The Pope fires his bankers…again

Bush and Mammon
The folks Pope Francis fired can find jobs the next day in the GOUSA

When he took over as head of the Roman Catholic Church last year, Pope Francis made it clear that he meant to be the leader of a “poor church” – meaning that the Vatican would focus less on its own splendor and more on finding ways to use its vast financial resources to benefit the world’s poor.

It’s turning out to be more of a struggle than Francis may have expected; last week he found it necessary to fire all five directors of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority – essentially the primary financial watchdog over the Papal State’s considerable financial operations.

The announcement on Thursday was only the most recent in a series of firings, replacements, and arrests that have rocked the Vatican’s financial hierarchy. It turns out that for Francis, casting the moneychangers out of the Temple has proven to be a time-consuming task.

Last summer, a number of senior officials with the Vatican Bank resigned around the time that one of its senior accountants, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, was arrested and charged with conspiring to smuggle more than $20 million from Italy to Switzerland. Scarano, reportedly known in Rome as “Monsignor 500” for his habit of displaying a wallet full of €500 notes, has since been charged with multiple other offenses, including money laundering.

In January, Francis fired four out of the five cardinals on the commission overseeing the bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR in its Italian acronym. Supposed to serve only priests, nuns, and religious orders, the Vatican Bank has been implicated in money laundering schemes and other illegal activity. Francis made it clear that he was open to closing down the bank completely.

In February, by Papal edict, he laid out multiple new transparency requirements for the Vatican’s financial arm, and created a new Secretariat for the Economy, meant to act as an auditor general for the Vatican. The following month, he indicated that the Vatican Bank would survive, though in a vastly different form, as a large number of accounts not related to its central mission were shut down…

Last week’s announcement came after Swiss money laundering expert René Brülhart, who was named to head the Financial Information Authority, complained that he was being obstructed by the board – made up of five Italians with connections to the Vatican’s old guard.

To Francis’s credit, there is a new board on its way in oversee the Vatican’s financial watchdog Its makeup is remarkable only because of its international nature: it’s made up of four international experts, including former financial regulators – one from the U.S., one from Switzerland, one from Singapore and a fourth from Italy. It is also notable that the Italian member is a woman, insurance executive Maria Bianca Farina, making her one of the few women with significant authority in the Vatican.

Bravo! Maybe the little fish will start eating the big fish?

Child badly sunburned — Texas school district won’t allow sunscreen — WTF?

A mother claims that her child wasn’™t allowed to bring sunscreen to campus and was badly sunburned as a result…

Christy Riggs explained that her 10-year-old daughter went on a school field trip and came home sun-burned because the North East Independent School District wouldn’t allow her daughter to bring sunscreen to reapply…

The mother shared that skin cancer runs in her family and that her father recently died from it.

A spokeswoman for the North East Independent School District explained that sunscreen is considered a medication and that children need to provide a doctor’s note to bring it on campus.

“Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” said Aubrey Chancellor…

“Where do you draw the line?” Riggs asked…“Do we say no hand sanitizer? Do we not allow school glue? When you have several hundred children on field day being burnt, then we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do you want them to be safe or not?’”

Chancellor explained that the school district may revisit this policy, since they review school policies every year.

You don’t need a year to review stupid!

It’s easy to understand why so many parents question the rules and regulations, style and content of the education their children are receiving. When you have petty bureaucrats like this – people whose brain cells are so clogged with lawyerese and timidity – how can you expect anyone to pay attention to the essential tasks of schooling?

Northeastern states cut emissions and enjoyed above-average growth

Some critics of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new requirements for power plants argue that forcing emissions reduction will curtail economic growth. But the recent experience of states that already cap carbon emissions reveals that emissions and economic growth are no longer tightly tied together.

One of the ways that states will be able to meet the new E.P.A. standards is by joining a Northeastern cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which first put in a carbon cap in 2009. In a cap-and-trade system, the government places a ceiling on total carbon emissions and issues permits for those emissions, which companies can buy and sell from one another.

The nine states already in the program — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — have substantially reduced their carbon emissions in recent years. At the same time, those states have had stronger economic growth than the rest of the country.

These nine states had large emissions drops even before the program began in 2009, in part because the recession and warmer winters lowered the demand for power. The states also began switching to natural gas power, retiring coal units, and adding wind and solar energy generation. As the economy recovered, participation in the program spurred the states to find ways to meet the increasing demand for power without driving up emissions.

Since 2009, the nine states have cut their emissions by 18 percent, while their economies grew by 9.2 percent. By comparison, emissions in the other 41 states fell by 4 percent, while their economies grew by 8.8 percent…

Joining the Northeast cap-and-trade program, or another similar program in California that began in 2013, is one of many ways states can reach the new goals the E.P.A. has set. Other options include taking a series of individual steps — such as upgrading older power plants and expanding nuclear, wind and solar power generation — without a statewide cap. The states themselves will decide exactly how they will meet the goals set for them.

Of course, though economists uniformly fart in the general direction of Reaganomics, though honest historians catalogue the revisionist lies of Republicans who claim every financial success – the ideologues of climate denial are so tightly beholden to the fossil fuel economy they will simply hire more Madison Avenue flacks and continue their stroll down memory lane. Hoping for a burning Bush or some other miracle.

Gun nut rampage – couple murders two coppers and a WalMart shopper in Las Vegas

saluting dead comrades
Click to enlarge

The man and woman suspected in Sunday’s Las Vegas shopping center attack that left two police officers and a shopper dead often talked about killing officers and didn’t believe in the government, a neighbor says.

“They always talked about murdering cops,” neighbor Krista Koch told ABC affiliate KTNV-TV…”They were going to kill as many officers as they can, and then they were going to do away with themselves.”

Investigators searched an apartment overnight believed to be related to the shooting, trying to uncover clues about the midday attack. Police are looking into the couple’s links to the white supremacy movement after finding swastika symbols during their initial investigation…

Investigators say the man and woman, armed with guns and ammunition, walked into a CiCi’s Pizza Restaurant, where they opened fire on officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31.

Police say one officer fired back, but both died from their injuries.

Sheree Burns, who witnessed the shooting, says the officers didn’t stand a chance

The pair then fled across the street to a Walmart, where the male suspect reportedly yelled, “Everyone get out.” Shots rang out inside the store at 11:27 a.m. By then police were already on the scene. A third victim was found dead inside the store’s front door.

Police say the man and woman then went to the back of the store, where they killed themselves in an apparent suicide pact. The female suspect reportedly shot the male suspect, then took her own life…

“It’s a tragic day, it’s a very, very difficult day,” Sheriff Doug Gillespie said at a news conference. “But we still have a community to police, and we still have a community to protect. We will be out there doing it with our heads held high, but with emptiness in our hearts.”

It’s always useful to see the Board of Directors of the NRA/Tea Party get out in public.

Yeah, that’s a smartass remark. What else? You know about the nutball gun culture in the United States. This is just one more time I’m embarrassed by creeps who turn their reliance on firearms as a substitute for real achievements – into death. Embarrassed because I’ve been a gun owner, an occasional hunter, for decades.

My family has worked in the firearms industry more often than any other. Growing up in Connecticut – the arsenal of America – that’s where employment was most often available. But, even the most conservative members of my extended family never turned out to be the kind of crazies that dominate the NRA, the Tea Party, the most paranoid cowards in the history of American libertarianism.

Las Vegas coppers suggest this couple had ties to racist politics – and that fits as well. The new Confederacy still prides itself on bigotry even with their adoption of the diplomatic use of code words instead of traditional hatespeak. I imagine if you spend Friday night in a country-western bar in Mississippi, Texas or Arizona – you’ll hear the good ol’ boys at their traditional best.

Oh, and you can expect the public dregs of our rightwing to busy themselves immediately making excuses, trying to turn these thugs into heroes. I expect we’ll all hear the predictable line from Fox News to The Blaze by midday.

Vodafone report further inflames global surveillance debate

Telecommunications company Vodafone’s report on government surveillance of its customers in 29 countries reveals more than first meets the eye – and is raising questions from Dublin to Delhi about how much spying on email and telephone chats happens in secret.

In Friday’s report Vodafone said most countries required the company’s knowledge and cooperation to hear phone calls or see emails, but at least six governments have given their security agencies the power of direct access.

Vodafone didn’t identify the countries that have tapped into its network, but the report provided some clues. An 88-page appendix reveals that five countries – Albania, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland and Qatar – have provisions that allow authorities to demand unfettered access.

In vague language, the report also indicated similar powers could exist in India and the United Kingdom, too.

In too many cases, Vodafone said, governments kept both the company and wider society in the dark about what was happening, with laws explicitly forbidding government disclosure of any details of its electronic eavesdropping…

Wiretapping of phones and accessing of call records for law-enforcement purposes is a decades-old and accepted practice even in the most open democracies. With backing from courts, police can request cooperation from phone companies to access communications.

But in developing countries such as Congo, Ghana and Lesotho, Vodafone said it cannot support wiretapping, because governments haven’t requested the technology.

Vodafone’s report comes one year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that U.S. and other countries’ intelligence agencies indiscriminately gathered and stored data from phone calls and Internet communications…

Vodafone’s report is also seen as a response to the company’s embarrassing role in the Egyptian protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011. As those protests raged, the government forced Vodafone to bombard its Egyptian subscribers with propaganda text messages. The company said it had no choice but to comply, but was severely criticized for its actions.

Here’s the Vodafone report at their website.

If you’re not old enough to recall – there was a time in the United States when courts ruled in favor of the privacy of citizens and Congress and the White House didn’t succeed in sucking info from communications without express judicial permission.

I was part of a class action suit that won victory over the city where I lived, the local police department, the regional phone company – and the FBI – for illegal wiretapping. The creeps even tapped my parents’ phone in case I made any subversive calls when I dropped by for Sunday dinner.

Not anymore, man!