Rights at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court level

For ProPublica, Ian MacDougall and Sergio Hernandez evaluated records of sitting justices to gauge the rights at risk of being taken away. Each right gets a section with background, bills and court cases challenging the right, and the justices that have questioned the right through judicial opinions and public remarks.

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Deforestation and increased risk of outbreaks

For ProPublica, Al Shaw, Irena Hwang, and Caroline Chen explain the increased risk of spreading disease when there are fewer trees and physical barriers in between people:

The implications of such a drastic increase in mixing zone area over a relatively small increase in deforestation are serious. In 2018, a team led by Christina Faust, a researcher at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, developed a peer-reviewed model that directly links changes in forest cover to the potential for spillover events. To understand how the potential for spillover had changed since the 2013 outbreak, we applied data from real-world satellite images to this theoretical model.

The dot plot and map combo at the end is a nice touch.

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Curiously timed stock trades by ultra-wealthy

Continuing an analysis of IRS records, Robert Faturechi and Ellis Simani for ProPublica delve into the timing of executives trading stock in partners and competitors:

The Medpace executive is among dozens of top executives who have traded shares of either competitors or other companies with close connections to their own. A Gulf of Mexico oil executive invested in one partner company the day before it announced good news about some of its wells. A paper-industry executive made a 37% return in less than a week by buying shares of a competitor just before it was acquired by another company. And a toy magnate traded hundreds of millions of dollars in stock and options of his main rival, conducting transactions on at least 295 days. He made an 11% return over a recent five-year period, even as the rival’s shares fell by 57%.

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Unreturned Native American remains, mapped

A law was passed in 1990 that allowed Native American tribes to request remains unrightfully attained by museums and universities. Many of those remains have not been returned because of a loophole. For ProPublica, Ash Ngu and Andrea Suozzo mapped and cataloged who still has these remains.

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Algorithmic rent increase

It’s growing more common for landlords to use software to set the rental prices of their properties. This of course leads to software companies promising optimized pricing for maximum profit, which leads to higher rent for residents. Heather Vogell, Haru Coryne, and Ryan Little, for ProPublica, look closer at the practice, with a focus on pricing company RealPage:

To arrive at a recommended rent, the software deploys an algorithm — a set of mathematical rules — to analyze a trove of data RealPage gathers from clients, including private information on what nearby competitors charge.

For tenants, the system upends the practice of negotiating with apartment building staff. RealPage discourages bargaining with renters and has even recommended that landlords in some cases accept a lower occupancy rate in order to raise rents and make more money.

One of the algorithm’s developers told ProPublica that leasing agents had “too much empathy” compared to computer generated pricing.


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Comparing rich people incomes and the taxes they pay

Based on leaked IRS data for the 400 wealthiest Americans, ProPublica provides a comparison of their incomes and the lower taxes they paid between 2013 and 2018. This might be best piece so far from ProPublica’s IRS series in terms of understanding the big picture from their dataset. Also, that “smaller than a pixel” note for the average American is doing some heavy lifting.

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Analysis of Facebook groups before January 6

The Washington Post and ProPublica analyzed Facebook group posts that disputed election results:

To determine the extent of posts attacking Biden’s victory, The Post and ProPublica obtained a unique dataset of 100,000 groups and their posts, along with metadata and images, compiled by CounterAction, a firm that studies online disinformation. The Post and ProPublica used machine learning to narrow that list to 27,000 public groups that showed clear markers of focusing on U.S. politics. Out of the more than 18 million posts in those groups between Election Day and Jan. 6, the analysis searched for words and phrases to identify attacks on the election’s integrity.

The more than 650,000 posts attacking the election — and the 10,000-a-day average — is almost certainly an undercount. The ProPublica-Washington Post analysis examined posts in only a portion of all public groups, and did not include comments, posts in private groups or posts on individuals’ profiles. Only Facebook has access to all the data to calculate the true total — and it hasn’t done so publicly.

Read more about the methodology behind the analysis.

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Where cancer risk is greater due to air pollution

Based on five years of data from EPA models, ProPublica mapped areas in the United States where cancer risk is higher due to air pollution:

In all, ProPublica identified more than a thousand hot spots of cancer-causing air. They are not equally distributed across the country. A quarter of the 20 hot spots with the highest levels of excess risk are in Texas, and almost all of them are in Southern states known for having weaker environmental regulations. Census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. In predominantly Black census tracts, the estimated cancer risk from toxic air pollution is more than double that of majority-white tracts.

Interact with the full map here.

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Check the frequency of salmonella in your chicken

The USDA recommends that you cook your chicken to at least 165°F to kill salmonella bacteria (time is also a factor), which appears to be more common than I would hope. ProPublica has a Chicken Checker so that you can find out. Look up the poultry product number on your pack of chicken, and you can see what percentage of USDA samples from the respective processing plant had salmonella.

A beeswarm chart shows how the plant’s rate compares to other plants that process the same type of poultry.

All I can think about now is that trend on social media from a while back where people cooked their chicken to rare. Mmm, salmonella.

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How sports owners pay less taxes than athletes

ProPublica continues their analysis of an anonymous dump of tax records, this time with a focus on billionaire sports owners:

The law favors people who are rich because they own things over people who are rich because they make a high income from their work. Wages — the main source of income for most people, including athletes — are taxed at the highest rates of all, topping out at a marginal rate of 37% plus an extra 3.8% for Medicare. The government takes a smaller share of money made from, say, selling a stock. That’s not to mention the benefits available to people who own businesses, such as the paper losses created by buying a sports team.

Easy solution: We’ll all just buy a sports team.

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