The Michigan state capitol building. Michigan scored dead last on a new ranking of state anti-corruption measures.
In Missouri, a lawmaker who pushed through a bill that prohibited cities from banning plastic bags in supermarkets also happened to be the director of the state's Grocer's Association. New Mexico lawmakers passed a resolution that exempted their emails from public scrutiny. The governors of Virginia and Oregon, and house or assembly speakers in Alabama, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and New York were charged or convicted of corruption. There may be lots of good government laws, but corruption, influence peddling, and lack of government accountability are in fact very difficult to prevent across all 50 states.
That's according to the State Integrity Investigation, a sweeping project released today by the nonprofit investigative reporting group the Center for Public Integrity. The Washington, DC-based Center worked with experienced journalists in every state (but not the District of Columbia) to assess state government rules and systems that were in place between January 2013 and March 2015. The journalists combed through records and laws, using 245 specific "indicators" that measured transparency and accountability, for example public access to information or state lobbying disclosure laws. Good government experts in each state, and later editors at Global Integrity, a government watchdog that tracks governmental accountability around the world, then reviewed the assessments for consistency and accuracy. Each state was assigned an overall letter grade, but also scores on 13 subcategories that include political finance, election oversight, lobbying, and ethics, among others.
"All together, the project presents a comprehensive look at transparency, accountability, and ethics in state government," CPI writes in its overview of the project. "It's not a pretty picture."
That might be putting it mildly. C was the highest grade and Alaska earned it with a score of 76. Only two other states received grades higher than a D+, the report notes, and 11 states flunked (see all states and associated data here). Michigan was at the bottom of the class. Its score was 51, an F, mostly because of issues with ethics and access to public information.
Paula A. Franzese, an expert in state and local government ethics at Seton Hall University School of Law and former chairwoman of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission, told CPI that the project's findings are disappointing but not surprising because ethics oversight is not a priority for state legislatures. "It's not the sort of issue that commands voters," she said.
This is the second time that CPI and Global Integrity have teamed up to do the State Integrity Project; the first was in 2012. Since then, the grades of many states have gotten worse, but some of that decline is also due to changes in methodology.
The entire project is worth your time, so please go read it, but here is some data on the overall grades each state received, plus a quick look at state scores in a few subcategories. (Click on each map to go to the data sources and other state-specific views).
A little more than a year ago, my former colleague Erika Eichelberger wrote about the fact that, for many, the rent is simply too damn high (I chipped in with some pretty charts illustrating an ugly problem). This story has been told time and time again, but a recent report from Bloomberg takes it one step further, at least for those of us lucky (or unlucky) enough to be entering the job market while living in San Francisco or New York City.
"The Starter Apartment Is Nearly Extinct in San Francisco and New York," according the the article's headline. Citing data compiled by real estate listings site Trulia, Bloomberg points out some depressing statistics: In San Francisco, 91 percent of one-bedroom apartments rent for more than $2,000 per month. It's almost as bad in Manhattan, where 89 percent of one-bedroom apartments will set you back $2,000 month.
Trying to find a two bedroom? In San Francisco, almost every two-bedroom apartment rents for more than $2,000 (98 percent). Many are more than $2,500 (96 percent), or $3,000 (91 percent). More than half the two-bedrooms in San Francisco will put you back $4,000 per month. Take a look:
Obviously this applies to certain parts of these cities and, indeed, if you read through Trulia's report, it breaks the data down by neighborhood. For instance, take a look at the interactive map of San Francisco below, which breaks down the cost of 1-bedroom units:
Here's one for New York City:
So yes, chances are you can still find something, somewhere. But the point is that for many of us, that dream of life in the big city—for a reasonable amount of money and in a convenient location—is just that: a dream.
The Colorado Springs Police Department on Wednesday released the audio from two 911 calls placed last Saturday morning just prior to and during a deadly gun rampage. The first call came just 10 minutes before a man shot three people to death and was subsequently killed in a shootout with police. The Colorado Springs PD released the audio and a detailed statement following severalstories by Mother Jones and other news outlets focusing on whether Colorado's open carry law may have played a role in how the police responded.
In the first call, placed at 8:45 a.m. on October 31, resident Naomi Bettis told a dispatcher that she saw a man, later identified as 33-year-old Noah Harpham, walking around a building with a broken window across the street from her house. She said that he was carrying a black rifle and gasoline cans, and she described him as suspicious and "scary" at several points during the six-minute-long call. At one point she told the dispatcher that the man was going in and out of an upstairs apartment in the building. "It may be the guy that lives upstairs because he ran right up there, but he still shouldn't be holding a gun," Bettis said.
"Well it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it," the dispatcher responded. "But of course having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious so we're going to keep the call going for that." Bettis clearly sounded agitated during parts of the call: "I went out there to get in my Jeep," she said, "and I'm scared to death." When asked by the dispatcher whether anyone's life was in imminent danger, however, she answered no. "I just hope that this is, you know, not as bad as it is," Bettis said. Listen to the full call here:
Bettis later told the Washington Post that she was put off by the dispatcher's comments regarding the state's open carry law, as if the dispatcher "didn't believe me." On Tuesday, Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told Mother Jones that Bettis' first 911 call wasn't treated as "the highest priority call for service." In its statement released Wednesday, the department said the call was originally treated as a "priority 3" call, which "represents in-progress incidents involving property." One minute into the call, the incident was upgraded to a "priority 2" call, and changed to a possible burglary in progress, according to the statement. The department's priority scale has six levels, with "priority 1" being the most urgent.
At the time of the first call, all officers in the area were on other calls, according to the department's statement. Then, one officer who became available during the call was instead dispatched to a disturbance in progress at a senior residential facility: "The call for service [near Bettis] was the same priority level as the disturbance; however, the disturbance at the senior center represented a threat to human life, while [Bettis’ call] (a possible burglary-in-progress) was at the time considered a threat to property."
"He's laying on the street dead"
After the initial six-minute exchange with the dispatcher, Bettis was told to call back if the situation changed. Ten minutes later, she did. "I just called a few minutes ago, and the guy came back out," she said, now sounding frantic and her voice shaking. "He fired the gun at somebody and he's laying on the street dead." Listen to the full call here: [Warning: Some may find the following audio disturbing.]
At that point, according to the statement from the Colorado Springs PD, all available police units and an ambulance were dispatched. Less than 10 minutes after that Harpham's three victims had been shot and he was killed by gunfire from police.
"Upon review of the 911 audio from the initial call for service the (dispatcher) responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols," the department said in its statement.
The department also released a 2011 training document with respect to how it handles the open carry issue:
"The mere act of openly carrying a gun in a non-threatening manner is not automatically to be considered suspicious behavior. Therefore, if we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions; CSPD will not respond."
As I first reported late Monday, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham—who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about Colorado's law allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.
Did Colorado's open carry law in effect hinder a police response to Harpham before he struck?
The first time Bettis dialed 911 and spoke with a dispatcher, "a call for service was built for officers to respond," Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told Mother Jones. "But it wasn't the highest priority call for service."
Buckley declined to provide any further details about the timing or substance of the two 911 calls by Bettis, or about how they were handled, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting.
Contacted by Mother Jones, Bettis declined via her daughter to comment further, but on Tuesday the Washington Postreported that Bettis was surprised by the tepid response from the police dispatcher. "I don’t remember what they call it—open arms…and she said, you know, we have that law here. And it just kind of blew me away, like she didn't believe me or something." Bettis also told the Post she was "angry" that she had to call 911 twice. "I don't think she probably thought it was an emergency until I made the second call," Bettis said, "and that's when I said, 'That guy I just called you about, he just shot somebody.'" According to one witness, Harpham attacked using an AR-15.
There are additional questions about how details of the gun rampage have emerged. Local law enforcement authorities did not identify the shooter or any of the victims until Monday afternoon—more than 48 hours after the attack—according to Joanna Bean, the editor of The Gazette, a local news outlet that has covered the attack extensively. That's an unusually long time in the face of intense public interest, including a flurry of comments on social media over the weekend lamenting the lack of information. In a column about The Gazette's coverage, including on its decision to publish the shooter's name late Sunday, Bean wrote:
From the time of the shooting until Monday afternoon, authorities remained tight lipped. "Pending completion of the autopsies and notification of the next of kin the El Paso County Sheriff's Office does not have any updates on the investigation regarding the officer involved shooting yesterday and the ensuing investigation," the office said on Facebook on Sunday. Colorado Springs police said they wouldn't discuss the shootings until autopsies were completed.
Meanwhile, The Gazette apparently removed a key line from an in-depth report it published on Sunday—concerning Bettis' eyewitness account and first 911 call. On Facebook on Sunday night, several gun reform advocates referred to the Gazette story and directly quoted the line highlighted in bold below; they later pointed out that the line had been removed.
Across the street, neighbor Naomi Bettis was shaken by what she saw on a sunny Saturday morning.
Bettis said she called police twice on Saturday morning - once to report her neighbor walking around with a rifle. She took issue with the first dispatcher, who told her that Colorado has an open carry law.
She saw Harpham walk into the house with a rifle and a can or two of gasoline. Then, he went up an outside staircase and came out with a rifle and a pistol.
He walked down the street and took aim at a passing bicyclist, she said.
Bettis recalled the bicyclist's last words. "Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!"
"But he was already being shot," Bettis said.
She called 911 again the second time.
"I said, 'The guy I just called you about that had the gun, he just shot somebody three times,'" Bettis said.
It remains unclear why The Gazette apparently removed the line about Bettis' interaction with the dispatcher regarding Colorado's open carry law. Reached by email early Tuesday morning, Bean said she would look into the matter. If she responds further we will update the story.
Update, November 4: Bean further responded that the line in question was removed as part of The Gazette's "ongoing, updated coverage throughout the weekend," which involved frequent changes to their print and online copy. "We continue to pursue a variety of angles on this shooting story," she added, "including the open carry angle and what information police have about that call to dispatch." Their latest reporting on that angle is here.
But there's also something to be learned from Google, the company that seems to know what we're thinking before we even think it. The folks at Google Trends compiled a mound of data during the debate, looking at real-time searches of the candidates, what people are trying to learn about each of them, and the sheer dominance of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina during the night's undercard debate that preceded the main event.
One Google interactive looked at which candidate people searched for after searching for another candidate. In other words, after people looked up Trump, whom did they search for next? The answer: Ben Carson. Click on a candidate below to see the related candidates.