Extra Extra : October 2007

Neglect plagues property holdings of ex-NBA star

An investigation by The Sacramento Bee's Terri Handy and Phillip Reese shows that former NBA star Kevin Johnson is responsible for a slew of neglected properties in the downtrodden area of Oak Park where his investments have been widely publicized and praised. "Within a two-mile radius, a Bee investigation found, half of the 37 parcels owned by Johnson or companies and organizations he founded have been cited by the city in the past decade, some multiple times. The 73 violations at those Oak Park properties resulted in 42 fines or fees totaling at least $32,080."

Twin Cities residents pocket farm subsidy payments

Matt McKinney and Glenn Howatt of The Star Tribune report that millions in farm subsidies are being paid to people who live in urban areas, including some of the toniest neighborhoods of Minneapolis-St. Paul. "The flow of federal largesse comes thanks to rules that allow landowners — including some 2,000 in the metro area — to collect subsidies without farming the land themselves, a legal and increasingly common practice as farm ownership has consolidated over the past few decades." A current $280 billion farm bill before Congress aims for reform, but few expect real change.

Fatalities greatest on San Joaquin Valley's rural roads

Brad Branan of The Fresno Bee looked at federal highway safety data to find that the majority of fatal accidents in the San Joaquin Valley occur on rural roads. "These roads are riskier than city roads, in part because motorists travel them at higher speeds. But the central San Joaquin Valley faces additional problems, including roads that don't meet safety standards and limited traffic enforcement."

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation's FARS data Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database is available from the IRE and NICAR database library.

Campaign finance reform spawning young donors

Donors are skirting campaign finance laws by making campaign contributions in their young children's names according to a report by Matthew Mosk of The Washington Post. "Although campaign finance laws set a limit of $2,300 per donor per campaign, they do not explicitly bar donors based on age. And young donors abound in the fundraising reports filed by presidential contenders this year." Contributions from donors identifing themselves as "students" have risen significantly in the last several years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Students gave $338,464 in the first six months of 2000, compared to $1 ... Read more ...

Santa Clara County soil tainted by pesticides

Amy Lynch of The San Jose Mercury News reports on environmental issues plaguing Santa Clara County. The county has more toxic cleanup sites involving old orchard pesticides than any county in California, as well as a significant number of other sites contaminated by other types of farming or pesticide handling, according to a Mercury News analysis of state records." It is believed that the problem is more extensive than even these reports suggest because they have only been identified due to pending development. Accompanying materials detail how the contamination occurred, a map of contamination sites, and the types of pesticides ... Read more ...

Earmarks added $11.8 billion to defense bill

The Seattle Times kicked off an occasional series on Congressional earmarks, the companies that benefit and the political fundraising connected to the pork projects. David Heath and Hal Bernton report that, after months of collecting and checking data from press releases and campaign finance reports, they were able to "tie about half of the 2,700 earmarks in the 2007 defense spending bill to members of Congress." The estimated cost of the defense bill's add-ons: $11.8 billion.

Abuses found in Detroit's tax-relief program

David Josar of The Detroit News investigated possibly abuses by the the city's Hardship Committee, which grants millions in property tax exemptions intended for the poor but keeps no notes at its meetings, does not verify applicants' claims and has never been audited. The News' three-month investigation found that some exemptions were granted to property owners who owned multiple homes and luxury cars. The coverage led the Detroit City Council to call a closed-door session with city attorneys to discuss the committee's actions. As a result, one committee member was removed for granting a tax break of over ... Read more ...

One-third of S. Florida gas pumps inaccurate

A report by Mc Nelly Torres of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel shows that 34 percent of gas pumps in South Florida failed accuracy tests over the past three years. "The analysis found 580 of more than 2,500 stations in South Florida had at least one pump dispensing more gas than customers paid to purchase, while 477 provided less fuel than they should." A database of gas pump inspections is included online. There is also a map of those stations which failed 10 or more pump tests over three years.

Investigation finds animal corpses in Colorado Humane Society trash

Over six weeks, CALL7 Investigators discovered more than a dozen dead animals in a dumpster outside the Colorado Humane Society," report Tom Burke and Tony Kovaleski of the CALL7 investigative team in Denver. Such disposal saves the Colorado Humane Society — a private organization not affiliated with the National Humane Society or any other animal shelter — about $12 per animal. Whistleblowers implicate the executive director in allowing this practice, a charge that the director denies. The reporting also raised questions of financial mismanagement and the society's continued drive to solicit donations despite a suspended license.

Athletes' weight gain can lead to major problems

Garry Lenton of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., reports on the increased average size of high school football players. The newspaper used high school football rosters from 1988 and 2006, calculating the body mass index of 800 players total and finding that "Eighteen percent of 2006 players had a body mass index of 30 or more, twice the 1988 rate." Some of these young athletes, if they maintain their 300-plus pound weight after their playing days are over, risk health problems like leg and back issues, as well as strokes and heart problems. The culture that has led to this ... Read more ...