Extra Extra : July 2010

Insurers profit on policies of fallen soldiers

An investigation by David Evans of Bloomberg found that Prudential Insurance has been profiting on life insurance policies of deceased veterans.  The funds are held in "Prudential’s general corporate account, earning investment income for the insurer."  According to regulatory filings from 2008, survivors were being paid 1 percent interest on their Alliance Accounts, while Prudential earned a 4.8 percent return on its corporate funds.  In addition, these holdings are not are not in banks covered by the FDIC.

Food service at stadiums often riddled with health code violations

A story by Paula Lavigne, of ESPN, reveals some unappetizing realities about food service at the 107 stadiums used by the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL across the country.  Through a review of inspection records from local health departments, Lavigne revealed that at "30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one "critical" or "major" health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal."

Whistleblowers defenseless against retaliatory suspensions

A report by Mike McGraw of The Kansas City Star shines a light on "a loophole in America's whistleblower protection laws." Whistleblowers have nowhere to turn when they face retaliation for their actions. McGraw's story focuses on George Sarris, an Air Force employee whose security clearance was suspended after he pointed out life-threatening maintenance problems with the planes he maintained. He is now paid $47,000 a year "to do odd jobs because they’ve suspended his access to classified information and restricted areas."

Credibility of airline passenger advocate called into question

A profile by Michael Fabey in Travel Weekly explores the credibility of Kate Hanni and FlyersRights.org. Three years ago, Hanni, a realtor-turned-lobbyist, stormed Washington on a crusade that wound up changing the way the Transportation Department makes airlines handle long-term tarmac delays. It appears Hanni misled Congress with false reports, data and statements. FlyersRights.org, the organization she founded, appears to be only a shell of of what she has claimed to be.

Danger lurks in some adult foster care homes

After a staff member at an adult foster care home in the Duluth, Minn., area was left alone with and nearly raped by a resident who had twice been civilly committed for mental illness, the Duluth News Tribune investigated the homes and found numerous incidents of residents with severe mental illness, drug addiction and violent criminal histories being left with staff members who were poorly paid and minimally trained to handle the residents. The paper also found that the majority of the residents being cared for came from out of the county and the social workers that place them often ... Read more ...

Texas governor linked to questionable real estate deals

An investigation by The Dallas Morning News found evidence that Gov. Rick Perry's biggest real estate score was enhanced by a series of professional courtesies, and personal favors from friends, campaign donors, and the head of a Texas family with a rich history of political power-brokering. Together, they may have enriched Perry by almost $500,000, according to an independent real estate appraisal commissioned by The News.

Chinese drywall "remediation" offers new niche for scammers

In Florida, convicted scammers and thieves are among workers selling unproven fixes and dubious diagnoses in the completely unregulated Chinese drywall "remediation" and inspection industry, a Palm Beach Post investigation found. A lack of state oversight makes dealing in drywall remedies a free-for-all for even the least qualified entrepreneurs, who are capitalizing on homeowner's fears that bad drywall is sickening families and ruining investments. These workers offer solutions, and can charge tens of thousands of dollars of more for fixes, even though state and federal researchers have yet to determine what causes the drywall to corrode pipes and eat ... Read more ...

Classified documents provide window into realities of Afghanistan war

"A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal," reports The New York Times.  The documents were released online by WikiLeaks.org, but The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel had been given access to the documents weeks ago on the condition that they not report on the material until WikiLeaks had released it.

Poor areas of Milwaukee have highest water usage

When it comes to using water, in Milwaukee the largest users do not have the largest homes or properties, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis by Ben Poston revealed. It’s the opposite: The biggest users are in the poorest census tracts in the city and are disproportionately minorities. Why? Those homes are more likely to have leaky pipes and poor quality fixtures in the home. The analysis was prompted by a push by the city to increase water rates by 25%.

Poor communication allowed gang member to go free

In a federal crackdown on the Latin Kings, a notorious street gang in Milwaukee, federal authorities had a chance to arrest a key gang leader wanted in connection with a homicide when he appeared at the county courthouse on a different case. But an investigation by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich revealed a startling lack of communication that let the gang leader go free. Indeed, the federal prosecutors did not know of the missed opportunity until Diedrich told them about it. Other mistakes allowed him to evade capture a second time. Authorities believe he is in Mexico.