Sixty-six percent of Oklahomans who were sent a U.S. Census form in the mail have returned it. Nationally, the rate is at 72 percent.
So we’re a bit behind. Ten years ago, 69 percent of Oklahomans responded to the census. So there is a big chance for Oklahoma to catch up, especially now that the Census Bureau has started going door to door.
On Saturday, some 635,000 census takers began visiting the first of what is an estimated 48 million addresses they will go to by mid-July. There will be 5,000 to 6,000 of those census takers working in Oklahoma, according to officials.
The Census is constitutionally mandated to occur every 10 years. Census data are used to apportion Congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds to tribal, state and local governments each year and to make decisions about what community services to provide.
The 2010 Census is only 10 questions long, one of the shortest in history and even if you pondered every question, shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes — I’m assuming most of us won’t have to think long to count the people living in our home with us.
To check how many people in a specific county in Oklahoma have returned forms the U.S. Census Bureau has a pretty cool map that allows you to drill down to your community.
On the page you can find this little widget to track the census on your webpage.
Now that the door-to-door phase has begun, that number should keep going up. Government officials have vowed to continue counting until everybody is counted.
According to the Census Bureau, workers are hired from the community they serve and all have undergone an FBI background check. They are also trained to leave a residence at any sign of hostility.
Census takers will make up to six attempts to count residents at each address and, if still unsuccessful, may ask a neighbor, building manager or some other person familiar with the residence to obtain basic information about the people living there.
A fellow reporter once told me when looking for a story I needed to find its heartbeat.
I thought I understood the concept of finding a face to show my readers, presenting someone or something that could stand as the life blood of a particular story.
But frequently, if not always, there are times when journalists learn details or encounter a set of circumstances that just won’t make it into the paper or on the website. And sometimes, the face and the heartbeat aren’t the same thing.
Last week, for example, I met with individuals who had insight into a story I was working on about a little girl who was killed in 2008. Most of them wouldn’t speak to me on the record, but their stories contributed to my understanding of the situation surrounding baby Davi-Angela Harber’s death.
One long conversation with a family member of Davi-Angela’s was particualrly striking. She was hard, when most people pushing 90 have softended somewhat. Her eyes pounced from moving car to walking pedestrian on the street, not paranoid, but keenly aware of everything around her.
She told me she looks sideways at the grade school kids that walk down her cul-de-sac. She said she always “packs protection.” In fact, as she sat next to me, she reached up to her chest and pressed around the outlines of where she was hiding a knife in her brazier.
This relative was one of many who saw but never reported Davi-Angela’s abuse. She thought holding a knife to Davi-Angela’s abuser’s neck would correct the problem.
Davi-Angel’s mother, DeAngela Barger, is currently jailed on a fist degree murder charge in connection with her daughter’s death. Regardless of her guilt, Oklahoma has laws on the book for reporting child abuse: If you see it, you’re supposed to call and report it.
In police reports and in conversations with me, several family members admitted they never called the police when they saw her kicked, punched and waylaid.
Davi-Angela was the face to my story, but this fact was the heart beat. One can only wonder how things might have changes if someone had spoken up for this little girl.
Any tips for us? Suggestions? Observations?
A Seminole County trial was interrupted Tuesday when a courtroom deputy observed a man in the gallery videotaping proceedings with a tiny camera hidden inside a device that looked like a pen. The judge excused the jury for lunch and then called the man to the front of the courtroom and ask what he was up to. The man, who identified himself as David King of Ada, said he had bought the hidden camera in China and had decided on his own that it would be intesting to videotape the trial of his friend, Stephanie Sills. Special Judge Gayla Arnold did not appear to be amused. Arnold said it was against court rules to record court proceedings without first obtaining permission. She confiscated the camera for the duration of the trial and said if anyone else videotaped proceedings without prior permission, she would consider the person to be in contempt. In this day and age, when cameras can be found in cell phones and numerous other devices, their use in inappropriate places could increasingly become an issue.
Reporters get all manner of bizarre tips from the public. Such a tip led to last week’s story on a crucifix some said showed a large penis on Jesus. The story has since gone international, having been picked up by blogs and news sites worldwide. It has received tens of thousands of hits on NewsOK.
And it all started with a phone call. That’s somewhat remarkable considering all the dead ends we typically run into when we get calls from the public that seem as outrageous as this call about Jesus’s genitals.
Many of the strangest calls I’ve taken as a reporter came years ago when I worked the Saturday police beat. Something about Saturdays just seemed to ignite strangeness in people.
One of my regular Saturday callers often phoned asking what I could do to stop a group of men (whom she called “beefcakes”) from stealing a bird feeder from her back yard garden. Supposedly, this theft was occurring hourly. Another regular caller was convinced that a local funeral home had kidnapped her family, tapped her phones, stolen her identity and then sold that identity to the National Security Agency, which was trying to repossess her home and have her “locked up” for “knowing too much” (I later traced her phone number to a public housing unit, but that’s neither here nor there).
And then there’s The Growler, who earned his nickname because of the unmistakable growl in his voice. The Growler did not restrict his calls to Saturdays. For a couple years, it seemed he called at least one reporter a day with some sort of complaint or conspiracy theory. The Growler would always call sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., meaning he’d never actually speak to the reporter because they weren’t at work yet. Instead, The Growler left long, meandering messages that were often cut off by our voicemail system because they lasted too long. No matter; the Growler would simply redial and finish ranting. Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to start my day with three or four voicemails from The Growler. He was usually hacked off about something he’d just read in the paper that a government official had done or said. For whatever reason, The Growler hasn’t called in years. I do miss him, even though I’ve never actually spoken to the man.
My colleagues have all encountered countless daffy tipsters like these. My point is we get a lot of crazies calling up here. Just the nature of the business. So when I got a call last week from a woman claiming there was a large, erect penis on Jesus on a crucifix in a local Catholic church, you’ll understand why I didn’t take it seriously at first. Then other folks started calling, and a picture of the piece in question appeared in my e-mail. We knew then we had a story.
Just proves that sometimes picking up the phone is all it takes to find a story. Never know who – or what – awaits on the other end of the line.
If you’re not crazy and have a tip, call me at (405) 475-3481.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where we’re supposed to get temperatures into the the 70s today. Could spring finally be here?
Here’s what you might have missed over the weekend from our team and elsewhere:
–Watchdog reporter Michael Baker covered the plea arrangement of a state trooper accused of kicking a handcuffed female suspect who allegedly spit on his pants. Barry Jacob Rowland, 33, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor assault and battery charge. He also agreed to give up his law enforcement certification.
Special District Judge Cynthia Pickering sentenced Rowland to one year of unsupervised probation, a fine and court costs of $796 and required him to resign from the highway patrol and CLEET by Thursday. Rowland has been a trooper since May 2006 and on paid leave since the incident.
After the hearing, [Okmulgee County District Attorney] Giulioli praised highway patrol trooper Ronnie Sites, for reporting the incident.
“It took a tremendous amount of courage for him to report this incident,” Giulioli said. “Had he not done so, I don’t think it would ever had been brought to light.”
–In other law enforcement news, Randy Ellis has a story today about alleged sexual harassment by the police chief in Fairview:
Less than two months after reaching a $40,000 settlement in a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against him, Fairview Police Chief Robert Banks is under investigation for alleged improper conduct in a class he was teaching for the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET).
–The Oklahoma Public Employees Association has gotten a sweetheart deal under state law to get access to the home addresses of more than 40,000 state employees so they can send out recruitment mailings. The lawmaker who secured that favor, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was later named OPEA’s “Legislator of the Year” for 2009.
–Speaking of Rep. Terrill, he’s returning at least $5,000 in campaign contributions for his 2010 re-election campaign after it was discovered he has not yet set up a campaign committee for 2010 at the state Ethics Commission.
–Federal health care reform has been signed into law, but that hasn’t stopped the debate. Chris Casteel in our Washington bureau looked into how the bill might affect Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.
There are nearly 600,000 Oklahomans on Medicare, the government insurance program for seniors. So, if Medicaid expands to cover more than 1 million people and Medicare enrollment stays near the current level, about half of the people in the state will be in one of the two programs.
The [Oklahoma] health care authority is estimating that the Medicaid expansion under the new law will reduce the rate of uninsured people in the state from about 17 percent to around 11 percent. The law’s subsidies to individuals and small businesses to buy private insurance are expected to reduce that rate further.
At one time or another in the last fiscal year, the Oklahoma Medicaid program, SoonerCare, had 825,000 participants. This month, there are about 680,000 Oklahomans on Medicaid and an estimated 51,000 children whose parents have no other insurance who could be, but aren’t, enrolled.
When the new eligibility guidelines begin in January 2014, there will be 265,000 newly qualified Oklahomans, according to the health care authority.
–Political pundits are wondering how Tea Party backers will use their newfound power to influence this year’s midterm elections. The New York Times talked to some of the Tea Party organizers about their motivations:
The fact that many of them joined the Tea Party after losing their jobs raises questions of whether the movement can survive an improvement in the economy, with people trading protest signs for paychecks.
But for now, some are even putting their savings into work that they argue is more important than a job — planning candidate forums and get-out-the-vote operations, researching arguments about the constitutional limits on Congress and using Facebook to attract recruits.
“Even if I wanted to stop, I just can’t,” said Diana Reimer, 67, who has become a star of the effort by FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group, to fight the health care overhaul. “I’m on a mission, and time is not on my side.”
–The Wall Street Journal has a heart-wrenching story about the fallout from a mass-shooting at an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y. At issue is how much the victims and victims’ families should be compensated.
The process of distributing funds in Binghamton began when the local social-services director asked area charities, social service groups and lawyers to form a committee to oversee the task.
Among the questions they considered:
Who deserves more money: Survivors traumatized by the event, or the orphans of two slain parents?
How should they value the wounds suffered by a man who tried in vain to protect his wife by wrapping his arms around her?
Should a family with 11 children receive more than one where the breadwinner lost his job?
And what about the relatives of the dead? Should they be consulted, or would their woeful accounts inappropriately sway the committee?
With the slew of recent vehicle recalls and heightened concerns about food and product safety, it’s important to note where to go when you have a complaint about something. (You could tell me, but I can only do so much).
Non-meat food (cereal, fish, produce, nuts, cheese):
Call: (301) 443-1240 (emergency); (800) 535-4555 (non-emergency)
Or the consumer complaint coordinator in your state.
Call: The health department in your state.
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
What: Meat, poultry or egg products
Call: (888) 674-6854
ADA – Roberson Oil Company, Inc. was fined $3,693 for violating the Clean Water Act.
Environmental Protection Agency inspectors in October found the company’s oil field production facility, Jesse Hunton Viola Unit, in Pontotoc County had discharged oil field brine into a tributary of Clear Boggy Creek. Brine and salt contaminated water going into the tributary, inspectors said.
In November, the EPA issued the company a cease and desist administrator order. The company was to stop polluting and remove all brine and residual oil from the tributary within 30 days.
A spill of only one gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water, according to the EPA.
More information on federal regulations is available at http://www.epa.gov/oilspill
A popular OfficeMax chair was voluntarily recalled today because it can break and injure people sitting in it.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and OfficeMax recalled the OfficeMax Task Chair following 35 reports of the chair backs or posts breaking. This includes 15 reports lacerations, muscle strains, contusions and concussions.
OfficeMax estimated about 216,000 chairs were sold nationally and on their Web site. They were sold from Sept. 2003 through July 2008 for between $40 and $65.
Customers who purchased the chair are advised to return it for a full refund or gift card.
The death of a 4-year-old girl trapped and strangled in a home window blind cord prompted the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency to recall the product Wednesday.
More than 32,000 window blinds made by the company Vertical Land of Panama Beach, Fla., are included in the recall because they are a strangulation risk to children.
The issue is with the cords on the vertical, cellular and horizontal window blinds. Children cen become entangled in them and strangle.
The blinds were sold at stores in Panama City and Pensacola, Fla.
For more information, read the CPSC’s recall notice.
The Watchdog Team received a phone call today from a 71-year-old woman who wanted to make sure no one fell for a scam that nearly fooled her.
It was similar to the so-called Nigerian email scam, but it had a few extra steps and more emotional triggers.
The emailer claimed some foreign government had money waiting for her in an overseas account. The government, however, was informed she was dead by a person claiming to be a relative. The emailing “agency” was verifying this was really the case so they could disburse the funds to the appropriate person.
The amount of money was exhorbitant–$30 million. And the emailer made sure to tell her it was in U.S. currency.
She said something funny during the course of our conversation that caused me to chuckle:
Naturally, I couldn’t answer back if I were dead. But they knew that. They just wanted my information and probably, ultimately, some money from me to get the money from them.
Good thing she was savvy enough not to reply.
I’ve posted a lot on the blog about common online fraud schemes, but I also found a great source for email scams that everyone should read up on. Especially, like our citizen watchdog noted, if you are less experienced with email or know someone who needs to coaching on the subject.
Here is an excerpt from onguardonline.gov.
Some email users have lost money to bogus offers that arrived as spam in their in-box. Con artists are very cunning; they know how to make their claims seem legitimate. Some spam messages ask for your business, others invite you to a website with a detailed pitch. Either way, these tips can help you avoid spam scams:
- Protect your personal information. Share credit card or other personal information only when you’re buying from a company you know and trust.
- Know who you’re dealing with. Don’t do business with any company that won’t provide its name, street address, and telephone number.
- Take your time. Resist any urge to “act now” despite the offer and the terms. Once you turn over your money, you may never get it back.
- Read the small print. Get all promises in writing and review them carefully before you make a payment or sign a contract.
- Never pay for a “free” gift. Disregard any offer that asks you to pay for a gift or prize. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free means free.
Filter Tips: 10 Scams to Screen from Your Email
- The “Nigerian” Email Scam
- Work-at-Home Scams
- Weight Loss Claims
- Foreign Lotteries
- Cure-All Products
- Check Overpayment Scams
- Pay-in-Advance Credit Offers
- Debt Relief
- Investment Schemes