Extra Extra : August 2008

Spending on contractors in Iraq on the rise

According to federal documents, "This year, spending on contractors, who protect diplomats, civilian facilities and supply convoys, is projected to exceed $1.2 billion," reports Peter Eisler of USA TODAY. This represents a 13% increase in spending since 2007. The increase is attributed, in part, to the fact that the focus in Iraq has shifted from combat to rebuilding. As Congress raises questions about the safety of relying on contractors and whether or not they have adequate supervision, legislation is being introduced to increase the the legal accountability of the contractors.

Lobbyist money flowing freely at convention in Denver

Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz and Avni Patel of ABCNews.com report that lobbyist money is flowing freely at the Democratic National Convention despite Barack Obama's position to ban lobbyist and special interest contributions to his campaign.  A spokesman for the Obama campaign stated the drawn out primary prevented Senator Obama from making changes to the handling of convention funding.  In 2006, Democratic party chairman Howard Dean tapped Steve Farber, a prominent Washington lobbyist and Denver lawyer, as co-chair and chief fundraiser of the Denver host committee.

Texas schools often used bus firm linked to fatal crash

According to a report by Matt Stiles and Chase Davis of the Houston Chronicle, "Angel Tours, the charter bus company tied to a deadly North Texas crash this month, also shuttled children and students on dozens of trips since 2006, mostly for extracurricular events paid by local schools and universities."  Records show the Houston Independent School District has paid $112,000 to Angel Tours, and the Pasadena Independent School District (PISD) has paid $23,000 for charters since October of 2006.  PISD had recently designated Angel Tours as a recommended vendor for the district.

Insurance companies influencing patient treatment

A Toledo Blade investigation by Steve Eder and Julie M. McKinnon shows doctors nationwide fear that increasingly stringent insurance rules and frequent second-guessing of doctors' orders are eroding the doctor-patient relationship — and harming patients. The Blade's four-part, eight-month investigation included interviews with about 100 physicians in a dozen states and a national online survey of doctors with more than 900 responses. More than 99 percent of respondents reported that insurers had interfered with their treatment decisions.

EPA chemical regulations lax

Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed how the Environmental Protection Agency fails to regulate chemicals that are made in excess of one million pounds a year. The EPA vowed to crack down on these types of chemicals years ago but has made little progress – largely because chemical makers can ignore the federal agency without consequences. The investigation is the latest installment from the reporters who have spent the last 16 months chronicling the lax regulation of the chemical industry.

Weak rules hinder appraiser oversight

Mitch Weiss of the Associated Press found that the system set up to protect consumers from rogue appraisers following the savings and loan crisis nearly 20 years ago has failed, playing a major role in America's housing collapse. His six-month investigation showed more than two dozen states and territories are violating federal law by failing to investigate and resolve complaints about real estate appraisers within a year. As a result, hundreds of appraisers accused of wrongdoing are allowed to stay in business. Weiss also found that the only tool federal regulators have to force states into compliance is so ... Read more ...

Handling of death investigation riddled with questions

The coroner and police reports from the 2004 death of Kathy Savio raise many questions about how the original investigation was handled, report Erika Slife and Matthew Walberg of the Chicago Tribune.  "The investigators and experts re-examining her death as a possible murder are now asking how police could have been so quick to overlook signs that something sinister may have happened to the third wife of  Drew Peterson, then a sergeant for the Bolingbrook Police Department." The Tribune's review of of the reports reveal information that calls into question why the police were so quick to dismiss the ... Read more ...

San Diego redevelopment chief resigns, projects in peril

A voiceofsandiego.org investigation has led to the resignation of San Diego’s downtown redevelopment chief and put the future of a $409 million hotel and condo project in question. The investigation revealed that the redevelopment chief acknowledged receiving almost $3 million in income from a business deal with a developer while her agency chose the company’s affiliate as the preferred developer for a proposed San Diego skyscraper. The official attended negotiation meetings with the developer, a revelation that surfaced after a simple California Public Records Act request to vet the official’s version of her story.

Demoted to Private

Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigative reporter Eric Nalder showed that political patronage, the zeal to privatize, and a failure at background checks led to disaster for taxpayers and military families. Three services gave 8,000 military houses and billion-dollar contracts to a company headed by a politically-connected Texan involved in a messy bankruptcy and a Connecticut property manager who'd been suspended from HUD projects for diverting millions from an unrelated public housing project.