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Shooting People, and Getting Away With It

Unsolved shootings: A yearlong investigation by The Trace and BuzzFeed News documents just how few shootings in U.S. cities ever result in an arrest. The reporting mirrors much of what reporters from The Washington Post found last year: Shootings of black or Hispanic people are far more likely to go unsolved than shootings of white people, and investigations commonly are hampered by community distrust of police and a severe shortage of resources for investigation. The latest report adds that cases in which the victims survive are even less likely to be solved and the detectives assigned to them more overburdened. Reporters Sarah Ryley, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Sean Campbell tell the story of how the shooting of one man in Baltimore, who lived, went unsolved and seemingly escalated to a cluster of nine shootings whose victims included an 8-year-old girl injured by crossfire.

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Big pay gaps at Oracle: The U.S. Department of Labor has accused Oracle, the multinational computer technology company based in Redwood City, California, of preferential hiring of job candidates it could later underpay. Melia Russell of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that black, Asian and female employees were paid up to 25 percent less than their peers and the disparities often grew over the course of a person’s career. The accusations were part of an updated lawsuit originally filed in 2017. Elsewhere, Oracle has fought to keep statistics on the diversity of its workers private, declaring them to be trade secrets, The Intercept explains.

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Pharmacy flimflam: The holding company for Walgreens pharmacies has agreed to pay $269.2 million to settle claims that it defrauded government health programs and its customers over a decade. Most of the money will resolve charges that the company issued hundreds of thousands of insulin pens to customers insured through federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, even though the pharmacies knew that the patients did not need them, Jonathan Stempel of Reuters reports. About $60 million will be paid to resolve claims that the company overcharged Medicaid by failing to disclose and charge the discount drug prices it offered the public through its Prescription Savings Club. The settlement stemmed from whistleblower cases filed by former Walgreens pharmacists and a pharmacy manager. In the court filings, the company said it “admits, acknowledges, and accepts responsibility,” yet its public statement said that it “has admitted no wrongdoing.” Two years ago, Walgreens paid $50 million to settle separate charges that it had enrolled hundreds of thousands of people insured by government programs in its own discount club, in violation of anti-kickback laws.

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A record closure: The government shutdown may be over, for now, but people are still taking stock of its consequences. At Joshua Tree National Park, protestors rallied against the damage done to the park. The park remained open through much of the shutdown, though about 40 percent of maintenance staff were furloughed, along with scientists, interpretive rangers and administrators. The park was damaged by illegal use of vehicles off road and by illegal campfires. Former park superintendent Curt Sauer joined the protests and also decried the hundreds of thousands of dollars used to keep the park open during the shutdown that had been earmarked for park maintenance and improvement projects, including construction of a proposed visitor center.

  • Also: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the shutdown cost about $11 billion in reduced gross domestic product. –– Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, says the shutdown hindered progress on marijuana policy reform. –– Danielle Paquette of The Washington Post reports that some of the lowest-paid workers, the contractors hired to clean or cook at or guard federal buildings, aren’t guaranteed to recover lost wages and they’re worried their government agencies could close again. –– Politico reports that the Trump administration has blamed delays in responding to requests for information, including from Congressional Democrats investigating links between the president’s campaign and Russia, on–you guessed it–the shutdown.  

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Finding hope in worry: This might be the closest we get to good news about climate change these days: More Americans are concerned about it than ever before. Seventy-three percent of those polled in late last year said global warming was real, an increase of 10 percentage points from three years ago, John Schwartz of The New York Times reports. The percentage of Americans who see this as an issue of personal concern was up significantly, too. The figures are from a survey of 1,114 adults conducted for the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Making any progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions requires public buy-in, so such an increase in concern is critically important, advocates say.   “People are beginning to understand that climate change is here in the United States, here in my state, in my community, affecting the people and places I care about, and now,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program told Schwartz. “This isn’t happening in 50 years, 100 years from now.” That sentiment hasn’t reached the White House, where President Trump more than once in recent weeks has tweeted about record cold temperatures in parts of the U.S., hinting that global warming is a farce. Perhaps he missed the news that 2018 was Earth’s fourth-hottest year on record, all four occurring after 2014.

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A preventable emergency: The governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency as the number of people infected with the highly contagious measles virus continues to rise. The outbreak is primarily in Clark County, which sits just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. As of Monday afternoon, there were 35 confirmed cases and 11 more suspected cases, including one hospitalization. Most people affected are children ages 10 or under and all but four of the confirmed cases are people who had not been vaccinated for the virus. Families in Clark County opt out of vaccinating their children at a much higher rate than the national average. Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post reports that, in the school year that ended last spring, nearly 7 percent of children were exempted for non-medical reasons from receiving vaccines required for entry into kindergarten, which include two measles shots. Nationally, that figure is about 2 percent. “It’s alarming,” Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician Douglas J. Opel told the Post. “Any time we have an outbreak of a disease that we have a safe and effective vaccine against, it should raise a red flag.”

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Juul’s courtship of Washington: Juul, the largest maker of e-cigarettes, upped its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. in the second half of 2018, as the company faced intensifying pressure to stop marketing its products to teens. Juul spent $750,000 in the fourth quarter of the year, up from $210,000 in the second quarter, when it started its lobbying efforts, Sean McMinn of NPR reports. It was outspent by just three other tobacco companies. Top among them was Altria, the largest U.S. cigarette maker and owner of a 35 percent stake in Juul.

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Out of the ground and up the smokestack: The U.S. military has collected more than 3 million gallons of toxic firefighting foam linked to widespread groundwater contamination from bases around the world. But in deciding what to do with it now, the government may be replacing one environmental problem with another, Sharon Lerner of The Intercept reports. The chosen disposal method to date has been incineration, a process that not only does not reliably destroy the PFOA, PCBs and other persistent chemicals contained in the foam but can also create toxic byproducts. Those include cancer-causing dioxins, hydrofluoric acid and perfluoroisobutylene, a chemical that has been used as a warfare agent.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.