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February 11, 2010

Texas, Pelosi and the doctor bills

Posted: 12:47 PM ET

A picture tells a thousand words: Taken in 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is cutting the ribbon at the brand new Women's Hospital at Renaissance outside McAllen, Texas.

Everyone is smiling, and with good reason.

Once the ribbon-cutting ended, the schmoozing and fundraising began. The party moved to the home of the developer who built the hospital. The Texas Monthly reported the developer, and the doctors who also invested in his beautiful, sprawling, for-profit medical complex, handed over $800,000 in donations for Pelosi's Congressional Democrats.

One day, $800,000.

Why would a group of doctors and a big developer give so much money to Nancy Pelosi? There's a lot at stake here.

Two national studies about Medicare costs show why McAllen, Texas is a good example of why health care is costing all of us so much.

In McAllen, the medical bill for the average Medicare beneficiary is almost twice as much as the national average, and health care costs are growing faster here than almost everywhere else in the country.

Just walk down any street and you can see why. On almost every corner, in almost every strip mall, every office building, there are doctor's offices, MRI screening centers, medical testing facilities.

And believe me, they are all in use. In our report for Campbell Brown's show, we'll tell you about one patient with a swollen ankle who went through so many tests–including an ultrasound for the abdomen and one to determine testosterone levels–the Texas Medical Board finally said enough.

What a Dartmouth Atlas study found interesting is that all this healthcare being delivered in McAllen does not actually add up to better health.

Which brings me back to that picture and why doctors would invite Speaker Pelosi to dinner and raise money for her?

One doctor who was at this very fundraiser said, "Look at it this way," he told me. "If you are going to take my money way, I am going to bring you to my house, serve you a nice dinner, and do all I can to convince you not to do it.”

In 2009, the hospital's political action committee also donated to House and Senate candidates, including Republicans.

Now, I am in no way implying here that all the donations paid off... but when members of the House of Representatives voted 395 to 34 in December to approve a $636.3 billion defense appropriations bill, tucked inside was a provision that delayed a planned 21.2% cut in Medicare physician payments until Feb. 28, 2010.

And just this week, Democrats proposed the passage of a new jobs bill with yet another two month delay in those Medicare cuts.

Those doctors at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance near McAllen, Texas, must be smiling again. 75% percent of their patients are on Medicare or Medicaid.

The speaker's office did get back to us and took offense to any suggestion political donations influenced any votes in Washington. "The House has on several occasions passed provisions strongly opposed by these doctors and any attempt to ignore this fact is nothing more than a cynical ploy to reach a conclusion that is simply false," Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in a statement to CNN.

As for the payments to doctors treating Medicare patients, the rules apply to all doctors, the speaker's office told us, not just those she was pictured with in McAllen.

picture above: Courtesy www.EdinburghPolitics.com

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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February 2, 2010

Judge seals videotape in Taser case

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

By David Fitzpatrick and Drew Griffin

WINNFIELD, Louisiana (CNN) - A judge has sealed a potentially explosive
videotape taken in the aftermath of a racially charged incident in this small
central Louisiana town two years ago.

On January 17, 2008, an unarmed man - wanted on what police said was an
outstanding arrest warrant - was struck by a 50,000-volt Taser nine times
within the space of 14 minutes.

The suspect, Baron "Scooter" Pikes, was handcuffed during each separate
Taser incident, according to the Winnfield Police Department. The officer who
fired the Taser, Scott Nugent, is white. Pikes, who was pronounced dead on
arrival at a hospital, was black.

CNN's account of the incident in the summer of 2008 relied on interviews
at the time with the local parish coroner, the police and an attorney for the
family of the victim.

Winn Parish Coroner Dr. Randy Williams told CNN that in his opinion,
Nugent had violated every police procedure for using a Taser on a suspect.
Moreover, contrary to initial police reports, Williams told CNN that there was
no trace of drugs in Pikes' system. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Subsequently, the officer was fired following a long civil service hearing and
is now on trial for manslaughter in Winnfield.

At the time, a lawyer for Nugent, Phillip Terrell, told CNN that his
client had, in fact, followed proper procedure and that Pikes was resisting
arrest and had fought with Nugent before being struck by the Taser.

The video sealed Monday by the judge shows the aftermath of Nugent's
Taser use, according to sources who have seen the tape. They told CNN that it
runs about 17 minutes and was shot by Nugent himself.

The tape begins with Pikes handcuffed to a chair in the Winnfield Police
Department, the sources said. He had already been hit by a so-called "direct"
stun - a Taser fired directly into his chest rather than from a distance –
and eight other Taser shots.

Off camera, voices can be heard taunting him, shouting the "N" word and
demanding to know if he was high on drugs, the sources said. The tape also
shows Pikes foaming at the mouth and struggling to breathe. He later slumps to
the floor and is ultimately taken to an emergency room with shackles around
both of his ankles. CNN has seen still photographs of the lifeless body, still
in leg shackles at the hospital.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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January 19, 2010

American Ex-Cons in Yemen

Posted: 07:49 PM ET

In a report to be released Wednesday, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations examined Al Qaeda’s role in International terrorism.

The Chairman of the committee, Massachusetts’ Sen. John Kerry said,” Al Qaeda has been pushed out of Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. and allied forces”.

He also said that Al Qaeda’s recruiting tactics have changed and the group wants to recruit more American citizens to “carry out attacks in America”.

Read the report here. Tell us what you think.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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January 13, 2010

Army Medic thought Psychiatrist was a terrorist

Posted: 01:08 PM ET

Hasan patient

An Army Medic suffering from severe anxiety and depression arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the spring of 2007. His course of treatment included an MRI for a shoulder injury and counseling with the Army psychiatrist assigned to his case.

That doctor was Major Nidal Hasan, now charged in the terror attack at Fort Hood, Texas that left 13 dead, 32 wounded. And from moment they first met, the Army medic (who wants to remain anonymous) says he knew something was wrong.

"He's a terrorist," the medic told CNN's Drew Griffin on his impression of his first visit with the doctor.
"I didn't even, like nothing else came in my mind that was the first thing that came in my mind. I really did. I don't know why I thought that but I really did."

The medic's account of his treatment under Dr. Nidal Hasan comes as the Department of Defense is releasing a scathing report on its handling of the Major's army career. Specifically, the Defense Department review questions why years of bad performance and unprofessional behavior by Hasan did not raise warning flags about his suitability to be an army psychiatrist.

In a 12 year military career, Hasan repeatedly scored below average academically, had a poor attendance record and needed close monitoring in emergency rooms.

In 2007 he questioned why muslim soldiers should be involved in fighting other muslims; suggested that sharia muslim law trumped the us constitution.

The same year, his supervisor chastised Hasan for not being reachable while on-call, and counseled him that his research project about internal conflicts of Muslim soldiers was not a topic appropriate for the program.

Despite all the warning signs, in 2009 Hasan was given yet another recommendation to be promoted, and he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas.

According to his former patient, Hasan rarely showed up for appointments, and when he did, seemed to care little for the soldier he was assigned to help.

"He seemed odd," the patient tells CNN. "If you've seen the picture of him when he went into that grocery store and he had a big smile on his face, you never saw that smile, as a doctor. When he was taking care of patients you never saw that smile."

Instead, the patient describes a "very harsh stare" with "fire burning eyes".

"There was no doctor patient relationship there," he said. "You might as well have been talking to a wall."

The patient never complained about the treatment he was getting, saying he was "too messed up at the time" to complain about anything. He says Hasan never talked about religion when he met with him, and never openly showed his Muslim faith.

The medic has since been discharged from the Army.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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June 18, 2009

Legalize pot? Why not legalize being a loser

Posted: 02:45 PM ET

growhouseIf you just drove by this house, you would never know what’s inside that walled off garage. But under a stifling Florida sun, the garage is a cool 70 degrees, a constant flow of cool, nutrient rich water flowing throughout the floor, and illuminated by golden glowing lamps whose radiance bounces off reflective aluminum walls.

It is all designed to provide maximum growing potential for the 42 mature marijuana plants evenly spaced in this factory of pot. After seeing this, my initial reaction is the fight to eradicate marijuana in this country is hopeless.

But does that mean we should give up and legalize pot?downsized_0616090846 (2)

For two weeks, knowing I was assigned to this story, I have been asking that question to the many prosecutors, DEA agents and police I come in contact with. The overwhelming answer is no.

There is no doubt, in the minds of these people who come in contact with users, growers, smugglers and junkies, that marijuana use is terrible for the individuals who engage in it.

It is not just a pathway to stronger drugs; it is, in and of itself, a recipe for losers.

Andy anyone who calls himself the casual user, in the minds of law enforcement, is deluding themselves into believing they are not affected by this drug. They compare it to the drunk who believes he can actually drive better with a few drinks inside. The bigger question is how to stop marijuana use.

The DEA agents who raided this home, could raid similar homes everyday, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and still the marijuana would grow.

Which is why there may need to be a huge strategic change in our so-called drug war. Anti-smoking campaigns work for tobacco.

Why won’t they work for marijuana? That should really be the focus of our efforts. We shouldn’t be laughing at the lame jokes from comedians talking about harmless weed; we shouldn’t allow rappers to glorify the wonders of living high.

If nothing else, we should be telling our children that no matter what it is, putting smoke into your lungs is unhealthy, uncool and in the case of pot, a first step towards a life of a loser.

 OK all you pot heads, let me hear it!

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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May 19, 2009

Billions in tax dollars found buried in Nevada Cave

Posted: 09:00 AM ET

pv_16959_0047If you think anyone in Washington gives a damn about your money, listen to how they have wasted it, and will continue to waste it, because of "politics."

Taxpayers have spent more than $10 billion dollars digging a hole in a mountain in Nevada where the nation's nuclear waste was supposed to go. The Yucca Mountain project has been underway for nearly three decades. In 1987, Congress even passed a law explicitly directing waste from the nation's nuclear power plants would start arriving in Yucca Mountain in by the late 1990's.

So far, not one single radioactive isotope has made its way to Yucca, and probably never will.

President Obama, making good on a promise to Senate Majority Leader (and not-in-my-backyard-of-Nevada) Harry Reid, has effectively killed any future for the Yucca Mountain facility. More than $10 billion dollars of scientific study, engineering and congressional spending has just been thrown into a hole in the ground.

But Yuccas Mountain is not officially dead, and here is where the real arrogance of wasting your money comes in.

Even the President cannot kill the project because, remember, the project is law. According to the federal government, the government is required to build Yucca Mountain and accept the waste. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) would like to change that law, but without an option for where all this waste will go, it may be hard to get the votes.

So what to do?

Keep Yucca Mountain on life-support while you spend money looking for another alternative. President Obama plans to do just that by spending $197 million dollars in the 2010 budget, essentially to pay people to do nothing. Out at Yucca Mountain, there will be a staff getting paid, proceeding with licensing and other odds and ends, knowing all along that the project has no future.

It's pure politics that has already cost you and me $10 billion dollars and now $197 million more.

Let's hope they don't carve out more of Yucca Mountain to stuff with dollar bills.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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February 24, 2009

Same ol' pork barrel congress

Posted: 02:19 PM ET

pv_16959_00472On the same day the President called on the government to undergo fiscal restraint, Congress unveiled a bill revealing where all those earmarks have been hiding. The pork-laden omnibus catch-all, held over from last year, contains no less than 8,570 earmarks.

The pork projects are still being deciphered by various watchdog groups, and Republicans are railing at the fact that the Congressional leadership seems to have violated its transparency rules by jamming these all in a last minute bill, but a quick view has me scratching my head in disbelief at both parties.

After two years of criticism aimed at pork barrel spending, the defiant members of Congress are unabashedly asking for more. Republicans and Democrats alike are looking for taxpayer dollars for projects no one could call necessary. Like what? David Obey, the House Appropriations Chair, wants to rebuild a Carnegie library building in Medford, Wisconsin, and he wants to reconstruct "Historic Lighthouses" in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.(Historic lighthouse means no one uses them anymore, they are simply nice looking relics)

Nancy Pelosi wants money for Angels Island State Park for a center to research genealogy. A Republican, Robert Aderholt of Alabama, wants $47,500 federal taxpayer dollars to build a perimeter fence around the Rountree Airport to keep the animals away. Rountree airport listed a whopping 14 aircraft based there in 2008. There is not a single air taxi or air carrier that uses this dinky little one runway airstrip. But the request pales in comparison with an old favorite up in Alaska that simply won't go away. Akutan is a tiny island off Alaska that has a seasonal fish processing factory.

The owners of the factory gave money to now disgraced and ousted Senator Ted Stevens. We reported on Stevens' earmark request last year. This year, Stevens is gone but Akutan airport is back. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski wants you and I to spend $1-point-2 million dollars on the Akutan airport. Airports are a favorite of money. Another favorite of mine is Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a true pro at earmarking bills. If Senator Byrd wants money for airports in West Virginia, he doesn't waste time explaining why. His earmark request in the transportation portion of the bill: $4,275,000 dollars. The explainer: "Airport improvement statewide." Effectively, just give me the money and West Virginia will determine where to spend it.

 Last year I interviewed a somber, somewhat dejected Republican Senate veteran Orrin Hatch. When I asked him about earmarks and federal spending, he simply shook his head saying the arrogance of both sides of the aisle is quite frankly outrageous and depressing.

I'd like to know if somewhere in the White House our new President who promised change and hope, isn't shaking his head too. So how can you do your own investigative reporting to find your own Senate or Congressional pork? First, open up the House Appropriations committee link below.

Here's the list 

This site will display the Omnibus bill. Each individual portion of the bill contains a segment labeled "statement". This is the center of all pork. Scroll down to read them all. Or, if you would like to search for a specific Representative or Senate request, hit control-f, then type in the name of the Senator or Member of Congress you are looking for.

If you opened the "statement" for the "transportation" section of the bill and searched "Murkowski", you would find the money being requested for Akutan airport by Sen. Lisa Murkowski. I know...it is not easy...but remember, just a few years ago all we got was a big stack of papers with no names attached. Happy hunting!

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit


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February 18, 2009

Former Marine facing foreclosure, but do you really want to bail him out?

Posted: 06:38 PM ET

pv_16959_00471Jeff Gray is a nice guy.  He's a 45 year old father of three, a husband to a school teacher and a former Marine.  He is also self-admittedly financially inept and very-near being kicked out of his suburban Maryland home.  He is literally begging for help not to be foreclosed on.  But when you hear his short financial history,  you may come to the same conclusion that J.P. Morgan Chase has come to: Jeff Gray can not keep his home.

I sat in his living room a few weeks back and went through his mortgage papers and could not believe what I was reading.  In 2005,  Jeff Gray filed a tax return indicating he and his wife had a combined income of $7,900 a year.  In December of that same year the couple refinanced their three bedroom home for $347,000.  It would take four months of his salary to pay for just one month of his mortgage.

When I asked him how anyone ever approved this loan,   he told me to look at the loan papers that he says were filled out by a fast talking mortgage broker.  The loan form indicated Jeff and his wife were making more than $13,000 a month!

"Wait a minute",  jeff1I said  "Your income was 7-thousand-900 a year and they inflated it on the paperwork to $13,000-a-month, and somehow they loaned you 347 thousand?"
"Yep."
"Jeff,  I have to ask you did that make sense to you at the time?"
"Well Drew,  when I went back and looked at it,  like I said we were signing deeds we were getting them real fast,  and we didn't know.  We didn't pay any attention to it."
Jeff Gray has not made a mortgage payment, he says, in four years.  He has been living rent free, unable to pay that $2,700-a-month for even one month. Now he wants help.
There are a lot of reasons we have gotten into this housing mess.  Whomever it was who wrote this loan, approved this loan and sold this loan should, in my view, be held responsible for it.  But that also includes the person who applied for the loan, signed for the loan and then couldn't pay the loan.
Jeff Gray told me he feels he was swindled, caught up in a swirl of paper work flying at him at closing.  And it is true he is being kicked out while the banks are being bailed out. But there is no fine print about the loan papers I saw. They clearly stated his first mortgage payment would be $2,700 dollars and he knew he couldn't afford it.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Uncategorized


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January 21, 2009

Frank talk on corporate jets gets a good grounding in Congress

Posted: 04:08 PM ET

Note from reporter: Congressman and Senators love to get a lot of press when initiating bold, new legislation, tough talking amendments or major initiatives.

One of the reasons they seek media attention on the "front-end" is because they know, as do those of us who cover them, that it is very rare anything ever really gets done on the"back end".

Most new legislation winds up going nowhere. In our continuing effort to "Keep Them Honest" here is a look at one of those bold proposals that went nowhere almost immediately upon its introduction .

pv_16959_00474 

When those auto makers flew to congress in corporate jets to ask for a taxpayer bail out, no one was more upset than the powerful chairman of the house financial services  committee, Rep. Barney Frank(D-MA).

So irate over the use of corporate jets, Frank was determined to make sure it never happened again. His plan, no corporate executives coming to Washington asking for bailout money would be allowed to travel in those multi-million dollar symbols of excess.

 To make sure corporate America got the message, Mr. Frank dropped a provision into the latest bailout bill, H.R. 384, the TARP Reform and Accountability Act, requiring would-be recipients of taxpayer funds to dump their corporate fleets. Basically, if you want taxpayer money, sell your jet and fly commercial.
 
That sure sounded tough. And it sure sent a message to the automakers. When they came back to Washington they drove.

 But it turns out Rep. Barney Frank may have overreacted. Last week Rep. Frank quietly stripped the no-jet provision from the bill. Why? Kansas.

 Kansas is a hub of aircraft manufacturing, particularly the making of corporate jets. Fellow democrat Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS)sent a note to Congressman Frank delicately suggesting the powerful chairman re-think the tough talk.

 "We have to be careful about congress overreacting," Moore wrote in a statement.

 What he wrote to Chairman Frank was more diplomatic.

 "It is clear that the auto executives were insensitive to American taxpayers when they flew in their private jets to request billions of dollars. But I have concerns that applying this well-intended provision may have unintended consequences of hurting the general aviation industry and its  workers."

The congressman pointed out pointed out 44-thousand workers in Kansas work directly for the airplane manufacturing industry, and a lot of families depend on those paychecks.

Last Tuesday the "no-fly" language was dropped, and yet another get tough message from Congress got a soft landing.

Late today, Chairman Frank sent a statement to CNN explaining why.

Here it is: "The private aircraft industry is an important industry in America, and it plays a necessary role with businesses in certain areas of the country.

For example, there are a number of communities that do not have commercial air service available for hundreds of miles.

Some of these communities are already in economic distress, and denying businesses the ability to use private aircraft further disadvantages these businesses and seriously impacts thousands of American jobs that provide services to this industry.

 I heard from many members of Congress from both parties representing a half a dozen states expressing concerns of their constituents in regard to this matter and hence why we further reviewed the issue and ultimately removed it from the legislation."

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Politics • Special Investigations Unit


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January 20, 2009

How did they get that seat? They paid.

Posted: 11:45 AM ET

pv_16959_00473

This may be a day of change, but one thing never seems to change about Washington: money opens doors, and in this case seats to history.

While millions huddle in the cold for a peek of the swearing in ceremony, those with thousands have paid for the privilege most of us can’t afford.

The inauguration is being financed by private donations. The donations are being limited to $50,000 per contributor.

No lobbyists are allowed to give, per strict rules by the Obam-ites. But like all things DC there is wiggle room, so families of lobbyists can give.

Others, like liberal activist financier George Soros seems to have his whole family giving the limit.

The Center for Responsive Politics collected the data. You can view it right here.

Take a look at who you see on screen and then see just how much they gave to get that spot.

I find it a fun and interactive way right here to see how Washington never really changes. 

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Politics • Special Investigations Unit


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