Editor's Note: InvestigateWest introduces new blogger Matt Rosenberg, aka the Public Data Ferret, who digs deep to shed light on public institutions. Here's his first blog.
Suppose the company you were considering as an insurance provider had been sanctioned for overcharging 2,134 auto policyholders by almost $600,000 total, by dropping their multi-vehicle discounts due to an error during a computer system upgrade?
Suppose they were disciplined for inflating premiums with unauthorized policy additions? Or had their license revoked for insolvency?
What if the insurer had been ordered to cease and desist from blatantly deceptive marketing of a so-called long term health care plan that turned out to be nothing more than a bare-bones accident policy? Imagine that the friendly local insurance agent you were going to entrust with your premiums had actually had their license revoked for pocketing payments from other customers instead of executing policies, or was convicted for felony grand theft, or embezzlement of his dead mother's Veterans Administration checks?
You'd probably want to know who's in the rogue's gallery and who's not. Which is that much easier in the state of Washington thanks to one more user-friendly government database, this one from the state insurance commissioner's office. At Public Data Ferret site is a tutorial on how to use the state's database for insurance consumers.
Students in Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia, Portland, Berkeley and in college towns across the nation Thursday raised voices and waved protest signs against rising tuition and fees that threaten access to higher education.
It was called a "National Day of Action." It was bigger on some campuses, where hundreds turned out, and smaller on others, like Bellingham, where only about 20 students turned out. Nationally, tens of thousands of students protested.
In photo at left, seniors Lauren Yee (left) and Tessa Marcovitch march with other protesters across the Western Washington University campus. In lower photo, junior John Morgan protests budget cuts to financial aid. Photos by Lillian Furlong for InvestigateWest.
In Bellingham, Western Washington University student Tessa Marcovitch is graduating in June, but said she joined the protest because she "wants the next generation to have a chance to get an education."
John Morgan, 20, joined the Bellingham protest to add his voice to those in opposition to budget cuts to financial aid. Students at all public colleges and universities in Washington face potentially stiff tuition increases next year, with looming and as yet unfilled budget deficits.
With a couple of Washington and Oregon state cheese recalls fresh in our memories this month, and a history of fatal E. coli poisoning that swept through a Washington state fast food chain in the 1990s, we should pay attention to a new report that food-borne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella cost this country $152 billion annually in health care and other losses.
The report, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, is much higher than the earllier figure of $35 billion reported by the Agriculture Department in 1997. The illnesses sicken some 76 million people annually.
Include in that list a college student from South Carolina, hospitalized for a week in May after developing an E. coli 0157 infection from eating a bite of packaged chocolate chip cookie dough. That strain of bacteria can cause severe illness, kidney failure and even death. The suspected source of contamination: flour, and the company, Nestle, recalled the refrigerated product after illnesses in 28 states, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Not all are so lucky as college student Margo Moskowtiz. The government estimates that 5,000 of those who become ill die.
New food-safety legislation would give the federal Food and Drug Adminstration new powers to enforce food safety laws and prevent food contamination. The House has passed a new food safety bill, and the measure awaits a full vote in the Senate.
If a school is failing, how do you fix it? Can you fix it without admitting anything is wrong with the teaching? How about the leadership? The district administration? The parents or the students? Whose fault is it anyway?
Schools on a list of the state’s lowest performing schools are in line to get some big federal dollars. President Obama this week announced he has $900 million in new federal grants available to school districts willing to take aggressive steps to fix their struggling institutions, or close them. That $900 million is on top of $4 billion in federal grants in the “Race to the Top” fund aimed at improving education nationwide. That program will make about $50 million available to Washington schools judged to be among the lowest 5 percent in student achievement.
Obama said the new federal aid would be available to the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.
But the fix has to include some big admissions of failure – the school districts must agree to take at least one of these steps: firing the principal and at least half the staff of a troubled school; reopening it as a charter school, which is not legal under Washington law; or closing the school and transferring students to higher performing schools in the district.
According to a story in the Seattle Times, the Tacoma Schools superintendent is proposing to close one middle school, replace the principals and at least half the staff at two others, and transform the fourth.
The recent death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau has focused attention once again on the issue of whales in captivity.
Many Washington residents don’t know the happy ending to the tragic story of whaling captures in Puget Sound that once netted dozens of whales for SeaWorld performances.
It was the intervention of former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro, then aide to Republican Gov. Dan Evans, that helped put a stop to the brutal captures that split apart whale families and pods and resulted in the collateral damage deaths of dozens of marine animals. Munro witnessed one of the captures in which aircraft and explosives were used, and subsequently filed a lawsuit that led to an agreement with SeaWorld to stay out of Puget Sound. That was in 1976, after the Budd Inlet whale capture that same year when six whales were taken captive.
Writing just a few months ago in the Olympian, columnist John Dodge, who was also on hand that day, described the experience:
The Munros were in their sailboat that day. They watched the violent whale capture and heard the whales inside and outside the nets, crying to one another in their little-understood language.
I was on the shoreline, a (Evergreen State College) student, working as a reporter for the Cooper Point Journal, and was struck deeply by those same eerie cries. Those sounds are etched in my memory and the Munros’ memories forever.
“When we went sailing and saw this accidentally, it changed our lives,” Munro said.