Analysis: Records

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I used NICAR's "Extra! Extra!" to find a Reuters story about Amazon Corporation's "billion-dollar tax shield."

The story was done by examining accounts filed by 25 Amazon units in six countries. The accounts show how the company has avoided paying more tax in the United States. Amazon used inter-company payments to form a tax shield behind which it has accumulated approximately $2 billion.

The IRS announced last year that it would seek $1.5 billion in back taxes from Amazon.

Writing this article would require a great deal of tax knowledge. The article explains certain aspects of tax policy in depth in order to help readers understand what Amazon has been doing.

I'm guessing the reporter used federal transparency laws to request access to related IRS records.

I think the story could have been done better if Reuters had used interactive graphics or other online tools. I found the story quite heavy and would have appreciated something to make it more readable.

A timeline of events might be useful in this story.

Chavez To Undergo Cancer Surgery

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Saturday that his cancer is back and he will undergo surgery in Cuba, CNN reported.

In a televised address, Chavez named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor, should his health worsen. The admission was shocking to many, as this was the first time Chavez has spoken publicly of the possibility of a successor.

A special session of parliament will be convinced Sunday morning to discuss Chavez's health and his upcoming trip to Cuba.

Neither Chavez nor his Cuban doctors have ever disclosed what kind of cancer the president faces.

Recurring bouts of cancer have filled Chavez throughout the last few years of his presidency, requiring him to be treated for weeks at a time in Cuba.

Chavez was reelected in October for a fourth six-year term in office, the BBC reported.

Supreme Court to Decide Same-Sex Marriage

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The Supreme Court will hear cases challenging California and federal law limiting the rights of same-sex couples, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Justices granted hearings Friday to supporters of Proposition 8, California's controversial law that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as well the 1996 federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

The law withholds federal recognition and spousal benefits, including Social Security survivor payments and tax filing.

In February, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Prop. 8, declaring it unconstitutional.

The decision to take both cases suggests the justices are ready to tackle the issue fully, the Wall Street Journal suggested.

Jim DeMint Resigns Senate Seat

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South Carolinian Senator Jim DeMint, a leading Republican and founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, announced his resignation Thursday, The Hill reported.

DeMint's decision to leave the Senate shocked Washington insiders, who have seen DeMint as a influential conservative leader in Congress.

DeMint is leaving to become president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.

"I'm leaving the Senate now, but I'm not leaving the fight. I've decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas," DeMint said in a statement.

His resignation comes as Tea Party members of Congress face fierce pressure to make compromises.

The job change will offer "substantial" financial benefits to DeMint. While his 2010 net worth was $65,000, among the lowest for Senate members, the current Heritage president earned over $1 million in 2010, according to the New York Times.

South Carolinian Governor Nikki Haley will now appoint a successor who will run to maintain the seat in a 2014 special election.

Sex Offender Task Force Recommends Changes to Program

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Minnesota's sex offender program may see changes soon, with a task force recommending alternatives to the current high-cost, high-security system, the Pioneer Press reported.

The task force, headed by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, was create to address the question of how to protect the public from sex offenders without violating the constitutional rights of those offenders.

Currently, the more than 600 offenders in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program are being treated in prison-like buildings in St. Peter and Moose Lake at an annual cost of about $120,000 each. Most have served prison sentences and were sent to these treatment facilities by court commitment.

The MSOP was created in 1994 to treat the most dangerous sex offenders. The program has discharged only two offenders since its creation, according to the Star Tribune.

In its recommendations, which are not binding, the task force said the Legislature must fund less-restrictive residential facilities and clear regulatory and legal obstacles that would prevent access to these alternatives.

The task force will continue its work next year.

Starved Minnesota Boy to Stay in Foster Care

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The 8-year-old Minnesota boy allegedly staved by his adopted parents will remain in foster care until further notice, the Star Tribune reported.

Nicollet County District Judge Todd Westphal ruled on November 29 that the boy's three siblings would remain with their parents, Russell and Mona Hauer.

The Hauers are charged with neglect and malicious punishment of a child. The couple allegedly put an alarm on the 8-year-old's door so he could not steal food.

An attorney for the Hauers has said the couple will fight for custody of all four children.

The alleged child abuse was detected when the Hauers brought the boy to Mayo Clinic in October after they thought they saw blood on his shirt, according to the International Business Times.

During examination, doctors found the boy's bones protruding, his brain atrophied and a slow heartbeat.

The boy was also vomiting blood. He weighed only 35 pounds when he was taken to the hospital.

The three other children also claimed to have been abused.

Chiefs' Player Involved in Apparent Murder-Suicide

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A Kansas City Chiefs linebacker committed suicide early Saturday morning at the team's Arrowhead Stadium, CNN reported.

Jovan Belcher, 25, shot himself that morning, Kansas City police confirmed. The shooting occurred after Belcher allegedly killed his girlfriend at home shortly beforehand.

He and the woman he killed left behind a 3-month-old daughter.

Kansas City, Missouri police received a call at approximately 7:50 a.m. alerting them to a shooting. When police arrived outside the home, a woman came out and told them that a younger woman had been shot by her boyfriend several times. The woman was identified as 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins.

After shooting Perkins, Belcher then drove to the team's facilities. He apparently killed himself in the parking lot of the complex, in front of coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli, according to Sports Illustrated.

The Chiefs released a statement saying: "We can confirm that there was an incident at Arrowhead earlier this morning. We are cooperating with authorities in their investigation.''

Crystal Sugar Workers Reject Contract

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American Crystal Sugar union workers rejected the company's original contract for the fourth time Saturday, Valley News Live reported.

Accepting the contract, which was originally offered in July 2011, required only a simple majority. It was rejected in its closest vote so far, with a 55 percent majority.

Union employees have been locked out for 17 months while attempting to secure a new contract, the Huffington Post reported.

The union originally boasted 1300 members, but that number has since dropped by about 500.

Workers were forced off the job by management a year and a half ago after refusing to agree to the proposed contract.

Many union members have seen their unemployment insurance run out, putting an increased strain on the lockout.

Union president John Riskey said the following in a statement: "By now it should be clear that Dave Berg & Crystal Sugar's management team has no interest in ending a fiscally irresponsible lockout that has been disastrous to farmer shareholders, put the federal sugar program in jeopardy, and hurt countless families in the Red River Valley."

Metro Transit Reaches 3 Billionth Passenger

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Metro Transit reached its three billionth customer recently, and has honored that customer in a ceremony at the Uptown Transit Center in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune reported.

Nadine Babu, a light rail and bus rider, received a card that will give her free bus rides for a year. Babu has been riding Metro Transit buses for over 15 year.

Metro Transit invited customers to submit entries in an essay contest judged by a team of transit agency employees.

"I ride the bus for so many reasons - it's safe, reliable, inexpensive, convenient, and you can text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and ride without any consequences...You have a customer for life in me!" Babu writer in her essay.

Customers boarded buses and trains 81 million times last year, according to KMSP Fox.

An average of 260,000 people board Metro Transit buses and trains ever day.

80 Pounds of Marijuana Seized in Minneapolis Raid

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More than 90 pounds of synthetic marijuana and $232,000 in cash were seized during a raid of a south Minneapolis tobacco shop and a clerk's home, according to the Star Tribune.

Mokrane Rahim, 30, of New Brighton, was charged with fourth-degree sale of a controlled substance to a police officer on Monday and could face additional charges.

Minneapolis police had been conducting an undercover narcotics investigation into the store, located near the intersection of 46th and Nicollet Avenue South in relation to marijuana sales, KMSP Fox reported.

Authorities raided the shop and Rahim's home while Rahim was working.

Rahim was released Tuesday after posting $5,000 bail.

As of Wednesday, the shop at 4612 Nicollet Av. S. was still open for business.