Stories We Wanted to Write About in 2015, But Didn’t

Stories We Wanted to Write About in 2015, But Didn't

There is a tendency in the news business to stress negative things, which are usually more sensational than the positive things that occur in our society. Here are some of those stories. Hopefully, 2016 will provide as many or more on the positive side.

  • The year 2015 saw too many reports on the slaying of innocent people both here and abroad — most recently in San Bernadino, California, and in Paris, France, to name just a few. Each of these occasions resulted in public outcry to "do something about guns in our society." We can only hope that this will be addressed in 2016, since nothing of substance has been accomplished in 2015.
  • New Jersey's Hudson City Savings Bank agreed to pay $32.75 million to settle claims that, for four years, it engaged in discriminatory redlining practices that denied residents in majority black and Hispanic neighborhoods fair access to residential mortgage loans. The complaint filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the US Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey and US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division alleged that Hudson City illegally provided unequal access to credit in neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut between 2009 and 2013., The bank is based in Paramus, NJ.
  • A train allegedly loaded with looted gold, jewels and artworks the Nazis were trying to evacuate from Poland to Germany was discovered buried beside a rail line by two men in Walrzych, Poland. According to Polish Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zchowski, the two men were guided to the train by a death-bed confession from a man who had been involved in hiding the train from advancing Soviet troops in 1945. The disposal of the train's contents, if they are found, should be worth another story — if and when.
  • The federal government recorded an estimated budget deficit of $486 billion in fiscal year 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It was the smallest deficit since fiscal year 2008 and was $195 billion less than the deficit recorded in fiscal year 2013.
  • Federal law requires all US passenger and freight railroads to install a new safety system by the end of 2015 which notifies the engineer when it receives a more restricting signal and applies the brakes automatically if the engineer does not respond. According to Amtrak, that system could have prevented the deadly derailment in Philadelphia this spring. New Jersey Transit will not be meeting that deadline.  The railroad's spokesman, Nancy Snyder, said, "This is a complex and not off-the-shelf technology, and we're still experiencing challenges with acquiring radio spectrum on the commercial market. In addition, there are developmental complexities relative to inoperability with our freight partners taking longer than expected, which we are working in earnest to resolve."  I think this means NJ Transit will not meet the federal deadline.
  • A popular waitress in a Waffle House in Biloxi, Mississippi, was shot in the head when she asked a customer not to smoke in the restaurant. The Waffle House has a no-smoking policy and also prohibits firearms inside their restaurants unless the customer is in law enforcement or the military, but that didn't stop Johnny Max Mount from firing the fatal shot. Biloxi Police Chief Jon Miller said, "I just don't understand why somebody would be so upset over a cigarette. Some stuff like this just defeats logic."
  • Then there's the Iowa mall cop who shot and killed a fellow mall worker because she filed sexual harassment complaints against him. The victim complained to his superiors that the cop had been harassing  her for at least six weeks. So he shot her three times in the back. She was 20 years old.
  • Have you ever wondered how much banks receive from fees charged for overdrafts, ATM and maintenance fees, etc.? According to a study by SNL Financial, Philadelphia's six largest deposit takers — Wells Fargo Bank, TD Bank, PNC Bank, Citizens Bank, Bank of America and Santander Bank, which control about two-thirds of local deposits — are among the national leaders in ATM fee income. And a similar study by SNL showed that Philadelphia's five largest banks by deposits hauled in close to $1 billion in overdraft fees in the first quarter of 2015.
  • According to Employee Benefit News, insurers are projecting overall pharmacy costs, including specialty drugs, to increase 10% this year, up from 6.3% last year. And the costs for specialty drugs alone are expected to increase 22.7% this year, up from the increase last year of 18.2%. John Malley, leader of Aon Health's innovation pharmacy team, said a robust pipeline of specialty oncology drugs, along with new cholesterol-lowering drugs, are contributing to the dramatic spike in costs. He noted that three new specialty drugs that provide a cure for hepatitis C can cost up to $100,000 for a round of treatment — and a limited supply of certain popular generic drugs has reduced competition and driven up those prices over the last 12 to 16 months.
  • And how about the cost of health insurance? Has anyone received a letter from their insurer saying that the cost of that insurance is going down in 2016? Based on my own experience, the average cost increase is about 10% and probably higher in some cases. Why the increase? Because the health insurance companies can do it — and they do it with impunity. What is the alternative for those seeking shelter from the burdensome costs of health care?
  • A Gloucester County, NJ, man pleaded guilty to mail fraud in a two-pronged scheme in which he promised to pay the mortgages of 25 distressed homeowners facing foreclosure if they sold their homes to him. He then stopped paying the mortgages resulting in foreclosure. In the second part of the scheme, Randy Paulson solicited seminar attendees and others to invest in Equity Capital Investments LLC, which he owned, using the properties he had acquired through the first part of the scheme. Prosecutors said he obtained more than $3 million from investors, which he used on personal expenses and to repay other investors.
  • Members of Congress who had been investigating the Veterans Administration's purchasing practices concluded earlier this year that the Department of Veterans Affairs cheated small businesses, including veteran-owned businesses, out of millions of dollars in federal contracts. Contracting rules require that purchases below $150,000 be set aside for small businesses. The executive director of the VA's small and veteran business programs conceded that VA procurement officials had not fully complied with the federal acquisition regulations, but it was addressing these failures.
  • The admission of Volkswagen officials that they lied about diesel-fueled cars and the emissions tests they supposedly passed for the last six years is just the latest scandal that affects the global economy. In 2014 Toyota Motor Corp. was fined $1.2 billion by the US Justice Department for hiding information about defective floor mats, a landmark criminal penalty for an automaker. And in 2012 BP pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in the Deepwater Horizon spill. What's the answer? According to Jean Wilcox. a marketing professor at Temple University, "The only thing consumers can really do is stop buying. Demanding more laws won't really help if corporations can find a way around it."
  • Rep. Raul Grijalva, who represents Arizona's 3rd Congressional District, is urging Congress to repeal a secret deal that gave away sacred Native American lands to a multinational mining company. According to Grijalva, Arizona's Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake snuck a swap provision into a must-pass defense spending bill that President Obama couldn't reject that gave Resolution Copper access to cooper deposits at a site called Oak Flat, a significant cultural and religious site for the San Carlos Apache. Grijalva said the San Carlos Apache "are facing complete and permanent destruction of their sacred sites. It's time for Congress to do the right thing and uphold its commitment to Native Americans and protect their sacred lands."