whom police believe committed suicide with a gun or by hanging. The memo contradicts part of the state’s own guidelines, which call for autopsies on everyone from homicide and hit-and-run victims to bodies that have been charred or skeletonized.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Child protection in turmoil across USA
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports child protection agencies across the country are grappling with how to repair systems that failed to protect thousands of vulnerable children from repeated abuse. Since 2012, directors of at least 16 state and county agencies have resigned or been fired. Nine states have passed sweeping reforms designed to protect more children. Those actions often followed public outrage over the deaths of children previously known to child protection agencies. New York, Florida and Arizona overhauled their child protection systems this year, and now Minnesota is poised to follow their lead. This is at least the third time Minnesota has looked to reform its system since the late 1980s. Nationwide, states have passed reforms or seen key leaders resign amid scandal, only to have children continue to die from repeated abuse and neglect.
Milwaukee Journal: Privacy issues stall national newborn screening bill
The Milwaukee Journal sentinel reports a major bill that supports newborn screening nationwide has stalled in Congress because some Republican senators have privacy concerns about genetic research funded by the legislation. The senators won't comment individually, but the Senate Steering Committee has indicated they want a provision added to the bill to require parental consent before genetic research and genomic sequencing could be done on a child's newborn screening sample. Nearly every baby in the country is tested for genetic disorders shortly after birth. Blood is collected on a card that is sent to state public health labs for testing, in order to identify conditions that are often easily treatable. The cards are often later used anonymously for research. The senators holding up the bill believe that a child could be identified from such research.
Baltimore Sun: Disabled children placed where nurses lacked training
The Baltimore Sun reports the disabled foster children removed from a troubled Laurel-area group home last summer were placed by Maryland regulators in facilities whose nurses lacked training for their complex medical needs, inspection records show. Officials were also unaware that half of the eight children ended up in emergency rooms shortly after being placed at the Prince George's County facilities operated by Second Family, the state's largest contractor for around-the-clock residential care for such children. The Landover-based nonprofit was cited for violating state regulations that require contractors to report such hospital visits, for failing to properly train nursing staff and for neglect of a disabled child, according to July and August inspection records obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Public Information Act request.
Indianapolis Star: State says it can’t see coal mine dust, but neighbors do
The Indianapolis Star reports a fine layer of gray dust coats nearly every surface in the parts of town nearest the Bear Run Mine, the largest surface coal mine east of the Mississippi. Across the road from Peabody Energy's mine, Blakely and Joshua Pugh can't postpone dusting for more than a week or a thick layer of dust builds up on window sills, the blades of the living-room ceiling fan and the metal grate over their furnace's air filter. What's worse, the Pughs say, is the damage they believe all that dust is doing to the lungs of their 4-year-old son, Noah. Peabody officials insist the mine is safe, and state regulators say they've not documented any violations during their inspections. But, in the heart of Indiana's coal country, where the local newspaper posts mine-blasting notices and no one flinches at the ubiquitous booms, the Pughs and a growing number of their neighbors have become unlikely allies with the fiercely anti-coal Sierra Club.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Water workers clock marathon overtime
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports a handful of pipe workers and supervisors in the water department nearly doubled their pay last year by logging marathon hours at time-and-a-half rates. Their time sheets show back-to-back shifts - 17 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours at a stretch with gaps in between that hardly leave time for a decent night’s sleep, an analysis of overtime records by the newspaper found. Safety experts say that if the employees are truly working such hours, managers are being recklessly irresponsible.
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Miami Herald: Is Florida’s former AG lobbying his old office?
The Miami Herald reports that when the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General’s office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency’s inner workings. Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi’s office granted McCollum’s request. Royal Caribbean’s advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services, like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip’s cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company’s advertised rates.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article4203385.html#storylink=cpy
Sunday News Journal: High-priced preservation deal divides some farmers
The Sunday News Journal of Delaware reports a debate over a prominent Port Penn farmer's bid for a high-priced taxpayer buyout of his land development rights has enflamed Delaware's usually-staid farm community, fueling conflict of interest claims and charges that politicians
are simply plowing ground for future votes. Behind the controversy are concerns that the public could overpay by millions for two development easements in northern Delaware, including a deal that would pay Delaware State Farm Bureau President Gary Warren $3.3 million for his 123-acre property while leaving it in his hands.
Montgomery Advertiser: VA patient wait times still too long
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that while data shows patient wait times at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System have improved since May, there are still areas that are far below national averages, including mental health. At CAVHCS, new patients seeking mental health care are waiting an average of 64 days for an appointment, and established patients are waiting about 18 days, according to VA data from Oct. 1. Nationally, average wait times are about 36 days for new patients and three days for established patients. The only networks with higher wait times for new mental health patients are Martinsburg, West Virginia, with an average of 85 days, Amarillo, Texas, with an average of 82 days, and Spokane, Washington, with an average of 76 days.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 11-20-14
Boston Globe: Harvard, MIT profs ran sting operation on investment firms
The Boston Globe reports a team of Harvard and MIT economists, in an audacious experiment, dispatched a squad of undercover operatives across Cambridge and Boston to pose as middle-class investors and ask retail brokers for investment advice. The results were revealing. Just 21 out of 284 brokers contacted by the phony clients recommended investing in index funds, which mirror broader market performance and carry the smallest fees. Nearly half the brokers, meanwhile, steered clients toward actively managed mutual funds. Those funds — which sometimes beat the market but most often don’t — carry higher fees that enrich brokers and fund managers but, critics say, stunt the growth of middle-class nest eggs.
Portland Press Herald: Intimidating Maine voters from the shadows
The Portland Press Herald reports that before Election Day, many Mainers received an ominous postcard in the mail that claimed to show whether their friends and neighbors had voted in past elections, and included a veiled threat that they too could be exposed if they didn’t do their civic duty and vote. The threatening mailers angered some Mainers, but exactly who sent them remains a mystery. It also is a mystery – even to state elections officials – how the group apparently got hold of the state’s confidential voter database, access to which is limited by law.
New York Times: More federal agencies using undercover operations
The New York Times reports the federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, records and interviews show. Undercover work, inherently invasive and sometimes dangerous, was once largely the domain of the FBI and a few other law enforcement agencies at the federal level. But outside public view, the newspaper reported, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents.
Orange County Register: Toll road fees a “cash cow”?
The Orange County Register reports that under a new all-electronic toll road system in Orange County, paying at toll booths is no longer an option. As a result, some 2.3 million violations were recorded from June to September, data show. And as of two months ago, according to the most recent statistics, the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ four toll roads average more than 18,700 total violations a day. Without cash booths, more drivers are funneled into the violations process, according to information provided to the Register. And the penalty fees associated with still-unpaid trips during the four-month period could bring in as much as $36.95 million as of Oct. 20.
Sun Sentinel: Fort Lauderdale’s homeless: A tortured history
The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reports there was a time when authorities wanted to round up the city’s homeless and bake them in "paddy wagons;" nowadays they just don't want them fed publicly or outdoors. Fort Lauderdale's current battle with a 90-year-old veteran over feeding the homeless has drawn global scrutiny, placing what some have branded "Fort Haterdale" in a spotlight of infamy. But nearly 35 years ago city officials were proposing far less sensitive ways to deal with the homeless. Back then, city commissioners were dead serious when they suggested hosing them while they slept, dumping them in the swamp and poisoning garbage cans."
Honolulu Advertiser: Free tickets diverted at USS Arizona memorial
The Honolulu Advertiser reports the National Park Service and its fundraising organization diverted a portion of what are supposed to be free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial to tour companies for a fee, making it harder for "walk-up" visitors to take the national landmark tour.
"What these guys were doing ... was circumventing that whole system and taking from those tickets meant for people to walk in the door -- and selling those directly to tour companies," said John Landrysmith, who was an interpretive park guide for three years at the memorial.
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Minneapolis Star Tribune: ATV thrills drive child injuries and deaths
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports few things equal the fun of four-wheeling for those who love the great outdoors and enjoy a thrilling ride. Ridership nationwide has grown to 35 million, including more than 700,000 riders in Minnesota. But some ATV enthusiasts are gambling with their children’s lives. Instead of buying off-road vehicles specifically designed for young riders, many parents are letting their children drive adult-sized ATVs that can exceed 60 miles per hour and are as difficult to control as a car. Across the country, nearly 1,200 children have been killed and another 350,000 hospitalized in ATV-related accidents over the past decade, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 90 percent of the children who died were riding off-road vehicles built for adults, recent medical studies show.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Budget surpluses aplenty. What’s reasonable?
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports the town of Henrietta's excess surplus has become a poster child for bad budgeting. By the end of last year, the town had $12.7 million of taxpayer dollars on hand for no stated purpose — more than 80 percent of the $15.1 million that the town spent in 2013. No other town in Monroe County has been sitting on such a large sum. But a Democrat and Chronicle look at the surpluses of local governments shows there is a wide range of how much towns and villages set aside and how they use such funds.
Charlotte Observer: Beware IRS imposters caling from rogue center in India
The Charlotte Observer reports IRS impostors who have scammed Charlotte residents out of tens of thousands of dollars are operating out of a rogue call center in India, according to investigators. Stopping the scam – like most that originate in foreign countries – will be challenging and time-consuming. “My name is Steve Martin, and I’m calling regarding an enforcement action executed by the U.S. Treasury. ... Ignoring this will be an intentional second attempt to avoid initial appearance before a magistrate judge, or a grand jury, or a federal criminal offense.” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James recognized a scam when he got that message from a man with an Indian accent. “They do try and sound legitimate,” James said, “but if you listen to it, it is legal gobbledygook.” Many people have been duped.
Philadelphia Inquirer: PA lags in reducing juvenile detentions
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that after enduring one of the worst juvenile justice scandals in American history, Pennsylvania took steps to shore up its juvenile court system. But the latest available statistics show the state still lags far behind the national average in reducing juvenile detentions, and in some counties the numbers aren’t falling at all. In Philadelphia, nearly as many cases ended with minors placed in facilities in 2012 as in 2004, state figures show. In Delaware county, the number jumped 20 percent, according to the data.
Austin American Statesman: “Broken” agency finalizing $90 million deal
The Austin American Statesman reports the state office charged with investigating Medicaid fraud and waste, criticized this week by state auditors and legislators as dysfunctional and “broken,” is finalizing a $90 million contract with an Austin analytics company that had no experience with Medicaid before its deal with Texas. Federal officials in September greenlighted $67.5 million in matching funds to pay for three years of software licenses and services from that company, 21CT, contract planning documents show. If the state finalizes the deal, it will be the second big payday for 21CT, a federal defense contractor and virtual unknown in the Medicaid fraud business before 2012 when Texas investigators first asked it to make sense of the ocean of data tracking $28.3 billion a year in Medicaid spending.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 11-13-14
Arizona Republic: Outside money played huge role in Arizona elections
The Arizona Republic reports money talked loudly and persuasively in this year's elections. And money that was spent outside of the candidates' control was the loudest of all, playing a decisive role in most of the statewide races as well as in other down-ballot contests. Gov.-elect Doug Ducey was the biggest beneficiary, attracting $8.2 million in outside money that either directly supported him or worked to defeat his opponent, Democrat Fred DuVal. The $12 million in outside money spent on the governor's race alone eclipsed the total spent in any previous Arizona governor's race.
Sacramento Bee: How California’s largest nursing home chains perform.
The Sacramento Bee, in the first of a three-part series, examines the daunting task of choosing long-term care in California where consumers remain largely in the dark about the ownership of many nursing homes – and their track records. While industry officials contend they are intensely regulated by both the state and federal government, no single agency routinely evaluates nursing-home chains to gauge the overall care provided by their facilities. Data are available for individual nursing homes, as federal, state and nonprofit groups keep records that chronicle staffing levels, bedsore rates and use of antipsychotic drugs, among many issues. But in California, the agency charged with overseeing these skilled-nursing facilities, the Department of Public Health, makes no effort to measure quality of care throughout a chain, or determine whether corporate policies and practices are contributing to any patterns.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Wanted: A few more good candidates
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the state fares well in rankings of civic engagement, earning top marks in areas like voter turnout and community involvement. But in Tuesday’s midterm elections, nearly 400 offices sat vacant, with not a single person signed up to run.
Hundreds of other candidates across the state ran unopposed, according to a computer analysis by the Secretary of State at the Star Tribune’s request. From Albertville to Elko New Market, and all across the state, lagging participation in local politics may be only part of a bigger trend: a growing sense of apathy toward government, especially among younger folks, busier than ever and less likely to put down roots.
Orange County Register: Juvenile arrests plunge by half
The Orange County Register reports Orange County law-enforcement agencies are arresting half as many kids and teenagers than they have for decades, according to an analysis of new state data. The agencies collectively logged 6,900 juvenile arrests last year, marking the latest in a series of major drops since 2010. Over the previous two decades, authorities typically reported more than 14,000 arrests annually. The trend isn’t isolated to Orange County, however. Law-enforcement agencies statewide reported about 97,000 juvenile arrests last year. Just three years earlier, they logged an additional 89,000.
Akron Beacon Journal: For-profit charter schools among worst performers
The Akron Beacon Journal reports Ohio’s charter schools have a national reputation for hiring for-profit companies that produce poor academic results. Only three of 26 states had lower performing charter schools, according to a Stanford University study of states with schools in operation long enough to compare results. After a year in a charter school, Ohio students typically lag behind district school students by weeks in reading and months in math, the study finds. In most states, it’s the opposite. A factor in the difference appears to be the motivation to make money. Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island, which the study reckons have the highest-performing charter school sectors, are among the six states that ban for-profit companies.
Denver Post: Draft audit: Denver airport project costs soaring
The Denver Post reports poor record-keeping, sloppy accounting practices and lack of oversight have led to a projected $237 million increase in the cost of Denver International Airport's hotel and transit center, according to the city auditor. The Denver Post has obtained a draft copy of city Auditor Dennis Gallagher's performance review of DIA's management of the project. The audit, scheduled to be released to City Council members this month, excoriates airport managers for failing to control costs of its showcase project. The auditor projects the final cost at $737 million — $237 million more than the original $500 million budgeted in 2011 — and says it could go higher.
Hartford Courant: Anatomy of a flawed election.
The Hartford Courant reports the last-minute scramble at 4 a.m. to check the last of more than 1,200 absentee voters off the voter registration lists, completed less than an hour before polls were to open, was one in a series of lapses that led to some polling places not having registration lists when voting was scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. As a result of the failure, voters were turned away, a judge ordered the extension of hours at two polling places and the state's chief election official filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Interviews with poll workers, city employees, volunteers and state officials, as well as a review of internal emails obtained by The Courant, provide some insight into what went wrong:
Arizona Daily Star: Babies, toddlers risk losing vital therapies
The Arizona Daily Star reports that up to 600 babies and toddlers in rural Pima County and surrounding areas risk losing vital therapies because of the state’s low rates and slow reimbursement to contractors. Easter Seals Blake Foundation, one of two providers of early-intervention services in Southern Arizona, is discontinuing four of its seven contracts — including one serving Pima County’s northwest side — at the end of November. The state owes the Blake Foundation about $500,000, said Linda Lopez, the agency’s director of children’s and family services.
Portland Press Herald: Many Portland rentals have code violations
The Portland Press Herald reports that tenants of some older properties in Portland’s densely packed neighborhoods are living in apartment buildings that have code violations dating back years, according to fire department records. The city has put roughly 300 rental properties on notice that they must develop plans to address outstanding fire code violations, some as old as 2007. Twenty-two of those properties are managed by landlords who are not responding to the city’s notices. But even after the violation letters go out and action plans are drafted, the city’s record-keeping practices make it difficult to know whether the upgrades were made and follow-up inspections conducted in a timely manner.
Austin American Statesman: Wealthy cash in on Austin utility rebates
The Austin American Statesman reports that to meet the ambitious energy and water conservation goals set by Austin’s City Council, city-owned utilities have subsidized home and landscape improvements for years in some of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. The water and electricity utilities have distributed at least $165 million worth of conservation-promoting rebates. An analysis by the American-Statesman found that the ratepayers who draw rebates for new air conditioning units, rooftop solar panels, swimming pool covers and refrigerator upgrades tend to live in ZIP codes with higher median incomes than the rest of the city.
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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM 11-6-14
AP Exclusive: Ferguson no-fly zone aimed at media
The Associated Press reported the U.S. government agreed to a police request to restrict more than 37 square miles (96 square kilometers) of airspace surrounding Ferguson, Missouri, for 12 days in August for safety, but audio recordings show that local authorities privately acknowledged the purpose was to keep away news helicopters during street protests over the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
Akron Beacon Journal: Candidates don’t answer charter school questions
The Akron Beacon Journal reports a concerted effort by the News Outlet, a consortium of state university journalism programs and media in Northeast Ohio, to reach state legislators about school funding and school choice was a disappointment. Identifying themselves as a student journalism team working in conjunction with the Akron Beacon Journal, they attempted to contact 79 legislative candidates — incumbents and challengers — in Northeast Ohio and ask a question about charter schools that is now before the Ohio Supreme Court.
The student goal is to develop the Columbus Exchange: Politics in Question, a periodic current-issues survey of all 132 members of the House and Senate for use by all Ohio news organizations. Two-thirds don’t answer. Of 77 candidates with available contact information, 51 did not respond, even after multiple attempts to reach them. An Akron-area legislator refused to participate now and in the future.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Outsiders funding U.S. Senate race in Arkansas
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports a review of federal campaign contributions shows more than $2 of every $3 donated directly to the campaigns Arkansas’ U.S. Senate candidates have come from people and interests outside the state. Because direct gifts are only a slice of the overall money fueling the race, the full weight of out-of-state donations almost certainly will climb when all spending is calculated after Tuesday’s vote, experts in Arkansas elections and polics say.
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Sacramento Bee: California lawmakers rack up credit card charges
The Sacramento Bee reports California lawmakers racked up more than $4 million in campaign credit-card charges during the first 18 months of this election cycle. Some ate in five-star restaurants and reported holding meetings in nightclubs and an amusement park. They bought fruit baskets and wine as gifts. They went to Las Vegas, Hawaii and international destinations. A first-ever review of lawmakers’ credit-card spending by The Sacramento Bee found that many lawmakers provided only the barest of descriptions of their expenses on state-required campaign reports – despite a 2008 rule meant to improve disclosure. The lack of detail makes it difficult to determine whether lawmakers are using their campaign accounts to help them win re-election or do their jobs, or whether some have found an easy way to eat out and live a more luxurious lifestyle.
Baltimore Sun: Court ruling upends Maryland’s sex offender registry
The Baltimore Sun reports 1,155 sex offenders have been removed from Maryland’s sex offender registry since February, according to data it obtained through a public records request. Almost 400 of them are rapists, including a man who raped a blind teenage girl in a mall parking lot and a man who raped a 67-year-old woman who was walking her dog.
Most have been stripped out because of a decision by Maryland's highest court. That ruling handed a victory to advocates who said the registries were unfairly punitive, but has troubled legislators and upset victims.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Worst teachers are in the poorest schools
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports new teacher evaluation data show that Minneapolis schools with the largest number of low-income students have the highest concentration of poor-performing instructors. Students in the most affluent neighborhoods of the city are far more likely to have the best and most experienced teachers, according to school district records obtained by the Star Tribune. The new information is emerging as Minneapolis schools are facing federal scrutiny for an achievement gap between white and minority students that is among the worst in the nation.
USA Today: License plate data is big business
USA Today reports privately owned license-plate imaging systems are popping up in upstate New York — in parking lots, shopping malls and, soon, on at least a few parts of the New York state Thruway. Most surprisingly, the digital cameras are mounted on cars and trucks driven by a small army of repo men. Shadowing a practice of U.S. law enforcement that some find objectionable, records collected by the repo companies are added to an ever-growing database of license-plate records that is made available to government and commercial buyers. At present that database has 2.3 billion permanent records. On average, the whereabouts of every vehicle in the United States — yours, mine, your mother's — appears in that database nine times.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 10-30-14
Toledo Blade: $1.1 million in loans went to solar execs’ other firms
The Toledo Blade reports two consulting firms headed by the executives of a solar-panel manufacturer collected more than $1.1 million from the company’s taxpayer-funded state loans before the business closed this year. A Blade investigation shows Isofoton North America used part of the more than $15 million it received from the state to make payments that ranged from $1,689 to $301,600 to its executives’ consulting firms from December, 2011, to September, 2012. The taxpayer funding was largely intended to construct Isofoton’s factory in Napoleon, Ohio, and purchase equipment, records show.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2014/10/12/Loans-went-to-solar-execs-other-firms.html#irJzgpcbbiDbGE3i.99
Los Angeles Times: Family members beat odds getting firefighting jobs
The Los Angeles Times reports that Fire Department officials say the hiring of firefighters is based purely on merit, with the best candidates selected through an exacting regimen of testing and interviews. But a Times investigation has found that the process favors one particular type of applicant: sons of L.A. County firefighters. At least 183 sons of current or former firefighters have served on the force since the start of 2012, according to an analysis of payroll, pension, birth, marriage and other records. All told, sons represent nearly 7% of the county's 2,750 firefighters. When brothers, nephews and other relatives are included, at least 370 firefighters — 13% of the department ranks — are related to someone now or previously on the force, The Times found.
Denver Post: Links to babies’ deaths sought
The Denver Post reports from Vernal, Utah, that for some reason, one that is not known and may never be, Beau Murphy and a dozen other infants died in that oil-booming basin last year. Was this spike a fluke? Bad luck? Or were these babies victims of air pollution fed by the nearly 12,000 oil and gas wells in one of the most energy-rich areas in the country? Some scientists whose research focuses on the effect of certain drilling-related chemicals on fetal development believe there could be a link. But just raising that possibility raises the ire of many who live in and around Vernal. Drilling has been an economic driver and part of the fabric of life here since the 1940s. And if all that energy development means the Uintah Basin has a particularly nasty problem with pollution, so be it, many residents say. Don't blame drilling for baby deaths that obituaries indicate were six times higher than the national average last year.
Hartford Courant: Number of reported campus sexual assaults grows
The Hartford Courant reports the number of reported sexual assaults climbed last year on many Connecticut college campuses, an increase that college officials and experts attributed to heightened awareness and expanded educational programs that make it easier for victims to come forward. Of 11 Connecticut colleges and universities, eight reported increases in sexual assaults, with particularly sizable jumps at the University of Connecticut, Trinity College and Wesleyan University. Three colleges reported declines. At UConn, where the number of reported sexual assaults climbed from 13 in 2012 to 25 in 2013, Police Chief Barbara O'Connor said: "I think that statistic is going to be rising across the country as more attention is brought to this particular crime."
Delaware News Journal: “Phantoms” bloat voter rolls in Delaware
The Delaware News Journal reports tens of thousands of former residents and dead voters are bloating voter rolls in Delaware, despite the purging of 72,000 from the registry over the last three years. Around the country, errors in voter lists can lead to lines at the polls on Election Day, as well as vulnerability to fraud, experts say. But cleaning up voter rolls is a never-ending task. How's that happen? Part of the problem is phantom voters: People who have stopped voting, died or moved away, but remain on voting rolls anyway, officials say. Federal rules make it difficult to remove them.
Washington Post: Dozens of affordable housing loans languish in default
The Washington Post reports the District of Columbia government has failed to collect tens of millions of dollars on dozens of delinquent loans, most of them intended to boost the city’s stock of affordable housing, city records show. The typical delinquent loan — among a list of 43 — is more than four years behind on mortgage payments, according to the records. And the number has swelled even as D.C. housing officials did little more than mail warning letters to loan holders. This was true even in cases when organizations and their executives failed to remit a single payment for more than a decade. The documents point to a long-standing yet unacknowledged problem complicating the city’s efforts to address affordable housing. nges.
Idaho Statesman: Idaho’s mental health system in fragments
The Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio have teamed up to investigate the state of mental illness care in Idaho -- and have found it wanting. Many Idahoans get treatment for psychiatric disorders only when or after they are in crisis. Beginning Monday, Oct. 27, a five-part series examines why so many Idaho residents languish until they are a danger to themselves, in jail, homeless or worse. Find out what the state, local governments and businesses are doing to change - or bandage - the system.
New York Times: Law lets IRS seize accounts on suspicion only
The New York Times reports Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Carole Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes when they seized her checking account, some $33,000. In fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time from her business income, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report. Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Cancer drugs approved without proof they extend life
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports researchers have focused for decades on developing new cancer drugs that save lives or improve the quality of life. But when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed Inlyta, a $10,000 a month drug, on the market in 2012, there was no proof that it did either. Inlyta is not an exception to the rule. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today analysis of 54 new cancer drugs found that over the last decade the FDA allowed 74 percent of them on the market without proof that they extended life. Seldom was there proof of improved quality of life, either. Nor has the FDA demanded companies provide such evidence.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM
Washington Post: The biggest backlog in the federal government
The Washington Post reports the Social Security office of judges who hear appeals for disabiity benefits is 990,399 cases behind. That is Washington’s backlog of backlogs — a queue of waiting Americans larger than the populations of six different states. It is bigger even than the infamous backups at Veterans Affairs, where 526,000 people are waiting in line, and the patent office, where 606,000 applications are pending.
Miami Herald: Despite reforms, child deaths still undercounted in Florida
The Miami Herald reports that after it published a series examining the deaths of 477 children — and Florida’s failure to protect some of them from abusive or neglectful parents — the state promised a new era of openness and more rigor in the way it investigates child deaths. But except for abiding by a new state law that required the Department of Children and Families to create a website listing all child fatalities, Florida has continued to undercount the number of children it fails. “Nothing has changed,” said former Broward Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. James Harn, who supervised child abuse investigations before retiring when a new sheriff was elected last year. “Some day, somebody will say ‘let’s just stop the political wrangling.’ Here’s what you’ve got to do: Just tell the truth.”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article3016499.html#storylink=cpy
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The biggest “ticket traps” in Georgia
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports you can often see Doraville police cruisers lying in wait for speeders. In fact, when it comes to traffic tickets, Doraville is one of the most aggressive police forces in Georgia. The newspaper examined five years of traffic fines paid in every police jurisdiction in the state, more than 500 cities and counties, and has set up a searchable database that shows traffic fine revenue from 2008 through 2012 for each and its income from tickets per capita.
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Indianapolis Star: Indiana lawmakers travel on taxpayer dime
The Indianapolis Star reports its review of lawmakers' out-of-state travel records found that taxpayers have spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars during the past two years to send state lawmakers everywhere from Alaska to Florida. Most of that money was spent on government and legislative conferences — including those of a powerful and controversial conservative policy group. In all, 86 Indiana lawmakers took 188 trips during the past 26 months, costing the public at least $216,506. And that figure doesn't include a $156 per diem for each day of travel intended to cover the cost of food and other incidental expenses. That brings the total to $343,490. In some cases, the trips included swanky hotel rooms and expensive flights to exotic locations.
Louisville Courier-Journal: Analysis: Nike schools land top basketball recruits
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that as University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino readies his team for a new season, he's thinking about his future rosters, too, and he is dismayed that shoe companies could affect which players come to his program. Pitino said the Cardinals' recruiting prospect pool shrinks because they're sponsored by adidas instead of Nike. Asked this month if he thinks college coaches are displeased with the system, Pitino said with a laugh, "I'm sure the Nike coaches don't feel that way because they're winning the battle." A Courier-Journal review of college signings shows that Pitino might be right in suggesting it is difficult to break amateur affiliations among the highest-rated basketball prospects, even as those athletes say apparel companies have little or no sway on their decisions.
Boston Globe: Fidelity fought Washington and won over money market funds
The Boston Globe reports on an epic and unusually harsh lobbying battle waged by Fidelity and a handful of allies in the mutual fund industry. Their mission: stop the Obama administration’s move in the aftermath of the financial crisis to rein in a huge and highly profitable part of their business, money market funds. The saga, unresolved until this year, played out in the shadow of higher-profile debates roiling Washington over extreme risks taken by high-flying Wall Street investment banks. Critics say intense opposition by typically staid mutual fund executives, who manage trillions of dollars in assets, offers an equally instructive example of the financial industry’s Washington potency — and its bluntly self-interested priorities.
Newark Star-Ledger: Cars stolen in U.S. disappearing overseas
The Newark Star-Ledger reports the number of cars stolen in this country has been sharply declining over the past decade — in large part due to technology that makes it hard to start most new cars without the key. But records show an increasing number of high-end, hot vehicles are showing up at the nation’s ports, bound for export in a lucrative, international black market trade involving luxury SUVs and other expensive cars worth million of dollars, many taken through carjackings. At the Port of New York and New Jersey, 312 stolen vehicles that were being readied for shipment to places like Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa were recovered last year — more than double the number in 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nationwide, customs officers at U.S. ports discovered 1,554 stolen cars and trucks last year, a 32 percent jump over the previous year.
New York Times: Mental health issues put 34,500 on no-guns list
The New York Time reports a newly created database of New Yorkers deemed too mentally unstable to carry firearms has grown to roughly 34,500 names, a previously undisclosed figure that has raised concerns among some mental health advocates that too many people have been categorized as dangerous. The database, established in the aftermath of the mass shooting in 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and maintained by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, is the result of the Safe Act. It is an expansive package of gun control measures pushed through by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The law, better known for its ban on assault weapons, compels licensed mental health professionals in New York to report to the authorities any patient “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”
Charlotte Observer: Police investigators secretly track cellphones
The Charlotte Observer reports Charlotte-Mecklenburg police use a secretive surveillance system that collects information from cellphones and wireless devices to locate crime suspects but also gathers data from innocent people. For eight years, the Observer has learned, CMPD has owned portable equipment that mimics a cell tower and allows officers investigating serious crimes to learn the serial numbers, location and other information about nearby phones and laptop computers and tablets that connect to a cellular network. Privacy groups say the surveillance is so intrusive that it violates the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. The technology, they say, is powerful enough to penetrate a home’s walls.
Akron Beacon Journal: Church using volunteer labor after feds said to stop
The Akron Beacon Journal reports, as part of a six-part “Falling from Grace” series, that Ernest Angley says the people who spend long hours toiling at his church, his restaurant and his television station are doing the work of the Lord. Some people who have done that work say it more closely resembles slave labor. A window into Angley’s labor practices opened in early 1999 after a volunteer worker at the Cathedral Buffet was stabbed to death by another volunteer worker. Because the use of volunteers at a for-profit restaurant is prohibited, the U.S. Labor Department investigated. The church agreed that spring to stop the practice. But the practice has resumed.
Austin American-Statesmen: Falsified work could cost milions
The Austin American-Statesman reports state regulators settled a Medicaid fraud case last summer against an Austin dentist for literally pennies on the dollar. Although the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General had initially accused Rachel Trueblood of bilking the government out of $16.2 million in unnecessary procedures and other improper charges, the agency quietly agreed to a one-time payment of only a quarter of 1 percent of that — $39,000. Trueblood admitted no fault. Now there’s an alternative explanation for the low-ball settlement -- one of the agency’s own investigators cooked the books.
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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 10-16-14
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Data discloses doctor-payment relationships
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the inventor of a solution that preserves eye tissue for surgery, Bloomington’s Dr. Richard Lindstrom, has given sight to legions of people worldwide and become highly sought after for speeches and consulting deals. He has been handsomely rewarded for his work. Lindstrom received $330,452 in payments just during the last five months of 2013 from companies whose ophthalmology products he prescribes for patients, according to a newly published federal database. The new Open Payments data has injected hard numbers into a national debate over whether large checks can lead doctors to use products from a particular company, or whether companies are simply collaborating with doctors for medical advancement.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: County gives tax breaks for luxury apartments
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that developers of luxury apartments in wealthy neighborhoods have received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks the past two years from a Fulton County incentive program envisioned for corporate expansions and relocations. The Development Authority of Fulton County, which arranges the tax breaks, doesn’t ask for many jobs in return. Nor does it require revitalizing areas, preserving historic buildings or setting sie apartments with rents that teachers or firefighters can afford -- things some other communities across the nation do in return for such breaks.
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Hartford Courant: Police stop black drivers more than whites in Connecticut
The Hartford Courant reports that in the eight months from October 2013 through May 2014, police in Connecticut made more than 45,700 traffic stops of black resident drivers. That’s more than 21 percent of the state's estimated black driving-age population. During the same period, police made about 269,000 traffic stops of white Connecticut drivers — about 12.4 percent of the state's estimated 2.2 million white drivers. Overall, black drivers account for 8 percent of the population and 14 percent of the traffic stops. And statewide, black drivers’ cars were twice as likely to be searched as white drivers’ cars – even though those searches turn up contraband twice as often in white drivers’ cars, according to traffic stop data released recently. The data show what many have long suspected: Police pull over black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers.
Dayton Daily News: $6.5 million in bonuses go to VA employees in Ohio
The Dayton Daily News reports nearly $6.5 million in bonuses went to more than 6,000 employees of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Ohio the same year allegations of lengthy wait times hidden by scheming bureaucrats toppled the agency’s top brass, an I-Team investigation has found. One Dayton VA doctor received bonuses in 2013 and 2014 after the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs paid out $300,000 to settle a malpractice case naming her. The I-Team obtained a database this month of salaries and bonuses paid to VA employees across Ohio after filing a Freedom of Information Act request for records in July.
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New York Times: Football clouds justice at Florida State
The New York Times reports how the towering presence of Florida State football has cast a shadow over justice in Tallahassee. Last year, the deeply flawed handling of a rape allegation against the quarterback Jameis Winston drew attention to institutional failures by law enforcement and Florida State officials. Now, an examination by The New York Times of police and court records, along with interviews with crime witnesses, has found that, far from an aberration, the treatment of the Winston complaint was in keeping with the way the police on numerous occasions have soft-pedaled allegations of wrongdoing by Seminoles football players.
From criminal mischief and motor-vehicle theft to domestic violence, arrests have been avoided, investigations have stalled and players have escaped serious consequences.
Washington Post: Asset seizures fuel police spending
The Washington Post reports police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles. The details are contained in thousands of annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. The Washington Post obtained 43,000 of the reports dating from 2008 through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred.
Los Angeles Times: Student information system a technology disaster
The Los Angeles Times reports that with a few taps on a computer keyboard, a student's entire school history from kindergarten to high school graduation was supposed to show up on the screen. The computer software was supposed to help school officials schedule the classes a student needed to earn a diploma or attend college and to allow parents to track their children's grades and attendance. Instead, the Los Angeles Unified School District's student information system, which has cost more than $130 million and made its debut this semester, has become a technological disaster.