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Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

Atatiana Jefferson was a victim of law-and-order rhetoric

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Last Saturday, a neighbor in Fort Worth called the city’s non-emergency line because he was concerned about his neighbors, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew. It was the middle of the night, but her front door was open. The dispatcher sent police officers, who appear to have treated the call as a reported burglary. While searching the perimeter of the house, Officer Aaron Dean saw a figure in the window. Without announcing himself, he yelled “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Two seconds later, he fired his gun, killing Jefferson in her own home.

The Fort Worth Police Department released a photo of a gun they claimed to have found in Jefferson’s house, a clear attempt to head off criticism. As of yet, there’s no indication that Jefferson was holding the gun when she was shot. And, of course, even if she had been, there’s nothing illegal about having a gun in your home in Texas. If Jefferson had been holding it, it was likely because she saw men with flashlights prowling around outside her home.

In June, just a few months before Jefferson’s death, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit refused to dismiss a lawsuit against another Fort Worth police officer. In that case, the police were responding to a burglary call, but went to the wrong house. When homeowner Jerry Waller saw activity outside his house, he grabbed a gun and went out to see what was going on — and then ran into a Fort Worth police officer. According to police, the officer ordered Waller to drop his gun. He put it down on a car, but then reached for it again, at which time the officer fatally shot him. The police narrative makes little sense. Waller was on his own property, and did nothing wrong. It’s hard to fathom why he would knowingly try to kill a police officer. The police narrative also doesn’t quite fit the wound patterns on Waller’s hands, which appear to be inconsistent with someone holding a gun.

No reasonable person would suggest that either of these officers started their shifts intending to kill someone. Nor would any reasonable person suggest that then-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger went home from work intending to kill Botham Jean. You can say the same for the Southaven, Miss., police who responded to the wrong house, then shot and killed Ismael Lopez in his own home. Or for the Florida officers who shot and killed Andrew Scott, also after responding to the wrong house. Same for the officers who killed David HooksJason Wescott and Andrew Finch. And those who killed Terence CrutcherPhilando Castille and Stephon Clark.

In fact, if we could somehow read the minds of all the officers involved in these cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned that all of them sincerely feared for their safety. The problem is that not one of them was actually in any danger. Nor were the countless officers who shot someone (usually a black male) after claiming to have seen a suspect reaching for his waistband — only to discover the suspect was unarmed. There have even been cases in which a police officer shot a fellow undercover officer, then claimed to have sincerely feared for his safety.

The law permits the police officers to use lethal force if they have a reasonable fear for their safety or for the safety of others. Courts have consistently held that, when considering the potential liability of a police shooting, we should consider only the facts known to the officer at the time. That’s understandable. We can’t hold police officers accountable for information they didn’t have.

But reasonable isn’t the same thing as legitimate or accurate. And if police officers are seeing threats where there clearly are none, it makes sense to start asking why.

This is where the rhetoric of police groups and their supporters comes in. Law enforcement advocates such as the National Rifle Association, police unions, conservative politicians and, of course, President Trump regularly tell us there’s a “war on cops.” They describe police work with words usually reserved for the battlefield. They fuel the mistaken belief that relatively rare incidents such as roadside ambushes are common. They equate criticism and oversight of police with violence. And they cite small increases in the number of police fatalities year to year with percentages without providing the proper context — that violence against law enforcement has dropped to the point where even small increases look large when expressed as percentages.

One could argue that some of this would be harmless if its only effect was an excess of caution — if it made police officers more careful, led to more spending on gear like bulletproof vests, or caused more cooperation with police to solve violent crimes. But deaths such as Atatiana Jefferson’s show that the effects of such demagoguery are far more pernicious. We tell officers they can use lethal force when their fear is reasonable, but we then define “reasonable” down by falsely telling them that present-day America is a war zone, that protest and criticism is violence, that danger lurks around every corner. It creates a false reality where almost any use of force seems reasonable. This is a problem for everyone, but it’s compounded for black people, given the ample evidence that people of all races tend to disproportionately fear and see criminality in blacks — especially black men.

The NRA, in particular, has amplified the “war on cops” rhetoric, likely because it counts a lot of law enforcement officers among its members. But, as the cases above illustrate, legal gun owners should be more worried about this than anyone. An armed populace patrolled by hair-trigger police officers is a recipe for tragedy — and it’s all the worse if those officers have been conditioned to see threats where none exist. We’re all human. We will all make mistakes. Police officers will be sent to the wrong house. Some people will have mental-health crises. Someone will mistake the police officers outside his home for criminal intruders. Such incidents shouldn’t end in death. They too often do.

The “war on cops” rhetoric perverts the mental calculations officers make in these volatile moments by weighting them toward violence. When you’re inundated with messages that you’re perpetually under attack, every gesture starts to look furtive, every twitch looks like a killer reaching for his waistband. And when officers make these sorts of mistakes, we tend to reward them for their courage, which only reinforces the “shoot first” state of mind.

But often, courage is holding your fire. Courage is absorbing the risk of waiting an extra moment or two to gather more information before making a decision that may well save yourself but could also do irreparable harm to an innocent person. Courage is taking the extra seconds to learn that the “gun” you feared is actually a toy, or a cellphone, or a video-game controller. Or that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 11:49 am

Text messages show Boeing employees knew in 2016 of problems that turned deadly on the 737 Max

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Michael Laris reports a clear case of corporate nonfeasance in the Washington Post:

Text messages between Boeing employees in 2016 indicate that the company was aware of major problems with an automated feature on the 737 Max jet that made the aircraft difficult to control, the messages show.

Safety investigators say the system, known as MCAS, had repeatedly pushed the noses of planes down in Indonesia and Ethi­o­pia, contributing to crashes that killed 346 people in the past year.

One text message with a misspelling said the feature was engaging “itself like craxy.” Another termed the problem “egregious.”

Another indicated that the Boeing employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” read one message.

“It wasnt a lie, no one told us that was the case,” came the response.

Boeing did not turn the messages over to the FAA until Thursday, federal officials said Friday.

The FAA said in a statement that it “finds the substance of the document concerning. The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.”

Long before the Max disasters, Boeing had a history of failing to fix safety problems

FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a letter to Boeing Friday: “I expect your explanation immediately.”

Boeing said in a statement that it had provided Congress a document “containing statements by a former Boeing employee.” The company said it “will continue to cooperate” with an investigation by the House Transportation Committee and “we will continue to follow the direction of the FAA and other global regulators, as we work to safely return the 737 MAX to service.”

The existence of the text messages was first reported by Reuters. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 11:56 am

When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested

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Another in the series “Best healthcare system in the world.” (AKA, “If it’s broke, don’t fix it.”)

The blurb for this report:

Welcome to Coffeyville, Kansas, where the judge has no law degree, debt collectors get a cut of the bail, and Americans are watching their lives — and liberty — disappear in the pursuit of medical debt collection.

Lizzie Presser reports in ProPublica:

ON THE LAST TUESDAY of July, Tres Biggs stepped into the courthouse in Coffeyville, Kansas, for medical debt collection day, a monthly ritual in this quiet city of 9,000, just over the Oklahoma border. He was one of 90 people who had been summoned, sued by the local hospital, or doctors, or an ambulance service over unpaid bills. Some wore eye patches and bandages; others limped to their seats by the wood-paneled walls. Biggs, who is 41, had to take a day off from work to be there. He knew from experience that if he didn’t show up, he could be put in jail.

Before the morning’s hearing, he listened as defendants traded stories. One woman recalled how, at four months pregnant, she had reported a money order scam to her local sheriff’s office only to discover that she had a warrant; she was arrested on the spot. A radiologist had sued her over a $230 bill, and she’d missed one hearing too many. Another woman said she watched, a decade ago, as a deputy came to the door for her diabetic aunt and took her to jail in her final years of life. Now here she was, dealing with her own debt, trying to head off the same fate.

Biggs, who is tall and broad-shouldered, with sun-scorched skin and bright hazel eyes, looked up as defendants talked, but he was embarrassed to say much. His court dates had begun after his son developed leukemia, and they’d picked up when his wife started having seizures. He, too, had been arrested because of medical debt. It had happened more than once.

Judge David Casement entered the courtroom, a black robe swaying over his cowboy boots and silversmithed belt buckle. He is a cattle rancher who was appointed a magistrate judge, though he’d never taken a course in law. Judges don’t need a law degree in Kansas, or many other states, to preside over cases like these. Casement asked the defendants to take an oath and confirmed that the newcomers confessed to their debt. A key purpose of the hearing, though, was for patients to face debt collectors. “They want to talk to you about trying to set up a payment plan, and after you talk with them, you are free to go,” he told the debtors. Then, he left the room.

The first collector of the day was also the most notorious: Michael Hassenplug, a private attorney representing doctors and ambulance services. Every three months, Hassenplug called the same nonpaying defendants to court to list what they earned and what they owned — to testify, quite often, to their poverty. It gave him a sense of his options: to set up a payment plan, to garnish wages or bank accounts, to put a lien on a property. It was called a “debtor’s exam.”

If a debtor missed an exam, the judge typically issued a citation of contempt, a charge for disobeying an order of the court, which in this case was to appear. If the debtor missed a hearing on contempt, Hassenplug would ask the judge for a bench warrant. As long as the defendant had been properly served, the judge’s answer was always yes. In practice, this system has made Hassenplug and other collectors the real arbiters of who gets arrested and who is shown mercy. If debtors can post bail, the judge almost always applies the money to the debt. Hassenplug, like any collector working on commission, gets a cut of the cash he brings in.

Across the country, thousands of people are jailed each year for failing to appear in court for unpaid bills, in arrangements set up much like this one. The practice spread in the wake of the recession as collectors found judges willing to use their broad powers of contempt to wield the threat of arrest. Judges have issued warrants for people who owe money to landlords and payday lenders, who never paid off furniture, or day care fees, or federal student loans. Some debtors who have been arrested owed as little as $28.

More than half of the debt in collections stems from medical care, which, unlike most other debt, is often taken on without a choice or an understanding of the costs. Since the Affordable Care Act of 2010, prices for medical services have ballooned; insurers have nearly tripled deductibles — the amount a person pays before their coverage kicks in — and raised premiums and copays, as well. As a result, tens of millions of people without adequate coverage are expected to pay larger portions of their rising bills.

The sickest patients are often the most indebted, and they’re not exempt from arrest. In Indiana, a cancer patient was hauled away from home in her pajamas in front of her three children; too weak to climb the stairs to the women’s area of the jail, she spent the night in a men’s mental health unit where an inmate smeared feces on the wall. In Utah, a man who had ignored orders to appear over an unpaid ambulance bill told friends he would rather die than go to jail; the day he was arrested, he snuck poison into the cell and ended his life.

In jurisdictions with lax laws and willing judges, jail is the logical endpoint of a system that has automated the steps from high bills to debt to court, and that has given collectors power that is often unchecked. I spent several weeks this summer in Coffeyville, reviewing court files, talking to dozens of patients and interviewing those who had sued them. Though the district does not track how many of these cases end in arrest, I found more than 30 warrants issued against medical debt defendants. At least 11 people were jailed in the past year alone.

With hardly any oversight, even by the presiding judge, collection attorneys have turned this courtroom into a government-sanctioned shakedown of the uninsured and underinsured, where the leverage is the debtors’ liberty.

SEATED AT THE FRONT of the courtroom, Hassenplug zipped open his leather binder and uncapped his fountain pen. He is stout, with a pinkish nose and a helmet of salt and pepper hair. His opening case this Tuesday involved 28-year-old Kenneth Maggard, who owed more than $2,000, including interest and court fees, for a 40-mile ambulance ride last year. Maggard had downed most of a bottle of Purple Power Industrial Strength Cleaner, along with some 3M Super Duty Rubbing Compound, “to end it all.” His sister had called 911.

Maggard took his seat. He had cropped red hair, pouchy cheeks and mud-caked sneakers. “The welfare patients are the most demanding, difficult patients on God’s earth,” Hassenplug told me, with Maggard listening, before launching into his interrogation: Are you working? No. Are you on disability? He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and anxiety. Do you have a car? No. Anyone owe you money you can collect? I wish.

They had been here before, and they both knew Maggard’s disability checks were protected from collections. Hassenplug set down his pen. “Between you and me,” he asked, “you’re never going to pay this bill, are you?”

“No, never,” Maggard said. “If I had the money, I’d pay it.”

Hassenplug replied, “Well, this will end when one of us dies.”

Though debt collection filings are soaring in parts of America, Hassenplug speaks with pride about how he discovered their full potential in Coffeyville long before. A transplant from Kansas City, he was a self-dubbed “four-star fuck-up” who worked his way through law school. He moved to Coffeyville to practice in 1980 and soon earned a reputation as a hard ass. He saw that his firm, Becker, Hildreth, Eastman & Gossard, hadn’t capitalized on its collections cases. The lawyers didn’t demand sufficient payments, and they rarely followed up on litigation, he said. Where other attorneys saw petty work, Hassenplug saw opportunity.

Hassenplug started collecting for doctors, dentists and veterinarians, but also banks and lumber yards and cities. He recognized that medical providers weren’t being compensated for their services, and he was maddened by a “welfare mentality,” as he called it, that allowed patients to dodge bills. “Their attitude a lot of times is, ‘I’m a single mom and … I’m disabled and,’ and the ‘and’ means ‘the rules don’t apply to me.’ I think the rules apply to everybody,” he told me.

He logged his cases in a computer to track them. First with the firm and later in his own practice, he took debtors to court, and he won nearly every time; in about 90% of cases nationally, collectors automatically win when defendants don’t appear or contest the case. Hassenplug didn’t need to accept $10 monthly payments; he could ask for more, or, in some cases, even garnish a quarter of a debtor’s wages. His fee was, and often still is, one-third of what he collects. He asked the court to summon defendants, over and over again. It was the judge’s contempt authority that backed him, he said. “It’s the only way you can get them into court.”

The power of contempt was originally the power of kings. Under early English rule, monarchs were considered vicars of God, and disobeying them was equivalent to committing a sin. Over time, that contempt authority spread to English courts, and ultimately to American courts, which use it to encourage compliance with the judicial system. There is no law requiring that a court use civil contempt when an order isn’t followed, but judges in the U.S. can choose to, whether it’s to force a defendant to pay child support, for example, or show up at a hearing. A person jailed for defying a court order is generally released when they comply.

When Casement took the bench in 1987, after passing a self-study exam, he didn’t know much legalese — he had never been in a courtroom. But attorneys taught him early on that the power of contempt was available to him to punish people who ignored his orders. At first, Casement could see himself in the defendants. “I was a much more pro-debtor aligned judge, much more sympathetic, much less inclined to do anything that I thought would burden them,” he told me. “And over the years, I’ve gradually moved to the other side of the fulcrum. I still consider myself very much in the middle, and I don’t know if I am or not.”

Once a bustling industrial hub, Coffeyville has a poverty rate that is double the national average, and its county ranks among the least healthy in Kansas. Its red-bricked downtown is lined with empty storefronts — former department stores, restaurants and shops. Its signature hotel is now used for low-income housing. “The two growth industries in Coffeyville,” Hassenplug likes to say, “are health care and funerals.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2019 at 2:14 pm

Never-Before-Seen Trump Tax Documents Show Major Inconsistencies

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Heather Vogell reports in ProPublica:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.

For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street.

Lenders like to see a rising occupancy level as a sign of what they call “leasing momentum.” Sure enough, the company told a lender that 40 Wall Street had been 58.9% leased on Dec. 31, 2012, and then rose to 95% a few years later. The company told tax officials the building was 81% rented as of Jan. 5, 2013.

A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

New York City’s property tax forms state that the person signing them “affirms the truth of the statements made” and that “false filings are subject to all applicable civil and criminal penalties.”

The punishments for lying to tax officials, or to lenders, can be significant, ranging from fines to criminal fraud charges. Two former Trump associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are serving prison time for offenses that include falsifying tax and bank records, some of them related to real estate.

“Certainly, if I were sitting in a prosecutor’s office, I would want to ask a lot more questions,” said Anne Milgram, a former attorney general for New Jersey who is now a professor at New York University School of Law.

Trump has previously been accused of manipulating numbers on his tax and loan documents, including by his former lawyer, Cohen. But Trump’s business is notoriously opaque, with records rarely surfacing, and up till now there’s been little documentary evidence supporting those claims.

That’s one reason that multiple governmental entities, including two congressional committees and the office of the Manhattan district attorney, have subpoenaed Donald Trump’s tax returns. Trump has resisted, taking his battles to federal courts in Washington and New York. And so the question of whether different parts of the government can see the president’s financial information is now playing out in two appeals courts and seems destined to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Add to that a Washington Post account of an IRS whistleblower claiming political interference in the handling of the president’s audit, and the result is what amounts to frenetic interest in one person’s tax returns.

ProPublica obtained the property tax documents using New York’s Freedom of Information Law. The documents were public because Trump appealed his property tax bill for the buildings every year for nine years in a row, the extent of the available records. We compared the tax records with loan records that became public when Trump’s lender, Ladder Capital, sold the debt on his properties as part of mortgage-backed securities.

ProPublica reviewed records for four properties: 40 Wall Street, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas and Trump Tower. Discrepancies involving two of them — 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower — stood out.

There can be legitimate reasons for numbers to diverge between tax and loan documents, the experts noted, but some of the gaps seemed to have no reasonable justification. “It really feels like there’s two sets of books — it feels like a set of books for the tax guy and a set for the lender,” said Kevin Riordan, a financing expert and real estate professor at Montclair State University who reviewed the records. “It’s hard to argue numbers. That’s black and white.”

The Trump Organization did not respond on the record to detailed questions provided by ProPublica. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2019 at 12:25 pm

A British family on vacation accidentally drove into the U.S. They’ve spent days detained with their 3-month-old baby.

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Allyson Chiu reports in the Washington Post:

The Connors family didn’t plan to be on the unmarked road.

Originally from the U.K., the two couples and their three young children were driving near the U.S.-Canada border on Oct. 3 during a visit to Vancouver when an animal ventured into the road, forcing them to make an unexpected detour. But before the Connors could get very far, flashing lights from a police car appeared in their rearview mirror. The officer that pulled them over was American — they had accidentally crossed the border.

The vacationing family says this was the moment their trip turned into “the scariest experience of our lives,” according to a complaint filed on Friday to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of being allowed to return to Canada or the U.K., Eileen Connors alleges that her entire family, including her 3-month-old son, ended up detained at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa., where they have spent more than a week living in “frigid” and “filthy” conditions. As of late Monday, Bridget Cambria, the Connors’s lawyer, told The Washington Post that the British family was still at the center waiting to be deported.

“We will never forget, we will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us,” Connors wrote in a sworn statement, later adding, “We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to. … It is undoubtedly the worst experience we have ever lived through.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not be reached for comment late Monday. Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed in a statement to the BBC that the family is being held at the Leesport facility, but disputed their claims of mistreatment. The center, the statement said, “provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process.”

“Reports of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false,” officials said.

Connors, however, alleges that the mistreatment began shortly after her family was stopped by the American officer.

Even before the tourists could explain why they were on the road, Connors, 24, wrote that her 30-year-old husband David and his cousin, who was driving at the time, were arrested.

“You crossed an international border,” said the officer, who allegedly did not read the men their rights and ignored the family’s pleas that they had unknowingly crossed into the U.S. and never intended to enter the country during their trip, despite having the proper visas. The complaint did not specify exactly where the incident took place.

The family asked if they could “simply turn around” and were denied, Connors wrote.

Connors and her baby were separated from her husband and placed in “a very cold cell” at an undisclosed Border Patrol station in Washington state, the statement said. Cambria, a lawyer with Aldea – The People’s Justice Center in Pennsylvania, told The Post that the frigid detention cells have a nickname: “Hieleras,” or “iceboxes.”

The Connors were issued “metal-like, thin emergency blankets” to keep warm, according to the complaint. David Connors was also given a styrofoam cup with noodle soup to eat, but he described the meager meal as “not even apt for animals,” the statement said.

Then, all they could do was wait, Eileen Connors wrote.

“The officers left us in the cell the entire day, with no information, no call to our family back home, no idea when we would be free to leave,” Connors wrote.

When it came time to sleep, Connors said she refused to allow her son to “lie on the disgusting floor” next to her, at one point even trying to balance the infant on top of her body.

“We are so sickened by all of this,” she wrote. “The idea and memory of our little baby having to sleep on a dirty floor of a cell will haunt us forever.”

In the morning, immigration officers told the Connors that they could be released if they provided contact information for any family member living the U.S. who could sponsor them, the statement said. Luckily, a relative with U.S. citizenship agreed to help.

“We were ready for all of this to end,” Connors wrote.

But hours later, the Connors were informed that they wouldn’t be leaving. There was “a change in plans,” and soon after, they were loaded into a van in what “felt like an abduction or kidnapping,” according to the statement.

David Connors was dropped off at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, while Eileen Connors and her baby were taken to a Red Roof Inn in Seattle to spend the night.

They were reunited the next morning at a promising location: the Seattle airport.

“I thought, finally we’re going home and felt relieved, even though the officers would not tell me where we were going or why,” Eileen Connors wrote.

But, her relief was short-lived.

When the Connors got off their flight, they were in Pennsylvania. Their final destination was the Berks Family Residential Center, a facility advocates have decried as “baby jail,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The arrival of the Connors and their infant son on Oct. 5 marked “the first time in a long time that we’ve had a child under the age of 1 in this facility,” Cambria told The Post. The other couple, who had been traveling with the Connors, and their 2-year-old twins were also transported to Berks, Cambria said.

“I don’t believe that it’s suitable for children that young because newborns probably shouldn’t be around a hundred other kids all of whom are coming from different parts of the world,” she said, adding, “There were a lot silly decisions made along the way. In this instance, when you’re talking about a 3-month-old, those silly decisions can be really dangerous.”

From the moment she and her family were placed in the “iceboxes” in Washington state, Connors wrote that she worried about her son, who has not yet completed his immunizations, falling ill. Those concerns were only heightened once they were at the Berks center.

Connors alleged that she had to bathe her son on a couch inside an office using a washcloth and soap because he was too small for the showers. The baby bathtub she had been provided was “filthy dirty and had broken bits,” she wrote. Her son was also left without clothing, blankets or bibs for several hours because the center’s staff took the items to be washed, the statement said.

“The blankets and sheets in our room have a disgusting smell, like a dead dog,” Connors wrote. “I cannot use them to wrap up my baby for fear they haven’t been washed properly and my baby will become sick.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2019 at 7:27 am

Humans destroy the environment that is essential for life

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“Drinking water? We don’t need no stinking drinking water!” Apparently that’s the collective sentiment of the corporations that are poisoning the water. Note that although corporations are legally persons, they are not persons who drink water…

Anna M. Phillips and Anthony Pesce report in the LA Times:

Nearly 300 drinking water wells and other water sources in California have traces of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, new state testing has found.

Testing conducted this year of more than 600 wells across the state revealed pockets of contamination, where chemicals widely used for decades in manufacturing and household goods have seeped into the public’s water supply. An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that within this class of chemicals, called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the two most common compounds were detected in 86 water systems that serve up to nine million Californians.

State officials released the water quality results on Monday, the first step in what’s likely to be a years-long effort to track the scale of the contamination and pinpoint its sources. Only a small fraction of California’s thousands of drinking water wells were tested in this initial study. Officials said they planned to examine many more, but have not committed to future statewide testing.

The results offered the clearest picture yet of California’s exposure to a public health crisis that is playing out nationally.

“This has the potential of being an enormously costly issue both on the health side as well as on the mitigation and regulatory side,” said Kurt Schwabe, an environmental policy professor at UC Riverside. “It’s going to be one of the defining issues in California, environmentally, for decades.”

About half of the wells sampled did not have the chemicals at detectable levels — a result that state officials said was a hopeful sign the contaminants may not have spread as widely as they have in other states. Yet testing found contaminated drinking water in communities across California, from densely-populated cities with large and complex water systems to mobile home parks that depend on a single private well.

Clusters of contaminated wells were found in Southern California, in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In some cases, the results had an immediate effect — the city of Anaheim has shut down three of its drinking water wells so far this year in response to elevated levels of the chemicals.

Exposure to the chemicals, commonly known as PFAS, has been traced to kidney and testicular cancer, as well as high cholesterol and thyroid disease. Mothers and young children are thought to be the most vulnerable to the chemicals, which can affect reproductive and developmental health.

Scientists have called them “forever chemicals” because they persist indefinitely and accumulate in the human body.

The chemicals were developed in the 1940s and used in countless household products, from Teflon cookware and Scotchgard to waterproof clothing and food packaging. They were also a key ingredient in firefighting foam used on military bases and, as a result, have become a major source of groundwater pollution.

A Times analysis found that California has 21 contaminated bases, more than any other state, including six where the chemicals have leached into off-base drinking water supplies.

There is no agreed-upon safe level of PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency has classified the chemicals as an “emerging contaminant” and has delayed setting a national standard for limiting the levels in drinking water. In 2016, the agency issued a nonbinding health advisory for two of the most common types, PFOS and PFOA, recommending that water utilities notify the public if levels of the chemicals reached a combined 70 parts per trillion. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2019 at 3:36 pm

Calories and money are alike in at least one way

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Just as calories give zero guidance as to the quality of the food (100 calories of refined sugar and 100 calories of lentils are identical insofar as calories are concerned), so also money gives zero guidance as to whether the source of the money is ethical, moral, or even legal. In the LA Times Melody Petersen describes one way of getting money that seems dubious to me:

When 69-year-old Marietta Jinde died in September 2016, police had already been called to her home several times because of reports of possible abuse. A detective described conditions at the woman’s home in Gardena as “horrendous.”

She was so emaciated and frail that the hospital asked Los Angeles County adult protective services officials to look into her death.

Yet by the time a coroner’s investigator was able to examine Jinde’s 70-pound body, the bones from her legs and arms were gone. Also missing were large patches of skin from her back. With permission from county officials and saying they did not know of the abuse allegations, employees from OneLegacy, a Southern California human tissue procurement company, had gained access to the body, taking parts that could have provided crucial evidence.

Coroner officials said police did not inform them of the possible abuse complaints until 10 days after Jinde died. They said they were able to complete their investigation by using the autopsy exam, hospital records and photos, and determined that she died of natural causes, including severe heart disease.

After reviewing the autopsy report, Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist who has consulted on many prominent death investigations, questioned the coroner’s ability to make that determination when the bones and skin had already been removed.

“We can’t be sure the bones weren’t fractured,” Wecht said. “This could have been a manslaughter case.”

The case is one of dozens of death investigations across the country, including more than two dozen in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, that The Times found were complicated or upended when transplantable body parts were taken before a coroner’s autopsy was performed.

In multiple cases, coroners have had to guess at the cause of death. Wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuits have been thwarted by early tissue harvesting. A death after a fight with police remains unsettled. The procurement process caused changes to bodies that medical examiners mistook as injuries or abuse. In at least one case, a murder charge was dropped.

Organ procurement before an investigation has long been legal, provided the coroner agreed. The motivation was to increase the number of hearts, kidneys and other vital organs needed to extend the lives of Americans waiting for transplants. To raise those numbers, California and other states over the last decade passed laws requiring coroners and medical examiners to “cooperate” with the companies to “maximize” the number of organs and tissues taken for transplant. Procurement companies’ lobbyists helped to write the legislation and push it into law.

In a handful of states the laws go even further, giving the companies the power to force coroners to delay autopsies until they have harvested the body parts.

Although the companies have emphasized organ transplants, in far more cases nationwide they harvested skin, bone, fat, ligaments and other tissues that are generally not used for life-threatening conditions. Those body parts fuel a booming industrial biotech market in which a half-teaspoon of ground-up human skin is priced at $434. That product is one of those used in cosmetic surgery to plump lips and posteriors, fill cellulite dimples and enhance penises. A single body can supply raw materials for products that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In lobbying for the laws, the companies pointed to papers published in professional journals stating categorically that there has never been a single documented instance of body-part procurement interfering with a death investigation.

But the papers’ authors included procurement company executives and others with undisclosed ties to the industry. And the source of the claim was a short article in a 1994 American Bar Assn. newsletter, which did not even discuss the donation of bone and other tissues.

The expanded reach of the procurement industry has troubled some death investigators.

Melissa Baker, a former investigator in the medical examiner’s office in Pierce County, Wash., filed a whistleblower complaint in 2015 after three procurement companies moved into that county’s morgue to access cadavers.

“One of my biggest concerns … was the mere fact that someone could potentially get away with murder because evidence has been bungled, lost or not collected,” she said.

An independent review of Baker’s complaint found evidence was lost in a homicide case when the procurement team washed the victim’s hands.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2019 at 1:00 pm

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