WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 8-14-2014
Anniston (Alabama) Star: Public documents often hard to get in Alabama
The Anniston (Alabama) Star reports that Stephen Jackson programs computers for a living, but even he sometimes has trouble making sense of the Alabama Legislature’s online records. “Honestly, I was lost,” said Jackson, creator of the website OpenBama, which strives to bring government data to the public in a readable form. “It wasn’t that the information wasn’t there, it was knowing how to get to it.” Jackson isn’t the first person to run into frustration with the status of public records access in Alabama. While the state’s open records law – which gives people “the right to inspect or take a copy of any public record” – seems to hold promise for anyone seeking public records, experts say compliance with the law is haphazard at best. In the next few months, as part of an ongoing series, The Anniston Star will take a closer look at the
obstacles to public records access in Alabama _ obstacles that pop up in matters as mundane as car accident reports and as momentous as lethal injection.
Read more:http://www.annistonstar.com/news/article_c7cc7ce6-204d-11e4-9417-0019bb2963f4.htmlArizona Republic: Navajo ‘ghost mines’ are Cold War’s deadly legacy
An Arizona Republic investigation looks into the uranium mines that dot Navajo lands. It reports that in 1957, Charley Colorado climbed down a uranium mine shaft near his ancestral sheepherding grounds and began hammering at a rock that would power the atomic bomb and help America stare down the Soviets. Now, Colorado, 87, spends much of his time wedged between a medical oxygen tank and a twin bed, parked in an easy chair before a wood stove at his family's home on the high desert west of Gray Mountain, near Cameron. He has frequent blackouts and trouble breathing. ... Decades after America's Cold War uranium binge, the Colorado Plateau remains scarred, poisoning and frightening a people who still live with the radioactive residue of 521 abandoned mines scattered across their reservation's 17.2 million acres, which is larger than West Virginia. The U.S. promises a thorough cleanup, but at current funding levels, it could take generations to complete.
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/longform/news/arizona/investigations/2014/08/04/uranium-mining-navajos-devastating-health-effects/13591333/Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles police misclassify crimes
The Los Angeles Times reports that once police had Nathan Hunter in handcuffs, they tended to his wife. She was covered in blood. She told the officers Hunter flew into a rage that night in February 2013 because she hadn't bought him a Valentine's Day gift. He beat and choked her before stabbing her in the face with a screwdriver and throwing her down a flight of stairs at their apartment in South Los Angeles, according to police and court records. Hunter, 55, was convicted of felony spousal abuse and sentenced to six years in prison. Under FBI rules followed by police departments across the country, the beating should have been counted as an aggravated assault because Hunter used a weapon and caused serious injuries. That's not what happened. The Los Angeles Police Department classified it as a simple assault – a minor
offense not included in the city's official tally of serious crimes. It was no isolated case. The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found. The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD's published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department's performance.
Sacramento Bee: Odds of oil rail fire rising locally
The Sacramento Bee reports that in the middle of the night a year ago, a runaway train laden with crude oil derailed in a Canadian town, igniting a firestorm that killed 47 people, some of them asleep in bed, vaporized buildings for blocks, and awakened rail cities like Sacramento across the continent to a new fear: The paper asks, “Could that happen here?” Although trains have long ferried hazardous materials, including crude oil and other potentially lethal products such as chlorine and ammonia, the amount of flammable crude oil now shipped by rail is unprecedented, and growing fast. A string of recent derailments and explosions, some requiring evacuations, have prompted federal transportation officials to call for new safety measures, including stronger tanker cars and slower speeds for trains carrying a particularly volatile form
of crude oil from the suddenly booming Bakken fields of North Dakota. Bakken crude trains have been rolling through Canada and the Eastern United States for several years. In California, the crude oil by rail trend is just starting. Oil companies here are planning to receive up to 23 percent of their oil via rail shipments by 2016. Two years ago, only one-third of 1 percent of oil arrived at California refineries on trains. As rail traffic has increased, the number of crude oil
spills involving railroads in California has risen as well. California registered four rail-related crude spills or leaks between 2010 and 2012, according to the state database on hazardous-materials spills. The number jumped last year to 17. Twenty-six have been reported in the first half of this year. The state saw 139 freight train derailments last year, up from 62 in 2010.
Read more:http://www.sacbee.com/2014/08/09/6616446/chances-of-crude-oil-train-fire.htmlDelaware News Journal: Delaware police request military surplus
The Delaware News Journal says that a virtual flood of free surplus U.S. military gear has flowed into Delaware police departments in recent years. In tiny Delmar alone, the haul has ranged from tarps and treadmills to trailers and cargo trucks – all told, surplus military gear that originally cost the government $1.59 million. That doesn’t include any tactical equipment, such as rifles, that the department may have received since 2011 because the details on such gear are not public, officials say. Statewide, the Defense Department has sent a total of $9.86 million worth of tactical and non-tactical equipment Delaware’s way since late 2009. The equipment is provided via DoD’s Law Enforcement Support Office program, which allows for the transfer of excess property to lawmen in the U.S. and its territories. The LESO program provided The News Journal with lists of every transferred item, and its original cost to the Pentagon. The non-tactical items were listed by agency. ...Which ones received the tactical gear remains, in large part, a mystery. LESO wouldn’t provide those details. Police officials interviewed acknowledged the tactical items they’d been sent.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia career colleges get scant oversight
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that as enrollment has mushroomed at for-profit colleges in recent years, they have come under increased criticism. Among the concerns are default rates on federally insured student loans; dropout and graduation rates; recruiting tactics; and the truthfulness of claims about job-placement success. Dozens of state attorneys
general are examining the proprietary schools, and several federal agencies also have launched investigations. But in the past five years, the Georgia agency responsible for regulating the schools has not issued a subpoena or referred a single case to the attorney general for investigation. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters discovered an agency that has allowed for-profit schools to operate with impunity in Georgia.
Wichita (Kansas) Eagle: Child neglect easy to miss, affects development
The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle looked into child-in-need-of-care petitions. It found, for example, that a 12-year-old Wichita girl told social workers she and her siblings hadn’t taken a bath or brushed their teeth in a month. She made the comments as she and her siblings got cleaned up at the Wichita Children’s Home. They had been living without electricity or water, court
documents say, because their parents hadn’t paid the utility bills. Prosecutors filed a child-in-need-of-care petition on behalf of the four children July 30 after police removed them from their home during a welfare check three days before. Neglect happens every day in homes across the Wichita area. In state fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, physical and medical neglect of a child made up about 18 percent of all child-in-need-of-care cases assigned for investigation by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. Since February, The Eagle has been regularly reviewing child-in-need-of-care petitions and is following several cases through the system, including this one.
Read more: http://www.kansas.com/2014/08/09/3589266/child-neglect-easy-to-miss-affects.html#storylink=cpy
Portland (Maine) Press Herald: More Maine families skipping vaccines
The Portland (Maine) Press Herald says that Mainers increasingly question the safety of vaccines, and the state now has one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children in the United States. The number of children entering Maine’s kindergarten classrooms without all of the required shots has jumped by about half in the past decade, to about 600 statewide, because parents philosophically object to vaccines. Parents and health officials speculate that the trend is driven by a large body of anti-vaccine literature claiming the shots are unsafe, Mainers’ sense of independence, and parents’ desire to do what’s best for their children. But public health advocates worry that diseases common decades ago that were nearly eradicated could return. Yarmouth Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a pediatrician who is teaming with MaineHealth to research why some Mainers are choosing to forgo vaccines, predicts an outbreak of measles or pertussis will erupt in Maine. The state experienced its highest number of pertussis, or whooping cough, cases in decades in 2012, and pertussis numbers in 2013 remained high compared to recent decades. ... Maine’s opt-out rate for children entering kindergarten _ 3.9 percent _ is the ninth highest in the country, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While less than 4 percent may not sound high, vaccines are most effective when nearly everyone is immunized. When even 5 percent to 10 percent of the population opts out, what is known as “herd immunity” can be compromised, according to the CDC.
Baltimore Sun: Investigation looks into police pursuit that ended in three deaths
The Baltimore Sun reports that Andrew Baker Jr. and Angel Chiwengo were holding hands and listening to soft music on the radio as he drove her home from the Pikesville Doubletree Hilton where they worked. As they headed east on Northern Parkway and passed through the York Road intersection, a Honda Accord fleeing police blasted through a red light – at more than 100 mph – and smashed into his Jeep. Chiwengo, 46, and the two people inside the Accord died. Somehow, Baker, 54, survived. But with the anniversary of the Sept. 23, 2013, crash approaching, he bears deep physical and emotional scars: He walks with a cane, and has nightmares and flashbacks. Even worse, he says, is the feeling that he somehow let Angel down. Now previously undisclosed details about the crash are raising new questions whether police violated departmental policy by engaging in a high-speed chase. Those details, from an investigative report obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Public Information Act request to prosecutors, shed more light on the role of the unmarked police car that was pursuing the Accord.
Read more: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-08-09/news/bs-md-ci-northern-parkway-deadly-crash-20140809_1_andrew-baker-jr-baltimore-crash-police-carBoston Globe: For victims of domestic violence, each day carries danger
The Boston Globe looks at the possible impact of new domestic violence prevention legislation. It points out that the ways to hurt are infinite. When you live with an abuser, everything is a weapon. In their hands, innocent objects like ice-cube trays and checkerboards and apples and pillows become ways to inflict suffering, to demand submission. “I got hit with a branch
when I was pregnant,” said Tuti, sitting with three other survivors at a shelter in Dorchester on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon. They counted the ways their former boyfriends failed to love them. “He punched me in the head,” Tuti continued. “He spit on me. He kept hitting me with a bottle of water.” “He picked up a video game, anything near me,” said Trinity. “He hit me in the head with a bag of Pampers.” It is all there in the police reports, set out in mundane, relentless detail. Globe data visualization reporter Gabriel Florit analyzed more than four years of reports on domestic violence between intimate partners in Boston, up to April 2014. That is when the police department changed the way it reports these incidents, providing less detail on this world of cruelty and terror. Soon, the police reports will be made less accessible statewide, under new domestic violence prevention legislation that shields them from public view unless a case goes to court.
Read more:http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/08/09/for-victims-domestic-violence-each-day-carries-danger/3NBK4TZqLMWq0vLWYXAl6H/story.htmlCharlotte Observer: Motorola’s no-bid grip on Charlotte radio contracts
The Charlotte Observer reports that Motorola has thrived virtually without competition as emergency radio company for Charlotte, North Carolina, scoring more than $60 million in no-bid contracts over the past decade. The latest contract, approved by the Charlotte City Council last October, will cost the region’s taxpayers up to $32 million for system maintenance and upgrades through mid-2020. It’s the largest noncompetitive contract the city has awarded in more than
three years. The government bidding process is designed largely to save tax dollars. The idea: Competition usually prods companies to lower their prices. But only one of the more than 20 contracts awarded to Motorola over the past decade involved competitive bidding. “The taxpayers of our region are getting burned,” said Steve Koman, a former emergency
communications consultant who assisted the city from late 2011 to early this year. Koman contends the city failed to exercise due diligence by awarding the recent Motorola contract without soliciting competition _ and without asking independent experts whether it was the most cost-effective option. By May, he’d grown so concerned that he notified the FBI. Another sign of Motorola’s supremacy: The company supplied all of the roughly 5,000 radios bought by city and county agencies over the past decade. City officials insist they’ve acted in the best interests of taxpayers and public safety agencies. They say shifting to a new company would be expensive and potentially risky, and that the city has received discounts by signing the recent multi-year contract with Motorola. ... What has happened in the Charlotte region is by no means unique. A recent investigation by McClatchy, the company that owns the Observer, detailed an array of tactics used by Motorola to elbow out competitors and continue its decades-long dominance.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/09/5080172/motorolas-no-bid-grip-on-radio.html#.U-eZFfldWa8#storylink=cpyMilwaukee Journal Sentinel: Medical mediation often fruitless
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that when Dennis Browning’s wife suffered a fatal heart attack in her hospital room one day after undergoing back surgery, he began a futile search for answers. Several lawyers turned down his case, citing a system of state laws and court rulings that have combined to erect roadblocks at the doors of Wisconsin courthouses.
So Browning turned last fall to the state Medical Mediation Panels. The little-known agency, an arm of the state Supreme Court, was created in 1986 to provide "an informal, inexpensive and expedient means for resolving (medical malpractice) disputes without litigation." It replaced a more burdensome and expensive mediation system, which involved hearings that could last weeks and included expert testimony. "I went in with the idea I would be able to get clear, direct answers," said Browning, 54, a Platteville resident and Walmart greeter. It didn't happen. It almost never does. Of the 302 claims filed with the agency in 2012 and 2013, more than 60 percent end up listed as "expired," meaning they died because of procedural or scheduling problems. Only 67 – or 22 percent – actually went to a hearing, and only two of those were resolved at their hearings, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review of panel records.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 8-7-14
Anniston (Alabama) Star: Though tightly regulated, nursing homes still have issues
At an Anniston, Alabama, nursing home, administrators fired a worker accused of verbally abusing a resident, but only after state inspectors intervened. In Oxford, nursing home staff failed to tell a resident's family members when an employee reported that one resident sexually abused another. And at more than one Calhoun County nursing home, residents’ unexplained bruises sometimes didn’t get reported to state officials or family members as possible signs of abuse. An Anniston Star review of state nursing home inspection records, some of them going back as far as 10 years, showed that despite close watching by state officials, nursing homes have sometimes struggled to handle reports or indications of resident abuse properly. And Calhoun County's nursing homes aren't alone. Officials of the Alabama Nursing Home
Association say they've been in talks with state officials this summer, seeking guidance on what violations nursing homes should report and when.
Arizona Daily Star: Few tickets despite ban on texting while driving
The Arizona Daily Star reports that in the midst of city traffic a car swerves into your lane, and the driver suddenly jerks the wheels to correct. The driver’s head bobs up and down, hands clearly not on the steering wheel. Texting and driving. Inside city limits, that driver is breaking the law. But Tucson police officers have only issued 50 tickets for the violation in two years, a review of citations shows. An officer can stop a driver suspected of using a phone to text, email or instant-message while driving. But the law, which took effect in April 2012, has proven difficult to enforce. Tucson Police Officer Shawn Ramsey said he sees people texting and driving all the time, but he doesn’t stop a driver just for having a cellphone in hand because it’s too hard to prove someone was messaging or emailing at that moment. ... The low number of citations shows the city’s texting ban isn’t doing much to influence people’s driving habits, said TPD Sgt. Eric Hickman.
Sacramento Bee: California Democrats accept more campaign cash from tobacco industry
An analysis by the Sacramento Bee shows that Democrats in the California capitol have become increasingly willing in recent years to take money from cigarette companies, a source of campaign funding that was once so controversial it remains shunned by their state party organization. Donations from the nation’s two major cigarette companies to Democratic candidates for the legislature and other California offices more than quadrupled over the last five years, a Sacramento Bee analysis of campaign finance data shows. In 2009, Altria and R.J. Reynolds gave $43,300 to Democrats, 14.7 percent of the money they put into the campaign accounts of California politicians. Last year, they contributed $196,100 to Democrats, 46.6 percent of the money the industry gave to all state candidates. The shift came as the Legislature, dominated by Democrats, quietly rejected several bills aimed at reducing smoking and the illnesses that come with it.
Denver Post: Denver pays millions to settle abuse claims against police and sheriff
A Denver Post analysis finds that nearly $13 million of the $16.7 million paid out by the city of Denver to settle legal claims in the past decade involved the police and sheriff departments. Fifty-eight percent of that total payout was for cases where excessive force or civil rights violations were at issue. Denver has had five years of below-average claims payouts, with no million-dollar settlements. That's about to change shortly. The City Council will consider approval of $3.25 million to settle a federal lawsuit pressed by former jail inmate Jamal Hunter, who in 2011 was tortured by other inmates and, he says, choked by a jail deputy in another incident. ... In a brewing scandal for Denver city government, inmates have been lining up with complaints stemming from other incidents in which deputies allegedly used improper force, sometimes in view of security cameras.
Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal: The real cost of ethanol to environment, consumers
The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, reports that across the farmlands of America, there are acres upon acres of corn. Corn planted over roads that used to subdivide cropland. Corn planted on ground once considered too wet for cultivation. Corn planted on ground typically too dry to produce dependable yields but are profitable today because of innovations in drought-tolerant seeds developed by companies such as DuPont Pioneer. There's now corn planted on 1.3 million acres that until recently was reserved for conservation – an area larger than all of Delaware. Last year, American farmers planted 95 million acres of corn, 10 million acres more than in 2008. ... As envisioned by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act – championed and signed into law by President George W. Bush and embraced by candidate and now President Barack Obama – ethanol was supposed to lower gas prices for consumers, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment by helping reduce levels of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere. ... But the growth of ethanol, an alcohol-based additive that makes up 10-percent of each gallon of gas, has had unintended consequences:
-We pay more for foods like bread, snacks and chicken.
-Our vehicles get fewer miles per gallon of gasoline now that ethanol is included, and we're paying more for that fuel – about 13 cents per gallon because of the lost efficiency.
-Boat engines and lawn care equipment go kaput from engines that weren't designed for fuels that include alcohol.
-Corn planted in marginal habitats threatens one of the most altered ecosystems in the world – the temperate grasslands of the Great Plains, which naturally absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Kansas City Star: County gives many violent criminals probation
The Kansas City Star reports that LaShanda Bynum’s grief still comes in waves, even years after Djuan Hatten ambushed and killed her son. Hatten never should have been on the street that night. A year earlier, he’d shot a stranger simply for asking directions. That assault could have sent Hatten to prison for 10 years. Instead, he remained free on three years of probation.“If the system had him do the time he was supposed to do for the person he shot before, he would not have been out to commit that crime against my son,” Bynum said. Hatten has lots of company in Jackson County. More than 1,200 times since 2009, Jackson County judges have put violent criminals on probation instead of locking them away with long prison sentences, a Kansas City Star analysis of state data found. Compared with its neighboring Missouri courts, Jackson County grants probation more frequently to armed robbers, unprovoked shooters and men who have beaten up girlfriends or endangered children. It doesn’t stop there. Even killers sometimes receive probation in Jackson County.
Appleton (Wisconsin) Post-Crescent: Taxpayers often left to pay publicly financed business loans
The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin, says that publicly financed business loans are a high-stakes game, providing an economic boost in some cases while saddling taxpayers with six-figure losses in others. Banks consider loan write-off rates above 2 percent unacceptable, but local economic development funds examined by the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team wrote off about 7 percent of loans active in the last decade – with losses totaling $4.4 million. The loans often help employers create jobs, but they also can force taxpayers to prop up businesses that fail to meet obligations. ... Across 42 counties, cities and villages in central and eastern Wisconsin, public officials oversaw nearly 1,000 loans totaling $187 million in the last decade, of which 109 were delinquent or written off as of March, according to data obtained by Gannett Wisconsin Media through public records requests. That means about 90 percent of loans have fueled business start-ups and expansions that created or retained jobs and met loan obligations.
New York Times: Evidence solves rape cases years later
The New York Times tells the story of Meaghan Ybos in Memphis, Tennessee, who was 16 and had just arrived home from school when a man in a ski mask held a knife to her throat and raped her. The man said he would kill her if she called the police, but she did so anyway. That led to barrages of skeptical questions, Ms. Ybos said, and the excruciating collection of
evidence from her body, gathered into what is commonly known as a rape kit. ... Like hundreds of thousands of other rape kits across the country containing evidence gathered from victims, that of Ms. Ybos lay untested for years on a storeroom shelf. The reasons for the backlog, experts say, include constraints on finances and testing facilities, along with a slow recognition among investigators that even when the offender is known, DNA testing might reveal a pattern of serial rapes. And too often, women’s advocates say, the kits went untested because of an uncaring and haphazard response to sexual assault charges.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 7-30-2014
Los Angeles Times: Calculating water usage is tough task
The Los Angeles Times reports that when state regulators tried to tally water use across California recently, they didn't exactly get a flood of cooperation. Of the 440 water agencies in the state, only 276 provided water consumption data. And officials in San Diego made a point of formally refusing the request, saying the state's method for measuring water use in California's second-largest city was "misleading and technically inappropriate." The State Water Resources Control Board released the result of its survey earlier this month, showing an 8% increase in water use in Southern California in May while most of the rest of the state was using less water. ... But a closer look at the numbers shows the picture is more complex. The survey reflected partial and incomplete data, and state officials admit that it was not a full accounting of how much water regions are using across the state.
Washington Post: At Colorado’s borders, a dividing line over marijuana
The Washington Post looked at “drug traffic” on the Colorado border. It found an old man with a snow-white beard bounded into the double-wide trailer that houses the only pot shop in eastern Colorado. He wore bib overalls over a white T-shirt, and a huge grin. He was a farmer from Nebraska, and he was 78 years old. “How much can I get for $100?” he asked. Ray —
no last name, he said nervously — bought a couple of grams, went across the street to show his wife what he’d scored, and scurried back to the sales counter. “Forget something?” asked the clerk, a schoolteacher who is spending the summer selling marijuana. “More weed!” Ray squealed with glee. He’s been smoking since he was 12, “and I will till the day I die,” he said, and now Ray was about to get back in his truck and drive his first legal purchase 322 miles east, back to his Nebraska farm. The trip would make him a criminal, because although recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado this year, it most assuredly is not on the other side of the state line.
Miami Herald: State Republicans won’t talk about trips to ranch
The Miami Herald reports that in February 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott stepped aboard a Texas-bound plane to take part in a secret ritual for Florida’s power elite. As other politicians had done before and would do after, Scott was departing for historic King Ranch, one of North America’s premier hunting grounds. The trips, records indicate, were financed all or in part with contributions from Florida’s sugar industry, right down to the hunting licenses. Scott won’t answer questions about his trip. After weeks of requests from the Herald/Times, his campaign staff released a one-paragraph statement recently saying he had gone to King Ranch “in support of his political fundraising efforts.” Also keeping mum: state House leaders who have accepted similar trips in the past three years, ever since U.S. Sugar leased 30,000 acres at the ranch and built a hunting lodge amid its rolling hills.
Des Moines Register: Worth County deputies deployed Tasers at least 15 times
The Des Moines Register reports that Worth County deputies fired two Tasers at least 15 separate times to subdue a man who was lying on his back and either couldn't or wouldn't roll over as instructed, according to videos and other records released by the state to settle a lawsuit filed by the newspaper. Michael Zubrod, 39, of Northwood can be heard moaning
throughout parts of the 31⁄2 minutes of footage, and records show that minutes later, he became unresponsive with no heartbeat. Deputies had responded to the home that night after Zubrod was accused of beating his girlfriend, Rhonda Schukei, with a hammer. The newly released records – including two videos, more than 100 audio recordings of communications with emergency dispatch and multiple documents – show and describe a highly violent scene on
Sept. 22 that ended in Zubrod's death. The records were released last week in a settlement with the state after the Register sued for access to the reports.
Baltimore Sun: Maryland hospitals aren’t reporting all errors
The Baltimore Sun reports that Nadege Neim won a $1.4 million verdict last year after suing her Ellicott City obstetrician for removing a healthy ovary and fallopian tube from her right side when she went into the hospital for surgery to have a cyst excised from her left. A few years earlier, an unnamed man in his 50s sought treatment for pneumonia at a Maryland hospital and ended up losing both legs. No one properly assessed him, and scans that might have found the blood vessel blockage were delayed for nearly two days in a "cascade of poor decisions," state regulators said in an investigative report obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Such preventable medical errors kill more than 400,000 Americans each year and seriously harm at least 10 times that number, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Patient Safety. But it's impossible to know the full scope of the problem in Maryland. While hospitals are supposed to report serious medical errors to state regulators, the mostly confidential system still doesn't capture all of those happening in the Maryland facilities, patient safety experts and regulators acknowledge. Confusion over reporting rules and fear of legal or financial repercussions can thwart disclosure, they say. ... Only Minnesota, New York and five other states have passed
laws requiring that hospitals publicly report mistakes.
Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/sun-investigates/bs-hs-medical-errors-20140726,0,5079647.story#ixzz38gCd2gWE
Boston Globe: Finance rule often flouted
The Boston Globe looked into campaign financing. It noted that Richard Tisei, who lost his 2010 bid for lieutenant governor, later approached an old friend, reclusive GOP strategist Arthur J. Finkelstein, to help map the way forward. Finkelstein, who owns a sprawling property on the Ipswich River, is a storied figure in conservative circles. He has advised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, worked for President Nixon, and polled for President Reagan. Now, he would do a poll for Tisei – a June 2011 survey testing Tisei’s standing in the Sixth Congressional District, home to Representative John Tierney, a Salem Democrat bogged down in a family gambling scandal. The poll was not unusual. The payment for it, and for Finkelstein’s advice, was. When Tisei cut four checks to the political consultant between June and October 2011 for a total of $20,540, he did not pay out of a federal campaign account. Instead, he tapped a state account he’d built over 26 years as a Beacon Hill lawmaker and candidate for lieutenant governor. The payments appear to violate federal law, which bars the use of state campaign funds in US House and Senate races. ... Spending records show several other Massachusetts officials have spent thousands of dollars out of their state accounts on staff and consultants in the run-up to their formal declarations, creating what looks like a series of shadow campaigns outside the reach of federal regulators. The lawmakers flatly deny the existence of those campaigns.
Kansas City Star: University’s misleading march to the top
After decades of struggling to boost its profile beyond that of a commuter college, the University of Missouri-Kansas City finally could call itself a global leader, The Kansas City Star reports. “UMKC ranked No. 1 in the World,” a 2011 university news release said. An academic study had ranked UMKC’s business school ahead of Harvard, Stanford and other top colleges in innovation management research – the study of how entrepreneurs turn good ideas into big bucks and jobs. “Oh my, have we made a big score,” Chancellor Leo Morton told a crowd at the formal announcement. But a Kansas City Star investigation raises questions about that score and other rankings achieved by UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management. The Star found a pattern of exaggerations and misstatements that polished the school’s reputation as it
sought to boost enrollment and open donors’ checkbooks.
Bergen County Record: Deadbeat dads
The Bergen County (New Jersey) Record reports that Kevin Macfie owes more than $60,000 in child support, and he's spent most of the past three years at the Bergen County Jail as authorities have tried to get him to pay up. His 871 nights and weekends behind bars have cost taxpayers more than $87,000. During that time, he's paid less than $15,000 in child support, much of it garnisheed from unemployment benefits, which have long since run out. Homeless, jobless and struggling with alcoholism, there's little sign he will ever pay what he owes. Macfie has had plenty of company in jail. Last year, more than 1,800 men and women were incarcerated or sentenced to home confinement with ankle bracelets in Bergen and Passaic counties for failing to pay child support. They and thousands of others statewide cycle in and
out of a court system whose mission is to get money from people who claim they just don't have any. ... Across the state, authorities currently have 33,000 active arrest warrants for parents behind on their payments. Some parents are regularly picked up and jailed for weeks or months at a stretch, as they try the patience of judges as well as ex-spouses with their stories of woe. In Bergen County, the jail has a special 65-bed bunkhouse for fathers behind on payments.
Newark Star Ledger: Dying for help
In an investigation of heroin addiction programs, The Newark Star Ledger says that when Barbara finally decided to get clean, she was little more than a skeleton. Nearly a year ago, the New Brunswick mother of two weighed 95 pounds, her body ravaged by a heroin addiction that led her through a life of homelessness and prostitution and left her in a coma after an overdose. Today, there is light in her eyes when she talks about her life. She has been sober nearly a year. She’s back at a healthy weight and has reconnected with her children, who are 10 and 11. There’s hope for a future, one she said wouldn’t exist without the treatment she sought and received. A lot of time there are three-week waits for a bed. A person can die in that time. Sometimes you only have that window of opportunity, and it's small. "If it weren’t for Integrity House, I’d be dead," she said, while sitting in the substance abuse facility’s Newark offices. "Before I came here, I thought I’d end up in a gutter somewhere. I’m blessed. I see things totally different now." Barbara is lucky. She has one of a few thousand licensed short-or long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment beds in New Jersey. Put another way, she won the addicts’ lottery — scoring a chance to get clean in a state-licensed residential facility. In New Jersey, it’s a dream that’s never been further out of reach. A Star-Ledger analysis of state and local data reveals a troubling relationship between the number of people being treated, the number of people heroin is killing and the number of people unable to find the help they immediately need.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Police amassing millions of license plate reader records
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle says that in a crime-fighting tactic that sets civil libertarians' teeth on edge, police in Monroe County and other urban counties across New York state are collecting and archiving tens of millions of records that track vehicle movement. The records are stored in a series of loosely connected secure computer servers, accessible directly or indirectly by police from one end of New York to the other and by federal Homeland Security officials. Each of the records, which are gathered by license plate cameras mounted on police cars or at fixed locations, includes a photograph and the time and place that a particular vehicle was imaged. Strung together, the records can paint a picture of where a person has traveled — whether to the scene of a crime, a doctor's office or to church. The system can instantly alert patrol officers of a "hit" on a stolen car or, more often, a vehicle whose registration has lapsed and is ripe for ticketing. Stored records also can be accessed later as part of criminal investigations. Records used for those purposes, though, constitute only a small fraction of all the data being saved. The vast majority of the vehicles tracked in the license-plate data were
driven not by scofflaws or criminals but by innocent citizens who happen to be photographed driving to work or while running errands. And least nine of New York's most populous counties — Monroe, Erie, Onondaga, Albany, Broome, Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau — are now engaged in long-term storage of these records.
Dallas Morning News: Suits keep public in dark on safety
The Dallas Morning News finds that secrets wrapped up in lawsuits over the 2013 explosion of the fertilizer plant in West could keep valuable health and safety information hidden from the public forever. Because a judge has approved confidentiality agreements requested by attorneys, even people who live in West may never find out much more about what happened. The agreements allow both sides to label as confidential virtually all information uncovered as the lawyers prepare for trial. “I’ve read hundreds of these. I read them all the time,” said Richard Zitrin, a law professor who has testified before the U.S. Senate about secrecy in the courts. “These are some of the most outrageous examples I have ever seen. It is completely unlimited.” Confidentiality agreements are common. But keeping secrets in lawsuits can have dangerous
consequences for public health and safety.
Seattle Times: Oil trains crowding Northwest grain shippers
A surge in oil trains hauling North Dakota’s energy bonanza is interfering with grain shipments to Pacific Northwest ports, prompting fears of a chronic crisis in which railcars carrying fossil fuels crowd out other products and disrupt exports, the Seattle Times reports. Washington wheat farmers have been luckier than their Upper Midwest cousins because most can ship their wheat by barge down the Columbia River. But those farther from the river, who typically rely on railroads, are increasingly paying truckers to move their wheat to a barge port. Farmers and others worry that costs and delays will get worse as more trains carrying oil — and perhaps coal — clog the region’s rail lines. “We’re concerned by the cost and availability of freight,” said Pearson Burke, marketing manager of AgVentures NW, a joint venture between two grain cooperatives in Odessa, Lincoln County. At the Port of Seattle, Dale Frazier, owner of Seattle Bulk Rail Station, a company that loads grain from trains into containers, says that in February, March and April his “business suffered tremendously” due to many late trains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that last winter, some ships departed before the grain they were waiting for could be loaded. Train trips from the Midwest’s grain belt to the Pacific
Northwest took 22 days, nearly twice as long as usual.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 7-17-2014
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/07/12/3334153/rich-schoolspoor-schools-activity.html#storylink=cpy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 7-10-2014Columbus 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.
subpoenas.htmlWashington 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.
Read more:http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-nsa-intercepted-data-those-not-targeted-far-outnumber-the-foreigners-who-are/2014/07/05/8139adf8-045a-11e4-8572-4b1b969b6322_story.htmlMilwaukee 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.
Read more:http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/interest-groups-let-congress-travel-free-b99302738z1-265922031.htmlArizona 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.
http://azstarnet.com/news/science/environment/study-rising-az-temperatures-make-for-hostile-environment/article_f95aa84b-13a4-5f84-9944-2d092c8647cc.htmlLos 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.
Read more:http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-deport-children-20140706-story.html#page=1Modesto (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.
Read more: http://www.modbee.com/2014/07/06/3425190/as-drought-persists-frustration.html#storylink=cpyDenver 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.
Read more:http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26096503/dia-officials-fly-business-class-around-worldMiami 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 BrowardBulldog.org. 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.
Read more:http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/07/01/4212644/fbi-records-chilling-find-in-bradenton.html#storylink=cpyAtlanta 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.
Read more:http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/racial-gaps-remain-in-gifted-programs-ajc-analysis/ngSCF/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.
Read more: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/07/06/3268300/kids-these-days.html#storylink=cpyBoston 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.
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."
Read more:http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/investigations/2014/06/29/va-alarms-failed-change/11701543/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.
Read more: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/06/28/3998661/gi-bill-funds-flow-to-for-profit.html#storylink=cpySacramento 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.
Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/06/29/6518901/complaints-of-nepotism-dog-california.html#storylink=cpyOrange 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.
Read more:http://www.ocregister.com/articles/police-627391-shootings-department.htmlNew 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.
funds-for-training-tripsPalm 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.
Read more:http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/deathonthetracksChicago 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.
Read more:http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-06-27/news/ct-railyard-diesel-pollution-met-20140627_1_diesel-soot-diesel-pollution-freightBaltimore 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.
Read more:http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-06-28/news/bs-md-teacher-evaluations-20140628_1_evaluation-system-teachers-unions-adam-mendelsonMinneapolis 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.
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.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/us/in-military-care-a-pattern-of-errors-but-not-scrutiny.html?_r=0The 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.
Read more:http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2014/06/coos_bay_lng_terminal_designed.htmlMilwaukee 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.