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Watchdog Reporting

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK   JUNE 28,2016

Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser: Drug case backlog burdens criminal justice system

The Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser quotes District Attorney Daryl Bailey as saying that a 1,604-case backlog of drug related cases is burdening the Montgomery County criminal justice system. To put that in perspective, the most recent drug case to come out of forensics is from April 2014. In short, anybody arrested for drug-related charges would currently be waiting more than two years for a trial as evidence is processed. “What you have are more cases going in than coming out,” Bailey said. … A large part of the problem is that state budget cuts have made it difficult for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences to run tests for suspected drug substances, experts said.

Read more: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2016/06/26/drug-case-backlog-stretches-back-two-years/86341572/

Denver Post: State doesn’t require background checks for nurses

Nurses with convictions for sexual offenses, drug thefts and crimes of violence have escaped detection under Colorado’s porous system for licensing health care workers, which has far fewer protections than most states, the Denver Post reports. Colorado is one of six states that does not conduct criminal background checks on applicants for nursing licenses. The state requires massage therapists and private investigators to submit a fingerprint for checks against state and FBI conviction records to get licensed. It’s even a step the legislature decided this year to require of operators of fantasy sports leagues before they set up shop in Colorado. To identify dangerous applicants or licensees with criminal histories, the nurse licensing system in Colorado mostly relies on self-disclosure and complaints. The process allows nurses deemed unfit for the job in other states to obtain and hold a Colorado license to work as a nurse here or in other states.

Read more: https://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/26/colorado-criminal-background-checks-nurses/

News Journal: Shootings hurt police recruiting

The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, reports that in many ways, Anthony Parker Jr. is the ideal recruit for one of Delaware’s 49 police departments. The 21-year-old who smiles with ease and is schooled in communications, understands struggling neighborhoods because he comes from one, and his childhood dream was to become a cop. But that goal changed in recent years, he said, after watching a steady stream of news reports about people taking to American streets to protest the deaths of mostly young black men during encounters with police. A north Wilmington native, Parker is part of a growing trend: Fewer young people in Delaware are considering policing as a profession in recent years than during past decades, multiple law enforcement experts told The News Journal. As a result, departments are placing a stronger emphasis on recruiting. “There’s a decrease in applicants in general, and it’s not just a Delaware problem,” said New Castle County police Capt. Laura O’Sullivan. "Twenty years ago you were competing with 1,000 people for 15 spots, and today you certainly have to push harder to get more applicants to come in."

Read more: http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2016/06/24/police-wanted-recruiting-new-era/85192756/

Miami Herald: Workers’ use of vacation funds cost taxpayers

Dwight Danie had an emergency: Duncan the terrier needed eye surgery, the Miami Herald reports. It was January of last year, and Danie had an estimated $2,700 bill coming down the pike from a South Florida specialty clinic for a procedure to remove cataracts from his dog’s eyes. So he filed paperwork stating that he had an emergency, which allowed him to sell five weeks of untaken vacation valued at $8,430 back to his employer, the city of Miami. “It was a financial emergency. It was very expensive,” said Danie, at the time an $88,000-a-year elections coordinator. “I’m not a rich man.” Danie, who told the Herald the money also helped him pay for his mother’s funeral, was hardly the only city employee to experience a crisis last year. Citing situations that included footing their kids’ tuition and funding home improvements, 591 men and women in a city of roughly 4,000 employees sold back “V-time” to the city. The cost to taxpayers: $2,954,540. A review of three years of city records shows Miami employees routinely tap into their vacation hours and cash out thousands of dollars each year under a long-standing policy that allows them to sell up to six weeks of accrued vacation time to the city if they have an emergency.

Read more: 

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article85891017.html#storylink=cpy

Indianapolis Star: Airbnb says it wants to pay taxes

At a gathering of more than 200 mayors in Indianapolis, Airbnb officials extended an enticing offer: Let us collect millions in unpaid hotel taxes for you. At first glance, the company's pitch is an unusual one. After all, who wants to be taxed? But it also is a clear sign that the online home-sharing service is trying to get out in front of an issue that has pitted the upstart firm against the traditional hotel industry in virtually every city where it does business. Hotel operators in Indianapolis and across the country complain that Airbnb is playing by a different set of rules, and it's disrupting not only their share of tourism dollars, but also government tax collections. In Indiana, a 10 percent innkeeper's tax helps pay for things such as Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center and city tourism marketing. And while Airbnb hosts who rent out their homes are required by law to pay these taxes, enforcing compliance among a web of unregulated homeowners has proven difficult nationwide. For its part, Airbnb insists it's trying to be a good corporate citizen: It has long urged its hosts to follow state and local laws. And it is willing to collect and pay the taxes itself, cutting the host out of the picture entirely. It now has voluntary tax collection agreements with communities in 18 states, including neighboring Illinois and Ohio, but not Indiana. … If the offer sounds too good to be true, the hotel industry would agree. They say the voluntary agreements fall well short of the level of accountability required of hotels.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/25/airbnb-mayors-we-want-pay-taxes/86334388/

Des Moines Register: Preventing repeat driving offenses proves difficult

Iowa has made little headway in reducing the percentage of intoxicated drivers who are repeat offenders, a Des Moines Register analysis of state data shows. In 2015, 26 percent  of the 11,628 motorists convicted of driving impaired had previously been caught driving while intoxicated, data from the Iowa Court Information System show. That's down just 3 percentage points in a dozen years. Since 2000, roughly 222,500 drivers have been convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Iowa. Nearly 60,000 were repeat offenders, according to Iowa Court Information System data. The numbers are an indication of the magnitude of the problem facing Iowa in its continued struggle to get drunk drivers off roads.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/06/23/impaired-driving-iowa/86046976/

Boston Globe: The desperate and the dead

The Boston Globe tells the story of Nancy Chiero, a mother who struggled to take care of her 35-year-old son, Lee, until he murdered her in a paranoid fit of rage. …  In a state that prides itself on leadership in human services and compassionate government, it has come to this, a Spotlight Team investigation has found: threadbare policies, broken promises, short-sighted decisions, and persistent underfunding over decades. As a result, the seriously mentally ill, including those at greatest risk of harming others or themselves, are far too often left in the care of parents, police, prison guards, judges, shelter workers, and emergency room personnel — almost anyone, in fact, but professionals trained to deal with their needs. Families of these sufferers find themselves up against obstacles that earlier generations didn’t have to face. Fifty years ago, Lee Chiero might have been treated — and locked away — in one of the public psychiatric hospitals that once dotted Massachusetts. Today, nearly all of those institutions have been bulldozed or boarded up — and many had to be, having evolved into inhumane asylums for people who are, in the great majority, no threat to anyone. But the hospitals were not replaced with anything resembling a coherent care system, leaving thousands of people with serious mental illness to navigate a fragmented network of community services that puts an extraordinary burden on them to find help and to make sure they continue getting it.

Read more: https://apps.bostonglobe.com/spotlight/the-desperate-and-the-dead/series/families/

Detroit Free Press: Families say no justice for workers killed on the job

For the families of hundreds of workers killed on the job in Michigan, there is often no justice. No criminal charges. No civil lawsuits. No costly penalties from Michigan's workplace safety agency. And strict limits on workers compensation. A yearlong Free Press investigation into more than 400 workplace deaths across the state found a flawed system of oversight with penalties against employers so low they're not a deterrent. And families have little recourse in court because of restrictive rules about bringing suits over workplace deaths and injuries. "It’s extremely difficult for a family from the state of Michigan to be able to seek accountability for a death in a place of employment," said Troy employment lawyer Shereef Akeel, who won a civil suit against a Barry County dairy farmer over the death of one of two teenage workers, his only successful suit in a workplace death or injury in his 20-year career.

Read more: http://www.freep.com/longform/news/local/michigan/2016/06/25/miosha-penalties-michigan-workers-compensation/84592140/

Star-Ledger: Port Authority pays millions in overtime

Nearly five years ago, New York State's comptroller complained overtime "flows like water" at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and called on the bi-state agency to dramatically reign in the extra hours its employees work. Though the Port Authority has attempted to curb costs, the agency is still struggling to cut overtime, according to public documents. Nearly 170 Port Authority employees -- mostly police officers and maintenance supervisors – earned more than $75,000 each in overtime last year, according to the agency's payroll. The top 25 on the list each earned more than $110,000 in overtime on top of their regular salaries. Many employees more than doubled their base salaries by working overtime, the records show. Several took home nearly as much or more than their boss, Port Authority Patrick Foye, who earned $305,111 last year.

Read more:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/06/these_25_port_authority_employees_each_earned_110k.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  JUNE 21, 2016

Los Angeles Times: Start-ups push new drug tests

The Los Angeles Times reports that ads for a new blood test, dubbed “the cancer stethoscope,” were designed to grab attention from even the healthiest Americans. “Did you know?” warned the colorful ads promoting the cancer detection test on Twitter. “1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer.” Pathway Genomics, a San Diego start-up, directed consumers through the ads to a toll-free number, where a customer service rep linked them to a panel of physicians, who ordered the test. The company then sent a mobile phlebotomist to draw blood at the person’s home or office. … Pathway is one of a growing number of start-ups trying to disrupt the $75-billion medical lab business by selling blood tests and other types of medical lab checks directly to consumers. It’s part of a new frontier of medicine, where tech companies say they are using data, software and genomics to create tools for personalized medicine, letting patients take the lead without always relying on a physician. But Silicon Valley technologists face steep hurdles in their efforts to revolutionize the medical system the way they have communications or shopping. And because of the hype surrounding the blood tests — many of which are not backed by reliable scientific studies — patients may be at risk of being misled or even harmed.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-blood-tests-20160615-snap-story.html

 

New York Times: Sickness among airmen after hydrogen bomb accident

Alarms sounded on U.S. Air Force bases in Spain and officers began packing all the low-ranking troops they could grab onto buses for a secret mission, The New York Times says. There were cooks, grocery clerks and even musicians from the Air Force band. It was a late winter night in 1966 and a fully loaded B-52 bomber on a Cold War nuclear patrol had collided with a refueling jet high over the Spanish coast, freeing four hydrogen bombs that went tumbling toward a farming village called Palomares, a patchwork of small fields and tile-roofed white houses in an out-of-the-way corner of Spain’s rugged southern coast that had changed little since Roman times. It was one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history, and the United States wanted it cleaned up quickly and quietly. But if the men getting onto buses were told anything about the Air Force’s plan for them to clean up spilled radioactive material, it was usually, “Don’t worry.” … Interviews with dozens of men and details from never before published declassified documents tell a different story. Radiation near the bombs was so high it sent the military’s monitoring equipment off the scales. Troops spent months shoveling toxic dust, wearing little more protection than cotton fatigues. And when tests taken during the cleanup suggested men had alarmingly high plutonium contamination, the Air Force threw out the results, calling them “clearly unrealistic.”

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/20/us/decades-later-sickness-among-airmen-after-a-hydrogen-bomb-accident.html?_r=0

 

Spokesman-Review: Spokane’s two school zone cameras net over $1 million in fines

The rain let up on a Tuesday afternoon moments before a flood of traffic descended on Longfellow Elementary School in northeast Spokane, Washington, the Spokesman-Review reports. When the bell rang and kids poured from the school, adults in cars jostled for position. The chaos and snarl of vehicles lasted about 15 minutes, enough time for Longfellow’s 530 students to find their ride, get on the bus or cross one of the many busy streets surrounding the school. Through it all, traffic never let up on the busy, nearby arterials. At the beginning of the year, the city of Spokane began issuing tickets to drivers speeding near the school, a violation caught on camera as part of a new program similar to the city’s red-light cameras. Finch Elementary School also has a camera for school zone speeders. Since January, 5,778 tickets have been issued near Longfellow and Finch. The tickets range from $234 to $450, meaning between $1.3 million and $2.5 million in fines have been assessed to drivers near those schools.

Read more: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/jun/14/school-zone-cameras-nab-millions-in-fines-from-dri/

 

Washington Post: Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia

Donald Trump was in his element, mingling with beauty pageant contestants and business tycoons as he brought his Miss Universe pageant to Russia for a much-anticipated Moscow debut, the Washington Post reports. Nonetheless, Trump was especially eager for the presence of another honored guest: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump tweeted Putin a personal invitation to attend the pageant, and a one-on-one meeting between the New York businessman and the Russian leader was scheduled for the day before the show. Putin canceled at the last minute, but he sent a decorative lacquered box, a traditional Russian gift, and a warm note, according to Aras Agalarov, a Moscow billionaire who served as a liaison between Trump and the Russian leader. Trump’s relationship with Putin and his warm views toward Russia, which began in the 1980s when the country was still part of the Soviet Union, have emerged as one of the more curious aspects of his presidential campaign.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-trumps-financial-ties-to-russia-and-his-unusual-flattery-of-vladimir-putin/2016/06/17/dbdcaac8-31a6-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html

 

Washington Post: Expensive reminder that Sanders hasn’t dropped out

The Washington Post says that when Sen. Bernie Sanders, the now-vanquished Democratic presidential candidate, returns to Capitol Hill to vote, he is expected to be accompanied by his constant traveling companions from the campaign trail: the U.S. Secret Service. Though Hillary Clinton has clinched the party’s nomination, Sanders retains one of the trappings of a top-notch candidate. A team of agents still guards him at his home, where they’ve constructed a small watch station on the property. They travel with him on commercial and charter flights and use a motorcade to whisk him through cities he visits. And they recently marched alongside him during a gay pride event here in his hometown after the Orlando shootings. Such round-the-clock protection can cost taxpayers more than $38,000 a day. And with the potential for the Secret Service to be watching over Sanders through the Democratic convention in Philadelphia five weeks from now, the taxpayers may get stuck with a big security bill long after his campaign receded from the daily cable news cycle.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/an-expensive-reminder-that-sanders-still-hasnt-dropped-out-his-secret-service-detail/2016/06/19/a3f717c6-3555-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_sanderssecurity-858am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

 

Indianapolis Star: Struggling public parks

In 2012, a national survey of public parks ranked Indianapolis' park and trail system 47th out of the country's 50 largest cities, the Indianapolis Star reports. It was embarrassing, to say the least. City officials and community leaders alike called for change, saying that whatever the budget pressures, Indianapolis couldn't settle for third from last. Then-Mayor Greg Ballard called parks "essential" and launched a number of initiatives to study and improve Indy's offerings. The Indianapolis Parks Foundation pledged to step up its advocacy role. The charitable Lilly Endowment gave $10 million for facility upgrades. Four years later, Indianapolis is still ranked third from last — this time tied with Charlotte, North Carolina, for 95th out of 98 cities studied.  Two of the 100 largest cities were not included in the rankings because they did not provide enough data. … There's one metric Indianapolis can't blame on bias or a misunderstanding — and if it isn't addressed, advocates say, it threatens not only Indy's ability to improve, but even to maintain the parks and trails it has. In 2012, the government invested $43.61 per resident on parks. Today, that figure has dropped 40 percent to $26.34, more than only Detroit and Stockton, California. That's less than one-fourth of what the typical city in the region spends. And the top five in the country spend as much as 10 times that.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/18/indys-struggling-parks-we-have-work-do/85495128/

 

Des Moines Register: Hospital bottlenecks strand mentally ill

No one who suffers a stroke, tumor or broken bone would expect to be stranded in a hospital for months after doctors cleared them to be released. But many Iowans with serious mental illnesses are being marooned that way, the Des Moines Register says. In one of the worst cases, a Des Moines man who had been cleared for release spent an extra year and two months in Broadlawns Medical Center's psychiatric unit. Hospital staff members struggled to find an agency that would supervise him in the community. They finally found one this spring, after Polk County taxpayers spent nearly $500,000 housing the man in the public hospital. Such long-term patients clog hospital units that are desperately needed for new patients going through mental health crises.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/health/2016/06/18/mentally-ill-iowans-stranded-months-hospitals/85713926/

 

Lexington Herald-Leader: Constables -- untrained and unaccountable

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that night had fallen on March 4 when Laurel County Constable Bobby Joe Smith rolled into the parking lot at the A & B Quick Stop. Smith had received a tip that Brandon Stanley was among the handful of customers mingling inside the convenience store. The convicted felon and the elected constable had played cat-and-mouse two days earlier, when the 30-year-old Stanley ran away as Smith was trying to serve him with a warrant. The constable didn’t want to let that happen again. Moments after Smith walked into the store, Stanley lay on the floor, with two gunshots in or near the chest. He died almost instantly. It was less than 24 hours before his planned wedding. The 37-year-old Smith had been a constable for just 15 months. He had no state-approved law enforcement training and mainly worked at a motorcycle dealership. Now, he faces a manslaughter charge for shooting Stanley, and up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Smith serves as the latest in a long line of constables — pseudo police, really — who have run amok in Kentucky for years, according to the story, which was reported in conjunction with the WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Wave 3 News.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article84130267.html#storylink=cpy

 

Boston Globe: The other victims of the opioid crisis

Jonathan Rodis takes his hydrocodone pills sparingly, only when the pain becomes unbearable, the Boston Globe reports. He doesn’t like the way the drug fogs his brain. And lately, he also needs to conserve — because new federal rules make it hard to get a refill. Rodis has Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissue and makes his whole body hurt. The pills dull the pain for a few hours. But now, instead of just calling his pharmacy when he needs a refill, he has to make the 30- to 45-minute trek from Winthrop into Boston to see his doctor, a major undertaking for a man who can barely leave the house on bad days. “I feel so trapped when I look at my bottle and see six pills left,” said Rodis, who is 57. This is the other side of America’s war on opioids. As federal and state regulators rush to curtail access to drugs that have claimed thousands of lives, the rules they’ve enacted fall hard on people who legitimately need relief from pain. In an atmosphere of heightened concern about opioids, patients in pain face reluctant doctors, wary pharmacists, and the frequent demand to prove that they are not addicts.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/06/18/the-other-side-america-war-opioids/i9YYLR0bGWFdP9z1T1pwjI/story.html

 

Star-Ledger: Developers, not storm victims, cashed in on Sandy funds

A New Jersey state program to lend more than $400 million in taxpayer dollars to replenish affordable housing lost during Hurricane Sandy so far has assisted fewer than two dozen victims of the storm, according to state statistics reported by the Newark Star-Ledger. The Fund for Restoration of Multifamily Housing began disbursing zero- and low-interest loans in 2014 in the nine counties most affected by Sandy, with the caveat that Sandy victims on limited incomes be given priority on the new rental units. But of the 2,000 units completed with the help of the public money, only 15 are occupied by New Jersey residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. Critics contend the program, which has so far allocated to developers $413 million of $591 million, helps investors and builders more than people affected by the storm.

Read more: 

http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2016/06/millions_of_dollars_in_sandy_recovery_money_helpin.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK   JUNE 14, 2016

Montgomery Advertiser: Payday lending reform is uphill battle

For Alabama, a state with one of the highest rates of payday lenders per capita, the federal payday lending reforms proposed on June 2 may not be enough to change predatory lending behavior in the state, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The 1,341-page framework for potential payday and title lending reform from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looks to reduce borrowers’ ability to take on multiple loans and require lenders to make sure borrowers can afford to pay the loans. Each year, about 240,000 Alabamians take out about 2.5 million payday loans which create $800 million in revenue for the payday lending industry, according to Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, a payday lending reform advocate. … Alabama’s 456 percent payday loan interest rate – and 300 percent interest rate for title loans – means most low-income borrowers will take out additional loans to pay for the continuing fees from past loans.

Read more: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/2016/06/11/advocates-want-more-payday-lending-reform/85714110/

 

Los Angeles Times: Lucrative job at port went to boss’ son

The Los Angeles Times says that a rare opening last year in the city of Los Angeles’ small corps of port pilots, who guide cargo ships and oil tankers into the harbor in San Pedro, drew more than 50 applicants, including ship’s captains and tugboat skippers with many years of experience. That was no surprise, considering L.A.’s full-time port pilots averaged $434,000 in salary and bonuses last year, making them by far the city’s highest-paid employees. The surprise came when the job went to 33-year-old Michael J. Rubino, whose father is Chief Port Pilot Michael R. Rubino. The younger Rubino was hired at the recommendation of an interview panel whose senior member was a longtime colleague of his father, port records obtained by The Times show, but the job didn’t last long. The leader of the small pilots’ union questioned Rubino’s credentials and asked that the work history he and other candidates listed on their applications be carefully checked — something city officials admit they initially failed to do.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-adv-port-pilots-snap-story.html

 

Washington Post: The lonely road of staying clean

Jessica Kilpatrick was in the middle of a 10-hour shift at Burger King in a small town in Alabama when she checked her phone messages, the Washington Post reports. Right away she knew. It was the canned voice of the community corrections office ordering her in for a random drug test. Jessica put her headset back on and tried to stay calm. She looked into a mirror. She was hot and greasy and smelled like a Croissan’wich, but her eyes were clear and her mind was straight, unglazed by opioid painkillers. She had not missed a single day of work in 11 months and had been off drugs for 18 months. … Everyone in this white, rural county of 67,000 has a theory about what happened here. It was the global economy that took away the coal-mining jobs. It was Purdue Pharma marketing OxyContin as a less-addictive painkiller. It was greedy doctors who needed to pay for their beach condos in Gulf Shores. It was the druggies and scammers abusing the system. It was God being taken out of the schools. It was the government allowing Medicaid patients to get $800 worth of painkillers for a $6 co-pay. It was too few jobs and too many with headsets. It was 21st-century America, a place so lonely for some that only pills could fill the void.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/wp/2016/06/11/2016/06/11/the-lonely-road-of-staying-clean/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_alabama11pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

 

Idaho Statesman: Curing hepatitis C is costly problem

The Idaho Statesman says that if Robert E. Gibbish Jr. had known a tattoo he got in prison in the late 1980s would give him a deadly infectious disease, he would not have done it. But once he found out he was infected, he kept getting prison tattoos of elaborate demons and skulls. “I figured I was already dirty, I might as well finish them up,” said Gibbish, of Nampa, who returned to prison in 2014 at the Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise on drug and assault charges. He believed it was just a matter of time before he succumbed to an incurable disease. … When his kidneys failed last year, Gibbish, 49, suspected hepatitis C was calling in its chit. The Idaho Department of Correction sent him to a specialist in Boise. The specialist recommended that Gibbish receive a new hepatitis C drug. It took nearly a year of wading through red tape, but in February, Gibbish was given the drug regimen: a pill a day for 12 weeks. “I feel better than I have in decades,” he says. … But the drugs terrify those who must pay for them. Sovaldi costs $84,000 for a standard 12-week course, or $1,000 per daily pill. Harvoni costs $94,000. That has put Idaho and other states in a bind: They don’t have enough money to cure all the Medicaid patients and prison inmates they must care for who have hepatitis C.

Read more: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article83287742.html#storylink=cpy

 

South Bend Tribune: Profits over prisoners in medical care?

A private company hired to provide medical treatment to Indiana's prisoners while saving taxpayer money has come under increasing scrutiny amid a spike in complaints, questions about oversight and allegations that profit often takes priority over critical health services for inmates, the South Bend Tribune reports. Corizon Health, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, is the largest correctional medical company in the country. It provides health care services to jails and prisons in 25 states, including Indiana and Michigan. A spokesman for Indiana's Department of Correction defended the medical care provided to the state's approximately 26,000 prisoners, saying, “I am confident that our clinical metrics for chronic conditions are better than the free world.” But in the last few years: The number of inmate medical complaints filed with the ombudsman for Indiana's DOC has spiked, from 153 in 2010 to 509 in 2015. The number of prisoner deaths, including suicides, also rose, reaching 86 in 2015. Prisoners or their families have filed at least 178 medical-related civil rights lawsuits in federal courts in Indiana against Corizon since 2011 — 46 of those in 2015 alone. The state has settled nearly three dozen of those cases, paying out more than $1.2 million.

Read more: http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/publicsafety/profits-over-prisoners-indiana-s-health-care-for-inmates-draws/article_0586c362-2f19-11e6-8a57-db81e46465f5.html

 

Boston Globe: Making it big, the Pam family way

The Boston Globe reports that Rolando Pam is an imposing figure in his dark trench coat and smartly shaped fedora, unabashed as he describes himself and his 11 children as “success stories” in a part of town, Roxbury, where black families too often fail. He presents himself as a patriarch of a striving, self-made real estate enterprise, and has some material proof to back up the claims of success — luxury cars, a business portfolio that has included houses and apartment buildings, and the friendship of many wealthy and powerful people looking to tap into the escalating Roxbury market. Yet in his neighborhood and in court, many see Pam and his family business in a very different light — as hypocritical operators who speak forcefully about black pride, then wrest black-owned properties away from their owners and peddle them to well-to-do investors. To do this, Pam once resorted to one of the oldest swindles in the books: forging a seller’s signature and filing the fake document with a government office. Critics also say Pam, 56, has groomed two of his grown sons in his style of acquiring properties, using charisma and charm to take advantage of the financially vulnerable. The Globe found a litany of lawsuits against Pam, his sons Tyler and Kyle, or their related companies, including at least four civil court judgments of fraud or breach of contract, three lawsuits settled out of court, and at least two pending civil cases; a group of other alleged victims have said they also plan to file suit. In some Roxbury real estate circles, the Pams’ actions are so widely known that they’ve been given their own nickname: “The Pam Family Scam.”

Read more: 

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/06/11/pamscam/IPDxZo3fCWtANXV2R1EmiL/story.html

 

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Patient wishes lost in the system

When her chest pains morphed into cardiac arrest in the Regions Hospital emergency room two years ago, doctors saved Beth Bedell’s life, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.  She has mixed feelings about that. Bedell, 67, of St. Paul, is happy to be alive. But she’s troubled that caregivers did not follow her health care directive for no resuscitation, a document drafted after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Frustration built this spring when Bedell made a subsequent trip to the emergency room. Concerned what would happen if her condition took a turn for the worse, she asked staff to look up her end-of-life care wishes in the hospital’s electronic health record system. They couldn’t find the document. … Electronic health records are now ubiquitous in hospitals, and the systems give patients what could be a better way to communicate their wishes on treatment options at the end of life. But in too many cases, physicians using the systems struggle to find the documents.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/patient-wishes-tough-to-see-in-health-records/382583641/

 

Kansas City Star: Lead remains peril to Kansas City kids

Sixteen years ago, a presidential task force mapped a plan for the United States to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010, the Kansas City Star says. It never happened. Today, tens of thousands of Kansas City area homes still contain lead paint so dangerous that a tiny amount of paint dust can damage a young child’s brain. As many as 1,500 children in Kansas City have lead poisoning, health officials estimate. Hundreds more have been poisoned in Wyandotte County and surrounding areas. Many of their parents don’t even realize it. In Kansas City, the situation persists despite decades-long efforts to clean up contaminated homes. The number of problem houses, largely concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods, is too immense. At the current pace it would take centuries to safely contain the lead, a common ingredient in paint until a 1978 ban took effect.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article83244522.html#storylink=cpy

 

New York Times: How Trump profited on failed casinos

The New York Times reports that the Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, is now closed, its windows clouded over by sea salt. Only a faint outline of the gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P remains visible on the exterior of what was once this city’s premier casino. Not far away, the long-failing Trump Marina Hotel Casino was sold at a major loss five years ago and is now known as the Golden Nugget. At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines. On the presidential campaign trail, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, often boasts of his success in Atlantic City, of how he outwitted the Wall Street firms that financed his casinos and rode the value of his name to riches. A central argument of his candidacy is that he would bring the same business prowess to the Oval Office, doing for America what he did for his companies. … But a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing. But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.

Read more: http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/?tfp_page=8&tfp_id=NY_NYT

 

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Substitute teachers hard to find

Substitute teaching has never been a glamorous job, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle says. The pay is low and per diem, with no benefits. A 5 a.m. phone call often dictates where, or if, one will show up to work. And students have been known to make the classroom conditions interesting. Just because a job is not glamorous, though, doesn't mean it is not important. A worsening shortage of substitute teachers over the past several years has given districts across Monroe County and New York a keener appreciation for reliable replacements. "It's been a pretty acute situation for six or seven years," said Pat McCue, assistant superintendent for human resources in Rush-Henrietta. "It's definitely a regional issue. ... We're all competing in the same pool, and the pool is shrinking." The issue is serious enough across the state to have attracted the notice of the Board of Regents. It is reviewing new regulations that would let districts more freely use non-educators as substitutes.

Read more: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/06/11/substitute-teachers-rcsd-monroe-county-brockport/84333296/

 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Decline in federal gun cases criticized

With shooting deaths soaring in Milwaukee, gun cases have swamped the county criminal courts, but there has been no similar spike in federal firearm prosecutions. In fact, the opposite occurred last year, according to new data analyzed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The number of people sentenced in the Eastern District of Wisconsin primarily for federal firearms offenses fell to 46 in fiscal year 2015 — a 47% drop from the previous year, and a 10-year low, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data. Federal gun prosecutions are down nationwide, but the drop here was one of the steepest among the nation's 94 federal court districts, the analysis found.

Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/federal-gun-prosecutions-fall-even-as-milwaukee-crime-rises-b99722070z1-382595021.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  JUNE 7, 2016

AP: History in hand, Clinton faces voters as presumptive nominee

History already in hand, Hillary Clinton will celebrate becoming the first woman to lead a major American political party following votes in California, New Jersey and four other states — contests Clinton hopes send her into the general election in strong standing. Clinton reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on the eve of this week’s voting, according to an Associated Press tally. Her total is comprised of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates — the party officials and officeholders who can back a candidate of their choosing. … Heading into Tuesday's voting, Clinton has 1,812 pledged delegates and the support of 571 of the 714 superdelegates, according to the AP count. The AP surveyed the superdelegates repeatedly in the past seven months. While they can change their minds, those counted in Clinton's tally have unequivocally told the AP they will support her at the party's summer convention.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/us/politics/hillary-clinton-presidential-race.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=a-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0


Anniston Star: Months after prison reform bill takes effect, progress slow

Since a sweeping prison reform bill went into effect in Alabama in January, the state has hired 37 of the 112 parole officers it hoped to hire to watch newly released inmates, state officials told the Anniston Star. With other aspects of the bill, progress is a little harder to assess. “New policies often take months, and more often years, to fully implement and allow time to measure,” said Bennet Wright, director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission. More than a year has passed since the Alabama Legislature, in a bipartisan vote, passed Senate Bill 67, a measure designed to reform nearly every aspect of the state’s penal system with an eye toward easing crowding in the state’s prisons. More than 24,000 people now live in Alabama prisons built for 13,000, with thousands more in lower-security facilities or county jails. Riots and stabbings in jails have become regular news events this year, and Tutwiler Prison for Women has already been subject to federal intervention over sexual abuse of prisoners. The 2015 prison reform bill is supposed to bring the crowding down. … The law went into effect at the end of January, but the impact so far hasn’t always been clear.

Read more: http://www.annistonstar.com/news/state/months-after-prison-reform-bill-takes-effect-progress-slow/article_198e27d2-2aab-11e6-9191-b7863fdab8c9.html

 

Los Angeles Times: On California’s death row, too insane to execute

On an August afternoon in 1984, Linda Marie Baltazar Pasnick, a 27-year-old aspiring model, was running errands before a fashion competition when she pulled into the drive-through at a Der Wienerschnitzel, the Los Angeles Times reports. As she waited in line, a panhandler pushed his face into her window and she shooed him away. Ronnie McPeters came back with a gun, leaned in to her open window and fired three times. Then as her car rolled forward and she cried for help, he shot twice more. McPeters spent the next nine months in the “rubber room” of the Fresno jail. He set fires and assaulted jailers. He told a psychiatrist he was filming a commercial. His bizarre behavior escalated at San Quentin State Prison’s death row, where in months he fell into a stupor, smearing feces on the walls, the floor and himself. Now, McPeters is at the center of a legal battle with profound implications for California’s death row. Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’ office has asked the California Supreme Court to remove Peters from death row, arguing he will always be too gravely disabled to execute. State prosecutors believe McPeters’ sentence should be be converted to life, to be spent in other prisons or state medical facilities. If the state’s highest court agrees, Harris’ legal theory of “permanent incompetence” would make California the first to address a growing problem of aging and gravely mentally ill inmates awaiting ever-delayed execution.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-ln-death-row/#nt=oft12aH-1la1

 

Indianapolis Star: Few teens on track to receive state aid

The vast majority of incoming high school seniors who could qualify for a state-funded scholarship are running the risk of losing out on the assistance that covers up to four years of college tuition, according to newly released state data analyzed by the Indianapolis Star. About 80 percent, or more than 14,000 students, are behind on meeting new requirements for the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, which is designed to help low-income Hoosiers afford college. In Marion County alone, nearly 3,300 students aren’t on track. Faced with a large number of students falling behind on the program’s mandates, state officials are working to make members of the Class of 2017 aware of the new requirements, including conducting meetings throughout the summer to connect with potential scholarship recipients.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2016/06/05/most-21st-century-scholars-not-track-receive-state-money/85307842/

 

Charlotte Observer: Companies replacing Americans with foreign workers

Companies in Charlotte are stepping up their efforts to hire foreign workers – especially for information technology jobs – under a federal visa program that’s becoming a political flashpoint, the Charlotte Observer reports.  The H-1B visa lets companies bring foreign workers to the U.S. temporarily to fill jobs requiring highly skilled labor. Employers say it helps them fill jobs that draw too few qualified applicants. Critics say some companies abuse it, replacing Americans with foreign tech workers willing to work for less. Sometimes American IT workers are laid off after spending their final days training their foreign-born replacements. Demand for these visa workers is growing especially fast in Charlotte. Last year hundreds of employers filed initial applications for more than 16,500 H-1B workers in the Charlotte metro area, many in technology positions. That number alone is bigger than the entire workforce of some of Charlotte’s largest employers. Supporters of the visas, including local job recruiters, point to a shortage of skilled technology talent that is resulting in thousands of open computing jobs throughout the state. A lack of computer science majors graduating adds to the problem, officials say. But in some instances, “companies that are bringing in H-1B people at the same time are having staff reductions in the same area – generally speaking, the IT area,” said Bill Chu, a professor at UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics. “There are lots of H-1B people in Charlotte.”

Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/article81676692.html#storylink=cpy

 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Tiny victims of drug abuse

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the scene: The lights are off in the hospital room. The only sound is the regular, electronic beeping of monitors tracking vital signs — and the telltale, high-pitched cry of a baby going through withdrawal. The baby boy is one of three infants on this warm April afternoon at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield who was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the term for infants whose mothers were using opiates during their pregnancies. Dr. Giovanni Laneri, a neonatologist and Director of the Newborn Nursery at West Penn, picks up the tiny baby and gently speaks to him to soothe him. “Come on, buddy,” he says to the 18-day-old baby, whose cries quickly subside as he is in the doctor’s arms. “You’re very cute,” says Dr. Laneri, one of the hospital’s lead physicians in caring for babies born to mothers who were using drugs during their pregnancies. “We don’t say that babies are addicted. We never use that word for babies. We say babies are dependent on the substances that the mom was using while she was pregnant,” Dr. Laneri explained. As officials in Pennsylvania and elsewhere try to battle a rising tide of opioid use, they are also grappling with how to aid the epidemic’s tiniest victims.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2016/06/05/Data-lacking-on-how-many-babies-born-in-Pennsylvania-to-addicted-moms/stories/201606010001

 

Madison State Journal: Homeless fall through the cracks

The Madison State Journal reports that decades of inadequate leadership and insufficient direct funding from the state have weakened the fight against rising homelessness in Wisconsin. Advocates and service providers say state officials must be more engaged to address an often hidden plight that shatters lives and creates significant costs for social services, schools, health care and law enforcement. There’s no precise way to measure homelessness, but a State Journal review of data make clear that its scope is broad — affecting infants to seniors and all demographics. By one estimate, perhaps 20,000 people are homeless in Wisconsin on any given night. One count shows the ranks of homeless single adults growing by nearly 25 percent since 2007. Another has the number of homeless children more than tripling since 2003. State officials say Wisconsin spends tens of millions of dollars on homelessness. But the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness and local officials and providers disagree, contending that most of the money isn’t targeted directly at the issue. The state essentially has delivered no new direct funding for two decades, with the sum long stuck at about $3.3 million, the coalition says.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/rising-homelessness-should-be-wake-up-call-to-wisconsin-leaders/article_134bdd79-d537-5934-85bc-ecfb0a9d4e30.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  MAY 31, 2016

AP: Intruders breach US airport fences about every 10 days

Under pressure to prevent people from sneaking onto runways and planes at major U.S. airports, authorities are cracking down _ not on the intruders who slip through perimeter gates or jump over fences, but on the release of information about the breaches. A year after an Associated Press investigation first revealed persistent problems with airports' outer defenses, breaches remain as frequent as ever _ occurring about once every 10 days _ despite some investments to fortify the nation's airfields. As Americans focus on the wait in ever-longer security screening lines inside terminals, new documents show dozens more incidents happening outside perimeters than airports have disclosed. At the same time, leaders at some airports and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are saying some of the 345 incidents AP found shouldn't count as security breaches, even when intruders got deep into secure areas.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-airport-security-breaches-chicago-20160526-story.html

Los Angeles Times: Lawsuit claims company could have developed less toxic HIV drug

More than a decade ago, researchers at Gilead Sciences thought they had a breakthrough: a new version of the company's key HIV medicine that was less toxic to kidneys and bones, the Los Angeles Times reports. Clinical trials of the new compound on HIV-positive patients in Los Angeles and several other cities seemed to support their optimism. Patients needed just a fraction of the dose, creating the chance of far fewer dangerous side effects. But in 2004, just as the biotech firm was preparing for a second and larger round of patient studies, Gilead executives stopped the research. The results of the early patient studies would go unpublished for years as the original medication _ tenofovir _ became one of the world's most-prescribed drugs for HIV, with $11 billion in annual sales. More than six years later, though, in 2010, Gilead restarted those trials. The new version of the drug, which the company says is safer, was approved in November under the brand name Genvoya. The executives' decisions stand to extend Gilead's domination of the global HIV medicine market for years. Analysts project the company will reap tens of billions of dollars in sales that otherwise would have vanished with the expiration of tenofovir's patent in 2018. That has pleased the company's investors. But it has stirred criticism among patients and caregivers, and prompted a lawsuit. The critics believe the new, less harmful form of the drug could have been developed sooner _ and wasn't because the company wanted to extend its patent-protected profits.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-gilead-20160529-snap-story.html

Hartford Courant: State pledge to repair safety net

The state says it has developed a strategy to better protect people with developmental disabilities, including computerizing injury reports, increasing staff training and monitoring the medical diagnosis and treatment of clients _ actions officials hope will radically improve the detection of possible abuse and neglect, the Hartford Courant reports. The plan to repair Connecticut's tattered safety net is in response to a scathing federal audit last week that revealed some group homes failed to report injuries or mischaracterized their severity and that the Department of Developmental Services routinely missed "critical incidents" that warranted abuse or neglect investigations. Also, some hospitals failed to report injuries that should have raised a suspicion of abuse, the audit found. But some experts in disability services expressed doubt that DDS could continue to police itself or provide the amount of ongoing injury-recognition training necessary to overcome the problems cited by the audit. An expert also said that Connecticut's state-run institutions continue to divert money and time away from the agency's mission of safeguarding clients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began its investigation in 2013 at the request of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, after The Courant exposed the preventable deaths of 76 people with developmental disabilities in state care.

Read more: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-injuries-abuse-developmentally-disabled-0529-20160528-story.html

Idaho Statesman: Device, drug firms spent $3.8M in Treasure Valley in 2014

The Idaho Statesman reports that Robert Wechsler calls himself "the Rain Man of epilepsy for Idaho." A neurologist who specializes in seizure disorders, Wechsler also says that because of his work with the pharmaceutical industry, he is something of a "hired gun ... who comes in and talks about a drug." And he's proud of it. Wechsler was among the top five doctors in Idaho receiving payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies in 2014, the most recent year for which records are available through the federal Open Payments system. Drug companies funded Wechsler's trips in 2014 to 40 cities, where he talked to other physicians about certain medications. To compensate him for those engagements, the companies paid Wechsler more than $147,000 in honoraria, speaking and consulting fees. He also received about $25,000 for clinical trials and studies of seizure drugs. … Treasure Valley physicians and hospitals _ those in southwestern Idaho _ received $3.8 million in payments from medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and $2.8 million for clinical research funded by those companies, in 2014. Several local doctors received more than $100,000 in benefits — cash, in-kind payment or other compensation — during the year.

Read more: http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/business/health-care/article80246407.html

Washington Post: The man who seduced the 7th Fleet

The Washington Post says that for months, a small team of U.S. Navy investigators and federal prosecutors secretly devised options for a high-stakes international manhunt. Could the target be snatched from his home base in Asia and rendered to the United States? Or held captive aboard an American warship? Making the challenge even tougher was the fact that the man was a master of espionage. His moles had burrowed deep into the Navy hierarchy to leak him a stream of military secrets, thwarting previous efforts to bring him to justice. The target was not a terrorist, nor a spy for a foreign power, nor the kingpin of a drug cartel. But rather a 350-pound defense contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard, who had befriended a generation of Navy leaders with cigars and liquor whenever they made port calls in Asia. Leonard Glenn Francis was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/wp/2016/05/27/fat-leonard/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories-2_fatleonard-1040pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Des Moines Register: Critics fault oversight in inmate deaths

As an officer escorted Douglas Ramsey to a phone at the Polk County Jail in 2013, he sprinted away and slammed his head into a concrete wall so hard that he later died from the injury, the Des Moines Register reports. Tana Lekin, an inmate in the Jones County Jail who was presumed drunk or high, was placed in a holding cell in March 2015, where she died of self-strangulation. At least 14 minutes elapsed from when Lekin failed to respond to a check and when jailers entered her cell to offer assistance, records show. In March, Lamont Walls, a 38-year-old Des Moines resident, died in the Polk County Jail. Officials say he ingested drugs before his arrest, one of several other Iowa inmates whose deaths resulted from drug overdoses or other medical conditions. Ramsey was jailed for interfering with police, Lekin for burglary and Walls on drug-related charges. What the three deaths have in common are lapses in prisoner oversight, critics contend. Detailed, up-to-date data on all Iowa inmate deaths are elusive. But an analysis by The Des Moines Register, relying on public records, lawsuits and news stories, shows at least 19 Iowa inmates have killed themselves since Jan. 1, 2013.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2016/05/28/death-behind-bars-inmate-suicides-overdoses-among-causes/83671656/

Lexington Herald-Leader: Lifestyles of rich and political

The Lexington Herald-Leader says that over the last year, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr spent nearly $32,000 on tickets to the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup, plus $300 to hire handicapper Ellis Starr to provide betting tips for his racetrack guests. "Nobody was even talking politics. It was just entertainment for everyone," Starr recently recalled. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers paid $21,504 to golf at Pebble Beach Resorts on California's beautiful Monterey Peninsula. Down the coastline, retiring U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield dropped more than $20,000 for a weekend of dining and poolside socializing in Beverly Hills. These members of Kentucky's congressional delegation didn't take this money from their campaign committees, which hold the funds they raised to keep their current jobs. Instead, they tapped their leadership PACs - their lightly regulated, seldom scrutinized political action committees, which are mostly funded by interest groups who lobby Congress for favorable legislation.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article80323287.html

Boston Globe: Trump airline went from opulent liftoff to rough landing

When Donald Trump's new airline, the Trump Shuttle, launched on a summer day in 1989, tuxedoed waiters with white gloves passed out smoked salmon, honey chicken skewers, and chocolate truffles, the Boston Globe reports. It was early in the day, but champagne flowed at Logan Airport. After a string quartet rested its bows, Trump took the microphone and struck a discordant note: He railed against Pan Am, his rival in the shuttle business. He suggested Pan Am's flights were unsafe, that the company was strapped for cash and couldn't spend as much to maintain planes as Trump Shuttle. … Executives at Trump's newest venture were aghast. In a highly competitive business, one in which Trump had no experience, the new boss had tossed

decorum to the wind and made claims he had no evidence to support. "We said, 'Donald, don't ever do that again,' " recalled Henry Harteveldt, who was the company's marketing director. "It was wrong. We had no proof to back that up. And there's an unwritten rule in the airline business that you don't attack someone else's safety record. There but for the grace of God go

I." Echoes of Trump Shuttle reverberate in the Trump presidential campaign. He bashed his rivals with scant justification, grabbed media attention with flash and dazzle, and relied on gut instinct to pursue strategies that flouted industry norms. But while Trump broke into the shuttle business with typical bravado and brand mastery, he was brought low by a series of missteps and a softening economy. His lack of expertise in East Coast skies took a toll, and he was forced to give up the airline after less than three years.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/05/27/donald-trump-airline-went-from-opulence-air-crash-landing/zEf1Er2Hok2dPTVVmZT6NP/story.html

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Big projects, big money, big problems

Like an extended episode of House of Cards, Rochester's $1.3 billion program to modernize city schools is laden with political machinations and conspiracy theories, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle says. Who knew? The program, which got underway in 2006, is meant to bring the city's aging school buildings into the 21st century in three phases of construction over 15 years. It is the most costly public works project in local history. The first phase of work, in which $325 million has been spent, is ending now. The second phase, which will see $435 million more in work, may start soon. A six-month investigation by the Democrat and Chronicle has found that good work was done in Phase I but it was also beset by cost overruns, truncated projects and mid-stream reallocations of tens of millions of dollars. Critics complain that poor planning led to money being wasted, though much of what went on is still shrouded in confusion. As Phase II was ramping up, politicians got more involved, and things turned, unsurprisingly, political. And today, the future of Phase II is in limbo.

Read more: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/05/26/rochestersschool-modernization-findings/84871016/

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Supervisor misused Taser

A longtime employee at the state-run Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility remains a supervisor after being disciplined for using a Taser on one mentally ill woman and forcing another face-first against a shower wall, according to newly released records reviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The employee, Valencia Guillonta, was suspended for 10 days after the first incident, which occurred in July 2014, Department of Corrections records show. After the second use of force, in September 2015, Guillonta was demoted from captain to sergeant. In that position, she continues to have authority over both guards and inmates. Guillonta is the second supervisor at the Secure Detention Facility whose inappropriate treatment of mentally ill prisoners has been confirmed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in recent months. Earlier this year, Sgt. Mark Peterson retired amid a disciplinary investigation after the news organization obtained an audio recording of him and two subordinates antagonizing a male inmate and threatening to withhold his medication. One of the guards under Peterson's supervision at the time resigned and the other was fired.

Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/longtime-corrections-employEe-still-a-supervisor-after-misusing-taser-b99732352z1-381223531.html

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  MAY 24, 2016

Anniston (Alabama) Star: More places to pack heat

At the Selma Interpretive Center, a museum honoring the nonviolent resistance of the 1965 voting rights march, visitors can now openly carry firearms, The Anniston (Alabama) Star reports. Guns are also allowed at Selma’s City Hall when the council isn’t in session. And at the local animal shelter. And at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library and the building that houses the Selma City Ceramic Art Program. It’s been that way since December, when the city got a letter from Attorney General Luther Strange urging officials to comply with the state’s 2013 open-carry law. With few exceptions, the law allows people to visibly wear pistols on government property. Gun-rights activists in recent months have fanned across the state to file complaints to the attorney general and make the law stick. “We don’t know who filed the complaint,” Jimmy Nunn, Selma’s city attorney, said. “We just know we heard from the attorney general’s office.” In the past year, the attorney general’s office sent similar letters to nearly two dozen local governments and state agencies, turning public parks, libraries and senior centers into open-carry zones.

Read more: http://www.annistonstar.com/news/gun-free-zones-vanish-after-complaints-by-alabama-open-carry/article_0c71038c-1faa-11e6-8f92-1fb901930196.html

Washington Post: The Americans primed to fight their government

B.J. Soper took aim with his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and fired a dozen shots at a human silhouette target, the Washington Post reports from Oregon. Soper’s wife and their 16-year-old daughter practiced drawing pistols. Then Soper helped his 4-year-old daughter, in pink sneakers and a ponytail, work on her marksmanship with a .22-caliber rifle. Deep in the heart of a vast U.S. military training ground, surrounded by spent shotgun shells and juniper trees blasted to shreds, the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard was conducting its weekly firearms training. “The intent is to be able to work together and defend ourselves if we need to,” said Soper, 40, a building contractor who is an emerging leader in a growing national movement rooted in distrust of the federal government, one that increasingly finds itself in armed conflicts with authorities.Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties. Law enforcement officials call them dangerous, delusional and sometimes violent, and say that their numbers are growing amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2016/05/21/armed-with-guns-and-constitutions-the-patriot-movement-sees-america-under-threat/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_constitutionalguard908pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Indianapolis Star: Mentally ill teenager, tragic ending

Princola Shields’ screams stopped long before her body was found hanging lifelessly inside an Indiana Women’s Prison shower. She’d been crying out from her locked bathroom stall for hours, several inmates told the paper, begging nearby officers to tell her what she’d done wrong. Only three weeks remained on her prison sentence, but officers moved her into temporary confinement after, inmates said, an argument in the chow hall. Before entering her new cell, however, she was placed in a stall no bigger than a hallway closet. She was left there alone for three hours, inmates said. They said her cries — described as frantic and childlike, laced with threats of suicide — were ignored, The Indianapolis Star reported. By the third hour, the cries stopped. … Although authorities would not comment on what transpired in the hours before Shields took her life, six inmates who spoke to the Indianapolis Star described a scene that would be in clear violation not only of what experts say are the best practices in handling inmates with a history of mental illness and suicide threats, but also of the prison's policies. More broadly, experts note, Shields’ case is an example of a larger issue: the difficulty public safety officials face when dealing with suspects and inmates who suffer from severe mental health issues.  More than 6,000 inmates in Indiana have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/longform/news/investigations/2016/05/22/jailing-princola-shields-mental-health-depression-mental-illness-disorders-prison-inmate-bipolar-severe-anxiety-oppositional-defiant-disorder-incarceration-juvenile-justice/83842158/

Boston Globe: High cost of college killing the American dream

The Boston Globe notes that one of the most enduring selling points for the value of higher education is that the best route out of poverty is through the college quad. Spend four years in college, and all that book-learning, mind-opening, and network-expanding will help even the lowest-income student jump up several rungs on the economic ladder. Nowhere is that message preached as often or with as much evident authority as in Massachusetts, the nation’s historic capital of private, nonprofit higher education, where the concentration of colleges in some areas is surpassed only by the number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. But just how true is this truism about college lifting low-income students out of their circumstances, Horatio Alger style? In fact, like the actual story of author Horatio Alger, who was born into a well-established family and graduated from Harvard, there’s more myth than truth. That’s been especially so in recent years, as nonselective private colleges from around the region have increasingly filled their freshman classes with low-income students — often the first generation in their families to go to college — from Boston and other urban areas. … So whether they are actively recruiting these low-income students for reasons of open-the-door altruism or keep-the-lights-on capitalism — or, more likely, some combination of the two — there has been a huge, largely hidden byproduct of this dramatic increase in access: These students are often being loaded up with staggering debt that is completely out of whack with the earnings boost they’ll likely get from a degree at a nonselective or less selective college.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/05/18/hopes-dreams-debt/fR60cKakwUlGok0jTlONTN/story.html

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Few punished for pedestrian deaths

Carol Wiggins crossed Territorial Road every day at the crosswalk on her way home from work in Watertown, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. But the driver of the car that hit her one evening said he didn’t see her until it was too late. Wiggins never recovered from the traumatic brain injury from the 2011 crash, dying weeks later in a Minneapolis hospital. The driver never faced any charges — not even a traffic citation. … The decision not to cite the driver who struck Wiggins isn’t unusual. The majority of drivers who killed pedestrians between 2010 and 2014 were not charged, according to Star Tribune analysis of metro area crash data. Those who were charged often faced misdemeanors — from speeding to careless driving — with minimal penalties, unless the driver knowingly fled or was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/in-crashes-that-kill-pedestrians-the-majority-of-drivers-don-t-face-charges/380345481/

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Black students less likely to have access to AP classes

In high schools throughout the St. Louis area, stark racial differences persist in terms of which students are progressing to the most advanced classes — a divide that threatens the ability of African-American students to prepare for college, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Tens of thousands of black students aren’t enrolling in calculus or Advanced Placement classes — long considered the gold standard for college readiness. That’s true at most predominantly black high schools, which are less likely to provide rigorous course offerings. But it’s also true in the suburbs, where predominantly white high schools offer a much broader range of opportunities. Even there, African-American students are grossly underrepresented in elite classes. ... The Post-Dispatch gathered information on AP enrollment at all district high schools in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, as well as Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois. Other area counties with smaller African-American enrollment were not included in the analysis.

Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/african-american-participation-in-elite-ap-classes-lags-at-st/article_15df5ca1-ca3a-503a-895d-0e2c69508290.html

New York Times: New frontline in culture war is the bathroom

The people of Palatine, Illinois, a middle-class suburb of Chicago marked by generic strip malls and tidy cul-de-sacs, had not spent much time debating the thorny questions of transgender rights. But in late 2013, a transgender high school athlete, so intent on defending her privacy that she is known only as Student A, took on her school district so she could use the girls’ locker room. After the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled in her favor last fall, the two sides cut a deal: Student A could use the locker room and the school would install private changing areas. Some in the community denounced the arrangement; others joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented the girl, in declaring a victory for civil rights. Now the whole nation is in a pitched battle over bathroom access, with the Obama administration ordering all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Across the country, religious conservatives are rebelling. … How a clash over bathrooms, an issue that appeared atop no national polls, became the next frontier in America’s fast-moving culture wars — and ultimately landed on the desk of the president — involves an array of players, some with law degrees, others still in high school, The New York Times reports.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/us/transgender-bathroom-obama-schools.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

New York Times: America’s overlooked gun violence

After the slaughter of nine worshipers at a South Carolina church last June, but before the massacre of eight students and a teacher at an Oregon community college in October, there was a shooting that the police in Cincinnati here have labeled Incident 159022597.01, The New York Times reports. It happened on a clear Friday night at an Elks Lodge, on a modest block of clapboard houses northeast of this city’s hilly downtown. Unlike the butchery that bookended it, it merited no presidential statements, no saturation television coverage. But what took place at 6101 Prentice Street on Aug. 21 may say more about the nature of gun violence in the United States than any of those far more famous rampages. It is a snapshot of a different sort of mass violence — one that erupts with such anesthetic regularity that it is rendered almost invisible, except to the mostly black victims, survivors and attackers. According to the police account, more than 30 people had gathered in the paneled basement bar of the lodge to mark the 39th birthday of a man named Greg Wallace when a former neighbor, Timothy Murphy, showed up, drunk. Fists flew. Mr. Murphy ducked out the door, burst back in with a handgun, and opened fire. As partygoers scrambled for the door, he chased Greg Wallace’s younger brother Dawaun to a tiny black-and-white-tiled bathroom, where he shot him nine times before the violence spilled out onto the street. There, another Wallace relative, also armed with a handgun, fired back at him. By the end, 27 bullets had flown, hitting seven people: Mr. Murphy, who died; Dawaun Wallace, who was grievously wounded; four bystanders, one of whom was hit in the genitals, another in the leg. And Barry Washington. A seasonal packer for Amazon.com, Mr. Washington, 56, had stopped at the lodge on his way to the store for cigarettes, said his sister, Jaci Washington. He was in the bathroom when Mr. Murphy cornered Dawaun Wallace there. A single bullet pierced Mr. Washington’s arm, then his heart. … The Elks Lodge episode was one of at least 358 armed encounters nationwide last year — nearly one a day, on average — in which four or more people were killed or wounded, including attackers. The toll: 462 dead and 1,330 injured, sometimes for life, typically in bursts of gunfire lasting but seconds. … Seeking deeper insight into the phenomenon, The New York Times identified and analyzed these 358 shootings with four or more casualties, drawing on two databases assembled from news reports and citizen contributors, and then verifying details with law enforcement agencies.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/23/us/americas-overlooked-gun-violence.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=image&module=photo-spot-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Philadelphia Inquirer: Some with Hepatitis C deemed not sick enough, await treatment

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that two years ago, James Luongo was thrilled to hear about the first new drugs that could rid his body of hepatitis C. The virus had been silently circulating in his blood for years and would likely cause liver disease, perhaps cancer. But he still felt fine. The drugs seemed like a good thing until his Medicaid insurer denied coverage of the treatment. Twice. "They said, 'You're not sick enough,' " said Luongo, who is staying with his ailing mother in Northeast Philadelphia. "How do they tell somebody you've got a disease that's deadly, that's going to kill you, but you're not sick enough for the cure?" The answer, most everyone agrees, is that the drugs are so expensive that states and their Medicaid contractors have felt forced to gamble. They bet that patients' disease will progress slowly. They wager that pharmaceutical companies will gradually lower prices in the face of more competition. They take a chance that people with hepatitis C will not infect others. And they hope, critics say, that they can get away with neglecting a stigmatized population.

Read more:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20160522_How_sick_must_hepatitis_C_patients_be_to_get_help_.html#kFbghB1KXcUQkJCd.99

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pain pill crisis grows

Dr. Gary A. Shearer continued to prescribe painkillers, even as 14 of his patients died of drug overdoses, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quotes Kentucky investigators as saying. Maryland psychiatrist Patricia A. Newton kept prescribing to a struggling addict, according to a judge’s account in a dispute over her license, until that patient turned up, unconscious, in a Maryland hospital bathroom with a syringe and 545 pills. Physician Michael B. Rosen was prescribing nearly 1,000 highly addictive pills per month to a patient who told a Pennsylvania detective that he “did not have any serious pain,” but could get “whatever he wanted” from “Dr. Feel Good,” according to a police affidavit. Now law enforcement is searching through prescribing records of doctors in Minnesota and California in relation to the April 21 death of the musician Prince. Warned time and again that pain pills can addict and kill, hundreds of doctors throughout seven narcotic-plagued states wantonly prescribed painkillers, setting the stage for the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history as brand-name opioids joined with cheap heroin. From 2011 through 2015, across Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee -- which include the bulk of addiction-ravaged Appalachia -- 608 doctors have been disciplined by state medical boards for overprescribing narcotics, according to a six-month Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation.

Read more: http://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/overdosed/

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Illness Inflation

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks a question: Know someone who shouts and pounds on the steering wheel when cut off in traffic? They might be one of 16 million Americans said to suffer from "intermittent explosive disorder." Can you polish off a box of cookies while watching your favorite TV show? Could be a sign of "binge-eating disorder," said to afflict 7 million Americans. Another 14 million men are said to have clinically low testosterone, 9 million women are said to suffer from low sexual desire, and tens of millions more are said to have bladders that are too active or blood sugar that is a little too high. That blood sugar level used to be considered normal. Now it makes you a candidate for treatment with expensive medication. None of these conditions was considered part of mainstream medicine just 20 years ago. But thanks to new definitions or lowered thresholds, millions more people — overnight — fit the criteria of having treatable disorders. Many independent doctors and researchers are skeptical, saying the new conditions are the product of medical groups that get pharmaceutical industry funding, researchers looking to advance their careers and drug companies aiming to broaden the market for expensive new products. On top of that, the drugs sold to treat these newly defined — and not life-threatening — conditions often carry serious health risks, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation has found.

Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/new-and-expanded-medical-definitions-create-more-patients--and-a-lucrative-market-for-drug-firms--379981751.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  MAY 17, 2016

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: State paid at least $100,000 to 2,722 employees

The number of state employees whose salaries are at least $100,000 a year increased by 137 to 2,722 this fiscal year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. In recent fiscal years, the annual growth has ranged from 119 in fiscal 2015 to 164 in fiscal 2011. Most of this fiscal year's growth occurred at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, a teaching hospital where the number of state employees making at least $100,000 increased by 74 to 1,254. That increase is the largest at UAMS since fiscal 2011, when the number increased by 80. The ranks at other higher-education institutions increased by 43, to a total of 1,083. Higher-education institutions include two-year and four-year universities. Among employees who work at state agencies other than higher-education institutions, 385 -- an increase of 20 -- earn six-figure salaries. These figures are based on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's collection earlier this fiscal year of salary information from more than three dozen repositories of state employee information.

Read more: http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/may/15/state-pays-at-least-100-000-to-2-722-20/

Washington Post: How a violent offender slipped through D.C. justice system

The Washington Post says that a woman was sitting on her sofa, working on her laptop, when she saw him _  a young man, 6 feet 5 inches tall, wearing fuzzy knit gloves and gray denim pants. Standing inside her condominium. It was Oct. 13, in broad daylight, a little after 2 p.m. At first, she thought he was lost. But then he grabbed her and slammed her against the wall. She punched and kicked, but he dragged her across the hardwood floor and into the bedroom. And he raped her, according to charges filed in D.C. Superior Court. The alleged perpetrator, 21-year-old Antwon Durrell Pitt, had an extensive criminal history, including eight arrests in four years and a robbery conviction. Three times he was sentenced under laws designed to promote leniency and second chances for inexperienced adult offenders. In two of those cases, he was sentenced under the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, a 1980s-era law aimed at “deserving” offenders under the age of 22. Pitt’s case shows that such laws, combined with lax enforcement by key federal agencies, can give many chances to violent offenders despite repeated criminal behavior and the failure to abide by terms of release, according to a Washington Post review of court records, transcripts and probation reports.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/off-the-grid-how-a-violent-offender-slipped-through-the-dc-justice-system/2016/05/13/ba4ca96c-ebba-11e5-bc08-3e03a5b41910_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories-2_pitt-1200pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory 

Orlando Sentinel: Diversity lag in Tallahassee

The Orlando Sentinel reports that when Gwen Margolis was first elected to the Legislature in 1974, women were still a curiosity in the Capitol. "Just to participate in everyday business life was just so new, nobody knew what to expect," Margolis said. Women were generally given seats on child welfare, education and health care committees back then, Margolis said, but she pushed for a spot on budget panels, helping propel her to become the first female Senate president in 1990. There has been just one woman Senate president since. Today, women and Hispanics remain severely underrepresented in the Legislature compared with their makeup in the general population, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of 50 years of state records shows.

Read more: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-florida-legislature-women-minorities-20160513-story.html

Chicago Tribune: Water tests find high lead levels throughout Illinois

Alarmed by chronic problems with lead-contaminated water in downstate Galesburg, Illinois, federal officials are urging local officials to provide bottled water or filters to residents where testing at household taps found high levels of the toxic metal. Though the small Knox County city stands out for repeatedly exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lead standards, a Tribune analysis of state data has identified about 170 other public water systems in Illinois — serving about 700,000 people in all — where test results exceeded federal standards during at least one year since 2004. … Testing by Chicago-area water systems found more than 15 parts per billion of lead in the tap water of at least 10 percent of the homes tested, highlighting the lingering danger from lead pipes and plumbing installed during the past century.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/ct-lead-water-illinois-met-20160512-story.html

Des Moines Register: Iowa schools failing black students

For years, Michael Hardat saw his education as a path out of poverty and away from the drug trafficking that sent his father to jail, the Des Moines Register reports. He enrolled in after-school activities in middle school and college-prep courses in high school. He felt confident about moving on to college. But once he arrived at Iowa State University, his perspective quickly changed. Other college students were better prepared. They’d written essays longer than a page or two in high school, and learned proper citations and formatting styles required by college professors. And they acquired study habits that went beyond flipping through a notebook a few minutes before class. “Des Moines Public Schools does a terrible job of preparing students for academics, and I’m just going to say that flat out,” he said. “There needs to be a higher standard.” But it's not just Des Moines that has left minority students like Hardat feeling short-changed. Across Iowa, in cities, towns and suburbs, public schools are riddled with achievement gaps that have left minorities _ particularly African-Americans _ lagging far behind white students academically, according to a Des Moines Register analysis of state exams.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2016/05/14/iowa-schools-failing-black-students/83491048/

Boston Globe: Elder abuse rises, with opioid addiction seen as cause

Reports of suspected elder abuse in Massachusetts have surged over the past five years, according to state figures _ a troubling increase that law enforcement and elder advocates say is fueled in part by the opioid crisis and addicted adult children exploiting parents and other relatives, the Boston Globe reports. Since 2011, abuse reports have climbed 37 percent, with more than 1,000 additional cases reported each of the past five years to protective services offices. The Executive Office of Elder Affairs, the agency that tracks and investigates abuse, recorded nearly 25,000 cases last year, but the state’s numbers do not delineate how many involved opioids. As those drugs tighten their grip on Massachusetts, more adult children addicted to opioids are moving back in with their elderly parents, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said. Retired parents, with their monthly Social Security and pension checks, become easy targets for financial, physical, and emotional abuse.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/05/14/reports-elder-abuse-surge-massachusetts/FcrmDP2wMiZ0FK0amZ179L/story.html

The Record: Climate of violence at hospital of last resort

The Record newspaper in New Jersey reports that in 2013, a 6-year-old girl in the juvenile psychiatric ward at Bergen Regional Medical Center was sexually accosted by a young boy who was also a patient, according to a lawsuit filed by the girl’s mother. The following year, the outraged family of an elderly woman with dementia who lived in the long-term-care unit complained to federal health officials about an unexplained injury to their mother’s face, that a patient threatened to cut her, and that a naked man had been found sitting on her toilet. In 2015, a nurse in a locked-down psychiatric unit, alone and without a panic button, told police she was choked by a 400-pound patient who ripped out clumps of her hair, mauled her face and damaged her knee so severely she was out of work for months. It took several employees to free her from the woman’s grip. And last October, a 12-year-old boy cried as he told his mother he was “terrified” of his 10-year-old roommate, who sat on top of him and pushed his face into a pillow while he simulated sex acts, according to a police report. Those are just a handful of hundreds of alleged assaults that have been logged by police in recent years at the Paramus hospital, which is owned by Bergen County _ and supported by county taxpayers _ but has been run by a private, for-profit company for nearly two decades. Last year alone, Bergen County police officers responded to nearly 290 reports of assaults at the hospital, a 38 percent increase from 2014, The Record found in an analysis of police reports, state and federal records, and lawsuits as well as interviews with victims.

Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/news/bergen-regional-medical-center-a-climate-of-violence-at-hospital-of-last-resort-1.1587807

New York Times: Trump’s private contact with women

Donald J. Trump had barely met Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes, The New York Times reports. "Donald was having a pool party at Mar-a-Lago. There were about 50 models and 30 men. There were girls in the pools, splashing around. For some reason Donald seemed a little smitten with me. He just started talking to me and nobody else. He suddenly took me by the hand, and he started to show me around the mansion. He asked me if I had a swimsuit with me. I said no. I hadn’t intended to swim. He took me into a room and opened drawers and asked me to put on a swimsuit." Ms. Brewer Lane, at the time a 26-year-old model, did as Mr. Trump asked. “I went into the bathroom and tried one on,” she recalled. It was a bikini. “I came out, and he said, ‘Wow.’ ” Mr. Trump, then 44 and in the midst of his first divorce, decided to show her off to the crowd at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “He brought me out to the pool and said, ‘That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?’ ” Ms. Brewer Lane said. Donald Trump and women: The words evoke a familiar cascade of casual insults, hurled from the safe distance of a Twitter account, a radio show or a campaign podium. This is the public treatment of some women by Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president: degrading, impersonal, performed.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/us/politics/donald-trump-women.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Seattle Times: Buildings that can kill in an earthquake

When Ryan Blythe leased space for his glassblowing shop in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, he saw a rugged industrial setting that could double as an elegant gallery, the Seattle Times reports. When Seattle building officials looked at his permit application, they saw something else: the most dangerous type of structure to be in during an earthquake. The Julius Horton building, built in 1914, is like many of its vintage. Its brick walls aren’t bolted to the floors and ceilings. It has withstood past quakes, but they have been mild compared to what seismologists expect: A magnitude 9.0 monster that hits with 2,000 times the power of Seattle’s last major earthquake, toppling walls, dropping ceilings and sending bricks flying with deadly effect. There are at least 1,163 buildings constructed like this in Seattle, according to a list the city released in late April after The Seattle Times requested it. For more than 40 years, Seattle has worked on a policy to require seismic upgrades to unreinforced-masonry buildings. In the absence of one, building officials wait until someone applies for a permit to force piecemeal improvements.

Read more: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/buildings-that-kill-the-earthquake-danger-lawmakers-have-ignored-for-decades/

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK,  MAY 10, 2016

Los Angeles Times:  OxyContin’s 12-hour problem

The Los Angeles Times reports that the drugmaker Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin two decades ago with a bold marketing claim: One dose relieves pain for 12 hours, more than twice as long as generic medications. Patients would no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night to take their pills, Purdue told doctors. One OxyContin tablet in the morning and one before bed would provide “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night.” On the strength of that promise, OxyContin became America’s best-selling painkiller, and Purdue reaped $31 billion in revenue. But OxyContin’s stunning success masked a fundamental problem: The drug wears off hours early in many people, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. OxyContin is a chemical cousin of heroin, and when it doesn’t last, patients can experience excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug. The problem offers new insight into why so many people have become addicted to OxyContin, one of the most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history.

Read more: http://static.latimes.com/oxycontin-part1/#nt=oft09a-4gp1

Boston Globe: Private Schools, painful secrets

More than 200 victims. At least 90 legal claims. At least 67 private schools in New England. This is the story of hundreds of students sexually abused by staffers, and emerging from decades of silence, according to the Boston Globe. The story says Steven Starr reached into the back of his hallway closet and fished out the old camera, a gift nearly 50 years ago from the man he says molested him. “It’s like a talisman or a grim reminder,’’ he said, holding the dusty Minolta Autocord in his Los Angeles apartment. Not that he could ever forget what he alleges happened to him when he was 11 at the Fessenden School. In 1968, he was a lonely sixth-grader from Long Island when he met James Dallmann, a Harvard graduate who taught geography at the all-boys private school in West Newton and was an avid photographer. Dallmann took Starr under his wing. … Then one night, Starr said, Dallmann served him a mix of Tang and vodka, got him to pose naked for pictures on a bed, and performed oral sex on him. This is our secret, Dallmann told Starr, who said the abuse went on for about a year. For nearly half a century, Starr kept his feelings of betrayal and humiliation inside, sharing his story only with therapists and a few confidants. But now he is among a growing number of former students at New England private schools who are breaking their silence about sexual abuse by staffers.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/05/06/private-schools-painful-secrets/OaRI9PFpRnCTJxCzko5hkN/story.html

Denver Post: Newspaper analysis finds entrepreneurs leading marijuana business

Vail's largest commercial developer. An owner of a car-detail shop. A former nonprofit event planner. A businessman who made a fortune in child car seats. A one-time Subway franchisee bankrupted by real estate losses. An investigation by the Denver Post determined that these entrepreneurs — Peter Knobel, Joshua Ginsberg, Rhett Jordan, John Lord and John Fritzel — have emerged atop Denver's pot industry just two years after the first recreational joint was sold. In all, they hold 134 marijuana business licenses in Denver — about 13 percent of the total. An analysis of marijuana license data in Denver, which accounts for about 44 percent of licenses statewide, reveals for the first time who is behind the pot industry and how the market ownership has evolved since January 2014. The Denver Post identified the biggest players as those holding the most licenses as of April 15 in Denver — because comparable statewide information is difficult to obtain. The Post found that 10 people control nearly 20 percent of Denver's 1,046 active medical and recreational licenses. They have cornered the top of the city's pot market largely by acquiring smaller grows, shops, dispensaries and infused product makers.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29863847/five-men-lead-denvers-pot-biz

Hartford Courant: Thousands of Connecticut children have lead poisoning

When Angely Nunez's parents had to relocate the family quickly after a fire last year, they found an apartment a stone's throw from the state Capitol, the Hartford Courant reports. Though she cleaned constantly, Angely's mother said dust was everywhere, and the walls and ceiling were covered with peeling paint. At their 3-year-old's physical several months later, Angely's parents received startling news: The level of lead in the girl's blood was nearly three times what the state and federal governments define as poisonous in a child. Her parents realized, her mother said at a recent clinic visit, that Angely had been acting "antsy, really anxious, and would just start screaming." The clinic doctor said Angely has a speech delay as a result of the lead in her system. But even with the frightening diagnosis, the Hartford girl could be considered fortunate. Many children in Connecticut with high levels of lead in their blood are not diagnosed so early because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing, medical experts say.

Read more: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-connecticut-children-not-tested-for-lead-20160507-story.html

South Bend Tribune: Hoosiers seek guns in record numbers

The South Bend Tribune reports that the number of Hoosiers seeking to buy firearms has increased every year for more than a decade, but this year Indiana is on pace to smash its previous record amid a national boom in gun sales, driven at least in part by fears of violent crime and a touch of election-year angst over gun control. According to the FBI, retailers performed more than 730,000 criminal background checks through April, dwarfing the total of 302,672 in the first four months of 2015 and putting the state well ahead of the pace that led to a record of more than 1 million background checks for gun purchases through the end of last year. The FBI does not track data on gun background checks at the county level. But Indiana State Police statistics appeared to also show more local people seeking licenses to carry handguns, as the 1,258 new licenses issued in St. Joseph County through March were on pace to surpass the 2,285 licenses issued in the county for all of 2015. In the Hoosier state, background checks for gun purchases have increased every year since 2004, but the spike through April this year is by far the greatest yet.

Read more: http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/publicsafety/hoosiers-seek-guns-in-record-numbers/article_37f18776-7e96-5ddd-ab53-e9946a2464f5.html

The Tennessean: Hepatitis C goes untreated in prisons

John Bilby should be dead by now, The Tennessean reports. Before September, the 66-year-old inmate didn't know about the hepatitis C that's slowly destroying his liver. Then, after 27 years in prison, they told him he had six months to live. "He says I have (terminal cirrhosis of the liver) and without a liver transplant I will die," Bilby said in a letter to The Tennessean, referencing a recent conversation with a prison doctor. Bilby's asked for treatment, but he's one of thousands who've been denied. Only eight of the 3,487 inmates known to have hepatitis C in Tennessee prisons are receiving medicine that can cure the disease, caused by a virus that can lead to fatal liver damage. Nearly one in two inmates the state did test in 2015 showed signs of having hepatitis C. Similar circumstances across the country have led to class-action lawsuits from inmates in three states.

Read more: http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2016/05/07/only-8-3487-tennessee-inmates-hepatitis-c-receive-cure/82269382/

Dallas Morning News: Portrait of a serial killer

The prisoner paced the pasture, unsettling the earth with each shackled step, The Dallas Morning News says.. In a thicket of tall, yellow grass, he examined the ground and his memory. So much had changed since he’d last been here. His auburn beard had faded to white. The everyday clothing he wore — jeans, a sweatshirt and a camouflage hat — had become a luxury. He was flanked by the authorities he had once avoided. Breaking nearly two decades of silence, William Lewis Reece had just claimed responsibility for young women missing since 1997. Earlier this year, he agreed to lead authorities to their bodies, buried in fields outside Houston. For years, families in Texas and Oklahoma had wondered what happened to their daughters, conscientious girls from attentive homes who disappeared under what seemed to be ordinary circumstances.

Read more: http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2016/portrait-of-a-serial-killer/

Dallas Morning News: Thousands of at-risk children in Texas not helped

Tens of thousands of infants and children believed to be in imminent danger of abuse or neglect, even death, are not being seen promptly by state child abuse investigators — and thousands of them haven't been checked on at all, The Dallas Morning News reports. Over the last two months, on any given day, more than 3,400 children who were on the radar of Child Protective Services hadn't been seen once by a caseworker, according to state data of face-to-face interactions analyzed by the paper. Across Texas, on an average day, nearly 700 unseen children are classified as extreme cases — "Priority 1" in the agency's terms — in which they face an immediate safety threat or are at "risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm." For instance, an infant might be neglected by a drug-addled parent or a child is living with a relative suspected of sexual abuse. It's a sign of the depth of the havoc in the state's child welfare system, where extreme workloads, rapid employee turnover, inept leaders and low pay have left investigators and caseworkers unable to simply check in on thousands of the most vulnerable Texans.

Read more: http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2016/05/cps-hasnt-checked-on-thousands-of-texas-children-in-imminent-danger-of-abuse-records-show.html/

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  MAY 3, 2016

Arizona Daily Star: University ousts arm of church some call a cult

An affiliate of a Tucson church that former members describe as a cult has been banned from a university campus in New Mexico for aggressive proselytizing, misusing school property and causing distress to students, the Arizona Daily star reports. The actions of New Covenant Christian Church in Albuquerque “have significantly negatively impacted” students at the University of New Mexico, school officials there said in recent letters ordering the church’s leaders to stay away. New Covenant is a satellite of Faith Christian Church in Tucson, which more than 20 former members and staffers described as a cult in an Arizona Daily Star investigation last year. The Tucson church recruits on the University of Arizona campus, while the eight satellites target university students in three other states and New Zealand. The Albuquerque church is appealing the ban, UNM officials said. Church officials did not respond to repeated Star requests for comment.

Read more: http://tucson.com/news/unm-ousts-arm-of-church-that-some-at-ua-called/article_5e7c8286-ba3e-556d-90ac-ad6d9e6db971.html

Stamford Advocate: Undocumented and medically uninsured

Every day people without health insurance seek medical care at hospitals, community health centers and clinics across Connecticut. And once they’ve been treated, financial counselors typically try to enroll them in some form of insurance program. But in places like Danbury, where there is a large immigrant population, health providers know that some of these new patients face an extra barrier — their undocumented status, the Stamford Advocate reports. Recognizing this, health professionals and advocates across the region are working together to make sure undocumented immigrants have access to health care — partly because they see it as moral responsibility, but also because it affects the health of the entire community. Connecticut is home to an estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants. At the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, visitors ask daily about access to affordable health care, said Executive Director Andrea Contreras.

Read more: http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Undocumented-uninsured-7384409.php

Sun Sentinel: Jaywalking? Police have you in their sights

The Sun Sentinel warns pedestrians to beware because they’re on law enforcement's radar. Police are watching from behind trees and in marked cars. And if pedestrians happen to jaywalk, they're going to get slapped with a $63 fine. Police throughout South Florida are turning up the heat to save pedestrians from fatal encounters with cars. And also to protect drivers from being forced to brake for someone unexpectedly crossing the middle of a street. The state is paying local officers to work overtime to ticket pedestians who walk where they shouldn't. This year, $1.5 million was distributed to 41 agencies, with the size of the grants based on how each agency proposed to handle the problem. Apparently, it's easy pickings in an area with one of the highest rates of pedestrian deaths in the country.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/fl-jaywalking-enforcement-snares-20160429-story.html

Miami Herald: Student accused of flying high on $260,000 in stolen miles

The Miami Herald reports a young Miami computer programmer named Milad Avazdavani booked stays from Denver to Dubai, along with a string of fancy car rentals — all using frequent flier miles from American Airlines. Absolutely none of those miles belonged to him. The former Florida International University student now stands accused of hacking into the AAdvantage accounts of high-mileage customers and siphoning off enough points to charge trips and cars worth more than $260,000. When confronted, police say he confessed with braggadocio. But Avazdavani, who has been jailed for a year awaiting trial, says he has admitted to nothing, insisting he is not stupid enough to use stolen miles to book trips in his own name. Yes, he took some trips and rented some cars, Avazdavani said, speaking publicly for the first time in an interview in jail last week. But he swore in an interview he was only guilty of “bargain shopping” for travel deals on the internet.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article74727227.html

Orlando Sentinel: Central Floridians scramble for jobs to keep food stamps

Tens of thousands of very low-income Central Floridians are having to quickly find jobs or enroll in job training to avoid losing their food stamp benefits — the result of a renewed federal work mandate that had been suspended during the recession, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The mandate, put on hold in 2009, was reinstated this year in Florida and 21 other states. It targets what the government calls ABAWDS — able-bodied adults with no dependents, ages 18 to 49. In Orange, Osceola, Lake and Seminole counties, there were more than 35,000 of them receiving benefits at the beginning of the year. In the state as a whole, they number over a half-million. They tend to be the poorest of the poor. And some recipients aren't learning of the new rules until they try to use their benefits card — and find no benefits there.

Read more: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-food-stamps-work-20160429-story.html

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:  “Psychoeducational” students segregated

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Georgia’s public schools assign a vastly disproportionate number of African American students to psychoeducational programs, segregating them not just by disability but also by race. An investigation by newspaper found black children form the majority at programs where teachers restrained children with dog leashes, where psychologists performed behavioral experiments on troubled students, and where chronically disruptive students spent time in solitary confinement, locked in rooms with bars over the windows. In one such room, euphemistically called a “time-out” area, a 14-year-old boy hanged himself. Fifty-four percent of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African American, compared to 37 percent in all public schools statewide, the Journal-Constitution found. In half of the 24 programs, black enrollment exceeds 60 percent. In one, nine of every 10 students are African American.

Read more: http://specials.myajc.com/psychoeducation/

Des Moines Register: Drunken driver deaths rise, but fewer licenses revoked

State data show Iowa’s drunken drivers are more intoxicated and killing more people — yet fewer of them are losing their licenses, according to The Des Moines Register. The numbers are stark. Intoxication levels have risen four consecutive years among motorists caught driving while impaired, who have an average blood alcohol concentration more than twice the legal limit. Drunken driving fatalities climbed to 123 last year, even as the state's overall crash deaths fell. Intoxicated drivers caused 38 percent of all Iowa vehicle fatalities in 2015, compared with 31 percent in 2012. Despite those increases, Iowa license revocations for operating while intoxicated have dropped every year since 2008. Last year, nearly 14,000 Iowans lost their licenses for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence — 7,500 fewer than a decade earlier. During the same time, the number of licensed drivers on Iowa roads grew by 23 percent.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/04/30/driving-while-intoxicated-wrong-way/83651312/

Times Picayune: Lt. Gov. suggests selling naming rights for state parks

The Times Picayune reports selling naming rights to state parks and partnering with developers to expand their facilities are among the ideas Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is suggesting to bolster Louisiana's cash-strapped recreational sites. One company has expressed interest in branding a park, he said, and others should be courted to do the same. Louisiana wouldn't be the first state to court corporate dollars to sustain its park system, as most states report a nosedive in government-allocated revenue. Despite seeing more visitors, state parks struggle to support themselves and remain increasingly reliant on public resources. So far, other states have trod lightly when forging business ties to help pay to build and maintain their parks. They are attempting to strike a balance between finding the money needed to operate while not tainting the visitor experience.

Read more:http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/04/nungesser_suggests_selling_nam.html

Baltimore Sun: Restaurant no-shows prompt fees for reservations

On a recent opera night at Sotto Sopra, Mount Vernon restaurateur and Executive Chef Riccardo Bosio was prepared to serve 95 guests a five-course meal while they were serenaded by a tenor and a soprano. Only 65 showed up. Now Bosio will require credit card information for high-stakes reservations — and charge a penalty to diners who don't show. No-shows and last-minute cancellations increasingly trouble the hospitality industry as online platforms such as OpenTable remove the personal interactions reservation once required, and reduce the guilt customers feel for backing out at the last minute, say industry analysts, owners and consumers. Those cancellations cost restaurateurs such as Bosio, who said he loses up to $150,000 a year from no-shows and canceled reservations, according to The Baltimore Sun. It hurts tipped employees the most.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/dining/bs-fo-sotto-sopra-cancellation-20160430-story.html

Star-Tribune: Minnesota battling suicide with new weapon: Data

The Star-Tribune says Minnesota’s state public health authorities have launched a new line of attack in their fight against suicides, using sophisticated data analytics to investigate the causes behind a sharp rise in the number of Minnesotans taking their own lives. Nearly two years after they first sounded the alarm about the state’s surging suicide rate, researchers at the Department of Health have built a database to help pinpoint where, how and why nearly 700 Minnesotans die by suicide each year — a number that is up 30 percent in the past decade. Now the state is using that data to craft targeted prevention campaigns in communities where suicide outbreaks, or “clusters,” have emerged. “We have come many miles from where we were just two years ago, and the implications for the state are huge,” said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE, a national suicide prevention organization based in Bloomington.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/battling-a-surge-in-suicides-minnesota-investigators-wield-a-new-weapon-data/377669031/

Columbus Dispatch: Columbus to spend billions fixing waterlines, sewers

The biggest portion of Columbus' record-setting capital budget will be spent on improvements designed to stop untreated sewage from overflowing into central Ohio's creeks and rivers, and to upgrade the city's public water system, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Since 2004, the city has been in trouble with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for allowing too much sewage to wash into waterways during heavy rainstorms. Add a booming population — the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission estimates that central Ohio will grow by 500,000 people by 2050 — and the need becomes clear. The problem is pretty simple. A network of underground pipes carries sewage from homes and businesses to the city's treatment facilities, but during heavy rains, those pipes can overflow, spilling human waste into streams and rivers. The Olentangy River has been particularly vulnerable.

Read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/05/01/columbus-will-spend-billions-over-decades-on-waterlines-sewers.html

Houston Chronicle: Deep water oil drillers face worst times in decades

Although crude oil prices have plunged and layoffs have spread, the offshore drilling industry still buzzed with activity based on investments made years before the downturn began. But now that backlog of orders is running thin for equipment manufacturers as the worst energy crash in 30 years drags on, The Houston Chronicle reports. At Houston's National Oilwell Varco, which already has shed more than 10,000 jobs and closed dozens of factories, the backlog of rig-equipment orders is expected to shrink from $15 billion two years ago to $2.6 billion by the end of the year. Another Houston manufacturer, FMC Technologies, could see outstanding orders cut by nearly two-thirds in 2016. "That hole in the backlog is going to be there for a long time," said Robert Sullivan, a managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners in New York. "Some of those companies are really just starting to feel the pain."

Read more:http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/conferences/article/Deep-water-drillers-face-worst-times-in-decades-7386009.php

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  4-26-16

Sacramento Bee: Concealed gun permits soar in Sacramento County

The Sacramento Bee reports that when Scott Jones became sheriff of Sacramento County in 2010, there were approximately 350 civilians licensed to carry concealed handguns in the county. Today, there are nearly 8,000. That means statistically, in any sizable gathering – at the grocery store, a ballgame or church – at least one person is likely to be packing legal heat. About one out of every 135 adults in Sacramento County now has a license to carry. Jones has issued permits at an average rate of more than four per day during the last five years, according to data provided by the Sheriff’s Department. The result is that Sacramento County had the third-highest number of concealed carry permit holders in California at the end of 2015, behind Fresno and Orange counties, a review of data from the California Department of Justice shows

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article73538112.html

New York Times: In age of privilege, not everyone is in the same boat

With disparities in wealth greater than at any time since the Gilded Age, the gap is widening between the highly affluent — who find themselves behind the velvet ropes of today’s economy — and everyone else, The New York Times reports. What is different today, though, is that companies have become much more adept at identifying their top customers and knowing which psychological buttons to push. The goal is to create extravagance and exclusivity for the select few, even if it stirs up resentment elsewhere. In fact, research has shown, a little envy can be good for the bottom line. When top-dollar travelers switch planes in Atlanta, New York and other cities, Delta ferries them between terminals in a Porsche.Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. When Royal Caribbean ships call at Labadee, the cruise line’s private resort in Haiti, elite guests get their own special beach club away from fellow travelers — an enclave within an enclave.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/business/economy/velvet-rope-economy.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

San Francisco Chronicle: $300 million in unclaimed life insurance benefits

Thousands of Californians are owed money — in some cases more than $100,000 — in life insurance benefits because they did not know they were beneficiaries and insurance companies made no effort to notify them, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Now, the state Controller’s Office is trying to hand $307 million to its proper owners — and $13.3 million of that life insurance money belongs to 5,300 people living in San Francisco and Oakland, according to data analyzed by The Chronicle. The amounts owed to individuals across the state range from $583,000 belonging to the trust of Huan Lin in Los Angeles County to 50 others owed $150,000 or more. A Chronicle review of state data on unclaimed life insurance policies in the Bay Area and subsequent interviews with individuals revealed that many of the beneficiaries who have not collected the money owed to them have themselves died, with the money now owed to unnamed heirs.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/300-million-in-unclaimed-life-insurance-benefits-7305857.php

Washington Post: This may be best way to measure gun violence in America

Thanks to broader adoption of new technologies, it is getting easier to show just how common gun violence is in America, The Washington Post says. Last year, there were 165,531 separate gunshots recorded in 62 different urban municipalities nationwide, according to ShotSpotter, the company behind a technology that listens for gunfire's acoustic signature and reports it to authorities. Even that eye-popping number captures only a fraction of the bullets fired each year. It does not include data from rural areas or the nation’s two largest cities — Los Angeles does not use ShotSpotter and New York City was excluded from the 2015 tally because it did not start until mid-year. Still, the data begins to provide a fuller picture of the nation’s rampant gunfire. Last year, those 165,531 gunshots were divided among 54,699 different incidents — an average of 150 gunfire incidents every day.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/04/23/this-may-be-the-best-way-to-measure-gun-violence-in-america/

Sun Sentinel: Broward school projects approved but never asked for bids

The Sun Sentinel reports Broward County school district staff failed for more than a year to seek bids on nine approved school renovation projects, forcing those schools to make do with leaky roofs, erratic air conditioners and unusable facilities.The School Board authorized the district to seek bids on the construction projects, budgeted at more than $25 million, between December 2014 and April 2015. At the nine schools, six have yet to be put out for bid. They include a long-awaited library renovation at Boyd Anderson High in Lauderdale Lakes, a roofing and building renovation at Hollywood Hills High, and a roofing and air conditioning project at Walter C. Young Middle in Pembroke Pines. District officials pledge these projects will go to bid by September. Of the other three schools, the district waited more than a year to request bids.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/education/fl-broward-projects-stalled-20160422-story.html

Honolulu Star Advertiser: Senate leader tied to owner in land deal

The Honolulu Star Advertiser has learned that Senate President Ron Kouchi has had long-standing and substantial business ties with one of the owners of thousands of acres of South Kona conservation and agricultural land that lawmakers now want the state to purchase and preserve. Hawaii developers Kevin M. Showe and Jeffery R. Stone each have an ownership interest in the isolated south Kona lands in an area known as Kapua, and Kouchi has both invested with Showe and worked for years for on of Showe’s companies as a community relations representative. Kouchi said he has not been directly involved in the effort this year to push a bill through the Legislature to buy the Kapua makai lands or exchamge state land for the Kapua property, but said he did have a role in meting related to the deal.

Read more (online subscribers only) : http://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/senate-president-linked-to-owner-in-land-deal/

Times-Picayune: New Orleans charter school execs get big money

At least 63 employees of public charter schools in New Orleans made more than $100,000 in 2013-14, according to federal tax forms for the most recent year with comprehensive numbers. The Times-Picayune reports that four employees were paid more than $200,000. Meanwhile, the average teacher in a New Orleans public school made about $40,000 to $53,000, according to school audits. School salaries spiked after Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans' unified public school system inside out and upside down in 2005. The Louisiana Recovery School District seized most of the schools from Orleans Parish and converted them into semi-independent charters run by non-profit boards. Labor union contracts all but disappeared. As a result, salaries of school leaders rose dramatically. Operators of charter schools -- using taxpayer dollars and often grants, with their hands untied -- entered the market, paying top dollar for what they considered the best talent.

Read more: http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2016/04/new_orleans_charter_salaries.html

Baltimore Sun: Efforts growing to reconsider live sentences for juveniles

The Baltimore Sun says public defenders in Maryland are arguing that people sentenced as adults for crimes committed when they were juveniles should have another day in court — and another chance at a shorter sentence. The Maryland Office of the Public Defender has filed about a dozen motions statewide, including in cases of rape and murder, arguing that lengthy sentences for juveniles that amount to life terms are "constitutionally suspect" and "fundamentally unfair." They point to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings — the latest in January — that found children have special legal protections against extraordinarily long sentences and that mandatory life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. Maryland public defenders also say that many prisoners who were sentenced as teens have shown they have changed.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-juvenile-sentence-debate-20160423-story.html

 

Philadelphia Inquirer: Fewer gas rigs operate and local economies suffer

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that five years ago the Marcellus Shale bonanza attracted 115 drilling rigs to the state, each requiring a battalion of suppliers, trucks, earthmovers, equipment manufacturers, and support services. This month, the rig count fell to 16, a number not experienced since 2007, before hydraulic fracturing entered the public debate and when Marcellus was just a gangster in Pulp Fiction. Last year's energy-price plunge undercut the business across the nation. Gas producers that borrowed heavily to acquire acreage and to drill struggled to cover their debt. They cut operations and sold assets to stay solvent. Some went bankrupt. Those financially strong enough to survive are hunkered down. "We're going through a historic downturn," said David J. Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group. "We lost maybe $10 billion in capital spending in 2015, and are heading the same way in 2016 with the rig count." Despite the slowdown in drilling, Pennsylvania is not likely to relinquish its new status as a natural gas giant.

Read more: 

http://www.philly.com/philly/business/energy/20160424_A_new_drill_for_Pa__Fewer_gas_rigs_operate__and_local_economies_suffer.html

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Landlords play the system, taxpayers pay the bill

A group of Milwaukee landlords have figured out how to milk properties for maximum profit, then walk away after they stop paying taxes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. That leaves the city to sell the houses at bargain-basement prices — or make taxpayers shoulder the cost of repairing them or tearing them down, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found. If a property owner doesn't pay taxes for three years, the city typically files a tax foreclosure lawsuit and seizes the home, an action that erases the tax bill for the owner who let the property deteriorate, collecting rent all the while. The owner remains responsible for the fines. The city's problem landlords have money. Collectively, three examined by the newspaper along with their related companies have spent more than $4.5 million in cash over the past eight years to buy homes at weekly sheriff's sales of foreclosed properties. Another is a company led by NBA star Devin Harris.

Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/as-fines-pile-up-problem-landlords-buy-more-homes-with-cash--and-neighborhoods-pay-the-price-b996788-376768471.html

    


WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK   4-19-16

Los Angeles Times: LA’s efforts to equip police with body cameras stalls

The Los Angeles Times reports a much-touted plan to equip thousands of Los Angeles police officers with body cameras has stalled amid controversy at City Hall over the program's price tag and whether the Police Department got the best deal possible. Delays have derailed Mayor Eric Garcetti's pledge to provide nearly every officer with a camera by the end of this year, an ambitious proposal that garnered national attention and would make the LAPD the largest law enforcement agency in the country to use the devices on a widespread scale. LAPD officials do not expect to finish outfitting 7,000 officers until the fall of 2017 at the earliest. And a new proposal, they say, could push the completion date back another year.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-lapd-body-cameras-20160417-story.html

Sacramento Bee: Pumping water to Southern California restricted despite rain

Northern California’s rivers are roaring and its reservoirs are filled almost to the brim for the first time in five years, but you’d hardly know it, based on how quiet it’s been at the two giant pumping stations at the south end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The pumps deliver Sacramento Valley water to 19 million Southern Californians and millions of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. However, for every gallon that’s been pumped to south-of-Delta water agencies since Jan. 1, 3 1/2 gallons have been allowed to flow out to sea, to the rising irritation of south state contractors, the Sacramento Bee reports.The reason lies in a combination of poor timing, the drought-ravaged status of several endangered species of Delta fish, a suite of environmental laws and regulations that govern the pumps – and the complexities of the Delta’s intricate network of river channels, canals and sloughs.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article72248787.html

Stamford Advocate: Six-figure salaries soar in Stamford

The Stamford Advocate reports an analysis of the city's entire payroll shows a dramatic increase in six-figure earners, with 613 workers pulling in more than $100,000 in 2012. Only 80 Stamford employees, whose combined earnings totaled $11.3 million, passed the six-figure mark in 2010. The number of high earners jumped to 418 in 2011, costing the city $52.1 million in wages, overtime, stipends and other payouts. By 2012 more than 600 city workers, or 19 percent of the city's 3,230 full-time employees, were raking in more than $100,000 according to a database provided by the Stamford Controller's Office. Their combined earnings totaled $73.5 million.

Read more: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Six-figure-salaries-soar-in-Stamford-4397523.php

Sun Sentinel: Investigation spurs change in mental health court

Prosecutors have dropped cases against dozens of people who had been stuck for years in Broward County's troubled felony mental health court. The action follows a Sun Sentinel investigation, "Trapped," which found that people facing minor felonies in the court spent six times longer in the criminal justice system than those in regular court. "I have seen some fairly dramatic changes," said Judge Ari Porth, one of two judges assigned to the court. "It's pretty encouraging, and I think that your series certainly had something to do with the changes we're seeing." Mental health advocates, prosecutors and public defenders agree the county's felony mental health court needs an overhaul.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-broward-mental-health-dropped-cases-20160415-story.html

Orlando Sentinel: Most bonus-winning teachers work in affluent areas

Florida teachers who benefited from the state's controversial "best and brightest" bonus plan are more than twice as likely to work with students from more affluent families than with youngsters living in poverty, The Orlando Sentinel reports. The bonuses have highlighted a long-standing problem: That Florida's best teachers are often not in the classrooms that most need them. The bonuses also have failed to help with what state educators say is a long-standing goal of equally distributing "excellent educators." There was one bonus-winning teacher for every 954 students in a high-poverty Florida school this year, the analysis determined. By comparison, schools with students from more affluent homes have one "best and brightest" teacher for every 398 students.

Read more: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-best-teachers-florida-struggling-school-20160415-story.html

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: State ignored suspected fraud warnings

Five years before the federal government accused a Woodstock millionaire of running a multistate, multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme, Georgia regulators had evidence he was operating without a license, in violation of state law, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens was told repeatedly that Jim Torchia was buying other people’s life insurance policies without state approval. Fraud unit investigators also had evidence Torchia’s company advertised directly to Georgians, offering quick cash for rights to insurance payouts. Legal experts say that is illegal without a license. But Hudgens didn’t act to stop him, the newspaper's investigation found. No cease-and-desist order. No fines or criminal charges. No consumer alert.

Read more: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/insurance-chief-ignored-warnings-on-firm-later-acc/nq6DD/

Chicago Tribune: Illinois public schools now $20 billion in debt

The Chicago Tribune reports Illinois' public school districts are roughly $20 billion in debt, a staggering figure fueled in part by decades of special deals in Springfield that have given districts exemptions so they can keep borrowing beyond limits set by law. Today, that debt exceeds long-term school borrowing in most other states. It equates to about $10,000 for every Pre-K to 12th-grade public school student in Illinois, a Tribune investigation has found. All the borrowing is a drain on taxpayers who have to repay the debt, as well as school budgets that must steer billions of dollars annually to principal and interest payments — money that could be targeted to classrooms. In some districts, more local tax money is collected for debt payments than for teacher salaries and student instruction.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-illinois-school-debt-met-20160416-story.html

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Thirsty cities eye water from the Great Lakes

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says that nearly a decade ago, eight governors shook hands on an extraordinary agreement to erect a legal wall around the largest source of fresh water on earth — the Great Lakes. The unusual bipartisan compact, signed by the heads of the states that border the massive basin, aimed to keep the increasingly valuable water right where it is for the 40 million people who rely on it for their jobs, their homes and their vacations. Waukesha, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee, has asked for the right to pull drinking water from Lake Michigan. In coming weeks or months the current eight governors, including Gov. Mark Dayton, will have to make a critical decision on how to share — or not — one fifth of the world’s fresh water. The question arises against a backdrop of increasing national conflicts over water and growing concerns about the way pollution and climate change are threatening the world’s water supply.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/thirsty-cities-begin-to-eye-water-from-the-great-lakes/375953661/

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Emails show education agency misled legislature

Emails show that Nevada System of Higher Education officials actively worked to undermine the Legislature’s effort to overhaul college and university funding models in recent years, going so far as to present a false document to lawmakers and joking about it afterward, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Using the state public records act, the Review-Journal accessed hundreds of pages of emails sent to and from state higher education officials between November 2011 and September 2012. The documents offer an unvarnished glimpse into a state agency often accused of being averse to change and intentionally opaque. The Nevada System of Higher Education oversees all of Nevada’s state-supported higher education, encompassing eight institutions. The emails were sent at a time when the stakes were about as high as they get in Nevada higher education and a lot of money and power was on the line.

Read more: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/education/emails-show-nevada-higher-ed-agency-misled-legislature-funding-study

Newark Star Ledger: NJ court nominee’s law firm reaped millions from state

The Newark Star Ledger reports Gov. Chris Christie's new nominee to the state Supreme Court isn't just someone he described as a friend, but the product of a politically well-connected law firm that's reaped millions of taxpayer dollars under the governor's administration. Walter "Wally" Timpone's nomination is expected to gain swift approval from Senate Democrats, clearing the way to fill the last vacancy on the state's highest court. When he does, Timpone will leave his post at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, a firm with close ties to Christie that received more than $8.1 million from the state since the governor took office through the end of last year.  The cozy relationships haven't been one-way streets. The firm — just like other well-connected New Jersey firms and their lawyers — contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Christie's unsuccessful presidential bid, campaign finance records show. 

Read more: 

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/04/christie_supreme_court_nominee_comes_from_politica.html

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: NY sex offender numbers outstrip nation’s

New York state's number of registered sex offenders has exploded over the past decade, ballooning almost 60 percent — more than two times the national growth of the number of sex offenders on public registries, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports. The number of registered sex offenders in New York grew from just over 24,000 to more than 39,000 since 2006, or more than 60 percent, according to state statistics. Nationwide, the number has grown about 28 percent to more than 843,000 offenders, according to data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The National  Center, which tracks sex offender laws and is a strong proponent of public registries, does not speculate on why New York — or any state for that matter — may have registry numbers significantly different from the national average. Nor does the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains the registry.

Read more: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/04/16/ny-sex-offender-numbers-outstrip-nations/81804676/

Columbus Dispatch: Employees are stealing drugs from Ohio pharmacies

The Columbus Dispatch analyzed hundreds of state records from multiple agencies and professional-licensing boards to understand the magnitude of the problem of internal drug theft at Ohio pharmacies. The Dispatch found that at least 217 health care employees in Ohio were implicated in prescription-drug thefts in 2014, according to data from the state Board of Pharmacy and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Some employees were so addicted that they used the stolen drugs at work, their impairment putting the safety of patients at risk. The newspaper said, not surprisingly, the most addictive prescription medications were the most targeted for internal theft: oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine and Fentanyl. It said few safeguards exist to prevent pharmacy technicians, a largely unregulated field, from stealing drugs, then getting a job at another pharmacy.

Read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/04/17/employees-stealing-drugs-from-pharmacies-health-care-facilities.html

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  4-12-16

Associated Press: Lead lurks in America’s water

An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once since Jan. 1, 2013. The affected systems are large and small, public and private, and include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 42 states. Twenty-one of the affected systems were in Ohio; four were schools or day care centers. Just one, at a business in Bellefontaine, is in central Ohio. The AP reviewed 25 years of sampling data reported by 75,000 drinking-water systems that are subject to a federal lead rule that took effect in 1991. Details of the EPA data were first reported by USA Today.

Read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2016/04/10/1-lead-lurks-in-americas-water.html

Montgomery Advertiser: Tax scammers go into high gear

The Montgomery Advertiser reports someone stole Susan Carmichael’s personal information and filed false tax returns for her and her husband in six states. “I was in total shock,” Carmichael said. “I said, ‘Why me?’” It’s a shock that’s becoming more common. Victims in Alabama have lost $278,242 to tax scams in the past five months alone, according to the IRS. Now, scammers are shifting into high gear as the filing deadline approaches. Their new tactic: Take advantage of the fear of being scammed. People who claim to be IRS agents are calling victims and telling them that a return has been filed in their names, then asking for more information to verify their true identities. Often, they scavenge personal data from the Internet, then use a phone call to fill in the blanks before filing a false return.

Read more: http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2016/04/08/identity-theft-surges-ahead-tax-deadline/82793050/

Arizona Republic: Health insurance no guarantee of lower bills

When Mark Holland sliced the palm of his hand, he went to HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center, which was part of his health insurer’s network, so he didn’t think twice about what it might cost as a surgeon stitched his hand. That changed 10 days later when the Phoenix center’s administrative staff explained the surgeon, Dr. Edward Reece of the Arizona Center for Hand Surgery, did not accept Holland’s insurance plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, as an in-network provider although the hospital’s anesthesiologist and the hospital were both in his insurance plan’s network, The Arizona Republic reports. Since Holland was sedated at the time, he was in no position to question which hospital staff members were part of what insurance network. When Holland declined to pay the entire billed amount, the surgery center’s medical-collection agency, Medical Society Business Services Inc., last year filed a civil lawsuit.  More than a dozen former patients have been sued by Medical Society Business Services Inc., also known as the Bureau of Medical Economics.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/health/2016/04/10/balance-billing-health-insurance-no-guarantee-of-lower-bills-for-patients/82629006/

Sacramento Bee: Shuttered gun range leaked toxic lead dust

The city-owned gun range in Mangan Park was shut down more than 15 months ago, and a “temporarily closed” note on the door is the only notice neighboring residents and park users received. The city closed the indoor range because it was polluted by hazardous levels of lead dust after decades of operation. But it has never cleaned that toxic dust from the interior of the shuttered range, nor from the roof, according to interviews and internal city documents. Environmental scientists specializing in lead contamination say the tainted particles that remained should have been cleaned long ago, and may pose an environmental hazard for park users and residents in the surrounding neighborhood. The scientists interviewed by The Sacramento Bee said soil in the surrounding park and neighborhood should have been tested at the time the facility closed, to see if the toxic particles had spread through wind and rain. The city failed to do any soil testing until April 1, after The Sacramento Bee began asking questions for this story.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/city-beat/article70934657.html

San Francisco Chronicle: Racial disparities in traffic searches raise concern

From the beginning of 2013 to December 2015, SFPD officers chose to search black and Latino drivers at much higher rates than whites or Asians after traffic stops, either by invoking probable cause or requesting the driver’s consent, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. Those searches, however, were much less likely to result in officers uncovering evidence of crimes than less frequent searches of white or Asian drivers. Police say that factors including where they patrol and the demographics of criminal suspects are at the root of those racial disparities, but many social scientists, criminologists and civil rights advocates believe they signal racial profiling. The higher search rates of blacks and Latinos suggest police are more inclined to search drivers of those races, they say, and a lower evidence recovery, or “hit” rate, implies those searches are more often unwarranted.

Read more:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Racial-disparities-in-SF-traffic-searches-raise-7235690.php

Denver Post: Colorado lobbying firm brings clout to DC

The Denver Post reports that since opening a D.C. office with a couple of cubicles in 1995, the Colorado lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has risen to a national juggernaut. Last year, the firm netted more than $25.7 million in federal lobbying revenue, a haul built from the web of connections it has developed in Denver, Washington and the West and the impact it has made on major policy decisions.  The success, however, has put the firm in the spotlight of public-interest groups, who say its rise is emblematic of a broken political system. "This lobbying firm employs all the right tools for becoming a powerhouse," said Craig Holman, a lobbying expert with the good-government group Public Citizen. It writes big campaign checks. It hires former lawmakers and administration officials. And it has developed an expertise in complicated — and lucrative — areas of U.S. financial policy. The effort has paid dividends. Its 2015 haul in federal lobbying revenue was the second-largest in the nation.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_29747226/colorado-lobbying-firm-brings-clout-dc

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ethics change weakens transparency in Georgia

Well after midnight on the final night of the 2016 General Assembly session, lawmakers quietly approved a bill that would make it more difficult for Georgians to find out if their legislators are making money off the state, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The House member who pushed the change in closed-door conference would not say who asked for it, but it came a few months after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia News Lab reported that House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, failed to properly disclose at least $120,000 in state agency payments to his private business. Although Georgia has historically lagged the nation in the strength of its ethics and disclosure provisions, lawmakers have gradually toughened the laws since the first ones were passed in 1986. Senate Bill 199, if signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, would reverse that trend, and ethics watchdogs were quick to take note.

Read more: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/late-night-ethics-change-weakens-government-transp/nq2r4/

Des Moines Register: Counties in water suit block names of donors of $934K

The Des Moines Register says private donors have paid $934,000 of the nearly $1.1 million legal tab racked up by three northern Iowa counties being sued by Des Moines Water Works over high nitrate levels — but county officials won't identify all of them. Lawyers for Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, responding to records requests from The Des Moines Register, released heavily redacted checks, billing statements and other documents to keep private the names of those who have paid nearly 90 percent of the counties' legal fees so far. The escalating monthly bills pay the legal fees for local, Des Moines and, until recently, Washington attorneys representing the counties in the potentially landmark case.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2016/04/09/secret-donors-pay-934k-defend-water-suit/82715656/

Baltimore Sun: Police often don’t follow Taser safety recommendations

The first-ever data analysis of all Taser incidents in Maryland reveals that police agencies across the state have predominantly used the devices against suspects who posed no immediate threat, according to The Baltimore Sun. In hundreds of cases over a three-year period, police didn't follow widely accepted safety recommendations. Legal and policing experts worry that misuse is rampant across the nation as an increasing number of departments outfit more officers with stun guns; a Taser is used by law enforcement 904 times a day on average. The experts warn that too often officers are turning to Tasers before exhausting other means of dealing with disorderly people, actions that courts are beginning to brand as unconstitutional excessive force. And while the Taser has been hailed as a less-lethal way to handle difficult situations, police and even the manufacturer say if the weapon isn't used right, it can lead to death.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/investigations/bal-tasers-in-maryland-story.html

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Question of risk: Medtronic’s lost study

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Medtronic employees pored over the medical records that came flooding in from doctors and hospitals for two years. They documented what happened to 3,600 patients who had received the firm’s pioneering bone-fusion product, called Infuse. Medtronic asked doctors to scan patients’ files and report any “adverse event” following surgery. Doctors shared more than 1,000 such issues, ranging from minor to serious. Four patients had died. Federal law requires medical device companies to report possible product-related injuries to the Food and Drug Administration within 30 days of learning about them. Instead, Medtronic employees shut down the study in spring 2008 without telling the government anything. Scrutiny of Infuse would grow tremendously over the ensuing years. More patients developed problems; thousands filed injury complaints. To this day, neither the company nor the FDA has publicly disclosed full details of the study.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/question-of-risk-medtronic's-lost-Infuse-study/372957441/

Kansas City Star: Court official draws line on email searches in privacy debate

The Kansas City Star reports a low-level court official in Kansas City, Kansas, made one thing clear in recently rejecting a warrant request from the U.S. Attorney: investigators can’t go rooting freely in the email accounts of criminal suspects. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Waxse argued — in an expansive, signal-sending decision — that looking through an email account can intrude on someone’s privacy more than a search of their home. He compared access to your email to a cavity search. rowsing through your account, he noted, might be the best way yet to learn about your religion, your politics, finances, health, your sex life. For that reason, he sided with a growing number of magistrates who man a largely overlooked front line of the court system. They’ve increasingly rejected warrants sought to track the electronic trails that criminal suspects — like the rest of us — leave in our increasingly digital world.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article70921962.html

Albuquerque Journal: Sex assault and harassment reports triple at university

The number of sexual harassment and assault reports filed at the University of New Mexico tripled from 2014 to 2015, but university administrators attribute the increase to educating students and employees about what qualifies as sexual harassment and encouraging them to report violations. Records obtained by The Albuquerque Journal show that 138 people filed Title IX reports in 2015 with UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity, up from 46 reports in 2014. Fifty-two of the reports filed in 2015 were for sexual assault and 72 were for sexual harassment. Investigations resulted in one person being fired, two people being suspended and one person being expelled. The 2015 total is higher than peer institutions University of Colorado Denver, which saw 42 reports in 2015, and New Mexico Sate University, with 19 reports.

Read more: http://www.abqjournal.com/754480/abqnewsseeker/sex-assault-harassment-reports-triple-at-unm.html

Oregonian: As jailed addict slowly died, no one tried to help

Madaline Pitkin, a heroin addict, spent seven days detoxing at the Washington County Jail before she died. Medical files, police reports and autopsy results obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive show serious breakdowns in the way Pitkin received medical treatment inside the jail. The case also reveals scant accountability for the people responsible for her care. Pitkin had made four written pleas for help that the medical staff with the jail's health care contractor Corizon Health mostly discounted or mishandled. At least seven nurses, a physician assistant and a doctor evaluated Pitkin or signed off on her treatment as her condition deteriorated, records from the criminal investigation show. No one on the medical staff explained to investigators why Pitkin didn't get medicine by injection when she couldn't keep food or medicine down. No one explained why she didn't go to the hospital. No one called 911 until she had collapsed.

Read more: 

http://www.oregonlive.com/washingtoncounty/index.ssf/2016/04/dying_alone_a_jail_inmates_hea.html

Austin American-Statesman: Despite reforms, Texas child abuse deaths rise

The Austin American-Statesman reports Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told Child Protective Services last March to mend its ways and gave the agency an extra $38 million to do it. But one year later, the agency, by most measures, is doing even worse. The number of child deaths has increased. So has the number of abused and neglected kids. Investigations are dragging on, which means more children are being left in potentially dangerous situations. More experienced caseworkers are fleeing the agency. A federal court recently ordered the state to overhaul its foster care system. More foster kids are sleeping in CPS offices while the agency tries to find them homes. The agency commissioner is retiring. And children continue to die in cases in which investigators conducted poor investigations or failed to do their job at all.

Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/despite-reforms-texas-child-abuse-deaths-rise-inve/nq2xB/

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  4-5-16

Los Angeles Times: LAPD’s trouble with Tasers

A review of police department statements and reports by The Los Angeles Times found that nearly a quarter of the people shot by on-duty LAPD officers last year — at least eight of 36 — were wounded or killed during encounters in which officers said they tried to use a Taser without success. In one case in March, an officer fired a Taser at a homeless man suspected in an assault in downtown L.A.'s skid row. The man spun his arms and kept moving during the violent encounter, which was caught on a bystander's video that drew international attention. An officer tried to stun him again while they struggled on the ground moments before he was fatally shot. Other encounters where officers didn't shoot their guns also showed the limitations of the weapon. LAPD officers fired Tasers just over 1,100 times last year, according to a department report published last month. The devices had the desired outcome — causing someone to submit to arrest — only 53 percent of the time.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-lapd-tasers-20160401-story.html

Stamford Advocate: Stun guns used more on minorities than whites

The Stamford Advocate says a Hearst Connecticut Media analysis of hundreds of reports of stun gun deployments during 2015 found that 57 percent of suspects hit with an electronic dart were either black or Hispanic. Last year marked the first time police departments were required to report each use to the state. The data also shows police warned whites far more often than blacks and Hispanics before firing. The warning was carried out by pointing a harmless red targeting laser beam — visible as a brilliant red dot on clothing — to induce compliance. Activists were quick to seize on the data as evidence police are using the stun weapons too often — and unfairly targeting minorities. “We have to get a grip on how Tasers are being used in Connecticut,” saidScott Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP. “It’s out of control. Tasers were sold as an alternative to lethal force. It’s lazy policing.” Police departments defended the stun-gun use, saying deployments are closely reviewed and controlled.

Read more: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Report-Stun-guns-used-on-more-minorities-than-7225273.php

Sun Sentinel: Tri-Rail train derailed and no one could find it, records show

A Tri-Rail train with 56 morning commuters derailed in the rainy dark of early morning, fuel was leaking from a gash in the tank, and the train was reported to be on fire. But no one could find it. There was mass confusion as firefighters and paramedics searched nearly a half hour for the train in the dawn of Jan. 28, audio recordings and written dispatcher updates obtained by The Sun Sentinel show. A Tri-Rail representative, the first to call 911, gave an inaccurate location and claimed the train had no passengers. Records from the Broward Sheriff's Office, claim the response time to the call was five minutes. Responders did arrive somewhere in five minutes – the innaccurate location provided by Tri-Rail.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-missing-trirail-train-20160403-story.html

New Haven Register: Sex charges against nearly 60 teachers since 2005

An examination by The New Haven Register and WTNH News 8 across Connecticut reveals that last year, nine teachers in the state were arrested and charged for crimes involving inappropriate relationships or contact with students. While nine teachers arrested in one year may be an anomaly, the number of arrests annually has not dropped below six since 2011. At least 58 teachers, teacher’s aides, school workers or athletic coaches affiliated with kindergarten through 12th-grade schools have been charged from June 2005 through February. Most cases involving educators initially charged with sexual crimes with students are not tried, according to an analysis by the New Haven Register. Most educators in the list compiled who were charged pleaded guilty to lesser crimes.

Read more: http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20160402/nearly-60-connecticut-teachers-arrested-charged-with-sexual-misconduct-since-2005-data-show

Arizona Star: Tucson’s poorest residents about to get poorer

The Arizona Star reports that Tucson’s poorest residents are being hit from both sides: Just as Arizona takes away food and cash assistance from many families, two of the biggest local charities may lose significant city funding. Under a recommendation the City Council will vote on in early May, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and the Primavera Foundation would lose money that could limit both summer meals for children and shelter services for the homeless. New Beginnings, a program of Our Family Services, also could take a significant hit in fiscal year 2017 on emergency shelter services for families. “Between the city doing this and the state reducing its eligibility for help, it’s a perfect storm of need and demand at a time when our funding is going down,” said Michael McDonald, chief executive officer with Tucson’s Food Bank, which stands to lose about $200,000, or 13 percent of its food budget.

Read more: http://tucson.com/news/local/tucson-s-poorest-residents-about-to-get-poorer/article_6336133e-3b42-5ef1-bd14-325cc02b9529.html

San Francisco Chronicle: Overdose deaths linked to pills containing fentanyl

An incredibly powerful painkiller responsible for thousands of overdose deaths on the East Coast in recent years is slipping into California’s illicit drug supply, a problem laid bare by a spate of overdoses in Sacramento that has killed at least nine people in just over a week, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. Public health authorities don’t expect California to see the same fentanyl crisis that has plagued the East Coast. But the presence of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than heroin — in West Coast street drugs underscores the extreme risks of opioid addiction and the need for more, and better, options to help addicts stay safe. Sacramento’s fentanyl overdoses, which officials say may be traced to a batch of counterfeit painkillers spiked with the drug, “definitely adds more urgency” to growing concerns about an epidemic of painkiller addiction in the region and beyond, said Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County public health officer.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/Overdose-deaths-linked-to-pills-containing-7224779.php

Washington Post: In fatal police shootings, 1 in 5 officers’ names undisclosed

The Washington Post reports that nationwide 210 people were fatally shot last year by police officers who have not been publicly identified by their departments. In 2015, police in the United States shot and killed 990 people, according to the newspaper's database of fatal police shootings. The vast majority of those killed by police were armed with guns or had attacked or threatened officers or civilians. The Post is continuing to track fatal shootings in 2016, recording more than 250 through March. The Post is also filing open-records requests seeking additional information about each shooting, including information about the officers involved, data that is not tracked by any federal agency. Nationwide, 210 people were fatally shot last year by police officers who have not been publicly identified by their departments.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/in-fatal-shootings-by-police-1-in-5-officers-names-go-undisclosed/2016/03/31/4bb08bc8-ea10-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html

Democrat and Chronicle: Repeat deficiencies found at some nursing homes

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York, has found that repeat deficiencies persist at some Monroe County nursing homes, potentially putting some residents at risk, two years after chronic violations of government regulations led to the closure of a Rochester home. A Democrat and Chronicle investigation found that more than one-third of violations cited by state Department of Health inspectors were for regulations that had been cited in previous routine or complaint inspections. In some cases, conditions that led to repeated citations were the basis of wrongful death lawsuits against facilities. Monroe County's 34 nursing homes were cited for a combined 768 violations of state and federal regulations from 2012 through 2015, according to publicly available data. Of those, 38 percent were repeat deficiencies, meaning the home had been cited under the same regulation during a previous inspection.

Read more: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/03/31/monroe-county-nursing-home-repeat-deficiencies-investigation/82116406/

Oregonian: Transgender people: Lost in transition

The healthcare landscape is transforming quickly for transgender people in the United States, The Oregonian reports. They are considered a fringe group, left alone in the shadows to find their own black market hormone treatments or undergo surgeries in Thailand or Belgium. Today, more than 400 U.S. corporations, including Nike and Intel, offer transgender-inclusive private healthcare policies.  And in 2015, the Oregon Health Plan began paying for a dozen gender-transition treatments for low-income residents. But for most transgender people, the transition remains difficult. Governments across the country, including Washington state's, have considered bills banning them from bathrooms that match their gender identities. North Carolina only this month passed a law doing just that. Transgender people still report high rates of harassment, joblessness and suicide.

Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/transgender-health/2016/04/lost_in_transition_the_oregoni.html

Dallas Morning news: Campus gun carry laws all over map

The University of Texas at Austin says you can carry a semiautomatic handgun, but you can’t leave a bullet in the chamber, according to The Dallas Morning News. The University of North Texas says you can wear a gun in your dorm, but no one can see it – unless you’re taking it off to safely store it in your room. Come August, people will be allowed to bring concealed handguns inside buildings at public four-year universities, with some exceptions. Most of those universities are still wading through myriad rules and scenarios to determine exactly what will and won’t be allowed. And the mere approach of campus carry already has at least some professors saying it has affected career decisions. But the Legislature makes the laws, and like it or not, Texas will soon be a place where licensed adults (age 21 and up) can legally pack heat on public college campuses.

Read more: http://educationblog.dallasnews.com/2016/03/bring-your-gun-to-class-or-leave-it-in-the-car-texas-universities-juggle-mishmash-of-campus-carry-rules.html/

Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis police less diverse than 25 years ago

City leaders have for decades promised to increase the number of minority police officers in Indianapolis, working to create a Police Department that mirrors the community it serves. Diversity is key to de-escalating potentially turbulent situations and building trust in urban minority communities, law enforcers and experts say. But an Indianapolis Star analysis shows that, despite federal hiring mandates, internal guidelines and repeated public promises to address the problem, the city’s police force is less diverse today than it was nearly 25 years ago, even as the city has grown more diverse. Blacks comprise 28 percent of the city’s population but only 14 percent of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Representation among other populations looks even worse.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2016/04/03/impd-less-diverse-than-25-years-ago/82334422/

Arizona Republic: How many schools face risk of mercury contamination?

A rainstorm in early August left the elementary-school gym of the St. David Unified School District southeast of Tucson with water damage. Weeks later, heavy flooding overwhelmed the high-school football dome of the Round Valley Unified School District in Apache County. After both incidents, routine testing for environmental hazards shocked school and state officials. Both sites were emitting toxic mercury vapor from rubberized polyurethane flooring referred to in state documents as Tartan. Mercury was used to make the rubber harden, The Arizona Republic reports. Further investigation by the state found about 50 Arizona schools — most in rural areas, but at least 20 in the Valley — that have Tartan or similar floors and are being tested for mercury-vapor emissions.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2016/04/03/how-many-arizona-schools-at-risk-mercury-contamination/81786914/

Roanoke Times: Money for nothing: Sweet deal turns sour for state

The Roanoke Times has found that Virginia and its Governor’s Opportunity Fund bet $1.4 million on a failed business deal near Lynchburg that exposed the state’s weak control over industrial incentives and the application process for companies seeking grant money. Among other things, the newspaper's found that state analysts relied on a company website produced in China featuring misleading information, including the listing of a North Carolina address where the company never was located, and production photographs and text lifted from an unaffiliated American company. It also found that officials relied on a site consultant who vouched for the company but hadn’t asked basic background questions and only after the project appeared to stall did Virginia officials ask for company financial statements. Virginia State Police have opened a criminal investigation into a Chinese company's failed factory project.

Read more: http://www.roanoke.com/business/news/money-for-nothing-sweet-appomattox-deal-turned-sour-for-virginia/article_4e5c1198-2e73-513b-becd-5848edb5e3e9.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 3-29-16

The Arizona Republic: Rich and poor left underserved by slim polling options

Rich and poor areas in Maricopa County were left underserved by the lack of polling sites for the presidential preference election, but polling places were particularly sparse in poorer areas of west Phoenix, Glendale and the southwest Valley, according to an analysis by The Arizona Republic. Long lines forced some voters to wait five hours to vote and unleashed a firestorm of criticism over Maricopa County's handling of the primary. The Republic used a three-mile radius around the polling sites in the county — only 60 in all for 1.25 million eligible voters — to determine how accessible polling places were. The newspaper compared those sites to the location of polling places for the 2008 and 2012 presidential preference elections, when there were 400 and 200 sites respectively.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/03/27/slim-polling-options-maricopa-county/82278474/

Arizona Daily Star: Specter of cartel-made opioid rears head in Arizona

The Arizona Daily Star reports a strong synthetic opioid made by the Sinaloa cartel is making its way through Arizona, and officials fear a rise in drug-related deaths will follow. The strongest opioid available in medical treatment, pharmaceuticalfentanyl, is used to treat severe pain and is usually administered through a patch. The euphoria-inducing drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Over the last couple of years, more than 700 people have died of fentanyl abuse in the United States, but the real number is likely higher because many state labs and coroner’s offices do not routinely test for fentanyl. Most deaths are attributed to the illegally manufactured version of the drug.

Read more: http://tucson.com/news/fentanyl-the-strongest-opioid-making-its-way-into-arizona-illegally/article_f19a4d39-bc8d-5f55-abb2-98938acf32ff.html

Modesto Bee: County must account for $200 million in employee pension debt

Stanislaus County’s financial reports won’t look as healthy as in previous years because of rules that require the county to account for a $202 million unfunded pension liability, The Modesto Bee reports. The $1.8 billion fund managed by the Stanislaus County Employees’ Retirement Association is short $202 million in fulfilling the retirement benefits promised to county employees and retirees, and taxpayers are on the hook for a significant portion of that. New governmental accounting standards require the county to report the total pension liability as debt. In previous years, only the portion of the county’s annual contribution to StanCERA for unfunded liability was recorded on balance sheets, or about $2 million. Public employee retirement systems had to comply with the new accounting rules in 2014. Counties, the state and other agencies that sponsor retirement plans were expected to adopt the standards in 2015.

Read more: http://www.modbee.com/news/local/article68470752.html

San Francisco Chronicle: Hottest homeless trend: tiny homes

On a weed-pocked parking lot behind a batch of government offices, Sonoma County is about to propel California into the hottest trend in housing for the homeless: tiny homes. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the county is planning to build an entire village of them. Faced with soaring rents and construction costs over the past few years, homeless-policy planners across the nation have been increasingly turning towards miniscule houses – ranging in size from closets to toolsheds as a cheap solution to getting street people indoors. A dozen villages of the tiny homes, with supportive counseling services close at hand, have sprung up in Oregon, Washington, Texas, North Carolina, New York and Tennessee. Dozens of other U.S. communities are planning villages of their own.

Read more: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/tiny-709836-homes-county.html

Washington Post: Cities consider paying criminals not to kill

The Washington Post reports the odds were good that Lonnie Holmes, 21, would be the next person to kill or be killed in Richmond, California, a working-class suburb north of San Francisco. Four of his cousins had died in shootings. He was a passenger in a car involved in a drive-by shooting, police said. And he was arrested for carrying a loaded gun. But when Holmes was released from prison last year, officials in this city offered something unusual to try to keep him alive: money. They began paying Holmes as much as $1,000 a month not to commit another gun crime. Cities across the country, beginning with the District of Columbia, are moving to copy Richmond’s controversial approach because early indications show it has helped reduce homicide rates.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/cities-have-begun-to-challenge-a-bedrock-of-american-justice-theyre-paying-criminals-not-to-kill/2016/03/26/f25a6b9c-e9fc-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html

Orlando Sentinel: Little oversight for group that promotes Florida tourism

Florida taxpayers have paid thousands of dollars for Chinese and other foreign journalists to vacation in the Keys and unknown amounts of money on secret contracts for celebrities, race car drivers and soccer teams to promote the Sunshine State, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Visit Florida, a public-private group that will get $78 million in state money next year, says its spending is legal and crucial to its mission to boost tourism, which has helped set records each of the past five years, including more than 100 million visitors in 2015. But the agency has little oversight from the state and has increasingly blocked its contracts from public scrutiny. A third-party accounting firm conducts a limited annual audit of Visit Florida. But it hasn't been subjected to the in-depth government audits that other state agencies undergo each year.

Read more: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-visit-florida-spending-tourism-20160326-story.html

Baltimore Sun: Court rules police could be sued for unconstitutional Taser use

The Baltimore Sun reports that in a ruling this year from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, a panel of judges found it unlawful to use a Taser on an unarmed, mentally ill man who was holding on to a pole to avoid being taken into custody. The man died afterward. That was one of several rulings in recent years in which judges deemed it excessive force to use a stun gun on suspects who are resisting arrest but pose no immediate danger. The rulings have alarmed police departments that now must navigate a confusing legal landscape that is increasingly skeptical of stun guns. While plaintiffs' lawyers and civil rights activists hope the rulings reduce what they see as unchecked abuses, the manufacturer Taser International and police say the courts are taking away an essential tool that officers need to handle difficult situations without resorting to other uses of force.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/investigations/bs-md-taser-project-legal-20160326-story.html

Boston Globe: A pattern of profit and subpar care at Mass. nursing homes

The Boston Globe reports for-profit nursing homes in Massachusetts often are cited for more health and safety problems than nonprofit homes, while they are far more likely to divert money to a web of affiliated companies. The Globe scrutinized the 2014 financial reports, the latest available, from 396 Massachusetts nursing homes and examined the money spent on nursing care, patient food, management, rent, and fees for therapy, office support, and other services. Also examined were health and safety violations for each nursing home. For-profit nursing homes, which constitute three-quarters of those in the state, frequently devote less money to nursing care, compared to nonprofit homes, the analysis showed. On forms they submit to the state, nursing homes frequently report they are losing money, but a review of records from companies affiliated with the homes shows they are directing cash to subsidiaries and to help pay executives’ six-figure salaries.

Read more: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/26/profit-and-care-massachusetts-nursing-homes/JfpOM6rwcFAObDi2JLcAnN/story.html

Austin American-Statesman: Warrantless blood draws jeopardize 17 DWI cases

At least 17 drunken-driving cases in Travis County, all involving motorists with two or three prior DWI convictions, are endangered because police — following accepted practice at the time — didn’t get a search warrant before forcing the suspects to provide a blood sample for testing, according to The Austin American-Statesman. In pretrial rulings, courts have thrown out evidence of over-the-limit blood alcohol levels in 16 of the cases, including a motorist who had refused to provide a breath or blood specimen after rear-ending a police vehicle on Springdale Road. In the 17th case, the lack of a search warrant prompted an appeals court to overturn the conviction for an Austin driver whose blood alcohol concentration was almost 3½ times the legal limit. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively outlawed most warrantless blood draws in DWI investigations with its April 2013 ruling in Missouri v. McNeely.

Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/crime-law/warrantless-blood-draws-jeopardize-17-travis-felon/nqsm8/

Austin American-Statesman: At Texas oil and gas regulator, close ties to industry

The Austin American-Statesman reports that when the three officials who oversee the Texas Railroad Commission were searching for a new executive director late last year, they turned to a former oil and gas executive. And when they needed a new chief lawyer, they selected a former coal company legal counsel. The commissioners said they wanted to rely on experts with long experience in the oil, gas and mining fields. But the moves typify the cozy relationship between the commission and the industries that it regulates. A review of employment, business and lobbying records by the American-Statesman, some of them obtained through open records requests, illuminates a well-worn path from the oil and gas industry to the highest levels of the Railroad Commission. The analysis also found that many former agency employees are now advocating for companies they once regulated.

Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/at-texas-oil-and-gas-regulator-close-ties-to-indus/nqsPB/

Houston Chronicle: Infrared cameras reveal pollution from oil and gas drilling

The Houston Chronicle reports that as the Obama administration accelerates its campaign to blunt the effects of climate change, federal regulators are turning to infrared technology to seek out emissions leaks in the country's oil and gas fields. With state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and environmental groups embracing the technology, drillers are increasingly finding themselves staring down the lenses of infrared cameras. With more than 1 million wellheads spread over vast, remote areas of Texas, Colorado and other oil-producing regions, the industry had historically stayed under the radar of regulators. But with tougher new laws in place or in the works on methane emissions and volatile organic compounds, both components of oil and gas emissions, federal regulators are looking to crack down on leaks.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/article/Infrared-cameras-reveal-hidden-air-pollution-from-7181258.php

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  3-22-16

AP: Trouble remains following failed for-profit schools' revival 

The Associated Press reported that when one of the country's largest for-profit college companies failed in 2014, the Education Department faced a choice. It could shut down Corinthian Colleges Inc., incurring a $1 billion loss to taxpayers and sending students scrambling, or it could find someone to take the school off its hands. With a history of fraud discovered by auditors and investigators, and poor outcomes for students, the company drew only one interested buyer: a student loan debt collection firm that had formed a nonprofit educational company called Zenith Education Group. A little over one year after Zenith took the helm, a review of the school's operations by The Associated Press shows that despite ostensibly new oversight by the Obama administration, the business model for what had been a failing chain of career training schools hasn't fundamentally changed.

Read more: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/3b4ee8886ea943e78d5d97ba41912c07/trouble-remains-following-failed-profit-schools-revival

AP: Political spending explodes but disclosure remains hazy

The Associated Press reported that politicians in Mississippi have used campaign money to pay for such things as a BMW, an RV and $800 cowboy boots. In Wisconsin, a railroad executive was caught violating contribution limits after an ex-girlfriend he met on a "sugar daddy" dating website reported him for illegally funneling cash to Gov. Scott Walker's campaign. Key to the investigation, election officials say, was a requirement that donors disclose their employers — but Republican lawmakers have since wiped out the rule. Meanwhile, "dark money" spending by outside groups that aren't required to disclose their donors is expected to explode during this presidential election year. States can take action to stem the tide at the local level, but few have. Congress could require more disclosure about who is financing campaigns, but it has made no move to do so.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/article65648432.html

San Francisco Chronicle: How Yosemite lost its historic names

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that how Yosemite National Park lost the names of some of its most storied landmarks isn’t simply a tale of opportunism by a profit-hungry company. It’s a long, tangled chronology of action — and inaction — that goes beyond Yosemite’s former concessions contractor, Delaware North, which succeeded in trademarking the titles of a handful of park properties, including the famed Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office played a role, as did the National Park Service, which some legal experts say did too little to protect names that are inseparable from the history of one of the country’s most beloved places. And unwinding the mess won’t be easy, or quick. In an effort to minimize damage, Yosemite officials decided not to pony up millions to pay off the old concessionaire and, at least for now, have renamed five park sites as of March 1. The cost is high: a $1.7 million tab for sign replacement, plus the outrage of longtime visitors who wonder how their memories became a commodity.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/How-Yosemite-lost-its-historic-names-and-may-6883006.php

The Denver Post: Pueblo has the highest per-capita homicide rate in Colorado

A Denver Post analysis find that violence in Pueblo has soared over the past two years, pushing the city's per-capita homicide rate to the highest in Colorado. Police blame a gang war that sometimes has spread into parts of the city that are typically peaceful. The violence has claimed bystanders caught in the crossfire of a battle they had no part in. An understaffed Pueblo Police Department and federal agents have made it a priority to tackle the problem, which continues to shake residents. And for a city on the verge of an economic recovery after years of a declining industrial base, leaders are worried the violence could keep new businesses away. Investigators say they have identified more than 1,000 gang members in the city, which is roughly 1 percent of Pueblo's population. The police department had one officer dedicated to the problem before a second recently was assigned to the beat.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29631606/understaffed-police-force-pueblo-seeing-record-breaking-violence

Washington Post: Does your office or house have a mouse problem?

The Washington Post reports that Wayne White, who is director of technical services for American Pest, which treats millions of square feet of office and commercial space around the region, walks into an office building in downtown Washington trying to think like a mouse. His expert eye takes in the things that make a rodent feel at home amid the cubicles: the half-finished salad on one desk, the communal box of cinnamon buns on another, the piles of paper, the utility conduits that are subway tunnels to the tiny. And in the surrounding ergonomic chairs, the biggest vermin enablers of all: Us. Mice aren’t just eeking (sorry) out a living in Washington offices, they’re thriving. Along with roaches, rats and other creepy crawlies, they are as common in the fluorescent habitat as lawyers and lobbyists. The little opportunists share space with the big opportunists in congressional suites, intelligence bunkers and newsrooms (more on that later).

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/does-your-office-have-a-mouse-or-rat-problem-of-course-it-does/2016/03/12/46ccac24-e61c-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html

AP: Walker and embattled Supreme Court justice are old acquaintances

The Associated Press reported the personal and political lives of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and an embattled state Supreme Court justice have been intertwined for decades, starting with overlapping semesters at Marquette University, where the future justice penned anti-gay writings and threatened to resign from student government over a multicultural course requirement, an Associated Press review of records showed. Justice Rebecca Bradley's writings bashing gays, feminism, abortion and political correctness at Marquette University from the early 1990s resurfaced this week, as she is running for a full 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She faces state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the April 5 election. Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Wednesday, March 9, that the governor didn't know about Bradley's writings before he appointed her to three judicial openings.

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Bill to shift tax burden to rich advances

A bill to shift some of the state tax burden from Hawaii’s poorest residents to its wealthiest residents by increasing income tax rates on the state’s top earners has won near-unanimous approval in the state Senate, and it will now be considered by the House, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The bill would reduce or eliminate state income taxes for people with the lowest taxable incomes, providing tax cuts to families that make up about 10 percent of Hawaii’s residents, according to Senate Ways and Means chairwoman Jill Tokuda. On the other side of the ledger, nearly 6,500 tax filers would see their state income tax rates go up. The measure would effectively eliminate state income taxes for Hawaii residents who file joint returns with earnings of less than $6,600 a year.     

Read more: http://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/state-taxes-bill-to-shift-burden-to-rich-advances/ 

Chicago Tribune: Tobacco-selling sting made $400,000 but no arrests

In an investigation prompted by allegations of tax evasion and organized crime, DuPage County sheriff's officials teamed up with federal agents more than six years ago on a sting operation in which their fake tobacco business sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in untaxed cigarettes. But, The Chicago Tribune reported, the lengthy undercover operation failed to yield a single arrest. Even so, it wasn't a total loss for DuPage County, which collected more than $400,000 free and clear from the sale of more than 3 million untaxed cigarettes. It's unclear why the operation, which included audio and video recordings, tracking devices and surveillance teams, ended by early March 2011 without snaring any criminals. Documents provided through open record requests contained heavily redacted, incomplete information. Sheriff's officials declined to answer questions.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-dupage-sheriff-smoke-shop-met-20160311-story.html

Des Moines Register: In sixth term, governor adopts new style: unilateral

The Des Moines Register reports Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats settled a long fight last spring over K-12 education funding with a compromise. The state’s basic aid to schools would rise by a modest 1.25 percent — about $88 million — but districts would also get a one-time infusion of $55.7 million. The final deal ended five months of legislative bickering. After tough negotiations, lawmakers believed that the education compromise they reached was a done deal — until five weeks later, when Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed the $55.7 million line item. The episode raised partisan hostility at the Capitol, sowing distrust and complicating this year’s budget negotiations. But it also exemplifies a notable shift in Branstad’s governance since he was inaugurated to a historic sixth term early last year. On several major issues, lawmakers and Capitol observers say, Branstad has moved decisively, unilaterally and largely without regard for the Legislature.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2016/03/12/sixth-term-new-branstad-style-unilateral/80804410/

Times-Picayune: Shooting highlights different police pursuit policies

The Times-Picayune reports New Orleans police Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook ignited a firestorm earlier this week when she said arrests would have been made if NOPD officers had shot Eric Harris in the way two Jefferson Parish deputies did at the end of a vehicle chase Feb. 8. The deputies chased Harris from Terrytown into New Orleans' Central City, and opened fire in fear for their lives when Harris put his car in reverse as they approached from behind the car, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. "If that was our police officer, because it's so contrary to our policy, they would have been arrested on the spot," said Westbrook, the head of NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau, at a public forum Tuesday, March 8. Westbrook's statement that the deputies' use of force would not have complied with NOPD policy, and the ensuing controversy, is highlighting key policy differences between the two departments.

Read more: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2016/03/police_chase_new_orleans_polic.html

Baltimore Sun: As college student poverty grows, so do food pantries

More than 280 colleges and universities nationwide now have food pantries, The Baltimore Sun reports. College administrators around the country say a growing number of students are struggling to pay for food and other essentials as tuition rates have risen, financial aid has fallen, and eligibility rules for college loans have tightened. At the same time, wages have stagnated and families hard-hit by the Great Recession continue to struggle financially. Many are unable to help their children pay for college. In Maryland, community colleges in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties as well as the University of Maryland, College Park offer donated food for free to students at dedicated food pantries. The University of Baltimore plans to open a food pantry this fall, and Towson University and Baltimore City Community College are considering opening pantries.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-college-food-banks-20160311-story.html

New Haven Register: Mobile food pantry fights campus hunger in New Haven

The New Haven Register says a mobile food pantry at Southern Connecticut State University, in partnership with a Milford food pantry, is making it possible for hungry students to get meals twice a month in a year-long program. The students on SCSU’s campus are able to get 10 pounds of food per person in their household with only a form filled out for statistical purposes for the pantry. Michelle Johnston, SCSU’s alumni relations director, said the idea grew after she heard a story on public radio 2½ years ago about food pantries at other colleges. Although Johnston had the idea, she said her department lacked a permanent space for a pantry, so the Alumni Association made tickets available to students and faculty for meals at the dining hall. Then she received a call from a Milford food pantry.

Read more: http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20160312/scsu-addresses-on-campus-hunger-with-mobile-food-pantry-in-new-haven

Las Vegas Review-Journal: DA criminal informant safeguard rarely used

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the Clark County district attorney’s office created a database in 2008 to assure lawmakers that prosecutors would be upfront about deals made with criminals in exchange for their testimony. The idea was that prosecutors would log an entry in the inducement index every time they bargained with an informant, creating a central record that might prevent justice from being derailed because one prosecutor knew something another didn’t. The new inducement index, lawmakers were told in 2008, would prevent those problems without the need for new laws. After six years of use, the inducement index has just 130 entries — a figure defense attorneys consider laughably low considering that roughly 330,000 criminal cases were prosecuted in Clark County over that time.

Read more: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/da-criminal-informant-safeguard-rarely-used-clark-county-records-suggest

Newark Star Ledger: Is that ATM safe to use? Maybe not…

More than $52,000 was taken from a bank in Englewood, New Jersey, but no one detected the robbery until long after the cash went out the door, The Newark Star Ledger reported. There were no alarms, no guns, no menacing notes and no threats of violence. That same day in December 2012, the same guys hit another Citibank in Florham Park. And over the next three weeks they would target additional branches of the bank in New Jersey and New York—walking away with more than $1 million in cash taken from Citibank ATM machines through hundreds of counterfeit bankcards encoded with personal information stolen from unsuspecting customers. The ring responsible hit TD Bank and Wells Fargo as well before they were caught, ultimately draining $6.5 million from the accounts of victims across the country, say federal prosecutors in New Jersey. But even after the arrests of 16 men—most of them Romanian nationals in this country illegally—ATM fraud in the United States is soaring.

Read more: 

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/is_that_atm_safe_to_use_watch_a_team_rig_a_cash_ma.htm

New York Times: Texas candidate pushes boundary of the far right

The New York Times reports Mary Lou Bruner, 68, a former kindergarten teacher running for a seat on the Texas Board of Education has claimed on social media that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth, that the United States should ban Islam, that the Democratic Party had John F. Kennedy killed and that the United Nations hatched a plot to depopulate the world. Ms. Bruner’s anti-Obama, anti-Islam, anti-evolution and anti-gay Facebook posts have generated national headlines and turned an obscure school board election into a glimpse of the outer limits of Texas politics. In a part of the state dominated by conservative Christians and Tea Party activists, Ms. Bruner’s candidacy has posed a question no one can answer with any certainty — how far to the fringe is too far for Texas Republicans? The 15-member board that sets curriculum standards, reviews and adopts textbooks, and establishes graduation requirements in Texas public schools can also influence the content of textbooks produced nationwide.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/us/politics/a-texas-candidate-mary-lou-bruner-pushes-the-boundary-of-the-far-right.html

Dallas Morning News: Dallas to evict homeless, but they’ll probably return

The Dallas Morning News reports the sprawling homeless encampment of tents under Interstate 45 outside downtown Dallas will be shuttered by May 4, but closing Tent City could end up like a game of Whack-a-Mole. Though the encampment is by far the biggest Dallas has seen, it’s not the first. Other shantytowns have been closed, only to have smaller versions pop up elsewhere. It’s a problem the city has been battling for years, without a clear plan to end the cycle. What seemed more like a small, orderly neighborhood of tents last summer has grown into a dangerous slum. Tent City has more than quadrupled since August and is still growing. Tent City stretches under the I-45 overpass that runs along Louise Avenue, Dawson Street and Hickory Street near Malcolm X Boulevard. An offshoot has encroached on Interstate 30 outside downtown. As it has grown, so have reports of violence.

Read more: http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2016/03/dallas-wants-to-send-hundreds-of-homeless-in-tent-city-packing-but-history-says-theyll-be-back.html/

Houston Chronicle: A hospital’s fight gets ugly in insurance negotiations

The Houston Chronicle reports last summer, the East Texas Medical Center filed a lawsuit in state district court in Smith County alleging that Aetna Health, Cigna Healthcare and, especially, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas have plunged the hospital into financial jeopardy by repeatedly shutting it out of the most common and popular group health insurance networks. Hospital executives say it makes no sense and feels oddly personal. The 502-bed main hospital in Tyler, which serves as the mother ship in a system of rural hospitals and clinics, is the only full-service, nonprofit hospital in all of Texas that has been involuntarily shut out of statewide preferred provider networks, the hospital contends. The exclusion carries a big toll to the entire region, its executives say. They are now contemplating cutting specialty care for patients, shuttering facilities in rural areas, and grounding air ambulances. The word bankruptcy has entered the conversation, as the hospital reported a $16 million loss last year.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/medical/article/A-hometown-hospital-s-fight-gets-ugly-in-6886833.php

Record: More New Jersey towns exceed 2 percent property tax limit

A growing number of New Jersey towns are failing to stay within the 2 percent cap on property tax increases that was passed into law five years ago. An analysis by The Record newspaper found that 60 percent of the state's 565 municipalities exceeded the tax cap last year. That's 334 municipalities, which is the highest that figure has been since the tax changes were passed in 2011 by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. Last year marked the third year in a row that the number of towns surpassing the cap grew. Towns are using exemptions written into the 2011 bipartisan deal, which allow for increases beyond the cap limit for certain expenses.

Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/news/property-tax-cap-growing-weaker-across-north-jersey-more-towns-than-ever-exceed-2-limit-1.1526980

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  3-15-16

AP: Trouble remains following failed for-profit schools' revival 

The Associated Press reported that when one of the country's largest for-profit college companies failed in 2014, the education department faced a choice. It could shut down Corinthian Colleges Inc., incurring a $1 billion loss to taxpayers and sending students scrambling, or it could find someone to take the school off its hands. With a history of fraud discovered by auditors and investigators, and poor outcomes for students, the company drew only one interested buyer: a student loan debt collection firm that had formed a nonprofit educational company called Zenith Education Group. A little over one year after Zenith took the helm, a review of the school's operations by The Associated Press shows that despite ostensibly new oversight by the Obama administration, the business model for what had been a failing chain of career training schools hasn't fundamentally changed.

Read more: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/3b4ee8886ea943e78d5d97ba41912c07/trouble-remains-following-failed-profit-schools-revival

AP: Political spending explodes but disclosure remains hazy

The Associated Press reported that politicians in Mississippi have used campaign money to pay for such things as a BMW, an RV and $800 cowboy boots. In Wisconsin, a railroad executive was caught violating contribution limits after an ex-girlfriend he met on a "sugar daddy" dating website reported him for illegally funneling cash to Gov. Scott Walker's campaign. Key to the investigation, election officials say, was a requirement that donors disclose their employers — but Republican lawmakers have since wiped out the rule. Meanwhile, "dark money" spending by outside groups that aren't required to disclose their donors is expected to explode during this presidential election year. States can take action to stem the tide at the local level, but few have. Congress could require more disclosure about who is financing campaigns, but it has made no move to do so.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/article65648432.html

AP: Walker and embattled Supreme Court justice are old acquaintances

The Associated Press reported the personal and political lives of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and an embattled state Supreme Court justice have been intertwined for decades, starting with overlapping semesters at Marquette University, where the future justice penned anti-gay writings and threatened to resign from student government over a multicultural course requirement, an Associated Press review of records showed. Justice Rebecca Bradley's writings bashing gays, feminism, abortion and political correctness at Marquette University from the early 1990s resurfaced this week, as she is running for a full 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She faces state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the April 5 election. Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Wednesday, March 9, that the governor didn't know about Bradley's writings before he appointed her to three judicial openings.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Governor and judge have long known each other

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the personal and political lives of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and an embattled state Supreme Court justice have been intertwined for decades, starting with overlapping semesters at Marquette University, where the future justice penned anti-gay writings and threatened to resign from student government over a multicultural course requirement. Justice Rebecca Bradley's writings bashing gays, feminism, abortion and political correctness at Marquette University from the early 1990s resurfaced this week, as she is running for a full 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She faces state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the April 5 election. Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick says that the governor didn't know about Bradley's writings before he appointed her to three judicial openings. Bradley said she has never spoken with Walker about them.

Read more: 

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/20160309_ap_05da31c3858749a39e505ed6f2664cda.html

San Francisco Chronicle: How Yosemite lost its historic names

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that how Yosemite National Park lost the names of some of its most storied landmarks isn’t simply a tale of opportunism by a profit-hungry company. It’s a long, tangled chronology of action — and inaction — that goes beyond Yosemite’s former concessions contractor, Delaware North, which succeeded in trademarking the titles of a handful of park properties, including the famed Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office played a role, as did the National Park Service, which some legal experts say did too little to protect names that are inseparable from the history of one of the country’s most beloved places. And unwinding the mess won’t be easy, or quick. In an effort to minimize damage, Yosemite officials decided not to pony up millions to pay off the old concessionaire and, at least for now, have renamed five park sites as of March 1. The cost is high: a $1.7 million tab for sign replacement, plus the outrage of longtime visitors who wonder how their memories became a commodity. 

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/How-Yosemite-lost-its-historic-names-and-may-6883006.php

The Denver Post: Pueblo has the highest per-capita homicide rate in Colorado

A Denver Post analysis find that violence in Pueblo has soared over the past two years, pushing the city's per-capita homicide rate to the highest in Colorado. Police blame a gang war that sometimes has spread into parts of the city that are typically peaceful. The violence has claimed bystanders caught in the crossfire of a battle they had no part in. An understaffed Pueblo Police Department and federal agents have made it a priority to tackle the problem, which continues to shake residents. And for a city on the verge of an economic recovery after years of a declining industrial base, leaders are worried the violence could keep new businesses away. Investigators say they have identified more than 1,000 gang members in the city, which is roughly 1 percent of Pueblo's population. The police department had one officer dedicated to the problem before a second recently was assigned to the beat.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29631606/understaffed-police-force-pueblo-seeing-record-breaking-violence

Washington Post: Does your office or house have a mouse problem?

The Washington Post reports that Wayne White, who is director of technical services for American Pest, which treats millions of square feet of office and commercial space around the region, walks into an office building in downtown Washington trying to think like a mouse. His expert eye takes in the things that make a rodent feel at home amid the cubicles: the half-finished salad on one desk, the communal box of cinnamon buns on another, the piles of paper, the utility conduits that are subway tunnels to the tiny. And in the surrounding ergonomic chairs, the biggest vermin enablers of all: Us. Mice aren’t just eeking (sorry) out a living in Washington offices, they’re thriving. Along with roaches, rats and other creepy crawlies, they are as common in the fluorescent habitat as lawyers and lobbyists. The little opportunists share space with the big opportunists in congressional suites, intelligence bunkers and newsrooms (more on that later).

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/does-your-office-have-a-mouse-or-rat-problem-of-course-it-does/2016/03/12/46ccac24-e61c-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Bill to shift tax burden to rich advances

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports a bill to shift some of the state tax burden from Hawaii’s poorest residents to its wealthiest residents by increasing income tax rates on the state’s top earners has won near-unanimous approval in the state Senate, and it will now be considered by the House. The bill would reduce or eliminate state income taxes for people with the lowest taxable incomes, providing tax cuts to families that make up about 10 percent of Hawaii’s residents, according to Senate Ways and Means chairwoman Jill Tokuda. On the other side of the ledger, nearly 6,500 tax filers would see their state income tax rates go up. The measure would effectively eliminate state income taxes for Hawaii residents who file joint returns with earnings of less than $6,600 a year.     

Read more: http://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/state-taxes-bill-to-shift-burden-to-rich-advances/

Chicago Tribune: Tobacco-selling sting made $400,000 but no arrests

The Chicago Tribune reports that in an investigation prompted by allegations of tax evasion and organized crime, DuPage County sheriff's officials teamed up with federal agents more than six years ago on a sting operation in which their fake tobacco business sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in untaxed cigarettes. But the Tribune learned that the lengthy undercover operation failed to yield a single arrest. Even so, it wasn't a total loss for DuPage County, which collected more than $400,000 free and clear from the sale of more than 3 million untaxed cigarettes. It's unclear why the operation, which included audio and video recordings, tracking devices and surveillance teams, ended by early March 2011 without snaring any criminals. Documents provided through open record requests contained heavily redacted, incomplete information. Sheriff's officials declined to answer questions.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-dupage-sheriff-smoke-shop-met-20160311-story.html 

Des Moines Register: In sixth term, governor adopts new style: unilateral

The Des Moines Register reports Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats settled a long fight last spring over K-12 education funding with a compromise. The state’s basic aid to schools would rise by a modest 1.25 percent — about $88 million — but districts would also get a one-time infusion of $55.7 million. The final deal ended five months of legislative bickering. After tough negotiations, lawmakers believed that the education compromise they reached was a done deal — until five weeks later, when Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed the $55.7 million line item. The episode raised partisan hostility at the Capitol, sowing distrust and complicating this year’s budget negotiations. But it also exemplifies a notable shift in Branstad’s governance since he was inaugurated to a historic sixth term early last year. On several major issues, lawmakers and Capitol observers say, Branstad has moved decisively, unilaterally and largely without regard for the Legislature.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2016/03/12/sixth-term-new-branstad-style-unilateral/80804410/

Times-Picayune: Shooting highlights different police pursuit policies

The Times-Picayune reports New Orleans police deputy chief Arlinda Westbrook ignited a firestorm earlier this week when she said arrests would have been made if NOPD officers had shot Eric Harris in the way two Jefferson Parish deputies did at the end of a vehicle chase Feb. 8. The deputies chased Harris from Terrytown into New Orleans' Central City, and opened fire in fear for their lives when Harris put his car in reverse as they approached from behind the car, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. "If that was our police officer, because it's so contrary to our policy, they would have been arrested on the spot," said Westbrook, the head of NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau, at a public forum Tuesday, March 8. Westbrook's statement that the deputies' use of force would not have complied with NOPD policy, and the ensuing controversy, is highlighting key policy differences between the two departments.

Read more: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2016/03/police_chase_new_orleans_polic.html

Baltimore Sun: As college student poverty grows, so do food pantries

The Baltimore Sun reports more than 280 colleges and universities nationwide now have food pantries. College administrators around the country say a growing number of students are struggling to pay for food and other essentials as tuition rates have risen, financial aid has fallen, and eligibility rules for college loans have tightened. At the same time, wages have stagnated and families hard-hit by the Great Recession continue to struggle financially. Many are unable to help their children pay for college. In Maryland, community colleges in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties as well as the University of Maryland, College Park offer donated food for free to students at dedicated food pantries. The University of Baltimore plans to open a food pantry this fall, and Towson University and Baltimore City Community College are considering opening pantries.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-college-food-banks-20160311-story.html

New Haven Register: Mobile food pantry fights campus hunger in New Haven

The New Haven Register reports a mobile food pantry at Southern Connecticut State University, in partnership with a Milford food pantry, is making it possible for hungry students to get meals twice a month in a year-long program. The students on SCSU’s campus are able to get 10 pounds of food per person in their household with only a form filled out for statistical purposes for the pantry. Michelle Johnston, SCSU’s alumni relations director, said the idea grew after she heard a story on public radio 2½ years ago about food pantries at other colleges. Although Johnston had the idea, she said her department lacked a permanent space for a pantry, so the Alumni Association made tickets available to students and faculty for meals at the dining hall. Then she received a call from a Milford food pantry.

Read more: http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20160312/scsu-addresses-on-campus-hunger-with-mobile-food-pantry-in-new-haven

Las Vegas Review-Journal: DA criminal informant safeguard rarely used

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the Clark County district attorney’s office created a database in 2008 to assure lawmakers that prosecutors would be up front about deals made with criminals in exchange for their testimony. The idea was that prosecutors would log an entry in the inducement index every time they bargained with an informant, creating a central record that might prevent justice from being derailed because one prosecutor knew something another didn’t. The new inducement index, lawmakers were told in 2008, would prevent those problems without the need for new laws. After six years of use, the inducement index has just 130 entries — a figure defense attorneys consider laughably low considering that roughly 330,000 criminal cases were prosecuted in Clark County over that time.

Read more: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/da-criminal-informant-safeguard-rarely-used-clark-county-records-suggest

Newark Star Ledger: Is that ATM safe to use? Maybe not…

The Newark Star Ledger reports more than $52,000 was taken and the bank in Englewood, New Jersey, didn't even know it had been robbed until long after the cash went out the door. There were no alarms, no guns, no menacing notes and no threats of violence. That same day in December 2012, the same guys hit another Citibank in Florham Park. And over the next three weeks they would target additional branches of the bank in New Jersey and New York—walking away with more than $1 million in cash taken from Citibank ATM machines through hundreds of counterfeit bankcards encoded with personal information stolen from unsuspecting customers. The ring responsible hit TD Bank and Wells Fargo as well before they were caught, ultimately draining $6.5 million from the accounts of victims across the country, say federal prosecutors in New Jersey. But even after the arrests of 16 men—most of them Romanian nationals in this country illegally—ATM fraud in the United States is soaring.

Read more: 

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2016/03/is_that_atm_safe_to_use_watch_a_team_rig_a_cash_ma.html

New York Times: Texas candidate pushes boundary of the far right

The New York Times reports Mary Lou Bruner, 68, a former kindergarten teacher running for a seat on the Texas Board of Education has claimed on social media that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth, that the United States should ban Islam, that the Democratic Party had John F. Kennedy killed and that the United Nations hatched a plot to depopulate the world. Ms. Bruner’s anti-Obama, anti-Islam, anti-evolution and anti-gay Facebook posts have generated national headlines and turned an obscure school board election into a glimpse of the outer limits of Texas politics. In a part of the state dominated by conservative Christians and Tea Party activists, Ms. Bruner’s candidacy has posed a question no one can answer with any certainty — how far to the fringe is too far for Texas Republicans? The 15-member board that sets curriculum standards, reviews and adopts textbooks, and establishes graduation requirements in Texas public schools can also influence the content of textbooks produced nationwide.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/us/politics/a-texas-candidate-mary-lou-bruner-pushes-the-boundary-of-the-far-right.html

Dallas Morning News: Dallas to evict homeless, but they’ll probably return

The Dallas Morning News reports the sprawling homeless encampment of tents under Interstate 45 outside downtown Dallas will be shuttered by May 4, but closing Tent City could end up like a game of Whack-a-Mole. Though the encampment is by far the biggest Dallas has seen, it’s not the first. Other shantytowns have been closed, only to have smaller versions pop up elsewhere. It’s a problem the city has been battling for years, without a clear plan to end the cycle. What seemed more like a small, orderly neighborhood of tents last summer has grown into a dangerous slum. Tent City has more than quadrupled since August and is still growing. Tent City stretches under the I-45 overpass that runs along Louise Avenue, Dawson Street and Hickory Street near Malcolm X Boulevard. An offshoot has encroached on Interstate 30 outside downtown. As it has grown, so have reports of violence.

Read more: http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2016/03/dallas-wants-to-send-hundreds-of-homeless-in-tent-city-packing-but-history-says-theyll-be-back.html/

Houston Chronicle: A hospital’s fight gets ugly in insurance negotiations

The Houston Chronicle reports last summer, the East Texas Medical Center filed a lawsuit in state district court in Smith County alleging that Aetna Health, Cigna Healthcare and, especially, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas have plunged the hospital into financial jeopardy by repeatedly shutting it out of the most common and popular group health insurance networks. Hospital executives say it makes no sense and feels oddly personal. The 502-bed main hospital in Tyler, which serves as the mother ship in a system of rural hospitals and clinics, is the only full-service, nonprofit hospital in all of Texas that has been involuntarily shut out of statewide preferred provider networks, the hospital contends. The exclusion carries a big toll to the entire region, its executives say. They are now contemplating cutting specialty care for patients, shuttering facilities in rural areas, and grounding air ambulances. The word bankruptcy has entered the conversation, as the hospital reported a $16 million loss last year.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/medical/article/A-hometown-hospital-s-fight-gets-ugly-in-6886833.php

Record: More New Jersey towns exceed 2 percent property tax limit

The Record reports a growing number of New Jersey towns are failing to stay within the 2 percent cap on property tax increases that was passed into law five years ago. The newspaper's analysis found that 60 percent of the state's 565 municipalities exceeded the tax cap last year. That's 334 municipalities, which is the highest that figure has been since the tax changes were passed in 2011 by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. Last year marked the third year in a row that the number of towns surpassing the cap grew. Towns are using exemptions written into the 2011 bipartisan deal, which allow for increases beyond the cap limit for certain expenses.

Read more: http://www.northjersey.com/news/property-tax-cap-growing-weaker-across-north-jersey-more-towns-than-ever-exceed-2-limit-1.1526980

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  3-8-16

Los Angeles Times: Air quality board moves to weaken pollution regulation

The Los Angeles Times reports southern California's air quality board moved forcefully to weaken pollution regulation, firing the agency's longtime leader and reaffirming new smog rules backed by oil refineries and other major polluters. The South Coast Air Quality Management District board dismissed Barry Wallerstein in a 7-6 vote during a closed-door session, a month after Republicans took control of the panel vowing a friendlier approach to industry. Wallerstein, 62, was appointed executive officer in 1997 and presided over the agency charged with protecting the health of 17 million people in the nation's smoggiest region. During his tenure, pollution diminished sharply across the region, but remains far from meeting federal health standards.

Read more:  http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-southern-california-air-board-20160304-story.html

Washington Post: Oil prices, fiscal policies produce budget crisis in Louisiana

The Washington Post reports the state of Louisiana has gutted university spending, depleted its rainy-day funds, cut 30,000 employees and furloughed others. It has slashed the number of child services staffers, including those devoted to foster family recruitment, and young abuse victims for the first time are spending nights at government offices. But the state’s new governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, says the worst is yet to come. In a prime-time TV address Feb. 11, he said he’d learned of “devastating facts” about the extent of the state’s budget shortfall and said that Louisiana was plunging into a “historic fiscal crisis.” Despite all the cuts of the previous years, the nation’s second-poorest state still needed nearly $3 billion — almost $650 per person — just to maintain its regular services over the next 16 months. Edwards gave the state’s lawmakers three weeks to figure out a solution, a period that expires March 9 with no clear answer in reach.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/04/the-debilitating-economic-disaster-louisianas-governor-left-behind/

Chicago Tribune: Attack ads epitome of “dark money” campaign spending

The Chicago Tribune reports that as Donald Trump goes for a decisive win in the March 15 Florida primary, voters there will see commercials showing people who say they were scammed by his Trump University real estate course. The group responsible for the ad, American Future Fund, hasn’t focused on Trump for long. Before the South Carolina primary, the group spent $1.5 million on ads calling Texas Sen. Ted Cruz weak on defense. Ahead of the New Hampshire primary, it trained its fire on a surging John Kasich. So who’s putting up the money for the ads, more than $5 million so far? People involved aren’t saying. The targets, though, have a theory: They think some secret benefactor is trying to help Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.  The group represents a new wrinkle in the world of so-called dark-money groups, politically oriented nonprofits that jumped aggressively into elections after the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United decision.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-universtiy-ads-campaign-spending-20160304-story.html

Portland Press Herald: Maine medical board criticized in psychiatrist case

The Portland Press Herald reports specialists in medical ethics are criticizing Maine’s medical board for choosing not to consider a Falmouth psychiatrist’s long history of sanctions when reviewing a complaint filed by the mother of a patient who committed suicide after overdosing on drugs he had prescribed. Board members decided last month to allow Dr. Reinaldo de los Heros to continue practicing medicine under supervision without taking into account that his license had been revoked in three states after a 1997 conviction for felony Medicaid fraud or that the Maine board itself had cited concerns about his practice twice in recent years after receiving complaints about his care. Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group for Public Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit government watchdog organization that studies medical boards, said to decide cases in isolation, without considering a doctor’s track record, does not serve the public well.

Read more: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/06/maine-medical-board-criticized-for-procedures-in-falmouth-psychiatrist-case/

Boston Globe: Parents start questioning independence of genetic counselors

Devon and Mike Summersgill believed baby Kate was all but certain to be born with Down syndrome, the intellect-stunting disorder, because of a blood test Devon’s doctor recommended during her 2014 pregnancy. Even after the birth, when their baby looked fine, their genetic counselor, Laura Limone, insisted that the result of the test was not a mistake, Devon Summersgill says. Only after the Summersgills agonized over Kate’s future and spent almost $2,000 more on another test were they satisfied that Limone was wrong — their baby was fine. And when they learned that Limone had a financial relationship with the company that makes the test, called MaterniT21 PLUS, they wondered whether money had influenced the counselor’s advice. Parents are starting to question the independence of the fast-growing field of genetic counseling as more and more counselors are paid by the companies that make the tests.

Read more: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/03/05/when-baby-due-genetic-counselors-seen-downplaying-false-alarms/bBC0KAFVidJASkkOiMg6DI/story.html

New York Times: It’s discounted but is it a deal? How list prices lost meaning

The New York Times reports that as traditional retailing falters, shutting stores and shedding workers, online merchants are reaping the rewards. People like the convenience of e-commerce, and they love the feeling that they are getting a deal. The perception of a bargain is fostered by online retailers’ use of something variously labeled list price, suggested price, reference price or manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Whatever its name, the implication is that people are paying much more somewhere else. But with many products online, you could not pay the list price even if you wanted to. That is because hardly anyone is actually charging it. It is a sales tactic that is drawing legal scrutiny, as well as prompting questions about the integrity of e-commerce. If everyone is getting a deal, is anyone really getting a deal?

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/technology/its-discounted-but-is-it-a-deal-how-list-prices-lost-their-meaning.html?_r=0

The Oregonian. Soil tests show little long-term risk from Portland’s toxic air

The Oregonian reports that if you are among the few Portlanders who live directly across the street from Bullseye Glass, high levels of cadmium in your soil might be putting your health at risk. But even a couple of blocks away from the art glass factory, which regulators pegged as a source of elevated arsenic and cadmium in the air, tests for heavy metals in the soil so far show little cause for alarm. Those are the broad findings from soil tested by The Oregonian/OregonLive. The results largely mirror those found in samples taken by the U.S. Forest Service and a day care center near Bullseye. The test results are far from comprehensive, and they shouldn't be read as an "all clear" sign. Oregon officials, who say much more data is needed to understand risk levels in Portland's air pollution hot spots, plan to release their own test results soon.

Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2016/03/portlands_toxic_air_soil_tests.html

Seattle Times: Seattle priest, a known pedophile, was moved parish to parish

The Seattle Times reports the secret files on the Rev. Michael Cody show how the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese moved him from parish to parish, even after knowing he was a sick and dangerous pedophile. They described his “deviant behavior,” recorded his “abnormal attraction toward young girls,” even warned “he will either blow his brains out or cause a major scandal in the parish.” In letter after letter, supervising priests, the auxiliary bishop, even a noted psychiatrist alerted Seattle Archbishop Thomas Connolly that the Rev. Michael Cody was a sick and dangerous pedophile who posed grave threats to children and others in the Western Washington parishes he served during the 1960s. But instead of notifying police or removing Cody from his duties, Connolly’s response largely was to move him to unsuspecting parishes.

Read more: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/priests-secret-file-details-trail-of-abuse/

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  3-1-16

Des Moines Register: Corporate-owned Medicaid clinics come to Iowa

The Des Moines Register reports that the three corporations hired to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program each plan to open their own medical clinics, senior facilities or “wellness” centers, raising questions about the dual role of companies that reap the financial benefits as both insurance and medical providers. Information obtained by The Des Moines Register shows at least five sites are planned so far, which will include doctors or other medical staff to assess or treat Medicaid patients. Many of those patients will have insurance through the same company as the physician’s corporate owner. The new information raises yet more concerns in the plan to privatize Iowa's $4.2 billion Medicaid program. Previous Register reporting has revealed those companies' histories of fraud and mismanagement in other states, along with patterns of campaign contributions to elected officials involved in the process.

Read more: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2016/02/27/corporate-owned-medicaid-clinics-come-iowa/80449382/

Sun Sentinel: Cop who ran names for bounty hunter fired

The Sun Sentinel reports the overlapping relationships among a bounty hunter known as Cobra, a convicted cocaine trafficker and a police sergeant with a history of suspensions has bulldozed the cop's nearly 20-year career at the Broward Sheriff's Office, interviews and documents obtained by the newspaper reveal. After a 16-month suspension Sgt. Matthew Baldwin was fired Sept. 11 for violating a half dozen agency policies. Up until the release on Monday of a report detailing Baldwin's internal affairs investigation, the backstory behind his termination was not public knowledge. Sheriff's office investigators found Baldwin routinely misused a DMV database by running license-plate tags and looking up personal information and photos for the bounty hunter who in turn sold the information to a "violent" drug dealer. The drug dealer wanted the information about people he sought retribution against, the report said.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-bso-sgt-baldwin-termination-reasons-20160225-story.html

Sacramento Bee: City considers Seattle’s tent cities solution for homeless

The Sacramento Bee reports that the homeless population in Washington state’s King County, where Seattle is the largest city, has exploded over the past two years and now stands at more than 4,500. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency last year and the city has granted permits for three “tent cities” – temporary encampments of up to 100 homeless men, women and children that are designed to connect the residents with affordable housing options and social services. The camps operate under strict codes, prohibiting alcohol, drug use and registered sex offenders. City officials and camp organizers said the facilities are designed to serve as a springboard for homeless people into permanent housing,. It’s a model under consideration in Sacramento for years. On Sept. 26, nearly 20 high-ranking city officials – including four members of the City Council, the city manager and the chief of police – toured three Seattle encampments, an indication of sudden momentum on a controversial topic.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/city-beat/article62900577.html

Miami Herald: 16 dogs, 12 frozen cats, 1 decrepit group home

The Miami Herald reports the signs of trouble at the Homestead assisted living facility began just after the elderly woman, reeking of urine, escaped from the home and flagged down a driver, pleading for help. She had not been fed that day, she said, and she was unable breathe because of the thick stench that permeated the sprawling facility, she told police. When officers arrived at the home on Flamingo Court, they found another woman lying on a mattress soaked in urine, mounds of animal feces on the floors and a hole in the wall where a water pipe had burst. On the property: 48 cats and 16 dogs, but perhaps the most troubling discovery was found stuffed in a freezer: the carcasses of a dozen cats. Within hours, city officials condemned the home, case workers removed four elderly residents, and the 73-year-old owner, Eileen “Chea” Haran, was charged with four counts of elder neglect in a case that stunned even the police.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article62884137.html

Atlanta-Journal Constitution: Inmate serves life despite DNA evidence

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that from the moment he was arrested for murder, Devonia Inman said police had the wrong man.  It would take more than a decade behind bars and new DNA testing before he thought he could prove it. But now, Georgia's justice system won't give him that chance. His lawyers believe the scientific evidence proves another man fatally shot Taco Bell manager Donna Brown in a late night robbery. But in Georgia, DNA isn't always enough for a new trial. In 2014, the original trial judge in Cook County denied Inman’s request for a new trial despite DNA evidence recovered from a ski mask inside the victim’s car implicating another man. In 2011, Georgia's legislature passed a law intended to free innocent people after DNA evidence reveals someone else committed the crime. The law does not mandate the granting of a new trial when that evidence surfaces.

Read more: http://specials.myajc.com/dna-denial/

Chicago Tribune: Police mood appears to hit low after video fallout

The Chicago Tribune reports the release of disturbing video of a white officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, exposed decades of simmering anger over police mistreatment and abuse of Chicago citizens in some of the poorest, most disadvantaged areas. The officer was charged with murder, the police superintendent was fired and a federal investigation was launched. As the city has buckled under the weight of the scandal and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has struggled to restore public confidence, the department's 12,000 officers were left to return to work amid the chaos and an increasingly hostile climate. The result has been a precipitous drop in morale among Chicago police officers, according to Tribune interviews with numerous officers of different ranks. The cops described confusion over how they are supposed to do even basic police work, frustration over mixed messages coming from bosses and concern that they will be the next headline.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-cops-mood-frustration-met-20160225-story.html

Courier-Journal: What’s behind Louisville’s worst homicide tally in 36 years?

The Courier-Journal reports Louisville’s homicide tally – there were 84 in 2015 – exploded by 47 percent from the year before, when there were 57, while the share of cases closed through arrests or the death of a perpetrator fell about one-third. In about half the cases, nobody has been charged, leaving victims’ families and friends waiting for answers and killers free to kill again. The Courier-Journal examined every homicide. Among its findings: Two-thirds of the victims – 52 men and four women – were black; in the cases where the alleged perpetrator is known, 91 percent of the black victims were killed by other African Americans, while 72 percent of white victims were killed by other whites; Of the 45 cases closed by arrest or the presumed perpetrator's suicide, only five victims are known to have been killed by strangers.

Read more: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/crime/2016/02/25/louisvilles-deadly-year-behind-murders/80622230/

Times-Picayune: Contractors urged not to remove Confederate monuments

The Times-Picayune reports opponents of an effort to remove Confederate monuments in New Orleans have launched a campaign to discourage construction firms from bidding on the project. Save Our Circle, a group set up to fight the removals, is encouraging its nearly 10,000 Facebook members to reach out to any companies that might bid and let them know that their participation would not be appreciated. The city released the bid specifications Feb. 23. A day later, four firms were listed as having downloaded the documents. It's possible to download the documents without leaving contact information, so more companies may be pursuing the job and simply didn't leave their names. The newspaper said the companies who downloaded the documents after logging in with their bid credentials, thereby leaving their contact information available to the public, may regret it.

Read more: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/confederate_monuments_save_our.html

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: St. Louis’ stubborn lead poisoning problem

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that while lead in the tap water in Flint, Mich., caused national outrage, many older cities, including St. Louis, have battled a more severe threat from lead for decades. At least 3,300 kids in St. Louis have toxic levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to decreased intelligence, learning disabilities, stunted growth and other health problems. The problem isn’t in the tap water; it’s in old houses with lead-contaminated paint. In St. Louis, 9.2 percent, or 1,123 children tested in 2014, had a lead level above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the federal threshold for intervention. There is no safe level of lead in the body. State records show an additional 2,189 children in the city have lead levels between 3 and 5, which can cause developmental delays and a permanent drop in IQ.

Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/health/st-louis-stubborn-lead-poisoning-problem/article_5783af6a-06fc-5a6d-8b82-7202a16739b3.html

Baltimore Sun: Advocates: Lead paint industry should be held accountable

The Baltimore Sun reports that with lead poisoning still harming hundreds of children in Maryland each year, Baltimore lawmakers in the General Assembly are pushing — once again — to hold the industry responsible for generations of damage. To bolster their case, legislators, lawyers and advocates are preparing a dossier of the lead industry's activities over a century, unearthing little-known documents from decades past. Correspondence, reports and advertisements — largely culled from court files — will be submitted as testimony in Annapolis as the lawmakers attempt to pass the Maryland Lead Poisoning Recovery Act, which advocates say would make it easier for plaintiffs to win lawsuits filed against manufacturers of lead paint. They are hoping to convince fellow lawmakers that, much like tobacco companies, the lead industry knew its product was harmful as early as 1899, marketed the paint to children anyway, and then callously dismissed the damage caused.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/sun-investigates/bs-md-ci-lead-poisoning-20160227-story.html

The Oregonian: Portland’s toxic air: Will young families have to leave?

The Sunday Oregonian reports more than 6,000 people live within a half-mile of Bullseye Glass, a company at the center of a hot spot for toxic metals pollution. Air monitoring near the Southeast Portland company found an average arsenic level that was nearly 159 times the state's safety goal. The average level of cadmium was 49 times higher. The U.S. Forest Service first identified the presence of the heavy metals in moss tests near Bullseye and Uroboros Glass in North Portland and informed the state Department of Environmental Quality last May of a potential health threat. Five months later, the environmental agency deployed an air monitor near Bullseye and released the results earlier this month. The environmental agency is testing soil around both companies to determine whether there are elevated deposits and assess health risks. In the meantime, state health officials have warned people within a half-mile of both glass factories not to eat produce from their gardens until further notice.

Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/02/portlands_toxic_air_young_fami.html

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  2-23-16

Austin American-Statesman: Use of vast license plate database a privacy concern

The Austin American-Statesman reports some police in Texas now have access to a list of people who have outstanding warrants, mostly for minor crimes like traffic offenses, thanks to a technological wonder. Each defendant’s name is accompanied by a picture of his vehicle while an aerial photograph pinpoints the exact location where the car was observed only hours earlier. Those details aren’t gathered by police officers, though. For the past 10 months, a controversial new venture has been undergoing tests in Central Texas that mixes public law enforcement, the for-profit debt-collection business and powerful surveillance technology. The pictures are made possible by high-speed cameras attached to fleets of private cars driven around by bank and finance company repo men cruising neighborhoods in search of delinquent auto loans. Then, in a partnership that worries civil libertarians, client law enforcement agencies use that information to obtain up-to-date locations of scofflaws who owe money.

Read more: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local-police-use-of-vast-license-plate-database-ra/nqSQj/

Columbus Dispatch: Ohio patient records found in recycling bin

The Columbus Dispatch reports that LeRoy Clouser, on his way to a family meal this past Thanksgiving, opened a public recycling bin to toss in some bottles and stumbled upon the largest Ohio-based breach of health data in at least six years. The bin on the north side of Springfield, about 50 miles west of Columbus, was filled with documents and films containing the names, Social Security numbers, medical information, dates of birth or other sensitive information on file for 113,000 people at Community Mercy Health Partners, which includes Springfield Regional Medical Center. It was the fifth-largest data breach in the nation involving paper records since the government began publicly and regularly disclosing the extent of larger breaches in 2009, according to the federal Office for Civil Rights. The Springfield incident comes about a year after a massive cyberattack that breached the insurer Anthem's data defenses, affecting about 78.8 million people nationwide.

Read more: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/02/21/health-care-patient-records-found-in-recycling-bin-points-to-security-issues.html

New York Times: Market for fixer-uppers traps low-income buyers

The New York Times reports dozens of dilapidated homes in Akron, Ohio, were scooped up after the financial crisis by investors, who then make deals with low-income home buyers unable to get traditional mortgages. But for buyers lured by the dream of home ownership, these seller-financed transactions can become a money trap that ends with a quick eviction by the seller, who can flip the home again. It is a scene playing out across the Midwest and the South, where many of the derelict houses have been sold to private investors by government mortgage firms at knockdown prices. Nationwide, more than three million people are estimated to have bought a home through a contract for deed. After the financial crisis, as banks retreated from lending to those with poor credit, this odd corner of the housing market began to draw interest from deep-pocketed investors who sometimes sell the homes for four times the price they paid.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/21/business/dealbook/market-for-fixer-uppers-traps-low-income-buyers.html?_r=0

Minneapolis Star-Tribune: A sex offender ponders being set free

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that a 61-year-old sex offender with a history of breaking into women’s bedrooms and assaulting them at knife point has created a 21-page plan for staying straight. Replete with graphics and charts, it catalogs the tactics Richard A. Williams has learned to control his violent urges, from calling a friend to repeating a personal oath of integrity when he feels aroused. “I’ve come a lifetime from where I was when I committed my crimes,” said Williams, who admits to 20 victims. “I just want the opportunity to show the world that I’m a new man.” After decades in confinement, Williams may now get that chance. He is among dozens of men moving quickly toward provisional release from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which faces court pressure to show that it’s not a de-facto life sentence.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/as-door-inches-open-from-msop-a-sex-offender-ponders-being-free/369509232/

Boston Globe: State raises expectations, but not pay, for pre-school teachers

The Boston Globe reports that for $14.25 an hour, Kristin Hovey is entrusted with the budding young minds of 18 disadvantaged children whose government-sponsored preschool education aims to lift them out of poverty. At that wage, she is nearly consigned to poverty herself. The single mother has to work extra jobs on nights and weekends to make ends meet. More than a decade after Massachusetts created a department to ensure that preschools would be viewed as potential laboratories of learning, not just playgrounds, the Department of Early Education and Care has succeeded in raising standards to professionalize the field but has not rewarded those expectations.

Read more: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/02/20/state-raises-expectations-not-pay-for-early-educators/wc8ksylH9wF1p2xpzHgIDK/story.html

Indianapolis Star: Families of black homicide victims seek justice

The Indianapolis Star reports a particularly troubling and growing trend among the city's black homicide victims: No one has been held accountable for their deaths. An IndyStar analysis of homicide data provided by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department shows that since 2011 a significant gap has developed between the solve rates for black and white homicide victims — and 2015 was one of the worst years in the past decade. In 2015, 87 percent of homicides involving white victims were considered solved by IMPD. But when the victim was black, the rate dropped to 50 percent. What's worse, it’s not projected to get much better. Experts say any solutions might require years to have a noticeable effect. A pervasive “no snitch” culture has taken hold of many neighborhoods where witnesses with criminal records avoid police for fear of being arrested themselves. And a years long national conversation about race and policing has fueled additional mistrust.

Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2016/02/19/families-indys-black-homicide-victims-seek-justice/80421558/

Washington Post: Why do Metro operators keep running red lights?

The Washington Post reports There have been at least 47 “red signal violations” on the Metro’s rails since the beginning of 2012, according to the Federal Transit Administration, which took responsibility for the safety of the system last year and cited the “pervasiveness and seriousness of this problem,” despite years of warnings and efforts to address it. The question is: Why? How can something so critical, and potentially dangerous, keep happening? The answer, according to dozens of incident reports and the results of an outside investigation obtained through public records requests, has plenty of intricacies and contributing factors, and one unifying theme: Like most of us, Metrorail train operators sometimes tune out and get lost in their thoughts. The difference is that they are responsible for the lives of hundreds of people riding in 200-ton trains.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/why-do-metro-train-operators-keep-running-red-lights/2016/02/20/a61024b6-cf6c-11e5-b2bc-988409ee911b_story.html

Denver Post: Many schools still failing after years and millions of dollars

The Denver Post reports Colorado's failing schools, some with as little as 15 percent of students passing standard math exams, were given five years and millions of dollars in federal aid to turn themselves around. At best, the results of this nationwide experiment that shoveled money at the country's lowest-performing 5 percent of schools are unconvincing. A Denver Post analysis of student achievement data and federal School Improvement Grant funds found little correlation between money and academic gains. Among the 29 schools in Colorado that have one year remaining on their "accountability clock" before the state school board could move to shut them down or turn them into charters, most have not made significant progress, and some have gotten worse.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_29542156/many-colorado-schools-still-failing-after-years-millions

San Diego Union-Tribune: Superintendent got portion of charter revenue

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports the charter schools that Steve Van Zant ushered in while at the helm of the Mountain Empire Unified School District paid off in multiple ways to the former superintendent, while setting the stage for animosity and litigation that would linger for years throughout San Diego County. Written into Van Zant’s contract was a stipulation that he personally receive 5 percent of the revenue brought in from every charter authorized by the school board, according to documents obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Van Zant profited yet again when some of the charters went on to hire his EdHive consulting firm, which charged as much as $100,000 to provide back-office services among other billable offerings.

Read more: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/feb/20/superintendent-got-charter-commission/

Los Angeles Times: 2,000 suspects shot by police in six counties since 2004

The Los Angeles Times reports a grainy video showed 21-year-old Iraq war veteran Elio Carrion on the ground, pleading with a San Bernardino County deputy who held him at gunpoint. Carrion was a passenger in a car that Deputy Ivory Webb pulled over after a high-speed pursuit in Chino. Carrion, who was unarmed, is heard telling Webb “we mean you no harm” seconds before the deputy shot him three times without visible provocation. The bystander video of the 2006 shooting drew national attention and prompted a rare prosecution: Webb is the only on-duty officer charged with a crime in more than 2,000 Southern California police shootings since 2004, a Times examination of District Attorney’s files, coroner’s reports and court records show.

Read more: http://graphics.latimes.com/officer-involved/

Arizona Republic: Four fixes for Arizona’s child-welfare system

The Arizona republic reports the Department of Child Safety was created to fix, once and for all, Arizona's troubled child-welfare system. Nearly two years later, 21,455 children are still under the state's care – more than ever before. Of active child-welfare cases, 28 percent involve kids who have been under state care for more than two years, and an increasing number are in group homes. Meanwhile, the agency's caseworkers say they can't keep up with crushing caseloads and a cultural shift some say tilts toward law enforcement, not social work. The numbers show the problems that prompted then-Gov. Jan Brewer and lawmakers to create the Department of Child Safety persist. So what's the answer?

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2016/02/19/4-fixes-arizonas-broken-child-welfare-system/78810740/#

  


 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  2-16-16

Peoria Journal Star: Police helped man find apartment used for prostitution

The Peoria Journal Star reports a Peoria man sentenced in December to 15 years in prison for running an underage prostitution operation plied his illegal trade out of an apartment obtained with the help of the Peoria Police Department, according to documents procured under the Freedom of Information Act. Petrakis had been in close contact with the Peoria Police Department for months before his May 2015 arrest. At one point, the department helped him obtain the apartment where up to six men a day paid to have sex with a 16-year-old girl, according to documents released by the department following a public records request by the Journal Star. The department, under the umbrella of the Don’t Shoot anti-gun violence initiative, also attempted to arrange for Matthew Petrakis to meet U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and sought to have his unpaid fines for traffic tickets waived so he could obtain a valid driver’s license.

Read more: http://www.pjstar.com/article/20160206/NEWS/160209551

Modesto Bee: Turlock City Council unhampered by campaign money limits

Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth appears to be businessman Matt Swanson’s favorite local target for political contributions, having received $12,000 total in four contributions in less than two years from companies associated with Swanson, according to The Modesto Bee. But all other City Council members also have benefited from the generosity of Swanson, whose daughter is married to the man hoping to replace Turlock’s nonprofit farmers market with a for-profit venture. Vice Mayor Amy Bublak received from Swanson’s company, Associated Feed, $4,300 total in four contributions from 2011 to 2014, and Councilman Matthew Jacob received $2,000 in October from Swanson’s Prospector LLC. Councilman Steven Nascimento accepted $1,000 from Associated Feed in 2012.

Read more: http://www.modbee.com/news/local/turlock/article60290296.html

San Francisco Chronicle: UC Berkeley tuition break almost erased

The San Francisco Chronicle says Californians seeking professional degrees have for years enjoyed big tuition discounts to attend the public law and business schools at UC Berkeley. But that benefit is nearly gone, because the university has raised prices for state residents at a rate faster than for students from out of state, a Chronicle analysis has found. University records also show that the number of Californians at the prestigious UC Berkeley Law School and Haas School of Business has fallen sharply over the last decade, while out-of-state enrollments have soared. The disappearing in-state tuition break and the rise in nonresident enrollment raise questions about whether the University of California is treating California students fairly. Many say the university is wrong to charge Californians, who pay taxes that support UC and its professional schools, nearly as much as out-of-state students.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/education/article/Tuitionbreakis-nearly-erased-at-Cal-6829326.php

Miami Herald: A fight over Florida prison video

The Miami Herald reports that prior to his death, Steven Zerbe, 37, who was legally deaf and blind, had alleged — to both his mother and prison officials — that he had been beaten, raped and knifed during his brief eight months in the Florida state prison system. His mother demanded the autopsy, his medical records and video from the prison in hopes they would explain how her son ended up so bruised and deathly ill. Prior to his death, she asked a nurse to take photographs of her son, showing what appeared to be large bruises all over his body. But Zerbe, and many other families of inmates who died in Florida state prisons, have been routinely denied video and other documents by the Florida Department of Corrections, which cites medical privacy laws as well as legal exemptions related to security concerns, to prohibit their release.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article60272121.html#storylink=cpy

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Millionaire battled regulators for years

If you ask Jim Torchia about being sued by the federal government, or his never-ending legal brawls with former friends and business associates, he answers with a clenched jaw. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that he’s at war with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which wants to dismantle the Woodstock millionaire’s empire of investment companies, subprime auto loan businesses and shadowy limited liability companies. The government alleges he’s running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme that sucked in elderly and naive investors by promising fat profits from buying rights to other people’s life insurance. The government has its facts wrong about his business, Torchia says. He’s also at war with his former best friend and chief financial officer, who is now suing him for more than $5 million, claiming Torchia cheated him out of his share of the company while the ex-CFO was in jail.

Read more: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/crime-law/millionaire-accused-of-ponzi-scheme-battled-regula/nqNqH/

Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Cheap rates linger for leased pubic land

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser says tenants ranging from a global agricultural conglomerate to the state’s most exclusive private school have been leasing land from the Department of Land and Natural Resources for decades, paying as little as pennies per acre monthly under a program that operates with no formal rules and is limited by law to temporary, month-to-month uses. Many of the discounted rents have remained unchanged since the 1990s. Dozens of revocable permits covering thousands of acres of public land effectively have become long-term agreements without the oversight associated with regular leases, including environmental reviews and the ability to seek fair market rents through competitive bids, according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of state documents obtained through a public records request.   

Read more (online subscribers only): https://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/leases-linger-at-cheap-rates/

Chicago Tribune: Old “street files” raise question: Did cops hide evidence?

Thousands of Chicago homicide files sat untouched for years in the dingy basement at a South Side police station, The Chicago tribune reports. Aging manila folders cataloging seven decades of long-forgotten killings were locked away in cabinets. Stuffed with manually typed police reports, scribbled detectives' notes, faded lineup cards and other evidence, the so-called "street files" might never have seen the light of day. But now, about 500 of the files — located in 23 cabinets — have landed at the center of a court fight over whether the Chicago Police Department for years violated its own directives by hiding evidence from criminal defense lawyers. The controversy could become another black mark for a Police Department rocked in recent months by the fallout over a disturbing video of an officer shooting teenager Laquan McDionald 16 times.

Read more: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-police-street-files-met-20160212-story.html

USA Today: Broken discipline tracking systems let teachers flee troubled pasts

An investigation by the USA Today Network found fundamental defects in the teacher screening systems used to ensure the safety of children in the nation's more than 13,000 school districts, USA Today reports. The patchwork system of laws and regulations — combined with inconsistent execution and flawed information sharing between states and school districts — fails to keep teachers with histories of serious misconduct out of classrooms and away from schoolchildren. At least three states already have begun internal investigations and audits based on questions raised during the course of this investigation. Over the course of a year, the databases of certified teachers and disciplined teachers were gathered using the open records laws of each of the 50 states. Additionally, journalists used state open records laws to obtain a private nationwide discipline database that many states use to background teachers.

Read more: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/02/14/broken-discipline-tracking-system-lets-teachers-with-misconduct-records-back-in-classroom/79999634/

Boston Globe: From Lynn to Louisville, GE has disputed property taxes

The Boston Globe says the General Electric Co. , which recently agreed to move its corporate offices to Boston, with $145 million in public incentives, has repeatedly challenged its property tax bills in cities and towns across the country. While there is no central repository for these disputes, the Globe reviewed more than 10 cases in major GE locations, from Fairfield and Bridgeport, Conn., to Lynn, Mass., Cowley County, Kansas, and upstate New York. Officials in those communities say GE tenaciously pursues property tax abatements, particularly after it has received higher assessments or downsized in locations where it maintained large plants. The city of Lynn, where GE is the largest employer, has experienced this more than once.

Read more: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/02/13/has-disputed-property-taxes-from-lynn-louisville/u8HSVhyNIw4J6ij3Xid9OM/story.html

Oregonian: Portland’s newest park: a $15.1 million pathway to nowhere

The Oregonian reports that without any public comment and without a moment of discussion at its Nov. 3, 2010, meeting, the Portland City Council unanimously approved a deal negotiated in secret to take a toxic parcel of South Waterfront property off the hands of Oregon Health & Science University and a pair of the city's most prominent developers. The land would be designated for a 4-acre park serving the South Waterfront neighborhood. Portland leaders gathered last June to christen that new park, hailing it as an example of urban planning at its finest. But an Oregonian/OregonLive investigation found that the biggest beneficiaries of the South Waterfront Greenway were the developers who unloaded the land, converting a multimillion-dollar liability into a multimillion-dollar asset.

Read more: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/02/portlands_151_million_pathway.html

Journal Sentinel: Officials discussed disciplining worker who released records

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports emails show that political appointees of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources discussed disciplining an employee after she provided public records to a Sheboygan County citizens group fighting plans by the Kohler Co. for a golf course on the shore of Lake Michigan. In the view of at least one top official then serving at the DNR, the employee took the extra step of compiling information the group had requested, presumably in a more understandable form, rather than turning over raw data. The case highlights the sensitivity of open records cases involving the DNR — an agency that under Gov. Scott Walker has come under fire from environmentalists and conservationists for a more pro-business tilt. Walker says the agency enforces all regulations but has sought to rein in what he says is the agency's overreaching nature.

Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/dnr-officials-discussed-disciplining-worker-who-released-records-b99668955z1-368747221.html

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  2-9-16

Spokesman Review: Millions needed to fix flawed college software system

The Spokesman-Review reports a $100 million computer software system for the state of Washington’s 34 community colleges is so far behind schedule and operating so poorly that it will likely cost another $10 million before it’s installed in all schools. Because students rather than taxpayers are responsible for the initial cost – and probably the overruns – the system and its problems have gone largely unnoticed by state lawmakers. That could change, however, as legislators try to get a handle on high costs and low performance by information technology systems around the state. The system, known as ctcLink, is one of the largest IT projects in state government, and likely the largest of its kind in higher education in the country. It’s designed to tie together most financial, student scheduling and employee functions at the community colleges.

Read more: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/jan/31/100-million-software-system-for-community-colleges/ 

Arizona Republic: Tax cuts have left Arizona short of cash

The Arizona Republic reports that state leaders blame lingering effects of the Great Recession for the state's sluggish tax revenues and flat budgets, but economists say the real culprit is the cumulative impact of two decades of Arizona governors and lawmakers chipping away at the state's bottom line. Tax cuts over that period will cost the state's fiscal 2016 general fund $4 billion in revenue, according to an analysis by economists with Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. The impact is expected to grow as already-passed corporate tax cuts continue to be phased in through 2019. It leaves little room to reconcile Gov. Doug Ducey’s promise for more cuts this year with public demand for more school funding and Republican legislative leaders' push for a structurally balanced budget.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/arizona/politics/2016/02/06/tax-cuts-have-left-arizona-short-cash/79365542/

San Francisco Chronicle: Results of millions spent on homeless can't be tracked

The San Francisco Chronicle reports scores of tents line Division Street under the freeway, just one of many camps across the city. Human feces and needles litter sidewalks. Deranged people scream and threaten pedestrians in broad daylight. Visitors may wonder why one of the wealthiest cities in the world can’t cough up enough money to alleviate homelessness, but, in fact, San Francisco spends tremendous amounts of money on the problem. The city is allocating a record $241 million this fiscal year on homeless services, $84 million more than when Mayor Ed Lee took office in January 2011. But the city struggles to track exactly how all that money is being spent and whether it’s producing results. Eight city departments oversee at least 400 contracts to 76 private organizations, most of them nonprofits, that deal with homelessness. No single system tracks street people as they bounce among that galaxy of agencies looking for help.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/S-F-spends-record-241-million-on-homeless-6808319.php

New Haven Register: Connecticut towns raise concerns about fracking waste

The New Haven Register reports The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has more than a year to re-write regulations concerning the possible import of waste from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas that takes place in neighboring states, but some Connecticut municipalities are taking action ahead of schedule. Branford officials discussed a proposed ordinance earlier this month that would ban any waste generated in the process of hydraulic fracturing — either liquid or solid — from being used for any purposes within town limits. If the ordinance were to pass, Branford would be the fourth municipality in Connecticut, joining Washington, Coventry and Mansfield, to impose its own law about a substance that the federal government does not classify as a hazardous waste.

Read more: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/ga-lawmaker-pushing-for-stun-guns-on-college-campu/np5MG/

Baltimore Sun: How cellphones are changing 911

The Baltimore Sun reports that as more people rely on cellphones to communicate with the wider world, more emergency calls from a given town are going to dispatch centers in other towns, counties, and even states. It's a problem that has grown increasingly common in Maryland and across the country. When a caller dials 911 on a landline, the telephone grid routes the call to the correct dispatch center, and the 911 system tells the dispatcher the caller's address, which helps emergency responders get to the scene. But a cellphone tries to connect to the nearest cell tower, which might or might not be in the caller's jurisdiction. And cellphone technology does not always provide a caller's precise location to a 911 system. Dispatchers who are able to figure out that a caller is in another jurisdiction can forward the call to the right center. But in an emergency, a delay can be fatal.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-911-cell-phones-20160206-story.html

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune: New laws caused prison population spike

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports how getting tough on crime at the Legislature over the years has come at great cost to Minnesota’s corrections system. Over the past 25 years, the state’s incarceration rate has soared by 150 percent, and Minnesota’s prisons are bloated beyond capacity and burdened by runaway costs. The majority of that growth can be attributed to harsher penalties and other changes to the state’s criminal code passed by state lawmakers. “It’s the accumulation of all the smaller decisions that have been made over time,” said Kelly Mitchell, director of the University of Minnesota Law School’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. “It’s not until you pull them all together that you see what the result is.” The effort to curb drunken driving is just one example of how what happens at the ­Capitol contributes to overcrowding in state prisons.

Read more: http://www.startribune.com/decades-of-new-laws-caused-minnesota-s-prison-population-spike/367934361/

Kansas City Star: City worries state legislation would prolong blight

The Kanas City Star reports Missouri residents would probably eagerly embrace a bill eliminating jail time for a host of traffic and municipal offenses and capping fines and court costs at $200. But for property code problems, the savings for violators could be thousands of dollars. That’s why local officials are saying not so fast. They contend that the bill — awaiting action in the Missouri House after clearing the Senate — might be taking away a tool that helps fight creeping blight. Abandoned homes and nuisance properties are a major concern for city leaders and residents as they work to battle crime and revitalize neighborhoods. The bill is not aimed at making life easier for scofflaws. It has a much more serious purpose: preventing Missouri cities from using court fines as a major revenue generator and in the process trapping low-income citizens in a cycle of debt.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article58919663.html

New York Times: Airlines reap record profits, and passengers get peanuts

The New York Times reports that airlines, helped by falling oil prices, are reporting record profits, but for many passengers this sudden bonanza has meant little more than extra bags of free peanuts and pretzels. The four biggest domestic carriers — American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — together earned about $22 billion in profits last year, a stunning turnaround after a decade of losses, bankruptcies and cutbacks. A big reason for this is the plunging price of jet fuel, which now costs only a third of what it did just two years ago. But that windfall is only slowly finding its way down the aisles. Days after reporting record profits, for instance, two of the nation’s biggest airlines brought back free snacks in coach. Airfares, however, have remained stubbornly high.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/07/business/energy-environment/airlines-reap-record-profits-and-passengers-get-peanuts.html?_r=0

Philadelphia Inquirer: Newborn deaths at hospital raise questions

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports two hospitals in the Philadelphia region perform complex heart surgery on newborn babies. But the institutions' results are vastly different, an analysis of insurance claims data shows. At St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, one in four babies less than a month old died after arduous, highly risky heart operations performed between 2009 and 2014, a death rate nearly triple that of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The newspaper began a review of St. Christopher's after it declined last year to publicly reveal how many of its heart-surgery patients died - the only one of six hospitals not included in a first-ever state evaluation of such programs. Late last month, the hospital stopped performing nonemergency heart surgery pending an internal review but did not say exactly what prompted the move.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20160207_Newborn_deaths_at_Phila__hospital_raise_questions.html

Houston Chronicle: Fracking research hits roadblock with Texas law

The Houston Chronicle reports that biochemist Zac Hildenbrand has for the past five years investigated potential links between unconventional drilling and water quality throughout the major shale plays in Texas. Some of the results, he said, are worrisome. Collaborating with researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington, Hildenbrand has identified water wells with high levels of chlorinated solvents, alcohols and compounds commonly found in petroleum products. Hildenbrand also has come across more "exotic" molecules in his research, he said. But his efforts to identify some of them have been hampered by what critics describe as a "loophole" in a state law requiring companies to publicly disclose the ingredients in their hydraulic fracturing fluid. The Texas law allows companies to withhold specific chemicals by labeling them as proprietary. Operators in Texas have invoked the exemption to shield – at least partially - the identities of more than 170,000 ingredients from when the law took effect in February 2012 through April, an analysis of the disclosure records shows.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Fracking-research-hits-roadblock-with-Texas-law-6812820.php

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  2-2-16

AP: More than 1 million could lose food stamps under new work requirements

The Associated Press reports that more than 1 million low-income residents in 21 states could soon lose their government food stamps if they fail to meet work requirements that began kicking in this month. The rule change in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was triggered by the improving economy - specifically, falling unemployment. But it is raising concerns among the poor, social service providers and food pantry workers, who fear an influx of hungry people. Recent experience in other states indicates that most of those affected will probably not meet the work requirements and will be cut off from food stamps. Advocates say some adults trying to find work face a host of obstacles, including criminal records, disabilities or lack of a driver's license.           

Read more: http://www.wbir.com/news/more-than-100000-tennesseans-could-lose-food-stamps-with-new-work-requirements/25853649

Baltimore Sun: Schools lose hundreds of students, millions in funding

After enrollment in Baltimore public schools unexpectedly dropped following years of growth, officials are bracing for nearly $30 million in funding cuts and investigating whether hundreds of students were mistakenly kept on the rolls, TheBaltimore Sun reports. City schools CEO Gregory Thornton said he launched the internal investigation into student rolls after he noticed discrepancies between attendance data and what he saw when he visited schools. He said he expected to find overcrowded classrooms — a common complaint from teachers — but often did not. State funding for Baltimore public schools would decline by about $25 million under Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed budget because the student population dropped and other factors, including a formula that measures an area's wealth. City funding is expected to decline as much as $4 million in per-pupil funding.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/bs-md-ci-schools-enrollment-drop-20160129-story.html

Maine Sunday Telegram: Campaigns turning to paid signature gatherers

The Maine Sunday Telegram says Glen Witham had already turned in hundreds of signatures for two ballot initiatives when the Waterville resident seized the opportunity to earn extra money by circulating petitions for a southern Maine casino. But Witham was surprised – and later outraged – to discover he was one of the few Mainers in the room when he went to hand in his casino signatures at a Bangor hotel. Maine isn’t typically a top destination during December and January but Maine has suddenly became a hot spot in the underground and largely unknown industry that has cropped up around gathering petition signatures for political campaigns. With just weeks to gather more than 61,000 signatures, the campaign to authorize a casino in southern Maine reportedly offered circulators up to $10 per signature. Campaigns typically offer $1 to $2 per signature when there is less deadline pressure.

Read more: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/31/campaigns-turning-to-paid-signature-gatherers/

Louisville Courier-Journal: For many, rising drug costs mean life or death 

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports a month’s worth of Glumetza diabetes pills cost Margaret Meffert $746 last April. Then the price inexplicably began skyrocketing – to $6,714. It wasn't an isolated surge. The price of Lantus insulin rose 34 percent in a year. A widely used antibiotic called doxycycline jumped from $20 to $1,849 in six months. And a heart-rhythm drug called Isuprel costs six times what it used to: $1,300 a vial. Such price hikes are a prescription for financial pain. While the cost of cancer and HIV medicines grab headlines, the trend toward ever-rising drug prices increasingly includes medicines for much more common conditions afflicting millions of Americans. And it's forcing hard choices among patients, who face high insurance deductibles and co-pays that leave them shouldering a larger-than-ever share of health care costs.

Read more: http://www.courier-journal.com/story/life/wellness/health/2016/01/28/common-drugs-prices-skyrocket/79120304/

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: How drug warnings slipped by in “Dr. Death” case

Long before he was dubbed “Dr. Death,” Jonesboro psychiatrist Narendra Nagareddy was known across metro Atlanta’s southside as the go-to physician for prescription drug addicts, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The users knew it, court records and interviews show. So did law enforcement, pharmacists, other doctors, state regulators and addiction counselors. Years of state and federal data, available to the public, raised red flags showing that Nagareddy was among the state Medicaid program’s top prescribers of one of the most abused prescription drugs. Patients were arrested for selling their pills. Patients died. Yet as the death toll mounted, none of the state safeguards designed to protect the public managed to stop Nagareddy, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. By the time a Drug Enforcement Administration task force arrested Nagareddy Jan. 14, three dozen of his patients had died while he was prescribing them controlled substances, investigators allege.

Read more: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/crime-law/warnings-missed-for-years-in-case-of-doctor-accuse/nqD8g/

Washington Post: Prominent public universities shifting to out-of-state students

The Washington Post reports America’s most prominent public universities were founded to serve the people of their states, but they are enrolling record numbers of students from elsewhere to maximize tuition revenue as state support for higher education withers. The shift has buttressed the finances and reshaped the profile of schools across the country, from the University of California’s famed campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles to the universities of Arkansas, Oregon, Missouri, South Carolina and numerous other places. Forty-three of the 50 schools known as “state flagships” enrolled a smaller share of freshmen from within their states in 2014 than they had a decade earlier, federal data show. At 10 flagships, state residents formed less than half the freshman class.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/nations-prominent-public-universities-are-shifting-to-out-of-state-students/2016/01/30/07575790-beaf-11e5-bcda-62a36b394160_story.html

San Francisco Chronicle: Data show deep racial disparity in homicide arrests

The San Francisco Chronicle reports when it comes to the police arresting suspects in homicide cases, the race of the victim plays an outsize role in San Francisco. San Francisco police make arrests in homicide cases where the victim is white or Asian at nearly twice the rate in homicide cases with African American or Latino victims — 67.1 percent compared with 37.1 percent — according to a Chronicle analysis of police arrest data from homicides that occurred from Jan. 1, 2010, through July 31, 2015. The reasons for the disparity in the arrest rates vary, police and criminal justice experts say. One big reason they cite is that Latinos and African Americans who witness homicides are less willing to talk with the police, out of fear of retaliation but also a deep mistrust of the police.

Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Deep-racial-disparity-in-homicide-arrests-SFPD-6795709.php

Arizona Daily Star: Nonprofit successor to Giving Tree violating same codes

The Arizona Daily Star reports the Arizona Department of Economic Security is investigating Tucson charity Cross Country Outreach, which the Star has found is violating building, zoning and health codes, and is likely breaking labor laws. DES spokeswoman Tasya Peterson would not give details on the subject of its investigation, but the announcement that it has begun came on the heels of a Star reporter’s questions about the charity, which describes its mission as “transitional housing, meals, clothing distribution and job training.” Public records show DES previously found that Cross Country Outreach and its predecessor, The Giving Tree, have operated as an unlicensed child welfare agency and may have mishandled homeless clients’ welfare benefits.

Read more: http://tucson.com/news/local/nonprofit-that-succeeded-giving-tree-violating-same-codes/article_18a9cd73-e4cb-57a2-b440-ed755644e99d.html

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Insanity plea highlights limits of mental health services

Had it not been for his insanity plea, Sean Cory Carter might have served just 10 days in jail for hitting a mental health worker in the eye in 1992, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. That’s all the time the state prosecutor recommended in the misdemeanor case. Instead, his plea has placed him in what some call a “black hole” — one that is sapping what little hope the 43-year-old has of a life outside of secure mental health facilities. His lawyer is now challenging the case, saying a public defender messed up nearly 24 years ago. Carter should be freed, the lawyer recently argued in court. For decades, Carter has lived in the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, at the gray intersection of medicine and law. In Carter’s lifetime, society has moved on to a better understanding of mental illness and options for treatment. But Carter’s case has continued to languish.

Read more: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/an-unusual-insanity-plea-highlights-the-limits-of-state-mental/article_ba5f11e5-1386-5485-9c2d-cfad70f05034.html

New York Times:  Faulty airbags still exact toll as recalls lag

The New York Times says that more than a decade after the first confirmed rupture of a Takata airbag in Alabama, and despite a vast recall spanning 14 automakers, a stark reality remains: Tens of millions of people drive vehicles that may pose a lethal danger but have not been repaired or have not even been recalled. Since 2000, Takata has sold as many as 54 million metal “inflaters” in the United States containing ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound that regulators believe is at the center of the problem, according to an estimate by Valient Market Research and provided to The New York Times. About 28 million inflaters in 24 million vehicles have been recalled. And of the 28 million recalled inflaters, only about 30 percent have been repaired. The rest of the inflaters, about 26 million, have not been recalled.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/business/takatas-faulty-airbags-still-exact-toll-as-recalls-lag.html 

Houston Chronicle: Big review of cases based on changing DNA calculations

The Houston Chronicle reports Texas criminal justice organizations have begun reviewing thousands of cases that relied on an outdated method for calculating the odds that a particular person left DNA evidence at a crime scene. At issue are samples that include more than one person's DNA, such as evidence swabbed from a countertop after a convenience store heist or taken from bodily fluids in a rape kit. Experts revised national guidelines for calculating odds in these scenarios six years ago, but no one sounded an alarm or asked prosecutors to re-examine cases that used the previous methodology. Now, Texas labs and lawyers are reviewing pending prosecutions and thousands of adjudicated cases, including those of death row defendants who had this type of evidence presented at trial.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Texas-leading-massive-review-of-criminal-cases-6796205.php

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  1-26-16

Sacramento Bee: At Sacramento airport, birds and planes don’t mix well

A high-stakes turf war unfolds each day in the fields beyond the runways at Sacramento International Airport, The Sacramento Bee reports. Armed with noise cannons, squawk boxes, shotguns and rifles, airport biologists patrol the grounds, shooing and often shooting avian intruders in hopes of reducing bird strikes, one of the airline industry’s oldest problems. Similar scenarios play out at airports nationally, but they are especially common in Sacramento, which sits beneath the giant bird migratory route known as the Pacific Flyway. Bird strikes pose a potentially significant hazard for planes and Sacramento has one of the highest bird strike rates in the country.

Read more:

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/article56289465.html

San Diego Union-Tribune: Charter school growth questioned

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that by the time Steve Van Zant left the Mountain Empire School District in 2013, he had overseen the authorization of more than a dozen charter schools to operate in other districts throughout the county — with several going on to hire his education consulting firm. All the while, Van Zant coached at least one other district on how to approve out-of-town charters, according to emails obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune. As more districts approved far-flung charters, Van Zant’s EdHive consultant business took on some of the schools as clients. The San Diego Union-Tribune has tracked a charter empire built by Van Zant by taking advantage of what some say is a shortcoming in state law that gives districts a financial incentive to place charters in other school districts.

Read more:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2016/jan/23/charter-schools-stir-controversy/

Sun Sentinel: County mental health diversion program off to slow start

Two months after it launched, a Broward County program to divert mentally troubled defendants from courtrooms and jails is off to a slow start: it has accepted only one person, according to The Sun Sentinel. That's far short of the program's goal to accept 12 people a month over five months. The pilot program plans to give 60 people with nonviolent felony charges a chance to receive treatment, eventually have their charges dropped and avoid mental health court, now packed with some 1,200 cases. In a two-part investigation published this month, the Sun Sentinel found that the average defendant in felony mental health court with minor charges spends more than six times longer in the court system than a person with comparable charges in regular court, according to a review of hundreds of cases. Nearly one in three spends five years or longer in Broward's system without being found guilty.

Read more:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-broward-mental-health-update-20160122-story.html

Honolulu Star Advertiser: New rule for imaging exams frustrates doctors

The Honolulu Star Advertiser says the Hawaii Medical Service Association is imposing a new pre-authorization requirement that doctors say is delaying critical imaging tests and resulting in harmful consequences for patients. The state’s largest health insurer, with 720,000 members, is now requiring physicians to go through a third party on the mainland to approve diagnostic imagining exams including MRI scans and computerized tomography, or CT, scans, and certain cardiac related procedures in an effort to reduce unnecessary costs.The decision on whether a test is necessary is now made by an Arizona-based company called National Imaging Associates Inc., part of Magellan Health. The company guarantees “multi-year cost savings” for its clients.

Read more (online subscribers only):

http://www.staradvertiser.com/hawaii-news/not-what-the-doctor-ordered-hmsas-new-rule-for-imaging-exams-frustrates-physicians/

Chicago Tribune: Next school budget will have greater hole: $800 million

The Chicago Tribune reports that despite getting no help from the state or the teachers union in plugging a $480 million budget gap this year, Chicago school officials are relying on the same two uncooperative parties to deal with next year's even bigger budget shortfall. Chicago Public Schools is hoping to raise $800 million through a mix of state assistance, new property tax dollars and labor concessions — none of it possible without the cooperation of state lawmakers and union leaders. The idealistic plan is one of many indicators emerging from recent financial reports and Tribune interviews that help show how the school system's finances — and its credibility — have deteriorated over the past year. The documents also undermine claims by schools chief Forrest Claypool that the district would need state assistance or union concessions "to get through the second semester" without classroom cuts.

Read more:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/ct-cps-budget-second-semester-met-20160121-story.html

Des Moines Register: Faulty smoke detectors in third of fatal Iowa fires

In the past five years, 184 fire-related deaths have occurred in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports that in more than a third of those fatalities, no working fire detectors were present, according to 2011-15 data from the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s Office. In dozens of other deaths, investigators could not determine whether fire detectors were working — or even present, the data show. The fact that so many homes still lack functioning, properly-placed detectors frustrates firefighters, particularly now, in the more dangerous winter months when Iowans turn on their furnaces and space heaters. Fire marshal statistics show that deaths are much less common when working detectors are present. In the past five years, 18 percent of fire fatalities (34 deaths) occurred in single-family residences, mobile homes, apartments and hotel rooms where working fire detectors were present, the data show.

Read more:

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2016/01/23/faulty-smoke-detectors-third-fatal-fires/79171248/

Maine Sunday Telegram: The expanding effort to feed Maine’s hungry

According to The Maine Sunday Telegram, a multimillion-dollar food distribution network is expanding in Maine to meet the needs of more than 200,000 residents who otherwise would be hungry, a condition that’s worsening despite an overall improving economy. Federal figures show the level of food insecurity, a measure of a household’s inability to afford enough food throughout the year, has been escalating in Maine to a level that’s the highest in New England and above the national average. Hunger relief advocates blame a combination of reasons, including stagnant wages, Maine’s higher cost of living and an aging population. In response, a parallel food-supply system is ramping up on a scale that rivals a major supermarket chain. The system distributes food to more than 600 food pantries, meal programs and other partner agencies from Kittery to Madawaska, which provide it free of charge to hungry residents.

Read more:

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/24/persistent-hunger-fuels-sprawling-food-supply-system-for-needy-mainers/

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Food industry fights to block GMO labeling laws

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the nation’s food and farm industries are mounting a furious, last-ditch push against mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, with dozens of Minnesota businesses backing the effort as part of a national coalition. With Vermont set to become the first state in the country to force GMO labels on foods on July 1, opponents of on-package labeling are running out of time. Supporters of labeling laws say consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they eat. But food and farm interests counter that labels cast a stigma on genetically engineered foods that have not been proven to be less healthy than organic alternatives. A publicity blitz against labeling includes a six-figure campaign that is running ads in prime time on network and cable TV in and around the nation’s capital.

Read more:

http://www.startribune.com/food-industry-mounts-last-ditch-effort-to-block-state-gmo-labeling-laws/366283421/

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Charter schools grow as oversight lags

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports an education network supported by some of the biggest names in local business and politics has taken in millions of taxpayer dollars with little oversight, highlighting the difficulty in tracking charter school spending. For example, on paper, 133 Hoover Drive in Greece seems like a bustling marketplace. A charter elementary school leases space from its landlord, a holding company, and, in turn, sub-leases to a tutoring company. It contracts with an outside group for its administrative services. A charitable foundation with real estate interests of its own infuses cash, doling out benevolences from more than $8 million in assets. In reality, the money isn't changing hands as much as changing pockets. All those entities and others are part of the Education Success Network (ESN), controlled by a group of local education reform advocates with influential business and political connections. Its affiliates have taken in millions of taxpayer dollars with little oversight.

Read more:

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/01/24/charter-school-money-encompass-discovery-contracts/73849832/

Tennessean: Investigation finds inappropriate text messages

Tennessee Republican leaders were told of a potential sexual harassment complaint about House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham’s behavior about a week before an unprecedented House GOP caucus meeting to decide the fate of his leadership role, but the specific concerns were never disclosed to his fellow legislators, Republican lawmakers confirmed. The news comes amid a Tennessean investigation into inappropriate text messages from Durham to three women who worked at the statehouse. Durham said Friday he does not remember sending the messages. The incidents point to a legislative sexual harassment policy experts have said is mired in secrecy and contributes to an environment where sexual harassment by the state’s elected leaders can go essentially unchecked.

Read more:

http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/24/tennessean-investigation-finds-inappropriate-text-messages/79130066/

Austin American-Statesman: Agencies often fail to report threats to judges

The Austin American-Statesman reports that since the attempted assassination of state District Judge Julie Kocurek in November, law enforcement officials have retraced their steps in hopes of learning why a threat on the life of an unnamed judge was never funneled to potential targets. The communication gap created still-mending tension between judges and the Travis County district attorney’s office and sheriff’s office, two agencies that knew about the threat but didn’t convey it to judges. An American-Statesman review has found that even though such threats appear to happen often in Texas — by some estimates, on an almost weekly basis — Travis County isn’t alone in operating under sometimes loosely defined protocols.

Read more:

http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/crime-law/agencies-lack-protocols-often-fail-to-report-threa/np9tw/

Seattle Times: Few clergy on child-sex list ever prosecuted

The Seattle Times reports that it appears only five of the 77 Catholic priests and clergy members identified this month as likely sex abusers of children have ever been brought to justice for any such crimes, according to a review of the list published by the Seattle Archdiocese. The list, which includes names of priests and other clergy who served or lived in Western Washington since the 1920s, identifies those “for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible” following a two-year review by a consultant and an archdiocese-appointed board. The compilation of names provides the most complete public accounting of its kind to date for the Seattle Archdiocese. But among the names of the disgraced, only five appear to have been convicted of criminal sex-abuse charges.

Read more:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/few-clergy-on-catholic-child-sex-list-ever-prosecuted/

Seattle Times: ‘Combat veteran’? Records fail to back state lawmaker’s claim

A doctored war photo and discrepancies about medals have raised questions about state Rep. Graham Hunt’s military background, The Seattle Times reports. Hunt, R-Orting, served in the Middle East and says he was “wounded in combat,” but has been vague about the details. In May 2014, a dramatic Iraq war photo posted to his Facebook page showed two kneeling U.S. soldiers in desert combat uniforms, one man consoling the other. “This picture of me was taken after a mortar attack in 2005,” the post said. However, neither soldier in the picture was of him. The image was a doctored version of a 2003 Associated Press photo of two military policemen from Ohio. The photo was removed several months later, with Hunt saying a campaign volunteer had posted it without his knowledge. Until recently, in his official and campaign biographies Hunt listed three medals that a military personnel center has no record of him receiving — though a military spokeswoman cautioned that its records are sometimes incomplete.

Read more:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/combat-veteran-records-fail-to-back-state-lawmakers-claims/

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  1-19-16

Los Angeles Times: Ethics committee: Lobbying in the shadows growing 

The Los Angeles Times reports California’s top state ethics officials have agreed that weak laws allow oil companies, labor groups and other special interests to conceal how they spend much of their money trying to influence state government, and that the amount of lobbying in the shadows is growing at an alarming rate. In a report to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, attorneys for the panel are proposing sweeping new requirements aimed at shedding light on how lobbying firms are spending tens of millions of dollars annually in Sacramento. Some spending to influence government officials can be lumped together as unexplained "other payments to influence," which could include money spent to hire former politicians not registered as lobbyists to influence decisions behind the scenes, payments to nonprofit groups to advocate a position, and cash spent on television, radio and newspaper ads to pressure lawmakers on a particular bill.

Read more:

http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-pol-sac-shadow-lobbying-20160117-story.html

San Francisco Chronicle: City fears PG&E tampered with records in 2014 blast

The San Francisco Chronicle reports it has learned a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. official — now a whistle-blower in the federal prosecution of the company stemming from the San Bruno explosion — says she lost her job soon after she refused to help PG&E managers secretly gain access to records in a separate explosion. Attorneys for the city of Carmel, where botched work on a gas line touched off an explosion that destroyed a vacant cottage in 2014, said the former official’s accusation suggests that PG&E may have been trying to tamper with documents showing the utility was to blame for the blast. PG&E has denied any wrongdoing, saying it has conducted an extensive investigation and found no evidence to support the former manager’s accusations.

Read more:

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Carmel-fears-PG-E-tampered-with-records-in-2014-6764498.php

Denver Post: Denver homicides hit nine year high with 50 killed in 2015

The Denver Post reports 50 people were killed on Denver’s streets in 2015 making it the most violent year since 2006. The newspaper tracked the city’s homicides throughout the year to explain how people are killed, where homicides happened and who died. Gangs and guns were common themes, and many of the murders remain unsolved. Of the 50 killed, 37 died from gunshots. Ten victims, or 20 percent, were white, even though whites make up 80 percent of the city’s population. Only five were female. The average age was 34. Two neighborhoods bore the brunt of the violence. And an additional seven people were killed by law enforcement. Of the 50 homicides, arrests have been made in 28 cases, a 56 percent closure rate, said Sonny Jackson, a police department spokesman. The closure rate drops when looking at the gang-related killings with suspects charged in only 40 percent of those cases.

Read more:

http://extras.denverpost.com/homicides/2015/

Chicago Tribune: School funding plan spurs concerns over cuts

The Chicago Tribune reports almost half of school districts in Chicago's suburbs would lose money under a dramatic proposal to rejigger how the state divides up money to public schools, with affluent districts targeted for cuts and less wealthy districts set to get more state aid. To make it happen, the Illinois State Board of Education is proposing to take $305 million from an account designated for special education services and give that money to districts next school year for general expenses that may have nothing or little to do with kids with disabilities. The idea is to boost "general" state aid for public schools in what the state board believes would be a more equitable way. Even without this source of funding for special education, districts would be expected to continue covering those costs as required by law. 

Read more:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-special-education-funding-met-20160115-story.html

Sun Sentinel: 911 call-taker orders pizza while ignoring emergency call

The Sun Sentinel reports that when a young man passed out at a Fort Lauderdale optometrist office in September, an employee dialed 911 for help. But instead of answering, the call-taker at the 911 dispatch center was busy — ordering pizza.

For 15 seconds, the phone rang at the dispatch center run by the Broward Sheriff's Office. The caller hung up and tried again. No answer. Another try. Still no one picked up. Someone else at the optometrist office tried calling 911 from a cell phone. It rang for one minute and 15 seconds. No one ever answered. No one called the office back, either. The embarrassing mistake was one more in a litany of complaints since Broward County formed a countywide system in 2014 for dispatching 911 calls.

Read more:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-911-unanswered-pizza-20160114-story.html

Des Moines Register: Iowa Muslims: Terror, politics hijack faith

The Des Moines register reports Muslims in Des Moines, which has seven mosques, are not hiding in fear or shame after massacres in Paris and San Bernardino, California, whose attackers claimed links to the Islamic State (commonly known as ISIS) and ushered in a new round of what some call “Islamophobia.”  In fact, some Muslims in Iowa feel the need to be seen and heard. They welcome visitors to their mosques  — even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for barring Muslims from entering the country. “We are part of this society,” said Almardi Abdalla, 39, of Des Moines, after prayer on New Year’s Day at Masjid An-Noor. “Muslims need to step up more and engage in the political process. “We are open to anyone who wants to come here. We have nothing to hide. Donald Trump can come here anytime.”

Read more:

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2016/01/15/iowa-muslims-terror-politics-hijack-faith/78091742/

Wichita Eagle: Clinic releases e-mails detailing fall into financial trouble

The Wichita Eagle reports the former CEO of Hunter Health Clinic hid $1 million in debt from her board of directors, did not pay vendors and endangered the clinic’s federal contract with the Indian Health Service, according to documents the clinic released to The Eagle as part of a two-year court case. The board found out about the problems only after CEO Susette Schwartz went on family medical leave in late 2012. The revelation left them “reeling,” according to Heather Baker, co-chair of Hunter’s board of directors, who started on the board as Schwartz departed. The clinic, which was founded in 1976 to serve American Indians, is largely funded by federal grants and is the only Urban Indian Health program in Kansas.

Read more:

http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article55074300.html

Baltimore Sun: Jury was one vote short of acquittal on manslaughter charge

The Baltimore Sun reports the jury in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer William G. Porter was one vote from acquitting him of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Freddie Gray, the most serious charge he faced, according to sources familiar with the deliberations. Judge Barry G. Williams declared a mistrial because the jury deadlocked on all four charges last month. Jurors were two votes from convicting Porter of misconduct in office, and more divided on the charges of assault and reckless endangerment, sources said. How the jury voted has not been revealed previously, and the judge ruled that jurors' names should not be revealed. Legal experts say the information is critical to understanding the process now playing out as prosecutors and Porter's defense attorneys prepare for his scheduled retrial in June.

Read more:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-porter-jury-split-20160115-story.html

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Stadium task force spent $16.2 million on failed plan

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that when the last check is sent and the books close on the failed plan for a riverfront football stadium here, the public will have paid out more than $16.2 million. The bills rose steeply over the last several months. The public agency that owns the Edward Jones Dome paid 22 companies, including architects, surveyors, bond attorneys, construction managers, geotechnical engineers, financial advisers and a minority workforce expert. Gov. Jay Nixon’s stadium task force, which guided the Dome authority’s hiring, has faced some criticism in the process. Some of the contracts were awarded without bids, which the task force said weren’t required. The firm of task force co-chairman Bob Blitz was one of the largest benefactors of the effort. And many of the stadium contractors are also political donors. Still, those who worked on the effort to build the $1.1 billion open-air stadium along the Mississippi River, and keep the St. Louis Rams from fleeing to Los Angeles, say they were frugal, followed all laws, cared deeply — and worked their tails off.

Read more:

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/st-louis-stadium-task-force-spent-million/article_5b201609-3053-5769-a0ea-90dd7f947356.html

New York Times: Drug overdoses push up mortality rates of young whites

The New York Times reports its analysis of death certificates has found that drug overdoses are driving up the death rate of young white adults in the United States to levels not seen since the end of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago — a turn of fortune that stands in sharp contrast to falling death rates for young blacks. The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it. The Times analyzed nearly 60 million death certificates collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1990 to 2014. It found death rates for non-Hispanic whites either rising or flattening for all the adult age groups under 65 — a trend that was particularly pronounced in women — even as medical advances sharply reduce deaths from traditional killers like heart disease.

Read more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/17/science/drug-overdoses-propel-rise-in-mortality-rates-of-young-whites.html?_r=0

Columbus Dispatch: Drugmakers prepare to fight proposed RX price controls

The Columbus Dispatch reports a fight is brewing over an Ohio ballot issue on prescription-drug price controls that could dwarf the $24 million spent on last fall’s marijuana legalization campaign. The Ohio Drug Price Relief Act is being challenged in state and federal courts — and it isn’t even close to making the ballot. It would require the state to pay no more for prescription drugs than is paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 40 percent lower than other rates. While capping the prices paid by the Ohio Department of Health — which buys drugs for mental health, prisons and other state agencies — might seem like a small stone in a big pond, the potential ripple effect on prescription-drug prices in other programs and other states could be huge. The issue attempts to capitalize on growing public discontent with drug prices, which overall rose 500 percent in the past two decades.

Read more:

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/01/17/drugmakers-gearing-up-for-fight.html

Philadelphia Inquirer: How non-profit newsrooms avoid conflicts of interest

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that when the applause died down after H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest announced that he had donated The Inquirer and its sister publications to a new nonprofit institute, several journalists in the room asked the same hard question: How could the news organization avoid potential conflicts of interest if it was taking money from outside donors? "What we do cannot be bought," Publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger told the gathering of Philadelphia Media Network employees, asserting that the company and its newsrooms would remain autonomous. But as the region's dominant news provider wades into the pool of foundation funding, editors who run nonprofit newsrooms caution that even with the highest standards, keeping clean demands vigilance. At times, taking outside money has proved problematic for a news organization and clouded its most valuable asset, a reputation for impartial reporting.

Read more:

http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20160117_How_nonprofit_newsrooms_avoid_conflicts_-_and_their_appearance.html#wlUQgHb9FgFZlzQq.99

Tennessean: Audit slams Nashville airport authority, calls for culture change

The Tennessean reports a scathing consultant’s report calls into question management of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, a $119 million-per-year organization that oversees Nashville International Airport, the gateway for 11.7 million business and tourism travelers each year. The report — obtained by The Tennessean through a public records request — found a top-heavy organization whose senior management has for years been “paternalistic, dictatorial and centralized.” Completed in November by the firm Greeley Pond Technologies, the audit described the Airport Authority as “uncooperative internally and operating one year at a time in reactive mode, that is, more like a government bureaucracy than a proactive business enterprise.” The report was released five months after a major business restructuring of the airport — and as the airport faces complaints of bullying by employees and after a top official pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. 

Read more:

http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2016/01/16/audit-slams-nashville-airport-authority-calls-culture-change/78423792/

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM THE PAST WEEK  1-12-16

Indianapolis Star: Underfunded agency can’t protect vulnerable adults

Fear churned in the pit of Bobbi Plewes’ stomach, the Indianapolis Star reports. Each time Plewes, a nurse practitioner, visited 76-year-old Shirley Jarrett, she found her patient covered in urine and feces. At least once, there were bruises. And Jarrett was hungry. “My fear is that she wasn’t being fed or cared for,” Plewes recalled. Jarrett’s physician, Dr. Timothy Walbridge, and other home health professionals shared Plewes’ worry about the Indianapolis woman, who had suffered a debilitating stroke and couldn’t take care of herself. Twice they told Indiana Adult Protective Services, the state agency responsible for protecting vulnerable adults, that they thought Jarrett was being abused by her granddaughter. But the APS investigator never got in the door. More than five months after the initial warning, and three months after the second, medics rushed Jarrett to the hospital. But her wounds were too severe. She eventually died, a casualty of an overburdened, underfunded state agency that is ill-equipped to fulfill its mission: to protect Indiana adults who can’t care for themselves. An IndyStar investigation found that thousands of vulnerable adults are exposed every year to horrific abuse and neglect, left at risk because of a system that relies on well-intentioned but overwhelmed investigators.

Read more:

http://www.indystar.com/longform/news/investigations/2016/01/10/state-underfunded-adult-protective-services-agency-day-away-exploding/78526046/

 

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Private-option health plans are costliest

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says records show that despite restrictions meant to keep down the cost of the private option, the state Medicaid program in most cases is paying for the most expensive “silver,” or midlevel coverage plan, offered by each insurance company. In Pulaski County, for instance, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield is offering four silver-level plans, but only one, the Silver 3500 plan, is available to private-option enrollees. For a 40-year-old participant, the state Medicaid program pays a monthly premium for the plan of $324.50. A consumer of that age who didn’t qualify for Medicaid or other financial help could pay a monthly premium of $307.12 for the Silver 3350 plan, which is not available in the private option. The plans are named for the size of the annual deductible a consumer must meet in some instances before coverage for certain services kicks in.

Read more:

http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/jan/10/private-option-plans-costliest/

 

Los Angeles Times: When a rapist is released

The Los Angeles Times reports that at the foot of a fence around a small house in the desert, a protester cleared her throat. She wanted to scream loud enough for the man inside to hear. “Raaaaaapist!” she shouted. “Go away, rapist!” “No one in this world loves you,” her friend yelled. “You are a sexually violent predator!” The shrieks were met with silence from the white, two-bedroom home outside Palmdale where Christopher Evans Hubbart has lived since his 2014 release from a California mental hospital. Hubbart, 64, is one of the state’s most notorious sex offenders. Nicknamed the “pillowcase rapist” for his pattern of covering victims’ heads, Hubbart has admitted to at least 44 sexual assaults in Southern and Northern California. Two decades ago, politicians portrayed him as a poster child for why California needed to lock up the most dangerous sex offenders even if they had finished serving their prison terms. Hubbart was the first person held under a law that allowed the state to confine sexually violent predators in hospitals if they have a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend. Now Hubbart is testing a central premise of the law: That with intense treatment, some of the state’s worst sex offenders can be safely allowed back into society. So far, only a few have completed all steps of the treatment. California spends more than $100 million a year on the program and locks up 560 sexually violent predators in state hospitals — all but one of them men. Only 34, including Hubbart, have been allowed to leave the hospital for a final stage of the treatment program that involves counseling and monitoring while living at home.

Read more:

http://graphics.latimes.com/sexually-violent-predator/

 

Rockford Register Star: Meeting legally outside office

The Rockford (Illinois) Register Star says meeting twice a month apparently isn't enough for City Council members. Since September, Republican and Democratic aldermen have gathered at restaurants for three joint caucus meetings. The meetings, which are public but hardly publicized, have been to discuss such issues as the affordable-housing situation involving 49 apartments proposed for South New Towne Drive, the city budget and capital construction plans, according to interviews with aldermen. Both parties have been invited to an upcoming fourth meeting. What's a caucus? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a gathering "to discuss a particular issue or to work together for a shared, usually political, goal." While these meetings are public, the public has to seek them out.

Read more:

http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160109/rockford-aldermen-are-holding-extra-meetings-legally-outside-of-city-council-chambers

 

Baltimore Sun: New push targets border crossers

A 27-year-old Guatemalan has nightmares recalling the sound of immigration agents knocking on her door, the Baltimore Sun reports. A 40-year-old cancer survivor from El Salvador fears driving to the doctor. Unmarked vans parked near schools make parents skittish. A state of unease approaching panic has set in for Central Americans living in the country illegally after the Obama administration announced this month it is targeting recent border crossers under a stepped-up enforcement effort. Officials cited the need to respond to an uptick in the number of immigrants apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. As fears of raids pulse through the Hispanic community in Maryland and elsewhere, pro-immigration groups and elected officials have raised questions about the effort. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last week implored federal agents to avoid schools — as is their policy — as well as churches and grocery stores.

Read more:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/bs-md-immigrants-deport-20160107-story.html

 

Columbus Dispatch: Stemming the tide of rising women’s prison population

More women than ever are going to prison in Ohio, with most serving short sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and struggling with mental-health and addiction issues, according to the Columbus Dispatch. A provision tucked into the state budget could change that, however. It empowers Ohio Prisons Director Gary C. Mohr to move nonviolent, low-level felony drug offenders out of prisons and into community programs or electronically monitored house arrest if they have less than a year remaining of their sentence. The change applies to both genders, with 2,100 inmates likely to be eligible this year. While men still far outnumber women in Ohio prisons — 46,394 to 4,258 currently — women will get first priority for the new program. It marks the first time the prisons director, and not a judge, has been authorized by legislators to shorten prison sentences. Qualifying inmates first must go through a demanding preparation program of eight to 10 hours a day for two weeks. … So what’s happening? Are more women turning to crime? Look no further than illegal drugs for the answer, Mohr said. “Drug possession is the No. 1 sentence for women coming to prison,” he said. The top five sentences are all directly or indirectly related to drugs: drug possession (16.3 percent), theft (12.7 percent), drug trafficking (9.7 percent), burglary (8.8 percent), and illegal manufacturing of drugs (8 percent). For men, drug offenses are lower percentages and felonious assault charges are in the top five.

Read more:

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/01/10/stemming-the-tide.html

 

  

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM THE PAST SEVERAL WEEKS  1-5-16


Denver Post: Marijuana-related businesses thrive in low-income neighborhoods

Recreational marijuana businesses have proliferated so rapidly in some of Denver's poorer neighborhoods during the past two years that city officials are exploring ways to disperse future growth more evenly. The pot boom in neighborhoods such as Elyria Swansea, Globeville and Northeast Park Hill in north Denver, and Overland to the south, wasn't exactly unexpected, but it still has residents and community groups concerned. Marijuana business owners say they've moved into the parts of town that city regulations restrict them to be. They say they work hard at being responsible neighbors in ways that include local hiring and community outreach.

Read more:

http://www.denverpost.com/marijuana/ci_29336993/denvers-pot-businesses-mostly-low-income-minority-neighborhoods

 

Kansas City Star: Police killings under the spotlight

Twelve years ago, a Denver police officer shot to death a developmentally disabled teenager holding a kitchen knife in his living room. Public outrage prompted city officials to establish an independent monitor’s office two years later to oversee law enforcement and investigate officer-involved shootings. It’s a form of civilian oversight of police, which protesters have been clamoring for across the country following fatal shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago and Cleveland. Police departments accused of wrongful shootings should not investigate their own, protesters argue. Since 2005, Kansas City police have been involved in 47 fatal shootings, or about four a year, according to an analysis by The Star, which began compiling a database of the shootings 11 years ago. When The Star recently compared Kansas City to 11 other cities, including larger ones like Denver and Milwaukee, it found that Kansas City had the third-most officer-involved fatal shootings per capita from 2005 through 2014. Only St. Louis and Cleveland recorded more.

Read more:

http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article52534610.html#storylink=cpy

 

Santa Fe New Mexican: A history of innovation and dysfunction at Los Alamos

On May 3, an electrical accident at a Los Alamos National Laboratory substation injured nine workers, burning one of them so severely he was hospitalized for more than a month. Federal officials in December cited the incident as a “significant failure” on the part of the contractor charged with managing the nuclear weapons repository and research facility. The contractor, Los Alamos National Security, lost $7.2 million in federal performance fees because of the accident. The incident also might have been the final straw that cost LANS — a consortium in which the University of California and Bechtel Corp. are the primary players — the lucrative $2.2 billion-a-year contract to manage the lab that it has held for nearly a decade. The electrical accident was the latest in a string of problems for LANS that include injured workers, improperly handled hazardous waste, missing enriched uranium, stolen tools and the public release of classified documents. … Experts, watchdog groups and former lab employees point to an array of problems, from a clash of cultures between the regimented and profit-driven Bechtel and the languorous, research-oriented university; to incentives that may have induced contractors to put a premium on meeting deadlines despite safety risks; to a mix of shoddy accountability and micromanagement on the part of the federal government.

Read more:

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/a-history-of-innovation-and-dysfunction-at-los-alamos-national/article_6bde4aee-077f-56a6-836b-eab1d289271e.html

 

Washington Post: Police fatally shoot nearly 1,000 in 2015

Nearly 1,000 times this year, an American police officer has shot and killed a civilian. When the people hired to protect their communities end up killing someone, they can be called heroes or criminals — a judgment that has never come more quickly or searingly than in this era of viral video, body cameras and dash cams. A single bullet fired at the adrenaline-charged apex of a chase can end a life, wreck a career, spark a riot, spike racial tensions and alter the politics of the nation. In a year-long study, The Washington Post found that the kind of incidents that have ignited protests in many U.S. communities — most often, white police officers killing unarmed black men — represent less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings. Meanwhile, The Post found that the great majority of people who died at the hands of the police fit at least one of three categories: they were wielding weapons, they were suicidal or mentally troubled, or they ran when officers told them to halt. The Post sought to compile a record of every fatal police shooting in the nation in 2015, something no government agency had done.

Read more:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/12/26/a-year-of-reckoning-police-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_shootings-1248pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

 

Seattle Times: Buffett-owned company exploits minorities

After a few years living with her sister in Gallup, New Mexico, Rose Mary Zunie, 59, was ready to move into a place of her own. So, on an arid Saturday morning this past summer, the sisters piled into a friend’s pickup truck and headed for a mobile-home sales lot here just outside the impoverished Navajo reservation. The women — one in a long, colorful tribal skirt, another wearing turquoise jewelry, a traditional talisman against evil — were steered to a salesman who spoke Navajo, just like the voice on the store’s radio ads. He walked them through Clayton-built homes on the lot, then into the sales center, passing a banner and posters promoting one subprime lender: Vanderbilt Mortgage, a Clayton subsidiary. Inside, he handed them a Vanderbilt sales pamphlet. “Vanderbilt is the only one that finances on the reservation,” he told the women. His claim, which the women caught on tape, was a lie. And it was illegal. It is just one in a pattern of deceptions that Clayton has used to help extract billions from poor customers around the country — particularly people of color, who make up a substantial and growing portion of its business. The company is controlled by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, but its methods hardly match Buffett’s honest, folksy image: Clayton systematically pursues unwitting minority homebuyers and baits them into costly subprime loans, many of which are doomed to fail, an investigation by The Seattle Times and BuzzFeed News has found.

Read more:

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/times-watchdog/minorities-exploited-by-warren-buffetts-mobile-home-empire-clayton-homes/

 

Los Angeles Times: U.S. Missile Defense Agency burned through cash

Proponents of the Precision Tracking Space System were not shy about touting its supposed benefits. The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said PTSS represented an “unprecedented capability” to protect America and its allies against a nuclear attack by the likes of North Korea and Iran. A key congressional supporter described it as “a necessity for our country.” The planned network of nine to 12 satellites, orbiting high above the equator, would detect missile launches and track warheads in flight with great precision, the proponents said. It would be able to tell apart real missiles from decoys — an elusive capability known as “discrimination.” It would help guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy incoming warheads. And it would do all this at a fraction of the cost of alternative approaches. Based on those promises, the Obama administration and Congress poured more than $230 million into design and engineering work on PTSS starting in 2009. Four years later, the government quietly killed the program before a single satellite was launched. … The Los Angeles Times examined hundreds of pages of congressional testimony and other government records and interviewed leading defense scientists and others.

Read more:

http://graphics.latimes.com/missile-defense-satellite/

 

Sacramento Bee: California black market surges for ‘ghost guns’

On May 16, 2013, Sharod Gibbons pulled his 1997 white Infiniti into a parking lot at Watt Avenue and Arden Way, near Arden Middle School. Gibbons got out and walked to the back of his car to show off a loaded AK-47 assault rifle and a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle to a prospective buyer, according to a federal agent’s court affidavit. After some chit-chat, the two agreed on a price, and the buyer handed over $2,500 in cash. That was the second firearms transaction between Gibbons and his buyer. The buyer was a government informant who eventually would pay $32,800 in cash for 16 rifles and six pistols in various locations around Sacramento, according to the affidavit by Jerry Donn, a special agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The undercover operation marked the start of a new effort by federal agents to tackle what they say is a growing black market for weapons being manufactured and sold throughout the region. While the San Bernardino terrorist attack and other mass shootings have brought cries for greater restrictions on gun sales by firearms dealers, these homemade guns change hands with no government oversight of any kind. They are known as “ghost guns.”

Read more:

 http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article50685560.html#storylink=cpy

 

Louisville Courier-Journal: Cancer kills Kentuckians at highest rate

In the end, lung cancer left Jerome Grant voiceless, a breathing tube in his windpipe. He could say nothing when his wife Dawn spoke her last words to him: “I love you, you know that?” He gave her a thumbs up. Then he closed his eyes and was gone. “I just thought we’d grow old together. But all of a sudden, you’re on your own.” The 52-year-old Louisville man was one of about 10,000 Kentuckians a year taken by cancer in a state where the disease consistently kills at the highest rate in the nation. Experts say the biggest culprit is lung cancer, which strikes and kills Kentuckians at rates 50 percent higher than the national average. But Kentucky’s death rates also rank in the Top 10 nationally for breast, colorectal and cervical cancers. “It’s really been driven by three major things: obesity, smoking and lack of screening,” said Louisville gastroenterologist Dr. Whitney Jones. “Our state is completely inundated with risk factors.”

Read more:

http://www.courier-journal.com/longform/life/wellness/health/2015/12/17/cancer-kills-kentuckians-highest-rate-nation/74874698/

 

Star-Ledger: Special report details New Jersey’s herointown

What would happen if you took everyone who is addicted to heroin in New Jersey and sent them to live in one place? It would be the state's fourth largest city, boasting a population of at least 128,000. Its residents are diverse enough that the town would be self-sufficient — with lawyers, politicians, construction workers, teachers and scientists walking the streets. And you will know one of them. In fact, social network analysis suggests you likely will know several city residents, whether they toil at a desk behind you or sleep in a bed down the hall. This city exists all across New Jersey, where heroin and opioid addiction have exploded in the past 10 years, killing more than 5,000 people and enslaving hundreds of thousands more. It's not a new story, but one whose tendrils reach far deeper into the Garden State than most know. Over the past year, NJ Advance Media has collected hundreds of stories from people touched by this epidemic – addicts, recovering users, mothers, fathers, friends and family – to detail the struggle with addiction.

Read more:

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/page/welcome_to_herointown_new_jerseys_4th_largest_city.html

 

Austin (Texas) American-Statesman: Drug court shuts out disadvantaged groups

When Travis County created its drug court in 1993, the model was innovative. The program sought to steer black offenders away from the criminal justice system, offering defendants with substance abuse issues treatment instead of time in prison. The shift in strategy became part of a rare bipartisan push for similar specialty courts across the state after a decade of tough-on-crime policies. But an Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/1VsoxsV ) investigation has found that as the Travis County Adult Drug Diversion Court has embarked on an overhaul, the program is shutting out disadvantaged groups, and its leaders say they don't know why. African-Americans make up 8.9 percent of Travis County residents but 26.8 percent of defendants arrested on felony drug charges. They are convicted of those offenses at a rate of 41.3 percent, which is higher than the conviction rate for white defendants, 32.9 percent. Yet amid the changes to the drug court, participation overall has dropped by more than half in the past five years. Among the least likely to join and fastest to drop out are black offenders, the very population the program was created to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK  12-15-15

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Cancer drug ok’d without proof it extends life

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that despite lack of proof the drug extends life, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Afinitor for a new use five times in the last six years. Afinitor is now used to treat advanced breast and kidney cancer, a rare type of pancreatic tumor and two types of nonmalignant tumors. The drug comes with a long list of serious side effects — mouth sores, infections, fatigue, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, cough, headache and decreased appetite. In clinical trials, each occurred in at least 30 percent of patients. Since 2009, the year the drug first got on the market, there have been nearly 9,000 reports of serious adverse reactions among Afinitor users, including more than 2,700 deaths and more than 3,100 hospitalizations, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today analysis of FDA data found.

Read more:

http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/watchdogreports/fda-repeatedly-approved-cancer-drug-afinitor-without-proof-it-extended-life-b99628814z1-361607291.html

 

Seattle Times: How Microsoft moves profits offshore to cut its tax bill.

The Seattle Times reports that when someone buys a copy of Office at a local Microsoft Store, the profit, after accounting for state taxes, goes to a Microsoft sales subsidiary in Nevada. From there, much of that money begins a complicated global trek that ultimately leads across the Atlantic, with two stops on the island tax haven of Bermuda. Microsoft in the past 20 years built that network of subsidiaries in part to minimize the taxes it pays to governments worldwide. The company is hardly alone. Many multinational corporations have set up similar structures, in some cases reducing their tax burden to near zero. But a court fight this year between Microsoft and the Internal Revenue Service brought to light new documents outlining the deals that set up the company’s structure. Additional court papers, corporate filings and tax records from four continents offer a rare, detailed look at the business of avoiding taxes.

Read more:

http://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft/how-microsoft-parks-profits-offshore-to-pare-its-tax-bill/

 

Austin American-Statesman: University employees abused access to tickets

The Austin American-Statesman reports an audit it obtained reveals University of Texas athletics employees systematically abused their access to Longhorns football tickets for years, resulting in preferential treatment for favored donors, secret arrangements with ticket brokers and untold financial losses for the university. Some allegations resulting from a 16-month university investigation point to possible illegal conduct, including employees who accepted gifts and exploited loopholes to pocket immeasurable profits by selling complimentary tickets. The audit says those allegations were referred to police and to the Travis County district attorney, but no charges were pursued. Many practices uncovered by the investigation violate university policy or represent fireable offenses, UT officials said. However, no employees are named and no one is held responsible in the audit, formally completed Nov. 30 and obtained by the Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act.

Read more:

http://www.hookem.com/story/ut-audit-finds-longhorns-staff-used-prime-seats-to-play-favorites-help-ticket-brokers/

 

Baltimore Sun: Housing policies still pin poor in Baltimore, but some escape

The Baltimore Sun reports Danielle Hill shares a secret with dozens of other residents of Baltimore public housing. It goes like this: They don't live in the city. Instead, they live in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, in houses purchased by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. Thousands more have moved to the counties with special rent subsidies in a companion program. Hill's family is among nearly 10,000 black women and children who have moved into overwhelmingly white, prosperous suburbs through a court-ordered relocation program designed to combat the intense inner-city segregation and poverty forged by decades of discrimination. That relocation program — one of the nation's largest — has been discreetly rolled out to avoid the political and community opposition that routinely arises to defeat proposals for building subsidized housing in Baltimore's suburbs.

Read more:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-housing-segregation-20151212-story.html

 

Indianapolis Star: Computer glitch may have caused test score errors

The Indianapolis Star reports scores on thousands of student exams could be incorrect because of a computer malfunction that inadvertently changed grades on Indiana’s high-stakes ISTEP test, according to scoring supervisors familiar with the glitch. But the company that scored the exam on behalf of the state — testing giant CTB McGraw Hill — decided to leave those potentially faulty scores in place, even after the problem was brought to management’s attention, the supervisors said. Company executives would not speak with The Indianapolis Star, but in a letter Tuesday, Dec. 8, to the Indiana Department of Education, Executive Vice President Ellen Haley downplayed the problem. She said the issue “was very rare” and “did not affect student scores.” Seven supervisors who spoke with The Star disagreed. Two estimated that tens of thousands of test questions were likely given incorrect scores.

 

Read more:

http://www.indystar.com/story/news/education/2015/12/13/computer-glitch-could-have-misscored-thousands-istep-tests-scoring-supervisors-say/77102522/

 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Warnings about prison doctor unheeded

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Georgia State officials allowed Dr. Yvon Nazaire to continue treating thousands of Georgia’s female prison inmates despite repeated warnings that he was neglecting inmates in obvious distress, making questionable diagnoses and trying to intimidate those who questioned him. The newspaper says the apparent lack of attention to the warnings suggests some decision-makers stood silent while the health of nearly half the 3,500 women in Georgia’s state prisons was put at risk. Nazaire was ultimately fired from his position as medical director at Pulaski State Prison in September after a series of AJC stories raised questions about the deaths of nine inmates in his care as well as the accuracy of the resume he submitted when he was hired nine years ago. But interviews and documents indicate that a host of officials, ranging from prison wardens to Gov. Nathan Deal’s staff, were alerted to concerns about Nazaire at least five years before the newspaper’s disclosures.

Read more:

http://specials.myajc.com/state-failed-to-heed-warnings/

 

Miami Herald: Sex, corruption and cover-up in nation’s largest prison for women

The Miami herald reports the inmates behind the walls of the nation’s largest prison for women are mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. Most prisoners at Lowell Correctional Institution are doing time for non-violent offenses: some have committed unspeakable crimes. Their sentences range from little more than a year to spending the rest of their lives behind bars. The criminal justice system in Florida—which incarcerates more women than any state except Texas—has failed many of them. Only a fraction of them receive rehabilitation and programs to help them transition to life after prison. Too often, they leave prison traumatized, lost and ill equipped to start new lives. They say that is because Lowell is a place they don’t want to remember, yet a hell they can never forget.   

 

Read more:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article49175685.html

 

Sun Sentinel: Cuban tourists who never leave U.S. get easy immigration path

The Sun Sentinel reports waves of Cuban immigrants are pouring into the United States, some flying to Miami on visitor visas and then staying — and the United States allows it. Other foreigners who overstay visitor visas face deportation and can't legally work or receive public benefits. But Cuban tourists have a quick path to legally remain in the U.S.: They just don't leave. And some even collect welfare. The disparity underscores the unique treatment Cubans receive over every other immigrant group, a special status more easily exploited as U.S.-Cuba relations thaw. The annual number of visitor visas the U.S. awarded to Cubans more than doubled from 2011 to 2014, from about 14,000 to 35,000. U.S. officials declined repeated requests to identify how many of those visitors overstay, but one Cuban affairs expert estimated as many as 40 percent have.

Read more:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-cuba-tourist-visas-aid-20151211-story.html

 

San Diego Union-Tribune: Monsanto lawsuits unnerve corporate America

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports a San Diego-led legal team, in a move that might give corporate America chills, is testing a strategy aimed at expanding companies’ liability for cleaning up pollutants — even if those companies didn’t directly spill or release the toxins. The attorneys’ target is the St. Louis-based corporation Monsanto, which makes everything from pesticides to genetically modified seeds. In lawsuits filed on behalf of San Diego and a growing number of cities, they’re seeking untold millions from Monsanto for remediation projects, including dredging of tainted sediment in San Diego Bay and efforts to address storm water contamination in the city. Trial lawyers and corporate defense attorneys agree that if the litigation against Monsanto succeeds, it could embolden groups across the country to sue other chemical makers in a bid to recoup cleanup and public health costs.

Read more:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/dec/11/monsanto-pcbs-san-diego-bay-cleanup-gomez-lawyers/

 

San Francisco Chronicle: Video spurs police reforms, but skeptics doubtful

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Mario Woods by San Francisco police officers Dec. 2 has followed a script that’s become sadly familiar in the wake of numerous similar killings across the nation in recent years. But the shooting, in which at least five officers opened fire on a limping man they say was armed with a knife, has also led city officials to begin examining the factors that could have played a part in the killing. Experts and critics say the question is not whether it will change how San Francisco operates when it comes to officer-shootings. It’s whether the city will go far enough to prevent the same outcome next time.    

Read more:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Will-S-F-police-reforms-go-far-enough-after-6694614.php

 

Dallas Morning News: Drugged to death in a dental chair

The Dallas Morning News reports a dental patient dies about every other day in America, according to a first-of-its-kind estimate. It’s the newspaper’s own rough calculation, based on data from one state, Texas. Why estimate? Because many state governments, which are supposed to oversee dentists, have failed to keep meaningful statistics. And why Texas? Because it alone clearly required dentists to report all deaths that might be treatment-related and produced a detailed accounting of those reports. It has the added benefit, for estimating purposes, of size — it’s the second-largest state, with about one-twelfth of the U.S. population. Since 2010, Texas has received at least 85 death reports. Projected out to the whole U.S. population, that’s just over 1,000 deaths. For every Texas dental patient who died, about six more were hospitalized and survived.

Read more:

http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2015/deadly-dentistry/part1.html

 

Arizona Daily Star: Tucson border police check many, few deported

The Arizona Daily Star reports controversy over Arizona’s tough immigration law rages on, but its analysis shows that the Border Patrol is picking up few people in Tucson for possible deportation. For the 16 months ending Oct. 2, Tucson police ran 26,000 immigration checks, which led to the Border Patrol taking custody of 83 people. The checks were run under SB 1070’s Section 2b, which requires local police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if they become suspicious that person may be in the country illegally. The law also says officers must check the immigration status of anyone arrested before that person can be released, which Tucson police interpret to mean they must run immigration checks on everyone arrested, including those who are cited and released, regardless of whether there is reasonable suspicion the person may be undocumented.

Read more:

http://tucson.com/news/lots-of-immigration-checks-few-deportations-due-to-sb/article_a2610e46-3efd-570a-9f5a-caa3b95c849c.html

 

Sacramento Bee: Desalination will help ease water crunch but cost is high

The Sacramento Bee reports the newest weapon in the war on drought in California has arrived, an engineering marvel that will harvest drinking water from the ocean on a scale never before seen in the Western Hemisphere. A giant water desalination plant will open this week north of San Diego. It will produce 50 million gallons of fresh water each day, meeting 7 percent to 10 percent of the San Diego County Water Authority’s demands and buffering the region against supply shortages for decades to come. Oh, and it will be expensive – ridiculously so, in the minds of some critics. Built by privately owned Poseidon Water of Boston for $1 billion, the plant wil

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