Easing gun laws

by Suevon Lee, ProPublica

Friday’s deadly rampage at a Connecticut elementary school marked the 13th mass shooting in the United States this year.

Among the 11 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, more than half took place in the last five years. During the same period, states have often relaxed their gun laws, making it easier for individuals to obtain guns, extending the places where concealed guns are permitted, or giving gun owners more robust protections.

Gun owners and supporters participate in an Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day rally at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on March 7, 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Seth Perlman

We take a closer look at some of the more striking measures:

1. Five states allow students to carry concealed guns on college campuses     

A March 2012 Colorado Supreme Court decision held that the University of Colorado could not ban students and employees with state-issued concealed weapon permits from carrying guns on campus. The decision overturned the university’s long-standing gun ban. While school policy prohibits guns at ticketed athletic and cultural events, Boulder and Colorado Springs’ campuses now designate dorms for permit-carrying students. (Guns are still banned in other dorms). “Not a single student has asked to live where guns are allowed,” the Denver Post reported last month.

In September 2011, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling, allowing guns on campuses throughout the Oregon University system.

Wisconsin passed legislation in 2011 allowing college students in the University of Wisconsin school system to bring a concealed weapon on campus grounds, parking lots and “other spaces that aren’t enclosed,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The school can prohibit guns in buildings, but only if signs are posted at each entrance.

A law passed by the Mississippi State Legislature in 2011 broadly extended the places where concealed weapons are allowed, including college campuses, secondary schools, courthouses, polling locations, churches, bars and passenger terminals of an airport u2013 places previously off-limits. This year, the University of Mississippi, which previously required students to leave guns in their vehicles, began allowing students to bring concealed weapons on campus, provided they have a concealed weapons permit and take an 8-hour training course.

Utah grants the least discretion: Since 2004, the state has prohibited any public college or university from banning concealed weapons, as campuses are considered state property. Read All »

Poisoning the well

by Abrahm Lustgarten, Dec. 11, 2012

Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

“You are sacrificing these aquifers,” said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado and a member of a National Science Foundation team studying the effects of energy development on the environment. “By definition, you are putting pollution into them. … If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go.”

As part of an investigation into the threat to water supplies from underground injection of waste, ProPublica set out to identify which aquifers have been polluted.
Read All »

Photo: Horrific shooting at Newtown, Conn. school

APTOPIX Connecticut School Shooting

A woman waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Bribr: A new Russian anti-corruption app

Russian bribery app

Bribr: A new app that lets Russian report bribery demands

A year ago this December as many as 100,000 Russians took to the streets in Moscow and other cities in Russia to protest election fraud and discontent with their government. Protests continued over the next six months, beyond Vladimir Putin’s reelection in May, illustrating the great number of Russians disturbed by corruption in their government. Eugenia Kudya, a 26 year-old entrepreneur who had been living in London and New York until September 2012, followed the protests from abroad and based on what she saw, returned home to Moscow with a new idea. She immediately started work on a crowd-sourcing initiative called Bribr ( http://bribr.org/), a website and smartphone application that allows Russian citizens to anonymously register and categorize bribes they had to pay. “I wanted to help the people who had taken to the streets in Russia.”

Eugenia Kudya

Eugenia Kudya

According to Kudya, until last year’s election protests, “the biggest problem with Russians was that no one believed in society.” Kudya says that she was pleased and surprised to see so many “normal Russians” demanding change from their government and she wanted to capitalize on this spirit. After attending a tech conference this March at SXSW in Austin, Texas, Kudya, who had just completed a master’s degree in business at New York University, got the idea for a social media tool that would aid what she saw as a modernizing Moscow. She says the Bribr app allows regular people to safely document the bribes negatively affecting their everyday lives while illustrating Russia’s corruption problems to an international audience. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index, Russia is ranked 143 out of 182 countries surveyed.

Kudya developed the app in two months with the help of a team of young Muscovite volunteers. They worked out of what she jokingly refers to as her “office,” a long wooden table at the hip Strelka Bar, located in one of Moscow’s artsy warehouse districts and owned by one of Kudya’s many entrepreneur friends. “I was surprised when twenty young designers and technology professionals showed up at Strelka, after a full day of working at their paying jobs, to help me with Bribr for free.” Kudya stresses how unusual it was to see young Russians willing to work for something greater than their own individual needs, and attributes this to a new spirit that seems to have come out of the protests.
Read All »

Obesity on the decline?

The New York Times reports from Philadelphia this morning that following years of ever-increasing childhood obesity rates, several American cities may finally be getting ahead of the disturbing trend.

Watch Saving Carla on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

Reporter Sabrina Tavernise writes:

The trend [of declining rates in childhood obesity] has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

But what’s behind this new-found success in an area that for years had stumped policy makers? Researchers say it’s too soon to tell. Read All »

The new border: Illegal immigration’s shifting frontier

by Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica

A version of this story was co-published with The Arizona Republic.

TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, Mexico — Oscar and Jennifer Cruz knew that crossing the border would be the easy part.

The Salvadoran brother and sister made their way over the international line between Guatemala and Mexico with the help of a smuggler who guided them through the jungle. But soon afterward, Mexican immigration officers arrested the clean-cut teenagers on a bus in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the southernmost Mexican state, Chiapas.

Like many other Central American youths who migrate on their own, Oscar, 16, and Jennifer, 13, were pushed by the danger of street gangs and pulled by hopes of joining their parents, who left El Salvador when their children were very young and settled in Las Vegas. The brother and sister embarked on the trek to the United States despite the horror stories about migrants getting robbed, raped, kidnapped or killed in transit across Mexico.

Migrants jump out of a tractor trailer as Mexican federal police watch at police headquarters in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, Sunday June 12, 2011. Photo: AP Photo/Alejandro Estrada

“We wanted to be with my parents,” Oscar, a devout Christian, said in an interview at a detention center. “And there was also the threat from the gangs. Once I started high school, they tried to recruit me. What worried me most were the threats. The gangs fight for turf, do extortion, threaten families and deal drugs. The police are scared of them — kids my age.” Read All »

Video: Farewell to “In the Life”

The groundbreaking newsmagazine “In the Life” ends its 20-year broadcast run this month. Watch the final episode above. It’s an illuminating look at the show’s coverage of major issues — and at how much has changed in 20 years. You can still view “In the Life’s” archive online. Find out what In the Life Media is up to next, too.

More coverage of LGBT issues from Need to Know

Climate change aid fails to materialize

By John Vidal | The Guardian

Wealthy countries have not only failed to provide cash to help poor people adapt to climate change, but much of what they have agreed to give so far has come out of existing aid budgets or in the form of loans that will need to be repaid, new research by two international agencies shows.

Derell Licht/Flickr

The EU and nine countries including the US, Canada and Australia agreed at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 to make a downpayment of $30bn (£18.7bn) by the end of this year on the eventual $100bn that must be raised by 2020.

But separate analysis by Oxfam and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), shows only $23.6bn, or 78%, has been committed and much of that is not “new and additional” to existing aid, as was agreed.

To keep reading, click here.

Video: Child marriage persists

Every year, across the globe, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste.

Over an eight-year period, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has investigated the phenomenon of child marriage in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia. Her multimedia presentation, produced in association with National Geographic, synthesizes this body of work into a call to action.

View more photos and video here.