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Watchdog Reporting


Orange County Register: Baby can wait

The pace of motherhood in California is slowing and its members are aging, a shift demographers expect to continue and contribute to far-reaching and uncertain changes in the decades to come. Last year, the state reached a historic milestone: the lowest birth rate on record – 12.4 births per thousand people. That rate was 12.3 for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and a Southern California News Group analysis of state projections shows the region’s rate could fall another 24 percent by 2040. California outpaced the nation by another key measure: declining fertility rates in what is considered childbearing age for women by the National Center for Health Statistics, 15 to 44. According to provisional state data, California last year saw 60.5 births per thousand women, compared to an all-time low 62 births per thousand nationwide.


Denver Post: Oil in Colorado’s political machine

The oil and gas industry in the past four years has poured more than $80 million into Colorado to shape public opinion and influence campaigns and ballot initiatives, creating a political force that has had broad implications throughout the state. Environmentalists and industry officials alike call the effort one of the best-financed operations advocating for drilling in any state. Just two months ago, that political muscle came into play when the industry successfully lobbied Republican legislators to kill legislation tightening regulation in the wake of a fatal home explosion in Firestone that investigators have blamed on a severed gas pipeline. Energy interests also have helped elect local city council candidates more favorable to allowing drilling near housing and blunted efforts across the Front Range to restrict drilling rights. Last year, industry forces played a role in keeping the state Senate in Republican hands. … The new approach has been broad, sustained and effective in its reach, according to interviews and a review of industry documents, campaign-finance records and public remarks by an industry consultant who helped develop the strategy.

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News Journal: Public in the dark on discretionary funding

Wilmington (Delaware) City Council members quietly dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through a fund that essentially allows them to give money to any nonprofit they want with little transparency or oversight.  The nearly $450,000 annual pot of discretionary funds is divvied up among council members, who get $10,000 each they mostly use for scholarships, and the president, who controls the remaining $327,000. That money is all spent on what one expert calls "political lubrication" – handouts to nonprofits, charities, civic associations and other groups of the council member's choosing. Unlike elsewhere in Delaware, the City Council does not limit how much money an organization can receive, does not vote on which organizations get grants and is not obligated to share grant information with council members or the public. In this atmosphere, then-Council President Theo Gregory granted nearly $600,000 over four years to Education Voices Inc. – a nonprofit he founded the month he took office.

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Washington Post: Ivanka fashion line’s activities collide with White House principles

On Inauguration Day, President Trump stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and vowed that his “America First” agenda would bring jobs back to the United States. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he declared, adding: “We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.” Looking on from the front of the stage was Trump’s daughter Ivanka, the celebrity and fashion entrepreneur who would soon join him in the White House. The first daughter’s cause would be improving the lives of working women, a theme she had developed at her clothing line. She also brought a direct link to the global economy the president was railing against — a connection that was playing out at that very moment on the Pacific coast.

As the Trumps stood on stage, a hulking container ship called the OOCL Ho Chi Minh City was pulling into the harbor of Long Beach, Calif., carrying around 500 pounds of foreign-made Ivanka Trump spandex-knit blouses. Another 10 ships hauling Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, cardigans and leather handbags bound for the United States were floating in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans and off the coasts of Malta, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Yemen.

Those global journeys — along with millions of pounds of Ivanka Trump products imported into the United States in more than 2,000 shipments since 2010 — illustrate how her business practices collide with some of the key principles she and her father have championed in the White House.

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Miami Herald: Some felons wait decades to regain right to vote

Adam McCracken has a Ph.D., practices psychology in Orlando and is married with two sons.

But for 25 years, the state of Florida said he couldn’t be a full-fledged citizen because of a long-ago drug conviction. McCracken served 10 months in a federal prison and five years on probation for possession with intent to distribute LSD. It was a serious mistake. It happened in 1991. He was 21. The case is so old that a Google search turns up nothing. The state of Florida allows McCracken to practice psychology. But he can’t vote. A law-abiding citizen for 26 years, he wants to bury his past. But the state won’t let him. Florida is one of three states that permanently revokes the civil rights of anyone convicted of a felony, a system that has disenfranchised an estimated 1.5 million people. Even after felons complete their sentences, pay their fines and serve probation, they must wait at least five years to ask the state to restore their rights, and that can take a decade or more. Most people don’t bother. Many who try will die before their cases are heard. McCracken, 47, is one of the lucky ones. He regained his rights at a hearing in June.

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Baltimore Sun: More guns seized at US airports

The number of guns seized at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport is climbing sharply, authorities say, mirroring a years-long increase at airports throughout the region and across the country.

Seizures at BWI rose 50 percent in 2016, and are on pace to climb another 33 percent this year. Nationwide, they increased last year by nearly 28 percent. Officials with the federal Transportation Security Administration, which staffs the security screening areas at BWI and other airports, say they don't know why seizures are rising. … The numbers remain small: TSA agents confiscated 24 guns at BWI in 2016. But they have increased four straight years, outpacing the growth in air passengers through the region's busiest airport; they're matched by similar increases at Washington Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and airports nationwide; and they're up again this year. Nationwide, TSA agents confiscated 3,391 firearms — an average of more than nine per day — in 2016, more than double the number seized in 2012.

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Boston Globe: VA hospital rated four star, but problems mount

This is what the US Department of Veterans Affairs says a four-star hospital looks like:

One operating room has been abandoned since last October because exterminators couldn’t get rid of the flies. Doctors had to cancel surgeries in another OR last month after they discovered what appeared to be rust or blood on two sets of surgical instruments that were supposedly sterile. Thousands of patients, including some with life-threatening conditions, struggle to get any care at all because the program for setting up appointments with outside specialists has broken down. One man still hadn’t gotten an appointment to see an oncologist this spring, more than four weeks after a diagnosis of lung cancer, according to a hospital document obtained by the Globe. And when patients from the Manchester (New Hampshire) Veterans Affairs Medical Center are referred to outside specialists, those physicians are sometimes dismayed by their condition and medical history. A Boston neurosurgeon lamented that several Manchester patients sent to him had suffered needless spinal damage, including paralysis, because the hospital had not provided proper care for a treatable spine condition called cervical myelopathy. … Late last year, the veterans affairs department raised Manchester’s quality rating from three stars to four, putting it in the top third of the entire VA system.

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New York Times: In clash over health bill, fear of ‘junk insurance’

Julie Arkison remembers what it was like to buy health insurance before the Affordable Care Act created standards for coverage. The policy she had was from the same insurer that covers her now, but it did not pay for doctor visits, except for a yearly checkup and gynecological exam.

“I couldn’t even go to my regular doctor when was I sick,” said Ms. Arkison, 53, a self-employed horseback-riding teacher in Saline, Mich. The plan did not cover her exams before and after hip surgery, her physical therapy after her operation, the crutches she needed while she recovered, or any of her medications. She estimates that she spent $20,000 on medical care in the seven years before she could buy a plan through the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

As Senate Republican leaders struggle to secure enough votes to repeal and replace the health law, the centerpiece of their effort to win conservative support is a provision that would allow insurers to sell such bare-bones plans again. The new version of the bill incorporates an idea from Senator Ted Cruz of Texas that would permit insurers to market all types of plans as long as they offer ones that comply with Affordable Care Act standards. The measure would also allow companies to take into account people’s health status in determining whether to insure them and at what price. State insurance regulators say the proposal harks back to the days when insurance companies, even household names like Aetna and Blue Cross, sold policies so skimpy they could hardly be called coverage at all. Derided as “junk insurance,” the plans had very low premiums but often came with five-figure deductibles. Many failed to pay for medical care that is now deemed essential.

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Sacramento Bee: Startling surge in homeless people

Shawn Porter woke up in William Land Park on a recent day and smoked a Marlboro Red for breakfast not far from the zoo where he worked selling popcorn as a kid. A few miles away, behind a south Sacramento dumpster, Steve Devlin used the morning light to search for a set of dice his displeased lady-friend chucked into the bushes at his street camp close to the mobile home park where his parents once lived. Deja Sturdevan’s day began by pushing past prickly branches guarding her sleeping quarters in shrubbery near a heavily trafficked boulevard in Antelope, blocks from a house she said she lived in for 14 years with her ex-husband before divorce and drugs put her in the weeds. “This is my neighborhood,” said Sturdevan, blond hair in a ponytail and nails painted with glittery polish. “I’m comfortable here.” This trio are among the 3,665 people living without permanent shelter in Sacramento County, according to a new count by Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid the homeless.

Homelessness rose by a startling 30 percent from 2,822 people the last time the transient population was counted in 2015, it said. It is the highest number of people living without permanent housing Sacramento has ever recorded.

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Los Angeles Times: Air filters don’t protect residences near traffic

Despite growing warnings about the health problems tied to traffic pollution, Los Angeles officials continue to approve a surge in residential development along freeways. And the crux of their effort to protect people’s lungs is a requirement that developers install air filters. But even the highest-quality filters capture only some of the dangerous ingredients of car and truck exhaust, and to be effective, experts say, they must be frequently replaced and the building’s ventilation system must run virtually full time with all doors and windows closed. The city inspects new projects’ air-filtration systems, but the head of the Department of Building and Safety concedes that his office has no procedures for documenting whether the proper filters were installed and does not conduct follow-up inspections to ensure that they’re being maintained and replaced.

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Miami Herald: Trump earns thousands from club membership payments

Even as he serves as president, Donald Trump earns a tidy sum — tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars — every time a new member joins one of his tony clubs. Whether it’s the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., where the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship starts soon; the club outside the nation’s capital, where the president often spends time over the weekend; the historic Mar-a-Lago Club, where he hosted the president of China and the prime minister of Japan; or one of his other exclusive addresses, each collects a hefty initiation fee from new members — up to $450,000 per person, with annual dues on top of that. Trump has benefited greatly from these initiation fees for years.

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New York Times: Trump son met with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer amid campaign

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it. The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times. The Times initially reported the existence of the meeting, but in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it. The meeting was at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination.

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Miami Herald: President dreamed of Trump towers across ex-Soviet empire

Weeks before his inauguration, Donald Trump was allied with a company in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that planned to build a 47-story luxury tower in the Black Sea resort of Batumi. The tower, nixed in early January, was to bear Trump’s name – in exchange for which he would receive royalties, as he does from similar arrangements around the world. But the company, Silk Road Group, had business ties and relationships that could have been problematic for a sitting U.S. president. Over the years it had oil trading and transport deals with companies in both Russia and Iran, countries currently facing varying degrees of U.S. and European financial sanctions. It was also a strategic fuel supplier to U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and had partnered with a Kazakh bank whose former leader is accused of stealing billions and laundering some of it through luxury real estate in the United States, including Trump-branded condos. None of this is revealed in Trump’s financial disclosure statements. And since he hasn’t released his tax returns, these sorts of relationships are not apparent. The Trump Organization’s push into Georgia and the broader region called Eurasia offers a made-to-order example of how little is publicly known about its foreign commitments, both past and present, and the sometimes conflicted activities of overseas associates. A McClatchy investigation reveals that Trump ventured more aggressively into the former Soviet empire from 2005 to 2015 than has previously been known, even seeking to have his name atop a massive shimmering glass tower in Astana, the post-Soviet capital of Kazakhstan. And Trump sought a trademark in Iran, a country he has sought to isolate as president, that would reserve use of his name among other things for real estate and hotels.

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Idaho Statesman: Saving the salmon of the Northwest

The salmon of the Northwest are the stuff of legends. Pioneers talked of rivers so thick that they were tempted to cross on the backs of the fish. When Meriwether Lewis led his band of explorers through the Northwest in 1805, he marveled in his journal of “almost inconceivable” numbers of salmon. At one time, 8 million to 16 million Columbia and Snake river salmon rode spring flows from tributaries such as the cold, clear Salmon and Clearwater rivers to the ocean, living one to three years before making the daunting upstream trip to their native waters to spawn and die. By 1995, that number had plunged to fewer than 1 million, and 13 species of Northwest salmon were placed on the Endangered Species List. Over the past quarter-century, research, tenacious advocates and $16 billion in federal investment have helped keep Northwest salmon from tipping over the brink into extinction. With bad ocean conditions this year, salmon returns are depressed again and fishing seasons are shortened.

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Courier-Journal: Drug epidemic’s smallest victims

Face down on the floor, wedged between a bed and the wall, a 4-month-old Bell County boy died after falling off the mattress where he had been sleeping with an adult using opioids. In Mason County, a 6-week-old girl was found blue and not breathing in bed with her uncomprehending mother who, when told the infant was dead, protested, "No way!" The baby had suffered at birth from drug withdrawal; after her death, the mother tested positive for marijuana, opioids and methamphetamine. And in Kenton County, a mother awoke next to her dead 6-month-old after a night of drinking and using drugs with no recollection of how she and the baby wound up sleeping on the couch together. These deaths are among a growing group of Kentucky's smallest and largely unnoticed casualties of the state's substance abuse epidemic.

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Detroit Free Press: How problem cops stay on the street

The police officer pulled over the 2011 Cadillac on a cold, darkened street. And then everything went wrong. The cop stepped out, and with the aid of his partner, muscled the driver out of his car, riding the man’s back to the pavement. Pinning the man down, the officer hooked his powerful left arm around his throat, then began pummeling him in the head with a gloved right fist. Once. Three times. Sixteen punches in all, in 10 seconds. The beating in January 2015 of motorist Floyd Dent in Inkster came at the hands of William Melendez, an officer known widely as “Robocop.” The bloody encounter was avoidable. Robocop, an officer with a checkered history, never should have been on the streets that night.  A Detroit Free Press investigation found he’s a prime example of how lax oversight of police officers in Michigan puts citizens at risk by allowing cops to slip from community to community  despite alarming conduct, criminal histories and lawsuits that cost taxpayers millions.

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Kansas City Star: African-Americans aren’t sharing in housing recovery

Michelle Coleman has never owned a home. Ideally, she’d like a small house with a yard for gardening and room for her children and grandchildren to visit. She lives in a four-plex in Kansas City for $600 a month, and hers is the only one that doesn’t have a working air conditioner — a big problem in July. She doesn’t want to spend her own money to fix the air conditioner, and of course her landlord still expects her to pay her rent even though it has not been fixed. “I’m just tired of renting,” Coleman said. “Any extra I get, I want to put into a home, not lining someone else’s pockets.” She’s one of a growing number of African-Americans in Kansas City — and the nation — who don’t own a home. Across the U.S., homeownership rates appear to be stabilizing as people rebound from the 2007 recession that left millions unemployed and home values underwater, according to a report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. But the report found African-Americans aren’t sharing in the recovery, even as whites, Asian-Americans and Latinos slowly see gains in home-buying. The center said the disparity between whites and blacks is at its highest in 70-plus years of data. …

Homeownership rates among African-Americans in the Kansas City metro area slipped from an estimated 45.7 percent to an estimated 37.7 percent from 2005 to 2015, according to American Community Survey data analyzed by The Associated Press.

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Denver Post: Colorado has massive shortage of construction workers

In a large warehouse that smells of freshly cut wood in north Denver, 20 adults — including a refugee family from Somalia, a math teacher and a laid-off retail worker — gather in the unfinished frame of a house to take notes on the Pythagorean theorem. They are hoping that the equation, along with other basic measuring principles, will help them find work at the end of an eight-week construction course. “When the market crashed in 2008, a lot of people were forced to do something else. Now that the industry is booming, there’s really not that quality craftsmanship anymore,” said Tim Reyna, who enrolled in the class at the Colorado Homebuilding Academy after he lost his retail job. “I definitely think there’s a ton of opportunity.”

As far as the construction industry is concerned, Reyna and his classmates can’t hit the job market quickly enough. Industry officials in Colorado say the shortage of skilled laborers is at a crisis level.  … Construction leaders say the problem was caused by a perfect storm: record low unemployment, an aging workforce, the narrative that everyone has to go to college, massive layoffs of construction workers during the recession who never returned, a lack of affordable housing and a huge demand for construction work across Colorado.

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Washington Post: No let up in pace of police killings

Police nationwide shot and killed 492 people in the first six months of this year, a number nearly identical to the count for the same period in each of the prior two years. Fatal shootings by police in 2017 have so closely tracked last year’s numbers that on June 16, the tally was the same. Although the number of unarmed people killed by police dropped slightly, the overall pace for 2017 through Friday was on track to approach 1,000 killed for a third year in a row. The Washington Post began tracking all fatal shootings by on-duty police in 2015 in the aftermath of the 2014 killing in Ferguson, Mo., of Michael Brown, who was unarmed and had an altercation with the officer who shot him. The ongoing Post project has documented twice as many shootings by police in 2015 and 2016 as ever recorded in a single year by the FBI’s tracking of such shootings, a pattern that is emerging again in 2017.

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Star-Ledger: Deadly drug’s dirty secret

The most powerful opioid ever mass-marketed was designed to ease cancer patients into death.

It's ideal for that: the drug is fast acting, powerful enough to tame pain that other opioids can't and comes in a variety of easy delivery methods -- from patches to lollipops.  But a dose the size of a grain of sand can kill you. Meet fentanyl. It's heroin on steroids. It’s killing people in droves. And, in New Jersey, you can get it after having your tonsils removed. In fact, doctors who treat children's colds and adult's sore knees are prescribing it with alarming frequency, far more than oncologists easing end-of-life cancer pain.  The surge is stoked by companies that shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to doctors, wining and dining them in hopes of convincing them that their particular brand of fentanyl is the solution to all their patients' pain problems.  Evidently, it's working. An NJ Advance Media analysis has found that eight medical specialties in New Jersey have filed more Medicare claims for fentanyl than those by oncologists. Family practitioners, for example, filed at least five times as many claims for fentanyl from 2013 to 2015 than did cancer doctors.

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AP: Wall Street Journal fires correspondent over ethics conflict

The Wall Street Journal fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals — including one involving arms sales to foreign governments — with an international businessman who was one of his key sources. The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company. "We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon," Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. "While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards." Azima was the subject of an AP investigative article. During the course of its investigation, the AP obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as an operating agreement for Denx dated March 2015, which listed an apparent stake for Solomon.

AP: Analysis indicates partisan gerrymandering has benefited GOP

The 2016 presidential contest was awash with charges that the fix was in: Republican Donald Trump repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged against him, while Democrats have accused the Russians of stacking the odds in Trump's favor. Less attention was paid to manipulation that occurred not during the presidential race, but before it — in the drawing of lines for hundreds of U.S. and state legislative seats. The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Republicans had a real advantage. The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year using a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage.  … The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.

Washington Post: Obama’s secret struggle to retaliate for Russian election meddling

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump. At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks. … It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump.

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Los Angeles Times: California has too much solar power

On 14 days during March, Arizona utilities got a gift from California: free solar power. Well, actually better than free. California produced so much solar power on those days that it paid Arizona to take excess electricity its residents weren’t using to avoid overloading its own power lines. It happened on eight days in January and nine in February as well. All told, those transactions helped save Arizona electricity customers millions of dollars this year, though grid operators declined to say exactly how much. And California also has paid other states to take power. … Why doesn’t California, a champion of renewable energy, use all the solar power it can generate? The answer, in part, is that the state has achieved dramatic success in increasing renewable energy production in recent years. But it also reflects sharp conflicts among major energy players in the state over the best way to weave these new electricity sources into a system still dominated by fossil-fuel-generated power.

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Arizona Republic: Schools have tough time finding qualified teachers

On a Saturday in late April, Principal Theresa Nickolich gave her best recruiting pitch to every person who walked in the door. Come teach at Clarendon Elementary School in the Osborn School District, she told the candidates at the job fair. You'll be part of a system that will support you. You'll feel like family in a professional environment built up over years of strong leadership. You will be an anchor of stability for children in need, many of them poor. You will have a rewarding career. You will change lives. But across from Nickolich stood both her biggest recruiting challenge and an emblem of one of the biggest crises facing public education in Arizona. Almost no qualified applicants walked in. … If Nickolich couldn't fill her spots with qualified teachers, she would have to turn to teaching interns. Maybe somebody with an emergency teaching credential, maybe somebody who didn't yet have a teaching certificate. In a dire situation the state could even let her employ a temporary teacher without a college degree.

The recruiting challenge Nickolich faced that day in April isn't unique to Osborn, or even to her region. It's a crisis that school administrators recognize statewide.

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Orange County Register: Millennials moving in with parents in large numbers

Xitlali Tapia and Ivan Perez got engaged in January and set a wedding date for Nov. 25.

After that, they’ll move in with a pair of unexpected roommates – her parents. Perez, 26, never dreamed of living with his in-laws. But he and his fiancee, also 26, plan to return to school later this year, meaning they’ll study more and work less. For them, he says, sharing the Tapia’s Anaheim home and saving for a more solid launch slightly later in life isn’t about desperation or lack of ambition – it’s financial common sense. “We can use that money we would spend on rent to save up, to try to get ahead,” Perez said. … For people ages 18 to 34, living with one or both parents is now the most common living arrangement – 32 percent do so – beating out living alone, with roommates, or setting up house with a spouse or partner according to a clutch of new reports on how different generations live. It’s a statistic that Pew Research Center says hasn’t applied to young Americans for at least 130 years.

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Chicago Tribune: Bacteria-filled water flushed into river

The thunderstorms that swept across the city on a sultry July evening last year weren't unusual for a typical Chicago summer. But rain still quickly saturated the city's aging sewers, draining off streets, parking lots and rooftops into an underground labyrinth that also carries sewage from households and factories. Within minutes, the noxious blend of liquid waste began flushing out of more than three dozen overflow pipes that empty into the Chicago River, the long-abused waterway Mayor Rahm Emanuel promotes as a showcase for urban revitalization. During the next 29 hours, more than 2.6 billion gallons of bacteria-laden sewage and runoff poured into the river, enough to cover the Loop in murky water 8 feet deep. By now, treating the river as a dumping ground for Chicago's waste was supposed to be a rare mishap. Instead, a new Tribune analysis found, sewage and runoff flowed into the waterway about once every six days last year, and even more frequently during the May-to-October recreation season.

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Indianapolis Star: Predatory home sales snag poor families

Home ownership seemed out of reach to Ashley Glenn. That is, until a friend told her about an Indianapolis company run by Christians who help people that don't qualify for traditional mortgages.  She reached out to Chart Properties LLC in October, and the next day she forked over about $5,000 and moved into a newly remodeled home on the Far Eastside. It was a dream come true, she said, at a time when her growing family was in a bind. But in May, a real estate agent showed up and planted a For Sale sign in the front yard of the home that Glenn thought she had purchased from Chart. The unexpected event turned Glenn's life upside down and placed her among a growing number of buyers and sellers disillusioned by their dealings with the Indianapolis real estate business. An IndyStar investigation found Chart has more than 100 contracts for the purchase and sale of homes from which it stands to make millions of dollars flipping properties it doesn't actually own. … In contract sales, unlike purchases made with cash or a traditional mortgage, the buyer makes monthly payments but the property remains in the name of the owner until the contract is paid in full. That means Chart does not typically own the homes it sells, but rather has a contract that allows it to sell the home on behalf of the owner.

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Des Moines Register: Thousands get away with domestic abuse

In June 2013, Ryder Lee Sisco was arrested in Davenport after he was accused of choking his live-in girlfriend and slamming her against a wall so hard she cut her head. But the domestic abuse charges against him were dropped when the woman refused to cooperate with prosecutors. Two years later, Sisco was arrested again, this time for attacking a different woman he was living with in Jackson County. He wrapped a T-shirt around her neck as he sexually assaulted her, court documents say. This time, Sisco was sent to prison. Alarmed by the number of serious and repeated cases of domestic abuse, Iowa lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year that will mete out stiffer penalties to repeat offenders starting July 1. But the new law may be handcuffed by an Iowa justice system that has a mediocre track record of successfully prosecuting abusers, a Des Moines Register investigation shows.  Over the past seven years, more than 58,700 domestic abuse charges were filed in Iowa. But more than 23,600 of those charges — or 40 percent — were dismissed, a Register review of Iowa Justice Data Warehouse statistics shows.

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Providence Journal: State lawmaker understated funds

Rep. Anastasia P. Williams has understated the amount of money in her campaign fund by a combined $260,000 since 2012, according to a review of filings made with the Board of Elections. The Providence, Rhode Island, Democrat filed amendments on all but 10 of her 32 campaign filings since April 30 2012. Changes to the “beginning cash balance” on those documents totaled $268,703.70 over that period. One change to her third quarterly report in 2013 upped the beginning cash balance by $19,456.68. And in the fourth quarter of that year she amended to increase the balance by $17,200. Earlier this week the Rhode Island Board of Elections asked the attorney general’s office to investigate possible campaign finance violations by the longtime legislator. Williams has declined to comment. … Of the 22 amendments The Providence Journal examined, 16 were filed on June 15, 2015 — in some cases more than three years after the original campaign finance documents were submitted. The remaining amendments were filed on Feb. 17 this year — three of which showing increases for the same exact amount: $3,519.90. Her latest filing indicates her campaign fund had a $10,779.90 balance at the end of the first quarter this year.

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New York Times: Opioid dealers embrace internet to mail deadly drugs 

The New York Times reports that as the nation’s opioid crisis worsens, the authorities are confronting a resurgent, unruly player in the illicit trade of the deadly drugs, one that threatens to be even more formidable than the cartels. The internet. In a growing number of arrests and overdoses, law enforcement officials say, the drugs are being bought online. Internet sales have allowed powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — the fastest-growing cause of overdoses nationwide — to reach living rooms in nearly every region of the country, as they arrive in small packages in the mail. The authorities have been frustrated in their efforts to crack down on the trade because these sites generally exist on the so-called dark web, where buyers can visit anonymously using special browsers and make purchases with virtual currencies like Bitcoin.

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Santa Fe New Mexican: U.S. 550 has a reputation as a “killing zone”

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports U.S. 550, with a top speed limit above what the highway was designed for and only a narrow median separating its two northbound and two southbound lanes for most of its length, is arguably the state’s deadliest major highway for motorists and their passengers, based on government traffic data. “Basically, anywhere from San Ysidro [north] is a killing zone,” said Cuba village police Patrolman Brian Waterman, whose agency is often called to assist with traffic accidents on the highway. The fatality rate on U.S. 550 has been among the highest in the state since work to widen the highway to four lanes was completed in late 2001. That raises the question of whether New Mexico replaced one death trap with another when it spent about $300 million to improve what was previously known as N.M. 44, which was notorious for fatal crashes.

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Washington Post: Drug crisis raises death rate for all groups of Americans

The Washington Post reports the opioid epidemic that has ravaged life expectancy among economically stressed white Americans is taking a rising toll among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, driving up the overall rate of death among Americans in the prime of their lives. Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states, according to a Washington Post analysis. The death rate among African Americans is up 4 percent, Hispanics 7 percent, whites 12 percent and Native Americans 18 percent. The rate for Asian Americans also has increased, but at a level that is not statistically significant. After a century of decreases, the overall death rate for Americans in these prime years rose 8 percent between 2010 and 2015. The jump in death rates has been driven in large measure by drug overdoses and alcohol abuse, according to The Post’s analysis of mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Des Moines Register:  Iowa’s oaks are sick and some blame farm chemicals

The Des Moines Register reports Iowa’s state tree is under stress. Visible damage to oak trees in recent years may be caused by farm chemicals, forestry experts say. Nearly a thousand Iowans have contacted the Iowa Department of Natural Resources this spring after noticing the leaves on their oaks appear to be eaten by insects nearly down to the veins, a problem exacerbated this year because of weather fluctuations. The good news: the trouble isn't with insects. The bad news: There's not much you can do about it, unless herbicide applied to corn and soybean fields is stopped, according to a DNR district forester. “If that chemical was not there, this wouldn’t happen, if you believe the research,” said Mark Vitosh, who is based in Johnson County. Officials with Monsanto, which makes chloroacetanilide herbicide products cited in studies, said they haven't received any complaints and weren't immediately familiar with research on it, so could not comment. I

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Boston Globe: Hospital for mentally ill systematically fails trusting families

The Boston Globe reports that when state inspectors walked into the Westwood Lodge psychiatric hospital at 5 a.m. in April of last year, they found a heart-wrenching scene. Children slept on bare, plastic mattresses in filthy rooms; dust and dirt collected in the corners. When the young patients woke up, staff sat them in front of a television. And when inspectors questioned the only nurse on duty, a temp, about the location of the fire alarm or even how she would evacuate her eight small charges, all 12 and younger, she did not know. When inspectors returned seven weeks ago, they found even more disturbing evidence of substandard care: a 9-year-old boy with a severely bruised face who had not been taken to the emergency room for six days after the injury. The 89-bed hospital in Westwood is one of seven operated by Arbour Health System, which Massachusetts relies on to treat many of its sickest and most fragile mentally ill children and adults.. While some other hospitals have lost money providing psychiatric care, Arbour has reaped some of the most robust profits in the industry.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: A fight to expose quality-of-care investigations

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Sheila VanPelt is on a relentless mission to know the results of an investigation into her mother’s care in an assisted-living center before her 2011 death. Van Pelt believes family members like her have the right to know if their loved ones were the victims of negligent care. But HMOs do their own inquiries when people complain about the quality of their care, and for years, state officials and legislators have said these investigations can remain confidential. Van Pelt’s years long campaign at the Minnesota State Capitol underscores the enormous challenges facing everyday citizens in an era when powerful interest groups are pushing for and defending laws that ensure greater levels of secrecy. The stay-at-home, 54-year-old mother of four is a rarity around the Capitol: a single-issue, unpaid activist among 1,450 paid lobbyists who represent everything from teachers unions to major utilities to dog breeders.

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Kansas City Star: Kansans consider corpse of governor’s tax plan

The Kansas City star reports Governor Sam Brownback called his 2012 tax plan, the most sweeping tax cut in state history, a “real live experiment” of the principle that slashing taxes and cutting government spending would spur economic growth that would power the state. But over the last five fiscal years, that plan has failed to create enough jobs and businesses, leaving Kansas’ overall revenue — the money it spends on the mass of state services from fixing roads to schools to social services — down by some $3.6 billion. The Republican-led Legislature, weary of severe budget shortfalls, handed Brownback a new tax plan aimed at reversing the state’s sinking fortunes by raising $1.2 billion more over two years. The governor vetoed the plan, but in a stunning rebuke, the Legislature overrode the veto, wiping away the centerpiece of Brownback’s conservative agenda.

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Columbus Dispatch: Lawmakers benefit from business tax cuts they created

The Columbus Dispatch reports that when Ohio lawmakers approved generous cuts in, or outright elimination of, state income taxes for many businesses, what they didn’t tell you is that dozens of the legislators who voted on those reductions stood to personally benefit. A Dispatch analysis shows that 49 percent of state lawmakers potentially saved money — some thousands of dollars — on income-tax breaks that

only about 14 percent of all income-earners statewide claimed. The finding that almost half the legislature could cash in on the tax breaks came from a Dispatch examination of their business interests as listed on annual financial disclosure statements. But to know exactly how many state senators and representatives took advantage of the tax breaks requires lawmakers to reveal what they put on their private income-tax forms — and the large majority of these public officials don’t want to tell the public whether they benefited.

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The Sacramento Bee: Victims say firefighters waited too long to make arrest

The Sacramento Bee reports that as state firefighters unveiled a poster-size mugshot of an arson suspect accused of burning hundreds of buildings two days before, cries of “String ’im up!” and “You’re going to hell!” erupted outside a Lake County casino on a smoky afternoon last summer, What arson investigators didn’t tell the crowd of Clayton Fire evacuees was how well they knew the suspect. They had been closely tracking Damin Pashilk, 41, for two summers as he allegedly set at least 16 Lake County wildfires before the one that erupted in the town of Lower Lake on Aug. 13. One of the fires Pashilk is accused of setting destroyed a home less than a week earlier. Investigators had been tailing him so closely they called that fire in to local firefighters. It was the second time in three days that they had radioed in a fire Pashilk allegedly had set.

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Chicago Tribune: Property taxes harmed the poor and helped the rich

The Chicago Tribune reports an unprecedented analysis reveals that for years the Cook County’s property tax system created an unequal burden on residents, handing huge financial breaks to homeowners who are well-off while punishing those who have the least, particularly people living in minority communities. The problem lies with the fundamentally flawed way the county assessor’s office values property. The valuations are a crucial factor when it comes to calculating property tax bills, a burden that for many determines whether they can afford to stay in their homes. Done well, these estimates should be fair, transparent and stand up to scrutiny.

But that’s not how it works in Cook County, where Assessor Joseph Berrios has resisted reforms and ignored industry standards while his office churned out inaccurate values. The result is a staggering pattern of inequality.

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Arizona Daily Star: Sheriff’s department exceeds OT budget by $2 million

The Arizona Daily Star reports records show the Pima County Sheriff’s Department is approaching the end of the fiscal year nearly $2 million over budget for overtime pay, and at one point this year it was paying about $9,000 per day in overtime. This will be the second straight year the department has drastically exceeded the budget for overtime, a situation that began after Chris Nanos was appointed sheriff in July 2015, shortly after the start of the 2016 fiscal year. Sheriff Mark Napier said that since taking office in January, he’s drastically reduced overtime costs. He said he will be able to keep the department on budget in the upcoming fiscal year.

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Austin American-Statesman: When police restraint turns fatal

The Austin American-Statesman reports more than 50 people over the past decade have died at least in part due to the way police forcibly restrained them or the physical stress associated with being taken into custody, according to an American-Statesman investigation of nearly 300 Texas fatalities from 2005 to 2016. Medical examiners determined four-fifths of the cases were homicides. Law enforcement officers place citizens under restraint tens of thousands of times every day. The overwhelming majority of such incidents occur without a hitch. Police say confrontational or violent interactions, however, present them with some of their job’s most formidable challenges. Departments train on restraint techniques and proper use of tools such as their weapons, handcuffs and leg shackles. Yet officers in some cases failed to follow policies designed to minimize harm, the newspaper’s review found.

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Los Angeles Times: Foreign guest workers rejected as ‘neighbors’

The “urban farm homes” nestled along a cul-de-sac off an old farm road in Nipomo, California, had lofted floor plans with more than 2,500 square feet of living space — “perfect … for multi-generational living,” the advertisements boasted. Strawberry grower Greg France and his wife, Donna, had other ideas for the planned seven-home development. They would use it to host more than 100 workers coming up from Mexico to pick strawberries on their farms under an agricultural guest worker program. When neighbors in the southern San Luis Obispo County town of 17,000 saw bunks being moved into one of the newly constructed houses, anger erupted. Meetings were held, fingers were pointed and death threats were hurled at the Frances. On April 6, 2016, flames devoured one of the unfinished homes, not yet wired for electricity. Investigators almost immediately concluded it was arson. The case remains unsolved. So does the housing problem for temporary guest workers in towns and cities along California’s coastal agricultural belt.

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Washington Post: Disabled or just desperate

The food was nearly gone and the bills were going unpaid, but they still had their pills, and that was what they thought of as the sky brightened and they awoke, one by one, in Pemiscot County, Missouri. First came Kathy Strait, 55, who withdrew six pills from a miniature backpack and swallowed them. Then emerged her daughter, Franny Tidwell, 32, who rummaged through 29 bottles of medication atop the refrigerator and brought down her own: oxcarbazepine for bipolar disorder, fluoxetine for depression, an opiate for pain. She next reached for two green bottles of Tenex, a medication for hyperactivity, filled two glasses with water and said, “Come here, boys.” The boys were identical twins William and Dale, 10. They were the fourth generation in this family to receive federal disability checks, and the first to be declared no longer disabled and have them taken away. In days that had grown increasingly tense, as debts mounted and desperation grew to prove that the twins should be on disability, this was always the worst time, before the medication kicked in, when the mobile home was filled with the sounds of children fighting, dogs barking, adults yelling, television volume turned up. … How to visualize the growth in disability in the United States? One way is to think of a map. Rural communities, where on average 9.1 percent of working-age people are on disability — nearly twice the urban rate and 40 percent higher than the national average — are in a brighter shade than cities. An even brighter hue then spreads from Appalachia into the Deep South and out into Missouri, where rates are higher yet, places economists have called “disability belts.” The brightest color of all can be found in 102 counties, mostly within these belts, where a Washington Post analysis of federal statistics estimates that, at minimum, about 1 in 6 working-age residents draw disability checks.

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Des Moines Register: Winners, losers and cheats in Iowa lotteries

Some of the Iowa Lottery's most frequent winners are the employees who sell scratch tickets at gas stations and convenience stores around the state. In 41 stores, retail employees have won every large Iowa Lottery prize sold during the past five years, a Des Moines Register investigation shows. At four locations, the winning payouts to workers were $100,000 or more.

Lottery officials believe those employee wins are legitimate and legal. And there are no state rules prohibiting retail employees from playing. But gambling watchdogs say the wins raise eyebrows, noting that some lottery retail employees have won more than a dozen times. And, in fact, several retail employees have been caught cheating the games in recent years.

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Baltimore Sun: Citizens worry about rising murders

After Keisha Peaks' boyfriend was shot to death on a street in Reservoir Hill, she tried to be honest with their 8-year-old son. But as he asked probing questions about the unsolved killing, she had a few of her own. "Will it happen to my son?" she remembers thinking. And "when will it stop?" Two years into a historic spike in Baltimore's violence, with 2017 on pace to be the city's deadliest year ever, those concerns are widespread. The Baltimore Sun reached out last week to more than two dozen people who live and work here — community members, business executives, faith leaders, elected officials, police officers and others. Many said they see the city in crisis, with no clear path forward. Some worry that a kind of fatigue has set in. With the failure of efforts to stem the killing, they fear the city is growing used to it.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Foreign-born physicians crucial to health care

As a doctor trained in primary care, Ali Hamdan would have been in demand back home.

Hamdan had every intention of returning to his native Lebanon after finishing his residency in primary care and advanced training at the University of Rochester Medical Center, as his J-1 visa required. But then he found out he was needed here. After hearing foreign doctors talking about a program that lets them stay in the United States, Hamdan began to reconsider. If he went home, would he be able to practice his specialty of intensive care? What about the adjustment for his wife and his American-born son? “Putting all this together, maybe this is an area I need to explore,” said Hamdan of F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua. By 2025, the nation could need 35,600 more primary care doctors than it will have. For other specialties, the shortfall could be more than 60,000, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. U.S.-born students are not keeping up with the demand, nor are they going in sufficient numbers to areas that lack access to care. Foreign-born doctors account for about 25 percent of all physicians in the nation.

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Charlotte Observer: Drugs, sex and gang violence in North Carolina prisons

A Charlotte Observer investigation found that a hidden world of drugs, sex and gang violence thrives inside North Carolina’s prisons – and that officers who are paid to prevent such corruption are instead fueling it. Prison officers frequently team up with inmates on crimes that endanger staff members, inmates and the public. The newspaper’s five-part investigation found that some officers run lucrative contraband rings inside prisons. Others have sex with inmates. Still others beat shackled prisoners, or team up with gang members to allow brutal attacks.

State leaders, meanwhile, have created the very conditions that allow corruption to flourish.

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Philadelphia Inquirer: ‘Pimping out’ addicts in group therapy

Each day, through the streets of Kensington, Frankford, and North Philadelphia, hundreds of opioid addicts are forced to make a little-noticed commute. More like cargo than passengers, junk-muddled men and women journey in vans from their boarding houses to drug-treatment centers for a form of group therapy whose efficacy is unknown. Stripped of basic rights, addicts are told by the people who run their boarding houses — called recovery houses — what facility to attend, when to go, and for how long. If addicts don’t take the van rides, house operators threaten them with eviction. People suffering from substance abuse must then fend for themselves on the streets, or in the heroin encampment in Fairhill. In exchange for herding people into centers, recovery-house operators pocket illegal, under-the-table payments – ranging from $100 to $400 per person monthly – that keep them in business. The centers, in turn, bill the government for a piece of the $680 million in Medicaid and state money disbursed in 2016 by a nonprofit contracted by the city to combat addiction and mental health issues. This predatory process is known on the street as "pimping out."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Confronting child abuse

Tarrant County has a child abuse problem. Though countless individuals and agencies work tirelessly on behalf of children in North Texas, the statistics are startling. In 2016, there were 5,162 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect in Tarrant County, according to state data. That’s down 6 percent from 2015, but still the second-highest total among the state’s five largest counties. Harris County had the most confirmed cases in 2016, with 5,812. But when broken down to victims per 1,000 child population, Tarrant County doubles Harris County’s number — 9.67 victims to 4.80 victims. “Any child who experiences abuse is too much,” said Paul Gravley, executive director of The Parenting Center, a Fort Worth organization that provides services to victims. The Star-Telegram spent five months exploring the broad topic, and the results are being published in a three-part series, starting with an in-depth look at some troubling child deaths that were ruled undetermined or remain unsolved.

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San Francisco Chronicle: How shelters criminalize hundreds of children

In California’s shelters for abused and neglected children, youthful outbursts can become crimes. The instigators of a cake fight are arrested and accused of inciting a mob. A girl who grabbed her stuffed bear and blanket before flinging books is taken into custody for assault. Another girl is booked at juvenile hall for battery after hitting someone with a pack of hot dog buns during a tussle. The county shelters in the nation’s largest foster care system are supposed to serve as a refuge for vulnerable children removed from unsafe homes. Instead, they have funneled hundreds of children, some as young as 8 years old, into the criminal justice system for relatively minor incidents, a San Francisco  Chronicle investigation has found. Data compiled by The Chronicle show more than 14,000 calls for service to police and sheriff’s departments in 2015 and 2016 from California’s 10 shelter campuses. The majority of those calls, some repeated for the same incident, sought help tracking down foster children who left without permission. But police and sheriff interventions led to at least 485 arrests, citations and detainments for alleged criminal offenses. In more than 370 instances, foster children were booked at juvenile halls, receiving punishment instead of the protection of child welfare agencies charged with their care and supervision.

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Los Angeles Times: California farmers need more temporary workers

More than 11,000 foreign guest workers were approved last year to harvest the lettuce, fruit and vegetables for California’s $47 billion agricultural industry — a fivefold increase from 2011, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Labor Department data. If this year’s hiring pace holds, that number will soar even higher. Consumer tastes for fresh strawberries and leaf lettuce — two of the state’s most stubbornly labor-intensive crops — have driven the boom along a coastal corridor from the Salinas Valley in Monterey County through the Oxnard Plain in Ventura County, according to the Times analysis. In the Santa Maria Valley alone, the number of agricultural guest workers catapulted from six sheepherders in 2012 to more than 2,000 laborers last year. If growers have their way, they will get even more under the visa program known as H-2A and face fewer barriers, delays and regulations. To do so, they will have to ask President Trump to put an asterisk on his “America first” economic agenda, which promises to crack down on immigration as a way of opening up jobs for Americans.

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San Francisco Chronicle: Regents throw parties at university’s expense

The night before the University of California Board of Regents voted to raise student tuition to help cash-strapped campuses, they threw themselves a party at the luxury Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco and billed the university. The tab for the Jan. 25 banquet: $17,600 for 65 people, or $270 a head. It wasn’t the only pricey dinner UC’s volunteer governing board put on for themselves at the university’s expense. On May 17, the regents threw a $15,199 party at San Francisco’s elegant Palace Hotel for 59 people — a $258-a-head event also billed to the university. Hours earlier, angry students shut down the regents meeting, shouting “greedy” in protest of the tuition increase and revelations by State Auditor Elaine Howle that the university president’s office kept $175 million in secret funds. The day after the party, regents defended UC President Janet Napolitano after Howle presented her audit — but agreed to her recommendations. Documents obtained by The Chronicle show that Napolitano’s office reimbursed the regents for more than $225,000 in dinner parties since 2012. During that period, the regents held four to six dinner parties a year for themselves, their spouses and other guests.

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News Journal: For Delaware female vets, each day is a struggle

Delaware Air Force veteran Kim Petters says that since retiring from the military in 2012, every day has been a struggle. The  Dover mother of four says she feels robbed of her freedom by a war she still doesn't fully understand.  "We went in looking for weapons of mass destruction, right?" the petite brunette grumbles. "Did we find any?" Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Petters can't pass an American flag in a flower bed without her mind racing to flag-draped coffins. She thrashes so hard during intense nightmares that her husband must hold her legs down. Petters is among the 20 percent of female veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been diagnosed with PTSD, which has no cure. … An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day, or one every 65 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Female veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate as other women (they're 33 percent more likely to use a gun than overdose on pills). They are also two to four times more likely than civilian women to be homeless, according to federal statistics.

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Sun Sentinel: Burst pipes spew sewage into scenic waterways

It was a hot Thursday in June, and under the Himmarshee Canal in Fort Lauderdale, an underwater sewer pipe burst. The fetid liquid was flowing under pressure, and over the next 25 hours, 10.6 million gallons of waste gushed directly into the waterway that intersects Las Olas Boulevard. Miles away at George English Park, another sewage pipe burst that day, pouring about 3.2 million gallons of sewage into the Middle River over 10 hours, state and city records recount. When workers diverted some of the sewage to a “previously broken and out of service” 48-year-old, underwater pipe nearby, it leaked also, allowing nearly 1 million gallons of sewage to pour directly into the river, city and state records say. It was a bad day for Fort Lauderdale’s aging, fatigued water-sewer system. But those were not the only spills in the 106-year-old city.

Records in the enforcement case from the 14 million-gallon spill last summer, and from other sewage spills in the past three years, detail the magnitude of Fort Lauderdale’s sewage pipe breaches: a total 20.6 million gallons of raw sewage spilled, much of it reaching local waterways or seeping into the groundwater.

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Baltimore Sun: Churches find no refuge from debt

The Rev. Ryan Preston Palmer sat at the front of a mostly empty chapel in his large Gothic church, his Bible open to the Book of Ruth. Sunlight streamed through broken windows, illuminating the pale pink paint peeling from the walls in clumps. The church building at the corner of North Avenue and St. Paul Street is vast, and Palmer says it could draw people together for missionary work, evangelism and community revitalization. But that vision is in jeopardy. On a recent Sunday, 10 people sat scattered before Palmer — another 30 seats waited for worshipers who never showed — listening as the minister described the plight of the Seventh Metro Church. More than $6,000 in unpaid water bills sent the century-old Baptist church to tax auction last year. A California investor bought the debt, and is now seeking to foreclose on the $1.4 million building.If Palmer can come up with the money to pay off the debt — plus interest, and the investor's legal fees —the tiny congregation could still save its home, he said. But time is running out, and Palmer asked the churchgoers to look to divine intervention. … The church's predicament is not unique. Records show that in the past three years, investor Christopher Bryan has used limited-liability corporations to buy liens on at least 26 predominantly African-American churches in the city's annual tax auction. He has filed papers to foreclose on half a dozen, and took final ownership of one last month.

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Boston Globe: Middlemen profit by soliciting addicts

Days after he relapsed on heroin last summer, Patrick Graney received an offer that was too good to turn down. How would he like to get treatment in a beach town with a hipster vibe in South Florida — with all expenses paid, including airfare from his Massachusetts home? Graney didn’t have to think long. He was on a flight south the next day. Two months later he was dead.

The arrangement — according to interviews with Graney’s mother and girlfriend and saved Facebook messages he sent — was brokered by Daniel Cleggett, a flamboyant figure, and some would say a pillar, in the Boston-area drug recovery community. A former addict who has spent nearly a quarter of his life in jail, Cleggett has turned entrepreneur in the burgeoning treatment industry for people addicted to opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers.

He presides over an expanding empire of treatment facilities in Massachusetts, but he has also helped recruit addicted young people from Massachusetts for drug rehab centers in South Florida, according to the patients’ families and others who know Cleggett and are familiar with the arrangements. Two of these young men, including Graney, died from overdoses in hotel rooms in the oceanside resort communities where they were sent for treatment. … Patient brokers can earn up to tens of thousands of dollars a year by wooing vulnerable addicts for treatment centers that often provide few services and sometimes are run by disreputable operators with no training or expertise in drug treatment, according to Florida law enforcement officials and two individuals who worked as brokers in Massachusetts. Cleggett refused to say whether he was paid to find customers for Florida treatment centers.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: State’s list of missing kids is unreliable

Dijon Oates was arrested and charged with robbery on his 16th birthday and sentenced to five years of probation. About three years later, he was arrested and charged with murdering a man on MetroLink. But according to the Missouri Highway Patrol’s website, he has been missing since he was 15 years old. And he’s not the only one whose name appears on the state’s list of missing juveniles who have long since been accounted for either by subsequent run-ins with police, unreported reunions with their families or even death. The list has fluctuated between 370 and 380 missing juveniles throughout the month of May. Police say parents and guardians are lax about following up when juveniles they report missing are found. Some parents, including Oates’ mother, Lakesha Oates, blame police for not following up with them or filing proper paperwork. … Whatever the cause, the inaccurate data could be fueling theories swirling on social media that young black youths, in particular, are being kidnapped to work for sex traffickers, and no one’s watching. Those theories have prompted at least two St. Louis area police departments to revamp how they keep track of missing juveniles.

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Columbus Dispatch: Opioid crisis boosting deaths

They died in restaurants, theaters, libraries, convenience stores, parks, cars, on the streets and at home. At least 4,149 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2016, a 36 percent leap from just the previous year, when Ohio had by far the most overdose deaths in the nation, according to figures compiled by The Dispatch from county coroners. And the grim toll is getting worse: Many coroners said that 2017′s overdose fatalities are outpacing 2016′s. Last year’s total smashed the record of 3,050 set in 2015. An average of 11 people died each day in 2016 from heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or other drugs. The new number was obtained by The Dispatch by contacting the coroner’s offices in all 88 counties.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: State opioid deaths rise despite intervention

Deaths from opioid overdoses increased again in Minnesota last year, despite heightened law enforcement and a massive decline in doctors prescribing opioid painkillers. A Star Tribune analysis of state death certificate data found 402 opioid-related deaths in 2016, up from 344 in 2015. Overdoses of illicit heroin and potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl drove the increase. There was little change in the number of deaths caused by common painkillers such as hydrocodone that have been blamed for starting the opioid epidemic. The trend suggests that efforts to reduce painkiller prescriptions won’t be enough to reduce fatalities, because many who started abusing prescriptions have switched to heroin. … Last year was the first, since the opioid epidemic emerged in the late 1990s, in which heroin was implicated in more deaths (147) than common opioid painkillers (140), the Star Tribune’s analysis found. Deaths related to synthetic opioids doubled from 50 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

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New York Times: China crippled U.S. spying operations by killing informants

The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward. Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the CIA had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the CIA used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved. But there was no disagreement about the damage.

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Washington Post: Trump tells secrets to Russia

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said that Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. The information Trump relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said. The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said that Trump’s decision to do so risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and National Security Agency.

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Washington Post: Fuel slush fund at the Pentagon

The Pentagon has generated almost $6 billion over the past seven years by charging the armed forces excessive prices for fuel and has used the money — called the “bishop’s fund” by some critics — to bolster mismanaged or underfunded military programs, documents show. Since 2015, the Defense Department has tapped surpluses from its fuel accounts for $80 million to train Syrian rebels, $450 million to shore up a prescription-drug program riddled with fraud and $1.4 billion to cover unanticipated expenses from the war in Afghanistan, according to military accounting records. The Pentagon has amassed the extra cash by billing the armed forces for fuel at rates often much higher — sometimes $1 per gallon or more — than what commercial airlines paid for jet fuel on the open market.

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Toledo Blade: Health Department failed to follow up on lead contamination warnings

Toledo-Lucas County Health Department officials have known for months, and in some cases more than a year, that people should not be living in lead contaminated homes where children had been poisoned, a Blade review of department records shows. In the oldest case, at 116 Steel St., records show that health inspectors issued a report in October 2014 detailing lead hazards in the home. Last September, health officials issued a “vacate” order for the property.

A woman who last week answered the door there with a small child, said she had moved into the house this month and was unaware of any lead hazards there. More than 500 homes in Ohio, including the Steel Street address and 26 others in Toledo, were included on a list published this month by the Ohio Department of Health that have been deemed unsafe for habitation after a child living there tested with high lead levels, and property owners failed to make required repairs. Local health department officials have since acknowledged “deficiencies” in the current system to ensure no one occupies the homes.

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Toledo Blade: State orders unsafe homes in Toledo vacated due to lead

Mesha Wallace knew her granddaughter had tested positive for lead poisoning more than a year and a half ago and the health department determined that her home was the likely source. She made sure Mariah Gaston, now 3, took the recommended vitamins and had a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and iron-rich food. But Ms. Wallace said she had no idea there was a vacate order on her home, or that in the eyes of health officials, it wasn’t safe for anyone to live there. “No one never told me that I was supposed to leave, the landlord or the health department,” said Ms. Wallace, 36. The Ohio Department of Health this month published a list of 540 addresses in the state that have orders to vacate. The orders were issued after children who lived in the homes tested positive for lead poisoning and property owners failed to comply with health department orders to make improvements. Lucas County has 27 properties on the list, the fourth most of any municipality in Ohio. All are in Toledo.  …

The Blade found more than half of the homes on the list are occupied or show signs of recent occupancy. Several residents — most of them renters — who answered their doors said they were unaware there were orders to vacate, though many were familiar with the property’s history of lead problems or the child who had  been poisoned there.

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Orange County Register: Fraudulent drug treatment centers in the region

As they push their grocery carts and clutch their coffees, the shoppers scurrying through the Ocean View Plaza parking lot pay little attention to Timmy Solomon. For many, he’s easy to ignore. His hair is dirty and matted. His voice is raspy. And on this sunny day, Solomon is dragging around a bag full of cans and bottles that he hopes to sell to the RePlanet Recycling station behind the Ralph’s in San Clemente. He wants to raise $20 so he can get high one last time before he goes into rehab. As a kid, Solomon was taught not to steal or use drugs. But today, at 28, he’s grown up to become a shoplifter and a junkie, addicted to heroin and meth and benzodiazepines, one of the hardest drugs to kick. Those aren’t the only contradictions in Solomon’s life. As broke as he is, Solomon is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Chronic drug users like Solomon are commodities, exploited by a growing world of drug and alcohol rehab operators who put profit ahead of patient care. Everything from the opioid epidemic and Obamacare to prison realignment and legal loopholes has created conditions in which unethical operators can flourish, using addicts to bilk insurance companies and the public out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

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AP and USA TODAY Network: A gunshot and a child is dead: Should anyone be punished?

Children under age 12 die from gun accidents in the United States about once a week, on average. Almost every death begins with the same basic circumstances: an unsecured and loaded gun, a guardian's lapse in attention. And each ends with the same basic questions: Who is to blame, and should the person be punished?

An investigation by the USA TODAY Network and The Associated Press found those questions are answered haphazardly across the nation.

Nearly identical accidents can have markedly different outcomes. A shooting that leads to a prison sentence in one state can end with no prosecution at all in another.

Idaho Statesman: Workers lose lives in residential construction

It was Brandon Ho’Rine’s first day on the job. At age 42, Ho’Rine had been a construction worker for decades. An alcoholic, he had slipped back into drinking but was trying to get his life back on track in Boise when he answered a Craigslist job listing last September. Ho’Rine was a framing specialist, not a roofer. He knew how to tear off shingles, though, and that’s all RP Construction of Nampa needed.

“There was a guy that picked him up that morning and took him to work,” said Ho’Rine’s mother, Linda Hayes. “There was no paperwork signed, nothing. And he wasn’t on the job that long.” A few hours later, Ho’Rine seemed to lose his footing on the roof of a house RP was re-roofing and fell one story to the ground, Hayes said. He arrived at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise unconscious, with a traumatic brain injury. He later died. … Hayes said the worker’s compensation insurer denied a claim for Ho’Rine’s death because a test detected marijuana and painkillers in his body, and because he had a history of alcoholism. His family questions whether he was intoxicated or just had traces of substances from recent use. His employer never told the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of his injury or death. … A Statesman analysis of OSHA inspection data from March 2011 through December 2016 shows a pattern of carelessness in Idaho’s home-construction industry.

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Courier Journal: Sexual abuse of Explorer Scouts is nationwide problem

When a police officer in Largo, Florida, took his own life after being accused of having sex with a 16-year-old Explorer Scout, he left behind a chilling suicide note: “I'm not the only person who's having sex with a minor at the police department,” John Ferraro wrote in 1998. “They really need to tighten up the rules.” The police chief dismissed the claims of a wider scandal as groundless, but an outside investigation found that 11 officers in the department near St. Petersburg had had sex with Explorers, dating to the previous decade. Nearly 20 years later, across the United States, the exploitation of

Explorers by law enforcement officers continues.
In the wake of Louisville’s own Explorer scandal, in which two former officers have been accused of sexually abusing Scouts and the police department of covering it up, the Courier-Journal found that over the past 40 years, at least 137 girls and 26 boys have been allegedly raped, seduced, fondled, kissed, dated or otherwise exploited in 28 states by at least 129 law enforcement officers, firefighters and other advisers.

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Charlotte Observer: Smart kids from low-income families excluded from advanced classes

About this time every year, roughly 5,000 North Carolina 8-year-olds show they’re ready to shine. Despite the obstacles of poverty that hobble so many of their classmates, these third-graders from low-income homes take their first state exams and score at the top level in math. With a proper push at school, these children could become scientists, engineers and innovators. They offer hope for lifting families out of poverty and making the state more competitive in a high-tech world. But many of them aren’t getting that help, an investigation by The Charlotte Observer and The (Raleigh) News & Observer reveals. Thousands of low-income children who get “superior” marks on end-of-grade tests aren’t getting an equal shot at advanced classes designed to challenge gifted students.

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Austin American-Statesman: Tasers’ role in deaths in police custody

The Rockdale police summary of how Rosendo Gaytan died on Halloween night 2006 during his arrest for public intoxication is clinical and brief: “While in the booking area of the Milam County Jail the subject continued to be uncompliant and assaultive. Taser was utilized in an attempt to gain subject’s compliance. While subject was being restrained he became unresponsive.” Gaytan, 52, was flown to Austin in a coma, according to police and medical reports. He died four days later. An investigation by the Texas Rangers, completed three months after his death, contained a much more detailed — and troubling — narrative of Gaytan’s final minutes. Gaytan had dozens of Taser marks on his back. More dotted other parts of his body. A civilian witness interviewed by the Rangers said he saw police shock Gaytan’s neck. An officer on the scene reported seeing sparks flying from Gaytan’s chest, where Taser darts had lodged. His sister, Neomi Garcia, who lives in nearby Bartlett, can still recite the results from memory: “He had 48 marks on his back, six marks on his chest area, and he had four marks on his arm and two marks on his foot. They even tased him twice after he was unconscious.”

Gaytan is not the only person who died in police restraint after officers used so-called electric control weapons in questionable ways, the American-Statesman found. The paper examined more than 280 incidents in which people died during or shortly after being taken into police custody over the past decade. Police used Tasers on 87 of those people.

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AP: Voucher proposals expose rift in school choice movement

For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country's wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools. But when a member of this elite group was elevated to education secretary, the appointment opened a philosophical schism that now threatens to shatter the alliance, turn billionaires against each other and possibly lead some school-choice advocates to join with teachers' unions, their archenemies. Fueling the split is the anticipation of a plan from President Donald Trump's administration that could offer parents federal dollars to send their children to private schools, including religious and for-profit institutions. "As much as we are aligned on change, we aren't always aligned on how much change or how. Sometimes we fight," said Derrell Bradford, executive vice president of the school-reform group 50CAN. The movement has been cleaved into two camps: those who want to use choice to improve public schools and others, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who want to go further by allowing tax money to flow to private schools through vouchers, government-funded scholarships or corporate tax credits.

AP: School sex complaints to federal agency rise _ and languish

Hector and Itza Ayala sat in a conference room at Houston's prestigious high school for the performing arts, clutching a document they hoped would force administrators to investigate their 15-year-old daughter's claim of a classroom sex assault. It had been four months since the girl reported being attacked by another student. School district police had been notified, but administrators said they could do nothing else to protect her from the boy, who was still in school. Frustrated, Itza, a teacher in the district, scoured the internet for help. A Google search led her to the website of the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights. …

Three years earlier, the office had issued detailed guidance on what schools must do upon receiving reports of student sexual violence in K-12 schools; it specified that a police investigation did not absolve a school from conducting its own review. … Short-staffed, underfunded and under fire, the office became a victim of its own success as it struggled to investigate the increase in complaints and hold school districts accountable. An Associated Press analysis of OCR records found that only about one in 10 sexual violence complaints against elementary and secondary schools led to improvements. And nearly half of all such cases remain unresolved — the Ayalas' among them.

Detroit Free Press: New Detroit fertilizer plant polluting the air

As a $143-million facility to convert human waste from the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant into marketable fertilizer prepared for start-up last year, Great Lakes Water Authority CEO Sue McCormick touted it as "environmentally sound, proven technology." But that biosolids dryer facility — operated by a private, for-profit company in partnership with the water authority — has exceeded its permitted emission levels of harmful sulfur dioxide since it began operating last April, according to data reviewed by the Free Press. Smokestack-monitoring data shows the facility exceeded the one-hour emission standard for sulfur dioxide more than 2,500 times from April 5, 2016, through Feb. 28. That means the plant is adding harmful emissions to an area that already has the most polluted air in metro Detroit.

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Sacramento Bee: Oroville Dam had problems from the start

America’s tallest dam was built from earth, stone and concrete – and the towering ambition of Gov. Pat Brown. Sixty years before a crisis at Oroville Dam sent thousands fleeing for their lives in February, the late governor brought an almost evangelical zeal to erecting the structure that would hold back the Feather River to deliver water to the parched southern half of the state. Hundreds of pages of state archives, oral history interviews and other documents reveal a portrait of a man hell-bent on building Oroville and the rest of the State Water Project. Determined to leave a personal legacy, Brown misled voters about the State Water Project’s costs, ignored recommendations to delay Oroville’s construction and brushed aside allegations that substandard building materials were being used at the dam. His administration steamrolled past a land-speculation scandal, relentless labor strife and the deaths of 34 workers to get Oroville built on time.

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Orange County Register: For undocumented immigrants, worries on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day means kisses and flowers and schmaltzy cards – in any language. But for some immigrant moms, this Mother’s Day is bittersweet. With President Donald Trump’s call for tightened immigration enforcement, mothers who are in the country illegally have something else to think about: Who will take care of their children if they’re deported? Many parents are taking steps for Plan B, what they once deemed the unthinkable, drawing up documents that will ensure their children have legal guardians in the United States in case they’re deported. In Santa Ana last weekend, dozens of families arrived at the Mexican Consulate to make it official.

Elizabeth, 45, and her husband sat in front of a volunteer pouring over documents they were about to sign. Sitting between the couple was Victor, who at 23 is the oldest of their five U.S.-born children and the one they have granted their durable power of attorney, giving him the authority to manage their affairs, as well as oversee his siblings.

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Des Moines Register: Iowa schools struggle to help non-English speaking students

Nosa Ali remembers holding her kindergarten report card in her hands, inspecting the words despite not knowing what they said. A refugee whose family fled civil war in Sudan, Ali couldn’t read or write English when she arrived in Iowa. But she knew the words on the report card marked her progress, so she examined the letters before placing the card in a wooden box and tucking it under her bed, a ritual she repeated each year. Now a senior at Roosevelt High School who takes advanced classes at Central Academy, she has folders full of report cards and academic achievements. They fill two boxes now; one’s so full she’s had to remove the lid.

Like Ali, thousands of students across Iowa know little or no English when they enter school. Over the past 25 years, the percentage of students learning English has grown far faster than their native English-speaking peers, increasing 500 percent to 27,241 students during the 2015-16 school year. Iowa educators say the state has made advances in its approach to teaching English language learners. Yet by many state and national measures, Iowa is leaving its English-learning students behind. … The stakes are high. Without enough support from teachers and schools, students learning English are at greater risk of not graduating or being unprepared for college or career training, limiting their job prospects and future opportunities.

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Kansas City Star: Rate of non-fatal shootings is alarming

Kimbrlyn was getting ready for bed, plugging her cellphone into its charger, when she heard a sound — a loud pop — that was sadly familiar. And then she felt it: a stinging sensation in her backside. “I knew what it was because I’m used to hearing that in my neighborhood,” said the 45-year-old Kansas City resident, who requested that her last name not be used out of fear of retribution. She was right. A bullet had ripped through the ceiling from the apartment above her.

With that, Kimbrlyn became one of the 146 victims who have survived shootings in Kansas City through April of this year, part of an alarming increase in bloodshed in recent years. While Kansas City’s rising number of homicides has grabbed the attention of politicians and the public alike, more and more people are being wounded by gunshots that don’t kill but unleash devastating harm to the victims and neighborhoods they terrorize.

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New York Times: How Google took over the classroom

The sixth graders at Newton Bateman, a public elementary school in Chicago with a classic red brick facade, know the Google drill. In a social-science class last year, the students each grabbed a Google-powered laptop. They opened Google Classroom, an app where teachers make assignments. Then they clicked on Google Docs, a writing program, and began composing essays. Looking up from her laptop, Masuma Khan, then 11 years old, said her essay explored how schooling in ancient Athens differed from her own. “Back then, they had wooden tablets and they had to take all of their notes on it,” she said. “Nowadays, we can just do it in Google Docs.” Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, with about 381,000 students, is at the forefront of a profound shift in American education: the Googlification of the classroom. In the space of just five years, Google has helped upend the sales methods companies use to place their products in classrooms. It has enlisted teachers and administrators to promote Google’s products to other schools. It has directly reached out to educators to test its products — effectively bypassing senior district officials. And it has outmaneuvered Apple and Microsoft with a powerful combination of low-cost laptops, called Chromebooks, and free classroom apps.

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Wisconsin State Journal: Poor are biggest lottery buyers

Krissy Wilcox has been selling lottery tickets at a service station on Madison’s Far East Side for as long as the Wisconsin Lottery has been around — nearly 30 years. In her experience, lottery players come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, though over the past decade she has noticed more customers buying lottery tickets and then asking if the convenience store accepts food stamps. “It seems to be a lower-income class that’s buying the scratch-offs regularly,” Wilcox said. There may be something to Wilcox’s hunch. Per capita lottery sales in Wisconsin trend higher in neighborhoods with lower median incomes, according to a Wisconsin State Journal review of 2015 lottery sales data provided by the Department of Revenue. The finding comes as Gov. Scott Walker has proposed in the 2017-19 state budget increasing the amount of lottery revenue for advertising by $3 million a year to $10.5 million, a 40 percent increase.

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AP: Sex assaults in high school sports minimized as 'hazing'

The Georgia school district said it was investigating the baseball players for "misbehavior" and "inappropriate physical contact." What it didn't reveal was that a younger teammate had reported being sexually assaulted. Even after players were later disciplined for sexual battery, the district cited student confidentiality to withhold details from the public and used "hazing" to describe the incident, which it also failed to report to the state as required. Across the U.S., perhaps nowhere is student-on-student sexual assault as dismissed or as camouflaged as in boys' sports, an Associated Press investigation found. Mischaracterized as hazing and bullying, the violence is so normalized on some teams that it persists for years, as players attacked one season become aggressors the next.

AP: US looks for evidence of crimes by Haitians

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is taking the unusual step of hunting for evidence of crimes committed by Haitian immigrants as it decides whether to allow them to continue participating in a humanitarian program that has shielded tens of thousands from deportation since an earthquake destroyed much of their country.

The inquiries into the community's criminal history were made in internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services emails obtained by The Associated Press. They show the agency's newly appointed policy chief also wanted to know how many of the roughly 50,000 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program were taking advantage of public benefits, which they are not eligible to receive.

The emails don't make clear if Haitian misdeeds will be used to determine whether they can remain in the United States. The program is intended to help people from places beset by war or disasters and, normally, the decision to extend it depends on whether conditions in the immigrants' home country have improved enough for them to return. But emails suggest Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who will make the decision, is looking at other criteria.

Washington Post: Funds forfeited as DC homeless languish

Just before her 100th day in office, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser stood before a packed house at the city’s historic Lincoln Theatre and called on taxpayers to make an unprecedented investment in the poor. For the first time, she announced, the District would devote $100 million in city funds each year to the Housing Production Trust Fund — a lifeline for families struggling to find a place to live in one of the least affordable cities in the country. … But at the city agency entrusted with producing homes for the poor, officials were giving up millions of additional dollars from another essential source of affordable housing money: the federal government.

The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development was forced to forfeit $15.8 million in the past three years after repeatedly missing key spending deadlines meant to ensure that federal housing money is properly managed at the local level, The Washington Post found.


Chicago Tribune: Bond system fosters cycle of violence

The first clue to who might want Michael Smith dead was found lying next to his bullet-riddled body. Tucked inside the pocket of Smith's suit coat was a subpoena for him to testify at the trial of Comfort Robinson, a career criminal who, if convicted, faced a 30-year prison sentence on a gun charge. Robinson had been set to go on trial before a judge that morning, Jan. 27, 2016, for an incident inside a Chicago nightclub where Smith worked as a security guard. Unexpectedly, as Smith sat ready to testify, Robinson asked for a trial by jury, delaying his case. Smith walked out of the courthouse shortly after 11 a.m. and headed home for lunch with his wife and child. An hour later, he was dead. …  Prosecutors said Robinson, a high-ranking gang member and drug dealer, orchestrated Smith's killing while out on bond, hoping to derail the gun case against him by murdering the state's key witness. … His case illustrates how the state's bond system has become a revolving door for the defendants who pose the greatest threat to public safety: violent gang members arrested on gun charges.

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Baltimore Sun: Low-income renters become migrants in their own city

Eviction, and the threat of eviction, weigh heavily on the lives of many of Baltimore's poorest tenants. They move from one ramshackle rental to the next, migrants in their own city, squeezed by rents that consume most of their meager incomes, intolerable housing conditions, a court system that advocates say is insufficiently responsive to their complaints, and a rate of eviction actions that is among the highest in the nation. In the Census Bureau's most recent American Housing Survey, in 2013, Baltimore's renters received more court-ordered eviction notices per capita than any other city. More than 67,000 notices that year led to more than 6,600 evictions.

Since then, Baltimore District Court has issued 282,000 more eviction orders and nearly 28,000 formal evictions. That figure likely understates the actual number of renters who are cast from their homes. Hundreds each year are locked out or forced out by landlords without going through the court system, as required by law. Others skip court dates and simply move out before the process plays out.

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Boston Globe: Trump as target of lawsuits is absolutely huge

WASHINGTON — President Trump, who has struggled to press his agenda in Washington but has shown a knack for unsettling opponents and triggering protests, has also become an unprecedented lightning rod for federal lawsuits filed by plaintiffs across the country seeking court relief on an unusually broad array of issues. Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since he was sworn into office, according to a Globe tally based on federal court databases, nearly three times the number of his three predecessors in their early months combined. The lawsuits include green card holders trying to get into the United States after his travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries; cities like San Francisco, Richmond, and Seattle suing over a plan to withhold funds from ”sanctuary’’ cities; and even a woman from Quincy, Mass., who went to court contending that the president’s actions have caused “loss of enjoyment of life.” The dramatic uptick in litigation — Barack Obama faced 26 suits at this point in his first year, while George W. Bush had seven, and Bill Clinton, 15 — is further evidence of the unsettled era ushered in by Trump’s election and the intense fallout stemming from his early executive actions. Court filings may not be as visible as demonstrations on the National Mall, but they ultimately could exert a more lasting check on his executive power.

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Detroit Free Press: The faults in no-fault insurance

It seemed about as minor as auto accidents can get. A car moving less than 5 m.p.h. bumped into a U-Haul van on a Detroit street. The driver of the car didn't even bother to stop. And none of the three men in the truck initially voiced any complaints of injury, according to deposition testimony. One filed a police report to show U-Haul, and within days, callers claiming to be lawyers contacted all three urging doctor visits and legal claims. The U-Haul’s driver said he wasn’t hurt and hung up. A passenger also hung up on his caller, even after he was offered $600-$800 to see the caller's doctor and file a claim. But the second passenger got connected with a Southfield-based law firm and sued U-Haul’s insurance company, claiming more than $25,000 in medical expenses under Michigan's no-fault auto insurance system. Those charges included $9,900 for MRIs and $3,200 for a transportation company to shuttle him to appointments. A Wayne County judge dismissed the case last year, after the man didn't show up for independent medical examinations of his alleged injuries. But the lawsuit — and thousands like it filed each year in Wayne County Circuit Court, involving over tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and in-home benefits — helps explain why Detroit drivers face the highest average auto insurance rates in the country, often more than $3,000 a year for a single vehicle. … A Free Press investigation finds that runaway medical bills, disability benefits payouts and lawsuits under Michigan’s one-of-a-kind, no-fault insurance system play a key role in driving up costs.

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New York Times: Health Act repeal could threaten job engine

From Akron to Youngstown and Canton to Cleveland, as in cities and towns across the country, workers who once walked out of factories at the end of each shift now stream out of hospitals.

While manufacturing employment has fallen nearly 40 percent in northeastern Ohio since 2000, the number of health care jobs in the region has jumped more than 30 percent over the same period. In Akron, the onetime rubber capital of the world, only one of the city’s 10 largest employers still makes tires. Three are hospitals. “People who used to make deliveries to factories are now making them to hospitals,” said Samuel D. DeShazior, Akron’s deputy mayor for economic development. Akron’s transformation is echoed in places as varied as Los Angeles, Birmingham, Alabama, and Pittsburgh, along with rural areas like Iron County, Missouri, where health care accounts for one-fifth of all employment. The outsize economic role of the American health care industry heightens the risks posed by the Republicans’ effort in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act. …  While the government reported that unemployment was at its lowest in more than a decade, the health care industry has been an engine for much of that hiring, adding jobs at more than three times the rate of the rest of the economy since 2007.

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Providence Journal: Rhode Island’s gas-pipe network leaks like a sieve

Rhode Island’s natural gas distribution system has a troubling percentage of bare steel and iron pipes — outdated materials prone to corrosion and cracking that need to be replaced for the public’s safety. Aging pipes are a nationwide concern. They cause leaks that can endanger homes and people, cost billions of dollars in lost gas, and contribute to emissions that warm the atmosphere. The problem is particularly acute in Rhode Island. According to a state-by-state survey by the federal government:

     Rhode Island has the second-highest percentage of cast- or wrought-iron pipes: 24 percent.

     It has the seventh-highest percentage of bare steel pipes: 8 percent.

     And it has the second-highest percentage of pipes that were installed before 1970: 48 percent.

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Washington Post: Kushners court cash in Beijing

BEIJING — The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you. That was the message delivered recently by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Kushner Meyer to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing. Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.

The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said. The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.” And the highlight of the afternoon was Meyer, a principal for the company, who was introduced in promotional materials as Jared’s sister. The event underscores the extent to which Kushner’s private business interests have the potential to collide with his powerful role as a top official in his father-in-law’s White House, particularly when it comes to China, where Kushner has become a crucial diplomatic channel between Beijing and the new administration.

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AP: Trump 100-Promises

Sure enough, the big trans-Pacific trade deal is toast, climate change action is on the ropes and various regulations from the Obama era have been scrapped. It's also a safe bet President Donald Trump hasn't raced a bicycle since Jan. 20, keeping that vow. Add a Supreme Court justice — no small feat — and call these promises kept. But where's that wall? Or the promised trade punishment against China — will the Chinese get off scot-free from "the greatest theft in the history of the world"? What about that "easy" replacement for Obamacare? How about the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and huge tax cut that were supposed to be in motion by now?

Trump's road to the White House, paved in big, sometimes impossible pledges, has detoured onto a byway of promises deferred or left behind, an AP analysis found. Of 38 specific promises Trump made in his 100-day "contract" with voters — "This is my pledge to you" — he's accomplished 10, mostly through executive orders that don't require legislation, such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. … Of 10 promises that require Congress to act, none has been achieved and most have not been introduced.

AP: Hidden horror of sex assaults by K-12 students

Chaz Wing was 12 when they cornered him in the school bathroom. The students who tormented him were children, too, entering the age of pimples and cracking voices. Eventually, he swore under oath, the boys raped him and left him bleeding, the culmination of a year of harassment. Though Chaz repeatedly told teachers and administrators about the insults and physical attacks, he didn't report being sexually assaulted until a year later, launching a long legal fight over whether his school had done enough to protect him. Chaz's saga is more than a tale of escalating bullying. Across the U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools — a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore. Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. That figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assault among the nation's 50 million students in grades K-12. But it also does not fully capture the problem: Such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don't track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.

Sacramento Bee: Recession wiped out wealth for area’s African Americans

When Time magazine named Sacramento the most diverse city in America in 2002, African American families living here still participated broadly in the American dream of owning a home and building wealth. It was a long-standing pattern. For 45 years starting in 1960, around 40 to 50 percent of African Americans in Sacramento County owned their homes, census figures show. By the turn of the century, the black home ownership rate in Sacramento County was higher than the statewide average and higher than other California urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Those days have passed. Just 27 percent of black householders in Sacramento County owned their homes in 2015, down from 43 percent in 2006, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. By comparison, 62 percent of whites and 43 percent of Hispanics in the county owned their homes in 2015. … s show. “The (2008) financial crisis hit black families the hardest,” said Vedika Ahuja, economic equity interim director at the Greenlining Institute, which advocates for communities of color. “More than half of their wealth was wiped out.”

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Des Moines Register: Many Iowa bail bondsmen have checkered pasts

In June 2016, Cedar Rapids police responded to a 911 call reporting a kidnapping on the Kaplan University campus. Witnesses told police that two assailants armed with shotguns had attacked a man, loaded him into a silver Volkswagen and driven away. The windshield of a student's car was broken in the scuffle. The campus was placed on lockdown. The assailants turned out to be Lord Stephen Alexander Range, 33, a bail bondsman from Cedar Rapids, and an associate, who were apprehending a bail jumper. The pair was stopped by police hours later, after they'd dropped their subject at the Linn County Jail. A 12-gauge shotgun loaded with rubber buckshot and a .45-caliber handgun loaded with bullets were found inside the vehicle. Police arrested Range's associate, a convicted felon who was the subject of active warrants out of Buchanan County. But Range, who had an expired permit to carry a weapon, was not arrested, and the incident did not affect his state-approved authority to issue bail bonds and pursue those who fail to pay. From high-speed chases to reports of assaults, bail bond agents have made headlines across Iowa for controversial tactics, prompting even those within the industry to question how the state licenses and regulates them. A Des Moines Register review of 192 Iowa surety bond license holders revealed that nearly a quarter had at least one criminal charge or conviction in their past, ranging from minor offenses including public intoxication and criminal mischief to more serious crimes such as assault and drug distribution.

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Portland Press Herald: In Maine, many with drunken-driving convictions still have licenses

When Mark Burson got behind the wheel of his pickup truck last August and headed north on Interstate 295, he had already been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol eight times and was driving with a suspended license. But that didn’t stop him. What did get him off the road, and put him behind bars, was ramming into the rear of a Topsham police cruiser as he exited the highway. Burson, 56, of Limestone, isn’t an anomaly. About 350 people have been convicted of driving under the influence at least nine times in Maine. More than 16,000 drivers have had four or more drunken driving convictions since 1980, and one driver has been convicted of OUI 18 times, an analysis by the Portland, Maine, newspaper found. State officials refused to identify that driver, citing privacy laws governing driving records. State officials believe Maine has tough OUI laws on the books, but they have failed to keep many convicted offenders from getting back behind the wheel after drinking, said Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who oversees the state’s motor vehicle bureau.

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Baltimore Sun: Tenants lose, landlords win in Baltimore’s rent court

Halisi Ross thought it was the right rental. The 26-year-old Baltimore man liked the look and feel of the two-story rowhouse in the 1200 block of Ashburton St. It was convenient to his classes at Coppin State University. Best of all: the landlord, Waz Properties, allowed dogs. Ross paid $2,100 to cover the security deposit and the first month. But when he moved in with his pit bull, Nikolas, in October, he discovered he had made a mistake. The electricity had been hooked up illegally, court records show. The gas had been turned off. But his biggest problem was that city housing inspectors had deemed the property unfit for human habitation. Officials had withdrawn the permit that allowed the landlord to rent it. It was the kind of case that Baltimore leaders had in mind 70 years ago when they created the nation’s first housing court. Appalled by the slum conditions spreading in the then-growing city, they envisioned a tribunal that would hold landlords accountable for violating newly enacted safety codes. … But a yearlong investigation by The Baltimore Sun has found that it routinely works against tenants, while in many cases failing to hold landlords accountable when they don’t ensure minimum standards of habitability.

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Kansas City Star: Area pain doctor is among top-paid promoters of drug to treat opioid side effects

Over the last several years, Steven Simon of The Pain Management Clinic in Overland Park has treated hundreds of patients with opioid painkillers. At the same time, Simon was being paid six figures to promote Movantik, a drug to treat constipation, a common opioid side effect. AstraZeneca paid Simon at least $194,000 to give dinner presentations about Movantik. Commercials for the drug have become a staple of prime-time TV since it was approved in September 2014. One of them features a construction worker recounting his doctor’s constipation joke: “How long have you been holding this in?” According to a ProPublica database, only one doctor in the country was paid more than Simon to promote Movantik during the time period it examined. … As the nation struggles with an opioid crisis that killed 183,000 Americans between 1999 and 2015, critics ask whether such pharmaceutical payments make the crisis more difficult to end.

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Philadelphia Inquirer: Volunteer fire companies fight shortage of volunteers

Pennsylvania, home of the very first volunteer fire department, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1736, now boasts the largest number of such fire companies in the nation. But towns all over the state – and the country — are looking for ways to respond to inadequate numbers of volunteers, who constitute 70 percent of the country's nearly 1.2 million firefighters, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and avert an all-out public-safety crisis at a time when fire calls are increasing dramatically.  The challenges result from a combination of factors, including additional training requirements; longer commutes to work that take potential volunteers farther from fire calls; the rise of two-income households, placing time constraints on would-be volunteers; and fund-raising pressures. … In the mid-1970s, Pennsylvania had about 300,000 volunteer firefighters. That number is about 72,000 today — more than a 75 percent drop, according to state officials. Across the country, there has been a slow increase in the number of volunteer firefighters since 2011, when numbers reached a 30-year low, but in that same time period, calls have tripled, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

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Seattle Times: A disaster years in the making

As Emily Carlson frantically tried to outrun the rushing and rising brown water, the operator-in-training at the West Point wastewater-treatment plant fell waist deep into a tank. Injured, in pain and frightened, she struggled to stand. Then she went into shock. It was shortly after 2:30 a.m. Not long before, lights had flickered in the plant. Several alarms alerted supervisor Charles Wenig that four critical pumps that push treated wastewater out of the plant had choked. Maximum flows were surging in from all over Seattle and beyond, after days of steady but not record-breaking rain. Precious minutes ticked by as wastewater poured in, and two men on Wenig’s crew kept working to restart the pumps. They were counting on equipment and systems elsewhere to protect the plant from a flood on a wet-weather night. But for more than a half-hour, at least 15 million gallons of untreated wastewater — including raw sewage — swamped the plant, pouring down stairs, smashing doors, flooding tunnels and hallways, and drowning millions of dollars of equipment as employees fled. The Seattle Times, through interviews and reviewing more than 7,000 documents, found errors in judgment, poor communication, a lack of training, equipment failures and faulty maintenance led to the disastrous flood at West Point on Feb. 9. It is one of the biggest infrastructure catastrophes in regional history. … The region’s largest wastewater-treatment plant was gravely damaged. Mechanical systems have been repaired, but restoration of full water treatment to meet state standards is still weeks away.



AP: Investigation shows Peru backsliding on illegal logging

The Associated Press reports that never before had so much lumber been denied entry at a U.S. port on evidence that it was harvested illegally. Homeland Security investigators in Houston, acting on intelligence from their Peruvian counterparts, halted 1,770 metric tons of Amazon rainforest wood — enough to cover three football fields. The October 2015 impoundment from a rusty freighter was a rare victory in the battle to preserve tropical forests and a blow against organized criminal logging in Peru, where the World Bank says 80 percent of timber exports are illegal. But the triumph was short-lived. The driving force behind the operation, the chief of Peru's forest inspection service, was soon dismissed — on the same day the U.S. ambassador visited him for a pep talk — and forced by death threats to flee to the United States.

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Santa Fe New Mexican: Falsehoods create confusion in soda-tax fight

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in radio ads airing on stations across Santa Fe, local mom Leah Chavez encourages city residents to vote in favor of a proposed tax on sodas and other sugary beverages to pay to send hundreds of children to preschool each year. “It’s only a 2-cent tax,” Chavez says in the one-minute radio spot. Her claim is false, but proponents continue to air the ad. The proposal actually calls for a 2-cents-per-ounce tax, not just 2 cents. The ad could leave the impression that a 12-ounce bottle of soda, for instance, would cost only 2 cents more when, in fact, the tax could add nearly a quarter to the cost. The inaccuracy by the advocacy group, which Chavez insists was unintentional, has given a rival organization, Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, a political action committee working to defeat the proposed tax, ammunition to charge proponents with spreading misleading information. But both sides have been stretching the truth.

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Sacramento Bee: Efforts to kill tax board have failed for 90 years

The Sacramento Bee reports a California tax agency called “duplicative” or worse for nearly a century by government reformers had its closest call with destruction when the Terminator came looking for it. Armed with a 2,500-page report urging a consolidation of government offices, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 took aim in part at the Board of Equalization with a pitch to merge most of its work with other tax-collecting departments. He had allies among lawmakers, including then-Assemblywoman Lois Wolk. She carried a bill that year that would have stripped the elected tax board of its mandate as California’s tax court. Yet 13 years later, the Board of Equalization is still a standalone agency with five elected leaders, 4,700 employees and a $617 million annual budget. In fact, it manages about 10 more tax and fee programs than it oversaw in Schwarzenegger’s term.

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Stamford Advocate: City reaches agreement with cops on body cameras

The Stamford Advocate reports a shelved pilot program for body cameras will soon relaunch after the city reached an agreement with the police union over pay and policies for use. The department’s 275 officers will not receive extra compensation for wearing the cameras, which the union argued was a change in working conditions. But the agreement immediately pays officers outstanding money they are owed. “We’re satisfied with this deal,” police union head Kris Engstrand said. “The deal allowed the pilot program to go forward.” It could be several weeks before officers resume the training halted late last year following a grievance by the Stamford Police Association. “I was disappointed that this very important program for the protection of Stamford’s finest as well as the public was held up for negotiations, but I’m happy we got this hurdle out of the way and can begin moving forward again,” Mayor David Martin said.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: VA leaders botched plan to fix backlog

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that leaders of a Veterans Affairs project to clear a backlog of hundreds of thousands of health care applications deliberately suppressed critical information from VA hospitals that would have allowed them to help veterans gain access to care. According to interviews, internal records and recordings of private meetings obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

VA officials acted in their own interest and harmed veterans as they pursued a plan to rapidly delete the backlogged applications. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has asked the VA secretary to fix the enrollment problems so veterans don’t suffer from the agency’s mistakes. The backlog project launched 13 months ago followed a scathing inspector general’s investigation that criticized the agency’s national health care enrollment center headquartered in Atlanta.

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Des Moines Register: Is wind power saving or wrecking rural Iowa?

The Des Moines Register reports wind power has come to define Iowa in much the same way as corn, soybeans and pigs, but not everyone is happy about it. Politicians and power companies tout the state's growing clean energy and its many benefits, including jobs, property tax revenues and $20 million annually that farmers and rural landowners earn in lease payments for hosting the giant turbines. The state's growing amount of green energy — Iowa leads the nation with 37 percent of its annual electricity portfolio — has helped attract billions of dollars in capital investment from Facebook, Microsoft and Google data centers and hundreds of jobs in the Des Moines area and Council Bluffs. But Iowa's growing energy harvest has birthed a new wave of opposition from critics who call wind turbines noisy, over-subsidized eyesores that can be dangerous. And groups have popped up across Iowa, most notably in Black Hawk and Palo Alto counties, seeking to stop local wind development.

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Times Picayune: Mystery pest destroys Mississippi Delta marsh

The Time Picayune reports Roseau cane, a wetland grass considered vital to the health of Louisiana's precarious coast, is dying at an unprecedented rate in south Plaquemines Parish. Since fall, thousands of acres of cane across about 50 miles of the lower Mississippi Delta have gone from green to brown. Many areas are now shallow, open water. The likely cause: a foreign bug that's sucking the life-giving juices out of the cane. State and university scientists have been trying for weeks to identify the species, thought to be a type of scale or mealybug. As yet there is no plan to eradicate it. The roseau cane plague is only the latest in the long line of threats to Louisiana's crumbling coast. Storm surge, rising seas and wetlands canals dug by oil and gas explorers are considered the main culprits, so the state is pushing a $50 billion, 50-year master plan to mitigate further losses,

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Baltimore Sun: Staff shortages and crime blamed for soaring police overtime

The Baltimore Sun reports two years ago, Baltimore officials said they had come up with a new police deployment plan that would curb the use of overtime while increasing the number of officers on the streets. Instead, overtime spending has continued to soar — to double what it was in 2013 — and the agency is now spending nearly $1 million a week to supplement regular staffing. The Police Department is on pace to exceed its $17 million overtime budget by nearly $30 million — a troubling figure for a city struggling to invest in beleaguered neighborhoods while also complying with a consent decree that mandates better policing. Officials say the rising costs go hand-in-hand with staffing shortages amid a sharp rise in crime. City Hall has cut the number of sworn police officers by one-sixth over the past two years, but the Police Department still hasn't been able to hire officers fast enough to keep pace with attrition.

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Kansas City Star: With gun store thefts up, owners arm themselves

The Kansas City Star reports gun store burglaries nationwide are on the rise. Last year, 558 burglaries of federally licensed gun dealers were reported nationwide — up nearly 50 percent from five years ago, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The number of guns stolen in gun store burglaries nationwide rose 73 percent — to 7,488 in 2016. Missouri tied for eighth in the country, with 14 burglaries reported at federally licensed dealers in 2016. Kansas had four burglaries. The penalties are stiff for those caught breaking into a gun store and stealing firearms. But for some criminals, the high risk is worth the potentially high reward. “The bad guys know they can take these guns and there’s a constant demand on the black market for them,” said John Ham, senior investigator and public information officer for the Kansas City ATF office, which oversees Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Convicted felons who cannot legally get a gun are willing to pay well above the market value.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri legislature derailed by GOP spats

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that with an ally in the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years, Missouri lawmakers set to work on an agenda that included initiatives they knew would have Gov. Eric Greitens’ blessing, limiting lobbyist gifts, curbing union power and trimming regulations burdensome to businesses. So far, they’ve sent Greitens four other bills, including legislation setting new standards for expert witnesses, increasing penalties for the off-label use of herbicides and easing regulations on ride-hailing companies such as Uber. But in the final weeks of the legislative session, infighting among Republicans indicates that having control of both the legislative and executive branches of government doesn’t guarantee a clear path for the party’s top priorities.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Nursing home inspectors seriously understaffed

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the agency that provides Ohio's nursing home inspectors -- the officials charged with making sure the state's most vulnerable receive proper care -- is understaffed by at least a dozen employees and, for years, has failed to meet federal deadlines for evaluating facilities. The state's 153 inspectors, also known as surveyors, play a vital role: They examine Ohio's 960 nursing homes to ensure that residents live in a safe environment; they investigate more than 2,000 complaints a year; and they review more than 600 assisted-living centers. A key deadline for inspecting the state's nursing homes has not been met since fiscal year 2011, records show. Ohio is the fourth worst in the nation in terms of the average interval between inspections of the same facility, according to records The Plain Dealer obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

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Philadelphia Inquirer: Death, rapes and broken bones at treatment center

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that shortly after David Hess died in a struggle with staffers at Wordsworth last fall, the state shuttered the West Philadelphia facility, decrying it as “an immediate and serious danger” to the children who lived there. The death of Hess, 17 – ruled a homicide – was yet another violent chapter in a hidden history of abuse at the city’s only residential treatment center for troubled young people. In the last decade, at least 49 sex crimes have been reported at Wordsworth, including 12 rapes and 23 accounts of sexual abuse, an Inquirer and Daily News investigation has found. Interviews, court records, state inspection reports, and police records reveal a trail of injuries to children, from broken bones to assaults to the suffocation death of Hess. Along the way, lawyers, licensing inspectors, and others found conditions there appalling and sounded the alarm with little success.  

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Some attorneys don’t use private investigators

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that across Wisconsin, dozens of lawyers representing the state’s poorest defendants are routinely not using private investigators, potentially exposing their clients to greater risk of conviction and longer stints in prison. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found that taken together, those lawyers have represented more than 5,000 court-appointed clients since the 2010 budget year, some charged with murder, sexual assault and armed robbery. Veterans of the criminal justice system say investigators serve a vital role, safeguarding a defendant from bad or sloppy police work. The Journal Sentinel’s investigation examined private lawyers who accept felony case appointments through the state to represent poor clients. Those lawyers were appointed to about 11,000 felony cases each year, or roughly one-third of all indigent defendants facing felony charges. Public defenders, who are state employees, represent the rest.

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AP: Peacekeepers as Predators: The U.N.'s sex abuse crisis

The Associated Press reports it investigation of U.N. missions during the past 12 years found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel around the world — signaling the crisis is much larger than previously known. More than 300 of the allegations involved children, the AP found, but only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time. Legally, the U.N. is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops. The AP interviewed alleged victims, current and former U.N. officials and investigators and sought answers from 23 countries on the number of peacekeepers who faced such allegations and, what if anything, was done to investigate. With rare exceptions, few nations responded to repeated requests, while the names of those found guilty are kept confidential, making accountability impossible to determine.

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AP: Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout

The Associated Press reports that a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine last August with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump's campaign chairman. Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country's former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger's authenticity. Now, financial records newly obtained by The Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort's firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.

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Arizona Republic: Arizona firefighters are a power in local elections

The Arizona Republic reports that in 2015 and 2016, firefighter union political-action committees across the state donated hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to mayoral or city council candidates they often had never met. In total, 31 firefighter union PACs donated more than a quarter-million dollars to 59 city council and mayoral candidates in Arizona. More than half of the donations went to 10 individuals, eight of whom are active or retired firefighters, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of local and state campaign finance data. Firefighter leaders say their campaign donations are noble efforts to ensure their communities are run by politicians who will do the best job for the community — people who will provide firefighters with the resources they need to save lives during emergencies. Others question the power and legality of city employees so actively involved in electing council members — the people who will decide matters such as their wages and department budgets.

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Santa Fe New Mexican: Firms with state business among AG’s key donors

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports law firms the state Attorney General’s Office has relied on to represent New Mexico in lawsuits over defective products and deceptive marketing by private companies also are proving to be key financial backers for the attorney general as he weighs a run for governor. Most of the more than $211,000 that Democrat Hector Balderas raised over the past six months came from donors outside New Mexico, with more than $40,000 coming from attorneys at one law firm, according to an examination by The New Mexican of his latest campaign finance report, filed last week. The examination shows a network of contributors stretching well beyond the Land of Enchantment that could help make Balderas a force in the race for the state’s highest office. But the large donations from firms that have worked with the New Mexico government or represent it in ongoing cases also raise questions about the ties between private lawyers and the state’s top prosecutor.

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Indianapolis Star: Success of needle exchanges for drug users vary

The Indianapolis Star reports Indiana could soon see needle exchange programs popping up statewide in an attempt to stem rising rates of hepatitis C and stave off another HIV epidemic linked to intravenous drug use like the one Scott County faced two years ago. But if the nine programs underway in Indiana are any indication, the success of future programs will vary widely. Earlier this month, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill allowing local governments to establish syringe or needle exchange programs without having to receive state approval. The measure, which the governor has said he supports, will open the door for programs that differ from county to county. Already wide variations exist among the state’s needle exchange programs. Some have thrived, reaching hundreds of people. Others serve only a few dozen people or are struggling to get off the ground. Some are open several days a week, others once a month.

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Des Moines Register: Iowa targeting problem bars to tackle drunk driving 

The Des Moines Register reports it has learned that Iowa's alcohol-enforcement agency, concerned with the rising toll taken by drunken drivers, is preparing a campaign to crack down on bars and restaurants that serve intoxicated customers. As fatalities in Iowa mount — at least 84 people died in 2016 alone in alcohol-related crashes — the state has focused its attention on keeping intoxicated people from getting behind the wheel, with Gov. Terry Branstad was expected to sign a sobriety monitoring bill into law April 17. But the state's Alcoholic Beverages Division also has quietly ramped up efforts to hold alcoholic beverage license-holders more accountable. The division currently is investigating two establishments that might have over-served individuals involved in alcohol-related fatalities, officials said, declining to identify the businesses.

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Louisville Courier-Journal: Kentucky among worst for student loan defaults

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports Kentucky and India rank at the top in defaulted student loans during the most recent rankings from the U.S. Department of Education. Despite a stepped-up effort to curb debt loads for college students and a crackdown on for-profit technology and career centers that have been accused of preying on vulnerable students, Kentucky ranked 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Indiana was 47th. A loan is considered in default if payments lapse for nine months in a row. In Kentucky, of 78,112 borrowers who took loans, about 12,150 were listed as in default, a rate of 16 percent. In Indiana, the rate was a bit lower, with 171,454 borrowers and 24,474 in default, or 14 percent, compared with the national average of about 11 percent. Massachusetts has the lowest rate, at slightly over 6 percent, while New Mexico is the worst at nearly 19 percent. T

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Maine Sunday Telegram: Deeper EPA cuts pose a particular menace to Maine

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports the deeper cuts proposed by the Trump administration would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup activities and eliminate its support for monitoring and cleanup efforts in Casco Bay and for beach water testing across Maine. When taken in conjunction with previously reported proposals to eliminate federal funding for the University of Maine’s Sea Grant program and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, critics say the president’s budget proposals are a serious threat to Maine’s coastal economy, which is dependent on maintaining a clean environment. Environmental advocates and Maine’s entire congressional delegation are expressing grave concern about the cuts.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: States move to protect internet privacy

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports legislators in Minnesota and at least nine other states are racing to enact online privacy protections after President Donald Trump signed a law that allows internet providers to collect and sell information about customers without their consent. “It’s clearly a fight that’s going to be happening nationally,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. Days before Trump signed the federal bill. Latz persuaded the state Senate to support a measure that would give Minnesotans new online privacy safeguards. Privacy advocates warn that the erasure of landmark privacy regulations could be the beginning of a dramatic erosion of rules governing internet access by Republicans. New privacy rules would have taken effect in December. They were meant to limit broadband and wireless companies’ ability to sell customer information — browsing habits, location information and app usage history — to advertisers and other third parties.

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Kansas City Star: Union leaders’ salaries and perks climb as membership sinks

The Kansas City Star reports that under scrutiny for lavish spending practices and a lack of accountability, leaders of the Boilermakers union five years ago took steps to show they were being good stewards of members’ dues. They made across-the-board pay cuts and eliminated some positions — including that of the president’s then 23-year-old son, whose salary and expenses totaled $124,000. But a recent examination of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers found that things appear to have returned to business as usual. Six-figure salaries for officers and their relatives. Fine dining, stays in posh hotels and expensive hunting retreats. Cars as parting gifts for retired employees, and hundreds of thousands spent on promotional events and videos. All while membership continues its downward spiral and the pension fund struggles to stay afloat.

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New York Times: With Trump appointees, many potential conflicts of interest

The New York Times reports President Donald Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck. The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica. In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

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Columbus Dispatch: Out of town investors buying up central Ohio apartments

The Columbus Dispatch reports that in the past three years, investment firms searching for bargains outside the nation’s largest cities have paid more than $1.2 billion for 145 central Ohio complexes containing 30,000 apartments, according to Yardi Matrix, a commercial real-estate data company that tracks complexes with at least 50 apartments. “Interest from investors is incredibly strong,” said D.J. Effler, senior vice president of Bellwether Enterprise’s Columbus office. Last year, it arranged financing for more than 60 real-estate deals. “There’s no limit to the amount of capital in search of good multifamily properties in Columbus,” Effler said. Investor interest has pushed prices for apartments to record highs in recent years: Last year, investors paid an average of $53,422 per Columbus-area apartment, up from $29,373 just five years earlier, according to Yardi.

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Oregonian: EPA busy scuttling rules, planning cut backs in pro-business shift

The Oregonian reports that to understand the radical changes underway at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to really get a feel for the pro-industry revolution underway inside the nation's primary environmental watchdog, go to West, a town of 2,800 in sun-baked Texas. A 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant flattened parts of the city, killing 15 people — 10 of them firefighters — and injuring 200 others. The volunteers had no idea that the tons of ammonium nitrate stored on site could explode.  In response, the EPA early this year adopted new rules requiring plant owners to disclose the presence of dangerous chemicals to the locals and coordinate with emergency responders. The chemical industry objected, saying it was too expensive and potentially dangerous to force that kind of disclosure. Late last month, with the Trump administration in charge, the EPA ditched the rule.

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American-Statesman: State agency-funded research often favors development

The American Statesman reports that when Texas officials two years ago dismissed the possibility that endangered songbirds lived in a strip of southwest Travis County earmarked for a major highway, they relied on a familiar tool — environmental research they had commissioned. That road, Texas 45 Southwest, the subject of a decades-long battle pitting environmentalists against developers, is now under construction even as a court considers a challenge over how the Texas Department of Transportation conducted its environmental assessment. TxDOT, along with other state agencies, often pays for research — sometimes mandated by federal law, sometimes called for by state lawmakers — that minimizes potential adverse effects from proposed development, according to an American-Statesman review based on copies of contracts, solicitations for research and published reports based on that research, obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.

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Seattle Times: City neglected to collect $3.4 million payment from developer

The Seattle Times reports that for almost four years, city  officials neglected to collect a $3.4 million payment for affordable housing from the developer of a high-profile, luxury condominium project. They secured the money with interest from the Insignia Towers project last year only after auditors reviewing the city’s Incentive Zoning program discovered the oversight. In the meantime, two 41-story towers were built, condos began selling for more than $500,000 each and Seattle struggled with a painful affordable-housing shortage. The lapse in the Insignia Towers case is one of several significant findings in a new report that City Councilmember Mike O’Brien calls disappointing and embarrassing. Scrutinizing the Incentive Zoning program and affordable-housing contributions at O’Brien’s request, Office of the City Auditor identified missing developer contributions, late payments, documentation discrepancies, uncollected fees and other issues.

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Baltimore Sun: Baltimore still waits for change after Freddie Gray’s death

The Baltimore Sun reports how in the days and weeks after the death of Freddie Gray shook Baltimore, leaders and activists spoke of seizing the moment to confront some of the city's most vexing challenges: entrenched poverty, mistrust between police and the community, criminal violence. Two years after Gray's death, some wonder if Baltimore let slip an opportunity to achieve lasting change. The six police officers who were charged in Gray's arrest and death walked free. Promised funding for community-based initiatives has dried up. Crime has risen to startling levels, and arrests are down. And much of the city remains mired in poverty. But others say they see reasons to hang on to optimism — perhaps none stronger than a judge's approval Friday of a consent decree that will direct reforms in the Baltimore Police Department.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  Welfare workers failed in child neglect case

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports state child welfare officials got a complaint about child neglect three months before 2-year-old James Vessell Jr. died. It wasn't the first one they had gotten about his mother, who previously had four of her six children removed from her custody and had been reported to the state repeatedly for more than a decade. From 2001 to October 2016, the agency received two dozen calls from people who had concerns about the safety of children in her home. Despite that history, child welfare workers failed to fully investigate allegations that James and his brother were being neglected within the time frame set by the state Department of Children and Families. The case was still pending when the toddler overdosed on his mother's pills in January, agency records show. Under the agency rules, such complaints are supposed to be investigated within 60 days.

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Newark Star Ledger:  Could N.J. homeowners lose cherished tax deduction?

The Newark Star Ledger reports that if New Jersey homeowners have any consolation for paying the nation's highest property taxes, it's that Uncle Sam picks up part of the tab. Taxpayers who itemize on their federal income tax returns can deduct the income and property taxes they pay to state and local governments. And that feature benefits New Jersey residents more than those in most other states. That break may be in jeopardy as Republicans seek to overhaul the tax code, eliminate deductions, and reduce tax rates, most notably those paid by the wealthiest Americans. More than 4 in 10 New Jersey taxpayers itemized rather than took the standard deduction on their 2014 federal returns, behind only Maryland and Connecticut, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group in Washington.

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Toledo Blade: Fake signs, real fine in Whitehouse

The Toledo Blade reports a Whitehouse police officer pulled over Thomas Villagomez III at roughly midnight on Waterville Street on Dec. 19, 2015.  Villagomez said he was heading to Kroger outside of town for some last minute Christmas shopping after watching the newest Star Wars movie, which had opened the day before. The officer used radar to clock Villagomez at 46 mph — 11 over the posted limit. Once Villagomez was stopped, the officer found less than 100 grams of marijuana in the car along with drug paraphernalia. Villagomez pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor the following Jan. 12, and his driver’s license was suspended for six months. The posted 35-mph limit, however, is fake and contrary to state law, which sets a 50-mph limit for that part of Waterville Street because it’s part of State Rt. 64. The sign was installed with the intent to slow traffic as it approaches the village downtown.

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Los Angeles Times: Taxpayers paid $50 million for misconduct claims

The Los Angeles Times reports how, in one case, Los Angeles County paid more than $6 million to a woman who had been raped by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop. In another, it took more than $7 million to resolve multiple lawsuits after deputies in West Hollywood mistakenly shot two hostages, killing one and seriously wounding the other. Those payouts from 2016 helped drive a dramatic increase in the cost of resolving legal claims against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department during the last five years, according to records reviewed by The Times. The county’s annual payouts have jumped from $5.6 million to nearly $51 million over that time. The judgments and settlements often involved allegations of serious misconduct against law enforcement officers, including sexual assault, excessive force, shooting unarmed suspects and wrongful imprisonment.

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Looking into the dark web of private data

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that evidence has emerged that sensitive personal information may have been stolen by hackers who broke into Rochester-based Excellus’s computer networks. What’s more, some of that consumer data may be for sale in the hidden corners of the internet. The suspects? Try Black Vine and TheDarkOverlord. The accusations were cited two weeks ago as new evidence by lawyers trying to recover from a significant legal setback in their suit against Excellus. The provocative allegations raise the possibility that millions of people — many of them in the Rochester region — could be vulnerable to identity theft and other financial crimes as a result of the Excellus security breach. Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield and its parent company, Lifetime Healthcare, revealed in September 2015 that an unknown party had infiltrated its computer systems and spent as much as 1½ years rummaging around without being detected.

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Austin American-Statesman: How will border wall affect those in its shadow?

The Austin American-Statesman reports that most of the 1,250 miles of new border wall President Donald Trump has pledged to build would be in Texas, where only about 10 percent of the border is fenced in. But Texas is unique among border states: The border is marked by the wild undulations of the Rio Grande and is crowded with private land and parcels. Flooding concerns and property disputes forced the existing fence to be built up to a mile from the river’s edge. That’s left wildlife sanctuaries, nature trails, cemeteries, soccer fields and family homes caught in a no-man’s land between wall and river. A team of five American-Statesman reporters and photographers traveled nearly the entire length of the Texas-Mexico border to examine how the existing border fence is affecting communities in the Rio Grande Valley, and to study the impact the coming border wall would have in places like Big Bend and Falcon Lake.

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Chicago Tribune: Kids poisoned by lead in privately run subsidized housing

The Chicago Tribune reports that as private landlords increasingly take over the government's role of housing low-income families, dozens of children have been poisoned by brain-damaging lead while living in homes and apartments declared safe by the Chicago Housing Authority. Taxpayers often still paid the rent. Federal law requires the CHA to inspect subsidized homes before tenants move in and at least once a year afterward. But since 2010, the housing authority has approved occupancy at 187 homes where at least one child was later diagnosed with lead poisoning, according to a Tribune analysis of thousands of pages of inspection reports, monthly payments, court documents and property records. The CHA paid the landlords of those hazardous homes more than $5.6 million in federal rent subsidies after clearing them to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program, the Tribune analysis found.

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San Francisco Chronicle: In Richmond, high number of homicides go unsolved

The San Francisco Chronicle reports unsolved killings are not unusual in Richmond, the East Bay city of 110,000 residents. Once considered one of the nation’s most dangerous cities, Richmond has made strides in recent years to decrease violent crime and improve community relations. But suspects were arrested and charged in fewer than 1 in 3 homicides from 2011 through 2016, a Chronicle examination of federal and local police data shows, even as the number of homicides has experienced a long-term decline. Richmond police, according to state Department of Justice data, cleared just 28 percent of 90 homicides from 2011 through 2015, one of the worst clearance rates among California cities that averaged 10 or more homicides annually. Richmond police dispute that figure, saying a technical error in 2015 caused the state to misreport their crime data. But city police records obtained by The Chronicle show that from 2011 through 2016, roughly 40 percent of the 119 homicides in Richmond were cleared, a rate still well below national, statewide and Contra Costa County averages for that period.

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New York Times: Education gap between rich and poor growing wider

The New York Times reports from Santa Monica, California, that of all the inequalities between rich and poor public schools, one of the more glaring divides is PTA fund-raising, which in schools with well-heeled parents can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more. Several years ago, the Santa Monica-Malibu school board came up with a solution: Pool most donations from across the district and distribute them equally to all the schools. This has paid big benefits to the needier schools in this wealthy district, like the Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica, where half the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The funding program is considered a national model, and has many enthusiastic supporters. But for some locals it is a sore point that has helped fuel a long-simmering secession movement in which Malibu — more solidly affluent than Santa Monica — would create its own district, allowing it to keep all of its donations in its own schools.

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AP: With Trump approval, Pentagon expands war fighting authority

The Associated Press reports that week by week, country by country, the Pentagon is quietly seizing more control over war fighting decisions, sending hundreds more troops to war with little public debate and seeking greater authority to battle extremists across the Middle East and Africa. Last week, it was Somalia, where President Donald Trump gave the U.S. military more authority to conduct offensive airstrikes on al-Qaida-linked militants. This week, it could be Yemen, where military leaders want to provide more help for the United Arab Emirates’ battle against Iranian-backed rebels. Key decisions on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are looming, from ending troop number limits to loosening rules that guide commanders in the field. The changes in Trump’s first two months in office underscore his willingness to let the Pentagon manage its own day-to-day combat.

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Tennessean: Analysis: Possible double dipping at the state house

The Tennessean reports Tennessee lawmakers spent thousands of dollars in campaign donations in 2016 on expenses, including food and gas, that may already have been paid for by state taxpayers, according to an analysis by the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee. Dozens of lawmakers — including House and Senate leadership — received nearly $32,000 in daily legislative payments, or per diems, on days when they used campaign money to buy similar items. Lawmakers receive these per diems and mileage reimbursements in addition to their annual salaries. “What you’re talking about is double dipping,” said former Rep. David Shepard, who served in the legislature for 16 years before retiring in 2016.

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Columbus Dispatch: Ohio awards millions in unbid IT contracts

The Columbus Dispatch reports how time after time state purchasing analysts warned that the pricey pending contracts were improper. “This position was unbid” ... ”No competitive procurement was issued” ... “The rates seem to be excessive” ... “The agency did not complete any competitive process” ... ”This position could have been filled ... with rates at least $63 less per hour.” And, time after time, their superiors at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services overrode those concerns to award millions of dollars in no-bid, information-technology contracts, frequently paying more than $200 an hour — often to a company employing one-time Administrative Services executives, a Dispatch investigation found. The supervisors also repeatedly disregarded the agency’s own purchasing policy and sidestepped approval of the bipartisan state Controlling Board that serves as a check on spending on non-competitive contracts.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune: With GOP in power, gun advocates make their move

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Donald Trump’s election and surging Republican power in state legislatures are fueling a drive to dramatically expand gun rights across the nation. At least 41 states, including Minnesota, are considering or have already passed measures this year to expand access to guns. Some would allow residents to carry handguns, either openly or concealed, without a government permit. Others would allow guns in places where they are currently banned, including schools, government buildings like post offices and libraries, and college campuses. At the same time, gun control activists with fewer allies in political power are pushing to broaden background checks and ensure that weapons are removed from homes during domestic violence arrests. The new president left no doubt as a candidate that he strongly supports loosening gun restrictions.

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Honolulu Star Advertiser: Prosecutor’s facility for abused women criticized

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports the Honolulu prosecutor’s safe house for female victims of domestic violence, sex assault and human trafficking has been open for only six months but already is a flashpoint for criticism locally and nationally. At the center of the controversy is the prosecutor’s policy of providing secured shelter in exchange for the women’s testimony against their alleged abusers. No other county prosecutor or district attorney in the nation does that. To stay in the Honolulu apartment complex, which has around-the-clock security, restricted access and video monitors throughout, the single women approved for the voluntary program must cooperate in the criminal prosecution and follow strict rules, which prosecutors say are necessary to protect the victims and others at the facility.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Unelected Atlanta agencies give big tax breaks

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports unelected economic development boards in metro Atlanta are giving huge tax breaks for everything from the construction of new apartment complexes to expansions by Fortune 500 companies, forfeiting public money that would otherwise go to school, city and county governments. Over the past three years, about $500 million in property tax breaks have been awarded to businesses in DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties and the city of Atlanta, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The boards hold vast power to cut property taxes in the name of economic growth, with no approval required from city councils or county commissions. Critics say the inducements handed out are often unnecessary and wasteful. They also question whether such incentives are fair to everyone else who has to pay a full tax bill.

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Miami Herald: Where did $1.3 billion for affordable housing go?

The Miami Herald reports Florida has an affordable housing problem but you wouldn’t know it from the proposed budgets that emerged from state lawmakers. For the 10th year in a row, the governor and legislature are proposing to sweep money from the affordable housing trust funds into the general revenue fund to spend on other purposes. Since the start of the Great Recession, that has added up to $1.3 billion. This year, the trust funds will collect about $292 million for affordable housing from the documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions. The draft Senate budget released last week allocates $162.4 million of the funds into affordable housing while the House and Gov. Rick Scott propose spending even less of the proceeds on housing — $44 million. Nearly one million very low-income Florida households pay more than 50 percent of their incomes for housing. The state has the third highest homeless population — 34,000 — in the nation.

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San Francisco Chronicle: Oakland wary of shutting down problem properties

The San Francisco Chronicle reports Oakland officials, under pressure to protect vulnerable residents after the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, have largely abstained from deploying their most potent tool against problem properties: the red tag. In the three months after the inferno killed 36 people in an illegally converted building — the deadliest California fire in more than a century — inspectors slapped the crimson do-not-enter notice on just four Oakland properties, according to city records obtained by The Chronicle. The city’s reluctance to clear residents out of dangerous buildings arose again last week after a massive fire swept through an occupied three-story halfway house on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Four people died, and more than 80 were displaced. Emails released by the city Friday showed that firefighters had urged their command staff to shut down the building as early as January but Fire Department managers cited the building for deficiencies, allowing the residents to remain.

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Chicago Tribune: Taxpayers pay big bonuses to poorly operated lottery firm

The Chicago Tribune reports Illinois taxpayers have funded about $2 million in "retention" bonuses for employees of a private firm managing the lottery despite the firm performing so poorly Illinois is working to replace it. A Tribune investigation has found the state approved paying bonuses as part of a complicated deal it struck in 2015 with the firm, Northstar Lottery Group. Northstar agreed to end its 10-year deal early if the state met a host of conditions, including paying Northstar "disentanglement" fees, which included the bonuses. Records show Northstar offered an unspecified number of employees 30 to 50 percent of their base pay as a bonus for continuing to work through set periods. The bonus increased to 60 percent of base pay for those continuing to work the first half of this year.

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Oregonian: He says he wasn’t insane. He faked it to avoid prison

The Oregonian reports that after feigning insanity for years to stay out of a prison cell, Tony Montwheeler finally confessed his scheme. Then, no longer judged mentally ill, he walked free from the Oregon State Hospital even though officials were told he was dangerous.  Police say that a month later Montwheeler kidnapped his ex-wife in Idaho, drove her to an Ontario convenience store and stabbed her to death in the front seat of his pickup. Available records establish that Montwheeler ran a medical con for 20 years, insisting to a string of state psychiatrists and psychologists that he was mentally ill. He did so to evade state prison, where he would be sent if he was convicted of kidnapping his first wife and son in Baker City in 1996. Because he was found to be guilty but insane, he was treated as a patient instead of a convict. He cost taxpayers millions for hospitalization and housing expenses as he moved around rural Oregon, working odd jobs and committing one crime after another - all while under the state's supervision.

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Kansas City Star: States ban requiring fire extinguishers in new homes

The Kansas City Star reports that thanks to the lobbying efforts of the National Association of Home Builders, most new house and duplexes in all 50 states except California and Maryland continue to be built without sprinklers. Bowing to the wishes of local and national home builders groups, Missouri, Kansas and 29 other states have in the past several years passed laws banning local governments from enacting their own fire sprinkler requirements for private homes. Seventeen other states have chosen to let cities and counties decide whether to adopt the sprinkler standard. Most have not required sprinklers. Lawmakers justify their decision to limit local government power by citing individuals’ freedom of choice and the financial burden of installing sprinkler systems. Depending on the size of the home, a system can cost a few thousands dollars, based on an average price of $1.35 a square foot in a 2013 study. But experts say they can be installed for less than half that.

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Arizona Republic: Voucher program benefit students in affluent areas

The Arizona Republic reports that as Arizona’s school-voucher program has expanded rapidly in the past year, students using taxpayer aid to transfer from public to private schools are abandoning higher-performing districts in more-affluent areas. The findings undercut a key contention of the lawmakers and advocacy groups pressing to expand the state's ESA program: that financially disadvantaged families from struggling schools reap the benefit of expanded school choice. Critics, meanwhile, argue the program is largely being used by more-affluent families to subsidize their private-school tuition bills. The ESA program allows parents to take 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their school district and put it toward private school, home schooling and other educational programs.

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Washington Post: U-Va. flags VIP applicants for special handling

The Washington Post reports that the University of Virginia’s fundraising team for years has sought to help children of wealthy alumni and prominent donors who apply for admission, flagging their cases internally for special handling. Records obtained by the newspaper from the U-Va. advancement office, which oversees fundraising for the prestigious public flagship, reveal nearly a decade of efforts to monitor admission bids and in some cases assist those in jeopardy of rejection. U-Va. denies that the advancement office held any sway over admissions decisions. But the documents show the office kept meticulous notes on the status of certain VIP applicants and steps taken on their behalf. Within U-Va., the records were known as an annual “watch list.” They provide a case study of what is regarded as an open secret in higher education: that schools do pay attention when an applicant’s family has given them money — or might in the future.

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Los Angeles Times: Police arrests plummeting in California

The Los Angeles Times reports police officers began making fewer arrests in 2013. The following year, the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest numbers dipped even lower and continued to fall, dropping by 25 percent from 2013 to 2015. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period. The statewide numbers are just as striking: Police recorded the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years, according to the California attorney general’s office, with about 1.1 million arrests in 2015 compared with 1.5 million in 2006. It is unclear why officers are making fewer arrests. Some in law enforcement cite diminished manpower and changes in deployment strategies. Others say officers have lost motivation in the face of increased scrutiny — from the public as well as their supervisors.

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AP Exclusive: Trump campaign chief linked to Putin interests

The Associated Press reported it has learned President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics. The White House on Wednesday, March 22, acknowledged the AP's revelations had "started to catch a lot of buzz" but brushed them aside, though some members of Congress expressed alarm. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

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Newark Star Ledger:  New Jersey’s immigration backlog among highest

The Newark Star Ledger reports courts handling immigration matters are overwhelmed across the country, with backlogs of pending cases now at an all-time high, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials. Through the end of January, there were 542,646 pending cases, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR, and those numbers continue to climb. New York, the busiest court in the nation, currently has 72,344 cases on the docket. Newark was sixth among the nearly 60 courts, with 27,228 pending cases, not including the more than 740 cases involving those facing the possibility of more immediate deportation, which are held at the Elizabeth Detention Center.Despite the sudden explosion of hard-edged immigration enforcement under the Trump White House, though, the court backlog has been growing for quite some time.

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Akron Beacon Journal: Obamacare repeal could hurt drug, mental health care  

The Akron Beacon Journals reports that for a state hit hard by a national heroin epidemic and one that’s fighting back with Medicaid expansion dollars, Ohio is home to one in six Americans who could lose access to drug addiction and mental health services if President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress take another crack at repealing the Affordable Care Act. Though the GOP replacement plan has stalled in the House, Ohio would have lost more than most for two reasons: it’s among 32 states that accepted Medicaid expansion as part of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and opioid-related overdose deaths are twice as common in Ohio as the national average. Health care economists Sherry Glied of New York University and Richard G. Frank of the Harvard Medical School estimate that 1.3 million Americans could lose mental health and drug addiction services accessed today through Medicaid-funded and private health insurance gained under the Affordable Care Act. That includes 220,000 Ohioans.

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Maine Sunday Telegram: Heroin’s killer grip on Maine’s people

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports the grisly trend – fatalities from drug overdoses in Maine reached an all-time high in 2016 – only seems to be getting worse. In a 10-part examination the newspaper lays out the ramifications of the crisis, mining answers from the human toll by telling the stories of those lost.  The death toll reached 378 in 2016, driven almost entirely by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin and now fentanyl, a powerful synthetic. More than one victim per day. More than car accidents. Or suicide. Or breast cancer. Only four years ago, there were 176 overdose deaths, less than half the 2016 total. Twenty years ago, just 34 people died from drug overdoses. But in the last few years, the crisis has been more acute here than almost anywhere else. From 2013 to 2014, Maine saw the third-highest increase in any state, 27 percent.

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Des Moines Register: Iowa’s drunk drivers kill 90 people a year

The Des Moines Register reports that more than 1,100 people have been killed since 2005 in alcohol-related traffic crashes in Iowa, according to state Department of Public Safety data. That's an average of more than 90 deaths a year. Nearly one-third of the drivers charged with vehicular homicide while intoxicated in those fatal crashes are repeat drunken drivers. Many had been arrested multiple times, the Register's analysis of Iowa Judicial Branch data shows. "Iowa is a great place to live if you are a drunk," said Pam Baugh, whose teenage son, Jonathan, was killed in 2006 by a repeat drunken driver. "You can commit offense after offense after offense, and nothing will happen to you." The Register's analysis comprises more than 203,000 Iowa intoxicated driving records from 2005 through 2016.

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Boston Globe: Depleted state system fails many with serious mental illness

The Boston Globe reports how seven recent incidents involving Department of Mental Health clients illuminate a growing concern inside the state agency: that the department is releasing a steady stream of people with serious mental illness to live in the community without proper supervision. While thousands with serious mental illness struggle to get any help, the roughly 21,000 Department of Mental Health clients are promised treatment at state-run facilities and state-funded programs in the community that are operated by private vendors. Having successfully completed an onerous application process, they’re supposed to have access to the best care the state has to offer. The string of incidents raises questions about whether the department is doing enough to ensure the safety of its clients and the public.

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Washington Post: Howard University Hospital shows symptoms of crisis

When Howard University Hospital opened its doors as Freedmen’s in Northwest D.C. in 1862, it stood out for the medical care it offered freed slaves and became an incubator for some of the country’s brightest African American physicians. But over the past decade, the once-grand hospital that was the go-to place for the city’s middle-class black patients has been beset by financial troubles, empty beds and an exodus of respected physicians and administrators, many of whom said they are fed up with the way it is run. The facility has faced layoffs, accreditation issues, and sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and it has paid out at least $27 million in malpractice or wrongful-death settlements since 2007, a Washington Post examination has found.

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Chicago Tribune: Police escaped discipline after officials lost track of cases

The Chicago Tribune reports that in a stunning breakdown of the city's police disciplinary system, Chicago officers found at fault for misconduct have escaped punishment for years because authorities lost track of their cases. A Tribune investigation found that all of the officers were found to have committed misconduct years ago and were ordered suspended. That, in itself, is a rare outcome of Chicago's notoriously lax police oversight investigations. But the Tribune — which has been untangling these old cases for several months — found that even after punishments were recommended, years passed and none was served because the Police Department and the city agency that investigates officer misconduct lost cases in their startlingly disjointed system.

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Arizona Republic: Insiders rip power agency over theft, threats

The Arizona Republic reports employees at a federal power agency in Phoenix were using U.S. government purchase cards to buy millions of dollars’ worth of items from sporting good stores like Bass Pro Shop or Cabela's, and from specialty auto shops. Ammunition. Scopes for assault rifles. Engine superchargers. Radar detectors.
The merchandise had nothing to do with electrical grids or transmission lines. Nate Elam, former assistant regional manager at the Western Area Power Administration office in Phoenix, shakes his head remembering his shock reviewing receipts submitted by his employees in 2014. Then he mentions something even more alarming: Instead of aggressively going after corruption, Elam alleges, WAPA's bosses slow-walked the investigation, retaliated against those who uncovered fraud, and failed to protect them from threats.
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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio test results mixed on school vouchers

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the school voucher programs that some federal and state officials want to expand have mixed test results in Ohio that make it unclear how much more students learn than if they had stayed in their local public schools. Ohio's voucher programs, which give families grants to help pay tuition at private schools, have a low bar to clear to look successful. Neither the state's main voucher program, EdChoice, and a Cleveland-only program are competing with high-scoring suburban districts. Both were created to let families avoid schools the state considered to be failing, so they only have to beat the lowest-rated schools. But the private schools receiving voucher dollars have mixed results, even when compared to these "failing" public schools.

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Seattle Times: Nurses gain traction on bills to address “dangerous” staffing

The Seattle Times reports nurses have gone for years to Olympia to implore lawmakers to understand that staffing problems were placing patient care at risk. There are constant staff shortages that force nurses to forgo meals and bathroom breaks in order to properly care for patients. There are the 12-hour nursing shifts that grow longer due to scheduling issues. There are nurse-to-patient ratios that seem to grow more dangerous. Nurses returned to Olympia this week to reiterate those messages to the Legislature yet again. But this time they have more optimism that lawmakers are listening. Lawmakers have been moving forward two bills that would address issues of staffing levels, overtime and rest breaks. Both measures have passed the state House and are getting attention in the state Senate. The issue of nurse staffing was a component in a recent Seattle Times investigation of the neuroscience institute based at Swedish’s Cherry Hill facility.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 3M to settle pollution case without paying fine

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a 2016 air pollution case against 3M Corp. represented the first time under Attorney General Brad Schimel the Justice Department allowed a company to make upgrades to a facility but avoid paying a financial penalty as part of the settlement. Minnesota-based 3M agreed to make $665,000 in improvements at two facilities in Wausau for air pollution violations in 2014 and 2015, according to court records. Unlike other major pollution cases, Schimel and his staff did not also seek forfeitures with 3M — a company that employs hundreds of workers at plants in Wausau, Menomonie, Cumberland and Prairie du Chien. Former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer and former Assistant Attorney General Tom Dawson were critical of the agency for relying solely on the use of a compliance tool known as a supplemental environmental project.

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Dallas Morning News: Bribery trial shines light on lobbying


The Dallas Morning News reports that if you’re an outsider looking to win a local government contract and you don’t know any of the players or decision makers you call a lobbyist. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to promote your services and get information to busy public officials. But in the case of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, lobbying crossed over into bribery, prosecutors say, when the commissioner accepted money from a Dallas lobbyist to help her clients. Testimony from Price’s bribery and tax evasion trial has provided a rare look into the world of people who are paid to cozy up to politicians for access and influence. It also has revealed weaknesses in regulations governing lobbying at the county level, which made conditions ripe for the type of abuse alleged in the Price trial. Some of those conditions remain.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Reports of drug side effects increase fivefold

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports more than 1 million reports of drug side effects were filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015, a fivefold increase since 2004. According to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, numbers aren’t final for 2016, but are expected to match that all-time high. Drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, a type of cancer and diabetes are among those with the greatest number of reports. Many of the drugs are for conditions that occur in 1 percent or less of the population, but several have seen increasing use in recent years. For years, the FDA’s adverse events system has been derided because of its largely voluntary nature — only drug companies, not doctors or patients, are required to report problems. As a result, the system likely only was capturing a small percentage of cases.

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Austin American-Statesman: Extra pay for Texas judges could take big jump 

The Austin-American Statesman reports two bills being considered by state lawmakers have the potential to boost by 60 percent a controversial salary supplement offered to constitutional county judges — the biggest pay rate jump being proposed for any of the state’s judges. An American-Statesman investigation in 2016 found that some county judges exploited a little-known law that allows them to enhance their salaries by more than $25,000 with virtually no oversight. If both of the pending bills pass, that would rise to $40,000. Despite the title, constitutional judges are the top administrative officers in Texas counties, elected to oversee budgets and preside over county commissioners courts. They are often compared to city mayors. The state constitution also empowers them to perform many courtroom functions, and their work hearing cases can be essential, especially in smaller or isolated counties lacking jurists with law school training.

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Oregonian: Bogus statistics undercut city program to help Portland renters

The Oregonian reports it all  started with make-believe numbers. The Portland Housing Bureau wanted city money to clean up code violations at low-income apartments east of 82nd Avenue. It sounded like a worthy idea, but bureau officials wildly inflated how many apartment buildings would be eligible. They claimed 400 properties in east Portland had been flagged for urgent repairs, when the actual number at the time was 19, according to an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Then, after winning nearly $500,000 from the City Council last year, bureau officials banked the money and let it sit. They haven't repaired a single unit. The amount could have paid for nearly four dozen homeless shelter beds for a year, for example, or helped nearly 100 families avoid eviction.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio nursing homes among nation’s lowest rated

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports how nurses at Normandy Manor of Rocky River accidentally poisoned Susanne Lawrence. They gave her 20 times the prescribed dosage of oxycodone, or 500 milligrams, according to state and federal reports. They failed to read the label on the drug and did not dilute it, investigators said, adding that Lawrence died hours after her last dosage on July 7, 2015. She was 83. Dozens of other residents in Ohio nursing homes have died over the past few years in incidents involving their care, a Plain Dealer review of inspection reports shows. A federal statistical measure, meanwhile, rates Ohio's nursing homes among the nation's lowest in quality of care. "It's a real crisis in Ohio for elderly residents,'' said Brian Lee, a national authority on nursing home care based in Austin, Texas. But some Ohio nursing home administrators and advocates say the rating system is flawed.

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St. Louis Post Dispatch: Who gets the most police security in St. Louis?

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports the St. Louis Police Department has two main strategies to better deter and solve crimes plaguing the city and hurting its national image: Add police officers and expand surveillance technology. This was made clear by Chief Sam Dotson in an announcement March 9. inside the police department’s Real Time Crime Center. Soulard, a historic neighborhood filled with bars and restaurants and year-round events that pull in thousands of visitors, was getting 16 state-of-the-art surveillance cameras that will tie directly into the center’s expansive wall of television screens and banks of computers. City police have about 500 cameras overall in the system. But an aerial map of the city displaying the camera networks highlighted a stark disparity between wealthier neighborhoods and poorer ones that are most afflicted by serious crimes and shootings.

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The Minneapolis Star Tribune: Limits on access to day care records proposed

The Minneapolis Tribune reports Minnesota legislators are working to restrict public access to enforcement reports of family day care providers accused of violating standards, a move they hope will slow the dramatic exit of child care operators from the state. Day care operators are pressuring legislators to make the changes, saying their reputations can be tarnished by violation reports that remain available online, even after proving to be erroneous or dismissed on appeal. Measures advancing through the House and Senate would carve a special exemption in Minnesota’s public records law for the nearly 9,000 family child cares, by keeping licensing actions nonpublic until the appeal process is complete.

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Toledo Blade: Trump budget would halt Amtrak service to Ohio

The Toledo Blade reports Amtrak passenger train service would end in Ohio if the Trump Administration’s proposed budget is approved. Toledo’s Amtrak station and all of its counterparts in the state would lose their trains as part of the proposal unveiled last week, but trains in several Michigan corridors would be preserved.

The President’s budget proposal calls for all long-distance trains to be eliminated so Amtrak can concentrate on improving the efficiency of its shorter corridors. Eliminating the long-distance routes would bring an end to all intercity train service in half the 46 states Amtrak now serves, including three routes that cross parts of Ohio and all service in the Deep South, Great Plains, and Intermountain West. Only routes along the Northeast Corridor and neighboring states from North Carolina to Maine, along the Pacific Coast, and radiating from Chicago would remain. The latter group would include Amtrak’s Chicago-based routes running out to Grand Rapids, Port Huron, and Pontiac, Mich., via Detroit.

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Maine Sunday Telegram: Health care: Elderly, rural Mainers have most to lose

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports more than 25,000 older Mainers who have Affordable Care Act insurance could pay up to seven times as much for health insurance under the proposed Republican health care bill under consideration in the House. Mainers in their 50s and early 60s living in the state’s poorest, most rural counties would be hardest-hit by the Republican bill to replace Obamacare, according to a Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation, with premiums that could soar from a couple of hundred dollars monthly to more than $1,300 each month. Of the 79,400 Mainers who currently receive insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, almost one-third, or 25,391, are between the ages of 55 and 64, the group that experts say would be hit disproportionately hard by the replacement bill.

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Chicago Tribune: Chicago minority areas see the most bike tickets

The Chicago Tribune reports that as Chicago police ramp up their ticketing of bicyclists, more than twice as many citations are being written in African-American communities than in white or Latino areas. A Tribune review of police statistics has found the top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African-American and three that are majority Latino. Police say the citations are in the interests of public safety. African-American bike advocates say the higher number of tickets in some South and West side areas could be caused in part by the lack of bike infrastructure like protected bike lanes, leading cyclists to take to the sidewalk to avoid traffic on busy streets. But some bike advocates and an elected official expressed concern that police may be unfairly targeting cyclists in black communities while going easier on law-breaking cyclists in white areas. Blacks, Latinos and whites each make up about a third of the city's residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Arizona Republic: Hundreds sentenced to life with parole. It doesn't exist

The Arizona Republic reports that murder is ugly, and murderers are not sympathetic characters. But justice is justice, and a deal is a deal. We expect the men and women who administer the criminal justice system — prosecutors, defense attorneys, and especially judges — to know the law and to apply it fairly. Yet, for more than 20 years they have been cutting plea deals and meting out a sentence that was abolished in 1993: Life with a chance of parole after 25 or 35 years. Some of those deals are about to come due. Between January 1994 and January 2016, a study by The Republic found, half of Arizona murder defendants sentenced to less than natural life sentences — at least 248 current prisoners in the Arizona Department of Corrections — were given sentences of life in prison with a chance of parole after 25 or 35 years.

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Des Moines Register: Iowan fights Medicaid firm trying to cut in-home help

The Des Moines Register reports a private Medicaid company was trying to reduce the amount of time aides are paid to help Jamie Campbell who needs extensive assistance because he is paralyzed from the neck down. Medicaid pays about $10.50 per hour for aides to help him live in his house instead of in a nursing home. Their duties include cooking for him, dressing him, cleaning his house, running errands, giving him his medicine and emptying his urine bag. A national Medicaid management company, UnitedHealthcare, is trying to trim those services, Campbell told an official from the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office.  Campbell, 44, knows others are also facing such cuts from the three private companies Iowa hired last year to manage the state’s $4 billion Medicaid system. He’s one of nearly 7,400 Iowans with disabilities who use Medicaid’s Consumer Directed Attendant Care program.

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Orlando Sentinel: Fingerprint examiner’s alleged mistakes go back years

The Orlando Sentinel reports that when the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office sent a letter to defense attorneys in February warning them that their clients’ cases may have been affected by Orange County Sheriff’s Office employee Marco Palacio’s alleged mistakes, it described the errors as “performance issues … clerical errors, failure to identify prints of value and the mislabeling of print cards.” The personnel file of the latent print examiner reveals that errors had been made for years before prosecutors were made aware — potentially affecting more than 2,500 cases. In his role, Palacio acted as an expert examiner of crime scene fingerprints and handprints to determine whether they matched those of suspects. The Orange-Osceola Public Defender’s Office is reviewing more than 1,675 criminal cases in which Palacio was involved to ensure no clients were harmed by his errors. The remaining cases may be reviewed by private practice attorneys.

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Los Angeles Times: Immigration crack down worsening farm labor shortage

The Los Angeles Times reports a growing number of agricultural businessmen say they face an urgent shortage of workers. The flow of labor began drying up when President Barack Obama tightened the border. Now President Donald Trump is promising to deport more people, raid more companies and build a wall on the southern border. That has made California farms a proving ground for the Trump team’s theory that by cutting off the flow of immigrants they will free up more jobs for American-born workers and push up their wages. So far, the results aren’t encouraging for farmers or domestic workers. Farmers are being forced to make difficult choices about whether to abandon some of the state’s hallmark fruits and vegetables, move operations abroad, import workers under a special visa or replace them altogether with machines.

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San Diego Union Tribune: Why health care is so expensive with no fix likely

The San Diego Union Tribune reports practically everyone knows health care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, but few really understand why. At the moment, the GOP-led push in Congress and the White House to overhaul Obamacare is focusing on premiums and deductibles, coverage rates and co-pays. Yet they are just the mechanisms of paying for a system that continues to consume a larger percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product than in any other highly industrialized country. For example, a study from the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health-care think tank, said the United States spent $9,086 per person in 2013 on medical expenses — $2,761 more than Switzerland, the next-highest spender on the list of 13 wealthy nations. The Commonwealth study found that among industrialized nations, there were significant pricing differences for many medical procedures. An MRI scan in the U.S. cost $1,145 on average in 2013, compared with $138 in Switzerland, $350 in Australia and $461 in the Netherlands. An appendectomy cost $6,645 in New Zealand and $13,910 in America.

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New York Times: Door-busting drug raids leave a trail of blood

The New York Times reports that as policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door. Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found. A Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.

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AP: Solitary confinement suits cost New Mexico counties millions

The Associated Press reported that George Abila won a nearly $2 million lawsuit against New Mexico's Eddy County over his treatment while held in solitary confinement. Former jail inmates have now won more than $20 million in judgments in recent years against New Mexico counties over their treatment in solitary. With more cases pending, state lawmakers are debating a proposal that would ban solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and inmates with mental illness. Abila’s case, filed in 2014 after Abila's release, marked at least the fifth in as many years in New Mexico to result in a major payout for a former jail inmate held in solitary, a practice that has come under broad scrutiny nationwide amid growing evidence that the mentally ill are routinely housed in segregation. This report was made in collaboration with the CJ Project, an initiative to broaden the news coverage of criminal justice issues affecting New Mexico's communities of color.

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Rockford Register Star: Black students overrepresented in disciplinary actions

The Rockford Register Star reports that across the country, in Illinois and throughout the Rock River Valley, students of color are disciplined at a much higher rate than white students, in some cases by a ratio as high as 4-to-1. A Rockford Register Star analysis of suspension and expulsion data from Rockford Public Schools, the region's largest and most diverse school system, revealed a pronounced racial disparity. The Register Star submitted a Freedom of Information Act request late last year for an accounting of all in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions by race for the past five years. The document contained nearly 148,000 individual disciplinary actions. Black students accounted for the majority of all discipline all five years. To Margaret Stapleton, community justice director for the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the data is "a canary in a coal mine.

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Modesto Bee: County’s pension reforms could hinder recruiting new CEO

The Modesto Bee reports Stanislaus County was a leader in reducing public employee pensions that have been a major contributor to government budget deficits in California. Faced with rising costs of funding pension benefits for employees seven years ago, the county negotiated agreements with labor groups that created less-lucrative benefits for new employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2011. But those reforms now hamstring the county when the Sheriff’s Department tries to hire peace officers from other agencies. It makes it more difficult to hire qualified professionals to manage county departments or hire the next chief executive officer for Stanislaus County, officials said.

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Arizona Republic: Arizona’s food waste could feed millions

The Arizona Republic reports that experts put the amount of food that's thrown away in America as staggering but "invisible." Borderlands Food Bank is one Arizona organization that's helping bring the problem into focus. POWWOW stands for Produce on Wheels without Waste. It’s one of several programs run by Borderlands Food Bank, a Nogales, Ariz.-based non-profit that rescues food before it goes to the landfill. Borderlands is one of a growing number of groups working to fight food waste in America, where more than 25 million people are unsure where their next meal will come from. At its core, food waste is an economic, social and environmental issue. The amount of food that's thrown away in America is staggering.

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Maine Sunday Telegram: Portland program offers panhandlers jobs

The Maine Sunday Telegram reports officials in Portland, Maine, are working on a 36-week pilot program to offer day jobs to panhandlers. A city social worker would drive a van around to busy intersections and offer panhandlers a chance to earn $10.68 an hour cleaning up parks and other light labor jobs. They would be paid at the end of each day. Panhandling has been a growing concern in U.S. cities such as Portland, where business owners worry the practice puts a damper on tourism and some residents and visitors complain about panhandlers asking for money on sidewalks and at stoplights. In recent years, panhandlers have spread into smaller communities and staked out street corners in places such as Biddeford, Scarborough, South Portland, Wells, Augusta and Bangor.

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Democrat and Chronicle: Opt-out movement remains strong across New York

The Democrat and Chronicle reports the statewide movement by some parents to boycott New York’s standardized tests has been around so long that it is nearing school age itself. More than 1 million students across the state will be eligible to sit for the state’s English language arts and math exams, which will begin later this month and resume in May. If the past two years are any guide, about one in five will refuse. For the fourth consecutive year, tens of thousands of parents across the state appear poised to refuse New York’s standardized exams, which are administered to students in grades 3-8. The so-called opt-out movement has grown from its nascent stages in 2014 — when about 5 percent of eligible students didn’t take the tests — to the past two years, when about 20 percent didn't take them.

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Denver Post: Rules relaxed for sex offender in Colorado. Now what?

The Denver Post reports Colorado’s sex offenders have long maintained the state treats them as pariahs, closely monitoring where they live, what they look at, whom they talk to and what they discuss. One claimed in federal court filings that he was warned against keeping a crucifix because it displayed partial nudity. Another, convicted of groping a woman, said he had to write down his thoughts every time he saw a school bus. The idea was to protect children, but the resulting system that cut off offenders from their own families has now been struck down in federal court. That leaves Colorado to create a new sex-offender treatment and management system that defense lawyers say is long overdue but prosecutors worry will put children at risk. Supporters of the changes point to lives disrupted by what they call an outdated and overreaching system.

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Houston Chronicle: Energy industry an alluring target for cyberattacks

The Houston Chronicle reports how the Coast Guard conducts sweeps along the waters of the Sabine-Neches waterway for unprotected wireless signals that hackers could use to gain access to oil, gas and petrochemical facilities. Four massive refineries sit along the 79-mile channel that cuts through this stretch of Gulf Coast. It's one of the largest concentration of refineries, pipelines, chemical plants and natural gas terminals in the United States - and an alluring target for espionage, disruption or worse. As national attention focuses on Russian cyberattacks aimed at influencing the last presidential election, oil and gas companies face increasingly sophisticated hackers seeking to steal trade secrets and manipulate industrial sensors and operations.

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Des Moines Register: Company has 28 pipelines spills in Iowa since 2000

The Des Moines Register reports the company whose pipeline dumped more than 46,000 gallons of diesel on northern Iowa farmland in January has had more spills than any other pipeline operator in the state over the past 16 years, according to a Des Moines Register analysis. Magellan Midstream Partners pipelines leaked 27 times in Iowa between 2000 and 2016, spewing tens of thousands of gallons of hazardous products, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources data. Magellan's spills are nearly double the 14 of Enterprise Products Offering, the second most frequent offender. Magellan reported its 28th spill Jan. 25 near Hanlontown, Ia., where a rupture dumped thousands of gallons of diesel onto snow-covered crop fields. The spill immediately stoked foes of the Dakota Access pipeline, whose builders plan to start pumping oil through the 1,172-mile line within weeks.

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San Francisco Chronicle: Firm keeps sucking sand from Monterey Bay

The San Francisco Chronicle reports critics are concerned that an anachronistic industry on a remote beach in Monterey Bay is eating away California’s quintessential seacoast. There, surrounded by dune grass, is a dredging boat with rusting anchors and a hydraulic pipeline that stretches toward an inland factory building, where plumes of steam rise from a chimney. The rig sucks up a slurry of sand and seawater that comes in with the tide and pipes it to the plant, where the granules are washed, graded, dried and taken out on trucks destined for golf course bunkers and less romantic consumer products like filtration systems, stucco and grout. The Lapis Sand Plant, in operation since 1906, is the nation’s last coastal sand mine. It is believed to extract roughly 270,000 cubic yards of sand per year from a dredging pond on the beach, according to geologists and oceanographers who have studied the impacts. That’s the equivalent of a large dump truck load every half hour, 24 hours a day.

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Chicago Tribune: ATF sting operation accused of racial bias

The Chicago Tribune reports dozens of people are at the center of a brewing legal battle in Chicago's federal court over whether the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' signature sting operation used racial bias in finding its many targets.  A team of lawyers led by the University of Chicago Law School is seeking to dismiss charges against more than 40 defendants in Chicago. The undercover probes, a staple of the ATF since the mid-1990s, have ensnared hundreds of defendants across the country. A recently unsealed study by a nationally renowned expert concluded that ATF showed a clear pattern of racial bias in picking its targets for the drug stings. The disparity between minority and white defendants was so large that there was "a zero percent likelihood" it happened by chance, the study found.

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Seattle Times: Drinking water wells polluted by fire fighting chemicals

The Seattle Time reports a potentially hazardous chemical, found in firefighting foam, has been discovered in a few wells on Whidbey Island. While the Navy distributes bottled water and plans for expanded testing, homeowners worry about long lasting harm. So far, the Navy has tested more than 170 island wells and found foam contaminants in eight wells at levels above the EPA guideline. Residents who got the bad news have expressed worry, and sometimes anger, as they learn their well water is suddenly off-limits. And as they think about all the water they’ve been drinking for years, homeowners now are researching the health risks — including some types of cancer — linked to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS. The continuing effort to determine the scope of the well pollution has added a new layer of tension to the Navy’s relations with its Whidbey Island neighbors just as base officials prepare for a major expansion.

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Los Angeles Times: L.A. keeps building near freeways despite sickness

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

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Orlando Sentinel: Nursing home inspection reports leave gaps

The Orlando Sentinel reports that if you want to check on conditions at a Florida nursing home where your elderly loved one is living, you might be surprised at what you don’t find in state inspection reports that are legally required to be open to the public, such as dates. Or places. Or pivotal words. The leader of a national watchdog group, Brian Lee of Families For Better Care, calls the heavily censored reports — which cover inspections of nursing homes and assisted living facilities — “shocking.” He first noticed a difference in the amount of information withheld late last year. I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now,” said Nathan Carter, an Orlando personal injury attorney whose clients have included nursing home residents and their families. “It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”

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Arizona Daily Star: 200 Tucson cops and firefighters paid over $100,000

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Mre than 200 Tucson police and fire employees were paid over $100,000 in 2016, a good portion of which came from sources of pay other than their base salaries, such as overtime and special-duty, city records show.

The Tucson Police Department paid its employees more than $84 million last year, of which $60 million was base salaries. The Fire Department paid out nearly $53 million, and $38 million of that was base pay. Out of 1,317 Tucson Police Department employees, 148 were paid above $100,000, but only 19 made more than that amount in base pay. The other 129 crossed the threshold with other pay categories and cash benefits, of which there are dozens of different types, including overtime, military pay, vehicle allowance and sick-leave buyback.

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Sacramento Bee: California exports its poor to Texas, other states

The Sacramento Bee reports that every year from 2000 through 2015 more people left California than moved in from other states. This migration was not spread evenly across all income groups, a Sacramento Bee review of U.S. Census Bureau data found. The people leaving tend to be relatively poor, and many lack college degrees. Move higher up the income spectrum, and slightly more people are coming than going. About 2.5 million people living close to the official poverty line left California for other states from 2005 through 2015, while 1.7 million people at that income level moved in from other states – for a net loss of 800,000. During the same period, the state experienced a net gain of about 20,000 residents earning at least five times the poverty rate – or $100,000 for a family of three.

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