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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK SEPT. 20, 2016
AP: Drug makers fought state opioid limits amid crisis
The Associated Press reported the makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction. The drug makers vow they're combating the addiction epidemic, but The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity found that they often employ a statehouse playbook of delay and defend that includes funding advocacy groups that use the veneer of independence to fight limits on their drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, the narcotic linked to Prince's death.
Denver Post: Endangered sucker fish bouncing back after a 25-year rescue
The Denver Post reports that for millions of years, razorback sucker fish thrived in a raging, flood-prone Colorado River and were so abundant that settlers caught them on pitchforks and fed them to cows. But over the past 50 years, the razorbacks — yellow-bellied with humped, green heads and frenzied, fleshy lips — fell victim to dams, development and voracious nonnative predators that ate them nearly to extinction. Now they’re making a major turnaround, beneficiaries of a 25-year, $360 million government-run rescue. The recovery has reached a point scientists are calling a “critical mass.” Yet, even though razorback numbers appear to have more than doubled since 2010, questions remain about whether humans will be trapped in a role of perpetual caretakers.
Washington Post: In open-carry America, a trip to Walmart can require an AR-15
The Washington Post reports that in a country of relaxing gun laws where it’s now legal to open-carry in 45 states and there are 14.5 million carry permits, every day seems to bring a new version of what open-carry can mean. In Kentucky, it’s now legal to open-carry in city buildings. In downtown Cleveland, people carried military-style rifles during the Republican National Convention. In Howell, Mich., last month, a father went openly armed to his child’s middle-school orientation. In Mississippi, it’s now legal to open-carry without a permit at all. And Georgia, which has passed a “guns everywhere” bill, has issued nearly 1 million carry permits.
Sun Sentinel: The Gulf of Mexico’s deadly harvest
More than 700 people in the United States have become seriously ill from deadly bacteria found in raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico since 1989, the Sun Sentinel reports. Nearly half died. Other foodborne illnesses sicken far more people, but none is as lethal. Vibrio vulnificus causes excruciating pain as the infection eats through skin and muscle, often leading to amputations and death within days. Food safety authorities know how to prevent this. California in 2003 prohibited the sale of raw Gulf oysters in the warm, high-risk months of April through October unless they’ve been treated to kill the bacteria. Since then, just one death has been linked to raw oysters in that state. But when food regulators tried to require treatment of Gulf oysters nationwide, the industry and its allies in Congress quickly defeated the effort. They said the expense would devastate the oyster business. Those who become seriously ill or die, they said, are chronically ill people who should know better than to eat raw oysters.
Miami Herald: Opa-locka spent millions, despite warnings of financial troubles
While the city was fending off creditors threatening to sue for unpaid bills, officials spent hundreds of thousands on parties, travel and bonuses since 2012 — with few controls on how the tax dollars were spent, According to The Miami Herald. The newspaper found they doled out $300,000 in holiday bonuses for city employees, despite repeated warnings the city would have to lay off workers. They gave out raises that cost hundreds of thousands in additional expenses just in the past six months. Using a city credit card, Mayor Myra Taylor charged airfare for family members to join her on trips across the country, while she was spending thousands on dinners and fruit baskets that she sent to supporters. The spending by Opa-locka officials in the years leading to its fiscal emergency in June represents the most troubling example of what went wrong in one of Florida’s poorest cities and the practices by elected officials that undermined its financial future.
Indianapolis Star: Left in the dark: Indy’s deadly streets
City officials stopped adding streetlights more than 35 years ago to save money on the city’s $2.9 million annual electric bill. Compounding the problem, they also failed to build any new sidewalks for 20 years during that time. It has made for a lethal combination. An Indianapolis Star investigation found that 585 pedestrians have been killed in Marion County since the streetlight ban in 1980. Last year, 27 pedestrians were run down, more than in any year since the moratorium started. The vast majority of those killed were struck at night, usually on streets lacking lights, sidewalks or both. Their deaths not only raise questions about whether the city is doing enough to protect its residents, but also call into question the city’s spending priorities over the years.
Read more: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2016/09/18/left-dark-indys-deadly-streets/88838610/?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=FeedBlitzRss&utm_content=Left+in+the+dark%3a+Indy%27s+deadly+streets
Des Moines Register: Data show big increase in property seizures
The Des Moines Register reports Iowa law enforcement agencies confiscate cash, vehicles and real estate from at least 1,000 people each year as part of a state program in which no proof of crime is required before the government lays claim to personal belongings. That represents a massive increase since the 1980s, when state and local governments reported fewer than two dozen such cases annually, according to data obtained by The Des Moines Register through a public records request. Those data detail for the first time how Iowa's civil forfeiture laws are being widely used to pump millions of dollars into local law enforcement agency budgets every year, mostly in uncontested cases. In many instances, no criminal charges are ever filed against the person whose property was seized.
Los Angeles Times: California’s pension crisis
A Los Angeles Times report says that with the stroke of a pen, California Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation that gave prison guards, park rangers, Cal State professors and other state employees the kind of retirement security normally reserved for the wealthy. More than 200,000 civil servants became eligible to retire at 55 — and in many cases collect more than half their highest salary for life. California Highway Patrol officers could retire at 50 and receive as much as 90 percent of their peak pay for as long as they lived. Proponents sold the measure in 1999 with the promise that it would impose no new costs on California taxpayers. The state employees’ pension fund, they said, would grow fast enough to pay the bill in full. They were off — by billions of dollars — and taxpayers will bear the consequences for decades to come.
Arizona Republic: School buses fail almost 30 percent of 2015 safety inspections
Almost three out of 10 school bus safety inspections conducted by the state last year resulted in a failure because of a "major defect," the Arizona Republic reports. The investigation found Arizona's safety inspection failure rate nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015, from 15.4 to about 29 percent. That rate ranks as one of the highest in the nation. By comparison, the failure rate is 2.7 percent in California; 12 percent in Utah; and 15 percent in New Mexico. The Arizona school buses failed for having cracked and rotted tires and emergency exits and alarms that don't function like they should. They failed for having seats that either weren't completely secured to the floor or had their steel frames exposed.
Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama’s Elmore prison sees spike in homicides
Three inmate homicides at Elmore County Correctional Facility in the past 18 months should signal a crisis within Alabama's overcrowded prison system, a reform advocate said. From 2010 to 2014, one inmate homicide occurred at Elmore, despite a relatively stagnant occupancy rate at about 196 percent, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The recent Elmore deaths account for one-third of all Alabama Department of Corrections inmate homicides in the past 18 months. “That should be setting off alarm bells that the (ADOC) is a system in crisis at all levels, and needs to be treated as such," said Charlotte Morrison, an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative.
Tennessean: Representative’s campaign invested in company of GOP donor
The Tennessean reports that state Rep. Jeremy Durham invested money from his campaign, his political action committee and his personal bank accounts into the company of well-known Republican donor and activist Andrew Miller, according to a state election finance official. Miller, who was scrutinized in 2014 after another GOP lawmaker invested money in his company, confirmed Monday he's been contacted by the state about Durham's investment. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, an entity within the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, is investigating whether Durham, R-Franklin, used his campaign funds for personal use or anything else that would be deemed a violation of state law. Tennessee law states candidates can't use campaign funds for personal purposes.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK SEPT. 13 2016
Los Angeles Times: Toll of violence mounts in San Bernardino
The sound of gunfire and sirens drew about a dozen people out of their homes on San Bernardino’s west side one recent night, the Los Angeles Times reports. A beat-up Honda sat in the street — a small cross dangling from the rearview mirror, two bullet holes in the door. Rescue workers pulled Alejandro Herrera, 28, from the driver’s seat and wheeled him into an ambulance. “The other day, they killed someone down the street,” said a middle-aged woman, leaning against a fence next to her husband. All around this part of the city, she said, there are candlelight memorials to victims of violence. And soon enough, Herrera, who died at the hospital, had his own candlelight memorial on the sidewalk in the neighborhood where he was shot. San Bernardino, still healing from the Dec. 2 terror attack, has seen a surge in violence this year unlike any it has faced in decades. With four months left in 2016, there have been 150 shootings and 47 slayings in the city of 216,000 residents. It had 44 homicides all of last year, including the 14 people killed by terrorists at the Inland Regional Center.
AP: Police losing battle to get drivers to put down their phones
State troopers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been known to patrol in a tractor-trailer so they can sit up high and spot drivers texting behind the wheel, The Associated Press reports. In Bethesda, Maryland, a police officer disguised himself as a homeless man, stood near a busy intersection and radioed ahead to officers down the road about texting drivers. In two hours last October, police gave out 56 tickets. And in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, south of Boston, an officer regularly tools around town on his bicycle, pedals up to drivers at stoplights and hands them $105 tickets. Texting while driving in the U.S. is not just a dangerous habit, but also an infuriatingly widespread one, practiced both brazenly and surreptitiously by so many motorists that police are being forced to get creative — and still can't seem to make much headway.
News Journal: Fatal accidents prove farming is risky business
You would never mistake Bill Brown for anything other than a poultry grower, with a chicken farm in Maryland and a full-time job as an extension agent for the University of Delaware, according to the News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware. Based in Georgetown, he taught and traveled to agricultural operations all around Delaware, spreading advice, including safety tips, to farmers. He knew his way around a chicken house and had done maintenance work on feed motors in poultry houses — lightly powered motors that ration out feed — countless times. But in April, Brown went to touch a feed motor on his farm, not knowing a wire had come loose and energized the motor housing. The shock was enough to kill him. Brown's death rattled and saddened farmers and growers in Delaware and Maryland. Brown, married and the father of two, wasn't just any farmer; his full-time job involved coaching and training poultry growers on how to keep their birds healthy while keeping themselves out of harm's way. For 21 years before coming to UD, he'd worked for Perdue Farms as a flock supervisor, ventilation specialist and hatchery manager. Brown's fatal accident was a reminder of a truth they already knew: Farming is dangerous work, more dangerous that most people realize.
Washington Post: Trump’s charity runs on few of his dollars
The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump was in a tuxedo, standing next to his award: a statue of a palm tree, as tall as a toddler. It was 2010, and Trump was being honored by a charity — the Palm Beach Police Foundation — for his “selfless support” of its cause. His support did not include any of his own money. Instead, Trump had found a way to give away somebody else’s money and claim the credit for himself. Trump had earlier gone to a charity in New Jersey — the Charles Evans Foundation, named for a deceased businessman — and asked for a donation. Trump said he was raising money for the Palm Beach Police Foundation. The Evans Foundation said yes. In 2009 and 2010, it gave a total of $150,000 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a small charity that the Republican presidential nominee founded in 1987. Then, Trump’s foundation turned around and made donations to the police group in South Florida. In those years, the Trump Foundation’s gifts totaled $150,000. Trump had effectively turned the Evans Foundation’s gifts into his own gifts, without adding any money of his own.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-donald-trump-retooled-his-charity-to-spend-other-peoples-money/2016/09/10/da8cce64-75df-11e6-8149-b8d05321db62_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumpfoundation607pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
Boston Globe: Nursing home addiction care falls short
Kenneth “Bubba” Levesque was taking medicine to quell his cravings for heroin when he entered Braemoor Health Center last summer, the Boston Globe reports. Massive infections had forced the amputation of his lower left leg, and he needed help learning how to walk again with a prosthetic limb. Levesque, a teddy bear of a man, seesawed between addiction and recovery many times over the years, and told his family that this was his wake-up call, that he was finally going to “get clean” while in the Brockton nursing home. But state records show that three days after Levesque was discharged from Braemoor in March, the 43-year-old was dead from an opioid overdose, a grim coda to his seven months at the nursing home. During those months, according to state reports and Levesque’s family, he received escalating doses of opioid medications and no substance abuse counseling — at the very time he had vowed to banish narcotics from his life. Even as regulators and health leaders have launched myriad initiatives to combat the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, nursing homes — where potent pain medications are routinely administered — remain distant outposts.
New York Times: Officers with troubled pasts often end up back in blue
As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth, The New York Times says. Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer. But three months later, in August 2005, Mr. Sullivan was hired, after a cursory check, not just as a police officer on another force but as the police chief. As the head of the department in Cedar Vale, Kan., according to court records and law enforcement officials, he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy. “It was very irritating because he should never have been a police officer,” said Larry Markle, the prosecutor for Montgomery and Chautauqua counties in Kansas. It is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be, but some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/us/whereabouts-of-cast-out-police-officers-other-cities-often-hire-them.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: ADHD treatment causes problems for adults
Public health officials have focused on the national plague of narcotic painkillers. But another scourge is looming largely unnoticed: The drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults. Since 2013, there have been more than 19,000 reports of complications from ADHD drugs, most of which are stimulants like Adderall, made to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today analysis. Of those, adults were far more likely than children to suffer severe complications, such as death and hospitalization. Meanwhile, among those 26 and older, recreational use of Adderall, an amphetamine, rose fourfold, from 345,000 people in 2006 to 1.4 million in 2014, according to the latest available federal data. In emergency departments around the country, the number of cases involving two common ADHD drugs nearly quadrupled over seven years. And at morgues in Florida, a bellwether state for drug abuse problems, overdose deaths involving amphetamines increased more than 450% between 2008 and 2014. Taken together, the data shows the drugs — which have been heavily promoted by the pharmaceutical industry — have left a trail of misuse, addiction and death, a Journal Sentinel/MedPage Today investigation found.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK SEPT. 6, 2016
Arizona Daily Star: Truancy pervasive in Tucson-area schools
The Arizona Daily Star quotes education and justice officials as saying that truancy is pervasive in Tucson-area schools — and there are fewer measures to push kids to show up for class or to lure them back if they become chronically truant. About one in five Pima County students missed 15 or more days of the 2013-2014 school year, new data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights show. That’s higher than the national average of about 13 percent. Most of the schools with the worst truancy rates are alternative district or charter schools, where half of all enrolled students missed 15 or more of the school year’s roughly 180 days.
News Journal: Medical marijuana patients in limbo
Five years after medical marijuana was legalized in Delaware, patients still struggle to gain access to the controversial drug they say is the only way to relieve their debilitating conditions, according to the News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware. Marijuana in Delaware and nationwide still operates in a gray area and in defiance of federal law. The result is that patients often pay exorbitant prices, must drive hours every week to buy the drug legally, sometimes have to buy it off drug dealers and often can't use the drug when they need it most. "There are thousands of people that need this as medicine, and there is too much greed and backdoor politics going on here," said Todd Boone, a medical marijuana cardholder.
Chicago Tribune: City wrestles with crisis of youth unemployment
The Chicago Tribune reports that Margo Strotter, who runs a busy sandwich shop in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, makes it a point to hire people with "blemishes." But young people? She sighs and shakes her head. They often lack "the fundamental stuff" — arriving on time, ironing their shirts, communicating well, taking direction — she said. She doesn't have time to train workers in the basics, and worries she's not alone. As Chicago tackles what some have termed a crisis of youth joblessness, it must reckon with the consequences of a failure to invest in its low-income neighborhoods and the people who live there. There aren't enough jobs, and the young people vying for them are frequently woefully unprepared because of gaps in their schooling and upbringing. The system has pushed them to the back of the hiring line.
Des Moines Register: Seven teachers dodge prison time
Some Iowa teachers convicted of sexually abusing students have been placed on probation rather than sentenced to prison, despite a state law requiring they spend time behind bars, a Des Moines Register investigation has found. The law, passed in 1997, specifically prohibits anyone who is a "mandatory reporter" of child abuse — such as a teacher, social worker or psychologist — from eligibility for probation. It was passed to hold educators and others in positions of power and influence over children to higher standards of accountability. But the Register's review of such cases over the past five years revealed at least seven instances in which teachers served no prison time after being convicted of sex crimes involving children attending their schools. Some judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys acknowledged the mistakes, which they said resulted from misunderstandings involving the sentencing requirements for such cases. Legal experts said discovery of the mistakes could prompt courts to set aside the sentencing agreements or retry the cases.
Courier-Journal: County school arrest numbers unclear
The word “arrested” was written in all-caps across the Western High student's publicly available arrest citation, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. The 18-year-old was handcuffed in school after what police said was a classroom confrontation over a cellphone that turned physical. He was charged with two counts of third-degree assault and one count of second-degree disorderly conduct in the April 2015 incident. He got a jail booking number and a mugshot. Yet his arrest was not counted by Jefferson County Public Schools in data that it is required to send to the state. Neither was the arrest in October 2014 of Andre Banks, who shot a classmate at Fern Creek High School. Nor was the arrest of an Eastern High student in March 2015 on drug charges. A monthslong review conducted by the Courier-Journal found JCPS did not report hundreds of arrest cases to the state — many of which it contends it didn't have to — leaving parents and the public with an incomplete picture of what’s going on in the state’s largest school district.
Boston Globe: Housing opportunities limited for the poor
The Boston Globe reports that low-income families who use housing subsidies to move from struggling to thriving communities represent perhaps the country’s best shot at breaking intergenerational poverty. Landmark research from Harvard University last year showed that children from poor families who make the transition at a young age are more likely to go to college, less likely to become single parents, and earn more money than those who remain behind. But despite the success of some families, their story remains an exception. A Globe examination finds that politics and inertia have conspired to create this lopsided geography of affordable housing — undercutting the region’s best hope for racial and economic integration. Researchers at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management have mapped the whole phenomenon at the Globe’s request. And the results are striking. Just 21 percent of federally subsidized units in Eastern Massachusetts are in so-called high-opportunity neighborhoods, with ready access to jobs, healthy food, and quality schools. That leaves 79 percent in moderate- and low-opportunity neighborhoods, block after block of housing projects and apartment complexes lining Franklin Park, surrounding Mattapan Square, and filling out struggling sections of Brockton and Lawrence.
New York Times: Global warming’s mark is coastal inundation
Huge vertical rulers are sprouting beside low spots in the streets in Norfolk, Virginia, so people can judge if the tidal floods that increasingly inundate their roads are too deep to drive through, The New York Times reports. Five hundred miles down the Atlantic Coast, the only road to Tybee Island, Georgia, is disappearing beneath the sea several times a year, cutting the town off from the mainland. And another 500 miles on, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, increased tidal flooding is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains — and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets. For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline. Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Red Cross chapters go dark
When the Red Cross chapter closed in northern Livingston County, "it happened in an instant," a local volunteer coordinator says — with no apparent plan for valued programs, including one that provided the elderly and disabled with rides to medical appointments. That was one scene from a series of consolidations that eliminated most American Red Cross chapters across the nation over several years. New York has seen its Red Cross chapters cut from 35 in 2008 to 10 in 2015. In western and central New York, the number has fallen from 19 to five, leaving much of the Southern Tier without a local office. The village of Dansville, New York, where the first local chapter of the American Red Cross was founded in 1881, no longer has one.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK
Arizona Republic: Fostering a crisis
The Arizona Republic reports that Jasmine Flores entered the Arizona foster care system when she was 13 years old. She stayed in the system, moving from group home to group home to group home and changing schools along the way. When she approached her 18th birthday, she began to think about life outside of the state care system. She’s now 19, the proud owner of a car and a thriving college student, after participating in the transitional programs for aging foster youth. Flores’s transition story, though, is not typical for the roughly 800 young adults expected to “age-out” of the foster care system in Arizona in 2016. There are state programs and charitable agencies aimed at helping youth as they age out of foster care, but only about one quarter of them take advantage, according to Beverlee Kroll, an independent living and youth services manager for the Department of Child Safety. … Ken Lynch, chief of communications for Tumbleweed, an organization that works with at-risk young people, estimates that 35 percent of the young people his organization serves have left the foster care system “without support, life skills, directly to homelessness.”
News Journal: Delaware lawmakers eye caps on changing payday industry
Delaware lawmakers thought they were cracking down on predatory lending when they passed legislation in 2012 that limited the number of payday loans a person could get each year, the News Journal says. But payday lenders in Delaware and nationwide responded by changing the types of loans they offer to avoid strict laws that only apply to payday advances. This means that, despite the state's efforts, thousands of Delawareans are still paying three- or even four-digit interest rates on loans that are supposed to help them in financial emergencies but can leave them in a cycle of debt.
Washington Post: A fortress against fear
Don and Jonna Bradway recently cashed out of the stock market and invested in gold and silver, the Washington Post reports. They have stockpiled food and ammunition in the event of a total economic collapse or some other calamity commonly known around here as “The End of the World As We Know It” or “SHTF” — the day something hits the fan. The Bradways fled California, a state they said is run by “leftists and non-Constitutionalists and anti-freedom people,” and settled on several wooded acres of north Idaho five years ago. They live among like-minded conservative neighbors, host Monday night Bible study around their fire pit, hike in the mountains and fish from their boat. They melt lead to make their own bullets for sport shooting and hunting — or to defend themselves against marauders in a world-ending cataclysm. “I’m not paranoid, I’m really not,” said Bradway, 68, a cheerful Army veteran with a bushy handlebar mustache who favors Hawaiian shirts. “But we’re prepared. Anybody who knows us knows that Don and Jonna are prepared if and when it hits the fan.” The Bradways are among the vanguard moving to an area of the Pacific Northwest known as the American Redoubt, a term coined in 2011 by survivalist author and blogger James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is deliberate) to describe a settlement of the God-fearing in a lightly populated territory that includes Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon.
Miami Herald: Overstaffed at Guantanamo
The Miami Herald reports that recently 100 or so Military Police from California and Maryland were overlapping with departing troops at the most expensive prison on earth — a routine Army rotation that meant there were at least 33 soldiers and civilians at the prison complex for each Guantánamo captive. In Indianapolis earlier this month, family and friends bade farewell to 60 National Guard infantrymen bound for Fort Bliss, Texas, to train for a nine-month Guantánamo prison tour. And at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, a unit of Puerto Rican Army Reserve MPs trained at a mock prison camp compound for a Spring 2017 call-up to Guantánamo Bay. Even as the Obama administration expects to empty its wartime prison of all but the last 40 or so detainees, the military has declined to downsize the staff that surged past 2,000 in 2013 when more than 100 captives waged a mass hunger strike.
Des Moines Register: Danger lurks in Iowa wells
The Des Moines Register says that when Sandy Davis holds up her hand, it is gnarled and shaking. She blames it on drinking well water for about 25 years that was heavily laced with arsenic, a highly toxic element that's naturally occurring in Iowa. Sandy and her husband, Jack, had no idea their water wasn't safe to drink. Many Iowans probably don't, officials say. With nearly 300,000 Iowans who rely on private wells, "there could be thousands of people across the state who are in the same boat and don't even know it," said Brian Hanft, environmental services manager at Cerro Gordo Health Department. Unlike public drinking water systems in cities and towns, no state or federal law requires existing private wells to be tested for contaminants such as nitrates, bacteria and arsenic. And few Iowans test their wells.
Baltimore Sun: Private fund, public mistrust
The Baltimore Police Foundation for years covered the cost of equipment and initiatives that the city's tight budget couldn't cover. It had an executive director, a board of directors and a police commissioner committed to personally raising funds, the Baltimore Sun reports. But the integrity of the charity crumbled when former Commissioner Edward T. Norris was caught and sent to prison in 2004 for misspending donations made to another police account meant to provide money for the needy. Charitable donations to police continued to flow, however, to two funds at the Baltimore Community Foundation. Only these funds wouldn't have the independent oversight of a board and wouldn't be required to publicly disclose donations or spending. That arrangement allowed the Baltimore Police Department to conduct an aerial surveillance program for more than six months without telling residents that a plane overhead was recording their movements.
Boston Globe: The broken covenant
Nearly a third of community mental health providers in Massachusetts reported closing clinics from 2013 to 2015, according to one study, a trend that has continued this year, the Boston Globe reports. Two intensive day programs for adults in the Boston area with severe mental illness closed in recent months, displacing 100 more people. State Hospital, which closed in 2010, once housed 2,000 patients, back in an era when people suffering from mental illness were confined to state mental institutions. The shutdowns underscored a truth that providers have long known: Mental health care is often a money loser, in large part because of the state’s long-term neglect. The state Medicaid program, MassHealth, has for years reimbursed providers at rates far below the cost of treatment, meaning they lose money on every person they serve. “We just couldn’t sustain the loss over time,” said Nancy Gajee, a top psychologist at the nonprofit May Institute, which in March closed one of the two adult day programs, Crossroads in West Roxbury. The daily struggle to find and pay for care is an indictment of political leadership in Massachusetts and beyond that spans generations.
New York Times: Trump’s start in real estate included allegations of bias
She seemed like the model tenant, The New York Times said. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a “beautiful application.” She did not even want to look at the unit. There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black. Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump. “I asked him what to do and he says, ‘Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,’” Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview. It was late 1963. Over the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company’s practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle. An investigation by The New York Times — drawing on decades-old files from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, internal Justice Department records, court documents and interviews with tenants, civil rights activists and prosecutors — uncovered a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/us/politics/donald-trump-housing-race.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Columbus Dispatch: Mounting gambling losses in Ohio
People love to gamble in Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reports. From a $1 scratch-off lottery ticket to a $10,000 bet at a casino, Ohio has it all. The lure of gambling, of course, is winning big. But those betting at the state’s four casinos, seven racinos at horse-race tracks, and the Ohio Lottery have lost $9.7 billion in the past four years, according to a Dispatch analysis. Including all major forms of legal gambling, nearly $62.9 billion was bet and $53.3 billion was won from 2012 to 2015. Gamblers’ losses have a silver lining, however, because much of the money provides a financial boost to Ohio schools, cities and counties. The lottery sent more than $1 billion this year alone to public education.
Seattle Times: FBI’s porn sting puts privacy in crossfire
The Seattle Times reports that for two weeks in the spring of 2015, the FBI was one of the largest purveyors of child pornography on the internet. After arresting the North Carolina administrator of The Playpen, a “dark web” child-pornography internet bulletin board, agents seized the site’s server and moved it to an FBI warehouse in Virginia. They then initiated “Operation Pacifier,” a sting and computer-hacking operation of unparalleled scope that has thus far led to criminal charges against 186 people, including at least five in Washington state. The investigation has sparked a growing social and legal controversy over the FBI’s tactics and the impact on internet privacy. Some critics have compared the sting to the notorious Operation Fast and Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed the illegal sales of thousands of guns to drug smugglers, who later used them in crimes. Defense attorneys and some legal scholars suggest the FBI committed more serious crimes than those they’ve arrested — distributing pornography, compared with viewing or receiving it. Moreover, the FBI’s refusal to discuss Operation Pacifier and reveal exactly how it was conducted — even in court — has threatened some of the resulting criminal prosecutions.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK AUG. 23, 2016
Boston Globe: Medical examiners can be a jury of one
When Dr. Peter Cummings was a state medical examiner, he didn’t often receive emails or phone calls from lawyers, except for prosecutors just before trial, the Boston Globe reports. But shortly after he ruled that a 6-month-old Malden baby had died violently of shaken-baby syndrome, he received an email from a defense attorney on the case — the first of a number of contacts he would have with the team hired to represent the child’s father. Cummings later stunned prosecutors when, before trial, he said he was changing his finding on the manner of death from homicide to undetermined, devastating the prospects for a criminal conviction. When prosecutors sought a second opinion, fearful that the murder case would be derailed, Cummings became angry. Not even the chief of the medical examiner’s office, he said, can override him. A Globe review of Cummings’s changed decision, and two subsequent retractions of shaken-baby rulings by other medical examiners, found a highly decentralized system of ruling on suspicious deaths in Massachusetts, in which forensic pathologists are given extraordinary freedom to make — and change — their rulings, with little scrutiny of what factors, including personal ones, may have influenced them.
Denver Post: Heroin leaves mark in rural areas of Colorado
On a hot June night in La Junta, a group of Otero County sheriff’s deputies and local police officers stormed the one-bedroom apartment of a suspected drug dealer on the west end of town, hoping to find a bounty of heroin, the Denver Post reports. “Get on your stomach! … Don’t move!” law enforcement yelled before leading out five people in handcuffs. After about two hours of searching through books, boxes, furniture and shelves, they had found little: a small rock of suspected black-tar heroin, a bit of methamphetamine residue and a mass of paraphernalia that included baggies, apparent pipes and a small scale. “We better find more than that,” a deputy said as he rifled through a safe by hand. But the raid became another frustrating reminder that it’s difficult for small-town officers to keep up with drug distributors as heroin spreads across the Lower Arkansas Valley. The rapid rise in the number of addicts also adds pressure to the valley’s few health care providers, limited substance abuse programs and jails.
Sun Sentinel: Pythons have taste for deer, birds, even alligators
Call Burmese pythons a plague on the Everglades, but don't call them picky eaters. A Sun Sentinel examination of the digestive systems of 104 pythons killed this year in a public hunting competition turned up the remains of seven alligators, 50 mammals — including two deer — and 38 birds. It was ample evidence of the toll the non-native constrictors were taking on Everglades wildlife. "Each snake removed is no longer removing native wildlife through predation," stated a report on the hunt prepared by scientists at the University of Florida. "Even if each snake only lived to acquire one last meal, the list of animals protected by removing these snakes would be similar to the list of diet items found in this study." In addition to the deer, the mammals included 11 hispid cotton rats, eight opossums, seven cotton mice, seven round-tailed muskrats, four marsh rice rats, three raccoons, three rabbits, two eastern gray squirrels and one black rat, according to the report.
Des Moines Register: School bus stopping law backfiring
Iowa's attempt to crack down on drivers who fail to stop for school buses may be backfiring. Some authorities appear reluctant to fully prosecute motorists because of harsh penalties, the Des Moines Register reports. Only a tiny fraction of drivers who illegally pass a school bus in Iowa are ultimately convicted. Even fewer have their license suspended, state data shows. The Iowa Legislature passed a school bus law in 2012 that carries steep consequences, even on a first-time offense: a 30-day license suspension, plus costly fines and pricey high-risk insurance. Called Kadyn's Law, the legislation is named after 7-year-old Kadyn Halverson, who was struck and killed by a pickup that failed to stop while Kadyn was crossing the road to reach a school bus. But the law's steep consequences have prompted even some supporters to question whether the state has created an unreasonable punishment for first-time offenses. Violators are much more apt to fight charges, and prosecutors appear more amenable to agree to lower consequences, data suggest.
Baltimore Sun: Public defenders juggle heavy caseloads
The Annapolis district courts have not been gaveled into session for the day, but already more than a dozen criminal defendants and their relatives are milling around in the hallway when a public defender arrives, a stack of thick manila folders under his arm. He calls out a list of names. One by one they emerge from the crowd and he shakes their hands. In many cases, they have never talked before this moment. "My name is Darren Douglas, I'm your attorney," he says. "Nice to meet you." Across Maryland, especially in suburban and rural areas, public defenders are asked to represent hundreds more clients than legal experts say they can juggle and still provide effective legal representation, The Baltimore Sun reports. The state has set non-binding caseload limits for public defenders — the maximum number experts say they can competently handle. But those limits are chronically exceeded.State lawmakers and public defenders blame inadequate funding, and some say Maryland's criteria governing who qualifies for free legal representation is too lax. According to one analysis, about 380 public defenders in circuit and district courts are doing the job of more than 530 lawyers.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: American Indian families broken apart
From his bench on the second floor of Hennepin County’s juvenile courthouse, Judge Luis Bartolomei will determine the future of five American Indian families. Among them: A father accused of beating his 8-year-old daughter. A mother who gave birth to a methadone-addicted baby. A mother who at one point shot up heroin eight times a day. In each of the five cases, Bartolomei will have to decide whether the best way to protect the children is to take them away from their parents. For American Indian families, that’s more likely to happen in Minnesota than anywhere else in the country, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Minnesota has more American Indian children in foster care than any other state, including those with significantly larger Indian populations, according to a Star Tribune analysis of federal and state data. Less than 2 percent of children in Minnesota are Indian, but they make up nearly a quarter of the state’s foster care population — a disparity that is more than double the next highest state.
Tulsa World: Suicide rates in Tulsa among highest in nation
The Tulsa World says that in the months following his return from Iraq, Josh Butts became depressed and suicidal. It’s not something he planned to happen, or had thought about in the past. “It was a tremendously lost feeling, lonely and hopeless. It’s not that I didn’t think that there were good things in the world. I literally didn’t know if I deserved them,” Butts said. “You fool yourself into thinking that you don’t deserve to be happy or that your situation dictates your happiness. That’s just not true.” It’s a feeling that may be familiar to many in Oklahoma, where the suicide rate is 37 percent higher than the national rate, yet the state ranks near the bottom in spending for mental health services. Nationally, there are 12.6 suicides per 100,000 people each year. Tulsa’s suicide rate of 16.8 per 100,000 ranks it 15th among U.S. cities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oklahoma ranks 13th in the country with a rate of 17.2 per 100,000.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Big real estate deals dodging taxes
In many of Philadelphia's biggest real estate deals, the tax levied when a property changes hands isn't being paid in full — if at all, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Of 2015's five commercial real estate deals valued at more than $100 million, the transfer tax was paid on the full purchase price only once, according to an Inquirer analysis. The four times it was not cost Philadelphia and Pennsylvania as much as $12.1 million. And 2016 is apparently no different. None of this year's first three $100 million-plus commercial real estate transactions involved payment of the real estate transfer tax — now 4 percent, but set to increase — against the full purchase price. Just those three instances cost the public as much as $16.3 million. The apparent tax avoidance means the public is missing out on the full benefit of the city's booming commercial real estate market, which is seeing record-setting sale prices.
Seattle Times: Chaos, trash and tears in flawed homeless sweeps
One morning this spring, under Interstate 5 along Jackson Street, residents of a homeless camp emerged from tents and shelters built from broken branches to find state crews and a dump truck arriving on scene. The day before, workers had handed out green trash bags, telling the dwellers that cleaning the Seattle site could save them from eviction. The bags sat filled to capacity, but the state crews had returned for a broader mission: to clear out all belongings and people, the Seattle Times reports. The miscommunication left those living in the camp — some cursing, some crying — in a scramble to move personal items across the street before a mini excavator could scoop everything into a truck headed for the dump. The city has emphasized the importance of having outreach workers involved in the camp sweeps to connect the ousted residents to a variety of services. But no outreach workers arrived to help that day. In observing more than a dozen sweeps that took place across Seattle during the past five months, The Seattle Times witnessed a series of disorganized attempts that undermined the city’s goal of maintaining a humane and productive cleanup process.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Sex offenders forced onto streets by ordinance
Last summer, Artrell Jones got a notice from the Milwaukee Police Department: He had to move out of his north side rental home, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Jones, a registered sex offender, hadn’t done anything to violate the terms of his sentence, which stemmed from groping a 13-year-old girl he met online when he was 19. In fact, Jones had stayed out of trouble since his conviction in 2002. The notice alerted Jones that a new Milwaukee ordinance had gone into effect, severely restricting where sex offenders can live. Jones’ home was too close to a school. So, for the past year, Jones, 35, has bounced from house to house, moving every couple of days. He relies on family and friends for refuge, periodically popping into homeless shelters when nobody has a room. It’s an arrangement, he said, that can’t last forever. In the two years since Milwaukee leaders enacted the residency ordinance as a way to push sex offenders out of the city, little has gone as planned. Rather than reducing the number of sex offenders, the ordinance has put more than 200 of them in the street and failed to keep new offenders from moving into the city, a Journal Sentinel analysis has found. Experts say the increase in homeless sex offenders could put the public at greater risk. Studies show that without a permanent home, the lives of offenders become more unstable, increasing the chance they will re-offend.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK AUG. 16, 2016
Fourteen-year-old Jesus heard the sound of an air cannon firing bundles of marijuana over the fence from Mexico into the U.S. one evening in February, the Arizona Republic reports. Jesus and a friend raced to retrieve one of the bundles, then hauled it to a nearby trailer park west of Douglas. Border Patrol agents, who had been watching all of this on surveillance cameras, arrived moments later. They found a bundle stashed under an abandoned trailer. They also found Jesus hiding under another trailer, his 20-year-old accomplice nearby. All together, the bundles weighed 101 pounds. Now Jesus, a U.S. citizen, sits in a cell at the Cochise County Jail in Bisbee, a juvenile facing adult felony drug-smuggling charges. For years criminal organizations have recruited juveniles from border communities to help transport marijuana and other drugs from Mexico into the U.S. with promises of easy money and little consequences if caught. Over the past year, however, dozens of juveniles caught by the Border Patrol helping transport marijuana across the border have been prosecuted as adults by the Cochise County Attorney's Office under state laws.
Los Angeles Times: LA fixes mediocre streets, leaving rest to crumble
Even as Mayor Eric Garcetti touts improving streets in Los Angeles, some areas rife with crumbling roads have seen them fall further into disrepair, a Los Angeles Times analysis shows. City streets have gotten better over the past three years, as the overall pavement quality grade has increased to a C-plus. Those gains are especially striking in the San Fernando Valley, where the improvement rate was double that found in the rest of the city. But neighborhoods such as Mount Washington and Silver Lake, which ranked among the shoddiest in a Times analysis three years ago, have gotten worse. The inequity is the result of a strategy akin to reverse triage: Unable to pay to fix all its broken streets, L.A. has chosen to spend its money to preserve so-so roadways — and largely ignore the very worst.
Washington Post: Millennial voters see 2016 as a bad joke
The Washington Post says Jo Tongue doesn’t have much time for politics, but the Hillary and Trump show is hard to tune out. And even harder to take. To this 31-year-old mother of two, with a third on the way, the presidency should be an honorable office, but instead she feels “bummed that we’re at a place where it all feels like a joke.” Tongue says she is both “sad” and “defeated” and — in a world filled with shootings, bombings and financial strain — maintains scant hope that a new president will change any of it. … Polling suggests that the millennial generation will act much the same this November as it did four and eight years ago — by voting heavily for the Democratic nominee, though with a considerable share supporting a third-party candidate. But in interviews this past week with more than 70 young voters in nine states from diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and careers, it is clear their mood is decidedly different from previous elections. Despite their varied lives, most of those interviewed shared a disgust with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump so intense that it is pushing many beyond disillusionment and toward apathy.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/for-millennial-voters-the-clinton-vs-trump-choice-feels-like-a-joke/2016/08/13/306d85a2-609c-11e6-8e45-477372e89d78_story.html?hpid=hp_special-topic-chain_millenials-630pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
Orlando Sentinel: Gun dealers face minimal oversight
The state's barbers, construction workers and talent agents face tougher oversight than gun dealers, who in Florida are only monitored by a short-staffed federal agency, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Cosmetologists and other licensed professionals in the Sunshine State are required, for instance, to self-report felony and misdemeanor convictions within 30 days. In addition, state law enforcement alerts Florida's licensing agency about any drug-trafficking convictions of licensed professionals. Unlike 13 states that license gun dealers, Florida's firearms retailers have no state oversight. Dealer licensing and monitoring falls under the watch of the federal Bureau of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Oversight of dealers has gained more attention in recent months because of their role in helping vet potential buyers. A dealer in Jensen Beach, for example, turned away Omar Mateen, who later purchased a semi-automatic rifle just days before he shot and killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub on June 12.
Wichita Eagle: Lax regulation leads to deadly day care
Within his first week at Karin’s Kids day care, 5-month-old Bryce Mosier had severe diaper rash, the Wichita Eagle reports. He had sat for hours in a wet diaper after playing in a swimming pool. Another time, his mom came to pick him up and found him asleep on his stomach, despite instructions to lay him on his back – a basic safe-sleep practice. His parents, Tina Williams and Brock Mosier, thought about using another day care. But family members had recommended Karin’s Kids, operated by Karin Patterson. They decided to give Patterson one more try because Bryce had only been there a few weeks. Tina Williams remembers that last morning clearly. Bryce gibber-jabbered in his bouncy chair as Tina got ready for work. Brock was still asleep. When they got to day care, Tina gave Bryce a kiss. “I love you, Beans,” she said – his nickname because Tina ate so many burritos while pregnant. Later that day, Patterson put Bryce down for a nap. He was on his stomach on a doubled-over Pokemon sleeping bag. He never woke up. Only after Bryce’s death did his parents learn that state inspectors had questioned Patterson’s ability to care for children.
Kansas City Star: Water slide is example of too much, too fast
The Kansas City Star reports that Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry struck on the idea some time around 2012: His Texas company would build a water slide zipping riders from a height nobody had gone to before. The notion looked particularly attractive because the Travel Channel wanted footage of the testing and opening to kick off its next season of “Xtreme Waterparks.” The Verrückt, then, became a chance to turbocharge the prospects of Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kansas, after its ho-hum launch a few years before. Not only would this super slide elevate the heights riders could zoom down, it would bring buzz to the park. By early 2013, Henry began sharing his inspiration to make Wyandotte County the site of the world’s tallest water slide — a process largely controlled by Schlitterbahn with little interference from any government regulators. The Verrückt opened a year later in all its 168-foot, heart-stopping glory. A well-oiled hype machine attracted media from around the globe to Kansas City, Kansas, for the July 2014 opening. Political leaders jumped in on the promotion. Mayor Mark Holland was one of the first to try the 17-story drop and its subsequent stomach-collapsing 50-foot hump. For the next two years, Verrückt drew such large crowds that Schlitterbahn suggested that visitors make reservations ahead of time. The sky-piercing slide capped decades of success for Henry’s company. The company had custom-made spectacular rides in the past. This time it would push the envelope further. Now following the death of 10-year-old Caleb Thomas Schwab on Aug. 7, an examination by The Kansas City Star of how the Verrückt rose from the ground shows how little stood in the path of an idea that appears, in hindsight, to have been dotted with warning signs.
New York Times: How the president came to embrace executive power
In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life, The New York Times reports. Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history. Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come. The Obama administration in its first seven years finalized 560 major regulations — those classified by the Congressional Budget Office as having particularly significant economic or social impacts. That was nearly 50 percent more than the George W. Bush administration during the comparable period, according to data kept by the regulatory studies center at George Washington University.
Oregonian: Wildfire catastrophe
The Oregonian’s investigative reports goes back to lightning strikes that started a dozen fires on Aug. 12, 2015 — exactly a year ago. Within two days, gale-force winds fanned the two most substantial starts into a ferocious firestorm that raced through the Canyon Creek community south of John Day. The wildfire ultimately destroyed 43 homes and nearly 100 barns, workshops and other structures. Cherished pets. Family heirlooms. Livestock. Tools. Trucks. Timber. Much simply vanished, vaporized at temperatures that in places hit 2,000 degrees, leaving puddles of melted metal and glass on soil baked to a glassy sheet. Managers with the U.S. Forest Service insist they did everything possible to contain the wildfires at Mason Spring and Berry Creek, which combined to create the Canyon Creek fire. They blame high winds, drought and a lack of national resources to supplement their own forces. In the end, they say nothing more could've been done to prevent this act of God that cost $31.5 million to extinguish. … But an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found systemic problems within the Forest Service that left the Malheur forest primed to burn. And a cascading set of tactical errors slowed the agency's response and squandered its chances to extinguish the fire early.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Why your train is late
On Tuesday night, a SEPTA train heading west toward Paoli lost power _ for hours, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. No water. No bathroom. No air conditioning. No way off a train disabled a few miles shy of a station. At first, the passengers joked among themselves. Then the train stood still. Mary Kate Foley, a Temple University junior heading to a show rehearsal in Downingtown, said conductors appeared indifferent to passengers' concerns, while SEPTA's social media service provided inaccurate information about a rescue. Foley is one of 65,000 people each weekday who contend with SEPTA's consistently unreliable rail service. In 2015, nearly one in five trains was late, the worst performance of the decade. Train riders have sat in tunnels for hours without knowing why. They have missed job interviews and daycare pick-ups. They have learned to get to the station an hour before they need to. And that was before July, when SEPTA lost a third of its rail cars. An Inquirer analysis of hundreds of performance reports; interviews with SEPTA employees, top managers, other rail agencies, and industry experts; and input from more than 100 riders portrays a system that even fails to live up to its own expectations. The reasons are myriad and include outdated equipment, a lack of funding and manpower, growing ridership and a complicated relationship with Amtrak. None come with easy solutions.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Landlords hide behind perpetual bankruptcy
Jesse Hyche owes the City of Milwaukee more than $200,000 in building code fines for violations dating to 2001, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. To keep the city and other creditors at bay, Hyche has turned to the courts for protection: He has been in Chapter 13 bankruptcy almost continuously since the elder George Bush was sworn in as president in January 1989. In that time, Hyche, 65, was able to frustrate city officials as they struggled to seize his properties or force him to pay his fines. Experts say the city could turn the heat up on people who repeatedly file for federal or state bankruptcy protection to avoid paying fines. But the city has failed to do so.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK AUG. 9, 2016
When the sickening odor swept across Matt Heissinger's farmstead, his daughter would sprint from their home to the car, the Chicago Tribune reports. Clinging to the girl's clothes and hair, the smell drove her to tears as she feared becoming a high school outcast. Heissinger's wife often was forced to stay indoors, suffering from headaches and congestion, while the soft-spoken farmer worked his cows and crops with smarting eyes and a raspy throat. On the field next door, pork producers had erected a 3,600-hog confinement facility, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of manure emit gases that have ruined the Heissingers' quality of life. The assessed value of their farm was cut in half because "breezes from the hog confinement across their property are awful," the state tax board concluded. "A lot of our money is tied up in this farm," Heissinger said. "Our nest egg isn't there no more." Across Illinois, the nation's fourth-largest seller of pigs, large hog confinements have exploded in number and size. Raising pigs for slaughter in an efficient, factory-like setting, the operations help hold down the price of the most widely consumed meat in the world. But all that cheap pork comes at a harsh and until now unmeasured cost. Documenting the impact of this profound shift for the first time, the Tribune found a state regulatory system that failed to protect rural communities as pork producers repeatedly exploited weak Illinois laws to build and expand the massive facilities.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that the Austin Police Department has had an ever-changing answer to a simple question: How many drunken driving wrecks did the city have in 2014? The number provided last fall was 454, indicating an astonishing 23 percent drop in such crashes from the prior year. Uber and Lyft, which officially launched here in 2014, cited it as proof the ride-hailing services made Austin’s streets safer. Then, just days before the highly charged May election on the city’s new ride-hailing rules, the American-Statesman discovered police had recalculated the 2014 figure to 523, slashing the drop in such crashes to 12 percent. And then, days after the defeat of the Proposition 1 rules favored by Lyft and Uber, the Police Department disclosed it had recalculated the figure in response to the Statesman’s questions. This time, the department came up with 483 drunken driving crashes for 2014, suggesting a 17 percent drop. “The bottom line: We made a mistake,” said Ron MacKay, the department’s Planning and Crime Analysis Division manager, who oversees the unit that produced the faulty statistics. … The Statesman’s month-long investigation found a variety of problems with the department’s data collection.
The University of Arizona’s top health scholar is a man on the move — across the U.S. and abroad to places like South Korea, Japan and Denmark, the Arizona Republic reports. Over nearly three years ending in early 2016, his publicly paid expenses for out-of-state trips exceeded $44,000. But in-state travel expenses during the same period for Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, UA’s senior vice president for health sciences, were also costly: $34,000-plus. Garcia is among the university’s highest-paid employees, with total compensation of $870,000 last year. He repeatedly has billed the UA for travel luxuries that are rare among public employees, including upgraded airline seats and chauffeured trips in comfortable sedans between his offices in Tucson and Phoenix.
Arizona Daily Star: Fines rare in broke teacher contracts
Hundreds of Tucson teachers have broken their contracts with little or no penalty, the Arizona Daily Star reports. While a teacher’s departure during the school year disrupts students’ learning and costs districts money, a Daily Star analysis found that less than a quarter of the nearly 600 Tucson teachers who broke their contracts between 2011 and 2015 were penalized. Tucson-area school districts have varied approaches to ensure that teachers honor their commitments. They can levy fines or even file reports of unprofessional conduct with the state Board of Education, which could result in the loss of a teaching certificate. In most cases, however, penalties were waived if teachers left for reasons acceptable to the districts’ governing boards.
Sun Sentinel: Lottery expansion draws in the poor
Florida’s Sun Sentinel reports that the Florida Lottery's aggressive campaign to sell more scratch-off tickets has enticed the state's poorest residents the most. In the areas of highest poverty — where people are most attracted to scratch-off games — one in six households spent at least $10 of every $1,000 in income on the games in 2010. Last year, that rate grew to one in three. Although scratch-off sales have surged statewide, a Sun Sentinel analysis found:
- Sales of scratch-offs in high-poverty areas rose almost three times as fast as other areas.
- Sales in impoverished neighborhoods swelled as the Lottery increased its advertising to minorities.
- Brisk scratch-off sales did not dramatically boost the amount of money raised for education, which the Lottery touts as one of its chief benefits.
Kansas City Star: Homeowners associations bring misery
The Kansas City Star says that a frantic cry still haunts Monica Meeker. It punctured the darkness as she and her husband lay in bed at the end of a fun-filled day celebrating daughter Camilla’s third birthday last October. She rushed to her daughter’s bedroom and found her hanging from a window, the cord from the blind wrapped tightly around Camilla’s neck. “She was gasping for air and crying and coughing,” Meeker said. “She had purple ligature marks on her neck for a week.” The couple took down the blinds that night, replacing them with curtains. Within two weeks, a letter arrived from the property manager for their homeowners association. The gray curtains they’d put up violated the association’s standards. And so began the Meekers’ foray into homes association hell — a drama that has played out in homes across the country. Outlandish rules — from the farcical to the frightening — are being enforced by other homes associations. Put the horror stories together, add in a mounting number of associations with funding shortages, and you’ve got an undeclared national housing crisis, industry experts say. Jim Segel, a lawyer who played a major role in crafting the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform act, has seen the growing number of unhappy residents handcuffed by strange restrictions. He’s also watched the increasing threat of homeowners associations (HOAs) that don’t save enough money to pay for projects and major repairs.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Teens with mental health problems end up in detention
Katelin Ferrell, 17, recalls sobbing uncontrollably while trying to block out the sound of five adults screaming orders just inches from her face, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Moments later, she says, staff at the Anoka County juvenile facility threw her to the floor, shackled her wrists and ankles, and left her isolated in her room. Not until the next day, Katelin says, was she finally taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, where she was treated for a broken orbital bone beneath her eye socket, burst blood vessels in both eyes and a concussion. “I have no idea what I did to deserve this,” said Katelin, her eyes still bloodshot and bruised a week after the incident. Katelin, who has struggled with depression and behavioral problems since grade school, thought she and her mother would get help from county officials to find a “safe place,” a mental health facility where she could get professional therapy. Instead, like a growing number of Minnesota adolescents, she wound up in a county correctional facility, where staff often behave more like prison guards than therapists. Troubled children who are not charged with a crime — whose only offenses might be running away from home or hitting a classmate — now account for one-fifth of the population in Minnesota’s county juvenile correctional facilities. Between 2009 and 2015, the amount of time that so-called “non-delinquent” children spent in state-licensed juvenile correctional facilities rose 28 percent, largely because county child protection workers and local judges have nowhere else to send them, say state officials.
Charlotte Observer: Inmate in solitary confinement for 13 years
For more than 13 years, North Carolina prison inmate Jason Swain has spent the vast majority of his hours in concrete cells smaller than a parking space, the Charlotte Observer reports. Swain, who suffers from bipolar depression, has spent more than 4,800 straight days in solitary confinement – a punishment that research shows often makes mental illness worse. He’s rarely allowed to talk face-to-face with other inmates, usually gets only an hour a day out of his cell and hasn’t been allowed to visit with relatives or friends in more than a decade. State prison officials say they’ve worked hard to help Swain, who is serving time at Central Prison for aiding and abetting a murder. But they say he presents a special challenge because he frequently threatens others and hurts himself. The Buncombe County native has repeatedly swallowed razors, ripped open his surgical incisions and plunged sharp objects into his open wounds. “I know you don’t want to hear this,” Swain, 41, wrote in a recent letter to his mother, “but if i die in here by my own hands, let people know.” North Carolina’s prisons have long relied on solitary confinement to discipline inmates. As the global outcry against the practice grows, the state has worked to reduce its use of segregation. But – as Swain’s case shows – some inmates remain in isolation for extraordinarily long periods. His plight illustrates a continuing dilemma for state prison leaders, who struggle to find alternatives.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK AUG. 2, 2016
After being discharged from detox, Rory Gallegos had nowhere to go, the Los Angeles Times reports. So he made the street his home. A year later, he thought he had found a home when the Hillview Mental Health Center in Pacoima offered him an apartment with onsite mental health services. But to qualify for a voucher to pay for the room, Gallegos first had to prove that he was chronically homeless. He couldn’t produce the necessary documents. For another year, he languished in a bureaucratic holding pattern, living in a shelter to establish his homelessness, by definition, while Hillview kept his room on hold. Gallegos was caught in a historic transition in housing policy as the federal government wrestled with how to parcel out inadequate resources to the most needy. It’s a shift away from waiting lists toward what is essentially a homelessness grading system. Nearly three-fourths of Los Angeles County’s 50,000 homeless people live on the streets — and there are far too few vacant units to house more than a fraction of them. To sort out the few who will receive housing from the many who are in need, a complex and sometimes confounding rule book has evolved. It defines chronic homelessness, sets standards for documenting it and rates every applicant on a competitive scale. It’s a system that prizes equity and efficiency over the human touch.
The Modesto Bee reports that it’s not surprising that the world’s largest wine producer also is the Modesto Irrigation District’s biggest electricity customer. What may not be widely known is the huge savings enjoyed by E.&J. Gallo Winery by virtue of a preferred power rate. The corporate giant – which employs about 5,000 worldwide, including some 3,300 here in Stanislaus County – consumes 11 percent of the electricity sold by MID, but pays only 6 percent of the district’s revenue. Simple math suggests that Gallo’s 2015 power bill came to about $21 million. If the winery had paid 11 percent of MID’s revenue, its bill would have been nearly $39 million. Who covers Gallo’s theoretical savings of nearly $18 million? MID’s residential customers, who pay a larger proportionate share than those buying energy from other public utilities throughout California, according to Modesto Bee analyses.
Washington Post: A river of cash runs through “the Olympic Movement”
Its members call it, with an almost religious conviction, “the Olympic Movement,” or “the Movement” for short, always capitalized, the Washington Post reports. At the very top of “the Movement” sits the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit run by a “volunteer” president who gets an annual “allowance” of $251,000 and lives rent-free in a five-star hotel and spa in Switzerland. At the very bottom of “the Movement” — beneath the IOC members who travel first-class and get paid thousands of dollars just to attend the Olympics, beneath the executives who make hundreds of thousands to organize the Games, beneath the international sports federations, the national sport federations and the national Olympic committees and all of their employees — are the actual athletes whose moments of triumph and pain will flicker on television screens around the globe at the games. … For members of Team USA — many of whom live meagerly off the largesse of friends and family, charity, and public assistance — the biggest tangible reward they’ll receive for making it to Rio will be two suitcases full of free Nike and Ralph Lauren clothing they are required to wear at all team events.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/olympic-executives-cash-in-on-a-movement-that-keeps-athletes-poor/2016/07/30/ed18c206-5346-11e6-88eb-7dda4e2f2aec_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-banner-low_olympicmoney-720pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
Miami Herald: One year, three Miami neighborhoods, 8,280 bullets
She was asleep next to her grandson when the shooting started. Startled wide awake, she grabbed the child in her arms and rolled off the bed. With each shot growing closer, they crashed to the ground and crawled to another bedroom. Then 12 more rounds exploded, seemingly just feet away. “Right under my window, gunfire under my window,” said Debra, so shaken that she asked the Miami Herald not to publish her last name. “I couldn’t put him back to sleep at all. We was up all night. He didn’t want to go to school the next morning because he was scared.” Three bursts of gunfire emptied 20 rounds in 17 seconds at Liberty Square that early morning in May. Several rounds struck the side of a building. One blew through a neighbor’s window and hit the refrigerator. And yet, as is often the case in some corners of Miami, no one even called 911. Instead, the shootout was picked up by a high-tech gunfire detection system called ShotSpotter Flex, which police are now using to better track and understand gunfire in three of the city’s poorest, violence-scarred neighborhoods: Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown. What they’ve learned is startling. A Herald review of the first 12 months of ShotSpotter data shows that 8,280 individual gunshots were recorded and reported by the system’s dispatchers — an average of 22 bullets a day in an area spanning about four square miles. ShotSpotter records show police were alerted to as many as 1,600 possible shooting events in the three neighborhoods between March of 2015 and 2016.
Des Moines Register: ‘Cliff effect’ when it comes to pay raises
About a year ago, Stephen Williams learned that he made too much money to continue receiving child care support from the state, the Des Moines Register says. He hadn’t received a big raise or landed a higher-paying job. No, Iowa pulled Williams' child care assistance, he said, because he got a wage bump to $12 per hour — putting his total income over the program's income limit by $9. Without the assistance, his child care cost for his 4-year-old daughter jumped from $70 per month to $600 per month. The financial burden was enough to make Williams consider cutting back his hours at his job running an after-school program at Oakridge Neighborhood Services so he wouldn't lose the state help, or try to find a new job that would pay more. He ultimately decided to pay the higher monthly costs, despite the precarious financial position it left him in. “I’m a hamster on a wheel. I can’t get anywhere. I’m just running in place.” His predicament illustrates a major sticking point in Polk County's ongoing debate on whether to raise its minimum wage above the current state and federal rate of $7.25 an hour. … While that amount was far less than many advocates had wanted, task force members say they worry that too high an increase could cost some low-wage workers state and federal assistance they rely upon to get by, including Medicaid, food stamps and child care assistance. Their fears center on what advocates call the "cliff effect" — the tipping point at which workers lose public assistance because of a small income bump.
Asbury Park Press: Crooks with state pensions
Dozens of convicted criminals are collecting more than a million dollars in taxpayer-funded retirement checks, including at least one who is still behind bars, an investigation by the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey found. The list of convicts profiting from state pensions reads like a who's who of New Jersey corruption: former mayors, an assemblyman, county executives and other politicians convicted of tainting their offices, the Press found. And while state law bars convicts from receiving a pension check while behind bars, the Press found that wasn't the case for convicted corrections officer Bobby Singletary, 58, of Paterson. He was paid an annual pension of $51,278 for the past 27 months while in prison. He is serving seven years for smuggling drugs to prisoners. Since the Press' discovery, the state Treasury Department said it will cut off Singletary's checks "later this summer." Annual state pensions for convicted officials ranged from $83,000 - about four times higher than the average state retiree's income - to just under $1,000 a year.
Sunday Maine Telegram: Charity group funded schools headed by former governor
A troubled for-profit college network that was led by former Maine Gov. John McKernan controlled a nonprofit foundation in Portland for years that critics say should not have had charitable tax status and may have been designed to help circumvent federal rules governing access to student aid programs, the Sunday Maine Telegram reports. Education Management Corporation, the Pittsburgh-based college network, disputes the charges, saying the foundation operated in accordance with tax law and that its giving did not help it get around the federal rules. McKernan was CEO of EDMC, as the company is known, from 2003 to 2007. After that, he was chairman of its board until 2012, by which time the firm was facing a multibillion-dollar financial aid fraud lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department as well as investigations by four states’ attorneys general and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education. McKernan was governor of Maine from 1987 to 1995.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JULY 26, 2016
Policing in America today is a rib dinner paid for by a stranger, and a protester kicking a dent into your patrol car door, The New York Times reports. It’s warning a young man speeding down a country road to beware of errant deer, and searching through trash cans for a gun on the streets of a big city. It’s your 8-year-old daughter calling repeatedly to ask if you’re safe. It’s your mother wishing you could wear plainclothes again. And it’s a kiss and a goodbye that you promise won’t be your last. But it’s also watching a video in your Facebook feed when another officer shoots a black man — a therapist, hands raised, trying to help a client who is autistic; a young man stopped for a traffic violation; a man selling CDs. And it’s facing the protests that follow, which are prompting introspection and even more of an attitude of us-versus-them. Adapting — it’s that, too. Being a warrior one minute, on guard at all times, and minutes later answering the most banal questions: You know a good restaurant around here? How do I get to the highway? About 477,000 sworn officers serve in the roughly 12,000 police departments in the United States. The demands, challenges, resources and cultures of each police force vary. But there are also commonalities. … Here’s a look at one such shift, compiled through ridealongs last week with officers in 10 departments — big, small, rural, suburban — across the United States.
Washington Post: A story of truth, lies and an American addiction
The Washington Post reports that Amanda Wendler had already made it through one last night alone under the freeway bridge, through the vomiting and shakes of withdrawal, through cravings so intense she’d scraped a bathroom floor searching for leftover traces of heroin. It had now been 12 days since the last time Wendler used a drug of any kind, her longest stretch in years. “Clear-eyed and sober,” read a report from one drug counselor, and so Amanda, 31, had moved back in with her mother to begin the stage of recovery she feared most. … This was the ninth time she had managed to go at least a week without using. She had spent a full decade trying and failing to get clean, and a therapist had asked her once to make a list of her triggers for relapse. “Boredom, loneliness, anxiety, regret, shame, seeing how I haven’t gone up at all in my life when the drugs aren’t there,” she had written. She had no job, no high school diploma, no car and no money beyond what her mother gave her for Mountain Dew and cigarettes. In the addicted America of 2016, there are so many ways to take measure of the pain, longing and despair that are said to be driving a historic opiate epidemic: Another 350 people starting on heroin every day, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; another 4,105 emergency-room visits; another 79 people dead.
Los Angeles Times: Olympus Corp. said no warnings needed about infections
Faced with superbug outbreaks in three countries by early 2013, Japanese device giant Olympus Corp. told U.S. executives not to issue a broad warning to American hospitals about potentially deadly infections from tainted medical scopes, internal emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times show. After two dozen infections were reported in French and Dutch hospitals, the company alerted European customers in January 2013 that a scope it manufactured could become contaminated. A top Olympus executive in the U.S. grew concerned because the company was investigating a similar outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital. “Should [we] also be communicating to our users the information that [Olympus Europe] is communicating to their European users?” Laura Storms, vice president of regulatory and clinical affairs in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, asked in an email to Tokyo headquarters on Jan. 31, 2013. No, that’s not necessary, said Susumu Nishina, the company’s chief manager for market quality administration in Tokyo in a Feb. 6, 2013, reply. It is “not need[ed] to communicate to all the users actively,” Nishina wrote, because a company assessment of the risk to patients found it to be “acceptable.” … The company’s internal emails reveal conflicts inside Olympus over how to respond to a growing threat to patient safety, pitting U.S. executives against their superiors in Japan who had the final say. The emails were filed in a Pennsylvania court this month as part of a patient lawsuit and obtained by Kaiser Health News working in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Vacant prison jobs help drive up state overtime totals
The overtime paid to state workers rose by 12 percent last year to a level not seen for at least a decade, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis has found. The sharp increase in overtime wages suggests that Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 repeal of most collective bargaining is no longer holding down those costs the way it did several years ago. The state paid $64.5 million in overtime in 2015 to corrections, health and other state workers, up nearly one-third from a low of $49.4 million in 2012. Sean Daley, a longtime prison workers representative for Council 32 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, isn't surprised. He said many officers are now being required to work back-to-back shifts, or 16 hours in all, for two or more times in a week. "I've never seen it to this magnitude," Daley said of the overtime. These latest overtime figures underline the urgency for the state to fill the hundreds of vacant prison positions, according to the newspaper’s analysis of state payroll data released through the open records law.
Denver Post: River disaster spurs plans for leaking mine
One year after a plume of mustard-yellow mine waste washed into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine, prompting international coverage and concerns for the health of those who depend on the river, the water again looks clear, the Denver Post reports. But hundreds of gallons a minute of acidic metals-laced muck continue to drain into the headwaters of the Animas, which ranks among the West’s most-contaminated watersheds. Environmental Protection Agency crews still are preparing to stabilize the Gold King’s collapsed portal to gain access for cleanup. Federal steps toward a Superfund cleanup still consist mostly of meetings. The EPA decision on whether to designate the Gold King and other nearby mines a national priority disaster — crucial to secure cleanup funds — still hasn’t been made. While the Gold King blowout boosted awareness of the tens of thousands of dormant mines draining into western waterways, Congress continues to debate remedies, failing so far to create a national cleanup fund and reduce Clean Water Act liability to encourage voluntary cleanups. And Colorado lawmakers, too, have been considering the problem but haven’t yet acted to increase state mining regulators’ capacity. State inspectors have not begun planned visits of 140 leaking mines, those causing the worst harm along more than 1,800 miles of streams classified as impaired.
Boston Globe:Unexpected price of reporting abuse is retaliation
The Boston Globe says that when a small boarding school in the Berkshires discovered that a music teacher was having a sexual relationship with a female student, administrators responded in a way many parents would applaud: They fired him. But Buxton School officials took another step as well. They asked the teenager to leave. Just weeks before graduation in 1982, 18-year-old Erika Schickel was told that her continued presence would make others at the school uncomfortable. That included the teacher’s girlfriend, who worked there. Buxton officials unceremoniously sent Schickel a diploma in the mail and included her picture in the yearbook only at the insistence of indignant friends. “The top priority for the school was to get rid of me,” said Schickel, who remembers boarding the bus in Williamstown to leave, heartbroken and confused. “I walked around in a daze for years, so torn up and destroyed. I had made that my home and my family.” The Globe Spotlight Team, in its ongoing investigation of abuses at New England private schools, found at least 15 instances of apparent retaliation against students who were sexually exploited by staffers or against employees who raised concerns about alleged sexual abuse and harassment. Some cases date back decades, while others are quite recent. But all of them are still raw for the people who felt the backlash.
Philadelphia Inquirer: College students turn away from teaching careers
Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, a teacher in the Lower Merion School District, considers education her calling, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Yet, when her 16-year-old daughter began mulling the same career path, she advised her to choose a second major, just in case. The profession, Arnold-Schwartz warned, has been undermined by skin-and-bones school budgets, testing overkill, increasingly rigorous teacher evaluations, and dimming public respect, among a raft of relatively recent negatives. "I don't think you'll find this as satisfying as you think," she told her daughter. That message appears to be resonating among young people who, as never before, are turning away from teaching. The number of U.S. college students graduating with education degrees slipped from 106,300 in 2004 to 98,900 in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A far more spectacular plunge has occurred in Pennsylvania. In 2013, the state awarded 18,590 teaching certificates. In 2015, it handed out 7,180 - a 61 percent decrease.
AP: Dallas shooter had troubled military history
Micah Johnson was a mediocre marksman, seemingly more interested in eliciting laughs from friends in his Army Reserve unit than in honing his infantry skills, former squad members say. But the young black man showed striking tactical acumen in the deftly choreographed assault that killed five police officers in downtown Dallas last week during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Such was his skill that police thought multiple snipers were attacking. Moving stealthily in body armor, Johnson displayed textbook tactics, taking cover behind columns, skirting the line of fire, assaulting rather than retreating after his initial volleys. "He kept the police at bay and was able to flank an officer during an assault, a tactic that he was trained on," said Retired Army Sgt. Gilbert Fischbach, Johnson's former squad leader in Texas. "He certainly had enthusiasm and motivation that he never had while I was training him." Fischbach and other former comrades were stunned to learn that it was Johnson who pulled off the attack in revenge for police killings of black men. The popular, happy-go-lucky friend they remembered as cultivating many colorblind friendships had become a police-killer whose own life was taken by a robot-delivered bomb. Some who knew him say Johnson was never the same after his best friend in the 284th Engineer Company filed a sexual harassment complaint against him in Afghanistan in 2014. Accused of stealing the female soldier's dirty panties, he was disarmed, placed under 24-hour escort and sent home early, his aspirations to a military career over.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JULY 19, 2016
The Denver Post reports that Colorado is a relatively egalitarian place, especially when compared with states such as New York, Connecticut or even Wyoming. But it contains some surprisingly high peaks and deep valleys in income inequality. Pitkin County, long a vacation-home haven for celebrities and executives, might come to mind as the one place in Colorado with the biggest chasm in income. But another county has an even larger divide between the rich and everyone else. The top 1 percent of households in Custer County made $3 million on average, which is 86.6 times the income of $34,823 averaged by the remaining 99 percent, according to a study last month from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. The sparsely populated county northeast of the Great Sand Dunes National Park ranked fifth for its income gap among 3,064 U.S. counties examined by the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which conducted the study for Washington-based EPI. The top 1 percent of tax filers in Custer County reported 47 percent of the income in the county, a remarkable concentration by any measure.
Programs allowing intravenous drug users to exchange dirty syringes for clean ones are spreading in Kentucky as communities confront growing heroin abuse and concerns over the potential for disease outbreaks caused by addicts sharing needles, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. So far, health departments and local governments in 13 counties have approved needle exchanges, and 11 are in operation, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and local officials. The Clark County Health Department held its first exchange recently, making it the third department in the state to begin providing syringes to addicts since July 1, along with Boyd and Pike counties. … The goal is to prevent drug users from getting infected with hepatitis C and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Kentucky had the highest rate of acute hepatitis C cases in the nation from 2010 through 2013, according to information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Baltimore Sun: Cost overruns draw scrutiny
Private contractors fixing Baltimore's water mains, repaving roads and rehabbing buildings routinely go over budget — at a cost to taxpayers of more than $105 million over the past four years, a Baltimore Sun review has found. Construction jobs done for Baltimore's government ran over budget 375 times since 2012 — sometimes ballooning to two, three or even four times their original cost. "This is ridiculous," said City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who sits on the Board of Estimates and has questioned the frequency of cost overruns in Baltimore. "These are some huge numbers. I don't believe we should have this many extra work orders." Critics say they are concerned that contractors are bidding low to win work before running up the bill on the true costs of the project. But city officials in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration say the extra work orders are simply a cost of doing infrastructure work in an aging city where complications such as pipe breaks and sinkholes frequently occur in the middle of a job.
Boston Globe: City’s notorious Methadone Mile
Last night’s needles line the sidewalks at dawn along the blighted blocks where Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street meet, the Boston Globe reports. People emerge from shelters and halfway houses and trudge toward the methadone clinics that lend this place its ugly nickname. An open-air drug market is in full swing on the corner outside a convenience store, where offers of drugs trill like music. “Clonidines-Clonidines-Clonidines-Clonidines!” “Does anybody need Xani Bars?” Phenergans, Pins, Johnnies? A man grimaces one chilly morning, unsteady on his feet. He opens his mouth to reveal a knotted bag of heroin, double-wrapped and ready to be swallowed should police wade into the crowd. “This is all I have left,” he says. Some come to this sad section of the city to get high, slumped on street corners and shooting up between parked cars. Some come to get clean, ducking into low-slung clinics where they swallow the fuchsia medicine, sweet and bitter at once, that frees them from heroin’s grasp. The people here call it Methadone Mile, and it is the congested heart of Massachusetts’ raging opioid crisis.
New York Times: Nations, athletic groups seek to keep all Russian teams away from Rio
Antidoping officials from at least 10 nations and 20 athlete groups are preparing the extraordinary step of requesting that the entire Russian delegation be barred from the Summer Olympics over allegations of a state-sponsored doping program, according to email correspondence obtained by The New York Times. The antidoping officials and athletes were expected to pressure Olympic leaders on the matter as soon as Monday — less than three weeks before the opening ceremony in Rio. They were waiting for the results of an investigation into claims published in The Times of a state-sponsored doping program conducted by Russian officials at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. … The country’s track and field team has already been barred from the Rio Games for doping violations; calls for sanctions against Russian athletes in every sport would be unprecedented and would likely escalate the geopolitical debate. At least 10 national antidoping organizations — including those in the United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — and more than 20 athlete groups representing Olympians from around the world have banded together.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/sports/olympics/russia-doping-summer-games-rio.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
The Oregonian: Struggle continues for 'atomic veterans'
The USS De Haven sailed from Hawaii's Pearl Harbor on May 5, 1958, carrying 240 men deep into the Pacific on a secret mission, The Oregonian says. Gunner's mate Wayne Brooks had only a vague idea of their destination. But within a few days, he would experience an explosion so immense and bright that he could see his own bones. He and his crewmates had been assigned to witness Operation Hardtack I, a series of nuclear tests in the Pacific. The De Haven, a destroyer, was one of dozens of ships assigned to the operation at Enewetak Atoll, Bikini Atoll and Johnston Island. It would be their crews' initiation into the ranks of hundreds of thousands of service members now known as "atomic veterans." What seems like a story long tucked away in history books remains a very real struggle for those veterans still alive, the radiation cleanup crews who followed and their families – many of them sick and lacking not just the federal compensation, but also the recognition they believe they deserve.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State doled out $2.5 million to workers under investigation
Over the past two years, taxpayers shelled out $2.5 million in wages for nearly 400 prison workers to wait at home while they were investigated for alleged misconduct, records obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show. Most of these workers were found to be at fault in some way. A few weren't. But they were all paid to do nothing for an average of 54 days and often despite some seemingly simple cases to sort out. Seventy-two workers were paid at least $10,000 apiece while on leave, and one probation and parole agent was ultimately fired after being paid $79,725 while apparently on leave for nearly two years, according to records released to the newspaper. At times, workers waited on paid leave for weeks or even months and in the end received only a written reprimand. In other cases, investigators were deployed to look into a minor matter while more serious probes dragged on.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JULY 5, 2016
Arizona Daily Star: Juvenile court picks up children’s health tabs
The Pima County Juvenile Court increasingly is funding care for children who have health insurance — but whose recommended treatments were denied by Cenpatico Integrated Care, the Arizona Daily Star reports. Juvenile Court judges — who oversee cases involving children in the child welfare and the juvenile justice systems — can order the court’s probation office to pay for kids’ health services using its $2.9 million treatment budget. But that fund is meant primarily for children who are uninsured or underinsured. Cenpatico coordinates behavioral health care for children on AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid program, which includes kids from very low-income homes and children in the child welfare system. Since Cenpatico started operating in Southern Arizona, juvenile court attorneys, judges and probation officers have been trying to find ways to maintain services for kids amidst a surge in treatment denials.
Denver Post: Court ruling may offer second chance to some prisoners
The Denver Post says that inside his prison cell, Gabriel Adams could at long last see a different future. He had spent more than half of his life behind bars because, when he was 17, he helped a friend shoot and stab his mother and stepfather to death. Tried as an adult, he received an adult’s sentence: life in prison with no opportunity for release. Outside, other kids his age graduated high school and entered college. They bought their first beers and drank toasts at their weddings. Then, in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to treat juvenile murderers like adults because, regardless of how heinous their crimes are, juveniles think differently. Many states changed their sentencing rules to give juvenile murderers a second chance, but Colorado hesitated. Adams waited, and his life unspooled one day at a time. By March 9, 2014, the 38-year-old Adams felt there was no hope left. Inside his prison cell, he slipped a makeshift rope around his neck, pulling the noose tight. Adams died waiting. There are 48 others like him in Colorado, still waiting.
Chicago Tribune: 10 shootings a day
To understand Chicago's violence, start at Kostner Avenue and Monroe Street and walk west up a one-way stretch of graystones and brick two-flats, the Chicago Tribune says. There on a boarded-up front door you'll see the red stain of gang graffiti. On the cracked sidewalk below lies an empty heroin baggie. Hardened young men sit on a porch. This single block on the West Side — part of the Harrison police district — has been the scene of at least six shootings so far this year. A masked gunman shot a teen in the stomach. A father delivering groceries to his daughter was shot before he could escape gunfire. And in late June, police again unspooled the yellow crime scene tape in the alley behind the block after a teen was fatally shot in the head. As Chicago heads into the often violent July Fourth weekend, these kinds of stories are all too common in pockets of the West and South sides. At the halfway point of the year, homicides have jumped by 49 percent citywide to 312, reaching levels unseen since the late 1990s.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Stealing the show in the Twin Cities
Adele won’t kick off her U.S. tour until Tuesday in St. Paul, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, but a lot of the British singer’s Minnesota fans are already heartbroken, even before she sings her first breakup song. Many have to choose between paying scalpers an average of nearly $300 per ticket or staying home — even after Adele took one of the most aggressive stances yet by an artist to curb ticket resales. … More than ever this summer, Minnesotans are being shut out of the hottest concerts and ripped off by ticket scalpers. It’s part of a nationwide “ticketing epidemic,” as a recent New York attorney general report calls it, fueled by the proliferation of online ticket buying and resale sites such as StubHub. In Minnesota, where ticket scalping was legalized in 2007, the laws and enforcement around them are weaker than in many states, and there is no government oversight on how concert tickets are distributed in venues owned or funded by taxpayers. Sometimes even the companies that stage sold-out shows are selling seats at inflated prices.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Administrative judge faces probe over sexual, racial language
A federal official who has long sat in judgment of disability claimants reduced them to racist and sexual tag lines such as "gorilla-like" and "buxom" in his case notes, according to copies of those forms obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and whistleblower interviews. The conduct of administrative law judge John H. Pleuss toward his own co-workers and applicants for disability payments and their representatives raises questions not only about his official decisions but also about whether proper oversight is being exercised at the federal Social Security Administration's Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. An inspector general's investigation has been opened into issues in the administration's Madison office, the newspaper has learned. Pleuss has temporarily stopped hearing cases here but has not been put on leave and was in the office on Friday, a union official said.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JUNE 28,2016
The Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser quotes District Attorney Daryl Bailey as saying that a 1,604-case backlog of drug related cases is burdening the Montgomery County criminal justice system. To put that in perspective, the most recent drug case to come out of forensics is from April 2014. In short, anybody arrested for drug-related charges would currently be waiting more than two years for a trial as evidence is processed. “What you have are more cases going in than coming out,” Bailey said. … A large part of the problem is that state budget cuts have made it difficult for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences to run tests for suspected drug substances, experts said.
Denver Post: State doesn’t require background checks for nurses
Nurses with convictions for sexual offenses, drug thefts and crimes of violence have escaped detection under Colorado’s porous system for licensing health care workers, which has far fewer protections than most states, the Denver Post reports. Colorado is one of six states that does not conduct criminal background checks on applicants for nursing licenses. The state requires massage therapists and private investigators to submit a fingerprint for checks against state and FBI conviction records to get licensed. It’s even a step the legislature decided this year to require of operators of fantasy sports leagues before they set up shop in Colorado. To identify dangerous applicants or licensees with criminal histories, the nurse licensing system in Colorado mostly relies on self-disclosure and complaints. The process allows nurses deemed unfit for the job in other states to obtain and hold a Colorado license to work as a nurse here or in other states.
News Journal: Shootings hurt police recruiting
The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, reports that in many ways, Anthony Parker Jr. is the ideal recruit for one of Delaware’s 49 police departments. The 21-year-old who smiles with ease and is schooled in communications, understands struggling neighborhoods because he comes from one, and his childhood dream was to become a cop. But that goal changed in recent years, he said, after watching a steady stream of news reports about people taking to American streets to protest the deaths of mostly young black men during encounters with police. A north Wilmington native, Parker is part of a growing trend: Fewer young people in Delaware are considering policing as a profession in recent years than during past decades, multiple law enforcement experts told The News Journal. As a result, departments are placing a stronger emphasis on recruiting. “There’s a decrease in applicants in general, and it’s not just a Delaware problem,” said New Castle County police Capt. Laura O’Sullivan. "Twenty years ago you were competing with 1,000 people for 15 spots, and today you certainly have to push harder to get more applicants to come in."
Miami Herald: Workers’ use of vacation funds cost taxpayers
Dwight Danie had an emergency: Duncan the terrier needed eye surgery, the Miami Herald reports. It was January of last year, and Danie had an estimated $2,700 bill coming down the pike from a South Florida specialty clinic for a procedure to remove cataracts from his dog’s eyes. So he filed paperwork stating that he had an emergency, which allowed him to sell five weeks of untaken vacation valued at $8,430 back to his employer, the city of Miami. “It was a financial emergency. It was very expensive,” said Danie, at the time an $88,000-a-year elections coordinator. “I’m not a rich man.” Danie, who told the Herald the money also helped him pay for his mother’s funeral, was hardly the only city employee to experience a crisis last year. Citing situations that included footing their kids’ tuition and funding home improvements, 591 men and women in a city of roughly 4,000 employees sold back “V-time” to the city. The cost to taxpayers: $2,954,540. A review of three years of city records shows Miami employees routinely tap into their vacation hours and cash out thousands of dollars each year under a long-standing policy that allows them to sell up to six weeks of accrued vacation time to the city if they have an emergency.
Indianapolis Star: Airbnb says it wants to pay taxes
At a gathering of more than 200 mayors in Indianapolis, Airbnb officials extended an enticing offer: Let us collect millions in unpaid hotel taxes for you. At first glance, the company's pitch is an unusual one. After all, who wants to be taxed? But it also is a clear sign that the online home-sharing service is trying to get out in front of an issue that has pitted the upstart firm against the traditional hotel industry in virtually every city where it does business. Hotel operators in Indianapolis and across the country complain that Airbnb is playing by a different set of rules, and it's disrupting not only their share of tourism dollars, but also government tax collections. In Indiana, a 10 percent innkeeper's tax helps pay for things such as Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center and city tourism marketing. And while Airbnb hosts who rent out their homes are required by law to pay these taxes, enforcing compliance among a web of unregulated homeowners has proven difficult nationwide. For its part, Airbnb insists it's trying to be a good corporate citizen: It has long urged its hosts to follow state and local laws. And it is willing to collect and pay the taxes itself, cutting the host out of the picture entirely. It now has voluntary tax collection agreements with communities in 18 states, including neighboring Illinois and Ohio, but not Indiana. … If the offer sounds too good to be true, the hotel industry would agree. They say the voluntary agreements fall well short of the level of accountability required of hotels.
Des Moines Register: Preventing repeat driving offenses proves difficult
Iowa has made little headway in reducing the percentage of intoxicated drivers who are repeat offenders, a Des Moines Register analysis of state data shows. In 2015, 26 percent of the 11,628 motorists convicted of driving impaired had previously been caught driving while intoxicated, data from the Iowa Court Information System show. That's down just 3 percentage points in a dozen years. Since 2000, roughly 222,500 drivers have been convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Iowa. Nearly 60,000 were repeat offenders, according to Iowa Court Information System data. The numbers are an indication of the magnitude of the problem facing Iowa in its continued struggle to get drunk drivers off roads.
Boston Globe: The desperate and the dead
The Boston Globe tells the story of Nancy Chiero, a mother who struggled to take care of her 35-year-old son, Lee, until he murdered her in a paranoid fit of rage. … In a state that prides itself on leadership in human services and compassionate government, it has come to this, a Spotlight Team investigation has found: threadbare policies, broken promises, short-sighted decisions, and persistent underfunding over decades. As a result, the seriously mentally ill, including those at greatest risk of harming others or themselves, are far too often left in the care of parents, police, prison guards, judges, shelter workers, and emergency room personnel — almost anyone, in fact, but professionals trained to deal with their needs. Families of these sufferers find themselves up against obstacles that earlier generations didn’t have to face. Fifty years ago, Lee Chiero might have been treated — and locked away — in one of the public psychiatric hospitals that once dotted Massachusetts. Today, nearly all of those institutions have been bulldozed or boarded up — and many had to be, having evolved into inhumane asylums for people who are, in the great majority, no threat to anyone. But the hospitals were not replaced with anything resembling a coherent care system, leaving thousands of people with serious mental illness to navigate a fragmented network of community services that puts an extraordinary burden on them to find help and to make sure they continue getting it.
Detroit Free Press: Families say no justice for workers killed on the job
For the families of hundreds of workers killed on the job in Michigan, there is often no justice. No criminal charges. No civil lawsuits. No costly penalties from Michigan's workplace safety agency. And strict limits on workers compensation. A yearlong Free Press investigation into more than 400 workplace deaths across the state found a flawed system of oversight with penalties against employers so low they're not a deterrent. And families have little recourse in court because of restrictive rules about bringing suits over workplace deaths and injuries. "It’s extremely difficult for a family from the state of Michigan to be able to seek accountability for a death in a place of employment," said Troy employment lawyer Shereef Akeel, who won a civil suit against a Barry County dairy farmer over the death of one of two teenage workers, his only successful suit in a workplace death or injury in his 20-year career.
Star-Ledger: Port Authority pays millions in overtime
Nearly five years ago, New York State's comptroller complained overtime "flows like water" at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and called on the bi-state agency to dramatically reign in the extra hours its employees work. Though the Port Authority has attempted to curb costs, the agency is still struggling to cut overtime, according to public documents. Nearly 170 Port Authority employees -- mostly police officers and maintenance supervisors – earned more than $75,000 each in overtime last year, according to the agency's payroll. The top 25 on the list each earned more than $110,000 in overtime on top of their regular salaries. Many employees more than doubled their base salaries by working overtime, the records show. Several took home nearly as much or more than their boss, Port Authority Patrick Foye, who earned $305,111 last year.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JUNE 21, 2016
The Los Angeles Times reports that ads for a new blood test, dubbed “the cancer stethoscope,” were designed to grab attention from even the healthiest Americans. “Did you know?” warned the colorful ads promoting the cancer detection test on Twitter. “1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will get cancer.” Pathway Genomics, a San Diego start-up, directed consumers through the ads to a toll-free number, where a customer service rep linked them to a panel of physicians, who ordered the test. The company then sent a mobile phlebotomist to draw blood at the person’s home or office. … Pathway is one of a growing number of start-ups trying to disrupt the $75-billion medical lab business by selling blood tests and other types of medical lab checks directly to consumers. It’s part of a new frontier of medicine, where tech companies say they are using data, software and genomics to create tools for personalized medicine, letting patients take the lead without always relying on a physician. But Silicon Valley technologists face steep hurdles in their efforts to revolutionize the medical system the way they have communications or shopping. And because of the hype surrounding the blood tests — many of which are not backed by reliable scientific studies — patients may be at risk of being misled or even harmed.
Alarms sounded on U.S. Air Force bases in Spain and officers began packing all the low-ranking troops they could grab onto buses for a secret mission, The New York Times says. There were cooks, grocery clerks and even musicians from the Air Force band. It was a late winter night in 1966 and a fully loaded B-52 bomber on a Cold War nuclear patrol had collided with a refueling jet high over the Spanish coast, freeing four hydrogen bombs that went tumbling toward a farming village called Palomares, a patchwork of small fields and tile-roofed white houses in an out-of-the-way corner of Spain’s rugged southern coast that had changed little since Roman times. It was one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history, and the United States wanted it cleaned up quickly and quietly. But if the men getting onto buses were told anything about the Air Force’s plan for them to clean up spilled radioactive material, it was usually, “Don’t worry.” … Interviews with dozens of men and details from never before published declassified documents tell a different story. Radiation near the bombs was so high it sent the military’s monitoring equipment off the scales. Troops spent months shoveling toxic dust, wearing little more protection than cotton fatigues. And when tests taken during the cleanup suggested men had alarmingly high plutonium contamination, the Air Force threw out the results, calling them “clearly unrealistic.”
The rain let up on a Tuesday afternoon moments before a flood of traffic descended on Longfellow Elementary School in northeast Spokane, Washington, the Spokesman-Review reports. When the bell rang and kids poured from the school, adults in cars jostled for position. The chaos and snarl of vehicles lasted about 15 minutes, enough time for Longfellow’s 530 students to find their ride, get on the bus or cross one of the many busy streets surrounding the school. Through it all, traffic never let up on the busy, nearby arterials. At the beginning of the year, the city of Spokane began issuing tickets to drivers speeding near the school, a violation caught on camera as part of a new program similar to the city’s red-light cameras. Finch Elementary School also has a camera for school zone speeders. Since January, 5,778 tickets have been issued near Longfellow and Finch. The tickets range from $234 to $450, meaning between $1.3 million and $2.5 million in fines have been assessed to drivers near those schools.
Donald Trump was in his element, mingling with beauty pageant contestants and business tycoons as he brought his Miss Universe pageant to Russia for a much-anticipated Moscow debut, the Washington Post reports. Nonetheless, Trump was especially eager for the presence of another honored guest: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump tweeted Putin a personal invitation to attend the pageant, and a one-on-one meeting between the New York businessman and the Russian leader was scheduled for the day before the show. Putin canceled at the last minute, but he sent a decorative lacquered box, a traditional Russian gift, and a warm note, according to Aras Agalarov, a Moscow billionaire who served as a liaison between Trump and the Russian leader. Trump’s relationship with Putin and his warm views toward Russia, which began in the 1980s when the country was still part of the Soviet Union, have emerged as one of the more curious aspects of his presidential campaign.
The Washington Post says that when Sen. Bernie Sanders, the now-vanquished Democratic presidential candidate, returns to Capitol Hill to vote, he is expected to be accompanied by his constant traveling companions from the campaign trail: the U.S. Secret Service. Though Hillary Clinton has clinched the party’s nomination, Sanders retains one of the trappings of a top-notch candidate. A team of agents still guards him at his home, where they’ve constructed a small watch station on the property. They travel with him on commercial and charter flights and use a motorcade to whisk him through cities he visits. And they recently marched alongside him during a gay pride event here in his hometown after the Orlando shootings. Such round-the-clock protection can cost taxpayers more than $38,000 a day. And with the potential for the Secret Service to be watching over Sanders through the Democratic convention in Philadelphia five weeks from now, the taxpayers may get stuck with a big security bill long after his campaign receded from the daily cable news cycle.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/an-expensive-reminder-that-sanders-still-hasnt-dropped-out-his-secret-service-detail/2016/06/19/a3f717c6-3555-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_sanderssecurity-858am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
Indianapolis Star: Struggling public parks
In 2012, a national survey of public parks ranked Indianapolis' park and trail system 47th out of the country's 50 largest cities, the Indianapolis Star reports. It was embarrassing, to say the least. City officials and community leaders alike called for change, saying that whatever the budget pressures, Indianapolis couldn't settle for third from last. Then-Mayor Greg Ballard called parks "essential" and launched a number of initiatives to study and improve Indy's offerings. The Indianapolis Parks Foundation pledged to step up its advocacy role. The charitable Lilly Endowment gave $10 million for facility upgrades. Four years later, Indianapolis is still ranked third from last — this time tied with Charlotte, North Carolina, for 95th out of 98 cities studied. Two of the 100 largest cities were not included in the rankings because they did not provide enough data. … There's one metric Indianapolis can't blame on bias or a misunderstanding — and if it isn't addressed, advocates say, it threatens not only Indy's ability to improve, but even to maintain the parks and trails it has. In 2012, the government invested $43.61 per resident on parks. Today, that figure has dropped 40 percent to $26.34, more than only Detroit and Stockton, California. That's less than one-fourth of what the typical city in the region spends. And the top five in the country spend as much as 10 times that.
Des Moines Register: Hospital bottlenecks strand mentally ill
No one who suffers a stroke, tumor or broken bone would expect to be stranded in a hospital for months after doctors cleared them to be released. But many Iowans with serious mental illnesses are being marooned that way, the Des Moines Register says. In one of the worst cases, a Des Moines man who had been cleared for release spent an extra year and two months in Broadlawns Medical Center's psychiatric unit. Hospital staff members struggled to find an agency that would supervise him in the community. They finally found one this spring, after Polk County taxpayers spent nearly $500,000 housing the man in the public hospital. Such long-term patients clog hospital units that are desperately needed for new patients going through mental health crises.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Constables -- untrained and unaccountable
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that night had fallen on March 4 when Laurel County Constable Bobby Joe Smith rolled into the parking lot at the A & B Quick Stop. Smith had received a tip that Brandon Stanley was among the handful of customers mingling inside the convenience store. The convicted felon and the elected constable had played cat-and-mouse two days earlier, when the 30-year-old Stanley ran away as Smith was trying to serve him with a warrant. The constable didn’t want to let that happen again. Moments after Smith walked into the store, Stanley lay on the floor, with two gunshots in or near the chest. He died almost instantly. It was less than 24 hours before his planned wedding. The 37-year-old Smith had been a constable for just 15 months. He had no state-approved law enforcement training and mainly worked at a motorcycle dealership. Now, he faces a manslaughter charge for shooting Stanley, and up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Smith serves as the latest in a long line of constables — pseudo police, really — who have run amok in Kentucky for years, according to the story, which was reported in conjunction with the WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and Wave 3 News.
Boston Globe: The other victims of the opioid crisis
Jonathan Rodis takes his hydrocodone pills sparingly, only when the pain becomes unbearable, the Boston Globe reports. He doesn’t like the way the drug fogs his brain. And lately, he also needs to conserve — because new federal rules make it hard to get a refill. Rodis has Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissue and makes his whole body hurt. The pills dull the pain for a few hours. But now, instead of just calling his pharmacy when he needs a refill, he has to make the 30- to 45-minute trek from Winthrop into Boston to see his doctor, a major undertaking for a man who can barely leave the house on bad days. “I feel so trapped when I look at my bottle and see six pills left,” said Rodis, who is 57. This is the other side of America’s war on opioids. As federal and state regulators rush to curtail access to drugs that have claimed thousands of lives, the rules they’ve enacted fall hard on people who legitimately need relief from pain. In an atmosphere of heightened concern about opioids, patients in pain face reluctant doctors, wary pharmacists, and the frequent demand to prove that they are not addicts.
Star-Ledger: Developers, not storm victims, cashed in on Sandy funds
A New Jersey state program to lend more than $400 million in taxpayer dollars to replenish affordable housing lost during Hurricane Sandy so far has assisted fewer than two dozen victims of the storm, according to state statistics reported by the Newark Star-Ledger. The Fund for Restoration of Multifamily Housing began disbursing zero- and low-interest loans in 2014 in the nine counties most affected by Sandy, with the caveat that Sandy victims on limited incomes be given priority on the new rental units. But of the 2,000 units completed with the help of the public money, only 15 are occupied by New Jersey residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the state Department of Community Affairs. Critics contend the program, which has so far allocated to developers $413 million of $591 million, helps investors and builders more than people affected by the storm.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JUNE 14, 2016
For Alabama, a state with one of the highest rates of payday lenders per capita, the federal payday lending reforms proposed on June 2 may not be enough to change predatory lending behavior in the state, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The 1,341-page framework for potential payday and title lending reform from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looks to reduce borrowers’ ability to take on multiple loans and require lenders to make sure borrowers can afford to pay the loans. Each year, about 240,000 Alabamians take out about 2.5 million payday loans which create $800 million in revenue for the payday lending industry, according to Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, a payday lending reform advocate. … Alabama’s 456 percent payday loan interest rate – and 300 percent interest rate for title loans – means most low-income borrowers will take out additional loans to pay for the continuing fees from past loans.
Los Angeles Times: Lucrative job at port went to boss’ son
The Los Angeles Times says that a rare opening last year in the city of Los Angeles’ small corps of port pilots, who guide cargo ships and oil tankers into the harbor in San Pedro, drew more than 50 applicants, including ship’s captains and tugboat skippers with many years of experience. That was no surprise, considering L.A.’s full-time port pilots averaged $434,000 in salary and bonuses last year, making them by far the city’s highest-paid employees. The surprise came when the job went to 33-year-old Michael J. Rubino, whose father is Chief Port Pilot Michael R. Rubino. The younger Rubino was hired at the recommendation of an interview panel whose senior member was a longtime colleague of his father, port records obtained by The Times show, but the job didn’t last long. The leader of the small pilots’ union questioned Rubino’s credentials and asked that the work history he and other candidates listed on their applications be carefully checked — something city officials admit they initially failed to do.
Washington Post: The lonely road of staying clean
Jessica Kilpatrick was in the middle of a 10-hour shift at Burger King in a small town in Alabama when she checked her phone messages, the Washington Post reports. Right away she knew. It was the canned voice of the community corrections office ordering her in for a random drug test. Jessica put her headset back on and tried to stay calm. She looked into a mirror. She was hot and greasy and smelled like a Croissan’wich, but her eyes were clear and her mind was straight, unglazed by opioid painkillers. She had not missed a single day of work in 11 months and had been off drugs for 18 months. … Everyone in this white, rural county of 67,000 has a theory about what happened here. It was the global economy that took away the coal-mining jobs. It was Purdue Pharma marketing OxyContin as a less-addictive painkiller. It was greedy doctors who needed to pay for their beach condos in Gulf Shores. It was the druggies and scammers abusing the system. It was God being taken out of the schools. It was the government allowing Medicaid patients to get $800 worth of painkillers for a $6 co-pay. It was too few jobs and too many with headsets. It was 21st-century America, a place so lonely for some that only pills could fill the void.
Idaho Statesman: Curing hepatitis C is costly problem
The Idaho Statesman says that if Robert E. Gibbish Jr. had known a tattoo he got in prison in the late 1980s would give him a deadly infectious disease, he would not have done it. But once he found out he was infected, he kept getting prison tattoos of elaborate demons and skulls. “I figured I was already dirty, I might as well finish them up,” said Gibbish, of Nampa, who returned to prison in 2014 at the Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise on drug and assault charges. He believed it was just a matter of time before he succumbed to an incurable disease. … When his kidneys failed last year, Gibbish, 49, suspected hepatitis C was calling in its chit. The Idaho Department of Correction sent him to a specialist in Boise. The specialist recommended that Gibbish receive a new hepatitis C drug. It took nearly a year of wading through red tape, but in February, Gibbish was given the drug regimen: a pill a day for 12 weeks. “I feel better than I have in decades,” he says. … But the drugs terrify those who must pay for them. Sovaldi costs $84,000 for a standard 12-week course, or $1,000 per daily pill. Harvoni costs $94,000. That has put Idaho and other states in a bind: They don’t have enough money to cure all the Medicaid patients and prison inmates they must care for who have hepatitis C.
South Bend Tribune: Profits over prisoners in medical care?
A private company hired to provide medical treatment to Indiana's prisoners while saving taxpayer money has come under increasing scrutiny amid a spike in complaints, questions about oversight and allegations that profit often takes priority over critical health services for inmates, the South Bend Tribune reports. Corizon Health, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, is the largest correctional medical company in the country. It provides health care services to jails and prisons in 25 states, including Indiana and Michigan. A spokesman for Indiana's Department of Correction defended the medical care provided to the state's approximately 26,000 prisoners, saying, “I am confident that our clinical metrics for chronic conditions are better than the free world.” But in the last few years: The number of inmate medical complaints filed with the ombudsman for Indiana's DOC has spiked, from 153 in 2010 to 509 in 2015. The number of prisoner deaths, including suicides, also rose, reaching 86 in 2015. Prisoners or their families have filed at least 178 medical-related civil rights lawsuits in federal courts in Indiana against Corizon since 2011 — 46 of those in 2015 alone. The state has settled nearly three dozen of those cases, paying out more than $1.2 million.
Boston Globe: Making it big, the Pam family way
The Boston Globe reports that Rolando Pam is an imposing figure in his dark trench coat and smartly shaped fedora, unabashed as he describes himself and his 11 children as “success stories” in a part of town, Roxbury, where black families too often fail. He presents himself as a patriarch of a striving, self-made real estate enterprise, and has some material proof to back up the claims of success — luxury cars, a business portfolio that has included houses and apartment buildings, and the friendship of many wealthy and powerful people looking to tap into the escalating Roxbury market. Yet in his neighborhood and in court, many see Pam and his family business in a very different light — as hypocritical operators who speak forcefully about black pride, then wrest black-owned properties away from their owners and peddle them to well-to-do investors. To do this, Pam once resorted to one of the oldest swindles in the books: forging a seller’s signature and filing the fake document with a government office. Critics also say Pam, 56, has groomed two of his grown sons in his style of acquiring properties, using charisma and charm to take advantage of the financially vulnerable. The Globe found a litany of lawsuits against Pam, his sons Tyler and Kyle, or their related companies, including at least four civil court judgments of fraud or breach of contract, three lawsuits settled out of court, and at least two pending civil cases; a group of other alleged victims have said they also plan to file suit. In some Roxbury real estate circles, the Pams’ actions are so widely known that they’ve been given their own nickname: “The Pam Family Scam.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Patient wishes lost in the system
When her chest pains morphed into cardiac arrest in the Regions Hospital emergency room two years ago, doctors saved Beth Bedell’s life, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. She has mixed feelings about that. Bedell, 67, of St. Paul, is happy to be alive. But she’s troubled that caregivers did not follow her health care directive for no resuscitation, a document drafted after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Frustration built this spring when Bedell made a subsequent trip to the emergency room. Concerned what would happen if her condition took a turn for the worse, she asked staff to look up her end-of-life care wishes in the hospital’s electronic health record system. They couldn’t find the document. … Electronic health records are now ubiquitous in hospitals, and the systems give patients what could be a better way to communicate their wishes on treatment options at the end of life. But in too many cases, physicians using the systems struggle to find the documents.
Kansas City Star: Lead remains peril to Kansas City kids
Sixteen years ago, a presidential task force mapped a plan for the United States to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010, the Kansas City Star says. It never happened. Today, tens of thousands of Kansas City area homes still contain lead paint so dangerous that a tiny amount of paint dust can damage a young child’s brain. As many as 1,500 children in Kansas City have lead poisoning, health officials estimate. Hundreds more have been poisoned in Wyandotte County and surrounding areas. Many of their parents don’t even realize it. In Kansas City, the situation persists despite decades-long efforts to clean up contaminated homes. The number of problem houses, largely concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods, is too immense. At the current pace it would take centuries to safely contain the lead, a common ingredient in paint until a 1978 ban took effect.
New York Times: How Trump profited on failed casinos
The New York Times reports that the Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, is now closed, its windows clouded over by sea salt. Only a faint outline of the gold letters spelling out T-R-U-M-P remains visible on the exterior of what was once this city’s premier casino. Not far away, the long-failing Trump Marina Hotel Casino was sold at a major loss five years ago and is now known as the Golden Nugget. At the nearly deserted eastern end of the boardwalk, the Trump Taj Mahal, now under new ownership, is all that remains of the casino empire Donald J. Trump assembled here more than a quarter-century ago. Years of neglect show: The carpets are frayed and dust-coated chandeliers dangle above the few customers there to play the penny slot machines. On the presidential campaign trail, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, often boasts of his success in Atlantic City, of how he outwitted the Wall Street firms that financed his casinos and rode the value of his name to riches. A central argument of his candidacy is that he would bring the same business prowess to the Oval Office, doing for America what he did for his companies. … But a close examination of regulatory reviews, court records and security filings by The New York Times leaves little doubt that Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing. But even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well. He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Substitute teachers hard to find
Substitute teaching has never been a glamorous job, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle says. The pay is low and per diem, with no benefits. A 5 a.m. phone call often dictates where, or if, one will show up to work. And students have been known to make the classroom conditions interesting. Just because a job is not glamorous, though, doesn't mean it is not important. A worsening shortage of substitute teachers over the past several years has given districts across Monroe County and New York a keener appreciation for reliable replacements. "It's been a pretty acute situation for six or seven years," said Pat McCue, assistant superintendent for human resources in Rush-Henrietta. "It's definitely a regional issue. ... We're all competing in the same pool, and the pool is shrinking." The issue is serious enough across the state to have attracted the notice of the Board of Regents. It is reviewing new regulations that would let districts more freely use non-educators as substitutes.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Decline in federal gun cases criticized
With shooting deaths soaring in Milwaukee, gun cases have swamped the county criminal courts, but there has been no similar spike in federal firearm prosecutions. In fact, the opposite occurred last year, according to new data analyzed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The number of people sentenced in the Eastern District of Wisconsin primarily for federal firearms offenses fell to 46 in fiscal year 2015 — a 47% drop from the previous year, and a 10-year low, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data. Federal gun prosecutions are down nationwide, but the drop here was one of the steepest among the nation's 94 federal court districts, the analysis found.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK JUNE 7, 2016
AP: History in hand, Clinton faces voters as presumptive nominee
History already in hand, Hillary Clinton will celebrate becoming the first woman to lead a major American political party following votes in California, New Jersey and four other states — contests Clinton hopes send her into the general election in strong standing. Clinton reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee on the eve of this week’s voting, according to an Associated Press tally. Her total is comprised of pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates — the party officials and officeholders who can back a candidate of their choosing. … Heading into Tuesday's voting, Clinton has 1,812 pledged delegates and the support of 571 of the 714 superdelegates, according to the AP count. The AP surveyed the superdelegates repeatedly in the past seven months. While they can change their minds, those counted in Clinton's tally have unequivocally told the AP they will support her at the party's summer convention.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/us/politics/hillary-clinton-presidential-race.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=a-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Since a sweeping prison reform bill went into effect in Alabama in January, the state has hired 37 of the 112 parole officers it hoped to hire to watch newly released inmates, state officials told the Anniston Star. With other aspects of the bill, progress is a little harder to assess. “New policies often take months, and more often years, to fully implement and allow time to measure,” said Bennet Wright, director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission. More than a year has passed since the Alabama Legislature, in a bipartisan vote, passed Senate Bill 67, a measure designed to reform nearly every aspect of the state’s penal system with an eye toward easing crowding in the state’s prisons. More than 24,000 people now live in Alabama prisons built for 13,000, with thousands more in lower-security facilities or county jails. Riots and stabbings in jails have become regular news events this year, and Tutwiler Prison for Women has already been subject to federal intervention over sexual abuse of prisoners. The 2015 prison reform bill is supposed to bring the crowding down. … The law went into effect at the end of January, but the impact so far hasn’t always been clear.
On an August afternoon in 1984, Linda Marie Baltazar Pasnick, a 27-year-old aspiring model, was running errands before a fashion competition when she pulled into the drive-through at a Der Wienerschnitzel, the Los Angeles Times reports. As she waited in line, a panhandler pushed his face into her window and she shooed him away. Ronnie McPeters came back with a gun, leaned in to her open window and fired three times. Then as her car rolled forward and she cried for help, he shot twice more. McPeters spent the next nine months in the “rubber room” of the Fresno jail. He set fires and assaulted jailers. He told a psychiatrist he was filming a commercial. His bizarre behavior escalated at San Quentin State Prison’s death row, where in months he fell into a stupor, smearing feces on the walls, the floor and himself. Now, McPeters is at the center of a legal battle with profound implications for California’s death row. Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’ office has asked the California Supreme Court to remove Peters from death row, arguing he will always be too gravely disabled to execute. State prosecutors believe McPeters’ sentence should be be converted to life, to be spent in other prisons or state medical facilities. If the state’s highest court agrees, Harris’ legal theory of “permanent incompetence” would make California the first to address a growing problem of aging and gravely mentally ill inmates awaiting ever-delayed execution.
Indianapolis Star: Few teens on track to receive state aid
The vast majority of incoming high school seniors who could qualify for a state-funded scholarship are running the risk of losing out on the assistance that covers up to four years of college tuition, according to newly released state data analyzed by the Indianapolis Star. About 80 percent, or more than 14,000 students, are behind on meeting new requirements for the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, which is designed to help low-income Hoosiers afford college. In Marion County alone, nearly 3,300 students aren’t on track. Faced with a large number of students falling behind on the program’s mandates, state officials are working to make members of the Class of 2017 aware of the new requirements, including conducting meetings throughout the summer to connect with potential scholarship recipients.
Charlotte Observer: Companies replacing Americans with foreign workers
Companies in Charlotte are stepping up their efforts to hire foreign workers – especially for information technology jobs – under a federal visa program that’s becoming a political flashpoint, the Charlotte Observer reports. The H-1B visa lets companies bring foreign workers to the U.S. temporarily to fill jobs requiring highly skilled labor. Employers say it helps them fill jobs that draw too few qualified applicants. Critics say some companies abuse it, replacing Americans with foreign tech workers willing to work for less. Sometimes American IT workers are laid off after spending their final days training their foreign-born replacements. Demand for these visa workers is growing especially fast in Charlotte. Last year hundreds of employers filed initial applications for more than 16,500 H-1B workers in the Charlotte metro area, many in technology positions. That number alone is bigger than the entire workforce of some of Charlotte’s largest employers. Supporters of the visas, including local job recruiters, point to a shortage of skilled technology talent that is resulting in thousands of open computing jobs throughout the state. A lack of computer science majors graduating adds to the problem, officials say. But in some instances, “companies that are bringing in H-1B people at the same time are having staff reductions in the same area – generally speaking, the IT area,” said Bill Chu, a professor at UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics. “There are lots of H-1B people in Charlotte.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Tiny victims of drug abuse
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the scene: The lights are off in the hospital room. The only sound is the regular, electronic beeping of monitors tracking vital signs — and the telltale, high-pitched cry of a baby going through withdrawal. The baby boy is one of three infants on this warm April afternoon at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield who was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the term for infants whose mothers were using opiates during their pregnancies. Dr. Giovanni Laneri, a neonatologist and Director of the Newborn Nursery at West Penn, picks up the tiny baby and gently speaks to him to soothe him. “Come on, buddy,” he says to the 18-day-old baby, whose cries quickly subside as he is in the doctor’s arms. “You’re very cute,” says Dr. Laneri, one of the hospital’s lead physicians in caring for babies born to mothers who were using drugs during their pregnancies. “We don’t say that babies are addicted. We never use that word for babies. We say babies are dependent on the substances that the mom was using while she was pregnant,” Dr. Laneri explained. As officials in Pennsylvania and elsewhere try to battle a rising tide of opioid use, they are also grappling with how to aid the epidemic’s tiniest victims.
Madison State Journal: Homeless fall through the cracks
The Madison State Journal reports that decades of inadequate leadership and insufficient direct funding from the state have weakened the fight against rising homelessness in Wisconsin. Advocates and service providers say state officials must be more engaged to address an often hidden plight that shatters lives and creates significant costs for social services, schools, health care and law enforcement. There’s no precise way to measure homelessness, but a State Journal review of data make clear that its scope is broad — affecting infants to seniors and all demographics. By one estimate, perhaps 20,000 people are homeless in Wisconsin on any given night. One count shows the ranks of homeless single adults growing by nearly 25 percent since 2007. Another has the number of homeless children more than tripling since 2003. State officials say Wisconsin spends tens of millions of dollars on homelessness. But the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness and local officials and providers disagree, contending that most of the money isn’t targeted directly at the issue. The state essentially has delivered no new direct funding for two decades, with the sum long stuck at about $3.3 million, the coalition says.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK MAY 31, 2016
Under pressure to prevent people from sneaking onto runways and planes at major U.S. airports, authorities are cracking down _ not on the intruders who slip through perimeter gates or jump over fences, but on the release of information about the breaches. A year after an Associated Press investigation first revealed persistent problems with airports' outer defenses, breaches remain as frequent as ever _ occurring about once every 10 days _ despite some investments to fortify the nation's airfields. As Americans focus on the wait in ever-longer security screening lines inside terminals, new documents show dozens more incidents happening outside perimeters than airports have disclosed. At the same time, leaders at some airports and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are saying some of the 345 incidents AP found shouldn't count as security breaches, even when intruders got deep into secure areas.
More than a decade ago, researchers at Gilead Sciences thought they had a breakthrough: a new version of the company's key HIV medicine that was less toxic to kidneys and bones, the Los Angeles Times reports. Clinical trials of the new compound on HIV-positive patients in Los Angeles and several other cities seemed to support their optimism. Patients needed just a fraction of the dose, creating the chance of far fewer dangerous side effects. But in 2004, just as the biotech firm was preparing for a second and larger round of patient studies, Gilead executives stopped the research. The results of the early patient studies would go unpublished for years as the original medication _ tenofovir _ became one of the world's most-prescribed drugs for HIV, with $11 billion in annual sales. More than six years later, though, in 2010, Gilead restarted those trials. The new version of the drug, which the company says is safer, was approved in November under the brand name Genvoya. The executives' decisions stand to extend Gilead's domination of the global HIV medicine market for years. Analysts project the company will reap tens of billions of dollars in sales that otherwise would have vanished with the expiration of tenofovir's patent in 2018. That has pleased the company's investors. But it has stirred criticism among patients and caregivers, and prompted a lawsuit. The critics believe the new, less harmful form of the drug could have been developed sooner _ and wasn't because the company wanted to extend its patent-protected profits.
Hartford Courant: State pledge to repair safety net
The state says it has developed a strategy to better protect people with developmental disabilities, including computerizing injury reports, increasing staff training and monitoring the medical diagnosis and treatment of clients _ actions officials hope will radically improve the detection of possible abuse and neglect, the Hartford Courant reports. The plan to repair Connecticut's tattered safety net is in response to a scathing federal audit last week that revealed some group homes failed to report injuries or mischaracterized their severity and that the Department of Developmental Services routinely missed "critical incidents" that warranted abuse or neglect investigations. Also, some hospitals failed to report injuries that should have raised a suspicion of abuse, the audit found. But some experts in disability services expressed doubt that DDS could continue to police itself or provide the amount of ongoing injury-recognition training necessary to overcome the problems cited by the audit. An expert also said that Connecticut's state-run institutions continue to divert money and time away from the agency's mission of safeguarding clients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began its investigation in 2013 at the request of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, after The Courant exposed the preventable deaths of 76 people with developmental disabilities in state care.
Idaho Statesman: Device, drug firms spent $3.8M in Treasure Valley in 2014
The Idaho Statesman reports that Robert Wechsler calls himself "the Rain Man of epilepsy for Idaho." A neurologist who specializes in seizure disorders, Wechsler also says that because of his work with the pharmaceutical industry, he is something of a "hired gun ... who comes in and talks about a drug." And he's proud of it. Wechsler was among the top five doctors in Idaho receiving payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies in 2014, the most recent year for which records are available through the federal Open Payments system. Drug companies funded Wechsler's trips in 2014 to 40 cities, where he talked to other physicians about certain medications. To compensate him for those engagements, the companies paid Wechsler more than $147,000 in honoraria, speaking and consulting fees. He also received about $25,000 for clinical trials and studies of seizure drugs. … Treasure Valley physicians and hospitals _ those in southwestern Idaho _ received $3.8 million in payments from medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and $2.8 million for clinical research funded by those companies, in 2014. Several local doctors received more than $100,000 in benefits — cash, in-kind payment or other compensation — during the year.
The Washington Post says that for months, a small team of U.S. Navy investigators and federal prosecutors secretly devised options for a high-stakes international manhunt. Could the target be snatched from his home base in Asia and rendered to the United States? Or held captive aboard an American warship? Making the challenge even tougher was the fact that the man was a master of espionage. His moles had burrowed deep into the Navy hierarchy to leak him a stream of military secrets, thwarting previous efforts to bring him to justice. The target was not a terrorist, nor a spy for a foreign power, nor the kingpin of a drug cartel. But rather a 350-pound defense contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard, who had befriended a generation of Navy leaders with cigars and liquor whenever they made port calls in Asia. Leonard Glenn Francis was legendary on the high seas for his charm and his appetite for excess.
Des Moines Register: Critics fault oversight in inmate deaths
As an officer escorted Douglas Ramsey to a phone at the Polk County Jail in 2013, he sprinted away and slammed his head into a concrete wall so hard that he later died from the injury, the Des Moines Register reports. Tana Lekin, an inmate in the Jones County Jail who was presumed drunk or high, was placed in a holding cell in March 2015, where she died of self-strangulation. At least 14 minutes elapsed from when Lekin failed to respond to a check and when jailers entered her cell to offer assistance, records show. In March, Lamont Walls, a 38-year-old Des Moines resident, died in the Polk County Jail. Officials say he ingested drugs before his arrest, one of several other Iowa inmates whose deaths resulted from drug overdoses or other medical conditions. Ramsey was jailed for interfering with police, Lekin for burglary and Walls on drug-related charges. What the three deaths have in common are lapses in prisoner oversight, critics contend. Detailed, up-to-date data on all Iowa inmate deaths are elusive. But an analysis by The Des Moines Register, relying on public records, lawsuits and news stories, shows at least 19 Iowa inmates have killed themselves since Jan. 1, 2013.
Lexington Herald-Leader: Lifestyles of rich and political
The Lexington Herald-Leader says that over the last year, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr spent nearly $32,000 on tickets to the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup, plus $300 to hire handicapper Ellis Starr to provide betting tips for his racetrack guests. "Nobody was even talking politics. It was just entertainment for everyone," Starr recently recalled. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers paid $21,504 to golf at Pebble Beach Resorts on California's beautiful Monterey Peninsula. Down the coastline, retiring U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield dropped more than $20,000 for a weekend of dining and poolside socializing in Beverly Hills. These members of Kentucky's congressional delegation didn't take this money from their campaign committees, which hold the funds they raised to keep their current jobs. Instead, they tapped their leadership PACs - their lightly regulated, seldom scrutinized political action committees, which are mostly funded by interest groups who lobby Congress for favorable legislation.
Boston Globe: Trump airline went from opulent liftoff to rough landing
When Donald Trump's new airline, the Trump Shuttle, launched on a summer day in 1989, tuxedoed waiters with white gloves passed out smoked salmon, honey chicken skewers, and chocolate truffles, the Boston Globe reports. It was early in the day, but champagne flowed at Logan Airport. After a string quartet rested its bows, Trump took the microphone and struck a discordant note: He railed against Pan Am, his rival in the shuttle business. He suggested Pan Am's flights were unsafe, that the company was strapped for cash and couldn't spend as much to maintain planes as Trump Shuttle. … Executives at Trump's newest venture were aghast. In a highly competitive business, one in which Trump had no experience, the new boss had tossed
decorum to the wind and made claims he had no evidence to support. "We said, 'Donald, don't ever do that again,' " recalled Henry Harteveldt, who was the company's marketing director. "It was wrong. We had no proof to back that up. And there's an unwritten rule in the airline business that you don't attack someone else's safety record. There but for the grace of God go
I." Echoes of Trump Shuttle reverberate in the Trump presidential campaign. He bashed his rivals with scant justification, grabbed media attention with flash and dazzle, and relied on gut instinct to pursue strategies that flouted industry norms. But while Trump broke into the shuttle business with typical bravado and brand mastery, he was brought low by a series of missteps and a softening economy. His lack of expertise in East Coast skies took a toll, and he was forced to give up the airline after less than three years.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Big projects, big money, big problems
Like an extended episode of House of Cards, Rochester's $1.3 billion program to modernize city schools is laden with political machinations and conspiracy theories, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle says. Who knew? The program, which got underway in 2006, is meant to bring the city's aging school buildings into the 21st century in three phases of construction over 15 years. It is the most costly public works project in local history. The first phase of work, in which $325 million has been spent, is ending now. The second phase, which will see $435 million more in work, may start soon. A six-month investigation by the Democrat and Chronicle has found that good work was done in Phase I but it was also beset by cost overruns, truncated projects and mid-stream reallocations of tens of millions of dollars. Critics complain that poor planning led to money being wasted, though much of what went on is still shrouded in confusion. As Phase II was ramping up, politicians got more involved, and things turned, unsurprisingly, political. And today, the future of Phase II is in limbo.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Supervisor misused Taser
A longtime employee at the state-run Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility remains a supervisor after being disciplined for using a Taser on one mentally ill woman and forcing another face-first against a shower wall, according to newly released records reviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The employee, Valencia Guillonta, was suspended for 10 days after the first incident, which occurred in July 2014, Department of Corrections records show. After the second use of force, in September 2015, Guillonta was demoted from captain to sergeant. In that position, she continues to have authority over both guards and inmates. Guillonta is the second supervisor at the Secure Detention Facility whose inappropriate treatment of mentally ill prisoners has been confirmed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in recent months. Earlier this year, Sgt. Mark Peterson retired amid a disciplinary investigation after the news organization obtained an audio recording of him and two subordinates antagonizing a male inmate and threatening to withhold his medication. One of the guards under Peterson's supervision at the time resigned and the other was fired.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK MAY 24, 2016
Anniston (Alabama) Star: More places to pack heat
At the Selma Interpretive Center, a museum honoring the nonviolent resistance of the 1965 voting rights march, visitors can now openly carry firearms, The Anniston (Alabama) Star reports. Guns are also allowed at Selma’s City Hall when the council isn’t in session. And at the local animal shelter. And at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library and the building that houses the Selma City Ceramic Art Program. It’s been that way since December, when the city got a letter from Attorney General Luther Strange urging officials to comply with the state’s 2013 open-carry law. With few exceptions, the law allows people to visibly wear pistols on government property. Gun-rights activists in recent months have fanned across the state to file complaints to the attorney general and make the law stick. “We don’t know who filed the complaint,” Jimmy Nunn, Selma’s city attorney, said. “We just know we heard from the attorney general’s office.” In the past year, the attorney general’s office sent similar letters to nearly two dozen local governments and state agencies, turning public parks, libraries and senior centers into open-carry zones.
Washington Post: The Americans primed to fight their government
B.J. Soper took aim with his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and fired a dozen shots at a human silhouette target, the Washington Post reports from Oregon. Soper’s wife and their 16-year-old daughter practiced drawing pistols. Then Soper helped his 4-year-old daughter, in pink sneakers and a ponytail, work on her marksmanship with a .22-caliber rifle. Deep in the heart of a vast U.S. military training ground, surrounded by spent shotgun shells and juniper trees blasted to shreds, the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard was conducting its weekly firearms training. “The intent is to be able to work together and defend ourselves if we need to,” said Soper, 40, a building contractor who is an emerging leader in a growing national movement rooted in distrust of the federal government, one that increasingly finds itself in armed conflicts with authorities.Those in the movement call themselves patriots, demanding that the federal government adhere to the Constitution and stop what they see as systematic abuse of land rights, gun rights, freedom of speech and other liberties. Law enforcement officials call them dangerous, delusional and sometimes violent, and say that their numbers are growing amid a wave of anger at the government that has been gaining strength since 2008, a surge that coincided with the election of the first black U.S. president and a crippling economic recession.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2016/05/21/armed-with-guns-and-constitutions-the-patriot-movement-sees-america-under-threat/?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_constitutionalguard908pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory
Indianapolis Star: Mentally ill teenager, tragic ending
Princola Shields’ screams stopped long before her body was found hanging lifelessly inside an Indiana Women’s Prison shower. She’d been crying out from her locked bathroom stall for hours, several inmates told the paper, begging nearby officers to tell her what she’d done wrong. Only three weeks remained on her prison sentence, but officers moved her into temporary confinement after, inmates said, an argument in the chow hall. Before entering her new cell, however, she was placed in a stall no bigger than a hallway closet. She was left there alone for three hours, inmates said. They said her cries — described as frantic and childlike, laced with threats of suicide — were ignored, The Indianapolis Star reported. By the third hour, the cries stopped. … Although authorities would not comment on what transpired in the hours before Shields took her life, six inmates who spoke to the Indianapolis Star described a scene that would be in clear violation not only of what experts say are the best practices in handling inmates with a history of mental illness and suicide threats, but also of the prison's policies. More broadly, experts note, Shields’ case is an example of a larger issue: the difficulty public safety officials face when dealing with suspects and inmates who suffer from severe mental health issues. More than 6,000 inmates in Indiana have been diagnosed with mental illness.
Read more: http://www.indystar.com/longform/news/investigations/2016/05/22/jailing-princola-shields-mental-health-depression-mental-illness-disorders-prison-inmate-bipolar-severe-anxiety-oppositional-defiant-disorder-incarceration-juvenile-justice/83842158/
Boston Globe: High cost of college killing the American dream
The Boston Globe notes that one of the most enduring selling points for the value of higher education is that the best route out of poverty is through the college quad. Spend four years in college, and all that book-learning, mind-opening, and network-expanding will help even the lowest-income student jump up several rungs on the economic ladder. Nowhere is that message preached as often or with as much evident authority as in Massachusetts, the nation’s historic capital of private, nonprofit higher education, where the concentration of colleges in some areas is surpassed only by the number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. But just how true is this truism about college lifting low-income students out of their circumstances, Horatio Alger style? In fact, like the actual story of author Horatio Alger, who was born into a well-established family and graduated from Harvard, there’s more myth than truth. That’s been especially so in recent years, as nonselective private colleges from around the region have increasingly filled their freshman classes with low-income students — often the first generation in their families to go to college — from Boston and other urban areas. … So whether they are actively recruiting these low-income students for reasons of open-the-door altruism or keep-the-lights-on capitalism — or, more likely, some combination of the two — there has been a huge, largely hidden byproduct of this dramatic increase in access: These students are often being loaded up with staggering debt that is completely out of whack with the earnings boost they’ll likely get from a degree at a nonselective or less selective college.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Few punished for pedestrian deaths
Carol Wiggins crossed Territorial Road every day at the crosswalk on her way home from work in Watertown, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. But the driver of the car that hit her one evening said he didn’t see her until it was too late. Wiggins never recovered from the traumatic brain injury from the 2011 crash, dying weeks later in a Minneapolis hospital. The driver never faced any charges — not even a traffic citation. … The decision not to cite the driver who struck Wiggins isn’t unusual. The majority of drivers who killed pedestrians between 2010 and 2014 were not charged, according to Star Tribune analysis of metro area crash data. Those who were charged often faced misdemeanors — from speeding to careless driving — with minimal penalties, unless the driver knowingly fled or was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Black students less likely to have access to AP classes
In high schools throughout the St. Louis area, stark racial differences persist in terms of which students are progressing to the most advanced classes — a divide that threatens the ability of African-American students to prepare for college, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Tens of thousands of black students aren’t enrolling in calculus or Advanced Placement classes — long considered the gold standard for college readiness. That’s true at most predominantly black high schools, which are less likely to provide rigorous course offerings. But it’s also true in the suburbs, where predominantly white high schools offer a much broader range of opportunities. Even there, African-American students are grossly underrepresented in elite classes. ... The Post-Dispatch gathered information on AP enrollment at all district high schools in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County, as well as Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois. Other area counties with smaller African-American enrollment were not included in the analysis.
New York Times: New frontline in culture war is the bathroom
The people of Palatine, Illinois, a middle-class suburb of Chicago marked by generic strip malls and tidy cul-de-sacs, had not spent much time debating the thorny questions of transgender rights. But in late 2013, a transgender high school athlete, so intent on defending her privacy that she is known only as Student A, took on her school district so she could use the girls’ locker room. After the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled in her favor last fall, the two sides cut a deal: Student A could use the locker room and the school would install private changing areas. Some in the community denounced the arrangement; others joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented the girl, in declaring a victory for civil rights. Now the whole nation is in a pitched battle over bathroom access, with the Obama administration ordering all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Across the country, religious conservatives are rebelling. … How a clash over bathrooms, an issue that appeared atop no national polls, became the next frontier in America’s fast-moving culture wars — and ultimately landed on the desk of the president — involves an array of players, some with law degrees, others still in high school, The New York Times reports.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/us/transgender-bathroom-obama-schools.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
New York Times: America’s overlooked gun violence
After the slaughter of nine worshipers at a South Carolina church last June, but before the massacre of eight students and a teacher at an Oregon community college in October, there was a shooting that the police in Cincinnati here have labeled Incident 159022597.01, The New York Times reports. It happened on a clear Friday night at an Elks Lodge, on a modest block of clapboard houses northeast of this city’s hilly downtown. Unlike the butchery that bookended it, it mer