The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

Nathaniel Rich, The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare. The New York Times Magazine, 6 January 2016. “Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career–and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution.”

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For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions

Noam Scheiber and Patricia Cohen, For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions. The New York Times, 29 December 2015. Part of a series entitled Buying Power: “Articles in this series examine America’s growing concentration of wealth and its consequences for government and politics…. The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income…. With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.”

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Not So Securus: Massive Hack of 70 Million Prisoner Phone Calls Indicates Violations of Attorney-Client Privilege

Jordan Smith and Micah Lee, Not So Securus: Massive Hack of 70 Million Prisoner Phone Calls Indicates Violations of Attorney-Client Privilege. The Intercept, 11 November 2015. “An enormous cache of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials — leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of inmates — comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014.”

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Beware the Fine Print (of arbitration clauses in contracts)

Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff, Beware the Fine Print: Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice. The New York Times, 31 October 2015. Part I of a three-part series on arbitration clauses in contracts.  Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery, Beware the Fine Print: In Arbitration, a ‘Privatization of the Justice System.’ The New York Times, 1 November 2015. Part II of this three-part series on arbitration clauses in contracts. Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Beware the Fine Print: In Religious Arbitration, Scripture Is the Rule of Law. The New York Times, 2 November 2015. Part III of this three-part series on arbitration clauses in contracts. This three-part series examines “how clauses buried in tens of millions of contracts have deprived Americans of one of their most fundamental constitutional rights: their day in court.”

Winner of the 2015 George Polk Award for Legal Reporting.

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Insane. Invisible. In danger. Horrific conditions in Florida’s public mental hospitals

Leonora LaPeter Anton, Michael Braga and Anthony Cormier, Insane. Invisible. In danger. Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 29 October 2015. Florida’s state-funded mental hospitals are supposed to be safe places to house and treat people who are a danger to themselves or others. But years of neglect and $100 million in budget cuts have turned them into treacherous warehouses where violence is out of control and patients can’t get the care they need.” This is a three-part series about Florida’s state-funded mental hospitals and a documentary by John Pendygraft about “three people whose lives were forever changed by the violence inside.”

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Out of the Darkness: How two psychologists teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings

Noa Yachot, Out of the Darkness: How two psychologists teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings. American Civil Liberties Union, 16 October 2015. From How the ACLU Came to Publish a Powerful Piece of Investigative Journalism, Longreads, 27 October 2015: “‘Out of the Darkness’ is not an easy story to read. It chronicles how two psychologists who had previously devoted their careers to training US troops to resist abusive interrogation tactics teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings.”

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How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa

Bryan Christy, How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa. National Geographic, 12 August 2015. “…[T]he African elephant is under siege. A booming Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: Some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2010 and 2012, and the pace of killing is not slowing. Most illegal ivory goes to China, where a pair of ivory chopsticks can bring more than a thousand dollars and carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Update: Paul Steyn, African Elephant Numbers Plummet 30 Percent, Landmark Survey Finds. National Geographic, 31 August 2016. “An unprecedented census gives a sobering baseline for managing what’s left of Africa’s elephants.” The finding of the Great Elephant Census, a continent-wide wildlife survey, is worrying: “Africa now has 352,271 savanna elephants left in 93 percent of the species’ range. The aerial survey covered 18 African countries. In 15 of those, where information on previous populations existed, 144,000 elephants were lost to ivory poaching and habitat destruction in less than a decade. The current yearly loss—overwhelmingly from poaching—is estimated at 8 percent. That’s about 27,000 elephants slaughtered year after year…. The census was funded by Microsoft founder Paul G. Allen and took just under three years to complete. Led by the nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, which is based in Botswana, the survey involved a team of 90 scientists, six NGOs, and two advisory partners: the Kenya-based conservation organization Save the Elephants and the African Elephant Specialist Group, made up of experts who focus on the conservation and management of African elephants.”

Update: Edward Wong and Jeffrey Gettleman, China Bans Its Ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching. The New York Times, 30 December 2016. China announced on Friday that it was banning all commerce in ivory by the end of 2017, a move that would shut down the world’s largest ivory market and could deal a critical blow to the practice of elephant poaching in Africa.”

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A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act

Jim Rutenberg, A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act. The New York Times Magazine, 29 July 2015. “On the morning of his wedding, in 1956, Henry Frye realized that he had a few hours to spare before the afternoon ceremony. He was staying at his parents’ house in Ellerbe, N.C.; the ceremony would take place 75 miles away, in Greensboro, the hometown of his fiancée; and the drive wouldn’t take long. Frye, who had always been practical, had a practical thought: Now might be a good time to finally register to vote. He was 24 and had just returned from Korea, where he served as an Air Force officer, but he was also a black man in the American South, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when his efforts at the registrar’s office were blocked.

Adopting a tactic common in the Jim Crow South, the registrar subjected Frye to what election officials called a literacy test. In 1900, North Carolina voters amended the state’s Constitution to require that all new voters “be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” but for decades some registrars had been applying that already broad mandate even more aggressively, targeting perfectly literate black registrants with arbitrary and obscure queries, like which president served when or who had the ultimate power to adjourn Congress. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know why are you asking me all of these questions,’ ” Frye, now 83, recalled. “We went around and around, and he said, ‘Are you going to answer these questions?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to try.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, you’re not going to register today.’ ”

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The Price of Nice Nails: Manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited

Sarah Maslin Nir, The Price of Nice Nails: Manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic bias and other abuse. The New York Times, 7 May 2015. “UNVARNISHED: Articles in this [two-part] series [examine] the working conditions and potential health risks endured by nail salon workers.”

Update from the Public Editor of The New York Times: Margaret Sullivan, New Questions on Nail Salon Investigation, and a Times Response, The New York Times, 6 November 2015. “My take: The series and its author, Sarah Maslin Nir, had admirable intentions in speaking for underpaid or abused workers. And the investigation did reveal some practices in need of reform. But, in places, the two-part investigation went too far in generalizing about an entire industry. Its findings, and the language used to express them, should have been dialed back — in some instances substantially…. There is a legitimate and important subject here about low-paid work done by immigrants in New York City — not just in nail salons. It includes, for example, the food-delivery business and many other services that affluent New Yorkers take for granted. I’m always glad to see The Times take on situations in which the poor and voiceless are exploited. But, in doing so, it must protect its reputation for accuracy and rigor above all. My recommendation is that The Times write further follow-up stories, including some that re-examine its original findings and that take on the criticism from salon owners and others — not defensively but with an open mind.”

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Ghosts of Iguala. Mexico: How 43 Students Disappeared in the Night

Ryan Devereaux, Ghosts of Iguala. Mexico: How 43 Students Disappeared in the Night. The Intercept, 4 May 2015. A two-part investigation by Ryan Devereaux and a photo essay by Keith Dannemiller. “The nightmare began just after sundown. At a dimly lit intersection in Iguala, police with automatic weapons surrounded three buses loaded with college students. The police opened fire. Screaming that they were unarmed, the students fled down darkened alleys, pounding on doors, desperate for shelter. Gunmen put the city on lockdown, stalking the streets in a drizzling rain.

By the time the gunfire finally stopped, two dozen people were wounded and six were dead at three locations, the youngest only 15 years old. One student was shot in the head, leaving him brain dead. A bullet ripped through the mouth of another. Two young men bled to death in the streets, left for hours without medical help. First light brought fresh horrors when the mutilated body of one of the students was discovered in the dirt.

Worse was yet to come. During the chaos, 43 students had been taken captive.

The crimes that began in Iguala on September 26, 2014 had reverberations throughout Mexico. Massive protests have roiled the country. Government buildings have been torched. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was forced to launch what his administration called the largest investigation in recent memory.”

Update: Ryan Devereaux, Independent Investigators Leave Mexico Without Solving the Case of 43 Disappeared Students. The Intercept, 25 April 2016. “The…first report [of the international panel of experts] was published in September of last year. The 560-page document meticulously deconstructed the [Mexican] government’s account and presented the events that night for what they were: a hyper-violent, coordinated, multi-pronged ambush of unarmed civilians at multiple locations resulting in at least six people dead, 40 injured, and 43 disappeared, carried out with full knowledge, if not outright participation, of security forces at all levels, including federal police and the military.

The experts had come to Mexico at the government’s invitation. With the authority to conduct an independent investigation and promises that the state would aid in making the necessary evidence and witnesses available, their presence offered a glimmer of hope that the most shocking crime in recent Mexican history might actually get solved. That hope soon crumbled though.

Following their first report [in September 2015], the experts’ relationship to the government turned cold, according to an account members of the panel provided to the New York Times. The government refused to make key interviews possible, including interviews with members of the military potentially present on the night of the students’ disappearance. Meanwhile, the experts themselves were attacked in media outlets close to the state, and an individual who appointed them became the target of a dubious criminal inquiry. Despite a sense that their job was not done, the experts were not offered an extension of their mandate. They are expected to leave Mexico in the coming days [late April 2016].”

Update: Kirk Semple and Elisabeth Malkin, Inquiry Challenges Mexico’s Account of How 43 Students Vanished. The New York Times, 24 April 2016.

See also: Francisco Goldman’s series in The New Yorker on the missing students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in the state of Guerrero in Mexico.

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