Tim DeChristopher's story is a telling example of how conscience, consciousness, and peaceful
This isn’t the first time the agency has investigated political groups – just the first time it’s become a full-blown controversy
On Wednesday night President Obama, speaking from the East Room of the White House, called the IRS scrutiny of some 300 conservative groups “inexcusable.” “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives,” the president said. “It should not matter what political stripe you’re from – the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity.”
I agree with the president – even though I think it’s long past time that Congress and the courts developed clearer rules so the IRS can evaluate whether a 501 (c)4 “social welfare organization” is violating the law.
But before any more public servants get thrown under the bus (see: poor Steven Miller), let’s remember this: Not too long ago, it was environmental organizations and other progressive groups that were being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.
Let’s go into the Wayback Machine to puncture some of our collective amnesia.
In 2005, Greenpeace USA was subjected to a rigorous IRS audit to see whether the group had engaged in activities prohibited by its 501 (c)3 and 501 (c)4 statuses. (Like many public interest groups, Greenpeace has both entities.) Greenpeace passed the audit.
The Wall Street Journal later reported that the Greenpeace audit had been spurred by a request from a little-known outfit called Public Interest Watch. That sounds like a high-minded, do-gooder organization, right? Well, turns out that Public Interest Watch was little more than a front group for Exxon Mobil. In one year, more than 95 percent of its $124,000 budget came from the oil industry giant.
Right before the IRS’s audit of Greenpeace, another in-your-face environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, was also targeted by conservatives. In 2004, the then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Bill Thomas of California, subpoenaed 10 years’ worth of RAN records. According to the folks at the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, “right wing groups” such as Frontiers for Freedom and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise had been publicly clamoring for an IRS audit of RAN since at least 2001.
Over at RAN’s in-house blog, The Understory, Melanie Gleason writes:
“Six months before the subpoena, RAN had …more
We should honor the 1976 public interest agreement and affirm “America’s greatest idea”
Last November, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made an historic decision for America’s national parks and wilderness legacy by honoring a decades-old agreement the government made to the people of the United States regarding Point Reyes National Seashore. Salazar decided to let the lease of a commercial oyster company operating within a congressionally designated wilderness area expire on its own terms, ushering in the protection of our first marine wilderness on the West Coast.
Photo by Marsha KirschbaumPoint Reyes National Seashore’s ecological heart – Drakes Estero – is a remarkable estuary that is home to one of the largest harbor seal colonies in California, tens of thousands of migrating birds, and prized underwater eelgrass meadows.
Salazar’s decision symbolized government at its best: acting in the interest of all Americans and ensuring that public trust resources such as national parks and wilderness are protected for future generations. Some Members of Congress who have a long history of working on public lands issues stated: “We applaud the decision to follow the clear intent of Congress, as well as an agreement signed almost four decades ago to establish the nation's first marine wilderness on the west coast at Point Reyes National Seashore. This decision will protect the ecological heart of the National Seashore.” In short: a deal is a deal.
But the owners of Drakes Bay Oyster Company believe they are entitled to continue operating on publicly owned land and in publicly owned waters that were long-planned to be protected from commercial uses. After Salazar issued his decision the company immediately filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department.
On May 14 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments as the company seeks to continue its commercial operations far beyond its lease expiration in this sensitive marine environment. In February, the federal District Court ruled that the company did not deserve an injunction as it pursues its lawsuit. The judge found that the Court did not have jurisdiction and, even if it did, the company’s lawsuit lacked merit and failed to demonstrate that it is in the public interest. The judge also found that an injunction is not equitable for the American public, who own the land and waters where the company operates and who were long promised its protection and enjoyment free of motorized and commercial uses.
Tourists largely unaware that industrial pollution from rivers upstream is making them sick
Over the past few decades, Sayulita, a small fishing village along Mexico’s 200-mile Riviera Nayarit coastline, has grown into a boutique eco-tourism and retiree destination. It’s known among surfers for its consistent river mouth surf break. The town has a water treatment plant built in 2009, it recycles its rubbish, and many restaurants use only ‘organic’ locally grown food. A common conversation in many cafes around its pretty stone plaza is how to improve the town’s sustainability. This would be an almost idyllic community but for the fact that its small river is heavily polluted.
Photos by Justine KellyForeign tourists and expat surfers wonder about the constant flu and respiratory troubles
they suffer from after swallowing the water in Sayulita and other Nayarit beaches.
Unaware of the extent of pollution flowing in the river, foreign tourists and expat surfers wonder about the constant flu and respiratory trouble they suffer from after swallowing the water in Sayulita and other Nayarit beaches.
“We only surf when the water is moving [out] and taking the waste from the river out to sea,” says Mitch Carr, an Australian surfer and long term Sayulita resident. He has a respiratory complaint and lethargy for a few months, but believes he had just some bad luck with a “one-off bit of e-coli” infection and that his immune system is low. He continues surfing daily.
But local Mexicans are aware that the respiratory, bronchial, and stomach problems that people suffer from after swimming and surfing here may be caused by industrial waste that pollutes the once-great El Rio Grande de Santiago or Santiago River — the source of their river and all of the rivers that flow down to the tourism zones of Jalisco and Riviera Nayarit.
They also know that beaches of Riviera Nayarit often host high levels of Enterococcus, a strain of e-coli bacteria that causes various respiratory and stomach infections and is resistant to antibiotics. Enterococcus is often generated as waste in the production of antibiotics. It can also come from agricultural waste. SEMARNAT, Mexico’s environmental agency, rates 100 enterococcus per 1000 ml (1 quart) of water as acceptable. The number deemed safe by the US Environmental Agency is 35 per 1000 ml.
In March 2013, when SEMARNAT deemed all beaches along the Pacific coast as safe, but the beach waters at San Francisco …more
Legislation is “constitutionally suspect,” says Gov Bill Haslam
Great Monday morning news! Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has just vetoed his state’s “ag-gag” bill that would have criminalized undercover investigations at horse stables and factory farm facilities.
Photo by Tom HartA 2011 undercover investigation of a horse training facility in Tennessee revealed painful
chemicals were being applied on the horses’ front legs to force them to perform an artificially
high-stepping gait for show competitions.
In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Haslam said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so…. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”
The governor’s veto comes after widespread opposition to the anti-whistleblower legislation that would require that anyone recording abuse in livestock operations turn the evidence over to law enforcement within 24 hours or face criminal charges.
Animal welfare activists say the deadline is far too short to allow for actual documentation of the extent to which animal abuse can be a pervasive practice at large livestock and cattle facilities. Also, it would immediately expose the undercover investigator, which, they say, is exactly what the meat industry wants.
Thousands of Tennesseans, animal welfare groups, and free speech advocates had protested the bill that had squeezed through both houses of legislature in April. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several state celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013.
In addition to Tennessee, such bills were introduced this year in 10 other states — Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wyoming. So far none of the bills have been successful. (In Indiana, the state assembly adjourned for the year this morning without passing its ag-gag bill.)
As I’ve been reporting since last year, (see here, here and here), these bills are part of Big Ag’s efforts to block undercover investigations of industrial-scale livestock operations which have repeatedly exposed unsanitary conditions and inhumane treatment of animals. Such investigations have led to the closure of farming facilities and even criminal convictions.
In Tennessee, for instance, a 2011 Humane Society …more
The only way forward is back: to retrace our steps and seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350ppm
The data go back 800,000 years: that's the age of the oldest fossil air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. And throughout that time there has been nothing like this. At no point in the preindustrial record have concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air risen above 300 parts per million (ppm). 400ppm is a figure that belongs to a different era.
Photo courtesy NASAThe difference between 399ppm and 400ppm is small, but it is symbolic of our failure to put the
long-term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.
The difference between 399ppm and 400ppm is small, in terms of its impacts on the world's living systems. But this is a moment of symbolic significance, a station on the Via Dolorosa of environmental destruction. It is symbolic of our failure to put the long-term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.
The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps and seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350ppm, as the 350.org campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so.
Recently, Shell announced that it will go ahead with its plans to drill deeper than any offshore oil operation has gone before: almost 3km below the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, Oxford University opened a new laboratory in its department of earth sciences. The lab is funded by Shell. Oxford says that the partnership "is designed to support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy." Which translates as finding and extracting even more fossil fuel.
The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost nonexistent.
The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterized by a complete …more
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