Saturday, May 20, 2006

Following the Money

In the wake of the Randy Cunningham and Jack Abramoff scandals, the New York Times and Washington Post continued to dig deep last week into congressional sleaze. Eric Lipton of the Times shows how the Department of Homeland Security has failed to create a tamperproof ID card for transportation workers while Rep. Harold Rogers has forced money earmarked for the card to firms in his Kentucky district. Lipton's "In Kentucky Hills, a Homeland Security Bonanza" reveals that one of these groups has taken Rogers on six trips to Hawaii, and another one employs his son.
In "West Virginia Democrat is Scrutinized," the Post's Jeffrey H. Birnbaum describes how Rep. Alan B. Mollohan grew rich as he helped funnel millions of dollars to nonprofit groups he had close dealings with in his impoverished West Virginia district. Thanks to Lipton and Birnbaum for investigating how our tax dollars are really spent.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

When You're 64

The path to the golden years of retirement looks bumpy, according to a PBS Frontline special that aired last night. "Can You Afford to Retire?" by Hedrick Smith explores how middle-class Americans face increasing threats to their pensions from corporate bankruptcies. Using United Airlines' bankruptcy as an example, Smith shows how workers who once thought they had secured their financial futures are now finding their pensions stripped away through the intricacies of bankruptcy law. In addition to the documentary, the Frontline package includes useful answers to frequently asked questions and profiles of retirees who saw their nest eggs disappear.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Love Story

Lionel Kelly is black and Beatriz Chacon is Latina. But like the plot of a real-world "West Side Story," the two 14-year-olds fall in love in an atmosphere of violence, decaying education and racial tension. In "Young Love, Old Divisions," Erika Hayasaki of the Los Angeles Times shares the story of their courtship and reminds us just how precious high school students are. The descriptions in Hayasaki's writing are beautiful: "As any 14-year-old boy would, he first noticed how cute she was. Her smooth skin, pink as seashells. Black hair dyed the color of applesauce, curls sprayed stiff, twisted into a long ponytail." What a vivid image.,0,6259192.story?page=1&track=tottext

Watching the Watchdog

The New York Times and Chicago Tribune had stories today that raised questions about the USA Today article I highlighted last week that said the National Security Agency had collected Americans' phone records. At this point, it's hard to tell whether USA Today was barking up the wrong tree or truly following the scent of an important story. I'm looking forward to seeing more reporting that digs to the bottom of this.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

His Brother's Rapper

Abigail Tucker of the Baltimore Sun shared a moving story last Sunday about the choices made by two impoverished Baltimore brothers, Paul and Matt Talley. Together, Tucker wrote, they "dreamed about riding in a limousine to somewhere that wasn't a funeral." But while Matt turned to music to deal with the hurt of his parents' deaths, Paul turned to street gangs and was killed by the time he was 18. Tucker's "Rapping about a Lifetime of Pain," which is a lot more compelling than its headline makes it sound, describes how Matt crafted a rap about Paul's death that soon turned into a hit song in Baltimore. Kudos to Tucker for finding this story and writing it so well.,0,4363274.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

Monday, May 15, 2006

Troop Troubles

I'm seeing some good enterprise reporting lately that looks at problems facing U.S. troops. In today's Chicago Sun-Times, "Troops Do Double Duty in Gangs" by Frank Main explores how street gangs have infiltrated the military, robbing people, dealing drugs and spreading graffiti around Iraq and U.S. bases.
In Sunday's Hartford Courant, Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman explain why suicide rates among U.S. troops in Iraq is rising. They describe how fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out, and how some are kept on the front lines while on strong anti-depressants. Chedekel's and Kauffman's "Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight" also details how some soldiers are sent back to Iraq despite suffering from post-traumatic stress.
And "An Army of One Wrong Recruit" by Michelle Roberts of The Oregonian tells how Army recruiters in Portland enlisted an 18-year-old autistic man despite his family's objections. Because of Roberts' reporting, the Army is investigating whether recruiters improperly concealed Jared's autism, which should have made him ineligible for service.
Thanks to Andrew Larson and Brian Summers for the tips.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Java Journey

Chris Kenning of the The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote the perfect story Sunday to read while sipping a cup of Joe. For "The Coffee Connection," Kenning traveled to the Guatemalan mountains to trace the journey of fair trade coffee from tiny beans grown on the trees of Mayan farmers such as Pascual Perechu to your neighborhood coffee shop. I like how Kenning explains the economics of the coffee industry through the stories of farmers and traders. The story comes with a nice Flash gallery of photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee that show the trip from coffee tree to coffee cup.
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