Tag Archives: ProPublica

Tech Companies Are (Maybe) Ready to Punch Nazis Now

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In the week since white supremacists descended on Charlottesville with tiki torches blazing, tech companies have begun to eliminate website hosting or accounts run by neo-Nazis. The decision to kick people off the internet—a world many of us occupy in equal measure, if not more than we do the physical one around us—is not one taken lightly, and these companies have remained cautious until proven complicit.

The CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, explained in a public blog post why he chose to drop the Daily Stormer, a hate-mongering website that published openly racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist screeds, including a post about Heather Heyer. “Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion,” writes Prince. “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology.” (ProPublica skewered Cloudfare earlier this year for providing the Daily Stormer with information about people who criticized or complained about the website’s explicitly offensive content.)

Cloudflare is not alone in abandoning Nazi clients. As Adrienne Jeffries reported at The Outline, in the last few days Squarespace has dropped an array of so-called “alt-right” sites, including the think tank of neo-Nazi poster boy Richard Spencer. On Tuesday, Sean Captain at Fast Company noticed that publishing platform WordPress.com (the parent company of Longreads) is no longer hosting the website for the ultra-nationalist organization Vanguard America. (The man who drove the car that killed Heyer and injured 19 other people was allegedly a Vanguard America member, though the organization has tried to disown him.) Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Abrahm Lustgarten, Lois Beckett, Julia O’Malley, Alice Driver, and Sarah Jeong.

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Open Burning: A Banned Practice That’s Poisoning America

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At ProPublica, Abrahm Lustgarten offers an in-depth report on how munitions plants across America continue to irresponsibly dispose of bomb and bullet waste by “open burning.” The practice, banned 30 years ago, still takes place nearly every day under a permit loophole, putting millions of pounds of toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air, essentially poisoning residents and the environment.

Shortly after dawn most weekdays, a warning siren rips across the flat, swift water of the New River running alongside the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Red lights warning away boaters and fishermen flash from the plant, the nation’s largest supplier of propellant for artillery and the source of explosives for almost every American bullet fired overseas.

Along the southern Virginia riverbank, piles of discarded contents from bullets, chemical makings from bombs, and raw explosives — all used or left over from the manufacture and testing of weapons ingredients at Radford — are doused with fuel and lit on fire, igniting infernos that can be seen more than a half a mile away. The burning waste is rich in lead, mercury, chromium and compounds like nitroglycerin and perchlorate, all known health hazards. The residue from the burning piles rises in a spindle of hazardous smoke, twists into the wind and, depending on the weather, sweeps toward the tens of thousands of residents in the surrounding towns.

Nearby, Belview Elementary School has been ranked by researchers as facing some the most dangerous air-quality hazards in the country. The rate of thyroid diseases in three of the surrounding counties is among the highest in the state, provoking town residents to worry that emissions from the Radford plant could be to blame. Government authorities have never studied whether Radford’s air pollution could be making people sick, but some of their hypothetical models estimate that the local population faces health risks exponentially greater than people in the rest of the region.

More than three decades ago, Congress banned American industries and localities from disposing of hazardous waste in these sorts of “open burns,’’ concluding that such uncontrolled processes created potentially unacceptable health and environmental hazards. Companies that had openly burned waste for generations were required to install incinerators with smokestacks and filters and to adhere to strict limits on what was released into the air. Lawmakers granted the Pentagon and its contractors a temporary reprieve from those rules to give engineers time to address the unique aspects of destroying explosive military waste. That exemption has remained in place ever since, even as other Western countries have figured out how to destroy aging armaments without toxic emissions.

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Something Unspeakable Happened in Allende, Mexico

Guns seized in the arrest of an alleged member Los Zetas in 2011. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

In March 2011, gunmen from the Zetas drug cartel descended on the small town of Allende, an hour from the US border, killing dozens, possibly hundreds of people — many of whom had no connection to the cartel — and destroying their homes and businesses. Seven years later, the town still has more questions than answers.

Poor management of confidential information about cartel leaders Miguel Ángel and Omar Treviño had caused a retaliation against their perceived informants that was swift and severe. Allende is a town so thoroughly infiltrated by the powerful cartel, there was little leadership or resistance to the violence. For ProPublica, Ginger Thompson interviews to victims’ families, the informers, and DEA agents in an important, difficult to read investigation.

Officers under my command responded to reports of a fire at one of the Garza ranches. We’re talking about less than three kilometers away from Allende. It appeared that the Garza family was having some kind of gathering. Among the first responders was a group of firefighters with a backup engine. They noticed there were certain people connected to criminal organizations, who told them, in vulgar terms and at gunpoint, to withdraw. They said there were going to be numerous incidents. We were going to get numerous emergency calls about gunshots, fires and things like that. They told us we were not authorized to respond.

In my capacity as fire chief, what I did was to advise my boss, who in this case was the mayor. I told him that we were facing an impossible situation and that the only thing we could do was to stand down, out of fear of the threats we faced. There were too many armed men. We were afraid for our lives. We couldn’t fight bullets with water.

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Schrödinger’s Convict: Actually Innocent, Actually a Felon

the front of the supreme court of nevada, a large door flanked by stairs and pillars
Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Megan Rose’s exhaustively researched piece in ProPublica, co-published with Vanity Fair, traced the trial, conviction, and sort-of exoneration of Fred Steese: after a judge declared him innocent of the murder he was alleged to have committed, he signed a little-known (and totally constitutional!) deal called an Alford plea. Rather than submitting to what could have been years of additional hearings to have his conviction formally set aside, the plea got him out of jail immediately — but kept the lid on the prosecutorial misconduct that put him there in the first place, and kept him on the books as a convicted felon.

Though unfamiliar even to some lawyers, the Alford plea has been around since a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case. Henry Alford, a 35-year-old black man, had said he was innocent of murder but pleaded guilty to avoid an automatic death sentence. He later appealed, claiming that his plea was made under duress, violating due process. The Supreme Court disagreed. The justices ruled that it wasn’t unconstitutional to accept a guilty plea despite protests of innocence, so as long as a defendant had intelligently made the decision and was counseled by a lawyer.

Unlike the better-known no-contest plea, in which a defendant accepts a conviction without admitting guilt, the Alford plea lets a defendant actually assert his innocence for the record. The defendant acknowledges that the state might be able to get a conviction despite his or her innocence. All but three states allow the plea, but the federal government says it should be used only in “the most unusual of circumstances.” The Alford plea is most often used in bargaining before a conviction, like a typical plea deal, and could very well be taken by guilty defendants who simply won’t own up to their crimes. How often it is offered and accepted, and by what sort of defendants, isn’t tracked. Many prominent legal scholars, such as Cornell law professor John Blume, contend that prosecutors are using the plea to quickly and quietly resolve newly challenged convictions. It’s undeniably coercive for a prosecutor to tell someone who has been in prison 5, 10, 20 years that “you don’t have to admit guilt, just sign this plea and we’ll let you go,” Blume said.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens during a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A new room in the maternity ward of Maine Medical Center. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Renee Montagne, Nina Martin, Alex Tizon, Mary Mann, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, and Andy Newman.

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How ProPublica and NPR Changed the Narrative About Maternity Care in America

A new room in the maternity ward of Maine Medical Center. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Seventeen years ago, Nina Martin’s sister almost died in childbirth. “I remember the trauma of that experience really, really, really well,” recalled Martin. “The disorientation of it and then also, the silencing of it afterwards.”

Martin is ProPublica’s sexuality and gender reporter, and Martin and NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne recently co-authored the first of several stories on maternal care in America. The first part of the series aired on NPR last week, and the other was published on ProPublica as “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth.”

Over the next several months, Martin and Montagne will release more stories about maternal care in America which will focus on a host of issues surrounding maternal mortality, including racial disparity in care and women with near misses. Every mother has her own story of birth, and all too often these stories go unnoticed, or are buried under platitudes that focus on the health of the baby. Together, Martin and Montagne want to move the conversation back to the mother, and ask why America is the only developed nation where maternal death rates are rising.

Longreads spoke to both journalists about the process of reporting the story, their passion behind the project, and the impact they hope it will have.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

President Donald Trump pauses as he talks to media before signing an Executive Order on the Establishment of Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy at The AMES Companies, Inc., in Harrisburg, Pa., Saturday, April, 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This week we’re sharing stories by Evan Osnos, Ashley C. Ford, Michael Grabell, Chris Heath, and Becca Andrews.

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The Refugees Abused in the Name of Chicken and Profit

Photo by the US Department of Agriculture via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

ProPublica’s Michael Grabell published a thoroughly investigated and thoroughly alarming exposé of the dangerous, exploitative labor practices at Case Farms, a grower whose billion pounds of chicken a year supplies chains like KFC and Taco Bell. As if the dangerous working conditions and twisted uses of immigration law weren’t bad enough, they specifically target refugees to make up their abused labor force.

Beecher arrived at the church in time for Sunday Mass, and set himself up in its office. He had no trouble recruiting parishioners to return with him to the Case Farms plant in Morganton, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those first Guatemalans worked so hard, Beecher told the labor historian Leon Fink in his book, “The Maya of Morganton,” that supervisors kept asking for more, prompting a return trip. Soon vans were running regularly between Indiantown and Morganton, bringing in new recruits. “I didn’t want [Mexicans],” Beecher, who died in 2014, told Fink. “Mexicans will go back home at Christmastime. You’re going to lose them for six weeks. And in the poultry business you can’t afford that. You just can’t do it. But Guatemalans can’t go back home. They’re here as political refugees. If they go back home, they get shot.” Shelton approved hiring the immigrants, Beecher said, and when the plant was fully staffed and production had doubled “he was tickled to death.”

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