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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • SEPT. 21, 2017
AP: Water project's cost falls to more Californians
The Associated Press reported that water districts and households across California could be compelled to help pay for Gov. Jerry Brown's plans to build two giant tunnels to ferry water to cities and farms mainly in central and Southern California, under newly revealed plans to shore up funding for the struggling $16 billion project. The tougher state funding demands pivot from longstanding state and federal assurances that only local water districts that seek to take part in the mega-project would have to pay for the twin tunnels, the most ambitious re-engineering of California's complex north-to-south water system in more than a half-century. The Associated Press obtained new documents from the state's largest agricultural water agency and confirmed the expanded funding demands in phone and email interviews with state and local water officials.
Bay Area News Group: Police visited Oakland warehouse months before fire
The Bay Area News Group reported that a body camera video shows a police officer ordering the shutdown of a suspected illegal rave at an Oakland, California, warehouse nearly two years before a fire killed 36 partygoers in the ramshackle building. The video of the arts collective known as the "Ghost Ship" was obtained and made public by the Bay Area News Group on Thursday, Sept. 15. "I will be talking to the city, and we'll be dealing with this place," the officer says on the video. Late Thursday, the Police Department released a police report that the officer wrote, and said that it had been forwarded to the vice unit then to the department's Alcohol Beverage Action Team. But, the department said, such infractions at the time were views as low-priority.
Arizona Republic: Homeowner associations lead surge in Phoenix foreclosures
The Arizona Republic reports homeowners associations, the enforcers of neighborhood paint colors, holiday decorations and trash bins, are leading the latest surge in Phoenix-area foreclosures. HOAs are foreclosing on a record number of homeowners for as little as $1,200 in missed maintenance payments, according to an Arizona Republic investigation. And homeowners who thought only their mortgage lender could seize property are losing their houses at sheriff’s auctions, sometimes for just $100 more than they owe. “It’s become a huge issue,” Arizona Real Estate Commissioner Judy Lowe said. “Most homeowners don’t understand the foreclosure process and don’t know their HOA can foreclose.”
Santa Fe New Mexican: Reform laws aimed at campaign donations full of loopholes
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that reform measures in 2006 and 2007 barred contractors from plying politicians with campaign donations or other gifts while vying for government business. And the changes required contractors to report donations they make to public officials. But a decade later, those laws are full of loopholes. A recent review by the State Auditor’s Office found 2 in 5 government contracts did not include the paperwork contractors are required to submit reporting their donations to public officials. For about a decade, the standard forms even included inaccurate language. And The New Mexican has obtained documents showing how corporations, along with political action committees, can skirt the rules altogether. State Auditor Tim Keller described enforcement and compliance of the laws as so poor, the statutes themselves are almost meaningless.
Modesto Bee: Councilman says he led big Modesto projects, but others differ
The Modesto Bee reports that as Councilman Tony Madrigal campaigns for a second term in the November election, he is claiming credit for two big wins for downtown: the opening of a hugely popular ice rink and the effort to bring UC Merced to Modesto. Here’s how Madrigal spelled out his accomplishments in a campaign questionnaire he filled out for The Bee: “Led effort to bring a UC Merced presence to downtown Modesto” and “Led the effort to bring an ice-skating rink to downtown.” But when asked by The Bee, others involved in these efforts say while Madrgial has been part of the effort in one project and advocated for both, the projects involved the work of many people.
San Francisco Chronicle: Violations cited at Sacramento foster care campus
The San Francisco Chronicle reports a Sacramento agency running one of the few remaining foster care shelters in California has violated health and safety laws and the personal rights of children more than 120 times in recent years — a number matched only by state-licensed facilities that have been shut down or placed on probation. State citations since 2012 at the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento describe poorly trained staff, mishandled medications and filthy dorms. This year, an employee was terminated for an “inappropriate relationship” with an underage client and for smoking marijuana with runaway foster youth. On Sept. 8, a state inspector was unable to remain in a bedroom because the stench of urine overwhelmed her.
Washington Post: Almost two dozen children shot in U.S. every day
The Washington Post reports that, on average, 23 children were shot each day in the United States in 2015, according to a Post review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet striking a growing body every 63 minutes. In total, an estimated 8,400 children were hit, and more died — 1,458 — than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll exceeds the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan this decade. Many incidents, though, never become public because they happen in small towns or the injuries aren’t deemed newsworthy or the triggers are pulled by teens committing suicide.
Miami Herald: Nursing home emergency plan ignored of air conditioning
The Miami Herald reports that when the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, Florida, submitted its 43-page emergency management plan to county administrators in July, it included details on how the home would maintain clean linen, distribute canned food and ensure residents had access to hand sanitizers. It made no mention of how residents would be kept cool if the home’s power was lost. That was a tragic oversight: Health regulators now say eight residents of the rehabilitation center succumbed to cardiac and respiratory failure after a portable air cooling system malfunctioned. The home’s failure to foresee the catastrophic consequences of an air-conditioning meltdown — and Broward County’s failure to insist that the home do so — point to a serious statewide problem.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Atlanta’s top companies benefit from tax breaks
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports metro Atlanta’s defining landmarks and marquee companies, from the upscale Avalon development in Alpharetta to Bank of America Plaza in Midtown, from Town Brookhaven to Coca-Cola, are among the biggest beneficiaries of tax breaks doled out by local governments in 2016. Together, in the name of economic development, governments in Atlanta’s four core counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb — ceded tens of millions in taxes last year, an amount that now can be tallied for the first time because of more rigorous national auditing requirements. Among the businesses receiving public financial aid are Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, State Farm, SunTrust and more than a dozen other Fortune 500 companies.
Des Moines Register: Iowa rape victims wait months for evidence testing
The Des Moines Register reports frustrated Iowa rape victims are waiting months — or sometimes even more than a year — for Iowa's overwhelmed crime lab to process DNA evidence that is crucial to their cases, allowing their suspected attackers to avoid arrest. Iowa, already trying to resolve a backlog of more than 4,000 untested rape evidence kits dating back to the 1990s, finds its state crime lab buried by new requests for evidence testing. At the same time, the lab is wrestling with a stagnant budget and potential cuts that prevent it from filling vacant positions or adding new ones. At the end of August, the state crime lab had 405 DNA sexual assault case assignments waiting to be processed, lab information provided to The Des Moines Register shows.
Boston Globe: VA hospitals flooded with complaints about care
The Boston Globe reports that Veterans Affairs employees filed nearly 2,000 complaints last year with the Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency that investigates employee concerns — more than the next four most-complained-about departments combined. VA employee complaints doubled from 2013 to 2016 and now account for at least one-third of the agency’s caseload even though they represent only about 18 percent of federal workers. “To put it in perspective,” wrote Carolyn Lerner, the special counsel, in her 2018 budget request for an extra $2.4 million to handle all the complaints, “OSC anticipates receiving more cases in [fiscal] 2017 from VA alone than the total number of cases we received from all agencies just over a decade ago.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Student exodus puts pressure on Minnesota schools
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Minnesota students have had the right to attend school in other districts since 1990, but the number of elementary and high school students exercising that option is surging. Last year, about 132,000 Minnesota students enrolled in schools outside their home district, four times the number making that choice in 2000, a Star Tribune analysis shows. School choice options — open enrollment and charter schools — have proved especially popular with nonwhite or minority students, according to the Star Tribune’s analysis of the racial breakdown of students who opt out of their home district. Because state education funding follows the pupil, the student exodus from their home district to other cities and charter schools is magnifying budget pressures in districts that lose more students than they gain. It’s also transforming the racial diversity of schools across the Twin Cities.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Special ed crisis for preschoolers
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports hundreds of young children in Monroe County, and more across New York state, are facing delays in receiving speech services, physical therapy and occupational therapy, the early medical and educational interventions to which they're entitled. This puts them at a developmental disadvantage, greatly increasing the chances they'll need more, costlier help later in life. In the 2016-17 school year alone, nearly 400 3- and 4-year-olds in Monroe County were not evaluated for developmental delays within 60 days of their referral as required by law, according to local school district records. That is more than a quarter of all children who were referred and that number is almost certainly underreported. Those who are evaluated often struggle to get the services they're prescribed.
Oregonian: Nepotism runs rampant in the Oregon legislature
The Oregonian reports that one out of every four elected state legislators in Oregon has employed a family member at taxpayer expense this year. Records show the price tag for hiring spouses, children or in-laws is more than $519,000 so far, according to state salary data. Oregon is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows lawmakers to hire family members. The Legislature passed a bill a decade ago granting lawmakers an exception to state anti-nepotism laws. Legislators defend the practice, noting that it has been something of a time-honored tradition to hire family members. Oregon's citizen legislators are paid about $23,000. Hiring a family member can help make it possible to put their jobs on hold during sessions. Lawmakers, who've been doing it for decades, say it benefits lawmakers and constituents alike.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Industrial barrel investigation goes national
The Milwaukee journal reports Federal regulators have expanded their investigation of industrial barrel refurbishing plants nationwide, examining operations and safety at 13 facilities in nine states. The multi-agency investigation initially focused on three such facilities in the Milwaukee area, where a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation uncovered a host of problems endangering workers and residents. The action comes following a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in February that revealed environmental problems and dangerous working conditions at the three Milwaukee-area plants, as well as facilities in Arkansas, Indiana and Tennessee.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 14, 2017
AP: Most Florida flood zone property not insured
The Associated Press reported that as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, an APanalysis shows a steep drop in flood insurance across the state, including the areas most endangered by what could be a devastating storm surge. In just five years, the state's total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 percent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data. Florida's property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.
Security clearance backlog leads to risky interim passes
A government backlog of 700,000 security clearance reviews has led agencies like the Defense Department to inadvertently issue interim passes to criminals — even rapists and killers — fueling calls for better and faster vetting of people with access to the nation's secrets. The pileup, which is government-wide, is causing work delays for both federal and private intelligence efforts. It takes about four months to acquire a clearance to gain access to "secret" information on a need-to-know basis, and nine to 10 months for "top-secret" clearance. Efforts to reduce the backlog coincide with pressure to tighten the reins on classified material. In recent years, intelligence agencies have suffered some of the worst leaks of classified information in U.S. history. Still, calls for a faster clearance process are getting louder.
Arizona Star: Arizona may add work requirements to Medicaid
The Arizona Daily Star reports Arizona could become one of the first states in the country to impose work requirements and five-year lifetime limits on “able-bodied” adult enrollees in Medicaid. Arizona’s request to the federal government to tighten its Medicaid eligibility has been delayed by more than five months, but state officials say they are still moving forward. An answer is expected in 2018 — and the Trump administration appears favorable to the plan. Critics worry that kicking people off Medicaid for not having a job will penalize vulnerable Arizonans, and force them to get care in emergency rooms, which in the end is more costly for the health-care system.
San Francisco Chronicle: Berkeley protests expensive for East Bay police
The San Francisco Chronicle reports politically charged rallies and protests in Berkeley this year have cost East Bay police departments more than $1.5 million to keep the peace, according to law enforcement data reviewed by The Chronicle. The expenses will climb as UC Berkeley girds itself for a talk Thursday, by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, a Free Speech Week at the end of the month that is expected to feature author Milo Yiannopoulos, and protests that the events may draw. Seven police departments and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office provided data. UC Berkeley shelled out nearly $700,000 for expenses including the assistance of East Bay police departments as well as the lodging, meals and equipment of officers from other UC campuses, including Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara.
Denver Post: Broadband gaps threaten to leave rural areas in the dust.
The Denver Post reported Internet speeds in Meeker, a town of 2,500 in one of the most remote stretches of northwest Colorado, can reach breakneck download speeds of 1 gigabit per second. That’s fast enough to capture a two-hour movie in about 30 seconds and far quicker than connection speeds most urbanites get on the Front Range. For Hannah Turner, who spends her day on a computer processing data-heavy reports for a large bank, the lightning online speed in Meeker — the result of a multimillion-dollar initiative by Rio Blanco County to upgrade its internet infrastructure — is what has kept her from fleeing to the Front Range. Rio Blanco’s experiment with broadband is the exception in rural Colorado. The state’s broadband map shows vast stretches of the state — especially on the Eastern Plains and across the mountains — with slow to no internet service. Meanwhile, the urban Interstate 25 corridor is lit up in speedy green.
Miami Herald: Will your insurance company be strong enough for Irma?
The Miami Herald questions whether Florida’s homeowner insurance business, shattered 25 years ago by Hurricane Andrew, is ready to stand up to the even more powerful Irma. Insurance companies say yes. Other experts say probably — but it’s a worrisome challenge to a largely untested industry. “We’re going to learn a lot about the Florida insurance business in the next week,” said Christopher Grimes, who follows the insurance industry for Fitch Ratings, an international credit rating and research company. Hurricane Andrew’s $27 billion in damages — at the time, a record — sent many of the big-name national insurance companies, like Prudential and State Farm, fleeing from Florida’s property-insurance business. State-backed Citizens stepped in. But over the past five years, it has shed policies to limit its risk, encouraging the creation of new insurers such as Universal Property and Heritage Property.
Louisville Courier-Journal: Air in home often more toxic than you think
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports the Louisville area is known for struggling with air pollution but the worst may actually be inside our kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms. And in many cases, it's our own fault for buying chemical-laden products or not taking steps to reduce their toxic vapors. Beware, for example, of those strong-smelling, cling-free dryer sheets, advertised as being able to "lock in the crispness of a spring morning." Or your gas range and cooking oils, gas-powered hot water heater and that collection of cleaning agents under the kitchen sink. Even a hot shower brings a potentially dangerous chemical into your home, new research from the University of Louisville is showing.
Maine Sunday Telegram: Researchers find summer heat lasts in Gulf of Maine
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports that new scientific research has revealed that summer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, the second fastest warming part of the world’s oceans, are persisting two months longer than they were as recently as the early 1980s. The findings, by a Maine-led team of scientists, have ramifications for marine life, fishermen and the strength of hurricanes, which appear in late summer and are fueled by warm water. “What we found was quite astonishing in that almost all the warming is in the late summer and the winter is not contributing very much at all,” says the project’s lead scientist, University of Maine oceanographer Andrew Thomas. “You can think of impacts all across the food chain, from animals that have actual temperature tolerances to the distribution of species, their prey, and even their predators, not to mention the bacteria and viruses, which we have no idea how they will react.”
Baltimore Sun: One cop left after indictment of Gun Trace Task Force
The Baltimore Sun reports Baltimore Police Det. John Clewell worked nearly two years on the department’s gun trace task force — an elite unit that raided homes throughout the city searching for firearms in an effort to quell historic rates of violence. Now Clewell is the only member of the task force who has not been indicted on federal racketeering charges.
The rest of the unit has been accused of robbing suspects, filing false paperwork and committing overtime fraud. Seven members were indicted by a federal grand jury in March; an eighth was indicted in August. Clewell, a 32-year-old former Marine who joined the Baltimore Police Departmentin 2009, has been suspended, with pay, while the unit remains under investigation. Clewell’s attorney says his client did not participate in the unit’s alleged schemes. Attorney Chaz Ball says Clewell is a witness, not a suspect, in the federal investigation.
Boston Globe: Humane care arrives at state’s harshest hospital
The Boston Globe reports the Massachusetts prison for men with a mental illness has long been known as a rough place where guards often strapped patients down or locked them in isolation cells for misbehavior — and where some patients met gruesome deaths. It was an appalling, often inhumane place, an embarrassment to the state that seemed — to the mentally ill and their advocates — like it would never change. But it has. In April, a private firm hired by the Baker administration replaced almost all the guards at Bridgewater State Hospital with a specially trained security force, along with psychiatrists and other clinicians equipped to provide more humane methods of handling distressed patients. Governor Charlie Baker called it “a culture change.” Five months in, the results are remarkable, beyond the imagining of mental health advocates. Since Correct Care Recovery Solutions took over management of the facility, the staff has cut the seclusion of patients by 99 percent and the practice of strapping them down by their wrists and ankles by 98 percent.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota teen driving deaths plummet
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the number of Minnesota teenagers dying in car crashes has plummeted over the past 15 years, a trend that appears to reflect more restrictive licensing laws and changes in teen interests and behavior in the social media era. A Star Tribune review of state and federal death certificates found that the number of 15- to 19-year-olds who died in motor vehicle crashes dropped from 102 in 2003 to 23 last year, a historic low for the state. As a public health achievement, that decline matches the sharp reduction in AIDS deaths in Minnesota since 1984 and the historic drop in teen pregnancies since 1990. The drop is so big that it has cut Minnesota’s overall child mortality rate — which includes deaths from cancer, influenza and other types of accidents such as falls — even as the adult death rate has increased. Even more surprising, the Star Tribune analysis found that the per-capita rate of teens dying on Minnesota roads is now lower than the rate for adults. That rate measures deaths regardless of whether crash victims are drivers, passengers or pedestrians.
Albuquerque Journal: Court nominee’s lack of New Mexico roots prompts concern
The Albuquerque Journal reports from Washinton that the White House is considering five names to replace retiring Judge Paul Kelly Jr. of Santa Fe on the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals – including one surprise contender who is raising eyebrows in New Mexico’s legal community because of his lack of roots and legal experience in the state. The list submitted by the White House to the state’s congressional delegation for review includes four candidates who fit the typical profile for what has traditionally been a New Mexico “seat” on the federal appeals court. The surprising fifth name is William Levi, a 33-year-old Washington lawyer with the Sidley Austin firm, whose relatively short legal career has included stints clerking for Judge Anthony J. Scirica on the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. He also served as chief counsel for Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
New York Times: New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio faces a diminished mayoralty.
The New York Times reports Mayor Bill de Blasio should be at the peak of his powers. Crime is down. The economy is up. He has scared away his most serious possible challengers this election year. But in two dozen interviews, with Mr. de Blasio’s own aides and allies, city officials, leading political strategists and veterans of New York politics, there was near-universal agreement that though Mr. de Blasio is on more of a glide path to re-election in New York City than any mayor in a generation, he is still struggling to project his political voice in a job that has long produced towering national figures. He has spent the second half of his first term bogged down in internecine fights with the governor, battling with and lecturing the press, and fending off federal and state pay-to-play investigations involving his donors. His ventures to expand his influence beyond New York City have mostly flopped: An effort to organize a presidential forum in Iowa collapsed; his nonprofit to pursue a national progressive agenda is in mothballs; he’s been passed over for prominent national speaking roles.
Columbus Dispatch: 1 in 6 central Ohio schools has chronic attendance problems
The Columbus Dispatch reports that students who are not at school and not being home-schooled are unlikely to be learning. If they are missing school frequently, they are falling farther and farther behind classmates. At 1 in 10 public schools in America, 30 percent or more of the students are chronically absent. At another tenth of schools, 20 to 29 percent are gone too often. In central Ohio, one-sixth of all schools find themselves in that most extreme category, of 30 percent or more of their students not consistently attending school. Ohio is taking steps to address the issue with a new law in effect this school year that requires school districts to work with parents to try to correct the problem, using an intervention team if necessary.
Austin American-Statesman: When Tasers set their targets on fire
The Austin American-Statesman reports that though extremely uncommon, incidents of Taser-initiated combustion have occurred occasionally through the years. Steve Tuttle, a spokesman for Axon Enterprises (formerly Taser International), said the company has recorded 9 fatalities since 1993. News reports show uncounted other incidents in which a person was burned by a fire ignited by a stun gun, though not killed. In several cases, police claimed they were unaware of the presence of combustible fumes. In others, Tuttle said, officers often were presented with deciding whether to allow people to hurt themselves or others, or take a chance the electric charge itself might prove harmful. Used properly, law enforcement experts say, Tasers save both officer and civilian lives by defusing otherwise dangerous encounters.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Sept. 6, 2017
AP EXCLUSIVE: Toxic waste sites flooded in Houston area
The Associated Press reported that the Houston metro area, long a center of the nation's petrochemical industry, has more than a dozen Superfund sites, designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as being among America's most intensely contaminated places. Many are now flooded, with the risk that waters were stirring dangerous sediment. The Highlands Acid Pit, for example, was filled in the 1950s with toxic sludge and sulfuric acid from oil and gas operations. Though 22,000 cubic yards of hazardous waste and soil were excavated from the acid pits in the 1980s, the site is still considered a potential threat to groundwater, and the EPA maintains monitoring wells there. The Associated Press surveyed seven Superfund sites in and around Houston during the flooding. All had been inundated with water, in some cases many feet deep.
AP Exclusive: Flood insurance policies plunged before Harvey
Houston's population is growing quickly, but when Harvey hit last weekend there were far fewer homes and other properties in the area with flood insurance than just five years ago, according to an Associated Press investigation. The sharp, 9 percent drop in coverage means many residents fleeing Harvey's floodwaters have no financial backup to fix up their homes and will have to draw on savings or go into debt — or perhaps be forced to sell. A former head of the federal flood insurance program called the drops "unbelievable" and criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the program. "When you start to see policies drop like this, FEMA should have done something about this," said Robert Hunter, who ran the program in the late '70s. He estimates that fewer than two of 10 homeowners with flood damage have flood insurance
Chicago Tribune: In small towns, empty stores, economic challenges loom large
The Chicago Tribune reports that since the start of the year, U.S. retailers have announced 5,699 store closures, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology, driven by retail bankruptcies, cost-cutting moves and, for a growing number of department stores and big-box chains, decisions to invest in top-performing stores that fit their new strategies. And when a Sears, J.C. Penney or Macy's pulls out of small-town America, the same factors that sent those retailers packing can make the big vacant storefronts they leave behind challenging to fill. "The sad part to me is the malls. Walmart and Menards opened stores in all those markets, and they already killed the downtown. Now if these boxes are going to close, what's left?" said Meredith Oliver, managing director with Cushman & Wakefield's Retail Services Group. "These communities will get horribly hurt from a revenue perspective with sales tax dollars."
Los Angeles Times: Behind $13 shirt is a $6-an-hour worker
The Los Angeles Times reports Norma Ulloa left her two-bedroom apartment before dawn six days a week and boarded a bus that took her to a stifling factory on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. She spent 11 hours a day there, pinning Forever 21 tags on trendy little shirts and snipping away their loose threads in the one-room workshop. On a good day, the 44-year-old could get through 700 shirts. That work earned Ulloa about $6 an hour, well below minimum wage in Los Angeles, according to a wage claim she filed with the state. Ulloa’s claim is one of nearly 300 filed since 2007 by workers demanding back pay for producing Forever 21 clothing, according to a Los Angeles Times review of nearly 2,000 pages of state labor records. Sewing factories and wholesale manufacturers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle those workers’ claims. Forever 21 has not had to pay a cent.
Sun Sentinel: Florida issued warnings, not charges against illegal gun range
The Sun Sentinel reports state wildlife officers routinely catch people firing guns in an area considered South Florida’s top illegal target range. But they let the vast majority off with warnings. The illegal shooting may have cost the life of Lawrence Ramdass, a Plantation fisherman killed there in July by a mysterious hail of bullets. In the past three years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has issued more than 125 warnings and three citations for illegal shooting on or near the L-5 levee, a road that runs through swampy wilderness on the border of Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to records obtained by the Sun Sentinel. Ramdass’ sister, Sandy Stallone, is outraged that the state issues warnings rather than criminal charges.
Washington Post: Consulting fees mount at DC’s only public hospital.
The Washington Post reports the consulting firm Veritas of Washington had been in business just over a year when it won a lucrative contract to salvage D.C.’s only public hospital. Key members of its management team had led a New York hospital that filed for bankruptcy. The District would become its sole client. After the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) — who received more than $35,000 in political donations from the firm’s founders, family and affiliated companies, campaign-finance records show — authorized a no-bid contract for consultants to stanch financial losses at United Medical Center, Veritas began work for a fee of $300,000 per month. A year and a half later, the hospital continues to face financial uncertainty and is coping with new medical crises — including regulators’ closure of the obstetrics ward last month because of unsafe conditions. And public records reviewed by The Washington Post show Veritas has failed to meet a number of the city’s standards for managing the hospital.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/at-the-districts-only-public-hospital-consultants-fees-mount--along-with-trouble/2017/09/02/2a36df9e-899f-11e7-961d-2f373b3977ee_story.html?utm_term=.cef9d7b9b40e
Miami Herald: The gig economy is here to stay. Here’s how to strive and survive
The Miami Herald reports Tiffany Zadi and Joseph Nay both leverage their skills, experience and passions into a diverse portfolio of multiple work assignments and revenue streams to thrive in the Gig Economy, a fast-growing worker movement that includes consulting and contracting, temping, freelancing, self-employment, side gigs and on-demand workers. While Zadi and Nay enthusiastically jumped into the Gig Economy – in fact, Zadi gave up a law career to pursue her passions – others are thrust into it by necessity, as full-time jobs have slipped away. Some want the supplemental income as wages remain largely stagnant while still others use it as a buffer as they ease into retirement.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Video games spawn charges of payoffs, bribery
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the Georgia Lottery Corporation began regulating the 22,000 coin-operated video games three years ago in gas stations, bars and convenience stores. Since then a steady stream of tawdry allegations have exposed
a side of the flashing, noisy games that most Georgians never see. Welcome to the underbelly of Georgia’s $675 million-a-year video gaming industry, which produces enough accusations of fraud and corruption to fill a season of “The Sopranos.” The new enforcement responsibility has exposed the Lottery to a messy underworld in which companies regularly accuse one another of breaking the law; try to steal one another’s business; and ask the Lottery to play referee.
Des Moines Register: How Iowa ended overtime for thousands of workers
The Des Moines Register reports Iowa has revoked overtime eligibility for about 2,800 state workers, a move critics say could cripple government services if employees leave for the private sector and better jobs. In all,167 job classifications, including nurses, public defenders and social workers, can now be required to work more than 40 hours a week without additional pay or comp time. And for 12,800 state workers who remain eligible for overtime, the state has altered how it calculates overtime in ways that reduce their pay and the circumstances when employees qualify for it. For example, the hours that count toward overtime must be those actually worked in a week. Before, sick or vacation days counted toward the calculation. The state estimates the changes will save $5 million a year.
Louisville Courier-Journal: IRS could fine University of Louisville foundation execs
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that ousted University of Louisville Foundation President James Ramsey was the nation's highest-paid officer at a public university foundation, and that could make him liable for big IRS penalties if his pay is deemed excessive. Ramsey's foundation compensation was $2.4 million in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available. That was the most for any public university foundation officer or employee in the United States, excluding payments to coaches for major college sports programs. A Courier-Journal review of nearly 1,600 officers and employees of 1,146 foundations also shows three other university officials came in right behind their president: Dr. Donald Miller, director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, $1.79 million; Shirley Willihnganz, executive vice president and university provost; $1.1 million; Kathleen Smith, assistant secretary and university chief of staff, $675,848.
Kansas City Star: A university student in Kansas now carries a gun to class
The Kansas City star reports a 21-year-old business major at the University of Kansas now totes, as of the beginning of classes, a Glock 19 semi-automatic handgun, with a 15-round magazine locked into position. His professors are unaware. And only a handful of his closest of friends even know he carries it. But to Tom — a college senior who didn’t want his last named revealed because, first, he knows that Kansas’ new law that allows him to carry concealed handguns on campus is charged with controversy and, second, because he doesn’t want others viewing him negatively or trying to steal his gun — having a handgun at the ready just makes him feel less vulnerable, more prepared. Meantime, KU film and media professor Kevin Willmott made a statement of his own, strapping on a bulletproof vest, which he plans to wear to class all school year.
Newark Star Ledger: This N.J. block is dying one abandoned property at a time
The Newark Star Ledger reports that abandoned and vacant homes are a headache for cities across the country and not just in urban centers like Newark. But it's aggravating longtime homeowners who say the city needs to do more to fix the problem and protect those who want to remain in Newark. According to Newark's abandoned property registry, there are more than 2,000 abandoned or vacant properties in the city. Properties with no legal occupants for six months are considered vacant; those in need of rehabilitation, behind on property taxes or threatening community safety are defined as abandoned. Along a one-block stretch on Mt. Prospect Avenue, for example, the unkept corners of homes hang loose. Windows are boarded up with crumbling plywood. Empty liquor bottles, a child's blue plastic chair and cigarettes collect along the sidewalks.
New York Times: Fentanyl overtakes heroin as leading cause of drug deaths
The New York Times reports drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016. It’s a staggering rise of more than 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year — and even higher than The New York Times estimate in une, which was based on earlier preliminary data. Drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl and its analogues — continue to push the death count higher. Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamines. Together they add up to an epidemic of drug overdoses that is killing people at a faster rate than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/02/upshot/fentanyl-drug-overdose-deaths.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 31, 2017
Orange County Register: ‘Chicken winging’ can damage inmates arms
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Wesley Dean was admittedly agitated and looking to inflict pain on inmate Charles Huntsman when he wrenched the man’s hand high behind his back, breaking his arm just above the elbow, the Orange County Register reports. After the inmate sued the county, Dean admitted during a sworn deposition that he used excessive force. He apologized for snapping the suspected drunken driver’s humerus bone while using an unsanctioned technique inmates in Southern California jails call “chicken winging.” … The issue has resurfaced repeatedly in recent years in claims for damages filed against the agency, lawsuits and settlements, as well as a recent high-profile critique of the jail system by a civil rights group. How frequently improper control-holds are used on Orange County jail inmates – and how many injuries may result – isn’t clear. Detailed data on complaints involving such encounters wasn’t readily available from the department. … Arm-holds have figured in legal claims and court battles – including a $227,000 settlement in the Huntsman case last month – against the Orange County Sheriff’s Department dating back to at least 2008.They were cited prominently in a two-year investigation of the county jail system released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Denver Post: Pot has seat in fatal crashes
The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization. Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013 compiled by the paper. Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit. Levels were not as elevated in earlier years. Last year, all of the drivers who survived and tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. … The trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado that began with adult use in late 2012, followed by sales in 2014.
Chicago Tribune: Reliance on Tasers raises red flags
The Chicago Police Department plans to own as many as 6,900 Tasers by the end of 2017, a ninefold increase from just two years ago and enough to give every officer on patrol an electric shock weapon that can drop a person in an instant, the Chicago Tribune reports. Saying Tasers were part of his plan to "ensure the safety of every resident," Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced the devices as an alternative to guns after Laquan McDonald's fatal shooting by an officer sparked widespread outrage in late 2015. But a Chicago Tribune examination of thousands of pages of city records and data on about 4,700 Taser uses over the last decade has raised questions about the department's reliance on the weapon. Among the findings:
• Some officers have used Tasers with unusual regularity. Cops who deployed a Taser did so twice on average, but 16 officers each used a Taser 15 or more times over the last decade.
• A Tribune review of city Law Department data as well as court records found that the city has paid or agreed to pay at least $23.1 million in lawsuits involving Taser use since 2005.
• Nearly three-fourths of those targeted with Tasers were black, though African-Americans comprise about one-third of the city's residents.
Boston Globe: Promised care isn’t delivered at Recovery Centers
The advertisements are everywhere. On television, a sleek black sedan pulls up to a sprawling estate with a rolling green lawn as a mother recounts how Recovery Centers of America saved her child from drugs. On Facebook, radio, highway billboards, and commuter trains, people are urged to call the company’s instantly memorable hotline: 1-800-RECOVERY. The marketing blitz and an infusion of private equity money have helped make Recovery Centers of America into the self-described fastest-growing addiction treatment provider in the country. Launched less than three years ago by a high-end real estate developer, it’s part of a rush of entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the treatment business as the opioid crisis sweeps the country.
But an investigation by STAT (a health news site) and The Boston Globe has uncovered evidence of shoddy care and turmoil inside the walls of the company’s two Massachusetts treatment centers. This report is based on interviews with more than a dozen former and current employees, internal RCA documents, and state investigative reports — depicting a company that spends lavishly on facilities and marketing while skimping on giving patients basic care.
New York Times: Health insurers start to prosper with ACA
It has not been a market for the faint of heart. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act achieved a major victory this past week when, thanks to cajoling and arm-twisting by state regulators, the last “bare” county in America — in rural Ohio — found an insurer willing to sell health coverage through the law’s marketplace there. So despite earlier indications that insurance companies would stop offering coverage under the law in large parts of the country, insurers have now agreed to sell policies everywhere. But a moment of truth still looms for the industry in the coming weeks under the law known as Obamacare. Companies must set their final plans and premiums by late September, even as the Trump administration continues to threaten to cut off billions of dollars in government subsidies promised by the legislation. Insurers are also awaiting Senate hearings set to start on Sept. 6 for a hint of what steps, if any, lawmakers may take to stabilize the market. … When the law passed seven years ago, insurers saw a potential bonanza: tens of millions of brand-new paying customers, many backed by generous government subsidies and required by the new law to have health coverage. Now, about four years after the law’s marketplaces opened for business, most of the industry’s biggest players have pulled out. … Yet the continuing churn among insurers and the anxiety pervading the industry -- stirred largely by President Trump’s predictions of collapse and threats to withhold critical government payments to insurers -- have obscured an encouraging fact: Many of the remaining companies have sharply narrowed their losses, analysts say, and some are even beginning to prosper.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Fired officer who shot three is back on beat
Shortly after worshiping at his Germantown mosque on the night of June 25, 2014, Gregory Porterfield was shot eight times on a street in Lawncrest. The bullets pierced his chest, back, leg, shoulder, wrist, buttocks, and an index finger, nearly killing him. On June 17, 2011, gunfire rained down on Jeremy May after he had dropped two friends at a hospital with gunshot wounds around 2 a.m. and drove his Chevrolet Suburban in the 5100 block of Duffield Street. May suffered a graze wound to an arm. Less fortunate was Hassan Pratt, an unarmed 325-pound man. Just after 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9, 2012, in a West Philadelphia alley, he was shot three times in the chest and died. Porterfield, May, and Pratt were shot by the same man — a defendant in at least six lawsuits, including three that have been settled for a combined $615,000. He was fired from his job in 2015 for killing Pratt but was rehired last year with the help of his union. The gunman’s name is Cyrus Mann, and he’s a Philadelphia police officer.
Tennessean: Opioid deaths undercounted in Tennessee
In 2015, state officials reported at least 1,451 men, women and children died from drug overdoses in Tennessee -- but that’s far from an accurate count. There are likely hundreds more. No one knows the true number. Drug deaths reported in Tennessee are fundamentally flawed and represent an undercount of the toll taken by opioids, the nation’s most deadly drug epidemic, a USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee investigation found. USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee found multiple levels of breakdowns in death investigations, making it impossible to sketch the mortality rate from drug abuse or overdoses, including:
• Inconsistencies in how medical examiners, hospitals and law enforcement officials flag possible overdose deaths.
• County budget constraints that limit the number of autopsies performed.
• Incomplete or inaccurate information recorded on death certificates.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 24, 2017
Rockford Register Star: Segregated again. But equal?
Xica Davis-Flannigan never thought her daughters would attend schools that are less integrated than the ones she attended 20 years ago. As a black girl growing up in Rockford during the People Who Care desegregation lawsuit, Davis-Flannigan attended schools that she and her parents chose for her, schools she describes as racially mixed. Today, choosing schools is a thing of the past, and the schools Davis-Flannigan’s daughters can attend — based on geographic boundaries called “zones” — tend to test poorly and are filled with black and Hispanic children. “You have your zone, and you can’t go outside of your zone,” said the 33-year-old mom. “Zoning took away our choices. Schools are full of African-American and Mexican kids, and I don’t think they’re getting what they need.” Davis-Flannigan is talking about the resegregation of Rockford schools. After decades of costly legal battles, court orders and fiery public debate surrounding the desegregation of Rockford Public Schools, today’s schools look strikingly similar to their pre-desegregation counterparts, where white children attended better-performing east side schools and black children attended failing west side schools. A Rockford Register Star analysis of student race and achievement at Rockford Public Schools shows the district’s top-performing schools are predominantly white — some have as few as 15 black children — and the district’s worst-performing schools are predominantly minority — some with as few as 20 white children.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: State law blocks adoptees’ efforts to discover roots
Adopted as an infant, Sara Heller-Zimprich devotes her nights and weekends to a single-minded hunt for her birth family, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. After work, she sometimes doesn’t change out of her nurse’s scrubs before logging on to two laptop computers to click through nine genealogy websites and family trees in search of a match that could lead to her birth family. Her all-consuming quest is shared by thousands of adoptees in Minnesota and across the nation, but one that is frustrated by a patchwork of state laws that deny them access to their own birth and adoption records. In recent years, many states have relaxed their laws and cracked open long-sealed adoption records, but Minnesota’s Legislature has stood firm and kept those records closed. An adoption agency knows the first name of Heller-Zimprich’s father, but says it can’t provide it. The Minnesota Department of Health has the name of Heller-Zimprich’s birth mother, but it will not hand it over. “I just want to know where I’m from,” said Heller-Zimprich, 53. “It’s definitely a right. You need to know where your roots are.” A national movement led by adoptees has improved access to adoption records in 19 states since 1997. This year, thousands of people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania will see their original birth certificates for the first time. Adoptees in Missouri and Arkansas will get that chance starting next year.
Montgomery Advertiser: Too young for justice
Roderick Demar Williams was 14 when he was charged with murder in connection with a 2016 Prattville homicide. Devonte Raymon Hill was 15 when he was charged with murder in the same case in connection with the May 21, 2016, robbery and shooting death of a 56-year-old Prattville man. In June, Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth ruled that the teens would face the charges as adults, in adult court. That means that if convicted, they would serve time in adult prisons. In May, a 14-year-old and 15-year-old allegedly stole a car in Millbrook and led officers from that city on a high speed chase that ended in a crash in Prattville. Jimmy S. Ward, 69, of Montgomery, was driving the other car, and died of the injuries he sustained in the crash. The district attorney’s office filed court documents to have those two teenage boys charged as adults with murder. In Montgomery, there are eight murder investigations where juveniles are suspects.
Where does it end, the charging of younger and younger suspects? In Alabama, by law, it's 14, that’s the youngest a person can be charged as an adult. It’s an “exceptional” request to have a 14-year-old charged as an adult, Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson said. He serves the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Autauga, Chilton and Elmore counties. … There are more than 2,000 people convicted as juveniles nationwide serving life without parole sentences, according to data collected by The Associated Press. At least 72 juveniles have been sentenced to life without parole in Alabama, the AP reports show. Most of those have applied for new sentences in light of the high court’s decisions.
Arizona Republic: Fewer hotline complaints investigated in child-abuse cases
Investigations into reports of child neglect have dropped 8 percent over the last year, even as the number of calls coming into Arizona's child-abuse hotline has held steady. The Department of Child Safety attributes the decline to changes made in the last year in how the hotline is operated, saying it has taken steps to cull out reports that do not need state intervention. The agency says all reports of abuse are still checked out, and the changes free up its investigators to focus on only the credible reports of the less-dire allegation known as neglect. But some worry the state might be missing a chance to do early intervention that could prevent a family situation from becoming more severe. The year-over-year decline in investigations reflects larger DCS trends. After the number of Arizona children in out-of-home care peaked around 19,000 in March 2016, data now shows that total declining. Fewer kids are being taken into state custody and more kids are exiting state care.
New York Times: Deal with Saudis underlines benefit of backing Trump
He heaped praise on Jared Kushner at a private gathering of bankers and corporate executives in December, congratulating President Trump’s son-in-law on the surprise election triumph.
He stood up again in May before a group of corporate leaders on the 39th floor of Citigroup’s offices to remind them of all the good the Trump administration could do for the economy and the country. And at a recent meeting with his employees, as Mr. Trump’s support in corporate America began to crumble over remarks about white nationalists, he condemned the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but not the president’s response to it. By week’s end, a rebellion among corporate leaders led to the disbanding of business advisory councils to the president.
Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the private equity giant Blackstone and the leader of one of the councils, has not been alone on Wall Street in his embrace of the Trump presidency, particularly after the corporate world endured eight years of Obama-era regulation. But in each of these private meetings, recounted by people who attended them, Mr. Schwarzman emerged as one of the president’s most respected and reliable allies in high finance. People close to Mr. Schwarzman say he does not view himself as a member of the president’s inner circle, but rather as an independent businessman who gives the White House advice on trade and the economy. But Mr. Schwarzman’s stature in both the world of finance and in Mr. Trump’s Washington helped Blackstone nail down one of the biggest deals on Wall Street this year — its selection by Saudi Arabia to manage a new $20 billion fund, to according to a person with knowledge of the selection process.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Private prisons get new life under Trump
GEO and other leading for-profit prison corporations have been plagued by health and safety issues for years, with prisoner and staff complaints and wrongful-death lawsuits piling up like mounds of unopened jail mail. But the companies have enjoyed a lucrative relationship with the federal government. Since 1997, they’ve been paid billions by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to annually house more than 34,000 federal inmates. It was a convenient arrangement for a nation with the world’s highest prison population, underpinned by a belief that private corporations could do the job cheaper and better. The government’s stance toward companies like GEO underwent a dramatic shift last summer. In early August, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a troubling report that showed contract prisons had far higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and poorer access to medical care, than comparable federally run facilities. … A few weeks later, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo that directed the Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of private-run prisons altogether. This was a potentially fatal blow to the industry; the stock price of publicly traded GEO plummeted 40 percent that day. Then history intervened. Since the election of President Trump, GEO — which donated $170,000 to a Trump political action committee last year, and $250,000 to his inaugural bash — has seen its stock price nearly quadruple. One of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' first moves after taking office in February was to rescind Yates’ memo. So instead of being cut off, GEO is raking in the money. The company has signed $774 million worth of federal contracts so far this year, including a $110 million deal to build an immigration detention center in Texas.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Silencing a witness
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has begun a six-part series on attacks aimed at silencing witnesses. Its begins by reporting that Eddie Powe, before he died, told police who had shot him: Tone. The killing of Powe came during the violent summer of 2015 when the number of homicides in Milwaukee soared to a high not seen since the early 1990s. It set off a cascade of violence as the man who shot him tried to methodically eliminate witnesses he believed had cooperated with police to put him behind bars. And it is only one of a number of high-stakes witness intimidation cases in Milwaukee County. In the past two years, prosecutors have filed charges in at least five homicides, five attempted homicides and two conspiracies to commit a homicide — all cases involving efforts to permanently silence a witness. In 2015, prosecutors charged nearly 190 people with witness intimidation — a 250 percent increase from a decade before, a Journal Sentinel analysis of court data found.
AP: Sex offenders can live next door to victims in many states
A convicted sex offender who molested his niece when she was 7 years old moved in next door to his victim in Edmond, Oklahoma, nearly a dozen years after he was sent to prison for the crime. Outraged, the Oklahoma woman, now 21, called lawmakers, the police and advocacy groups to plead with them to take action. Danyelle Dyer soon discovered that what Harold Dwayne English did in June is perfectly legal in the state — as well as in 44 others that don't specifically bar sex offenders from living near their victims, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. "I always felt safe in my home, but it made me feel like I couldn't go home, I couldn't have my safe space anymore," Dyer told The Associated Press, which typically doesn't identify victims of sexual assault, but is doing so in Dyer's case because she agreed to allow her name to be used in hopes of drawing attention to the issue. "He would mow in between our houses. Him moving in brought back a lot of those feelings." Advocacy groups say the Oklahoma case appears to be among the first in the U.S. where a sex offender has exploited the loophole, which helps explain why dozens of other states have unknowingly allowed it to exist. … Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have laws dictating how far away sex offenders must stay from their victims — 1,000 feet in Tennessee, for example, and 2,000 feet in Arkansas. Other states haven't addressed the issue, though like Oklahoma they have laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within a certain distance of a church, school, day care, park or other facility where children are present.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 17, 2017
Wisconsin State Journal: No sanctuary, fewer farmhands
Along a desolate country road in northeastern Wisconsin, Manuel Estrada speeds toward work in his rumbling silver Ford SUV. He's running late for his predawn shift. And he's worried. His boss is counting on him; she's been down a worker for a month. More than 400 Holstein cows stand blinking, waiting to be milked. His family needs the paycheck from his $11.50-per-hour job. And Estrada, 30, hopes the police aren't waiting for him too. It's a risk he runs regularly during his 15-minute commute from his home in Manitowoc to the 150-year-old family dairy farm where he's worked for two years. Estrada, who has been in the country illegally for 13 years, is an unlicensed driver. This route passes through one of the top dairy-producing counties in the nation. If he's picked up by police, he could have an even bigger worry than a traffic ticket due to ramped up immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump. … As one of the Wisconsin's largest industries, dairy production is heavily dependent on immigrant workers. Farmers say few if any U.S. citizens apply for these jobs.
Los Angeles Times: Web haven for far right
Over and over again, those on America’s far right have learned that the 1st Amendment doesn’t protect them from Silicon Valley tech companies. For weeks, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and other far-right figures have been organizing for a “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is expected to be one of the largest rallies of its kind in at least a decade. But days before the rally, the short-term lodging service Airbnb started suspending the accounts of rally attendees who had rented houses in the area. Why? The San Francisco-headquartered company requires customers to “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity,” among other things — a deal breaker for white nationalists, who have been banned by other popular companies for similar reasons. It was a blow for the organizers, who had “taken over all of the large AirBnBs in a particular area,” according to a user on the message board for the Daily Stormer, a popular neo-Nazi website, who had “set up ‘Nazi Uber’ and the ‘Hate Van’ to help in moving our people around as needed.”
This wasn’t the first time the far-right had to find someone willing to provide services for its members. Increasingly, the group’s solution is to provide its own. Over the last two years, a crop of start-ups has begun offering social media platforms and financial services catering to right-wing Internet users.
Sacramento Bee: California Treasurer steered tax breaks to developer donors
California Treasurer John Chiang has helped award tens of millions in tax credits and bonds over the last decade to a handful of affordable housing developers who contributed to his political campaigns. A review of their projects by The Sacramento Bee found that Chiang has accepted more than $100,000 from firms that gained tax perks or bond financing from his actions, sometimes within weeks of the votes. As he prepares to run for governor next year, Chiang has used the companies and projects he supported to help promote himself – at taxpayer expense. He plans to carry a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to address the shortage of affordable housing in California.
Miami Herald: Road to refuge runs straight to Canada — and arrest
The Canadian police officer at the border near Champlain, New York, was adamant: If you cross here, you will immediately be arrested. The Haitian woman dragged her bulging suitcase across the dirt-covered mound to the Canadian side anyway. She was determined. And so were the mother and her four teenage children who came after, and the Latino family of three after them, and the 39-year-old Haitian father of four who soon followed, his friends keeping a watchful eye in a waiting car as he jumped out of a taxi cab. While U.S. President Donald Trump is clamping down on illegal immigration, thousands of migrants from Haiti, Central America and Africa are rushing to this border crossing in upstate New York, willing to face arrest in their pursuit of a better life. The popular stop near the border station at Lacolle, Quebec, is quickly becoming a path to a new life for immigrants — and something of a tourist attraction. The migrant surge has overwhelmed Canadian officials who, after opening Olympic Stadium in Montreal to asylum seekers, this week reopened a shuttered hospital to accommodate the growing numbers and deployed the military to construct a tent city near the official border crossing at St. Bernard-de-Lacolle.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Other states use Georgia for dumping
Anne Jones became so afraid to drink the water that came out of her well she installed a water purification system. A blue plastic jug, filled to the brim with purified water, sits on her kitchen counter. “I’m just very careful about my water,” said Jones. Jones’ home in Banks County, about 75 miles northeast of Atlanta, sits on the edge of the county landfill. Since 2015, trucks from North and South Carolina have filled it with at least 6.7 million tons of coal ash, a by-product of coal-fired electricity that contains heavy metals known to be toxic to plants, animals and people. And more of it is on the way. Georgia’s relatively cheap land has made the state a dumping ground for solid waste from neighboring states. Apart from Florida, which doesn’t keep comparable data, Georgia now imports more solid waste than any of its neighbors, and most of it is coal ash, according to state records reviewed by students at the University of Georgia and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Baltimore Sun: Liens slow city renewal
For 30 years, the city has tried to collect the growing debt of John Stevens. Stevens is listed as the owner of 2032 Penrose Ave., a boarded-up old corner store with a bay window on the second floor and a pile of junk in the backyard. Officials say the money he owes for taxes, water bills, fines, fees and interest on the property has grown to $1.76 million. Stevens has been dead since 1989. The crumbling, century-old building he owned in West Baltimore is one of at least 15 properties on the city’s tax sale list that have accrued more than $1 million in debt over the past decade. These million-dollar vacants are the most extreme examples of a far more widespread problem: Thousands of properties in Baltimore are encumbered with liens for more than they’re worth. In many cases, far more. And that makes them zombies, empty, abandoned and unattractive to developers, contributing to the blight that plagues the city.
New York Times: Loving and leaving America
It was quitting time in Hampton, Iowa. Edith Rivera took one last lunch order, dropped off a basket of tortilla chips and set off from work, heading out to the farm roads where other immigrants feared to drive. Like them, Ms. Rivera, 33, had no legal status in the country where she had lived for 18 years. She had no driver’s license, apart from the long-expired North Carolina identification she held safe, like a talisman, in her wallet. But as she skimmed past the northern Iowa cornfields on her way to her son Steven’s seventh-grade track meet, she did not share other immigrants’ fears. Not of being pulled over. Not of raids or deportation. Not of the man in the White House. Not of the new Franklin County sheriff’s quest to make sure this rapidly diversifying community of hog barns and egg farms would never again be known as an immigrant sanctuary. Her American journey was waning, and she had little left to lose. Her husband, Jesús Canseco-Rodriguez, was already gone — deported to Mexico in 2015. Ms. Rivera had jettisoned their apartment and sold off what the family had built here in Hampton: their small business power-washing hog barns, Mr. Canseco’s work truck, their furniture.
Now, at this tense juncture for immigrants and their adoptive hometowns across the conservative swaths of rural America, Ms. Rivera planned to sever one last tie. She was returning to Mexico — and to her husband — with Steven, 13 years old and American-born.
Some politicians call it “self-deportation.”
Salt Lake Tribune: Nurse kept working despite sexual abuse complaints
When she was hospitalized on New Year’s Eve 2015, A.L. felt uncomfortable about the way her nurse treated her. He said he was fixing a heart monitor, but his hands lingered on her chest, in places no health care provider had touched her before when doing similar checks. He gave her Champagne, she said, and dosed her with pain medication through an IV without asking if she needed any. When that nurse — whom police identified as 53-year-old Adam Tae Kyun Lim — left the room, A.L. cried, praying he wouldn’t come back. She was too frightened to report the inappropriate touching right away, the 43-year-old woman said in a recent interview, but she eventually told the hospital when an employee conducting surveys for Intermountain Medical Center called and asked about her stay at the Murray facility. It wasn’t until later she would learn she wasn’t the first patient to report that Lim had groped her. She was the 11th. … By the time criminal charges were filed against Lim last August, 12 women had come forward during the past decade, all of them complaining that they had been violated. Public records show Lim had been employed by several Salt Lake County hospitals and facilities since finishing nursing school at Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2005.
Tennessean: Seniors addicted to painkillers often overlooked
Pain pills are sending more senior citizens to the hospital in Tennessee, according to data that sheds new light on how opioid addiction has spread to the state's aging population. The rate of hospitalizations for Tennesseans 65 years and older due to painkillers has more than tripled in a decade. Older adults are being hospitalized for reasons that range from falls and auto accidents after taking pain pills to unintentional overdoses, interactions with other medications and weakened kidney or liver functions in aging bodies that fail to metabolize the drug in the same way as younger people. Experts say physicians and family members are more likely to overlook addiction in senior citizens — even after opioids require a trip to the hospital. "It's not that easy to believe your grandmother has a drug abuse problem," said Dr. Peter Martin, a psychiatrist and director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center.
Providence Journal: Danger in Rhode Island group homes
Prostitution. Assaults arranged by a staff member. A clandestine overnight visit by a teenage girlfriend as the police searched for her. A paralyzing injury. Investigators say they’ve found all this and more connected to group homes — places where Rhode Island is supposed to provide refuge to young people it has removed from unfit living conditions. At least four times in the last five months, workers at state-regulated group homes took actions that left young people in their care hospitalized, endangered or exploited, a Providence Journal investigation has found. In two cases, group-home employees attempted to cover up slack supervision and management with forged log books or falsified statements, investigators reported. In one Pawtucket home, an employee used the agency van to help run a teenage sex-trafficking operation, prosecutors allege.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 10, 2017
AP: Workplace accident death rate higher for older workers
Older people are dying on the job at a higher rate than workers overall, even as the rate of workplace fatalities decreases, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal statistics. It's a trend that's particularly alarming as baby boomers reject the traditional retirement age of 65 and keep working. The U.S. government estimates that by 2024, older workers will account for 25 percent of the labor market. Getting old — and the physical changes associated with it — "could potentially make a workplace injury into a much more serious injury or a potentially fatal injury," said Ken Scott, an epidemiologist with the Denver Public Health Department. Gerontologists say those changes include gradually worsening vision and hearing impairment, reduced response time, balance issues and chronic medical or muscle or bone problems such as arthritis. In 2015, about 35 percent of the fatal workplace accidents involved a worker 55 and older — or 1,681 of the 4,836 fatalities reported nationally.
Los Angeles Times: Trustees silent on dean drug scandal
How USC handles one of the biggest scandals in its history will be decided behind closed doors by a small group of wealthy and powerful people. Composed of 57 voting members, USC’s board of trustees includes noted philanthropists, accomplished alumni, Hollywood insiders and industrial tycoons. The group’s influence extends from the floor of Staples Center to metropolises in India and China. A small executive committee makes many of the significant decisions facing the university. A USC spokesman refused to identify who is on this committee. Nor would the university disclose what happens at its meetings or release minutes. It is this elite group that is overseeing the investigation into how the university handled the case of former medical school dean Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito. The Times reported last month that Puliafito, while leading USC’s Keck School of Medicine, partied with a circle of addicts, prostitutes and other criminals who said he used drugs with them, including on campus. … Since the scandal broke, the trustees have been largely silent. Times reporters attempted to contact all 57 voting members by phone, email or both. Reporters also sent requests to USC’s press office seeking comment from trustees. Only two commented to The Times. The rest did not reply, or declined to comment. Nikias did not respond to requests for interviews but has released letters to the USC community.
Denver Post: Drilling, housing collide in northeast Colorado
The clash between growing communities and oil and gas production in northeastern Colorado, heightened by a deadly home explosion last spring, will only intensify in coming years, a Denver Post analysis of drilling permits suggests. The Post analyzed pending and approved drilling permits in and around the sprawling Wattenberg Field in Weld, Larimer, Boulder, Adams and Broomfield counties, and found that permits are being taken out in and near towns and other populated areas twice as often as in more remote rural areas. Eight of the 10 fastest-growing towns and cities in the state and the two fastest-growing counties, Broomfield and Weld, are in the direct path of drilling. Larimer, Adams and Arapahoe — among the state’s fastest-growing counties — have permits pending and drilling rigs at work.
Portland Press Herald: State routinely sells date it denied federal government
Maine has joined dozens of states in refusing to share personal voter information with President Trump’s voter fraud commission. But the state regularly sells the very same data to political parties, candidates and ballot question or issue-based political action committees. In fact, over the last two years, Maine collected more than $30,000 selling voter information – including name, year of birth, address, party affiliation and whether or not a voter participated in the last two elections. The state also provides data in its Central Voter Registry database at no cost to the federal court system, other government entities such as school district administrators, and academic researchers. And while voters can get their own information, the data is not otherwise available to the public. Under the state’s open records laws, only government and a narrow group of other entities that must pay a fee are given access to the CVR data. The going price for a statewide list of Maine’s registered voters is $2,200 – if you are among the eligible few allowed to purchase it.
New York Times: GOP stars move toward 2020 bids
Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago. President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved. The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term. But the sheer disarray surrounding this presidency — the intensifying investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the plain uncertainty about what Mr. Trump will do in the next week, let alone in the next election — have prompted Republican officeholders to take political steps unheard-of so soon into a new administration.
Concord Monitor: Positive drug tests prompt stricter New Hampshire prison rules
At a cost of $4.45, state officials can test for 12 drugs – including fentanyl – in one urine sample provided by an inmate. And in less than five minutes, they can have the preliminary results of those 12 tests without having to send the samples to the state’s forensics lab in Concord. From there, they can discard all urine cups with negative readings and forward only the positive samples to lab technicians for a final confirmation, which comes at a cost of $75 to $100.
Enhancements in technology have made it possible for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections to perform thousands of additional drug tests annually on its prisoners – something that officials argue is necessary given the current opioid crisis in New Hampshire. … But a closer review of the data reveals that the spike is due to an increase in testing, not necessarily a rise in drug use. In fact, the percentage of inmates testing positive has hardly changed over five years.
News & Observer: 51 inmates died over five years amid poor jail supervision
It couldn’t have been any clearer to Wilkes County jail staff that Emily Jean Call intended to kill herself, reports the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. She had been arrested on April 16, 2012, for missing a court date. Call had told detention officers then that she was high on crystal methamphetamine and wanted to kill herself. She had cut her wrist two weeks earlier, requiring a trip to the emergency room, state records show. After two days in jail, she told medical staff she was sick, fatigued and depressed, feeling like she was going to have a nervous breakdown. The county’s mental health provider was no longer offering services at the jail, which meant no one was available to treat her mounting depression, the records show.
She should have been watched closely – at least four times an hour, according to state regulations. But Call, 32, a mother of two struggling with drug addiction, went unwatched for more than an hour. She slipped away to a bathroom in a common area, slung a bed sheet over a water pipe, tied it around her neck, stood on a toilet and stepped off. … Emily Call was one of 51 inmates who died in North Carolina’s county jails in the past five years after being left unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow, a News & Observer investigation shows.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Aug. 3, 2017
AP: A patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers
Courtroom 801 in Detroit is nearly empty when guards bring in Bobby Hines in handcuffs. More than 27 years ago, Hines stood before a judge to answer for his role in killing a man over a friend's drug debt. He was 15 then, just out of eighth grade. Another teen fired the shot that killed 21-year-old James Warren. But Hines had said something like, "Let him have it," sealing his punishment: life in prison with no chance for parole. The judgment came during an era when many states, fearing teen "superpredators," enacted laws to punish juvenile criminals like adults, making the U.S. an international outlier. But five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for juveniles in murder cases. Last year it made clear that applies equally to more than 2,000 who already were serving the sentence. Prison gates, though, don't just swing open. The Associated Press surveyed all 50 states and found that uncertainty and opposition stirred by the court's rulings have resulted in an uneven patchwork, with the odds of release or continued imprisonment varying widely.
Rockford Register Star: Firefighters get calls for residents’ pick-me-up
“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
That famous 1990s television commercial catchphrase, or something similar, is what residents told the Rockford Fire Department 845 times last year. When older or disabled residents fall and need help getting back into a chair or bed, but are otherwise uninjured, Rockford dispatches the closest available fire engine. City firefighters are ready 24 hours a day to assist anyone in need. No one who needs help getting back on their feet should hesitate to call 911 in an emergency. But many of these calls are being made from retirement homes, assisted living and independent senior living facilities whose own staffs ought to be trained to handle these situations, Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten said. … The number of lift assist calls has more than doubled in recent years, from 354 in 2011 to 845 last year, an average of more than two a day. Two-thirds of those calls came from retirement homes, assisted living facilities or independent senior living communities. The rest were from private residences.
South Bend Tribune: Kids are victims of opioid crisis
Books, stuffed animals, baby dolls and other toys surround a small room inside the Indiana Department of Child Services office in downtown South Bend. The walls are painted a soft blue and brown, and the room is designed in a way — with touches such as blankets and children’s art — that’s meant to be calming. It’s the first stop for many children after being removed from their homes by DCS. It’s where six children were taken one recent morning after authorities raided a Mishawaka house on suspicion of selling heroin. Seven adults were arrested from the home, and four have been charged with dealing a narcotic. Ollie Bell, 40, was also charged with neglect of a dependent for the dangerous conditions the children were found in. The case was a dramatic reminder of the often-overlooked victims of the opioid epidemic — children. And it is a group of victims that is growing. … For Indiana in fiscal year 2013, 32 percent of cases where a child was removed from a home listed substance abuse as the reason. By fiscal year 2016, that figure had jumped to 53 percent.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Zebra mussels invade inland lakes
Summer after summer, Pat Rooney looked out at the revered North Woods lake called Winnibigoshish, hoping the tea-colored waters that lured so many anglers also provided a magical barrier against a creature that might destroy it. Zebra mussels already were fouling some of the biggest and best known waters in Minnesota, and were spreading throughout neighboring Cass Lake, a popular swimming, boating and fishing lake near Bemidji. While the larvae had appeared in “Lake Winnie,” scuba divers repeatedly failed to find evidence of adult shells – the surest sign of infestation. Then last August, a fisherman snagged a piece of driftwood encrusted with tiny, tiger-striped clams, and the biological clock began ticking on another Minnesota lake that is home to thousands of residents and visitors alike every year.
“Zebras were our nightmare,’’ said Rooney, owner of Denny’s Resort, a gathering place for walleye anglers since 1932. “Now they are here, and the problem is that you can’t stop it.’’
Zebra mussels are not the only invasive species appearing in Minnesota’s waters, but their rapid spread poses an increasingly dire threat to the state’s $5 billion-a-year summer tourism and fishing economy, as well as the cherished lake experience central to Minnesota’s identity.
Kansas City Star: Party bus buzzkill -- many illegal, dangerous
If you’ve spent any time enjoying Kansas City’s nightlife, you’ve probably seen them: the colorful, customized buses carrying revelers to restaurants, bars and sporting events. A popular choice for bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings, birthdays and other celebrations, party buses let riders enjoy a good time without the risks of drinking and driving. But more than half — and perhaps as many as two-thirds — of the party bus companies operating in this area defy state and federal regulations designed to protect riders and the public, The Star found in a months-long investigation. For unsuspecting customers, the consequences can be dangerous — even deadly. In fatal incidents from California to Kansas to New Jersey, investigators have discovered poorly maintained vehicles, unqualified drivers and other problems with companies or buses involved.
Bergen Record: Immigrant prisoners ignored in county jail
Carlos Mejia-Bonilla’s desperation soared with every phone call to his family from jail. He was seriously ill and told his family that authorities inside the Hudson County Correctional Facility were not providing the medicine he needed. His pleas for help were being ignored, he said.
Two months after his arrest for being in the U.S. illegally, the 44-year-old immigrant from El Salvador was rushed to the hospital. His longtime girlfriend and his brother were kept in the hallway, barred from his room because he was in federal custody. .. They never were allowed in to see the ailing man. Mejia-Bonilla died the following day, on June 10. Federal authorities listed the cause as “internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock,” meaning his organs failed because he had lost so much blood. … Since then, two members of the jail's medical staff have been dismissed for "errors" in the case and Hudson County has launched an investigation into the medical care at the facility. … The claims that Mejia-Bonilla did not receive proper treatment are just the latest in a long and growing list of allegations of medical neglect in the jail's division for people detained on immigration violations, an investigation by The Record and NorthJersey.com reveals.
Columbus Dispatch: Taxpayer-funded gold
After making and losing his first fortune in the office supply business, William Lager hatched a plan for Ohio’s first online charter school on the back of napkins over countless cups of coffee at a West Side Waffle House. … Eventually ECOT was born. The name was a variation on ACOT, the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, a pilot project that, starting in the mid-1980s, studied the integration of computers in classrooms. At first, Lager failed to get the Ohio Department of Education to sponsor the school. But in 2000, he persuaded the Lucas County Educational Service Center to grant the charter required to launch the tax-funded, privately operated school. … Once Lager inked that deal, his financial woes didn’t last long. ECOT — and his affiliated for-profit companies that provide instructional materials, services and marketing — have brought Lager a fortune. From 2001 to 2016, ECOT took in more than $1 billion from Ohio taxpayers, and of that total paid more than $170 million to Lager’s companies to run the day-to-day operations of the school and provide it with educational software. During that time, Lager amassed millions in real estate holdings and made $2.1 million in political contributions to influential state officials.
Seattle Times: How police brought down tech-savvy prostitution network
Men cruised the hallway of an upscale Bellevue apartment building, checking their cellphones and scanning the unit numbers before pausing at a door that swung open even before they knocked. A neighbor grew suspicious and alerted police, saying she believed the woman living down the hall was involved in sex work. The men “are all ages and body sizes,” the tipster wrote in an April 2015 email to Bellevue police. They visit “at all hours of the day.” The email set in motion an eight-month investigation that revealed South Korean prostitutes were working out of a dozen luxury Bellevue apartments. The young women, who often spoke limited English, were hired by an “agency” and worked in the apartment for several weeks before they moved on to other cities. Many of their customers were members of a secretive network of men who not only paid for sex — in some cases scores of times — but would also write detailed online reviews of their encounters and encourage others to do the same. Using pseudonyms like “TomCat007,” “Captain America” and “Tahoe Ted,” the men posted thousands of sexually explicit reviews on a carefully curated, Seattle-based website called The Review Board. In great detail, they rated a woman’s performance, energy level and physical attributes, and offered recommendations as if they were reviewing restaurants. The website also accepted free advertisements from prostitutes.