Broward courts use fees to prevent sun from shining on judicial records; a $132,000 demand

By Alison Fitzgerald, Center for Public Integrity 

Rendering of the new Broward courthouse now under construction.

Rendering of the new Broward courthouse now under construction.

When the Center for Public Integrity last summer requested records from Florida’s 17th judicial circuit regarding the procedures and policies surrounding foreclosure cases, officials were more than happy to comply — for a price.

A price of $132,348, to be exact. (more…)

Tobacco industry batting a thousand with federal judge, while FDA strikes out

By Myron Levin, Fair Warning marlboro-packs5-WIDE

What are the odds?

In 2009, Congress passed landmark legislation directing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, aiming to cut the toll from the leading preventable cause of disease and death. Three times since, however, cigarette and e-cigarette companies have filed successful legal challenges to thwart rules intended to make their products less appealing to consumers–and less accessible to kids.

The three cases, which, among other things, have blocked graphic cigarette warning labels and delayed regulation of e-cigarettes for at least a few years, were decided in favor of industry plaintiffs by the same federal judge, Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Leon’s rulings have reflected concern about government overreach, and a tone of deep skepticism about the FDA’s legal positions “Please! This conclusion defies common sense,” he wrote, dismissing one of the agency’s arguments. Given how cases are normally assigned, the fact that Leon was assigned all three is extraordinary—and extraordinarily good luck for the industry. (more…)

Latino workers dying at higher rates in job accidents, report shows

By Stuart Silverstein, FairWarning celltower1

As Latino workers take on more and more of the nation’s toughest and dirtiest jobs, they increasingly are paying for it with their lives.

Preliminary federal figures released last week showed that of the 4,405 U.S. workers killed on the job in 2013, 797 were Latinos. That equates to 3.8 of every 100,000 full-time Latino employees in the U.S. dying in workplace accidents during the year. (more…)

Koch foundation sought control at FSU: Teach our curriculum, get millions

By David Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity universitymoney

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller. (more…)

Koch-funded think tank offers anti-government, pro-market courses for use by teachers

By Chris Young, Center for Public Integrity

Charles Koch at the Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Meeting in 2011. KochfactsTV/Youtube

Charles Koch at the Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Meeting in 2011. KochfactsTV/Youtube

Pop quiz, teachers: Would you like to inject a strong dose of libertarianism into the curriculum you take back to school this fall?

If you answered yes, then a Koch-funded think tank has exactly what you need. And it won’t cost you or your school a penny.

The EDvantage, a project of the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, bills itself as an online “curriculum hub for pioneering educators.” (more…)

How Medicare Advantage plans code for cash; HHS report exposes overbilling

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity Background concept wordcloud illustration of medicare glowing light

A new federal study shows that many Medicare Advantage health plans routinely overbill the government for treating elderly patients — and have gotten away with doing it for years.

Analyzing government data never before made public, Department of Health and Human Services researchers found that many plans exaggerate how sick their patients are and how much they cost to treat. Medicare expects to pay the privately run plans — an alternative to traditional Medicare — some $160 billion this year. (more…)

Meet the online tracking device that’s virtually impossible to block

By Julia Angwin, ProPublica fingerprint.jpg

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it. (more…)

Even low doses of arsenic trigger cancer in mice, study finds

By David Heath, Center for Public Integrity 

The low doses of arsenic similar to what many Americans consume in their drinking water are enough to develop tumors in mice, a new NIH study has found.

The low doses of arsenic similar to what many Americans consume in their drinking water are enough to develop tumors in mice, a new NIH study has found.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health fed mice very low doses of arsenic and were surprised to find that many of them developed lung cancer, according to a study just published.

What made the results so surprising was that in previous studies, mice were fed extremely high doses of arsenic before they developed excess tumors. In the new study, mice fed lower doses of arsenic were more likely to develop tumors. The lowest dose is similar to amounts some people with private wells in the United States drink. (more…)

As more imported foods reach the dinner table, holes remain in FDA safety net

 By Rick Schmitt, FairWarning 

Overwhelmed by a rising tide of imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is able to inspect a tiny fraction of shipments due to budget constraints.

Overwhelmed by a rising tide of imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is able to inspect a tiny fraction of shipments due to budget constraints.

In April 2012, a team of inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated a seafood company in southern India that had been exporting tons of frozen yellow fin tuna to the United States. What they found was not appetizing: water tanks rife with microbiological contamination, rusty carving knives, peeling paint above the work area, unsanitary bathrooms and an ice machine covered with insects and “apparent bird feces,” according to the report.

The FDA issued an “import alert” that barred Moon Fishery India Pvt. Ltd. from shipping fish to the United States. But the damage to public health had been done. By the time FDA got around to inspecting the plant, a salmonella outbreak was erupting around the country. Ultimately, 425 people in 28 states and the District of Columbia were sickened, with victims ranging from babies to octogenarians. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55 people were hospitalized. (more…)

Supreme Court justices earn quarter-million on the side; Read their disclosure reports

By Reity O’Brien, Center for Public Integrity supremes

Between legalizing gay marriage and sparring over campaign finance limits, the U.S. Supreme Court kept busy — and made money — outside the marbled halls of One First Street last year.

All but one of the nine high court justices earned teaching income or book royalties in 2013, hauling in a quarter of a million dollars for their work shaping young legal minds in the classroom or through the written word. (more…)

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