A reading list for following the debt ceiling drama

Congress has until a week from today to raise the debt ceiling, the cap on the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to pay the government’s bills. As the clock keeps ticking, you may still have unanswered questions. How dire could the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling be? What are the possible solutions? Here’s a reading list to help you keep up.

Following the debt ceiling debate in real time:

Slate has an updating infographic that lets you see how much money the Treasury has in its bank account right now. For the latest news and analysis, the Wall Street Journal has a frequently updated live blog. The Economist is also doing daily debt ceiling updates. Some good people to follow for updates on Twitter include CNBC’s @JamesPethokoukis, TIME Magazine’s @MarkHalperin, CBS’s @NorahODonnell, NBC’s @LukeRussert and @KellyO, Slate’s @daveweigel, and the Bipartisan Policy Center (@BPC_Bipartisan).

The basics on the debt ceiling (including where it comes from):

An earlier guide of ours answers basic questions about the debt ceiling, like “What is the debt ceiling, really?” and “Is the debt ceiling necessary?” Poynter has a guide to common misconceptions about the debt ceiling that can help you cut through misleading coverage. It’s important to note, as Poynter does, that raising the debt ceiling doesn’t mean that we’re increasing spending, but that we’re letting the Treasury borrow money to pay for things we’ve already agreed to spend on. Here’s how NPR Correspondent Robert Smith explained the situation to Poynter:

“The way I put it is that Congress has already ordered the pizza. They approved the pepperoni. They called up and had someone deliver it,” Smith said via email. “Now the pizza guy is knocking at the door, and asking to get paid. If you don’t raise the debt ceiling, it’s like saying we didn’t want that pizza in the first place. Maybe he’ll go away if we don’t answer.”

The New York Times has a helpful chart that breaks down which policies have contributed to the national debt over the Bush and Obama administrations. This chart, tweeted James Fallows at the Atlantic, “should accompany every story about the debt ceiling debate.” Talking Points Memo explains that most of the U.S. national debt is actually owed to the United States—it’s money that some government agencies have borrowed from each other. The Guardian’s data blog has a rundown of which foreign countries the United States owes, and how much we owe them.

What might happen if the debt limit isn’t raised:

Basically, anyone and anything that relies on federal government funds may not get paid, including members of the U.S. military and military contractors and people receiving Social Security checks. The New York Times has a story detailing what may happen to state governments if the debt ceiling doesn’t get extended. Bloomberg has an interactive that lets you take on the role of the Treasury trying to decide which of its bills to pay.

The U.S. credit rating might get downgraded, which could raise the cost of borrowing and cause panic in financial markets and dumping of U.S. bonds. The IMF said today that a downgrade could be “extremely damaging” to the world economy. Forbes has a piece weighing the pros and cons of a credit rating downgrade and whether or not it’s inevitable.

What, and who, is holding up the deal:

Much of the debate has centered on other things that should go along with raising the debt ceiling, like repeal of health care law (here’s an earlier post we did on that). This New York Times chart lays out the major obstacles to working out a debt ceiling deal. At the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew has an insightful summary of the failures of the negotiations so far.

Possible solutions:

As of last week, there were eight possible deals on the table, all of which the New York Times’ Caucus blog detailed in a cheat sheet. After debt ceiling negotiations temporarily broke off on Friday, congressional party leaders began drafting two new plans. Bloomberg has the details of those plans here. Bill Clinton also raised the possibility that Obama could raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval, using a provision in the 14th Amendment. The New York Times explains how Clinton’s recommendation would work. In the event that a deal isn’t reached, CNBC’s John Carney suggests that the Federal Reserve might be able to keep the Treasury afloat by selling its Treasury securities. At The New Yorker, James Surowiecki argues that it would be best to just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether.

Why do 70 dead in Norway rank higher than tens of thousands in Somalia?

Sorry, I know that sounds a bit preachy.

But I’m sure I’m not the only one dismayed at how little urgent attention the world, and the media, is paying to the massive tragedy and loss of life in East Africa right now as compared to the deadly havoc created by the right-wing, Nordic hate-monger Anders Behring Breivik.

The tragedy in East Africa is getting covered, to some extent, but certainly to a lesser extent than than Norway’s bomber-gunman — and almost as if the tragedy in Somalia is just another, well, inevitable and largely unmanageable African crisis. This is wrong on a number of fronts.

Google

I’m a Norwegian-American and have relatives in Oslo. So I’m maybe more interested in this episode than most — and perhaps less surprised given I’ve been aware of the festering problem of neo-Nazi nationalism that pervades much of Scandinavia today despite its deserved reputation for tolerance and liberality.

Breivik is top of Google News as I write this (closely followed by Amy Winehouse). Meanwhile, thousands of people are dying in Somalia and throughout East Africa right now, this very moment.

Why do we shrug our shoulders at one huge, ongoing cause of deaths and stare in fascination and horror at a much smaller and, arguably, somewhat unique and peculiar cause of death?

FULL STORY…

**

ALSO BY TOM PAULSON

Cliff Mass: East Coast versus West Coast. The continental weather seesaw…

It often seems that the U.S. east and west coasts are on some kind of weather seesaw.   Recently westerners have been complaining that the East Coast is warm and the West is cool, but sometimes it goes the other way.  Quite frequently, warm records are found on one coast when cool records are occurring on the other.   The coastal weather seesaw some people call it.   And now,  a new index reveals its intimate details.   In this blog you will view the Coastal Contrast Index (CCI), an advanced new diagnostic tool never shown before in public.   

The CCI is based on the difference between the temperatures of major cites on both coasts.  Specifically, the mean temperatures of eastern cities (TE) minus the mean temperatures of western cities (TW).

CCI= TE-TW

For TE we use Boston, New York, Washington DC and Atlanta.  For TW we use Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  The selection of these particular cities is based on arcane scientific principles that are too complicated to explain in this blog.  Yes, the latitudes don’t match exactly, but that is where the people are.  And I should note that the data analysis for the CCI was done by data analyst extraordinaire of the UW:  Neal Johnson.

Ready to see it?  Take a look at this graph… (more)

WEA/House Democrats sue voters over 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases

COMMENTARY

In the waning hours of the “budget focused” special session, Democrats in the House and Senate both attempted to cue up votes on a tax bill not assumed in the budget that no one expected to pass. The strategy was to try to gain legal standing to sue the voters to overturn the 18-year-old 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

Today, this legislative charade has come to fruition as several House Democrats have joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases.

Here is a copy of today’s legal filing.

The lawsuit highlights the failure of the Legislature to fund Initiative 728 and 732 as proof of harm as to why taxes should be easier to raise.

Since funding was not identified for I-728/732 (other than surplus funds) when originally adopted and the measures were subsequently suspended during tough budget times, voters were asked in 2004 to approve I-884 and in 2010 to approve I-1098 to pay in-part for the policies of I-728 and I-732. Both measures were overwhelming rejected statewide.

Reading the tea leaves of I-728, 732, I-884 and I-1098, it appears the voters supported the policies of I-728 and I-732 when they were “free” and wouldn’t hurt the budget or require tax increases but were against them when asked to raise taxes to pay for them.

Here are additional details on what the voters were promised concerning tax increases when voting on I-728 and I-732.

As for the 4-time approval of the 2/3 vote requirement, however, voters have consistently said yes to imposing this restriction on lawmakers.

Voters first enacted the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases in 1993 with I-601, reaffirmed it 1998 with Referendum 49, reenacted it in 2007 with I-960, and again last year with 64% approving I-1053.

The Legislature has also enacted the 2/3 vote restriction including a 2006 bill that was signed by Gov. Gregoire. That proposal (SB 6896) was primarily focused at redefining the spending limit adopted in 1993 to facilitate the large increase in spending that help set the stage for our current budget challenges. To throw voters a bone when rewriting the spending limit, Democrats also ended their 2005 suspension of the 2/3 vote requirement a year early. According to the bill report for SB 6896:

“The authority of the Legislature to increase state revenues without a two-thirds vote is terminated on June 30, 2006.”

Despite numerous legislative amendments to the law, the Legislature has never fully repealed the mandate from voters that tax increases require a two-thirds vote and in the case of SB 6896 in 2006, Democrats voted to reinstate the restriction a year early.

Not able or willing to fully eliminate the 2/3 restriction legislatively, opponents have tried over the last 18 years to get the Court to throw out the requirement.

Here is what the Attorney General’s Office said (in-part) back in 2008 about the constitutionality of the 2/3 vote requirement when it was last challenged in court (page 37 – legal citations omitted):

“Petitioner attempts to meet her ‘responsibility of proving that [RCW 43.135.035(1)] is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt’ on the basis of a constitutional provision that, by its own terms, does not prohibit the statute that she challenges. Article 2, Section 22 provides, ‘[n]o bill shall become a law unless . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.’ Article 2, Section 22 establishes a constitutional minimum number of votes for a bill to become law. It only describes the circumstances under which a bill does not pass. In other words, Article 2, Section 22 does not prohibit statutes by which the legislature (or the people) express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.035(1) expresses such a legislative policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes. The statute hardly conflicts with the constitutional floor set by Article 2, Section 22, as any bill receiving its supermajority support has met the requirement of Article 2, Section 22 . . .

Both the framers of the constitution and subsequent legislatures and voters have recognized that certain specified actions should command the support of more than a simple majority. Petitioners, to the contrary, urge that the same constitutional convention that embraced supermajorities for some purposes intended to prohibit statutes requiring supermajorities for any other purposes. The Constitution contains no language supporting this notion, however. The framers may not reasonably be presumed to have implied the prohibition of a political mechanism that they themselves adopted through language that does not say so. Given the plenary legislative authority of the people and the legislature, and the absence of a clear constitutional prohibition, the Court should not conclude otherwise.”

Seeing how the Court has had 18 years (since I-601 in 1993) and multiple opportunities to rule on 2/3 but has refused to do so there is no guarantee the latest ploy to gain legal standing will work.

As evident by the latest legal challenge, however, this issue needs to finally be put to rest. The only sure way to end this debate once and for all is for voters to have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers opposed to this policy could simply use their talking points from 2005 when they placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot to reduce the vote threshold needed for voter approved school levies. At the time several lawmakers said they didn’t necessarily support the policy but the voters should have the opportunity to weigh in. Seeing how the voters have already weighed in four times for the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases it would be better to let them resolve the debate instead of hoping for a judicial hailmary.

Of the sixteen states with supermajority tax restrictions, only Washington’s is statutory.

It is time to put all the cards on the table and let the voters decide with a constitutional amendment in a winner take all pot – not try to deal from the bottom of the deck with the ever elusive judicial card.

Jason Mercier

Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is the private sector chairman of ALEC’s Fiscal Federalism Working Group. He is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News, serves on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, and was an advisor to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee. In June 2010, Governor Gregoire appointed Jason as WPC’s representative on her Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Panel. Jason holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washington State University.

Carbon-saturated seas, the food web and the future of marine life

As oceans absorb evermore carbon dioxide, pH levels of the world’s seas have been dropping. Biologists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle are doing some of the most sophisticated work anywhere to see how the marine world responds to a major side effect of fossil fuel emissions, increasingly corrosive seas. I recently joined scientists on a research vessel in Puget Sound.

 

 

Jelly fish (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Marine ecologists tug at drift nets full of fish from one of the world’s most corrosive bodies of water Puget Sound. Jelly fish and crab wait to be disentangled and microscopic krill and zooplankton. Undistinguishable to the untrained eye, but the base of the food web.

 

“We’ve got quite the catch,” said Correigh Greene who is out here with his team of fish biologists from the National Marine Fisheries Center. “Quite a few fish. Few jelly fish too.”

The task is to measure not only the abundance of marine life – the majority of species will then be released – but levels of carbon dioxide. As oceans absorb more and more carbon dioxide or CO2 they become acidic and their pH levels drop. pH is the concentration of hydrogen ions which results from dissolved carbon. Today’s global average is 8.1, a 29% drop from pre-industrial times. But some waters in Puget Sound register 7.4.

“These near shore conditions are much less understood,” said Greene. “But in a lot of ways they’re more important because this is where a lot of the biological activity takes place.”

Ecologist Paul McElhany said near shore environments and estuaries are critical to the food web.

“They’re the nurseries because it’s where a lot of the larval fish are produced and rear before they head further into the ocean to mature,” McElhany said.

When baby shellfish failed to grow five years ago along the coasts of Washington and Oregon, scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service began looking at ocean acidification. Were acidic waters preventing shells from calcifying? They brought the larvae of shellfish and oysters into the lab and experimented with pH levels. Now they hope to measure pH levels in the waters where animals actually live.

 

Crab from the Puget Sound (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Again Paul McElhany: “There’s been this snapshot look at co2 but here we’re trying to look at these realistic measurements of pH so we can know the environment that they’re experiencing. we can then go back to the lab and relate our experiments to what the animals currently see and then project forward.”

 

The study is the first of its kind in a coastal environment. It all begins with a pH probe, one calibrated to accurately measure conditions of seawater.  A small white gadget hangs suspended from a line over the boat. Meanwhile the crew lower a cylinder shaped net that will initially absorb water on the surface and then be deployed under water for the length of the entire water column.

Paul McElhany: “With this measurement we can get a different measure of pH. The probe we have over the side that we’re taking continuous measurements with is at a fixed depth and it’s relatively shallow, so we’re trying to correlate that with the animals that are in the shallow depths.”

Animals like zooplankton and krill, food for fish.

There are many factors that affect abundance of species including development and industry, pollution, food availability, temperature and whether the water flushes or remains stagnant. This makes it a challenge to tease out the pH effect.

Fish biologist, Correigh Greene: “Because in Puget Sound you have places that flush quite a bit and then you’ve got places where you have problems with the water just staying around.”

Algae build up is another factor said Paul McElhany. Too much of it depletes oxygen levels and compounds the problem of increased carbon dioxide.

“If there’s not flushing then you can get these localized build up of algae that then die off and as they die off that can sort of increase the CO2 as they decompose,” McElhany said.

And because waters in Puget Sound are fed by currents that well up from ocean depths, waters in this region are already more corrosive.

Megalops or the larval stage of Dungeness crab is one critter that will be observed in the new study.  Crabs are important ecologically and economically on the West Coast. In the lab McElhany looks at a crab the size of a thumbnail.

“So we’ll look at whether or not they can transition to the next larval stage,” he said. “That’s a stressful time physiologically and it’s when they need to generate calcium carbonate as part of putting on a new shell.”

Researchers will then add more CO2 to see how the crabs survive. Oysters have shown to be very sensitive to CO2. Yet even two species of oyster can respond differently.

“Which makes it challenging because obviously we can’t test all species in the ocean,” McElhany said. “We have to extrapolate and project how we think the rest of them are going to do.”

Initial results, expected in a few weeks, will show a map of pH patterns in the water where species being tested live. These levels fluctuate widely, even from one area in a body of water to another, adding a new layer of complexity to understanding the full impact of fossil fuel emissions on Puget Sound’s biologically critical waters. 

 

 

Green Acre Radio is brought to you with support from the Human Links Foundation. Engineering is by CJ Lazenby. From the studios of Jack Straw Productions and KBCS. Martha Baskin airs on KBCS/91.3fm at 4:40pm Thurs. & Friday at 7:30 a.m. & 2 p.m. 

 

Move the budget debate to one of those democracies we’re bombing into place

COMMENTARY

Imagine how radically different the current debate over the Giant Debt Ceiling Monster would look if we moved it to one of those nations we’re bombing into a democracy. Imagine us all still U.S. residents with the same views we have now, but imagine that our representatives in Washington, D.C., were obliged to give a damn what we thought.

Back on January 3rd, Americans expressed their first choice of action. While 3% chose to cut Social Security and 4% to cut Medicare, 20% said cut the military, and 61% said tax the rich. On January 14th, 52% said they would approve of cutting the military. Another poll, conducted January 15th to 19th, found 55% choosing to cut the military as their first choice (taxing the rich was not offered), while 21% said cut Medicare and 13% said cut Social Security.

In April, the Washington Post – ABC News found that 72% of Americans want to raise taxes on people with incomes over $250,000, while 42% say cut the military, 30% are willing to cut Medicaid, and 21% Medicare. Even Gallup says that 42% want to cut Homeland Security and 42% want to cut the military, while cutting Medicare and Social Security are at 38% and 34%.

Americans in certain swing states seem to agree:

 

Raise taxes on those with incomes over $250,000 a year
Ohio 72%
Missouri 67%
Montana 69%
Minnesota 71%

Don’t Cut Social Security
Ohio 80%
Missouri 76%
Montana 76%
Minnesota 72%

Don’t Cut Medicare
Ohio 76%
Missouri 77%
Montana 71%
Minnesota 69%

Don’t Cut Medicaid
Ohio 61%
Missouri 63%
Montana 59%
Minnesota 62%

Cutting the military doesn’t look like as solid a majority position as taxing the rich, until one looks a little more closely. According to Gallup, 22% say the United States spends too little on the military, but 39% say it spends too much, and remarkably — and delegitimizing at least six current wars — 57% say the United States should not attack another nation unless attacked first. In fact, only 25% of U.S. voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. In reality, the United States spends about seven times the closest competitor (and almost none of it on anything truly defensive), a status that must have the support of significantly fewer than 25% of Americans. But fewer than that many Americans are aware of it.

When shown what the federal budget is and given the opportunity to change it, Americans significantly cut the military and tax the rich.

The problem with taxing the rich and cutting the military for the debt crisis debate is that if we were to do those things, there couldn’t be a debt crisis, because the debt would begin to be paid off.

So, dear international phone-hacking war-marketing media barons, please stop showing me how many Americans have been scared into opposing raising a debt ceiling. If you gave a damn what Americans wanted, you’d be looking at how we can raise the floor.

Try this little activity: How would you spend the federal budget?

Enter a percentage of the budget that you would spend on each category.  Make sure the total equals 100%.

Job training, mass transit, and a jobs program to build renewable energy infrastructure and mass transit:_____%

Management of public lands:_____%

Pollution control and Renewable energy research:_____%

Subsidies to small farmers:_____%

Elementary and secondary education, and higher education, and special education for students with disabilities:_____%

Medical research:_____%

Scientific research:_____%

NASA:_____%

Economic development aid to select foreign countries, medical aid to poor nations, and development aid to poor nations, the Peace Corps, and disaster relief abroad:_____%

State Department:_____%

United Nations, peacekeeping, weapons nonproliferation:_____%

Military and Homeland Security Department and Military “aid” to other nations:_____%

Current wars:_____%

Veterans’ benefits:_____%

Law enforcement and federal prisons:_____%

Housing for the poor and elderly:_____%

Paying off national debt:_____%

Airports and railroads and highways:_____%

Subsidies to big agriculture:_____%

______

Don’t scroll down till you’re finished!

______

Now compare what you did with what the White House projects for 2015:

SUSTAINABLE POLICIES
Job training, mass transit, and a jobs program to build renewable energy infrastructure and mass transit: 2%
Management of public lands: 1%
Pollution control and Renewable energy research: 1%
Subsidies to small farmers: 0%

EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
Elementary and secondary education, and higher education, and special education for students with disabilities: 4%
Medical research: 3%
Scientific research: 1%
Nasa: 1%

FRIENDLY FOREIGN RELATIONS
Economic development aid to select foreign countries, medical aid to poor nations, and development aid to poor nations, the Peace Corps, and disaster relief abroad: 3%
State Department: 1%
United Nations, peacekeeping, weapons nonproliferation: 0%

HOSTILE FOREIGN RELATIONS
Military and Homeland Security Department and military “aid” to other nations: 56%
Current wars: 4%
Veterans’ benefits: 11%

BASIC GOVERNANCE
Law enforcement and federal prisons: 2%
Housing for the poor and elderly: 3%
Paying off national debt: 0%

BIG AGRICULTURE AND BIG TRANSPORTATION
Airports and railroads and highways: 6%
Subsidies to big agriculture: 1%

Now imagine having taxation with representation.


Odor has Capitol Hill medical marijuana dispensary on the move

What’s the deal with News Corp’s other, U.S.-based, hacking scandal?

After testifying before the British Parliament last week, Rupert Murdoch returned to the United States to be greeted with more bad news: The Justice Department is opening up an inquiry into allegations of computer hacking by News Corp’s American advertising wing, News America Marketing. The New York Times’ David Carr revisited News America’s troubled history with “anti-competitive behavior” in a column. On Wednesday, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg wrote to Eric Holder calling for a federal investigation into the hacking claims, pointing back to a similar request he had made back in 2005.

What’s this other hacking scandal all about?

News America was accused in a 2009 lawsuit of hacking into the computers of one of its competitors, Floorgraphics Inc., to steal detailed information about their sales, clients and finances. Floorgraphics said they first realized they were being hacked in 2004, when they discovered intrusions from computers with IP addresses registered to News America. The company claimed that their information was accessed at least 11 times over four months and that they started losing important clients to News America shortly afterward, leading to a round of layoffs.

There was an FBI investigation into the hacking allegations in 2004, but it didn’t end up going anywhere.

Why would News America want to do that?

News America and Floorgraphics Inc. both provide services for clients to promote their products in grocery stores.

According to court testimony from one of the founders of Floorgraphics, George Rebh, News America CEO Paul Carlucci expressed interest in buying the company years before the hacking incident. Carlucci then threatened them after Floorgraphics declined. From the Guardian:

According to transcripts of a trial that took place 10 years after the lunch, the Rebh brothers were astonished. No, they replied, they only wanted to talk about working together and had no intention of selling. George Rebh told the jury that Carlucci then said: “From now on, consider us your competitor and understand this: if you ever get into any of our businesses, I will destroy you. I work for a man who wants it all, and doesn’t understand anybody telling him he can’t have it all.”

News Corp later denied that Carlucci had said this.

Has News America been caught up in any other similar lawsuits?

News America was involved in lawsuits with two other competitors, Valassis Communications and Insignia Systems, who accused News America of engaging in predatory business practices and violating U.S. antitrust law. These cases didn’t involve hacking. News Corp settled with Valassis for $500 million and with Insignia for $125 million.

How did the Floorgraphics lawsuit end?

News America settled out of court with Floorgraphics for $29.5 million a little over a week into the trial and then bought the company within the same week.

What happened to the guy who was running News America at the time of this alleged hacking?

Paul Carlucci is now the publisher of the New York Post and is still the CEO of News America.

What does this have to do with the phone hacking scandal in the U.K.?

Nothing so far, but journalists are latching onto it as a window into News Corp’s overall culture. The New York Times’ Carr has pointed out that there are interesting parallels in terms of how News Corp moved quickly to settle out of court, ensuring that evidence remains sealed and plaintiffs can’t talk.

So, wait; how many investigations into News Corp are going on in the United States?

There are three. The Justice Department is currently investigating claims that News Corp hacked into Floorgraphics’ computers. The FBI has begun investigating claims that Murdoch papers attempted to hack into the phones of 9/11 victims. Separately, the Department of Justice is looking into the alleged bribes Murdoch papers paid to British police. Fortunately for News Corp, they’ve got former federal prosecutors on their side. (Here’s our earlier story explaining why the United States is getting involved over bribes made abroad.)

Did Murdoch papers hack into the phones of 9/11 victims?

We really don’t know. That accusation originated from a story in another British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, that cites an unnamed ex-NYPD officer as its main source. The FBI inquiry came in response to calls from politicians, and not because any incriminating evidence has been found.

CHSBP: Geek’s guide to the 2011 Capitol Hill Block Party

This week’s top MuckReads: Corporations crafting laws, cheating cops & student visa mills

Here are this week’s top 10 must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and just including the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to MuckReads@ProPublica.org. The best submissions are selected by ProPublica’s editors and reporters and then featured on our site and @ProPublica.

Koch Joins Exxon to Craft State Laws From D.C. in ALEC’s Industry Agenda, Bloomberg News
How a powerful nonprofit named ALEC gives corporations the opportunity to shape state laws. (Here’s a background piece we’ve done on ALEC.)
Contributed by @kleinmatic

Little-Known Firms Tracking Data Used in Credit Scores, Washington Post
The firms who help put together credit scores have access to a surprising amount information about our lives, but they aren’t held to much scrutiny themselves. This article sheds light on what they do and the regulatory vacuum they exist in.
Contributed by @nfkpdx

Freedom From Pain, Al Jazeera English
Al Jazeera examines why it’s so difficult for people in countries around the world to gain access to pain killers like morphine.
Submitted via email by Sophia Qureshi

L.A. County Is Seeing a Spike in Deputy-Fraud Allegations, Los Angeles Times
An independent watchdog group reports that cuts in overtime pay might be leading to a rise in financial crimes among the L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies. The alleged crimes range from mortgage fraud to torching a car to cash in on the insurance.
See all MuckReads about police misconduct.

Universities or Visa Mills?  San Jose Mercury News
Unaccredited universities in California are bringing thousands of international students to the United States with the promise they can get them student visas—a promise they don’t actually have the ability to keep.
Contributed by @sdutWatchdog

Blood in the Water, Outside magazine
A disturbing pattern of whale trainer deaths raises questions about how marine parks should operate.
Contributed by @longreads

Small Town Teacher Seeks Help for Big Debt, Ends Up in Bankruptcy, iWatch News
A profile of a retired schoolteacher who paid a firm to help her get out of debt and ended up losing $7,000, none of which went to her creditors. The story is part of a series on financial service businesses that abuse consumers.
Contributed by @sscarpinelli

How Foreign Money Can Find Its Way Into Political Campaigns, Huffington Post
Though it’s illegal for U.S. political candidates to take money from foreign interests, disclosure filings suggest that foreign governments and corporations are hiring lobbyists to donate to campaigns for them.
Contributed by @POGOBlog

Sloppy Investigation of Sloppy Investigation in Baily Case, New America Media
After Bay Area journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered in 2007, a group of journalists banded together to finish the investigation he’d been working on. Now some of those reporters are documenting flaws in the two inquiries into the Oakland police’s handling of the case.
Contributed by @ProPubPR

Superintendent Merry-Go-Round Yields Fat Severances, Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune investigates secretive buyout deals that Illinois school districts make with departing superintendents—even ones who were asked to leave due to poor performance.
See other MuckReads about education.

These stories and many more can be found at ProPublica. You can also subscribe to a daily #MuckReads email, or follow ProPublica on Twitter. Reader submissions are key to making #MuckReads a success—please contribute!