Some of the best #MuckReads we read this week. Want to receive these by email?  Sign up to get this briefing delivered to your inbox every weekend.

Indefensible: The story of New Orleans' public defenders (BuzzFeed News)

"'You've got a $135 million police force, an $80 million jail, a $6 million court system, and a $15 million DA's office,' Orleans Parish's chief public defender said. 'All those are designed to put people in jail. That is what is designed to catch you and incapacitate you. There is $6 million to make sure your rights aren't violated, justice is done, and you get the right person. That is an incredible disparity.'"

How killing elephants finances terror in Africa (National Geographic)

"But in central Africa, as I learned firsthand, something more sinister is driving the killing: Militias and terrorist groups funded in part by ivory are poaching elephants, often outside their home countries, and even hiding inside national parks. They're looting communities, enslaving people, and killing park rangers who get in their way."

Mothers of ISIS: Their children abandoned them to join the worst terror organization on earth (The Huffington Post)

"Since the Syrian civil war began four years ago, some 20,000 foreign nationals have made their way to Syria and Iraq to fight for various radical Islamist factions. Over 3,000 are from Western countries. While some go with their families' blessing, most leave in secret, taking all sense of normalcy with them. ... Over the last year, dozens of these mothers from around the world have found each other, weaving a strange alliance from their loss."

The bail trap (The New York Times Magazine)

"In New York City, where courts use bail far less than in many jurisdictions, roughly 45,000 people are jailed each year simply because they can't pay their court-assigned bail. And while the city's courts set bail much lower than the national average, only one in 10 defendants is able to pay it at arraignment. To put a finer point on it: Even when bail is set comparatively low — at $500 or less, as it is in one-third of nonfelony cases — only 15 percent of defendants are able to come up with the money to avoid jail."

The Teflon toxin: DuPont and the chemistry of deception (The Intercept)

"As with tobacco, public health organizations have taken up the cause — and numerous reporters have dived into the mammoth story. Like the tobacco litigation, the lawsuits around C8 also involve huge amounts of money. And, like tobacco, C8 is a symbol of how difficult it is to hold companies responsible, even when mounting scientific evidence links their products to cancer and other diseases."

Anatomy of a calamity: How the VA's Aurora hospital project spiraled out of control (The Denver Post)

"...there is no agreement on fully funding the new medical campus, which the VA admitted in March could cost a stunning $1.73 billion. The design includes features such as a curved lobby spanning two city blocks, 43 elevators and a vivarium for animal experiments. The cost is five times an initial $328 million estimate and nearly three times the $604 million construction target."