Author Archives: Matthew Kauffman

Fake Alumnus at “Life Experience” School Gets Yet Another New Job!

by Categorized: Education, Ethics Date:

Paul N. Johnson sure gets around.

After the Courant exposed that a degree-selling outfit calling itself Denton University was claiming Genentech CEO Ian Clark as a graduate, Denton Clark_Clark_Genentechrepeatedly reworked the online “alumni profile,” eventually swapping out Clark’s photo and claiming it was actually alumnus “Paul N. Johnson” who was the CEO of Genentech, a multi-billion-dollar drug company.

Wednesday, the profile was changed again, to delete any reference to Genentech. And now, Paul N. Johnson – who days ago was allegedly a biology graduate of Denton running a huge pharmaceutical company – has been re-imagined as a computer science graduate running an electronic medical record firm, among other things.

“Computer Engineer Alumnus Paul N. JohnSon has been Assigned as Cheif Executive Officer at Iros International, where He is managing also Lab Interface Projects,” the freshly rewritten profile now proclaims, complete with strange grammar, spelling errors and odd capitalizations. “Based in New york, he also heads EMR consultancy company name Allscripts which is also using genetic engineering research techniques in their labs and develop medicines with the help of Pharmaceutical Company.”

Iros International does not appear to be the name of any active U.S. company. Allscripts is a real company – although it’s based in Chicago, and its CEO and president is not named Paul Johnson.

The photo of Johnson in the fake alumni profile, meanwhile, remains that of a University of Minnesota student named Alfonso whose picture appeared in the student newspaper – before it mysteriously found its way to Denton’s website next to the name Paul N. Johnson.

The Courant’s original report a month ago found that some “life-experience” schools – loosely regulated businesses that offer advanced degrees with little or no academic work – routinely use inaccurate images and content on their websites. While Denton deleted references to Genentech and its CEO, other dubious portions of the website remain intact.

Denton still features “Ben Crawford” as a medical sciences degree graduate who raves about Denton’s classroom lectures – which do not exist. But the photograph of “Ben Crawford” is actually a stock image, and his testimonial about the school was lifted from a real alumni profile for a woman named Alison Wood, who appears on the website of the University of Birmingham, in England.

And a third alumni profile on Denton’s website, purportedly for a masters in education student named Amy Meehan, is actually a photograph of one graduate of Britain’s University of Southampton, with text taken from a profile for a different Southampton grad.

“I researched all of the opportunities for my specialism and Denton was not only local but also held a fantastic reputation. I spoke with colleagues and contacts within my field and they all agreed that Denton was by far the best option for me to pursue my academic studies,” the Denton website quotes “Amy Meehan” as saying – even though a representative acknowledged that Denton offers no academic studies.

That bears more than a passing resemblance to a quote by Lois Sellwood on Southampton’s website: “I researched all of the opportunities for my specialism and Southampton was not only local but also held a fantastic reputation. I spoke with colleagues and contacts within my field and they all agreed that Southampton was by far the best option for me to pursue my academic studies.”

The photo, meanwhile, is actually a picture of Southampton graduate Sophie Gaunt.

Gaunt, in particular, was easy to identify. On Denton’s website, the image Denton claims is Amy Meehan has the filename “Sophie-Gaunt-144×144.”

As they have in the past, Denton officials did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Dodger Stadium Sells Enough Hot Dogs to Round the Bases 3,551 Times

by Categorized: Data, Sports Date:

Baseball season gets underway this week, and the cheering in the stands may be matched only by the cheering at something called the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, which is gleefully looking forward to the consumption of 18.5 million franks and another 4.2 million sausages at ball parks between now and the World Series.

The Council, part of something called the American Meat Institute, estimates season-long hot dog and sausage sales will rise about 6.5 percent at the nation’s 30 major league ballparks. dodgerdog And leading the way by a mile are fans in Los Angeles, where concessionaires are expected to sell 2.5 million of the park’s legendary Dodger Dogs. The 10-inch frank, which typically gets higher marks for nostalgia than culinary prowess, has a starting price of $5.50, and climbs from there with several variations, including the Brooklyn Dodger Dog with a snappy casing, and the chili- and jalapeno-topped Doyer Dog.

Fans of the Dodgers eat a million more hot dogs than the second-place New York Yankees, and outsell the sixth-placed Fenway Franks by 3-to-1. At the bottom of the pack is Kauffman Stadium (no relation) in Kansas City, where a barbecue pit and a smoker draw fans to cuisine the city is decidedly more famous for.

While the hot dog remains the staple of stadium fare, sausage sales are surprisingly plump at some ball parks, particularly in the Midwest. At Miller Park in Milwaukee, sausages actually outsell hot dogs, an indication of the marketing success of the stadium’s campy Sausage Race competition.

Below is a chart of estimated dog sales at all 30 parks.

HotDogs

Connecticut Lottery: 43 Years, Nearly 25 Billion Dollars

by Categorized: Data, Finance, Government Date:

Forty-three years ago, as Connecticut officials were gearing up to sell the very first tickets for the state’s newly approved lottery, Gov. Thomas Meskill bullishly declared that residents’ appetite for legalized gambling would put $14 million into state coffers in that first year – a figure editorial writers at the Courant eyed dubiously as “optimistic.”

The paper needn’t have been skeptical. Meskill hit his figure, and in the years since the lottery’s launch on Feb. 15, 1972, ticket sales – and the state’s take of those sales – have skyrocketed.

In fiscal year 2014, lottery sales in Connecticut topped $1 billion for the fourth year in a row. That’s a hair under $400 a year for every Connecticut resident old enough to buy a ticket. Adjusted for both inflation and population, that is a five-fold increase over that first heady year. And with national surveys showing only about half the population plays the lottery, that suggests the average player is spending close to a $1,000 a year on tickets – with heavy players dropping several thousand.

LotteryByGameAs ticket sales have grown, so has the state’s share of the take, increasing from $14 million the first full year, to $319.5 million in 2014. For the last 20 years, inflation has accounted for much of that growth; since the mid-1990s, ticket sales and state revenue have been generally flat on an inflation-adjusted basis. But overall, the state has sold more than $24.7 billion since the lottery launched, keeping about a third of the money – more than $8 billion – as revenue. Continue reading

A Transparency Advocate’s Legislative Wish List

by Categorized: Education, First Amendment, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

I recently obtained an internal email in which a lawyer for a public agency laid out the agency’s strategy for responding to a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Step One was identifying the records the agency was willing to release.

Step Two was identifying the records the agency had no intention of releasing.

And then Step Three, almost as an afterthought, was determining whether there was actually an exception under the Freedom of Information Act that would provide a legal basis for keeping the withheld documents secret from the public.

“As we discussed we can always withhold a document even if there is no exception,” the lawyer wrote, with the understanding that the agency might have to concoct a justification for the illegal act if the requester was savvy enough to pursue an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission.

It wasn’t the first such email I had been made privy to, and it reminded me of the need for vigilance in Freedom of Information matters and the importance of constantly reminding the public servants who work for us that they do, in fact, work for us. They’re paid by us, they’re sworn to serve us. And with rare exceptions, all of the paperwork and data they produce and collect while on our payroll belongs to us, and should be provided to us without a fight.

So as the Legislature gets down to business this week, here’s one transparency advocate’s wish list, for any lawmakers willing to champion the not-so-radical concept that the people’s business really is the people’s business. Continue reading

Once again, Spending the Public’s Money to Keep the Public in the Dark

by Categorized: Employment, Government, Transparency/FOI Date:

The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system, with its 90,000 students and $300 million in state aid, is among the most expensive and most important government operations. So when Michael Gargano Jr. abruptly resigned his $224,554 job as provost last month, the taxpayers of Connecticut might have felt entitled to a robust exit interview, to learn why he was dissatisfied with the governance of the system and in particular how his thinking differed from that of his boss, Board of Regents President Gregory Gray.

But that’s not likely to happen.

As my colleague Kathy Megan has reported, a separation agreement Gargano and Gray signed contractually bars Gargano from uttering a sentence that disparages Gray – or anyone else connected to the state’s higher education network. Specifically, Gargano’s deal prohibits him from making any derogatory statement about the Board of Regents, about his employment with the Board of Regents or about any current or previous member, employee or officer of the Board of Regents.

On the other side of the ledger, the agreement continues Gargano’s paycheck for nearly 16 weeks, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $65,000. That payment – roughly equal to a year’s salary for a typical state employee – is not required by Gargano’s employment contract.

As is typical of negotiated employment separations, the agreement also bars Gargano from suing his former employer. There’s no indication he had any basis for a suit, although if he was in fact treated in a way that violated the law, perhaps that, too, is something the taxpayers had a right to know.

So in the end, an employee of the public has signed off on giving tens of thousands of dollars of the public’s money to another public employee as part of a deal that will keep the public in the dark about the public’s business.

Does anyone have a problem with this?

Download (PDF, 1.1MB)

How We Knew Tom Foley Was in Trouble on Election Night

by Categorized: Data, Politics Date:

For hours after the polls closed Tuesday night, as vote tallies cropped up from town to town, Tom Foley enjoyed a steady if tantalizingly thin HC 10 MALLOY ELECTIONmargin in his quest to unseat Gov. Dan Malloy.

But here at The Scoop, we could tell early on that Foley was in serious trouble, even as he seemed to be thousands of votes ahead.

Our early warning came from a simple system that not only compiled the local results as they were announced, but also analyzed how each candidate was faring compared to their initial match four years ago. That deeper look at the numbers showed that almost from the beginning, there was evidence Foley was facing an uphill battle to avoid a replay of his 2010 defeat.

Connecticut elections typically display a sharp divide between the most-populous cities, which vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and smaller suburban and rural towns, many of which lean moderately or heavily Republican. But it’s those smaller towns, many with a single voting precinct, that report early, giving Republican candidates a phantom edge that can be wiped out when the totals come in from the cities.

In the newsroom, we could see that while Foley once again did well in traditionally Republican towns, he was losing ground in many of those communities compared to four years ago. Later, it was evident that he had failed to substantially chip away at Malloy’s huge margins of victory in the large cities. For more details on how Malloy’s victory came together, see my colleague Dan Haar’s excellent analysis.

Tuesday’s vote offered a fresh reminder of the dangers of reading too much into early returns. So on election nights to come, it’s worth remembering that even with hyper-competitive news coverage of a hyper-competitive political process, patience is still a virtue.

The map below shows how Malloy and Foley fared Tuesday, compared to their vote spreads in 2010. Towns shaded blue are those in which Malloy performed better than four years ago, either by extending his margin of victory or shrinking Foley’s. Similarly, red-shaded towns are those in which Foley either won by more votes or lost by fewer. Deeper colors indicate are more dramatic improvement over 2010. Click on a town for details.

Town-by-Town Vote Margins for Connecticut Governor

by Categorized: Data, Politics Date:

As town results trickle in from local registrars tonight, we’ll begin to have a sense of how Tom Foley and Dan Malloy are faring in the battle for the governor’s office. But since different towns complete their counts in different time frames – and particularly because larger cities tend to lag significantly behind small, one-precinct towns – early figures may give a lopsided view of how the race is really going.

With this campaign a rematch of 2010, a better measure might be to compare each candidate’s town-by-town margin of victory against his margin four years ago. That’s what this chart accomplishes. As each town reports vote totals for Foley and Malloy, the chart will show which candidate saw gains compared to 2010, either by extending his lead or narrowing his opponent’s lead.

So if suburban towns report early in the evening and indicate, as expected, a preference for Foley, this chart will show not merely that Foley is doing well in the suburbs, but whether he’s doing better or worse than he did four years ago. Likewise, while Malloy is expected to win big margins in the cities, this chart will show whether he has lost or gained ground compared to 2010.

Note that the chart will have no data for the 2014 race until the first towns report, sometime after 8 p.m. Note also that refreshing the page will load the latest data.

Claim Check: Greenberg Ad Muddies Esty’s Stand on Social Security

by Categorized: Claim Check, Politics Date:

claimcheck

Where’d the puppies go?

Weeks after airing what might be the feel-good ad of the 2014 campaign season, featuring hordes of tail-wagging dogs, Mark Greenberg has returned to the aGreenberg_Esty_SocialSecurityirwaves with a considerably harsher message aimed at 5th District Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty.

In “Disturbing Patterns,” Greenberg, the Republican challenger, draws historical parallels to portray Esty as a politician who supports higher taxes and lobs false attack ads. In firing that salvo, Greenberg stays mostly — but not entirely — within bounds.

Continue reading

Veteran Boston Investigative Reporter Detained in Russia

by Categorized: First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Media, Non-profits Date:

Joe Bergantino, executive director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and a long-time Boston television reporter, was detained in Russia Thursday while conducting a training session for fellowBergantino journalists, according to a release from the New England First Amendment Center.

Bergantino and Randy Covington of the University of South Carolina were leading a workshop with Russian journalists when authorities interrupted the session and took the two men away, the release states, citing Beth Daley, a reporter for NECIR who has spoken with Bergantino.

Daley said the men were accused of “teaching an educational workshop illegally because they were using the wrong visas,” according to the release. The men were then taken to a Russian court and ordered to halt the workshop and leave the country.

Bergantino, a former reporter for WBZ-TV and ABC News, co-founded the non-profit New England Center for Investigative Reporting in 2009.

Claim Check: Elizabeth Esty Misleads on Social Security

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

claimcheckThese days, video cameras follow candidates everywhere, from intimate meet-and-greets to massive pEsty_SocialSecurity_Greenbergolitical rallies, and when rivals dig into that footage, they face a choice. They can look for some unflattering off-the-cuff gaffe to embarrass their opponent, or they can cherry-pick and string together piecemeal quotes to make their challenger appear to be saying something he or she is not.

Elizabeth Esty’s campaign went with the latter option in a new ad taking aim at Fifth-District Congressional challenger Mark Greenberg’s stance on Social Security. Continue reading