Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Credit Default Swaps Made European Debt Crisis Worse

Complicated credit derivatives turned the financial crisis into a catastrophe back in 2008. Now comes a study claiming evidence that these financial instruments are making the European debt crisis worse.

In a paper published in the April edition of the Journal of International Money and Finance, three French researchers say they have found evidence that derivatives, namely credit default swaps, have actually made the European debt crisis worse, driving up interest rates for shaky sovereign borrowers such as Greece and Italy.

"[I]n times of market distress the much smaller CDS market could drive up the bond interest rates of sovereign nations, amplifying the crisis," wrote Natalie Kettner, a spokeswoman for the Rouen Business School, one of the French institutions involved in the study. "The study showed that no country is safe from this perverse effect."

Credit derivatives played a clearly important role in the U.S. financial crisis, but in a much different way. AIG was nearly dragged under by its massive portfolio of CDS, which nearly brought down the entire financial system and required a massive government bailout of the insurance giant. And CDS helped make it easier for banks to load up on other weapons of mass financial destruction, bundles of risky mortgage securities.

France's Jews trapped between neighbours and politics

“It’s hard to be a Jew.” Michèle Teboul tells me this with a self-effacing smile, because she knows that hers is not the face of hardship: Her clothing business is doing well, her children have good lives and she’s happy living in the dense cultural mosaic that is Marseilles.

But the truth of her words is beyond doubt this week. It’s evident in the very necessary X-ray scan, the bag search and the ID check I had to endure to visit her at the Jewish community centre where she volunteers as the director.

The 60,000 Jews of Marseilles are finding themselves in a frightening position shared by many continental European Jews. They are trapped between two threats: The first, violent and criminal, comes from people around them, from the children of Arab friends and neighbours. The second, political, claims to be a solution to the first but offers nothing but conflict and menace.

The first threat reared its head, after decades of dormancy, on Monday morning in Toulouse. To history’s long gallery of unspeakably horrific images, we can add a helmeted man chasing a terrified seven-year-old Jewish girl, grabbing her by the hair and shooting her in the head.

“We had not seen this since the Nazis did things like this,” Ms. Teboul says. “We had imagined that, in 2012, this was over, this should not happen except in wars. But we are not at war in France.”

Child Labor Farm Rules Scrapped By White House Under Political Pressure

WASHINGTON -- Facing political pressure from Republicans and farming groups, the White House has decided to scrap rules proposed last year that would have prevented minors from performing certain agricultural work deemed too dangerous for children.

The Labor Department announced the decision late Thursday, saying it was withdrawing the rules due to concern from the public over how they could affect family farms. "The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the department said in a statement.

While the move is destined to please the many conservatives and agricultural groups who came out in opposition to the rules, it was quickly criticized by workplace and child safety advocates who say the White House is caving to anti-regulatory politics.

"It's very discouraging. I didn't see this happening this way," says Mary Miller, a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing and a proponent of the rules. "Anyone who's anti-regulation, this was an easy thing to latch on to."

This Week in Poverty: Will the Poor Get Poorer in the Land of Lincoln?

At an Appropriations hearing in the Illinois State House last week, the Department of Human Services (DHS) informed the legislature that it has insufficient funds to meet its Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) obligations through the fiscal year ending in June.

This is particularly disturbing since Illinois provides TANF benefits—which is cash assistance—to just 13 of every 100 families with children in poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Prior to welfare reform in 1996 the state helped nearly 87 of every 100 families with children in poverty. Further, the benefit level is only 28 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $4,800 annually for a family of three, similar to that in a majority of states.

According to Dan Lesser, director of economic justice at the Shriver Center in Chicago, Illinois will find the funds to pay the TANF benefits one way or another—but just how the state will do it is a significant question.

“The governor has asked the legislature for a $73 million supplemental appropriation to pay for it,” says Lesser. “Historically, supplementals are approved here when they are needed. But nowadays nothing is assured. If it’s not approved, we face a real possibility of crashing the state’s child care system.”

Paranoia About CISPA Is Justified

On Thursday evening, the House of Representatives passed legislation called the Cyber Intelligence Information Sharing Protection Act, or CISPA. Sponsors of the bill say its purpose is to permit the government and private companies to share information with one another in order to thwart cyberthreats that could imperil national security. For example, say that spies in China were trying to hack into the personal email accounts of various government officials, the server of a hospital, or the database of a "too big to fail" bank. If CISPA is signed into law, these entities and the federal government would be able to share customer data "to identify and obtain cyber threat information," even if that data is currently unlawful to reveal (thanks to laws passed to ensure that companies don't share sensitive consumer information with the government).

Civil-liberties groups have various objections to the bill.

The ACLU conjures up a problematic scenario that could happen if it passes. "Imagine you are emailing your doctor from your Gmail account about a medical condition. Your doctor pulls up your medical records from his cloud storage server and sends them your way. Somewhere in that communication, a virus crops up," staffer Zachary Katznelson writes. "Under CISPA, Google could send your emails, including the electronic copy of your medical records, to the NSA, so they can gather information on the virus. But, Google would be under no obligation whatsoever to scrub out your private details -- which have nothing to do with the virus. And now your medical records are in government hands indefinitely -- and the government can use them."

"If Paul Ryan Knew What Poverty Was, He Wouldn't Be Giving This Speech"

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House budget committee, knew some Catholics were spoiling for a fight with him Thursday when he was scheduled to speak at Georgetown University, a Catholic institution. Nearly 90 faculty members and administrators sent him a letter expressing concerns with his recent comments that his proposed budget, which includes massive spending cuts to programs for the poor but not a single tax increase, was inspired by his Catholic faith.

"I am afraid that Chairman Ryan's budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Father Thomas Reese, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, in a press release Tuesday. "Survival of the fittest may be okay for Social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love."

The complaints seemed to resonate with Ryan. On Thursday, he went on record denouncing Ayn Rand, who believed altruism is evil, brushing off his well-documented obsession with her as a teenage romance. Ryan told the National Review's Robert Costa: "I reject her philosophy. It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. Don't give me Ayn Rand."

Alberta’s carbon capture efforts set back

The three major companies involved in a project aimed at reducing Alberta’s carbon footprint have dropped out, striking a major blow to the province’s efforts to combat fierce international criticism over oil sands emissions.

TransAlta Corp. (TA-T16.14-0.24-1.47%), along with partners Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T40.520.230.57%)and Capital Power Corp. (CPX-T23.470.602.62%), cancelled their $1.4-billion carbon capture and storage effort Thursday, opting to pay the penalties for emissions rather than cutting them.

The project, dubbed Pioneer and tied to TransAlta’s Keephills 3 coal-fired power plant, would have accounted for about 20 per cent of Alberta’s total carbon dioxide emissions reduction target by 2015.

Pioneer’s failure highlights the ineffectiveness of carbon pricing in Alberta, as well as problems with regulations tied to power plants. It also comes as a hit to the province’s public relations campaign, which leans heavily on its $2-billion CCS technology fund and provincial carbon tax as evidence it is committed to cleaning up the environment.

Even though TransAlta’s project was backed by $778.8-million in provincial and federal funding, the company said it could not justify spending the millions of dollars necessary, arguing that Canada’s weak regulations for carbon pricing made it unattractive.

Minister wants to extend ID screening

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he supports extending biometric ID requirements to permanent residents and would consider amending his current omnibus immigration bill to make it happen.

"I think in principle, we should be doing everything we reasonably can to identify visitors or immigrants and ensure they don't represent a threat to Canada's safety, so biometrics is the best technical tool at our disposal and I think in principle, that it should be applied to not just temporary but also permanent residents," Kenney said Thursday after testifying before a Commons committee reviewing Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration Act.

After hinting at it during the meeting, he confirmed the government was "considering" amending the bill to ensure it covers permanent residents.

For now, the provision that would grant Citizenship and Immigration the legal authority to collect fingerprints and digital photographs starting next year only applies to those entering Canada on a visitor visa, work permit or study visa.

Kenney was on the hot seat Thursday as Commons committee members grilled him on his refugee bill for the first time.

Feds deny lobbyists influenced weakening of fisheries protections

OTTAWA — The Harper government unveiled a massive omnibus budget implementation bill Thursday that includes Fisheries Act amendments that will strip the term "habitat" from the most crucial section of the law.

The government's intent, according to a spokeswoman, is to assist "everyday Canadians" in their dealings with federal fisheries bureaucrats.

And the official said allegations that the government is giving in to demands from energy and mining lobbyists are false.

"These are changes being made in our department that are designed to help Canadians — everyday Canadians: landowners, municipalities, farmers — be able to undertake activities on their properties without obtrusive interference by our department," said Erin Filliter, spokeswoman for Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield.

But opposition critics and environmental groups say the government is misleading the public about what they say is a move in the 431-page bill to appease the natural resource sector.

Cuts threaten aboriginal justice

It's an embarrassing reality: Aboriginal faces are far too numerous in Canada's penitentiaries.

As Corrections Canada notes on its website, aboriginals, representing three per cent of the Canadian population, make up 17 per cent of the prison roster. In some Prairie prisons, aboriginals are more than 60 per cent of inmates.

In British Columbia, according to a 2006 government report, aboriginal youth are seven times more likely to be incarcerated than non-aboriginals. Moreover, recidivism rates are a lot higher for aboriginal offenders.

A lot of this relates to fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities or childhoods marred by poverty and abuse. None of it reflects a new problem and Ottawa has been trying to find solutions since the early 1990s, when an aboriginal issues branch was first established in the Corrections department.

It mandated inclusion of elders and aboriginal liaison officers in administering justice as well as creation of minimum-security healing lodges and community sentencing circles.

These days, courts take into account the 1999 landmark Supreme Court ruling known as Gladue, requiring judges to give special consideration when sentencing aboriginals.

Parliamentary budget officer defends job loss projections

OTTAWA — The loss of 108,000 jobs nationwide and slower-than-expected growth in the economy may be the short term pain required to put Canada on the path to fiscal sustainability in the long-term, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says.

While Page, appearing before the House of Commons finance committee Thursday, seemed to support federal and provincial government plans to tighten spending, he was less enthusiastic about the amount of information parliamentarians were receiving about federal budget cuts.

Page told the Commons finance committee Thursday that he didn't think federal politicians had the tools they need to make an informed decision on the Conservatives' budget.

The government, he said, has been more transparent about its stimulus spending than about how it plans to implement the cuts.

"It's important to have information to support this decision," Page said. "It would be better for the general debate for Parliament to have more information, more transparency."

Janet Bagnall: Muzzling the scientists won’t hide Canada’s poor emissions record

Canada has cut an odd figure as host of the International Polar Year conference, which draws to an end today. Hundreds of scientists from around the world are in Montreal to discuss the dramatic changes to the Arctic’s biodiversity, energy dynamics and ice melt.

Canada, in the form of Stephen Harper’s government, was not interested in discussing any of these topics, or in allowing government scientists to talk about them either. While the Arctic melts and methyl mercury contaminates the food chain in the far northern latitudes, the government seemed more interested in resurrecting East Germany’s Stasi, assigning minders to Environment Canada scientists.

The minders, members of a large and growing federal government “communications” apparat, are to make sure the scientists don’t talk to journalists without Ottawa’s permission. Environment Minister Peter Kent blandly assured the House of Commons this week that this is “established practice.” It shouldn’t be, of course, not in Canada. In February, Canadian journalists protested, demanding the government allow more open media access to federal scientists. Two weeks later, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature, accused Canada of muzzling its scientists. With cause: Environment Canada scientist Dr. David Tarasick, involved in a study which discovered the largest recorded ozone hole above the Arctic, was forbidden last fall by Environment Canada for several weeks from speaking to the media about the study or his part in it.

Blasting ‘weak-kneed’ skeptics, Tories fan out to plug EU trade deal c

The Harper government’s PR machine will be working overtime Friday as 40 per cent of the Conservative cabinet fans out across the country to shore up support for a free trade deal with the European Union.

Fifteen cabinet ministers, three MPs and a senator will stage 18 separate events throughout Canada to play up the benefits of further opening this country’s markets to the 27-member EU bloc.

The Conservatives kicked off the public relations campaign Friday morning with an Ottawa speech by International Trade Minister Ed Fast to the Economic Club of Canada.

“Trade is not for skeptics or scoffers. It's not for the weak-kneed or faint of heart,” Mr. Fast told his business audience.

He said businesspeople are “courageous risk-takers” who see the value of free trade, but added that there are some Canadians who can't be counted on to support making it easier for foreign companies to win market share in this country.

“Sadly, there are still those who lack your vision. They are the anti-trade activists who find great joy in spreading misinformation about trade and its role as a key driver of economic growth,” Mr. Fast said.

Mr. Harper is not pleased

Let us connect the dots. I think it’s been a damned interesting week.

It ends, or nearly, with the Chief Government Whip and designated general-purpose government hardass Gordon O’Connor shutting down a Conservative private member’s motion on abortion, or something distantly related to a motion about the circumstances within which a debate about abortion might arise (readers are invited to parse the fine print themselves.) Earlier the prime minister had said it was “unfortunate” that a parliamentary committee even deemed the thing votable, but it was, and it proceeds. But when the Chief Government Whip speaks in specific detail about his problems with a motion, the word should be considered to be out: the government has a strong preference that members not support it.

This comes a couple of days after Bev Oda, caught swanning around the finer orange-juice vendors of the old Commonwealth capital, was made to pay up, stand up and fess up in Question Period. Sure, other ministers have covered for her since. But the clip on TV will be Oda apologizing “unreservedly” for her own high living.

Taken together the two incidents suggest a marked and sudden tightening of discipline on the government benches. Of course, discipline is never perfect, and it was Harper himself who let slip a perfect illustration of Godwin’s law when he answered NDP questions about his intentions for Afghanistan with claims about the NDP and Hitler.

Harper Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Appoint CBC Leadership

Stephen Harper’s mania for control is well known.

His ministers are tightly scripted, few decisions are made without first checking with the Prime Minister’s Office, and for maximum message control, the Prime Minister rarely answers more than a few questions from a group of hand-picked journalists.

That’s why it is so disturbing that Prime Minister Harper also chooses the leaders of our CBC, an antiquated practice of political patronage that needs reform, especially now.

As with most things, the prime minister is keen to control the media and how it portrays his government.  It was no surprise when a senior PMO communications staff person left the Prime Minister’s side to run the Ottawa bureau of SUN TV.  Some members of the parliamentary press gallery called it a PMO takeover, only half-jokingly.

It’s hard to imagine Harper setting aside his instinct for control when it comes to making appointments to the CBC.  Faced with the opportunity, will Stephen Harper choose to exert more control over our public broadcaster to influence its policies and programs?

Or, will he accept the fundamental principle that public broadcasters must remain independent from government?

CIBC Executive Pay In Shareholders' Sights

CIBC has become the second large Canadian bank in a month to face shareholder frustration over the level of compensation paid to senior executives.

Shareholder rights group Medac and a vocal critic of Canadian banks both unsuccessfully urged shareholders at the annual meeting Thursday to approve motions to change the way compensation is doled out.

Louis Gagnon of the Quebec-based Mouvement d’education et de defense des actionnaires proposed three motions about stock options and performance-based compensation.

He said stock options are awarded even though a study of Canada's five big banks found that their stock price was mainly the result of low interest rates and a favourable economic environment.

"So it is therefore far from appropriate to link the exercise of stock options to stock price fluctuations," he said in the meeting webcast from Halifax.

He suggested the options only be exercisable after a waiting period if "measurable and quantifiable objectives" such as growth in income per share and return on shareholders' equity are achieved.

Stephen Harper Jeered For Saying NDP Didn't Support Battle Against Hitler

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was met with jeers in Question Period on Thursday after suggesting the NDP did not support the fight against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during the Second World War.

Harper's assertion was vehemently refuted by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair on the grounds that his party didn't even exist at the time, according to the National Post.

The exchange took place during a debate on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan. Harper admitted earlier this week that Canadian special forces troops may remain in the country until after the scheduled withdrawal in 2014. When Mulcair asked the prime minister about the extension, Harper attacked the NDP for being pacifists regardless of the situation.

"In 1939, the NDP leader didn’t even want to support the fight against Hitler," said Harper. He was immediately met with loud jeers.

You Can Be a Patriot Or a Profiteer... But You Can't Be Both

This week, the three military contractors that do the most business with the Pentagon announced their quarterly profits for 2012. Their profits continue to grow while they push Washington, D.C. to protect their budgets at the expense of the rest of us.

Here’s the breakdown so far for this year:

    Lockheed Martin: $668 million
    Northrop Grumman: $506 million
    Boeing: $923 million

This week's announcement raises a fundamental question: Should people and companies be allowed to make huge profits from war? Even raising this question in today’s environment may seem trite, but we used to have different answers than those that prevail in modern-day Washington, D.C.

    “I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.”

-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 22, 1940.

    “Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South and their countrymen mouldering the dust.”

-- President Abraham Lincoln.

Electoral Boundary Commissions: Elizabeth May Decries 'Transparent Plan For Gerrymandering' In Her B.C. Riding

She calls it a “transparent plan for gerrymandering.”

He calls it smart politics.

Like several ridings across the country, Saanich-Gulf Islands was a close race on election day, May 2, 2011. With deep support in the outer regions of the B.C. riding, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May defeated incumbent cabinet minister Gary Lunn by 7,346 votes and obtained her party’s first ever seat in Parliament.

But now, May believes her opponents are trying to use the redistricting process currently underway to ensure she doesn’t have a chance for a repeat performance in the next federal election.

She points the finger at Bruce Hallsor, the election planning chair of the Saanich-Gulf Islands’ Conservative riding association, who in a newsletter last fall described parts of the riding that could be sliced off to give the Tories a boost. He says he was only doing what every good partisan would do.

As The Huffington Post Canada reported this week, 10 independent boundary commissions are already at work re-drawing the electoral map to ensure ridings in each province have approximately the same population. The commissioners’ work is made more difficult this year by the addition of 30 new seats, including six in British Columbia. And many opposition MPs have voiced concerns that the Conservatives will try to influence the process in order to create safe Tory seats.

May believes she has proof that’s what the Conservatives intend to do in her riding.

Is this still a democracy? You be the judge

Not to be facetious, but isn’t it time to find a new name for our system of government? Aren’t we being rather generous in still calling the operation in Ottawa a democracy? Isn’t it a bit like calling the Maple Leafs a hockey team or Vladimir Putin Aristotelian?

Real democracies, as we learned in high school, are supposed to be open and tolerant of dissent and have checks and balances and run fair elections. Those kinds of things.

But anyone who scrolls through recent media, conservative media included, might be forgiven for concluding that we have something more closely resembling the opposite. Something more akin to billy-club governance. Think of the ironclad controls, the scorning of accountability, the censorship, the smearing of opponents, the power unto one. The abuses are not just opposition talk. They’re writ large in Auditor-Generals’ reports, in internal documents and journalists’ investigations. Some of the abuses have happened in other governments but have they ever happened on the scale we’ve seen from this crowd?

On the democracy depth chart, behold the highlights from just recent weeks, bearing in mind that this is the level of development the process has reached in this, Canada’s 145th year.

Study Indicates a Greater Threat of Extreme Weather

New research suggests that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify more than scientists had expected, an ominous finding that may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in coming decades.

By measuring changes in salinity on the ocean’s surface, the researchers inferred that the water cycle had accelerated by about 4 percent over the last half century. That does not sound particularly large, but it is twice the figure generated from computerized analyses of the climate.

If the estimate holds up, it implies that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.

“This provides another piece of independent evidence that we need to start taking the problem of global warming seriously,” said Paul J. Durack, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the lead author of a paper being published Friday in the journal Science.

The researchers’ analysis found that over the half century that began in 1950, salty areas of the ocean became saltier, while fresh areas became fresher. That change was attributed to stronger patterns of evaporation and precipitation over the ocean.

The new paper is not the first to find an intensification of the water cycle, nor even the first to calculate that it might be fairly large. But the paper appears to marshal more scientific evidence than any paper to date in support of a high estimate.

Chinese activist fears 'insane retribution' on family after escape

The blind Chinese rights activist, Chen Guangcheng has made a daring escape from his captors and put out a video exposing the abuse and beatings that his family suffered under house arrest.

Evading almost 90 guards who have surrounded his village home for more than a year, Chen is said to have found refuge in a "safe" location in Beijing.

His revelations about the illegal detention – which included savage beatings that left family members with broken bones and harrassment of his children – throw a harsh light on a Chinese government that is already reeling from a corruption and wire-tapping scandal sparked by the death of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Looking gaunt, Chen blamed his treatment on local officials and the Chinese state's obsession with maintaining stability at all costs. He said his greatest concern was that the authorities would carry out "insane retribution" on his family, several of whom have already been placed under arrest.

Human rights campaigners expressed delight that Chen – whose protracted, illegal detention has drawn international attention – is no longer in the hands of the authorities, but there are concerns about revenge attacks on his wife, children, brother and human rights activists who helped him gain liberty.

What makes Quebec students 'distinct'?

Outside Quebec, it can be hard to understand why students protesting university tuition fee hikes are so outraged.

After all, even if the planned increase comes to fruition in five years, the annual cost will still only be about $3,800, one of the lowest rates in Canada.

While students have said the debate is about accessibility — and to what extent a tuition increase would keep worthy young Quebecers out of the classroom — its roots could also lie in the collective psyche of the province.

"A 65 per cent increase is not just a price change," says Pierre Martin, a political science professor at the University of Montreal.

"It's a complete change of philosophy and their reaction is very understandable."

Martin sees the conflict linked to an unrealized promise of Quebec's Quiet Revolution of the 1960s: free post-secondary tuition.

"That's the norm that people compare themselves to and that's part of the reason tuition fees remained so low in Quebec for such a long time, because whenever the thought of raising them came to public debate, it was not in the minds of most people."

CSIS watchdog to be cut in budget

The watchdog responsible for monitoring the activities of Canada's spy agency and reporting findings to the minister in charge will be eliminated as part of the federal government's budget.

The budget implementation bill introduced Thursday includes a plan to scrap the office of the inspector general of CSIS. The office has been in place since CSIS was created in 1984.

Eva Plunkett has been in the inspector general role since 2003, having been renewed in 2010.

The government says eliminating the watchdog will save almost $1 million a year, and that the role of inspector general will now be performed by the arms-length Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC).

An opposition politician, however, says the federal government is abdicating its role in overseeing Canada's spy service.

New Orleans Grew More Unequal After Hurricane Katrina: Report

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans came back more unequal than before.

That's the conclusion of a recent report from the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a left-leaning legal organization. The report's authors argue that in the wake of the 2005 storm, reconstruction efforts were handled in such a way as to broaden the gap between whites and minorities in the region, and to make it harder for local people of color to find jobs.

"The limitations on labor and equal opportunity protections, as well as the inequitable application of federal resources, significantly diminished the opportunities and heightened the inequalities in the Gulf Coast," the report states.

That inequality has since become a matter of national record. A Census Bureau report issued last year found that in the period from 2005 to 2009, New Orleans had the second highest level of income inequality of any large American city. According to the Census report, only Atlanta had a higher wealth gap.

CISPA Passes House: Cybersecurity Bill Approved Despite White House Veto Threat

The House of Representatives passed cybersecurity legislation Thursday aimed at protecting American companies from hackers who steal intellectual property.

The bill passed 248 to 168, largely along party lines, despite the Obama administration's threats to veto the bill and its claims that the bill falls short in protecting civil liberties

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, sponsored by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), would give businesses and the federal government legal protection to share information about cyber-threats with each other. The government does not currently share that data because the information is classified and companies fear violating anti-trust law. The bill would remove legal barriers so they can do so.

On the House floor before the vote, Rogers said the bill was about preventing other nations from stealing intellectual property from U.S. companies.

“You know, without our ideas, without our innovation that countries like China are stealing every single day, we will cease to be a great nation," Rogers said. "They are slowly and silently and quickly stealing the value and prosperity of America."

The Commons: A debate about a debate about abortion

Shortly before 5:30pm, Stephen Woodworth was on his feet from the back row. Close around him sat eight other Conservative MPs.

“Motion 312,” he said, “simply calls for a study of the evidence of when a child becomes a human being.”

He wondered aloud what opponents of his proposal had to fear. Staring directly at the dozen NDP MPs seated across the way he called on them to hear the evidence.

Fourteen spectators watched and listened from the south gallery. Four Liberals joined the New Democrats on the opposition side of the House. The Conservatives numbered somewhere in the neighbourhood of 24.

Mr. Woodworth spoke loudly and gesticulated dramatically, as if addressing the nation at a moment of great significance. He invoked rights and humanity and science and parliamentary duty and he damned a “dishonest law.” When he was done, a dozen Conservatives applauded.

In some ways, the matter of abortion in this country is a debate about a debate. On one side, those who feel there is no debate to be had. On the other side, those who feel there is a debate that is still to be settled. This hour allowed each to have their say.

Defusing the Crisis

In mid-April, after more than a year of posturing, Iran again met with representatives of the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain (the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members), and Germany. The objective, at least from the non-Iranian side, was to deal with the Tehran regime’s nuclear ambitions. However, little was accomplished beyond the parties agreeing to meet again in late May. And not much will be accomplished then unless both sides cool the rhetoric and broaden the discussion. The problem with rhetoric is that, in conflict situations, it becomes progressively overheated on each exchange, and the chances of constructive talks that might avert a dangerous conflict dwindle proportionately.

That’s not to say it will be easy for the United States and Iran to end their long diplomatic estrangement and start talking, if not as friends then at least as grownups with a range of shared interests. In 1979, I was one of more than 50 Americans taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy and held in Tehran for 444 days. It was an event that still casts a deep shadow.

In the United States, it evokes images of crowds of bearded men shouting “Death to America” and burning the American flag. In Iran, every year on Nov. 4 – the anniversary of the start of the crisis – there are parades and speeches celebrating the event as though it is something to be proud of.

Two-thirds of Canadians don’t trust feds on F-35s: Forum Research poll

PARLIAMENT HILL—Nearly two-thirds of Canadians who are aware of the government’s $25-billion plan to replace Canada’s fighter jets with the more sophisticated state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter jets don’t trust Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government to do what’s best for Canada with respect to the project, a new Forum Research poll suggests.

The Forum Research poll conducted this week also found that—after a month of government denials that it withheld at least $10-billion worth of costs when the National Defence Department presented estimates to Parliament last year—two-thirds of Canadians said they believe the government did mislead Parliament.

The poll conducted over Tuesday April 24 and Wednesday April 25 found awareness of the F-35 project has grown substantially during the controversy that began on April 3, when Auditor General Michael Ferguson tabled a scathing report on the F-35s in Parliament.

The Forum Research poll found awareness of the F-35 controversy had grown to 77 per cent of those surveyed, compared to 56 per cent in a poll the market research firm conducted last March 30, just before Mr. Ferguson tabled his critical report.

Montreal student protest march declared illegal

Montreal police declared a march by protesting students illegal, less than an hour after the demonstration began Thursday night.

About 200 students left Parc Emilie-Gamelin at about 9 p.m. Thursday in the latest protest against Quebec's planned tuition hikes. The protesters quickly encountered police barricades, and police said projectiles were thrown at officers.

A second group of students began legally marching a few blocks north of the original group shortly after, and many joined both marches as they moved through downtown Montreal. In total, about 2,000 students marched in downtown Montreal Thursday night despite rainy weather, largely without incident.

However, many students returned to the square where the march began later Thursday night, where police once again declared their protest illegal. Shortly after, Montreal police said on the force's Twitter account that they were asking protesting students to cease throwing pyrotechnic devices.

Student groups were particularly motivated to demonstrate Thursday after the provincial government rejected a new round of discussions over access to post-secondary education. Student groups have vowed to protest every night until talks resume.

Thursday's march was initiated on the Facebook page of the Collège Édouard-Montpetit students association.

Montreal Police said two arrests were made.

Original Article
Source: CBC
Author: cbc

It’s tax time, so let’s talk about government (mis)spending

How fitting it was that just as I was putting the final touches on my 2011 income tax return (I made that little?), the hapless Bev Oda rose in the House of Commons to apologize “unreservedly” for her “unacceptable” misuse of my money.

The federal Minister of International Co-operation has since repaid $1,353.81 to cover some of the costs she incurred last year during a conference in London, when she inexplicably upgraded from one lovely five-star hotel where the conference was being held, to the swankier Savoy, where, according to Canadian Press reports, she ran up a $1,995 hotel bill for three days, including $16 for a glass of orange juice. After a few days of unrelenting pressure and public scorn, she also finally agreed to pay back almost $3,000 for a limo to ferry her to and from the conference hotel and other costs.

Oh what a time this is for talking about money – other people’s money that is. Ms. Oda was on the taxpayers’ dime when she blithely made her special travel arrangements. And if she hadn't gotten caught, we would have unknowingly absorbed the cost for that as well as for far more serious government financial follies. (F-35’s, anyone?) Speaking of other people’s money, Ontario’s minority Liberal government managed to get its budget passed this week by bowing to pressure from the NDP and imposing a 2 per cent surtax on everyone who makes more than $500,000 a year.

Tories had fears about F-35 costs last fall, notes show

The Harper government was privately concerned last fall about costs, delays and the quality of communication it was receiving on the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter project even as its chief spokesman on the file assured Canadians all was well.

Ottawa dispatched associate defence minister Julian Fantino to Fort Worth, Tex., to register its concerns about the F-35 Lightning – a trip Mr. Fantino took in early November, 2011, in his role as the government’s point man on military procurement.

A Sept. 30, 2011, National Defence briefing note, obtained under access to information law, indicates the Conservatives wanted to use the visit to Texas to register their unease with how the project was unfolding, while assuring the Americans they were still solidly supportive of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.

It would be another six months before the Conservatives publicly acknowledged the problems with the F-35 procurement – after a damaging report from the Auditor-General – and froze spending on the program while carrying out an independent review of its costs and benefits.

The September, 2011, briefing note was signed by deputy defence minister Robert Fonberg.

Abortion will never be eliminated, Tory MP says

OTTAWA—Abortion will never be eliminated and anti-abortion activists should stop trying to impose their will on others by trying to make it illegal, a senior Conservative MP says.

Government whip Gordon O’Connor delivered a stridently pro-choice message Thursday night in response to a private member’s bill from a Tory MP seen by many as an effort to reopen the abortion debate.

“Whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society. There will always be dire situations where some women may have to choose the option of abortion,” O’Connor said. “It cannot be eliminated.

“I cannot understand why those adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their belief on others by way of the Criminal Code,” he said.

The prime minister’s office declined to say whether O’Connor was speaking for the government or as an individual.

But as he is a senior member of the Tory caucus, whose pro-choice speech was the Conservatives’ first response on the issue, it suggests it was a deliberate effort by the government to send a clear, strong signal to Canadians and even restless Tory MPs that the abortion issue will not be reopened.

Police who lie: False testimony often goes unpunished

The first time Toronto police Det. Scott Aikman deceived the court, a judge denounced his “misleading” testimony and threw out a cocaine charge against a man.

The second time, Det. Aikman’s story explaining why he and his partner searched a minivan led to the acquittal of four suspects accused of masterminding an international credit-card data-theft ring.

Aikman “either fabricated or concealed evidence” to justify the van search, the judge said. The four suspects, charged with a total of 321 offences, walked free.

Was Aikman disciplined for his conduct in court?

“No. Of course not,” said Aikman, explaining to the Star that he had done nothing wrong.

A coast-to-coast Toronto Star investigation found more than 120 police officers have been accused by judges of outright lying, misleading the court or fabricating evidence since 2005. Many of the officers have gone unpunished.

CeCe McDonald Black, Transgender Woman Faces Murder Trial for What Supporters Call Self-Defense

A transgender African-American woman is set to go on trial next week on charges of second-degree murder for an altercation after she was reportedly physically attacked and called racist and homophobic slurs outside a Minneapolis bar last year. Chrishaun "CeCe" McDonald received 11 stitches to her cheek and was reportedly interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement following her arrest. There were reports that the dead victim, Dean Schmitz, had a swastika tattooed on his chest. McDonald’s supporters say the case is symptomatic of the bias against transgender people and African Americans in the criminal justice system. "People were very enraged about what had happened to her and the refusal of Hennepin County to recognize her right to self-defense," says Katie Burgess, executive director of Trans Youth Support Network, who has helped draw attention to the case and notes transgender people of color are twice as likely to experience discrimination as their white peers. We also speak with Rai’vyn Cross, one of McDonald’s best friends.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

U.S. Nuns Face Vatican Rebuke for "Radical Feminism" in Stances on Church Teachings, Social Justice

The Vatican has reprimanded the largest group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying they have focused too heavily on issues of social justice, while failing to speak out enough on "issues of crucial importance," such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In a report issued last week, church leaders accused the nuns of promoting "radical feminist" ideas and challenging key teachings on homosexuality and male-only priesthood. An archbishop and two bishops — all of them male — have been appointed to oversee the nuns. "To me, it’s quite puzzling that our work with the poor, which Jesus told us to do in the gospels, would be the source of such a criticism," says Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, which was harshly criticized in last week’s report. The rebuke comes as the so-called "war on women" has become a key issue in the 2012 presidential race. Some Catholic nuns have opposed the bishops by supporting Obama’s healthcare reform law and contraceptive mandate. Campbell says she believes the Vatican targeted her group because of their support for healthcare reform. "They like it when we just do service, but don’t have thoughts, don’t have questions, don’t have criticism," Campbell says. "That is a real challenge in a political society, when we have to do a deep, nuanced analysis in order to know the way forward for this, for the common good."

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

David Suzuki Foundation defends itself over new right-wing attack

The David Suzuki Foundation knew this was coming.

"It should be crystal clear to the public," environmentalist David Suzuki told the Globe and Mail earlier this month.

"The government is selectively going after the environmental groups."

It wasn't quite the Harper government but on Tuesday, an organization which has very close ties to the Conservatives launched an initial salvo at the Suzuki Foundation., whose current and past staff include a whose-who of Conservative party insiders, sent a 44 page letter to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) calling for the environmental lobby group's charitable status to be reviewed.

"The CRA clearly states that registered charities are prohibited from engaging in partisan activity and sets very strict rules for political activity," a press release from Ethical Oil notes.

"With 12 registered lobbyists, the David Suzuki Foundation has more lobbyists on staff than most government relations firms. Charities are supposed to do charitable work: feed the poor, take care of the sick, and fund life-saving advancements in medicine."

Spotlight on NDP difference

When provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath extracted progressive concessions from Ontario’s Liberal premier, Dalton McGuinty, as the price of preserving his government this week, she not only avoided an election but also underlined the very real differences between the two parties.

Horwath has boldly secured a tax on the super-rich, soft-pedalled by the Libs as a surtax, a seemingly radical move supported by the vast majority of Canadians, though only reluctantly by McGuinty.

She’s managed to put the notion of reasonable taxation back in discussion at a time when the Liberals provincially are trying to position themselves as Slash-and-Burn Lite while in fact cutting like the Conservatives federally – except where restrained by the NDP. As Harper’s Conservatives come under fire for outrageously over-budget spending on unnecessary fighter planes, the Liberals simply call for open bids.

The NDP says forget the weapons of mass budget destruction altogether and use the money for social programs, hospitals and education. Two vastly different approaches for parties too quickly lumped together by progressives.

Consequences of strike being felt

MONTREAL - The consequences of the protracted student strike are starting to be felt at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Students are starting to see that there will be no reimbursements for dropped classes, and that classes may be cancelled which could result in a failure for students and could also mean not being reimbursed for a course that will then have to be retaken.

Students had to decide by Apr. 20 if they were going to drop a class, which is one way of avoiding having a failure on their transcript, said Jenny Desrochers, interim director of media relations at UQAM.

“Mention of a failure on your transcript is really not good,” she said. However, she said the university doesn’t yet know how many students have made this move.

“If they drop a course, they can retake it next year but they will have to pay again,” she said.

The problem, according to Justine Boulanger of the Association facultaire des étudiants et étudiantes en arts, is that the offer to drop the classes came a bit prematurely and before some students were ready to position themselves.

Our Health Minister Plays Race Card, Democracy Loses

During Monday's Question Period, MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett asked Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq to explain "why (the Minister's budget) cuts target the population with the worst health outcomes in Canada, the aboriginal people of Canada?"

Usually this question would be taken as a normal part of the drama that plays out during Question Period, with the Health Minister offering some non-answer that superficially addresses the Member's leading question. But this time things were different because it just so happens that Minister Aglukkaq is of Aboriginal heritage.

Enter the politics of race, ethnicity, and political representation in Canada.

Bennett's question is of pressing importance to the health and well-being of fellow Canadians and one of this country's founding peoples. Yet, before getting to the heart of her non-answer, Minister Aglukkaq felt compelled to shoot back, "Mr. Speaker, as an aboriginal person I take that type of line of questioning to be unacceptable." In other words, she pulled the proverbial "race card."

While our Philosophy 101 professors would be proud of our ability to point out the latently ad hominem character of Bennett's question which, figuratively speaking, plays the (wo)man instead of playing the ball (or at least does both), insinuating that Bennett's question was a racially or culturally inappropriate act is quite a stretch.

Preparing for a global economic restructuring

In my last column, the stage was set for what will have to be the government’s response to unpredictable revenue derived from the export of oil.

The best case scenario Canada could likely hope for is one in which the price of oil “disinflates” (i.e., slowed increases). With significant unconventional reserves located in the United States, China, Israel and elsewhere and with growing economic giants likely to spark higher demand, it would be foolish for Canada to count on the international regime for oil currently in place.

It should be noted as well that the extraction and export of oil shale may be pursued not only for economic reasons but also for geopolitical ones. In the case of oil, traditional logic stipulates that supply follows demand, causing inflation as well as excess capacity. However, take for example the case of Israel. Taking oil shale into account, there is just as much oil located in Israel — if not more — than there is in Saudi Arabia.

Jerusalem may well choose to develop and export its oil merely for the purpose of attempting to brake OPEC’s near-monopoly over the international oil market and damage the non-diversified economies of other Middle-Eastern states, perhaps naively. If Israel can find export markets that are willing to purchase, the incentives for such a move appear great. As stated last week, production costs for Israel’s oil shale represent merely one-third of the current price of oil.

Brian Masse target of latest Tory attack

OTTAWA — Next NDP critic on the Tory hit list — Brian Masse.

In what’s shaping up to be a systematic assault on the NDP’s new shadow cabinet, the Conservative Party has now zeroed in on Mulcair’s critic for Canada-U.S. border issues and the Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway.

“Mr. Masse recently endorsed a proposal calling for a taxpayer-funded, government-owned car manufacturing company that would compete with private sector, taxpaying companies that employ thousands upon thousand of Canadians – putting their jobs at risk and setting up taxpayers for a massive failure,” says the latest statement issued by party spokesman Fred DeLorey.

“In responding to a call from the Canadian Autoworkers Union to end job-creating free trade talks and create a risky car-making Crown corporation,  Mr. Masse’s response (to the Windsor Star) was ‘we’re supporting the entire initiative.’”

The Tories call Masse’s position a “hint as to the kind of dangerous economic experiments that would entice an NDP government.

“These are policies that would hurt everyday Canadian families and waste large amounts of taxpayers’ dollars,” they say.

Stephen Harper shouted down for saying NDP didn’t support fight against Hitler

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was shouted down during a debate in question period Thursday on the Afghanistan mission for suggesting the NDP – not yet in existence – didn’t even support Canada’s military involvement in the Second World War.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was asking Harper if he intended to extend the Afghanistan mission past 2014 after a Postmedia News report Wednesday said U.S officials had asked Canadian special forces to stay past the withdrawal date.

The prime minister responded the NDP has a pacifistic ideology “regardless of circumstances” and his government would make the right decision for Afghanistan’s security.

“In 1939, the NDP leader didn’t even want to support the fight against Hitler,” Harper said, before being drowned out by cat calls.

NDP MPs gently reminded Harper from across the aisle that the NDP didn’t come into existence until 1961, birthed by a union between the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Canadian Labour Congress.

“CCF, NDP, same difference,” Harper responded curtly.

“I guess we can start talking about Reform Party policies,” Mulcair replied, to the delight of the opposition benches.

Fantino calls in Mounties to probe 'mudslinging' over offshore accounts

OTTAWA — Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino complained to the RCMP on Thursday about documents of unknown origin that purport to show details of offshore banking by Fantino.

"The allegation is completely false," said Chris McCluskey, Fantino's director of communications. "The minister has complained to the RCMP about possible mistaken identity, or identity theft."

Fantino personally denied having offshore accounts on Thursday after the website published a story revealing that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is looking at the documents.

"No, I don't have any offshore accounts," Fantino said. "I'm not going to get into that stuff. That's mudslinging. No. Unbelievable."

Postmedia News has had the documents for weeks but has not reported on them until now, because reporters were unable to determine their veracity and similar documents have been shown to be forgeries in the past.

The documents purport to show several accounts in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas containing hundreds of thousands of dollars under the name Julian Fantino.

Quebec government rejects plan to resume student talks

The Quebec government has rejected a new round of discussions with student groups proposed by the province's federations of CEGEP and university students.

FEUQ and FECQ, two groups representing university and college students, said today they would return to the table but wanted to bring members of the more militant CLASSE group as part of their delegations.

Beauchamp had said she was willing to negotiate with two of Quebec’s student groups, but the third group, CLASSE, would not be invited to the table.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, said they are ready to return to the negotiating table with the other student associations tomorrow. They would take two of the seats reserved for the other student groups.

Talks broke off Wednesday, 11 weeks after the student strike began, after CLASSE was expelled from negotiations with the province.

"We can’t ask the government to negotiate with those who use violence as a form of blackmail," Beauchamp said.

Why Alberta's Wildrose Party is not long for this world

The Wildrose phenomenon will disappear from the Alberta political scene almost as quickly as the party's leader took a powder after her concession speech at the golf club in Okotoks on Tuesday night.

Sure, we've all heard the promises about what a great opposition the Wildrose Party is going to make, how well leader Danielle Smith did to build it out of nothing in jig time, and how they'll be back in 2016 to really kick Tory ass. All talk, of course.

There are several reasons why the Wildrose is likely to quickly wither on the vine -- an appropriate enough metaphor for such a delicate little flower in Alberta's harsh climate. The principal one is simply this: Uniting the right has worked too long and too well for the people who bankroll right-wing governments to allow this to continue.

Oh, sure, they might think about letting Wildrose strategist Tom Flanagan have one more kick at the cat before he retires to Palm Springs -- but he'll be what in 2016, a hundred and two?

Seriously, people, if the Wildrose Party can't make any inroads as the opposition, and that seems unlikely in the unforgiving new world of Alison Redford's huge and smart Progressive Conservative majority, it'll blow away on the Prairie wind for the simple reason its funds will dry up.

Israel opens fire on the Global March to Jerusalem

Soldiers prepare to fire at protesters. Behind them the 'skunk truck', which propels sewage-like liquid, is parked. Photo: Rana Hamadeh
On March 30, 2012, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) opened fire on marchers as they headed towards Jerusalem marking Palestinian Land Day.

The Global March to Jerusalem is an initiative taking place across the world, with hundreds of thousands of people involved. Marches were organized within Palestine, 1948 territories and Gaza, as well as all surrounding countries and parts of Asia, North America, and Europe. Among other things, the march was calling for an end to the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and Palestine at large, the right of return for all refugees, and the protection of Jerusalem's non-Jewish holy sites, which are currently at risk. At least 200 people were injured by the IOF in protests across Palestine, and one young man was killed in Gaza.

The Israeli military employed a series of weapons on the unarmed protesters, including the 'siren', which emits a deafening ringing; the 'skunk truck' which propels torrents of a sewage-like liquid; rubber-coated steel bullets; sound bombs; high-velocity tear gas; and live ammunition.

Visa feud clouds Harper’s free-trade dream with Europe

The free-trade deal with the European Union that Stephen Harper’s government desperately wants will not be ratified unless Canada lifts visa restrictions on three European countries, the EU’s ambassador says.

It’s a hard deadline that has created an unusual link: the Harper government is rushing to change the way Canada's refugee laws work so that it can seal the European trade deal.

The link has been created because three EU countries – the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania – are upset that Canada requires its citizens to obtain visitors visas before they can come here. Canada slapped a visa restriction on the Czech Republic in 2009, arguing that too many Czech Roma visitors claim refugee status when they arrive.

The Harper government has insisted it can solve the visa dispute with refugee reforms that would fast-track refugee claimants from countries deemed safe, so that those who are refused are quickly returned. That way, the visa restrictions could be quickly lifted. Ottawa has told the EU to expect that its member countries would be deemed safe, so that visa restrictions would be lifted.

Koch Brothers, Tea Party Billionaires, Donated To Tory-Allied Fraser Institute, Reports Show

A former executive director of the Fraser Institute has confirmed to the Vancouver Observer that the think tank has been taking money from the Koch brothers for "years and years." “I know the grant from the Koch Foundation is for our international work, but I can't tell you which of the projects ... it's funding,” Fraser Institute co-founder Michael Walker said. “Before the Koch Foundation, we used to get funding from Koch Industries, when they had extensive holdings in Canada." 
Walker defended the Fraser Institute's use of foreign money, saying that any funds from the Kochs are being used to fund international work, for which "we do have to raise money offshore from different sources.”

Canada’s governing Conservatives have launched a campaign to go after charitable groups that engage in politics, in a fairly transparent effort to fight back opposition to the expansion of Canada’s oil industry.

The Tories and their allies have made a meme out of complaining that Canada’s environmental groups are backed by foreign money, conveniently omitting that Canada’s oil sands have themselves been built with billions in foreign money.

ALEC Has Special Exemption In South Carolina's Lobbying Law

WASHINGTON -- In recent weeks, the world of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been turned inside out, as progressives have raised awareness about its role in pushing controversial bills in state legislatures nationwide. The group has lost the support of state lawmakers and shed powerful businesses as members due to its push for voter ID legislation and controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws.

ALEC has insisted that it is the victim of a "well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign." It also denies accusations that it is a lobbying firm pressing state lawmakers to pass conservative legislation, though ethics watchdog group Common Cause has filed a lawsuit with the IRS, alleging that ALEC is a lobbying group and challenging its nonprofit status.

Yet there's no doubt that ALEC is an influential organization among conservative legislators, and that the extent of its reach is just beginning to become clear. It is such an integral group in some circles, in fact, that South Carolina law actually carves out a special ethics exemption just for ALEC.

Corporate Campaign Contributions Show Some Industries Giving Up Appearance Of Bipartisanship

WASHINGTON -- Money traditionally follows power in the nation's capital. As a result, corporate campaign contributions have historically been split among incumbents of both political parties, with a decided advantage for whichever controls Congress and the White House.

But that pattern has begun to fray, as companies in some major industries that see a threat from federal regulations -- most notably the energy sector -- appear to have deepened bonds with the Republican Party, with which they share increasingly indistinguishable goals.

"Since they're trying to block regulation or block new laws, a single party can do the job for them," said Robert Weissman, president of the consumer group Public Citizen. "So it makes sense to deepen the relationship there."

One of the most telling examples of this deepened relationship is the oil and gas sector. Just over two decades ago, Republican donations from people and companies associated with oil and gas outpaced Democratic donations -- but by less than a 2-to-1 margin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, that ratio increased to 3 to 1 or 4 to 1.

Joe Biden Foreign Policy Speech Takes Aim At Mitt Romney

NEW YORK -- Vice President Joe Biden delivered a harsh attack Thursday on Mitt Romney's foreign policy views, arguing that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is rooted in a Cold War mentality and is uninformed about the current challenges facing the U.S. abroad.

In a campaign speech delivered at New York University Law School, Biden laid out a robust defense of President Barack Obama's foreign policy record while eviscerating Romney for lacking vision and for "distorting" Obama's record in a way that has been counterproductive to U.S. interests.

"If you're looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Biden said, saying Obama's decisions on both foreign and domestic policy had made the U.S. safer.

Biden cast the former Massachusetts governor as an inexperienced foreign policy thinker who would delegate decisions to staff and advisers. He also hit Romney on his reputation for flip-flopping on issues.

"We know when the governor does venture a position it's a safe bet that he previously took or will take an exactly opposite position," Biden said, noting that Romney had originally supported setting a time frame for pulling U.S. troops from Afghanistan only to later criticize Obama's plan to do so by the end of 2014.

'Agent Orange Corn' Debate Rages As Dow Seeks Approval Of New Genetically Modified Seed

WASHINGTON -- A new kind of genetically modified crop under the brand name of "Enlist" -- known by its critics as "Agent Orange corn" -- has opponents pushing U.S. regulators to scrutinize the product more closely and reject an application by Dow AgroSciences to roll out its herbicide-resistant seeds.

The corn has been genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D, an ingredient used in Agent Orange that some say could pose a serious threat to the environment and to human health. Approval by the United States Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency would allow farmers to spray it far and wide without damaging their crops, boosting profits for the agribusiness giant.

Dow and its allies have insisted that their product is well tested, while industry regulators have so far overlooked critics' concerns.

"This is going to be a solution that we are looking forward to bringing to farmers," Dow's Joe Vertin told Reuters.

More than 140 advocacy groups have participated in a letter writing campaign calling on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reject Dow's regulatory application for the herbicide and herbicide-resistant crops, submitting more than 365,000 missives ahead of a public comment period that ends April 27.