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    Tuesday
    Jan032017

    Fighting Sex Trafficking Is Harder Than It Seems

    More than half the states have passed laws to protect victims, but the laws aren’t always enforced and often produce new challenges.
    BY  JANUARY 2017

    When a young teen named Anjelique ran away from her home near San Francisco last summer, her trauma didn’t end when police eventually found her. Instead, while her distraught mother and grandmother posted “missing child” fliers all over the East Bay area, police took Anjelique to an Alameda County social services assessment center in Hayward. Before police take troubled youths home, they often bring them there to receive counseling and services.

    But 12-year-old Anjelique only stayed one night. That’s because sex traffickers were using the assessment center as a recruitment base. Anjelique befriended another teenage girl in the center, who convinced her to leave. Together, they walked just a few minutes up the seedy commercial strip in Hayward to a budget motel. Once there, Anjelique was put to work.

    As a means of controlling her, her mother said, Anjelique’s traffickers got her hooked on heroin. As part of an investigation into her story, a local news crew visited the motel where Anjelique unwittingly entered the sex trafficking trade. Filmed one night this past summer, the news video shows young women arriving early in the evening while others linger in the doorways of rooms or on the balcony outside. Throughout the night, men come in and out of the rooms; other men whisk the girls away in cars, bringing them back a few hours later.

    Anjelique eventually escaped, and at the time of the news story, was spending time in drug rehab for her addiction.

    Anjelique’s story may sound sensational, but in the world of child sex trafficking, it’s painfully normal. Traffickers seek out vulnerable, unhappy teens -- like runaways. Juvenile detention facilities or social services centers such as the one in Hayward are prime recruiting grounds. Sometimes, young women already in the trade become recruiters themselves, approaching other vulnerable girls and offering them what seems like an exciting life. The new recruit comprehends the full reality of her new situation too late. Readily available drugs help numb the pain.

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    Thursday
    Nov032016

    A Sneak Peek at the Seismic Shift in Corporate Tax Breaks

    New rules are forcing states and localities to calculate how much revenue they’re losing to business deals -- and whether they pay off. It’s something Washington state has been doing for a decade.
    BY  NOVEMBER 2016

    Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers got a wake-up call. A tax incentive package they’d approved in 2013 for aerospace giant Boeing -- largely regarded as the most expensive incentive deal in history -- was actually on pace to surpass its estimated $8.7 billion cost. According to a Department of Revenue report, the deal, which extends to 2040, had already amounted to half a billion dollars in giveaways in just the first two years alone. In other words, the state was losing out on a whole lot more money than it had planned.

    And the kicker? Just months earlier, Boeing had announced plans to cut roughly 4,000 jobs in Washington. The year before, the company had transferred thousands more jobs out of the state.

    Some lawmakers were livid, openly contemplating whether the state should consider revoking the tax breaks if the company didn’t add back some jobs. (Boeing, for its part, says it has continued to invest in the state, including $1 billion last year for a plant to build its new 777x aircraft.) But on the whole, response from officials and local media was measured. Most lawmakers said that in the bigger picture, the company was still good for Washington.

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    Friday
    Oct142016

    Big-Box Stores Battle Local Governments Over Property Taxes

    The retailers are deploying a ‘dark store’ strategy that’s hurting cities and counties around the country

    BY  SEPTEMBER 2016

    On Michigan’s sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, big-box stores are a modern necessity. Where towns are spaced far apart and winters are long, one-stop shopping to load up on supplies adds a crucial convenience to what can be -- at least for many -- a rugged existence.

    Landing one large retailer is a coup. Having more than one can make a city or town a regional shopping destination. Marquette Township, a small community adjacent to the larger city of Marquette, is in the unique position of having a handful of big-box chain stores. Taking advantage of the fact that the city of Marquette was mostly built out, the township began encouraging large-scale commercial development on its western edge early in the 2000s.

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    Monday
    Oct102016

    The China Factor in America's State and Local Economies

    As the world's second-largest economy falters, pensions and tax revenues here are feeling the pinch.

    BY  AUGUST 2016

    Earlier this summer, New York state’s pension fund announced a mediocre year. Investment earnings were essentially flat, and as a result the fund lost $5 billion because its other receipts -- contributions from government and from current employees -- didn’t cover retiree payouts.

    The New York pension system was the victim of a global event that began halfway across the world a year ago this month. In August 2015, the world’s second-largest economy officially began to stumble. China’s central bank stunned investors by devaluing the yuan, lending credence to what outsiders had long been suspecting: China’s years of astounding annual economic growth -- at times cresting at double digits -- was slowing down.

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    Sunday
    Oct092016

    Is Kurt Summers the Future of Chicago Politics?

    The city’s young treasurer has turned a moribund office into a hive of activity, fueling speculation that he has higher aspirations.
    BY  JULY 2016

    On a cool late-spring evening in the Wild 100s of Chicago, an area on the far South Side known for its gang wars, Kurt Summers Jr. is addressing a small crowd gathered inside a once-gleaming 1920s retail building. There used to be a beauty school here; later the building housed a counseling service and a check cashing store. But even those businesses are gone. This community, built by middle- and working-class Dutch families 15 miles from downtown, never recovered from the closing of the South Chicago steel plants in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, it’s a symbol of violent crime and urban decay.

    But to Summers, who grew up on the South Side, violence is only a symptom of the community’s real dilemma. “We don’t have a violence problem in Chicago, we have an economic problem in Chicago,” he tells the crowd of about two dozen residents, who applaud in agreement.

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