Wandering Eye: Local cops recover lost salaries, the rich get richer on campus, unbidden doctors, and more

Baltimore Police Sgt. Carlos Vila and Officer Robin Blackmon are poised to recover salaries lost when they were suspended without pay, according to the agenda of the Baltimore Board of Estimates meeting scheduled for tomorrow. Vila is set to get $104,872.71 that he wasn't paid from Aug. 9, 2012, to Feb. 10, 2014, when he agreed to bring his law-enforcement career to an end in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges that he violated Maryland's wiretap laws by surreptitiously recording a conversation he had with a judge when he was seeking a search warrant. Blackmon is due $4,697.01 she didn't receive while suspended from July 2 to July 22, 2013, when she faced charges in Baltimore County after she allegedly pulled a gun on her adult son and drove a vehicle while intoxicated. Prosecutors declined to pursue assault and wielding-a-handgun-under-the-influence charges against Blackmon, who is currently on probation after receiving probation-before-judgment for driving under the influence of alcohol. (Van Smith)

 

Anyone who has ever visited a national park knows picking up or taking anything—be it a rock, arrowhead, or shell pendant—is a federal crime. For years people have been doing it anyway, and in the Four-Corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet near the big Navaho and Ute reservations, "pot hunting" has been a way of life for generations. A few years ago the feds did a big raid to crack down on what they called the organized trade of ancient Native American artifacts. This week the L.A. Times tells that story from beginning to end, from the alcoholic dealer they gave a button cam and thousands of dollars to, to the the three suicides that resulted from the criminal case. Remember, “Anasazi” translates to something like "ancestors of our enemies." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

As the University of California system struggles for funding and UC-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism considers raising tuition by a staggering $10,000, it seems insane that the UC regents would vote to make the university system's rich employees even richer. And yet, last Thursday, the governing board gave 20 percent raises to "their three lowest-paid chancellors"—who were already making more than $300,000 in base salary per year. Slate's education columnist Rebecca Schuman took the University of California to task in a column yesterday, writing, "Contemporary 'wisdom' is that the best way to run a university is as an unholy combination of a Fortune 500 company and a Silicon Valley startup. Just combine the pay disparity and precarious labor conditions of the former and the ludicrous, unsustainable perks of the latter. Following this model, every state school in the U.S. will soon surely be a pyramid-like structure with six-figure executives on top, tens of thousands of full-tuition paying vacationers below them, and, on the bottom, an unwashed army of minimum-wage plebs doing the irrelevant work of keeping the facilities running and teaching the classes." Of course, it's not just the public universities operating this way—private (but still nonprofit) universities are just as bad. Consider Johns Hopkins University: On its 990 form for 2012, the university reported that its president, Ronald Daniels, gets a base compensation of $859,555, "other compensation" worth $69,790, "deferred compensation" worth $105,019, and "nontaxable benefits" worth $150,171. The grand total? $1,184,535. I guess that explains why undergraduate tuition at Johns Hopkins is $47,060. (Anna Walsh)

 

When the NYT dropped a bombshell about unbidden "consulting physicians" charging patients eight or 20 times what their actual surgeon got, it led the story with a man in pain. Back pain: "When Mr. [Peter] Drier agreed to surgery in December, he was not in a good position to bargain or shop around. Several weeks earlier, he had woken up to excruciating pain in his upper back and numbness and weakness in two fingers of his left hand, which persisted. A scan showed that one of the disks that normally serve as cushions between vertebrae was herniated and pushing on a nerve." Drier's main surgeon fused his vertebrae for about $6,200. But then another doctor Drier had never heard of billed $117,000 extra. It's a great story, and you should read it (if you haven't yet), as the consultant scam is really something new under the sun. But what about the old scandal? Who, for example, remembers that spinal fusion operations like the one Drier got were essentially proven worthless two decades ago? Men's Journal remembers, and in its October issue it recounts that story as well as several others involving widely practiced surgical procedures of dubious—and these are widely known to be dubious—utility. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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