Sen. Grassley Calls Out Red Cross for Stonewalling Haiti Investigation

From NonProfit Quarterly, June 17, 2016.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees issued a letter on Thursday essentially declaring that the American Red Cross (ARC) is stonewalling his investigation on questions of accountability where its activities and spending in Haiti are concerned. The ARC received approximately $487 million dollars to provide food and shelter in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Eventually, questions began to be raised about the organization’s effectiveness in Haiti, with charges about inefficiencies and waste. Grassley mentioned that reports also surfaced about the ARC viewing the disaster as a public relations and fundraising opportunity.

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The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster

This joint ProPublica/NPR report is extremely troubling, raising questions about how the Red Cross managed relief efforts after Hurricanes Sandy and Issac.

From the report:

During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.

“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”

During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.

Go to the report.

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Black Lung Returns To Coal Country

This investigation by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity on the issue of black lung shows – once again – that industry can’t be trusted to police itself.  Workers are not being protected.  The coal industry has gamed the system through the exploitation of loopholes, as well as downright fraud.  Regulators are not doing their jobs, either; the analysis in this story shows that they have known for more than 20 years that miners are breathing excessive amounts of coal dust.

From the series:

From the very beginning, miners reported “irregularities” in controlling coal mine dust, says Donald Rasmussen, 84, a pulmonologist in Beckley, W.Va. Rasmussen says he’s tested 40,000 coal miners for black lung in the last 50 years.

“So many miners will say, ‘If you think the dust is controlled you’re crazy,’ ” he says.

Measuring coal mine dust is key to preventing overexposure. Excess dust can trigger citations, fines and even slowdowns in coal production. Mining companies enforce their own compliance by taking and reporting mine dust samples. Federal mine inspectors also test for excessive dust.

Donald Rasmussen, 84, a pulmonologist in Beckley, W.Va., says he has tested 40,000 coal miners in the last 50 years.

But NPR and CPI have found widespread and persistent gaming of the system designed to measure and control exposure.

Richard Allen, a federal mine inspector underground when the 1969 law first took effect, says he remembers a strange question from a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigator about a carpet’s color in a coal mine manager’s office.

“It was blue and [MSHA was finding] little blue fibers in each [mine dust] sample,” Allen says. “[Investigators] cross-referenced the fibers in these samples to that carpet and found that he was sampling in his office” and not deep inside the mine.

The mine manager was later convicted of defrauding the mine safety agency and served time in prison.

Federal records obtained by CPI and NPR describe 103 cases resulting in criminal convictions for fraudulent dust sampling from 1980 through 2002. Fines totaled $2.2 million, and some mining company officials went to jail.

In 1991, the Labor Department levied civil fines of more than $6.5 million against about 500 coal mines for tampering with mine dust samples.

Listen to the series or read the transcript here.

“Walking away” not immoral, prof says

Sign Of The Times - Foreclosure
Photo by respres
“Strategic default” is the term used to describe the decision to walk away from an underwater mortgage. The terms of a mortgage contract spell out the responsibilities of all parties, and include a list of consequences for borrowers who fail to live up to their part of the bargain. Some homeowners, after looking at the terms of the contract, are concluding that they are willing to live with those consequences. But are there moral and ethical implications to this? Read the article here. You can download the discussion paper referred to in the article here.

Marketplace Money had an interesting piece, with Henry Blodget, CEO of the “Business Insider,” and Megan McArdle, of the “Atlantic” magazine debating the propriety of walking away. You can hear that piece and read the transcript here.

Excerpt from the Arizona Republic article:
Arizona law professor Brent White says the only thing standing between many “underwater” homeowners and a better financial future is a misguided sense that walking away from a loan commitment is morally wrong.

White, an associate professor at University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, has spent the past few months presenting his argument to other lawyers, real-estate professionals and the national media.

It started with a 50-page discussion paper he published in October, in which White argues that underwater homeowners, those whose unpaid loan balance exceeds the value of their home, are being manipulated into picking up the tab for a real-estate crash that borrowers and lenders created equally.

“I’m all for a society where people must take personal responsibility, but that should also apply to the banks and financial institutions,” he said.

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Feminomics: Women Reformers Motivated by a No Tolerance Rule

A great article from a very interesting website. Read the article here.
Excerpt:

During the past year, the financial sector has done a lot of wrong. First, it nearly self-destructed. Then it engaged with a set of Washington elites to extract trillions of dollars of public funds to ease its pain. Now, it’s posting record bonuses on the back of that assistance, in a disgustingly entitled manner, as if its profits are based on sheer skill, rather than federal aid, accounting tricks, and regulatory indifference. What’s missing from this reckless scenario? Women.

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Agribusiness Chief Slams Organics

Michael Mack, the chief executive of Syngenta, doesn’t think organic food is such a good idea. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Syngenta is in the business of making pesticides and developing “crop protection” technologies. Read the article here.
Excerpt:

“Organic food is not only not better for the planet,” he said, in an interview at The New York Times building on Tuesday. “It is categorically worse.”

The problem, Mr. Mack said, is that organic farming takes up about 30 percent more land, on average, than nonorganic farming for the same yield (though this varies by crop, of course). If the world wants to feed its fast-growing population on existing cropland — and Mr. Mack is clear that he does not want forests chopped down to clear more land for biofuel production, let alone food — then productivity becomes a key factor, he said.

“If the whole planet were to suddenly switch to organic farming tomorrow, it would be an ecological disaster,” he said.

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