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The perils of America’s hard-charging capitalism
May 27, 2014, Chicago Tribune
Recent data from the Luxembourg Income Study Database [is] shocking. While median per capita income in the United States has stagnated since 2000, it’s up significantly in Canada and Northern Europe. Their typical worker’s income is now higher than ours, and their disposable income — after taxes — higher still. Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now, 75 percent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.) If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weeks paid vacation is the norm, along with paid sick leave and paid parental leave. We’re working an average of 4.6 percent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 percent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 percent more than your typical German worker. But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and Northern Europeans are. They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in those countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 percent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 percent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished — and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.
Note: For more on the devastating impacts of the income inequality, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
US ‘fails to account’ for Iraq reconstruction billions
July 27, 2010, CBS News
A US federal watchdog has criticised the US military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the US Department of Defence is unable to account properly for 96% of the money. Out of just over $9bn, $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says. Much of the money came from the sale of Iraqi oil and gas, and some frozen Saddam Hussein-era assets were also sold off. The money was in a special fund administered by the US Department of Defense, the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), and was earmarked for reconstruction projects. But the report says that a lack of proper accounting and poor oversight makes it impossible to say exactly what happened to most of it. “The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” the report said. This is not the first time that allegations of missing billions have surfaced in relation to the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. In 2005, the inspector general criticised the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US-led occupation administration, for its management of an $8.8bn fund that belonged to the Iraqi government. A criminal investigation conducted led to the conviction of eight US officials on bribery, fraud and money-laundering charges.
Why the Pentagon’s accounting fixes end up broken
December 23, 2013, CNBC Reuters
The Defense Department has launched 20 or more projects to build modern business-management systems since the late 1990s. At least five were subsequently killed as complete failures after billions of dollars were spent on them. With each failure, a pattern emerges: An off-the-shelf product with a proven track record in the private sector is chosen and then modified to the point where it doesn’t work properly. The Pentagon is unable to account for itself, and thus for roughly half of all congressionally approved annual federal spending. Interviews with scores of current and former defense officials, contractors and Pentagon watchers, as well as a review of dozens of reports by oversight agencies, show that the Pentagon is continually thwarted by a lack of accountability for failures … and an incentive to spend. All other federal agencies are audited annually … and with rare exceptions, they pass every year. The Pentagon alone has never been audited, leaving roughly $8.5 trillion in taxpayer dollars unaccounted for since 1996. The Pentagon has for years kept lousy books with impunity. The 2009 law requiring the Defense Department to be audit-ready by 2017 provides for no penalties if it misses the deadline. From 1995 through 2002, Senator Charles Grassley pushed through an amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill requiring the Pentagon to account for its expenditures by following one seemingly simple procedure: match each payment to the expense it covered. The order was ignored, and Grassley gave up. There is no doubt that bad bookkeeping conceals movements of money that in some instances are illegal. But because the Pentagon has never been audited, it is impossible to determine the frequency or extent of violations.
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Vatican presses forward with crackdown on US nuns’ group over ‘radical’ positions
NEW YORK – The Vatican official overseeing the crackdown on the largest umbrella group for U.S. nuns is pressing forward with the overhaul under Pope Francis.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican orthodoxy watchdog, reprimanded officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for planning to honor a theologian who had been criticized by U.S. bishops and said the sisters must show more willingness to cooperate.
Mueller made the remarks in a meeting last Wednesday with the group’s leaders in Rome. He apologized repeatedly for speaking so bluntly, while reminding the sisters their organization held its status within the church only through Vatican approval.
"The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life," Mueller said, according to a copy of his speech posted Monday on the Vatican website. "We are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration."
The nuns’ group said in a brief statement Monday that the meeting with Mueller and his staff was “respectful and engaging,” but the sisters would not comment further. The cardinal’s remarks were first reported by The National Catholic Reporter.
The reform order was issued in 2012 under now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, after an investigation concluded the nuns’ group had taken positions that undermined Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Investigators praised the nuns’ humanitarian work, but accused them of focusing too much on social justice and ignoring critical issues, such as fighting abortion.
The nuns’ group rejected the Vatican findings as “flawed” and based on “unsubstantiated accusations.” Some sisters had hoped for a new approach under Pope Francis, a Jesuit who has stressed mercy over morals and has made social justice issues his top priority.
In last week’s meeting, Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said he supported the conclusions of the Vatican review.
"The issues raised in the assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord," Mueller said.
The Leadership Conference, which represents about 80 percent of U.S. nuns, plans to give its outstanding leadership award to Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a Fordham University theologian and author of “Quest for the Living God.” U.S. bishops said the book contained “misrepresentations” and doctrinal errors, but Johnson has defended her work. Mueller didn’t mention Johnson by name, but said the choice of honoree will be “seen as a rather open provocation.”
The award will be conferred at the August assembly of the Leadership Conference in Nashville. Mueller said that after the event, the nuns must be sure to submit their plans for awards and major meetings ahead of time to Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, whom the Vatican has appointed to oversee the reform. Mueller said Sartain was informed of the choice only after the decision had been made.
Monsanto GM Soy Is Scarier Than You Think
April 23, 2014, Mother Jones
More than 90 percent of the soybeans churned out on US farms each year are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, nearly all of them involving one called Roundup. Organic production, by contrast, is marginal—it accounts for less than 1 percent of total American acreage devoted to soy. After harvest, the great bulk of soybeans are crushed and divided into two parts: meal, which mainly goes into feed for animals that become our meat, and fat, most of which ends up being used as cooking oil or in food products. According to the US Soy Board, soy accounts for 61 percent of American’s vegetable oil consumption. Given soy’s centrality to our food and agriculture systems, the findings of a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry are worth pondering. The authors found that Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup Ready soybeans, engineered to withstand its own blockbuster herbicide, contain more herbicide residues than their non-GMO counterparts. The team also found that the GM beans are nutritionally inferior. They found residues of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and aminomethylphosphonic acid, or AMPA, the compound glyphosate breaks down into as it decays, on all 10 of the GM samples—and in none of the non-GM and organic ones. The researchers found residue levels hovering above a level Monsanto itself has characterized as “extreme.” Independent research … found that Roundup in water at 3 ppm induced morphological changes in frogs.
Note: For more on the risks to health from GMO foods, see the deeply revealing summary available here.