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Inequality, Products Over People, And A Warlord In The Best Of MuckReads From 2014

Here are some of the best #MuckReads we read this year. Want to receive these by email? <a href="">Sign up</a> to get this briefing delivered to your inbox every weekend.

Editor's note: This is our year-end super MuckReads list. Since you have plenty to read through the holidays, our next weekly list of MuckReads will appear on Jan. 9. Thank you for reading.

Law enforcement steps out of line

Beatings. Shootings. Broken bones. Since 2011, the city of Baltimore has paid $5.7 million to settle claims of false arrests, false imprisonment or excessive force by its police officers. In almost all of the largest payouts, local citizens were cleared of any criminal charges. — Baltimore Sun via @petesweigard

"The agency has created a culture that says, 'If you throw a rock at me, you're going to get shot.'" Politico examines the U.S. Border Patrol, which it says has become  " one of the nation's deadliest law enforcement agencies."  The Border Patrol has ballooned since 9/11 to 60,000 employees and it has a budget bigger than the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals and the NYPD combined. That growth has come with a cost: assaults, misconduct cases, corruption and excessive force complaints. — Politico via @YoungRJeremy

The DEA impersonated a woman on Facebook without her knowledge, and the Justice Department is OK with that. A federal agent created the fake profile, posted private photos seized from a suspect's cell phone and posed as her to friends online. A U.S. attorney defended the agent's actions as serving "a legitimate law enforcement purpose," but one legal scholar said the incident "reeks of misrepresentation, fraud, and invasion of privacy." — BuzzFeed via @AzmatZahra

Domestic violence & sexual assault

"You never really think, 'Is rape covered by insurance?'" Eight days after a New Orleans woman was raped, she was billed $2,000 for her medical treatment (her insurance covered  $1,400). A few days later, $1,700 in additional charges landed in the mail. Why was she being charged for treatment of a sexual crime? In Louisiana, rape victims are routinely billed for their medical care, despite state and federal guidelines stipulating that such treatment should be free. — The Times-Picayune via @laura_nelson

It all began in Lafayette. When a pedophiliac priest rocked a Louisiana diocese years ago, a bishop came in to "heal" the community. The bishop later led the U.S. church's response to the national scandal. "His background gave the Catholic Church tremendous credibility at a moment of crisis. There was just one problem. The story wasn't true." — Minnesota Public Radio via @callmeKi

A broken justice system

Brutal abuse at America's second largest prison - An investigation of violence at New York's Rikers Island uncovered at least 129 cases of inmates who suffered injuries at the hands of prison guards so serious that they couldn't be treated at jail clinics. The cases are detailed in a secret study, obtained by the New York Times, which also found that 77 percent of the inmates injured were considered mentally ill.  — New York Times via @cm_thompson3

One day late: how bad lawyering is costing death row inmates their rights to have their cases heard in federal court.  Under federal law, death row inmates have a specific deadline for asking a judge for a habeas corpus review of their case. Missing this deadline usually costs inmates their chance for a last-resort hearing.  The Marshall Project analyzed 80 capital punishment cases where lawyers missed the deadline, some by days, one by more than 11 years. — The Marshall Project via @adamplayford

Separate and unequal

Easy to measure. Hard to explain. That's what USA Today says about its latest report on the "staggering disparity" in America's arrest rates by race. For example, 70 departments from Connecticut to California arrest African Americans at a rate 10 times higher than other racial groups; only 173 of the 3,538 departments reviewed arrested black people at the same rate or less than other racial groups. — USA Today via @johnhillkirk

The other tragedy in Ferguson: school segregation. Michael Brown's school district is among the poorest in Missouri. About half of the black male students never graduate. Just one in four graduates enter a four-year college. Clayton Public Schools, five miles away, is practically the opposite — white, high scoring, little poverty in sight. The educational experience for students like Brown reveals a subtle, ongoing racial crisis: a vast disparity in resources and expectations for black children in America. — ProPublica via @nhannahjones

When product is more important than people

"If the client speaks English, the going rate is higher" Fusion TV's multi-part investigation traces a prostitution ring from Tenancingo, Mexico, where women are "kidnapped, trapped and seduced," to Queens, New York where a pimp "can make half a million dollars a year with three women working for him, each seeing an average of 20 clients a day, each for 15 minutes."  — Fusion via @alicitabrennan

"They want us to take such great care of the tomatoes, but they don't take care of us." America's large corporations have policies requiring Mexican suppliers to treat their workers decently and provide them with quality living conditions. But a Los Angeles Times investigation of these mega-farms found rat-infested work camps, wages illegally withheld and child laborers. — Los Angeles Times via @lauraelizdavis

Unhealthy health care

Drug-addicted doctors can run clinical trials. The drug industry hires many kinds of doctors to oversee trials — even those who are under investigation for drug abuse. Reviewing doctors' disciplinary history before appointing them to manage clinical trials isn't explicitly required by FDA regulations. And in today's medical industry, "speed and efficiency … appear to trump concerns about the doctors who run trials."— MATTER via @elbertchu

Is ideology hampering health coverage in Mississippi? In Mississippi, one in four adults go without health insurance. For African Americans, it's one in three. Yet in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, only 20 percent of the 300,000 who could have gained coverage did. Politico's Sarah Varney found a "series of cascading problems," including errors and misinformation, disorganization, racial divisions and an "unyielding ideological imperative of conservative politics." — Politico via @HanqingC

Industries behaving badly

"They put poison on his skin and in the air he breathed." Benzene is the 17th most-produced chemical in the U.S. It's an ingredient in making  plastics, adhesives, lubricants and pesticides. And chronic exposure is linked to leukemia and other cancers. An investigation by The Center for Public Integrity found that a $36 million study funded by America's oil and chemical titans was "designed to protect member company interests." — Center for Public Integrity via @Smaczni

"That wasn't a piece of meat with eyes, that was a human being." It was 24-year-old Dennis Munson Jr.'s first kickboxing fight. And within five hours of the start of the match, he was dead. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found that kickboxing – unlike mixed martial arts – isn't regulated by the state. A "cascade of errors" identified by the Sentinel and fight experts during the course of Munson's fight, as well as dangerous weight cutting in lead up – all areas that are regulated in some other states – may have cost him his life. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via @john_diedrich

Then the trains started exploding. North Dakota doesn't have enough pipelines to move the amount of crude coming out of the state these days. So they go by train. In 2005, railcar shipments of oil tallied 9,500 nationwide. By 2013, that number jumped to 400,000 — most of it from North Dakota — and trains had started derailing and exploding, causing environmental disasters and, in some cases, leveling portions of towns. — Inside Climate News via @NaveenaSivam

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern said Sandy response was "near flawless." Not true. An investigation by ProPublica and NPR found that the charity botched key elements of its disaster relief efforts after hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, at times putting public relations above delivering aid. Internal Red Cross documents and dozens of interviews show that the charity diverted vehicles for press conferences and dispatched empty trucks just to "be seen." — ProPublica

And in the Warlord category…

Firestone wanted Liberia for its rubber. Taylor wanted Firestone to help his rise to power. So begins a ProPublica/Frontline investigation into the untold history of an iconic American tire company's dealings with Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. Confronted with Liberia's civil war, Firestone agreed to pay Taylor's rebel government millions. In return, the company secured Taylor's protection of its rubber plantation, the largest in the world. — ProPublica via @txtianmiller


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