It surely wasn’t their intention – and it’s clear they really don’t care what those on the fringe think – but a new bill developed by top state officials that would shield parts of the Sandy Hook investigation is proving to be a big hit with conspiracy theorists.
“The conspiracy nuts are going to love this,” a colleague had predicted the night details of the bill surfaced.
He was right. The legislation – drafted in secret and promoting secrecy – has unintentionally tickled the minds of those who feel buoyed by believing they’re in the know about some spectacularly massive government cover-up.
“In my estimation,” wrote a commenter on The New American website, “what they are trying to hide is that what happened at Sandy Hook (as well as at the shooting at the Batman movie not long before that) was a False Flag perpetuated by this administration for the purpose of furthering their on-going attacks upon our Constitutional freedoms and nothing less!!”
On the Courant’s site, a poster from Toronto asked: “Since when in the history of the world do they not publish a DEATH CERTIFICATE? I’ll tell you when… When the death certificate DOES NOT EXIST!”
And on infowars.com, the granddaddy of conspiracy sites, hundreds of comments have been posted in response to the legislation, with many posters knowingly shaking their heads at the obviousness of it all.
“Nice how criminals get to cover up their own crimes and tracks,” one wrote. “Fortunately internet investigators have enough proof of what may have happened that day. One thing is certain: everything around Sandy Hook is a lie, a cover-up or a deception.”
Proponents of the legislation say they merely want to spare the relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook the trauma that could come from having crime-scene photographs or other grisly details widely released. While typical media outlets refrain from publishing particularly disturbing images, proponents fear that the extraordinarily high profile of the Dec. 14 rampage would attract interest from others who would be willing to splash the images on the Internet.
As drafted, however, the bill goes beyond shielding images, and includes 911 recordings, police transmissions that describe the victims, and the death certificates issued for the 20 students and six educators killed at the school. The bill does not protect images or other records related to shooter Adam Lanza, who fatally shot himself in the school, or his mother, whom he also killed.
Transparency advocates have roundly criticized the proposal, particularly its extension to 911 recordings, which are often used to gauge law-enforcement response. The bill includes a provision for transcripts of such calls, though it is not clear if those transcripts could accurately reflect the tone and timing of the communications. Others question the fairness of legislation aimed at protecting the Sandy Hook families, but not the grieving relatives of other homicide victims.
Lawmakers are debating those points, and the bill might be amended if and when it comes up for a vote. In the meantime, those on the edge are relishing the fresh fodder.
“We already know they lied about assault rifles being used. That’s a proven fact,” one Huffington Post commenter confidently declared. “What are they covering up now?”
The collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state Thursday night brings frightening memories of the deadly bridge failure near Minneapolis in 2007 and the collapse of the Mianus River bridge in Greenwich 30 years ago next month. And while the investigation in Washington is just beginning, the collapse also revives lingering questions about the quality and safety of the nation’s 600,000 bridges – including more than 4,200 in Connecticut.
Data from the Federal Highway Administration show that 9.6 percent of Connecticut’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient,” meaning one or more major components is deemed to be in poor condition, defined as “advanced section loss, deterioration, spalling or scour.” (Spalling refers to chipping or flaking of concrete and bridge scour is the phenomenon in which water currents wash away sediment, rocks or other material that surrounds the base of the bridge.) Highway officials caution that the designation of a bridge as structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe.
The deficient bridges are typically shorter spans along minor roadways, but there are also dozens of Interstate bridges and ramps that are in poor condition.
The percentage of Connecticut bridges in poor condition is lower than the national average of 11.0 percent. But the state’s number has been rising, slowly but steadily, since 2006. The recent climb reversed significant progress to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges. More than 15 percent of state bridges were in poor condition in 1992, but that number dropped to 8.2 percent by 2003.
In addition to bridges deemed structurally deficient, nearly one in four Connecticut bridges is deemed “functionally obsolete,” meaning it no longer meets contemporary criteria for such factors as load capacity or shoulder width. That figure – significantly higher than the 16 percent of such bridges nationally – is partly a result of the state’s aging bridge infrastructure. In Connecticut, the average age of a bridge – or the time span since it was reconstructed – is about 44 years.
For many, the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School five months ago was a crime like no other in the state’s history.
So is that a reason to treat its investigation with a level of secrecy like no other?
Connecticut’s top prosecutor thinks so, as do some gubernatorial and legislative leaders, as well as some of the relatives who lost loved ones in the school. As my colleagues Jon Lender and Ed Mahony report, officials have been working behind the scenes for weeks on legislation that would establish special rules for Sandy Hook, blocking release of certain details from the investigation that would be released for other crimes.
The officials are asking the legislature for permission to withhold images of the victims, recordings of 911 calls and any other audio transmission that describes the physical condition of the victims, and the name of any minor witness.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane told the Courant that major news outlets typically don’t publish or broadcast crime-scene photographs or other gruesome images, but he said the Newtown killings “rose to a whole different level,” attracting wide interest from bloggers and the public. Proponents also say releasing the 911 tapes would unfairly show the anguish of those who called.
Another provision would give Newtown officials permission to refuse media requests for copies of death certificates for those who died at Sandy Hook. Remarkably, the bill would grant that permission retroactively, meaning the legislature could take a vote in May 2013 that would establish what the laws of the state were in January 2013. That sort of ex post facto lawmaking is typically frowned on.
As the community tries to cope with its incomprehensible loss, access to those death certificates has become a curious line in the sand, and perhaps a cathartic battle for town officials rightly steeped in grief. State Rep. Mitch Bolinsky called reporters “jackals” for requesting the records. Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia defied decades of law by simply refusing to turn them over. And a recent poster on this site declared “I don’t want to or need to read a 6 year old’s death certificate explaining how his head was blown off.”
But that is almost certainly not what any of the death certificates contain. As those who have worked with death certificates know, the records typically include extremely brief and clinical descriptions of the cause of death. “Atherosclerotic heart disease” is common. Or “malignant neoplasm of the lung.” Or, tragically, “multiple gunshot wounds to the head.”
Withholding that detail may not bring much solace to those most affected by last December’s rampage. But as officials strive to navigate the sensitivities of Newtown, that may not much matter.
Officials say the bill could be voted on at any time. The full text of the legislation is below.
Imagine there were a bill under consideration in the legislature that, if approved, would legalize marijuana use in Connecticut. Would the existence of that debate mean we’re all free to spend the next few days firing up joints, without waiting to see if the bill actually becomes law?
Or let’s say lawmakers were thinking of raising the speed limit to 65 mph on the entire length of I-84. Would the introduction of such a bill be legal justification to immediately start blowing through Hartford at that top speed?
These would not qualify as difficult civics questions, and yet, under the curious logic of state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, the answer to both questions would seem to be “yes.”
Bolinsky, a Newtown Republican, has introduced legislation that in most cases would set a six-month waiting period before a town clerk could release the death certificate of a child under 18. The bill was drafted after news reporters requested copies of death certificates for those killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School – and after Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia, in a bow to the sensitivity of the tragedy, refused to release them.
Bolinsky famously called reporters seeking the records “jackals.” But perhaps more intriguing is the logical path he is following in defending Aurelia. Bolinsky told the Danbury News-Times‘ Dirk Perrefort that he does not believe Aurelia’s actions violate state law because there is pending legislation that would change the rules, and she hasn’t yet broken that potential, future law.
“She is still within that six-month window that is being proposed,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I would argue that she is well within her rights and I support what she’s doing.”
There is no serious dispute that death certificates in Connecticut are public records and town clerks are bound by their oaths of office to release them. So this is more the municipal equivalent of civil disobedience, where a town official has concluded that the interests served by disobeying the law are greater than the interest served by adhering to the statute.
Those are individual decisions, and it will be up to the Freedom of Information Commission to decide what consequences, if any, there will be for a town clerk who makes a principled decision to break the law.
But a legislator who endorses the practice on the chance that the action will stop being illegal some time down the road may not like what he finds following that concept to its logical conclusion.
In January, Bolinsky introduced another bill that, if approved, would repeal the state’s $250 business entity tax. Would Rep. Bolinsky be sympathetic to a company that stops paying the tax immediately, under the argument that, hey, there’s pending legislation?
I’ve left a telephone message for Bolinsky. When I hear back, I’ll ask him.
The Powerball jackpot has topped half a billion dollars. So at what point does it actually become a statistically smart play? Sorry, not this weekend. Not even close.
By the numbers, it may seem a reasonable investment: $2 to play. 1-in-175 million odds of winning. A $550 million prize. But the payout isn’t really $550 million – and there’s no guarantee the winner won’t be splitting the bounty.
The $550 million figure represents an estimate of the total 30-year payout for winners who choose an annuity option – an option that adds roughly $200 million in interest. (Powerball doesn’t actually know how much the figure will be until it seeks bids for the annuity after a win.) So the actual cash prize this weekend is currently estimated at $350.1 million.
That could still make it a break-even investment – if only Uncle Sam didn’t want his share. Even if you lived in a state with no income tax, the feds will grab about 39.6 percent of the dough. Now you’re down to a measly$211 million.
So best-case scenario: A $2 ticket that pays, on average, $1.21 back for the jackpot. And even then, only if there’s one winner.
So how high would the prize have to climb for Powerball to actually be a statistically supportable play? A jackpot topping $911 million – with all the other players not matching your luck.
Is the Darien-based National Veterans Services Fund one of the worst charities in America? A new rating by the the well-respected group Charity Navigator suggests that by some measures, it could be a contender for that dubious distinction.
We’ve written about the National Veterans Services Fund before. The non-profit, run for more than a decade by Phillip Kraft, has generated about $70 million in donations in the last decade, but only a small fraction of the money was actually spent on charitable services. In the year ending June 30, 2012, well-meaning donors gave nearly $9 million to the fund. But as much as 84 cents of every dollar donated went back to the professional fundraiser.
Charity Navigator gives the National Veterans Services Fund zero stars – as it has for each of the last nine years. That record put the Fund in the No. 1 spot of a new list of “10 Consistently Low Rated Charities” published by the rating group.
“These ten charities have earned the most consecutive 0-star, ‘extremely poor’ ratings meaning they consistently perform far below industry standards and below nearly all similar charities.,” Charity Navigator reports. Not surprisingly, charities that claim to help children and law enforcement are heavily represented on the list, as those heart-string causes are commonly used in fundraising campaigns that deliver only a pittance to the non-profit group.
There are non-profits on the list that provide little to no true charitable services. But that is not the case with the National Veterans Services Fund. Kraft, who collects a six-figure salary, says he and three other workers – one full-time and two part-time – have helped thousands of warriors pay their bills and navigate the Veterans Administration. He wishes fundraising costs didn’t deplete 80 percent or more of the millions donated, but says he and his crew lack the resources and expertise to raise money on their own.
“To blame a charity for the price charged by our fundraisers is like blaming a driver for the price of gas,” he said.
Kraft said his small operation has picked up the tab for everything from wheelchairs to utility bills to dentures, and has paid for temporary housing for down-on-their luck vets. But under the charity’s lopsided fundraising, every dollar it spends requires more than $5 in donations. So a wheelchair with a $175 pricetag costs donors to the charity nearly $1,000. And covering Kraft’s $118,800 salary requires more than $600,000 in donations.
Still, Kraft is unapologetic, saying those pricey fundraising contracts are the only way for him to stay in business.
Click the chart above for our full Charity Check report on the National Veterans Services Fund. And see below for the group’s most recent tax return.
Just as moviegoers are flocking to the reboot of The Great Gatsby, the Powerball jackpot has climbed to stratospheric heights that would impress even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s anti-hero. So what are the odds you’ll be in a position to take over the Gatsby estate and revive the weekend bacchanals? Really, really, really small.
The chart below shows the probability of a single $2 ticket winning the various prizes – including the estimated $360 million grand prize – along with the number of consecutive coin tosses you’d have to correctly call to roughly match those odds.
U.S. consumers horrified by the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh might want to check the manufacturer’s label on the clothing they’re wearing; data show the compact nation is now the fourth-largest source of apparel imported into the U.S., delivering $4.5 billion a year in goods.
That’s more than double the amount imported from Bangladesh a decade ago, and in that same time frame, Bangladesh’s share of the U.S. apparel market has nearly doubled as well. In 2003, Bangladesh ranked 10th among nations supplying the United States, with 3 percent of all apparel imports, Department of Commerce numbers show. But as manufacturers have sought ever-lower labor costs, that figure has jumped to 5.8 percent.
The shift in manufacturing to Bangladesh comes as wages are rising slowly in other apparel-producing countries, including China. Pay in Bangladesh increased three years ago as well, but the minimum wage for garment workers in the country is still about $38 a month.
Efforts to increase that amount have met resistance from factory owners and government officials, who fear even a small uptick in wages will lead Western brands to look elsewhere for suppliers.
For what is likely the first time ever, blacks who were eligible to vote went to the polls at slightly higher rates than whites during the 2012 election in which Barack Obama won a second term, newly released Census data show.
Survey results released Wednesday show that nationally, an estimated 66.2 percent of eligible blacks cast ballots last November, compared to 64.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Those rates closed what had been a significant gap in voting by race in the years before Obama was on the ballot. In presidential elections from 1996 to 2004, whites went to the polls at rates 5 to 7 percentage points higher than blacks.
Although blacks voted at higher rates than whites nationally, the numbers varied considerably across the country, the Census Bureau reported. Generally, voter turnout by blacks exceeded whites in the East North Central, East South Central, Middle Atlantic and South Atlantic regions of the country. White turnout generally exceeded that of blacks in the Mountain and Pacific regions.
Asians and Hispanics continued to lag far behind whites and blacks in voter turnout, the Census numbers show, with neither group topping 50 percent nationally.
But while the percentage of eligible Asians and Hispanics who voted dipped in 2012, their raw numbers increased due to demographic shifts in the voting-age population. About 1.8 million more voters went to the polls in 2012 compared to 2008, an increase driven entirely by non-white voters. Overall, 2 million fewer whites cast ballots at the same time there were an additional 1.7 million black voters, 1.4 million Hispanic voters and 550,000 Asian voters.
Non-Hispanic whites still accounted for the great majority of ballots cast last November, but their share is dropping. In 2012, whites made up 73.7 percent of all voters. Twelve years earlier, that figure was 82.5 percent.
The Census numbers also show a continuation of familiar patterns, with higher voting rates among women, those with more education, and those with higher incomes. Voter turnout also generally increases with age.
In Connecticut, total turnout by those eligible to vote slightly exceeded the national average – 62.7 percent for the state compared to 61.8 percent for the country. But blacks in Connecticut did not head to the polls at greater rates than whites. In Connecticut, non-Hispanic white voter turnout, at 65.8 percent, exceeded the national average while black turnout, at 62.2 percent, lagged the nationwide figure.
Census numbers for the state also show that men voted at rates similar to the national average, while women topped the national average by more than a percentage point. Overall in Connecticut. 59.9 percent of eligible men voted, compared to 65.3 percent of women.
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