Extra Extra : May 2009

Food safety becoming responsiblity of the consumer

Following a mysterious outbreak of salmonella in 2007 linked to pot pies from ConAgra Foods, corporations have moved to place the responsibility for "food safety" on the consumer through warnings and instructions on how to prepare processed food items.  The New York Times reports, "Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening ... Read more ...

Handicapped accessibility a problem at many CTA stations

An investigation into the handicapped accessibility of Chicago Transit Authority stations by a team of reporters from Columbia College Chicago found that "41 percent of the stations designated fully accessible were not." Using FOIA, the students reviewed over 2,000 ADA-related complaints filed against the CTA from Jan. 1, 2004 through Feb. 28, 2009. Some of their findings included patterns of broken elevators and bus lifts, as well as CTA employees swearing at passengers and denying access to several customers with service dogs.

Land parcels owned by city poorly tracked

The city of Wichita owns more than 11,000 acres that include multimillion-dollar buildings such as City Hall, an overgrown wildlife preserve and small, oddly shaped plots worth as little as $10. But a weeks-long investigation by Brent D. Wistrom of The Wichita Eagle shows disjointed records system leaves city officials and the public unable to quickly spot land available to sell, say which department is responsible for upkeep or distinguish between parks, rights of way and corporate grounds the city holds title to as collateral for tax incentives. The city also lacks a map of its properties, leaving some ... Read more ...

Some U.S. soldiers in Iraq given inadequate water rations

KHOU-Houston’s investigative team found many soldiers deployed throughout Iraq weren’t getting enough water for extended periods of time. Depending on where they were stationed, troops received only three liters of water a day for all of their needs when military documents show they should have been receiving nearly five times that amount. As a result, some units would go on dangerous raids to steal water and veterans are reporting severe health and kidney problems.

Cities overcharged by ex-politician through bond loan program

A $3 billion municipal bond loan program run by an ex-politician in Tennessee was overcharging Nashville and two other cities by hiding fees within reported interest rates, The Tennessean's Brad Schrade reported. The multi-story investigation used federal bank filings, audits and other public records to expose problems with the non-profit loan program, including lack of disclosure, secrecy of the president/CEO's pay and conflicts of interest involving consulting deals with the program's chief financial partner, Bank of America, and other businesses.

Vacant homes, neighborhoods plague the Rust Belt

"An analysis by The Associated Press, based on data collected by the U.S. Postal Service and the Housing and Urban Development Department, shows the emptiest neighborhoods are clustered in places hit hard during the recession of the 1980s — cities such as Flint, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Indianapolis." Dan Sewell and Frank Bass report that while foreclosure stories have focused on "mostly middle-class, suburban Sunbelt neighborhoods from California to Florida," urban neighborhoods in the Rust Belt have been hardest hit.  Nearly $6 billion in federal fund have been designated to rehabilitate or demolish abandoned and foreclosed homes ... Read more ...

Landowners, not voters, control government of Florida town

A three-part series in the Naples (Fla.) Daily News looks at the town government of Ave Maria, a community that surrounds a Catholic-oriented university started by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Monaghan and a local landowner got a state law passed creating a government that they can control forever at the expense of the town's residents. A University of Florida law professor quoted in the story questions whether this arrangement violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Advanced placement classes failing to prepare students

Florida Times-Union reporters Topher Sanders and Mary Kelli Palka used open records laws to obtain data on Advanced Placement classes that the Jacksonville, Fla. school district didn't want public. Sanders and Palka used the data to compare students' performance in AP classes, and on the national AP exam and the state's standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The investigation found that 29 percent of all AP seats in Jacksonville schools last year were occupied by students who couldn't read on grade level, and revealed huge disparities between grades in classes and scores on the national ... Read more ...

California schools struggle to deal with problem teachers, staff

A series in the Los Angeles Times examines how effectively districts across California are dealing with teachers and other staff who are failing their students. In the Los Angeles Unified school district, "about 160 instructors and others get salaries for doing nothing while their job fitness is reviewed. They collect roughly $10 million a year, even as layoffs are considered because of a budget gap," according to a report by Jason Song. One teacher has continued to collect his salary for the past seven years while his fitness to teach has been under evaluation by the district.

Project identifies top lenders at center of financial meltdown

A project by the Center for Public Integrity delved into the financial crisis by analyzing 7.2 million subprime loans made from 2005 through 2007. The analysis revealed 25 lenders responsible for nearly $1 trillion in subprime lending during that time. Their reporting uncovered "that at least 21 of the top 25 subprime lenders were directly or indirectly financed by the mega banks that received bailout money — through direct ownership, credit agreements, or huge purchases of loans for securitization." The package includes detailed profiles of "The Subprime 25."