The controversy surrounding the IRS singling-out Tea Party-inspired groups seeking tax exempt status -- while inexcusable -- might be attributable, in part, to the agency's failure to create clearer rules for political activity in the post-Citizens United electoral landscape, and it being inappropriately tasked with enforcing campaign finance law, tax law experts say.
In an advance that makes history, Vermont's House of Representatives passed a bill on May 10 requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. This is the furthest any such legislation has made it through the legislative process in the United States.
Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a controversial "ag gag" bill that would hamstring citizen investigations documenting patterns of abuse of animals and regulatory violations. These investigations have led in the past to regulatory action and demanded industry changes.
Pete Peterson at National Press Club July 17, 2012 (Source: Lingjing Bao, Talk Radio News)An odd couple made an appearance on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus recently: Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson and Madison's progressive Congressman Mark Pocan. The two were invited to participate in a conversation about the national debt hosted by a local student organization and a bevy of national groups, including the Comeback America Initiative, the Concord Coalition, the Can Kicks Back, and the Campaign to Fix the Debt. On the agenda: debt, deficits, and the economy.
In anticipation of protests at ALEC's recent meeting in Oklahoma City, state legislators were handed a set of talking points that read "The American Legislative Exchange Council recognizes the first amendment rights of free speech and assembly, and asks that _____ do the same," apparently to prepare legislators for press questions about citizen activism. But ALEC didn't live up to those spoon-fed talking points: ALEC assembled a dossier of disfavored reporters and activists, kicked reporters out of its conference who might write unfavorable stories, and managed to boot a community forum critical of ALEC from its reserved room.
Beautiful spring weather has gardeners outside seeding lettuce and transplanting tomatoes. Community gardens are ramping up for a growing season full of hot peppers and trailing squash vines. The sewage sludge "composting" industry wants in on the action. May 6 to May 12 has been declared "International Compost Awareness Week" by the sewage sludge industry trade group the U.S. Composting Council (USCC).
It all sounds great -- community gardens, tomatoes, chefs, food banks, kids, even great graphics. What's not to love? Perhaps it's the sewage sludge.
Shortly after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) told the press "we really believe in transparency," new documents show the organization directing legislators to hide ALEC meeting agendas and model legislation from the public. This effort to circumvent state freedom of information laws is being called "shocking" and "disturbing" by transparency advocates.
A disclaimer published at the bottom of meeting agendas and model bills from ALEC's most recent meeting in Oklahoma City, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, reads: "Because this is an internal ALEC document, ALEC believes it is not subject to disclosure under any state Freedom of Information or Public Records Act."
This spring, three senior Obama Administration officials informed Daniel Klaidman of The Daily Beast that the CIA would no longer operate targeted killings with unmanned drones. All targeted killings using the controversial technology would from now on be conducted by the Department of Defense, which has its own drones program in place.
The proposed change has been met with a wide range of reactions. Critics of the drones program have expressed cautious optimism. Human rights groups have repeatedly complained about the secrecy surrounding the CIA drones program, which they argue permits any executive branch abuses to go unchecked and decreases protection for civilians. These advocates expect that greater transparency will follow the Pentagon’s taking the reins from the CIA.
Dark money nonprofits spent hundreds of millions in the 2012 elections, but reported only a fraction of that thanks to an "issue advocacy" loophole that requires only limited disclosure for ads that don't explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate. Federal and state elections officials have rarely probed whether a group's so-called "issue ads" are really intended to influence elections -- but in Wisconsin, a politically-active nonprofit exposed its issue ad charade on its own.
The American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that supports school privatization through "vouchers" and other programs, told Wisconsin's elections board it spent only $345,000 on state legislative races in 2012. Like many nonprofit groups active in the 2012 elections, the actual total spent around the elections was much higher, but it was never disclosed publicly because AFC claimed the spending was about "issues" rather than supporting or opposing a particular candidate.
Wisconsin ranks 44th in the nation for new job creation. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and finding new and innovative ways to help create jobs, the Wisconsin legislature is spending its time telling people needing food assistance what they should be eating. AB 110, which was up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, May 7, is geared toward limiting "the amount of food stamp benefits that could be spent on junk food." But some of the fine print of the bill, bizarrely, would ban people from choosing more healthy and less expensive options for their families. The bill is one of many being considered that are unduly punitive of the poor. Read the rest of this item here.
State Senator Glenn Grothman, Assistant Majority Leader of the Republican Caucus, is leading the charge to protect consumers from Wisconsin's rapacious rent-to-own industry. Governor Scott Walker's $68.2 billion budget bill contains provisions that would rollback common sense regulation of the industry, which has been in place since 1985.
The right-wing network funded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers is being revamped after the 2012 elections, starting with a new nonprofit called the "Association for American Innovation" that will act as a hub for funnelling undisclosed spending towards the Kochs' political projects. With ambiguous IRS rules and a deadlocked Congress, they might get away with it.
Six influential state tax studies by anti-tax organizations including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are “deeply flawed,” include “highly inconsistent findings” and constitute “ideologically charged pseudo-social science published to further the interests of corporations and rich people,” according to a major new report released by Good Jobs First, titled "Grading Places: What Do the Business Climate Rankings Really Tell Us?"
The studies purport to rank states according to their business climate. According to Good Jobs First, these studies are "corporate-sponsored" junk science and should be viewed for what they are: "attempts by corporate sponsors to justify their demands for lower taxes and to gain public-sector help suppressing wages." Read the rest of this item here.
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Julian Assange: Excerpt from a longer Sourewatch article on the founder of Wikileaks: “Since June 19, 2012, Assange has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He came seeking “protective asylum” from Swedish and American officials. On August 15, 2012, Britain threatened to invade the Ecuadorian Embassy to capture Assange. A letter from British officials to the Ecuadorian embassy read “ "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations." Assange was formally granted asylum by Ecuador on August 16, 2012. The decision of the Ecuadorian government cited the fear that Assange would be executed if he were extradited to Sweden and eventually the United States. The decision was in defiance of British authorities who continue to position policemen outside the embassy. The British Foreign Office released a statement after Ecuador formally granted asylum, which read “we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Julian Assange extradited to Sweden. We will not allow Mr. Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept: the United Kingdom is not a party to any legal instruments, which require us to recognize the grant of diplomatic asylum by a foreign embassy in this country.” Ecuador responded by citing many international conventions and treaties, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, which they believe requires the United Kingdom to respect their extension of asylum.
Wikileaks: Excerpt from a longer Sourcewatch article on Wikileaks controversy and achievements. “Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said Wikileaks “is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations." Many media outlets and commentators praised the work of Wikileaks in holding the government accountable and standing up for free speech. Glenn Greenwald of Salon commended the work of Wikileaks and attacked its critics by stating “When WikiLeaks critics devote a fraction of their rage to this form of mainstream American thinking — which, unlike anything WikiLeaks has done, has actually resulted in piles upon piles of corpses — then their anti-WikiLeaks protestations should be taken more seriously, but not until then.” An Economist blog post entitled “In Defense of Wikileaks” read “organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.” The ACLU expressed gratitude for the work of Wikileaks but expressed regret at the fact that such an organization needs to exist to hold governments accountable in today’s political system, stating “The Wikileaks phenomenon — the existence of an organization devoted to obtaining and publicly releasing large troves of information the U.S. government would prefer to keep secret — illustrates just how broken our secrecy classification system is. While the Obama administration has made some modest improvements to the rules governing classification of government information, both it and the Bush administration have overclassified and kept secret information that should be subject to public scrutiny and debate. As a result, the American public has had to depend on leaks to the news media and whistleblowers to know what the government is up to.”
"Ag-gag" laws are laws intended to prevent whistleblowers from exposing animal cruelty on farms. Bills to ban photographing or videotaping farms without the farmers' consent were proposed in four states in 2011 and passed in Iowa; in five states in 2012 and passed in Utah and Missouri; and in ten states in early 2013 and passed in Arkansas (prompting Grist to ask if 2013 will be the "year of ag-gag bills"). Tennessee passed an "ag-gag" bill April 17, 2013. Carrie Underwood joined Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), the Humane Society of the United States, and others in urging Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill (click here for more). The first misdemeanor charge based on an "ag-gag" law was filed in Utah against Amy Meyer in February 2013, but was suddenly dropped in April 2013 after the case made national headlines (click here for more).
See the SourceWatch article on Ag-gag laws for more, including a complete survey of the bills.
For more than 70 years, U.S. Social Security has guaranteed a level of economic security for retired workers. Despite Social Security’s popularity and effectiveness, it came under attack under President George W. Bush, who made privatization of Social Security a priority for his second term.1 The attack on Social Security has re-emerged as deficit scolds see the financial crisis as an opportunity to weaken the program by proposing deep cuts in benefits and raising the retirement age.
Social Security benefits contain a modest, automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) linked to the consumer price index (CPI). A "chained" CPI changes the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures the cost of living in a manner that would reduce the expected benefit increase each year, and those reductions would grow larger over time.
In April of 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Barack Obama was planning to propose a chained CPI in a White House budget bill as a way to convince Republicans to raise taxes in a "Grand Bargain" on a deficit reduction package.
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"The troublemakers at the Center for Media and Democracy, for example, point to dozens of examples of "greenwashing," which they defined as the "unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government or even a non-government organization to sell a product, a policy" or rehabilitate an image. In the center's view, many enterprises labeled green don't deserve the name.
—Jack Shafer, "Green Is the New Yellow: On the excesses of 'green' journalism," Slate.
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