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AP: Jails struggle to deal with mentally ill

The Associated Press has found jailers in many cities and towns grappling with a rise in mentally ill inmates. It says, for example, that the numbers, posted daily on the Cook County, Illinois, sheriff's website, would be alarming at an urgent care clinic, let alone a jail: On a Wednesday, 36 percent of all new arrivals report having a mental illness. On a Friday, it's 54 
percent. But inside the razor wire framing the 96-acre compound, the faces and voices of the newly arrested confirm its accidental role as Chicago's treatment center of last resort for people with serious mental illnesses. It's a job thrust on many of the nation's 3,300 local jails, and like them, it is awash in a tide of bookings and releases that make it particularly unsuited for the task. ... The Cook County Jail, with more than 10,600 inmates, is one of the country's largest single-site jails. But it is not unique. From big cities to rural counties, jails have seen a rise in the number of inmates with serious mental illnesses, most of them arrested for non-violent crimes.
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AP: US given heads up about newspaper data destruction 

The Obama administration knew in advance that the British government would oversee destruction of a newspaper's hard drives containing leaked National Security Agency documents last year, newly declassified documents show. The White House had said it would be nearly unimaginable for the U.S. government to do the same to an American news organization. The Guardian newspaper, responding to threats from the British government in July 2013, destroyed the data roughly a month after it and other media outlets first published details from the top secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. After news of the Guardian incident broke the following month, White House spokesman 
Josh Earnest said it would be "very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate." He had been asked whether the U.S. would ever order the destruction of a U.S. media company's computer data. The NSA emails, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that senior intelligence officials were notified of Britain's intent to retrieve the Snowden documents and that one senior U.S. official appeared to praise the effort.
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New York Times: Chinese hackers pursue key data on U.S. workers

The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers in March broke into the computer networks of the United States government agency that houses the personal information of all federal employees, according to senior American officials. They appeared to be targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances. The hackers gained access to some of the databases of the Office of Personnel Management before the federal authorities detected the threat and blocked them from the network, according to the officials. It is not yet clear how far the hackers penetrated the agency’s systems, in which applicants for security clearances list their foreign contacts, previous jobs and personal information like past drug use. In response to questions about the matter, a senior Department of Homeland Security official confirmed that the attack had occurred but said that “at this time,” neither the personnel agency nor Homeland Security had “identified any loss of personally identifiable information.” The official said an emergency response team was assigned “to assess and mitigate any risks identified.”
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Los Angeles Times: VA disability claims rise sharply with U.S. encouragement

The Los Angeles Times reports that as Malvin Espinosa prepared to retire from the Army in 2011, a Veterans Affairs counselor urged him to apply for disability pay. List all your medical problems, the counselor said. Espinosa, a mechanic at Ft. Lee in Virginia, had never considered himself disabled. But he did have ringing in his ears, sleep problems and aching joints. He also had bad memories of unloading a dead soldier from a helicopter in Afghanistan. "Put it all down," he recalled the counselor saying. Espinosa did, and as a result, he is getting a monthly disability check of $1,792, tax free, most likely for the rest of his life. The VA deems him 80% disabled due to sleep apnea, mild post-traumatic stress disorder, tinnitus and migraines. The 41-year-old father of three collects a military pension along with disability pay — and as 
a civilian has returned to the base, working full-time training mechanics. His total income of slightly more than $70,000 a year is about 20% higher than his active-duty pay. Similar stories are playing out across the VA. With the government encouraging veterans to apply, enrollment in the system climbed from 2.3 million to 3.7 million over the last 12 years. The growth comes even as the deaths of older former service members have sharply reduced the veteran population. Annual disability payments have more than doubled to $49 billion — nearly as much as the VA spends on medical care.
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Baltimore Sun: Warning signs unnoticed at Maryland group home

When Maryland's government hires a company to provide around-the-clock nursing care to severely disabled foster children — arguably the state's most vulnerable residents — it requires the contractor to have its business affairs in order. But an investigation by The Baltimore Sun finds that LifeLine, which attracted media attention after the recent death of a 10-year-old resident, had many signs that it was struggling financially to staff its Laurel apartments with an appropriate number of nurses. One recent indication was a sign posted on some of LifeLine's units in the Laurel-area community of Russett Green on May 12. "Payroll Alert," read the sign. "Please be advised that the scheduled payday of May 15th will be paid May 24, 2014. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding." It was signed "Theresa Martin, CEO." Theresa Martin is the sister-in-law of LifeLine founder Randall Martin Jr., who is serving a 50-year prison sentence for first-degree arson. Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources, said his agency would look at some other findings that newspaper investigation of LifeLine turned up. Among them: bankruptcy records indicating that LifeLine had made payments to a real estate company owned by Martin and to a nursing staffing company connected to the family.
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Lexington Herald-Leader: Rich schools, poor schools

The Lexington Herald-Leader finds that there is an economic divide among schools in Fayette County, Kentucky — and one of the most glaring examples is fundraising by parents and students. The amount of money raised for trips, athletics and extra academic supplies varies widely — from Rosa Parks Elementary, which anticipates $445,700 in revenues in 2014-2015, to Harrison Elementary, which is forecasting revenues of $21,335. In the tentative budgets for school activity funds, which were approved by the Fayette County School Board last month, "you can see dramatic increases between schools based on the ability of parents to do fundraising," said Superintendent Tom Shelton. "We've become a society of the haves and have-nots, and that's not good for anybody." School officials say the activity funds highlight the economic divide in Fayette County schools, some of which have concentrations of wealthy students or poor students. That divide is under increased scrutiny as the district prepares to redraw attendance zones in a process that could balance out some of those differences.
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Des Moines Register: Broken emergency response system endangers Iowans

A study of emergency services by the Des Moines Register finds that Worth County on Iowa's northern border is home to 7,600 residents — but no ambulances covering its 400 square miles. In northwest Iowa, the town of Oyens recently closed its ambulance service due to a shortage of volunteers, a problem also being felt elsewhere across the state. And in Cedar County, the director of one ambulance service says EMS is at a "critical stage" in his region, with some services going out of business and others struggling with staff shortages. A Des Moines Register analysis of data from the Iowa Bureau of EMS shows nine counties in the state have fewer than 40 active-duty EMTs, and many are part-time volunteers. EMS professionals attribute the shortage to several factors: People have less time to volunteer, training requirements and costs have increased significantly in recent years, and there's less financial and structural support for EMS at both the state and federal level.
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Columbus Dispatch: Rural hospitals losing money due to rising costs, falling reimbursements

The Columbus Dispatch looked at rural hospitals in Ohio. It found that four years ago, maternity units closed at hospitals in Washington Court House and Logan. More recently, hospitals in Chillicothe and Zanesville have had ratings downgraded for their bond debt as their financial outlooks dimmed. In Gallipolis, hospital workers have been told layoffs are possible this year. For years, stress fractures induced by the U.S. health-care system’s unsustainably high costs have crept throughout Ohio. But more than anywhere else in the state, those strains have been laid bare in rural counties, where hospitals typically rank among the top employers but these days, often teeter on the brink of unprofitability. At many of the state’s rural hospitals, black ink on balance sheets has given way to red. A snapshot in January by iVantage Health Analytics found that hospitals in Ohio’s metro counties were running slightly in the black — revenue exceeded expenses by 0.8 percent on average — while those in non-metro counties had narrow losses of 0.92 percent. ... Hospitals know that they must make do with less-generous government reimbursements in the future, but rural hospitals face unique headwinds, said Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association, which advocates for rural hospitals.
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Idaho Statesman: Spectacle of Grand Canyon at risk

At the rim of the Grand Canyon in the state of Arizona, busloads of Chinese tourists jostled on a recent day with 20-something backpackers and an Amish family that had rambunctious boys in suspenders and straw hats, all eager for a prime viewing spot. They gazed out on a dizzying sight of receding canyons and sheer rock walls, with the Colorado River cutting through the canyon floor a mile down. Generations of park managers have tried to preserve that natural view, but officials told The Idaho Statesman that a proposed development would greatly diminish the scene. Looking eastward from the popular South Rim, visitors soon might see a hive of construction as workers build restaurants, hotels and shops on a distant mesa on the Navajo Indian reservation. The developers also plan a gondola ride from those attractions to whisk tourists to the canyon floor, where they would stroll along an elevated walkway to a restaurant at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. That project and a second, unrelated development proposed for just south of the canyon have set off alarms at the National Park Service, which sees them as the most serious threat the park has faced in its 95-year history.
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Washington Post: District of Columbia homeless shelter beset by problems

The District of Columbia General emergency shelter is supposed to be a cleaner place to stay than an alley, but records show that a young girl woke up with so many insect bites on her legs and her bottom that she had to be taken to the hospital, The Washington Post reports. It is supposed to be safer than a crime-ridden street corner, but a log shows that shelter officials were told that two teens pinned a 9-year-old to the floor of a bathroom and one urinated in the boy’s mouth. It is supposed to be better than life on the streets, but one resident filed a complaint saying a shelter worker lured her to his apartment with an offer of $20. She said he began unfastening his pants and asked her: “What are you going to do for the money?” The city’s largest shelter for families has been in the spotlight since March, when a janitor there took an 8-year-old resident off shelter grounds. The girl remains missing and is presumed dead. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has said he has seen no evidence that the city failed in that high-profile case, but a Washington Post investigation of the facility in Southeast that is home to nearly 800 of the District’s most vulnerable residents has found that the missing girl’s case was part of a pattern of serious problems. 
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New York Times: How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint

The New York Times, in an in-depth story about how colleges handle rape, looked into the case of an 18 year old, a freshman. She had been on campus for just two weeks when one Saturday night last September her friends grew worried because she had been drinking and suddenly disappeared. Around midnight, the missing girl texted a friend, saying she was frightened by a student she had met that evening. “Idk what to do,” she wrote. “I’m scared.” When she did not answer a call, the friend began searching for her. In the early-morning hours on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in central New York, the friend said, he found her — bent over a pool table as a football player appeared to be sexually assaulting her from behind in a darkened dance hall with six or seven people watching and laughing. Some had their cellphones out, apparently taking pictures, he said. Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember 
being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom. The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear. It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus. A New York Times examination of the case, based in part on hundreds of pages of disciplinary proceedings — usually confidential under federal privacy laws — offers a rare look inside one school’s adjudication of a rape complaint amid a roiling national debate over how best to stop sexual assaults on campuses.
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Appleton Post Crescent: Teen sex assault cases highlight dangers of apps

The Appleton (Wisconsin) Post Crescent says that when 51-year-old Darryl Sheldon was arrested in April for exchanging nude photos with a 12-year-old girl through her iPod Touch, he told police it was just the tip of the iceberg. Sheldon, a resident of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, said that not only had he planned to take the girl's virginity in a Grand Chute hotel room, he was communicating with about 20 other underage girls through smartphone apps like Kik Messenger, Tango and Whisper, according to court records. "It's a very dangerous situation," said Andrew Nett, a sexual abuse prevention specialist at Reach Counseling Services, based in Neenah. "These guys are very good at grooming, and they study information on websites, Instagram — any stuff where they can read a lot of background information on you without even 
starting a conversation." People are four times more likely to be sexually abused as teenagers than at any other time in their lives, Nett said. He speaks to students in the Fox Valley about sexual assault and Internet safety — topics that are becoming more intertwined as teens find new ways to avoid parental supervision and police with the ebb and flow of the latest apps.
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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Secretive system keeps parole-eligible inmates behind bars

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looked into the parole system in Wisconsin. It found, for example, that by all accounts, Anthony K. Brown is no longer a danger to society. Officials at Oakhill Correctional Institution, a minimum-security prison in Dane County, trust Brown so much they allow him to leave the lockup unsupervised almost every day to work on a state-owned farm. He gets there, Brown says, in a Department of Corrections van driven by a fellow inmate. In 2010, the Wisconsin Parole Commission decided Brown — one of three men convicted in a 1987 armed robbery that resulted in the victim's death — was rehabilitated and should be allowed to hold down a job in the community in preparation for his release. During the robbery, Brown, then 17, shot the victim once in the back, wounding him as he tried to run away. One 
of his co-defendants then fired five shots into the victim's head, killing him. The man who fired the fatal shots was paroled years ago. But Brown, 43, is still in custody. He is among about 400 minimum security inmates who are eligible for parole but remain in prison. The taxpayer cost to keep them there is more than $15 million a year — part of a skyrocketing corrections budget that now surpasses that of the University of Wisconsin System. ... A secretive system that robs the parole board of its power is to blame. State law gives the parole board the authority to release prisoners it deems rehabilitated if their crimes were committed before truth in sentencing took effect at the end of 1999. But in practice, a little-known administrative rule at the Department of Corrections, written 20 years earlier, transfers that authority to prison employees.
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Hartford Courant: Banned donors skirt law

The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant looked at campaign finance reports. It found, for example, that Massachusetts developer John Fish wrote a $10,000 check to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee last year, only to have it returned because his business, Suffolk Construction, is on a list of companies whose executives are barred from giving money to state campaigns. So days after that donation was returned, Fish wrote a second $10,000 check to the very same Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee, but directed the money to the committee's federal fund. That check was accepted, and Suffolk Construction – whose employees had made $10 in donations to state politicians in the previous decade – became the latest firm to use the federal account to navigate around state laws banning employees of some 
companies from giving to candidates for state office. The practice has become a common one as companies doing business with the state have skirted a state law designed to avert a pay-for-play culture by pouring money into the Democrats' federal campaign fundraising account. A Courant analysis of the committee's campaign finance reports reveals that from the start of 2013, top executives of companies on the banned state list have donated at least $174,925 to 
the federal account. Including non-executives of those companies, who are permitted to donate, the figure is nearly $380,000.
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Columbus Dispatch: Whetstone stands out in scandal subpoenas

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch looked into a deepening scandal involving educators changing student records. It reports that two guidance counselors at Whetstone High School sat down at their computers at roughly the same time, just before 10 a.m., on June 6, 2011. School was out for summer. They made students’ grades better. One counselor bumped 16 grades up, mostly from failing to passing, some even to a C. The other counselor bumped up eight grades from F to D. It took minutes. Among Columbus City Schools’ far-reaching data scandal, Whetstone is on its own. Last week, state investigators subpoenaed the records of eight current or former Whetstone employees, including those two counselors. No other school has as many people under investigation. Several sources told The Dispatch that Whetstone’s data changes were sophisticated and targeted: Educators there used a spreadsheet to weigh the effect certain students had on the school’s report card and altered data accordingly throughout the year. Other schools changed more student records but perhaps weren’t as organized or savvy. The Whetstone employees whose records were subpoenaed include the former principal, three assistant principals, three guidance counselors and a secretary. They all made changes, according to a Dispatch analysis of district computer logs. Some improved kids’ grades, others withdrew students who hadn’t actually left, and some did both. 
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Washington Post: Caught up in the NSA net

A four-month investigation by The Washington Post has found that ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks. Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else. Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, email addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.
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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Interest groups let Congress travel free

Members of Congress may be back in their district this weekend for Fourth of July parades and picnics, but their travels don't always bring them home to Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says an analysis of travel records shows that since 2008, the eight current Wisconsin members of the U.S. House and their aides have taken at least 125 privately funded trips at a cost of more than $400,000. Some are relatively cheap jumps to Maryland or Virginia to speak at conferences. Others are all-expenses-paid trips to Asia or Africa for House members and their spouses or children that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The Journal Sentinel analysis focused on House members because of news last week that the House Ethics Committee had — temporarily — moved to eliminate one of the reporting requirements for such travel.
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Arizona Daily Star: Rising Arizona temperatures make for hostile environment

The Arizona Daily Star looked at weather forecasts and found that thousands more Arizonans will likely die. Farmers’ crop yields will drop. Electricity bills will rise sharply, along with the use of air conditioning. These forecasts for Arizona by the end of the 21st century come from a new report that for the first time tries to project specific impacts of a hotter climate in each U.S. state.“Risky Business,” a national report prepared for a group of blue-ribbon business leaders, is targeted at the business community. With two former Treasury secretaries, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Secretary of State George Shultz leading the study effort, the report seeks to show that climate change will have severe economic costs. Arizona’s impacts are expected to be among the most severe among the 50 states, the report says.
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Los Angeles Times: Large drop seen in youth deportations

The Los Angeles Times says that President Obama and his aides have repeatedly sought to dispel the rumors driving thousands of children and teens from Central America to cross the U.S. border each month with the expectation they will be given a “permiso” and allowed to stay. But under the Obama administration, those reports have proved increasingly true. The number of immigrants under 18 who were deported or turned away at ports of entry fell from 8,143 in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 1,669 last year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data released under a Freedom of Information Act request. Similarly, about 600 minors were ordered deported each year from non-border states a decade ago. Ninety-five were deported last year, records show, even as a flood of unaccompanied minors from Central America — five times more than two years earlier — began pouring across the Southwest border.
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Modesto (California) Bee: State keeps water well logs secret

The Modesto (California) Bee says that inside a government warehouse along a noisy freeway in West Sacramento is a set of metal shelves holding more than 100 carefully labeled cardboard boxes. Inside those boxes are tens of thousands of state records that could help scientists and water policy specialists better understand and protect California groundwater. But while all other Western states make such records – known as well completion reports, or well logs, for short – open to the public, California does not. Here, access to the documents is restricted. While some government agencies and researchers can view them, many scientists and the public at large cannot, a barrier many say reins in knowledge about groundwater supplies as the state struggles with one of the worst droughts in recorded history. ... In all other Western states, such records are accessible to whomever wants to see them – from university professors to civil engineers, real estate agents to the media. But in California, well logs are barred from public inspection by a 63-year-old law written to keep data gathered by well-drilling companies from falling into the hands of competitors.

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Denver Post: Airport officials fly business class on international trips

The Denver Post found that as Denver International Airport's budget chief, Patrick Heck, flew to Singapore in a $10,159 business-class seat to "network with finance executives around the world." John Ackerman, the airport's commercial manager, paid $9,159 for a business-class ticket to Geneva as a speaker invited "to present DIA successes with concessions." By comparison, United Airlines offers economy-class round-trip flights this month from Denver to Geneva for as little as $1,518 and to Singapore starting at $1,815. Heck, Ackerman, airport manager Kim Day and two other top DIA officials traveled internationally 50 times in 2012 and 2013. They rarely occupied economy seats on those trips. Under a policy that Day approved, airport employees qualify for business-class seats when a flight exceeds five hours or total 
flight time exceeds eight hours. ... Beth Machann, the city controller, said she did not know DIA employees regularly buy business- class tickets when traveling abroad. ... Total DIA travel expenses grew by one-third from 2011 to 2013, to $854,919. Machann described travel expenses for other city departments as stable in the last two years.

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Miami Herald: New 9/11 records offer tantalizing puzzle pieces

The Miami Herald says that on Halloween night in 2001, the horrors of 9/11 were still fresh on the minds of Americans. At a time when everyone was on edge, the sight of a man disposing documents in a dumpster behind a Bradenton storage facility aroused suspicion. Summoned to the scene, Manatee County sheriff’s deputies confronted the man, who had a Tunisian passport. According to FBI records, authorities searched the dumpster and found “a self-printed manual 
on terrorism and Jihad, a map of the inside of an unnamed airport, a rudimentary last will and testament, a weight-to-fuel ratio calculation for a Cessna 172 aircraft, flight training information from the Flight Training Center in Venice [Florida] and printed maps of Publix shopping centers in Tampa Bay.” The Flight Training Center is where 9/11 hijack pilot Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, took flying lessons. This intriguing tale and at least one other are contained in a batch of partially redacted documents released this past week as part of ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation by the online news site The suit, filed in 2012, seeks the FBI’s files from a once-secret investigation into a family of Sarasota Saudis who left the country abruptly about 
two weeks before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, leaving behind clothing, jewelry and cars.
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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Racial gaps remain in gifted programs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Georgia spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on special educational services for a small but elite percentage of students deemed “gifted.” And those students are disproportionately white and Asian. Despite aggressive efforts to erase the gap between the races, white students in Georgia are roughly three times more likely than their black counterparts to be enrolled in gifted programs — and roughly two-and-a-half times more likely to be in those classrooms than minority students, including Hispanics and Asians. That’s according to an analysis of recent state education data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Idaho Statesman: Idaho millennials are worse off than earlier generations

The Idaho Statesman looked at the Census data on millennials and found that many are struggling financially and socially. Take Ashley Hammond, who is in her mid-20s. She graduated from Boise State University two years ago. Unlike a lot of people her age, she doesn't have student loan debt. Hammond is a social worker for the state, a job she considers herself "very fortunate" to have. She has a toddler with her partner of eight years, Zac Nickel. They're expecting a baby in November. They are buying a house together and would be married, if not for a financial puzzle that didn't exist when previous generations were her age. Angie Baker, a Boise human resources professional who also works for the state, is in a similar position when it comes to financial stress. She's 32 and earned a biology degree from the College of Idaho. She grew up with a stay-at-home mom, and she remembers "being comfortable," even though her family didn't have a lot of money. She wasn't prepared for what happened when she gave birth to her son, Cole. "The cost of raising a child kind of blindsided 
us," she said. "We (will) spend more for preschool than a mortgage payment, and I think that is a big difference between our generation and our parents' generation." A Statesman analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data collected from Idahoans ages 18 to 33 during four decades shows that the life of a millennial in Idaho is distinctly different from Generation X, baby boomers and those who came of age around World War II and the Korean War.

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Boston Globe: City’s residency rules routinely flouted

A Boston Globe analysis of payroll and property records found that 13 of the 22 top leaders in Boston’s Police Department live outside the city in apparent violation of the city’s residency requirement, a law frequently ignored and weakly enforced. Among them: the Police Department’s second in command, Superintendent in Chief William G. Gross, who lives in Milton, according to payroll records. But he’s hardly alone. Managers in the city’s technology division and the Inspectional Services Department, high-ranking school administrators, and the head of the school police, Eric J. Weston, also live beyond Boston’s border. So does Matthew A. Cahill, executive director of the Finance Commission, a city watchdog agency. The Globe identified at least 50 municipal employees living in the suburbs in apparent violation of the residency requirement.

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Arizona Republic: Alarm bells about VA failed to spur change

The Arizona Republic reports that since 2005, federal investigators have issued at least 21 reports detailing problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system. The list of people who received the reports reads like a political who's who: three Cabinet secretaries, a dozen prominent senators, a Democratic and a Republican presidential nominee, and Arizona's entire congressional delegation. Yet little changed. During that period, the -Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees held dozens of hearings on mismanagement and long patient wait times. In virtually every hearing, VA officials promised that changes were on the way. Yet little changed. Veterans say they -complained directly to their representatives in Congress. Patients died. Whistle-blowers came forward. Still, little changed. "The reason vets' care has suffered for so long is Congress has failed to hold the VA accountable," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a physician, wrote in a critical report released last week that detailed a wide range of VA failures. "Despite years of warnings from government investigators about efforts to cook the books, it took the unnecessary deaths of veterans denied care from Atlanta to Phoenix to prompt Congress to take action."

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GI Bill funds flow to for-profit colleges that fail California aid standards

The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that over the last five years, more than $600 million in college assistance for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has been spent on California schools so substandard that they have failed to qualify for state financial aid. As a result, the GI Bill – designed to help veterans live the American dream – is supporting for-profit companies that spend lavishly on marketing but can leave veterans with worthless degrees and few job prospects, The Center for Investigative Reporting found. ... Financial records analyzed by CIR show that California is the national epicenter of this problem, with nearly 2 out of every 3 GI Bill dollars going to for-profit colleges. The University of Phoenix in San Diego outdistances its peers. Since 2009, the campus has received $95 million in GI Bill funds. That's more than any brick-and-mortar campus in America, more than the entire 10-campus University of California system and all UC extension programs combined.

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Sacramento Bee: Complaints of nepotism dog California Senate

The Sacramento Bee says that an anonymous letter sent to multiple California state senators last month ended with a sharp question: “Why is it that the Senate is not listing open positions, for other staff to apply for?” Concerns about personnel practices and allegations of nepotism are swirling in the Capitol as an investigation proceeds into claims that friends and family of key administrators get special access to taxpayer-funded jobs. The issue surfaced publicly last month when The Sacramento Bee reported that court records showed one of the Senate’s in-house law-enforcement officers had cocaine and marijuana in his system the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting outside his Greenhaven-area home. The officer is the son of the Senate’s longtime head of human resources. Gerardo Lopez worked for the Senate for 15 years despite brushes with the law that include a citation for petty theft and charges of drunken driving. Lopez was fired over the drug-use revelations, but he is not the only one with family ties to key Senate administrators. The two people with the most power to address personnel matters have long had friends and family on the payroll: Dina Hidalgo, who as head of human resources for the Senate plays a major role in hiring; and her supervisor, Greg Schmidt, who as the Senate’s top administrator oversees a staff of roughly 150 people who handle personnel, accounting and other duties. Analysis of payroll data and other documents obtained through public records requests, as well as interviews with current and former legislative staff, found multiple Senate staff members with personal ties to Hidalgo and Schmidt.

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Orange County Register: Police fail to report deadly shootings

California’s system for tracking deadly police shootings is plagued by confusion and inadequate oversight, further clouding public knowledge of an officer’s greatest power, according to the Orange County Register. At least one in every five fatal shootings across Southern California isn’t counted in official statewide and national homicide reports, a Register investigation has found. Police shoot and kill more often than the numbers reflect. The newspaper identified widespread reporting flaws by comparing state data and district attorney records from hundreds of shootings between 2007 and 2011, the latest year available. At least 67 fatal shootings weren’t disclosed as required by state law. The unreported shootings involved 31 law enforcement agencies, most of which were unaware the cases hadn’t been counted in official reports until contacted by the Register. Most acknowledged error and promised an internal review of reporting practices.

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New Haven Register: Seized funds used for trips

The New Haven Register reports that Connecticut police use money forfeited by convicted criminals such as drug dealers to buy new police dogs, undercover vehicles, technology, fitness equipment – and to pay for travel to events around the country. About $1,400 of retiring state police Col. Danny Stebbins’ expenses on trips to conferences in Virginia, California, South Carolina, and Louisiana were paid for with asset forfeiture funds. These included a trip to New Orleans that became controversial when Stebbins discussed details of the Sandy Hook shootings at a March 2013 conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police while police had yet to share many of those details with officials in Connecticut. Overall, state police spent about $39,000 on travel.

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Palm Beach Post: Pedestrians account for most deaths on Palm Beach County rails

The Palm Beach Post, looking into deaths on rail tracks, says that Leonor Cuervo died when she was hit by a train a few hundred feet from her Boca Raton home. But the fact that the Colombia native was crossing the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the first place is something the company could have prevented, asserts her daughter, Andrea. No fence or signs stopped her as she followed a makeshift footpath across the tracks to get from a bus stop to her home. Of 61 deaths on all train tracks in Palm Beach County since 2008, 47 were pedestrians, a Palm Beach Post analysis of medical examiner reports shows. A quarter of the state’s reported pedestrian rail deaths in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were in Palm Beach County.
While far more people cross the tracks at busy intersections in cars, more than half of the deaths occurred along stretches of railroad between crossings.

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Chicago Tribune: Rail yard pollution threat to neighborhoods

The Chicago Tribune says that new research from federal scientists has found that levels of diesel soot in residential areas near the BNSF Intermodal Facility frequently spike higher than the national average for urban areas. The study, the first of its kind in Chicago, sheds light on health hazards posed by freight yards that are concentrated in some of the area's poorest 
communities. ... The Cicero yard is among more than a dozen facilities in Chicago and the suburbs where giant cranes move steel containers between trains and trucks. Nearly 340,000 people, including 38,000 children younger than 7, live within a half-mile of one of the intermodal terminals, according to a Tribune analysis of census data. More than 80 percent are Latino or African-American. Diesel exhaust from the equipment contributes to the Chicago area's chronic problem with soot pollution, which can trigger asthma attacks, cause heart damage and take years off lives. Federal officials say they have little power to do anything about it. ... Researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chose to study the Cicero freight yard because they determined there were no major highways or other big sources of pollution nearby to muddle the test results. About 418,000 containers were transferred at the facility in 2012, making it a mid-sized intermodal terminal by Chicago standards. The EPA study, released publicly after months of Tribune requests, adds to other recent research that details how intermodal yards create hot spots of soot extending well beyond the clusters of locomotives, 
trucks and other diesel-powered equipment.

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Baltimore Sun: Teacher evaluation system is latest education battleground

The Baltimore Sun reports that after years of holding schools accountable for student test scores, the idea of using those scores to evaluate teachers and determine their pay has become the latest battleground in education across the nation. This past school year, Maryland's 60,000 teachers were evaluated for the first time according to a formula that required half of their final rating to be based on how much their students learned. Policymakers and proponents of the new evaluation systems hope that eventually they can be used to get rid of poorly performing teachers and reward the best with higher pay. But teachers unions contend that further emphasis on test scores narrows the focus of learning and that effectiveness in the classroom is more complex than a score. ... The results of the state's pilot evaluation program that took into account test scores varied widely, according to data obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a public records request. None of the teachers in Baltimore County, for instance, were found to be ineffective, compared with 7.2 percent in Anne Arundel County.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: Taxicab drivers skirting the law

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the city of Minneapolis vowing to crack down on taxi drivers who troll for the best passengers, in some cases refusing fares to people who want to go on a short ride, pay with a credit card or who are black. Records obtained by the Star Tribune show that the city has received nearly 200 complaints since 2012 against cabdrivers who appear to have violated city ordinances, which bar them from refusing most fares. Two Star Tribune reporters who recently tried to hail cabs at bar-closing time in downtown were turned down a combined 17 times for wanting to go short distances or pay with a credit card. They also witnessed two cabs drive away after learning that their passengers would be black women.The city has promised action.

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New York Times: In military care, a pattern of errors but not scrutiny

The New York Times reports that Jessica Zeppa, five months pregnant, the wife of a soldier, showed up four times at Reynolds Army Community Hospital here in pain, weak, barely able to swallow and fighting a fever. The last time, she declared that she was not leaving until she could get warm. Without reviewing her file, nurses sent her home anyway, with an appointment to see an oral surgeon to extract her wisdom teeth. Mrs. Zeppa returned the next day, in an ambulance. She was airlifted to a civilian hospital, where despite relentless efforts to save her and her baby, she suffered a miscarriage and died on Oct. 22, 2010, of complications from severe sepsis, a bodywide infection. Medical experts hired by her family said later that because she was young and otherwise healthy, she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at Reynolds properly diagnosed and treated her. ... Since 2001, the Defense Department has required military hospitals to conduct safety investigations when patients unexpectedly die or suffer severe injury. The object is to expose and fix systemic errors, often in the most routine procedures, that can have disastrous consequences for the quality of care. Yet there 
is no evidence of such an inquiry into Mrs. Zeppa’s death. The Zeppa case is emblematic of persistent lapses in protecting patients that emerged from an examination by The New York Times of the nation’s military hospitals, the hub of a sprawling medical network — entirely separate from the scandal-plagued veterans system — that cares for the 1.6 million active-duty 
service members and their families.

The Oregonian: Liquefied Natural Disaster?

The Oregonian says that the worst-case scenario would be truly cataclysmic. A full rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, unleashing a mega-thrust earthquake and tsunami comparable to the magnitude 9.1 temblor that devastated the coast of Japan in 2011. The region's top seismic experts say such a quake could violently shake the entire Pacific Northwest for more than five minutes, liquefying soil, tossing massive structures off their foundations and sinking entire sections of Oregon's coastal landmass by several meters. The damage would be most severe in areas closest to the rupture, such as Coos Bay, where the dangerous portion of the fault line passes eight miles off the coast. A subsequent tsunami could magnify the damage, transforming the entire estuary into a giant mixing bowl of devastation. That's exactly why many Coos Bay residents oppose the Jordan Cove Energy Project, a natural gas export terminal proposed on a sand spit north of town. ... The Oregonian put together an overview based on interviews with Jordan Cove officials, industry experts, regulators and scientists, and a review of the company's hazard assessments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Medical malpractice meltdown

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says that three years after her mother died, Sarah Schuh received a shocking call: It wasn't the car accident that had killed her mom, the caller said. She died because of "mess-ups" in the emergency room. The caller: Zulfiqar Ali, the emergency room doctor who had treated Schuh's mother on the day she crashed her Honda CR-V into a marshy area near the Sheboygan River. In almost any other state, that kind of disclosure would have likely paved the way for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Not in Wisconsin. State laws and court rulings have combined to erect roadblocks at the doors of Wisconsin courthouses, placing strict limits on who can sue for medical malpractice, how much money they can collect and where the money will come from.

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