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.]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Report suggests wide range of cuts to services

An independent accounting and consulting firm is suggesting a wide-range of cuts to services offered by the city's Public Works and Infrastructure division, from solid waste collection and snow removal to eliminating fluoridation in Toronto's drinking water.

The 44-page report was prepared for the city by KPMG as part of a study into ways to pare down the city's operating budgets.

The review found that 96 per cent of services offered by public works are basic to running the city, but just over a third of them could be offered for less.

Since Rob Ford came into office last fall, the cost-conscious mayor has left no stone unturned as he seeks to cut excess spending.

Of the some 24 suggestions from the big consulting firm, only two of them are listed as "high" potential savings and three are listed as "medium" potential savings.

The report provided no overall cost savings.

The high savings suggestions include reducing bicycle infrastructure and eliminating small commercial waste collection. The medium savings include further contracting out of waste collection, reducing the target rate for diverting waste from landfills into recycling and composting, and collecting fees from all street event permits.

However, one of the more bizarre suggestions from the comprehensive report called for the elimination of fluoride of Toronto water beginning in 2013 which it warns could have some consequences. "The fluoridation of drinking water could be eliminated, with impacts on dental health," it said in the report.

The items will be discussed at a committee meeting on July 18, but some city councillors were quick to condemn the report sanctioned by the mayor, noting that it was a waste of taxpayers' money.

"People are willing to pay for better services. That's what this report tells you," said councillor Adam Vaughan. "But what it really tells you for all the millions he spent to hire consultants to find savings even they couldn't find the savings unless you do things like stop clearing the snow. Why don't we stop cleaning the drinking water and see how much that saves us?"

Toronto is faced with a looming $774-million budget shortfall. In the spring, the city kicked off a comprehensive review of all city services, how they are provided, and the fees people pay for them.

Full Article
Source: CBC news 

Why You're Paying More to Breathe

If you or someone you know has asthma, you've probably noticed that the price of inhalers has jumped—from as little as $5 a few years ago to as much as $60 today. How'd that happen? The answer is a case study in how drug companies turned a well-meaning environmental regulation into an opportunity to suck billions from consumers.

PHARMA'S BIG PROBLEM In 1987, as part of an international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, 26 nations agreed to phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. That could have been bad news for pharmaceutical manufacturers, which used CFCs as propellants in their asthma inhalers.

THE BRILLIANT SOLUTION Yet pharmaceutical companies, worried about the emergence of generic competition, soon spied an opening. If they could create and patent a new variety of CFC-free inhalers, securing the exclusive rights to sell them, they could force off-brand competitors out of the market and jack up prices. In 1989, Glaxo Wellcome and seven other (PDF) pharmaceutical firms formed the International Pharmaceutical Aerosol Consortium (IPAC) to come up with a new ozone-friendly product. By 1997, the first CFC-free inhalers hit pharmacy shelves.
PHARMA'S NEXT BIG PROBLEM The drug companies claimed to have spent more than $1 billion on this transition, so they weren't happy when scientists raised concerns about hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the group of gases used in the new inhalers. These propellants don't harm the ozone layer, but they are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In light of this, several researchers and one generic drug company argued that phasing out the old CFC-based inhalers didn't make environmental sense—especially given the higher prices asthma patients would have to pay for their medicine.

THE NEXT BRILLIANT SOLUTION But not to worry: The pharma consortium transformed from primarily an R&D outfit searching for substitutes for CFC-based inhalers into a lobbying group intent on eliminating the old inhalers. It set up shop in the K Street offices of Drinker Biddle, a major DC law firm. Between 2005 and 2010, it spent $520,000 on lobbying. (It probably spent even more; as a trade group, it's not required to disclose all of its advocacy spending.) Meanwhile, IPAC lobbied for other countries to enact similar bans, arguing that CFC-based inhalers should be eliminated for environmental reasons and replaced with the new, HFC-based inhalers.

The lobbying paid off. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an outright ban on many CFC-based inhalers starting in 2009 (PDF). This June, the agency's ban on Aerobid, an inhaler used for acute asthma, took effect. Combivent, another popular treatment, will be phased out by the end of 2013.

THE FINANCIAL PAYOFF Many of the patents for the new inhalers won't expire for another six years, so there likely won't be any generics until then, unless the patents are challenged in court. The switch to the new inhalers will cost American consumers, insurance companies, and the government some $8 billion by 2017, according to FDA estimates. That's money in the drug companies' pockets. In 2007, a top market-research firm alerted investors that the US inhaler market "will soon change from low-value to significant." Sure enough, at nearly $1 billion a year, sales of the market-leading inhaler, ProAir, now rival Viagra's.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PAYOFF Oh right, that. By upgrading their inhalers, Americans will prevent about 1,300 tons of CFC emissions a year. By comparison, the estimated global CFC emissions between 1986 and 2010 were 8.3 million tons. According to the University of Michigan's Edward Parson, an expert on ozone regulations, this impact will be "tiny."
One estimate suggests that CFC-free inhalers will accelerate the repair of the ozone layer by just a matter of days. And of course, the industry has solved its ozone problem but still has a climate-change problem. "It's just absurd to think that this is anything that could have a measurable impact," says Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a law that raised costs so much for such a nonexistent benefit to the environment."

Source: Mother Jones 

Palestinian Statehood: Canada Rejects UN Bid For Recognition

THE CANADIAN PRESS — OTTAWA - Canada is rejecting a Palestinian effort to win recognition at the United Nations as an independent state.

The move is not surprising given that the Harper government has forcefully highlighted its loyalty to Israel and the United States. Both oppose the Palestinian initiative.

The Palestinian Authority, which controls most of the West Bank, launched a campaign last month that will see it pursue a vote on statehood at the United Nations General Assembly in September — an effort borne out of its frustration over a peace process that is stalled.

The top Palestinian diplomat in Canada says her official delegation will still push hard for the support of Ottawa.

"On the conflict, we would like to see the Canadian government taking a neutral stand, supporting the creation of the state of Palestine, supporting the recognition of Palestine as a full member state in the UN in September," Linda Sobeh Ali, head of the Palestinian delegation, told The Canadian Press.

Sobeh Ali also said her delegation is pushing Canada to recognize Israel's pre-1967 borders — something Prime Minister Stephen Harper forcefully opposed, and managed to block from being part of the final communique of G8 leaders at their recent May summit in France.

"Our government's long-standing position has not changed. The only solution to this conflict is one negotiated between and agreed to by the two parties," said Chris Day, the spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"One of the states must be a Jewish state and recognized as such, while the Palestinian state is to be a non-militarized one."

The Palestinians are trying to win the requisite two-thirds support in the assembly — 128 votes among the 192 member countries — before the matter is considered by the Security Council. They have reportedly won the support of more than 100 countries.

Harper's stand at the G8 pitted him against U.S. President Barack Obama, who only a week earlier said in a major speech that the pre-1967 border should be a starting point for the resumption of stalled peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But Washington last week reiterated its opposition to the Palestinian push for UN recognition of its statehood.

A State Department spokeswoman said the Palestinian move would not be helpful to getting the parties back to the bargaining table.

Canada echoes that view.

"We will monitor developments at the UN and respond appropriately," said Day. "As G8 leaders declared at Deauville, unilateral action is ultimately unhelpful."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to host a meeting Monday of the UN Secretary General, the European Union and Russian foreign ministers — the so-called "quartet" of Middle East peacemakers.

The Harper government has been widely criticized for siding slavishly with Israel and turning a blind eye to the suffering of Palestinian people.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

CUPW: A cautionary tale of union-busting, with a little help from the media

With 16 straight years of profitability, including record profits in 2009 and postage rates lower than almost all other industrialized countries, the Canada Post negotiations should have been relatively easy. But it's Tory times in Canada and what better way is there for a right-wing government to attack the labour movement than by going after the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, a national and historically militant union?

Canada Post management prepared for a long hot summer of union busting. They hoped to divide CUPW's membership, forcing it to eventually settle on management's terms. Over many months of bargaining, CUPW members were bombarded by the message that current workers would get improved wages and keep their benefits and pensions. All they needed to do in return was agree to a lower starting salary, reduced benefits, and a defined contribution pension for future employees of Canada Post. Sell out the next generation, management urged, and we have a deal. CUPW refused to accept these terms but, emboldened by the Tory majority, management stuck to its guns.

Public endorsement came from business associations such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). On the eve of the dispute, CFIB President Catherine Swift published an open letter to Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra, supporting two-tiered wages, the imposition of a defined contribution pension plan and a short-term disability plan instead of sick leave. Swift urged Chopra to "not shy away from the tough decisions", ignoring any mention of the financial impact a postal shutdown would have on small businesses.

Assertions that a strike would neither affect business nor the public served the union-busting agenda. Such messages pervaded the media in the weeks leading to the strike/lockout. Suddenly everybody lived in a major urban centre with high-speed internet, nobody got anything in the mail and nobody would notice if the postal workers went out; in fact, they could stay out forever. Right-wing columnists such as Lorne Gunter of the National Post and many others loudly sniffed "Who Cares?" about a postal strike, with no reference to any factual evidence.

Gunter seemed surprised to get indignant replies from his readers, saying they did care about a disruption in postal service. But the "who cares" message was already framing discussion, along with the idea that Canada Post was doomed in the digital age. To discredit the internationally recognized success of the Canadian postal service, right-wing think tanks such as the Montreal Economic Institute were given free reign to publish their fictional analyses of postal prices and productivity in the business sections of newspapers while the union's fact-based statements were ignored.

The media continually avoided information that did not support the "Who cares: Canada Post is a sunset industry" claims. The record profits posted by Canada Post in 2009 were not reported in stories about the negotiations. Instead, the falsehood was reinforced that Canada Post was in serious trouble and needed to impose deep cuts on its workers in order to stay afloat.

Canada Post management knew it had a license to publicize such messages without scrutiny. For example, as the strike loomed, Canada Post announced that it had calculated the union's demands would cost $1.4 billion. When the union demanded an explanation of this eye-popping figure, management refused. But the figure appeared in many media stories.

Another widely used figure was a 17 per cent drop in mail volumes that supposedly occurred between 2006 and 2010. This number received massive media coverage and was cited to support the myth of financial crisis. Actual volumes of letters have been decreasing about 2-3 per cent annually since reaching a peak in 2006. Prior to the strike/lockout, the union was informed that admail and parcels were rebounding. Between 2006 and 2009, letter volumes decreased by 7 per cent, not 17 per cent. But the fake 17 per cent is still being bandied about by the media, despite union requests that this misleading figure be corrected. Nobody who reported the 17 per cent, including reputable academics and columnists, ever bothered to publicly correct their misleading statements, despite being contacted.

These are but two examples where Canada Post, taking its cue from the Tory playbook, simply fabricated a headline-grabbing myth and circulated it via a complaisant media. Throughout the strike/lockout period, the CUPW swam upstream against a flow of disinformation while attempting to explain the union's demands. These demands included complex issues such as health and safety, work rules, staffing, and the overall prospects for the industry; most of which were impossible to cover in the "one-liner" style of reportage favoured by journalists. These challenges were further compounded by the lack of knowledge of labour issues on the part of most "business" reporters. The "he said, she said" model of simply reporting the quoted perspectives of both sides with little to no analysis or investigation does not work when one party abandons all scruples. Unfortunately, what little fact-based, investigative journalism there was only occurred when the rigged game of back-to-work legislation was a fait accompli.

The single most important thing that management did not anticipate turned out to be the most important factor in the dispute. That was the solidarity of CUPW members, half of whom had never been on strike before. They could neither be bribed nor bullied into selling out the next generation of postal workers. They turned out in record numbers and voted 95 per cent to strike. When the union launched a series of rotating strikes in order to draw public attention to its bargaining issues, management responded by doing everything it could to provoke a lengthy, full-scale strike, including cutting drug coverage, cancelling sick leave and vacation leaves, laying off temporary workers, cutting part-time hours and harassing members on the workfloor. Still the union remained resolutely committed to fighting for both current and future workers.

Canada Post then imposed a national full-scale lock-out at a time when 23 people were on strike; clearly a bid for back-to-work legislation. The CFIB obediently waded in, lamenting the enormous cost of the dispute to small businesses. The media changed its tune from "Who cares?" to "Everybody cares!" Charitable organizations, beekeepers, brides and sex toy manufacturers were all paraded before the public, with no mention either of the hardships locked-out postal workers faced or the fact that the shutdown came from Canada Post management.

Of course, Harper came through for his friends immediately. Just to ensure there was absolutely no question where the Tories stood, the legislation imposed a wage increase that was less than the last offer made by management. In the ensuing debates, both Conservatives and the media harped on about the enormous costs of the "strike," despite the fact that Canada Post management had locked the doors to the postal system twelve days earlier.

The Harper government has thrown down the gauntlet to the labour movement, which must decide how to build an effective opposition. Our cautionary tale shows how the absence of a labour beat in our national media works to the advantage of union-busters everywhere.

Aalya Ahmad and Geoff Bickerton are staff with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.


Making Nice with Beijing

Canada's approach to China amounts to hypocrisy on human rights.

In a speech last week before a Toronto business audience, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that while Canada will have “frank yet respectful” discussions with Beijing about human-rights issues, he nonetheless fully appreciated that “China is incredibly important to our future prosperity.” And just in case his business audience didn't appreciate the tectonic shift in Canadian foreign policy that they were about to hear, Baird strayed from his prepared text to add: “My government gets it, and, as Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, I get it.”

Not surprisingly, Baird's approach has its cheerleaders. Don Guloien, chief executive officer of Manulife Financial Corp., called the speech “a pragmatic approach” that conveyed “warmth.”

Be careful what you wish for

But in their thirst for all things China, Canadian corporations may want to hit “pause” before cheering too loudly for increased business ties with China.

One obvious headache is Sino Forest, whose shares plummeted 80 per cent after the company was accused of overstating its sales and assets. The scandal has forced the Ontario Securities Commission to conduct what it calls a “targeted review” of Canadian-listed companies with operations in markets such as China.

In the U.S., “shares of at least 20 Chinese companies have been suspended or kicked off New York stock exchanges in the past year,” following accounting problems that included forged bank statements, fictional assets and customers, and undisclosed transactions.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Luis Aguilar, responding to the scandals, noted that, “while a vast majority of Chinese companies may be legitimate, a growing number have significant accounting deficiencies or are vessels of outright fraud.”

Each of these cases is further proof that corruption is no longer confined to China's borders, but now stretches to firms controlled by Chinese companies trading in Canada and the United States, thus putting the investments and pensions of Canadians at risk.

Human rights: Canada's afterthought in China relations

Despite Baird's “frank yet respectful” musings regarding human-rights issues, a double standard is emerging in Canada's foreign policy that has little to do with human-rights records, and everything to do with the “almighty dollar.”

Just consider Canada's language on human-rights issues: In Venezuela, Canada is committed to “closely monitoring” the impacts of the Bolivarian Revolution on “standards of democracy and human rights” and supporting “civil society organizations working in the areas of democracy and human rights.” Search the Foreign Affairs website for a fact sheet on “Canada’s Engagement on Human Rights in Colombia,” and a fact sheet will be found. But, when it comes to Canada’s engagement on human rights in China, there's no comparable fact sheet or frank words.

This conveys a worrisome message: that we will hold what Baird calls “respectful discussions” about human rights abuses with our most favoured trading partners, like China, but, when it comes to less economically important countries, Canada will demand a higher standard of conduct – presumably because we have less to lose if such countries are offended by our expectations that they meet international human-rights standards.

Trade versus human rights: Why not both?

If – as John Baird claims – the government “gets it,” so does China.

According to Statistics Canada, the value of Canadian exports to China rose by 18.7 per cent in 2010 to $13.2 billion; an impressive jump from $4 billion in 2002.

Yet it's a trading relationship skewed in China's favour, as Canadian imports exceeded $44 billion, costing us thousands of critically needed jobs in Canada's manufacturing belt. Of more concern, however, is the fact that our exports barely scratch the surface of Canadian skills or value-added technologies. In 2010, the top exports to China were wood pulp, coal, and other bituminous substances.

Putting human rights on an equal footing with Canada's business lobby won't jeopardize these exports, because China's thirst for resources will only grow, and Canada isn't short on markets for natural resources. But a foreign policy that relies on human rights issues for moments of selective outrage that are targeted for domestic political consumption serves no one, least of all China's thousands of political prisoners or reformers under house arrest.

While some, like the University of Alberta’s China Institute chair Wenran Jiang, may see Baird's speech as “an important first step,” such views have little to do with our country's global interests or reputation. Even if we accept Baird's pirouette, Canadians should be alarmed that he failed to detail bilateral policies regarding regional security, consumer safety, environmental protection, and water management – to name but a few outstanding issues with the Chinese communist government.

This is why Canada must insist on having an adult relationship with China where differences on human rights and other issues can be raised without the nattering of trade retaliation.
Sadly, Baird's speech is not a good start to such an approach.

Source: The Mark 

David House on Bradley Manning, Secret WikiLeaks Grand Jury, and U.S. Surveillance

On the eve of the extradition hearing for WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange in London, we spend an exclusive hour with David House, who co-founded the Bradley Manning Support Network after U.S. Army Private Manning was arrested for allegedly releasing classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks. House refused to testify last month in Alexandria, Virginia, before a grand jury hearing on WikiLeaks and the disclosure of thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables. Democracy Now! spoke to House at the Frontline Club in London about the significance of WikiLeaks, how he helped found the Bradley Manning Support Network, his visits with Manning at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, the federal surveillance he and his associates have come under, and his experience before the grand jury. “In my mind, this reeks of the Pentagon Papers investigation,” says House. “Richard Nixon’s [Department of Justice] 40 years ago attempted to curtail the freedoms of the press and politically regulate the press through the use of policy created around the espionage investigation of the New York Times. I feel that the WikiLeaks case we have going on now provides Obama’s DOJ ample opportunity to continue this attempt to politically regulate the U.S. media.”

Source: Democracy Now! 

Vermont Yankee Plant Controversy: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Keeps Information From Public

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- When a nuclear watchdog group asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a study on leaks of radioactive water at the Vermont Yankee plant, it was told the NRC had seen the report but had never officially taken custody of it – so it wasn't public.

Critics say it's a style of communication between regulator and regulated that cuts out the public and even state regulators trying to track leaks of tritium, a radioactive form of water linked with cancer when ingested in high amounts.

An NRC spokeswoman confirmed the agency routinely sees industry reports that it does not share on its public web site.

"We don't take possession of them so you can't get them from us," said Diane Screnci, spokeswoman in the NRC's Northeast regional office.

The fight comes as the NRC comes under heightened scrutiny for what its critics say is too much coziness with the industry it oversees, and is part of what Michel Keegan of the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes called a pattern of making public access to information more difficult.

An already difficult-to-navigate NRC online documents service recently was redesigned and became more so, Keegan said. The NRC uses company claims of proprietary information, security concerns and exceptions to limit access, he added. The agency also notes that the industry is sharing information with it voluntarily.

"The NRC hides behind this," Keegan added.

At Vermont Yankee, the battle is even more pitched than in most places. The governor and Legislature are pushing to shut the plant down when its initial 40-year license expires next March. They cite the recent tritium leaks and misstatements by company executives – Vermont's attorney general announced Thursday the company won't be prosecuted for perjury – as reasons Vermont should get done with nuclear power.

Plant owner Entergy Corp. says the Vernon reactor is safe and reliable. It is suing in federal court, saying the state's efforts to shut down Vermont Yankee are pre-empted by federal law.

Raymond Shadis of the nuclear watchdog group New England Coalition said the NRC, which renewed Vermont Yankee's federal license in March, is making regulatory decisions based on information the public doesn't get to see. "It's our position that this should be open to the light of public scrutiny," he said.

The issue came to light June 22, when officials from the NRC's regional headquarters in Pennsylvania traveled to Brattleboro for a public meeting designed as a review of the agency's annual report card for the Vernon reactor.

According to a filing by Shadis' group with the state Public Service Board, NRC health physicist James Noggle told the audience that significant progress had been made "toward identifying and isolating the source of the leak; also voluminous groundwater sampling tables, and evidence that groundwater contamination is physically isolated from the plant site's underlying aquifer."

Noggle cited a hydrogeology report from New Orleans-based Entergy Corp, which owns Vermont Yankee, that an NRC librarian later told him was posted to an industry computer server accessible by the NRC but not the general public.

"The NRC was provided a Hydrogeologic study report on Vermont Yankee online via the industry's Certrec computer system, which Entergy uses to provide inspection access to licensee documents, without the NRC actually taking custody of the document," NRC technical librarian Mary Mendiola wrote in an e-mail. "Therefore, the NRC never received the document that Raymond Shadis is requesting. He should contact Entergy directly for this document ..."

Information contained in that document was not being shared with the state board, despite an order from it in February that Vermont Yankee and Entergy update the board every two weeks on its investigation into tritium leaks at the plant, Shadis said.

Jared Margolis, a lawyer for Shadis' group, wrote to the board on July 1 saying the information it was getting from Entergy was "not complete or accurate," that it "does not accurately reflect the status of the investigation as reported to NRC," and that "it appears that Entergy has withheld information from the Board and the Parties regarding its investigations into these leaks."

Shadis said it was ironic that Entergy was declining to share information that appeared to put Vermont Yankee and its tritium cleanup efforts in a favorable light. He said the reluctance to make the information public resulted from "force of habit."

Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said the company did not want to comment. "Since this was a filing made with the Board, we will respond before the Board as the Board directs," he said.

Concerns about Entergy sharing different information with the NRC than with the state come at a time when its relations with the state of Vermont have been much rockier than with the federal agency. The NRC approved a 20-year license extension for the plant earlier this year, while the state has been moving to shut its lone reactor down when its initial 40-year license expires next March. Entergy is suing in federal court to block the state's efforts.

The NRC also has been coming under scrutiny from critics who say it hasn't been a tough enough regulator. In an investigative series last month, The Associated Press reported that the NRC has been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them.

In an e-mail sent Friday, Screnci maintained the public should have confidence in the NRC as a regulator and in the way it handles information provided to it by the industry.

"The public should not be concerned that the NRC is reviewing licensee documents that are not available to the public while conducting inspections," she wrote. "As a matter of fact, independently verifying licensee information is an important part of our inspection process. When we document our activities in inspection reports, we list the documents reviewed, provide information on what the document contained and explain how we reached any conclusions. We always attempt to conduct our activities in an open and transparent way."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Canada needs clear cyberspace censorship policy, watchdog says

Government representatives looked on as a Canadian company celebrated its collaboration with a Middle Eastern telecom last month, a scene that critics say demands an explanation.

Netsweeper Inc., a Guelph-based developer of content filtering software, presented the United Arab Emirates telecom Du with an award for its use of green technology in late June. Attendees at the function included a trade commissioner from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as well as representatives from the National Research Council and the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a provincial agency funded by the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Du uses Netsweeper software to block content from UAE Internet users, including political, religious and human rights material, according to the Open Net Initiative, a collective of researchers that track Internet censorship and surveillance.

Netsweeper has declined to comment on content filtering in the past and did not return a request for comment for this article.

It is not illegal for Canadian companies to market filtering software abroad. Government spokespersons said it’s typical for representatives to attend networking events like the one held by Netsweeper.

But Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, an Open Net partner at the University of Toronto, said the relationship between government and Netsweeper demonstrates “typical short-sighted encouragement of local technology” without “broader consideration of the implications.”

He said Canada needs to establish a clear foreign policy on access to information and freedom of speech in cyberspace.

“There is a growing recognition among liberal democratic countries and certainly in civil society that filtering access to information should be the exception, not the rule,” Deibert said.

So far, the federal government has not said whether it would consider prohibiting domestic companies from marketing technology in countries where governments issue edicts on what their citizens can access online.

South of the border, the proposed Global Online Freedom Act seeks to “prevent United States businesses from cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance.”

Peter Julian, NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, and the party’s industry critic, said the government must address this issue when it resumes in the fall. He said the attendance of government officials at a Netsweeper event “raises huge alarms.”

“It begs the question: Is the federal government giving tacit or open support to the end results of this online censorship?” he said, adding that limiting access to information is out of step with Canadian values.

“I think most Canadians would say this is completely inappropriate,” he said.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs and International Trade spokeswoman Caitlin Workman said it’s standard for a trade commissioner to attend networking events.

“(Trade commissioners help) companies succeed globally by helping Canadian entrepreneurs prepare for international markets, assess market potential, and find qualified contacts abroad,” Workman wrote in an email, adding that the government “expects all Canadian companies working internationally to abide by all applicable domestic and international laws and corporate social responsibility standards.”

Charles Drouin, a spokesman for the National Research Council, said it’s also common for their agency to be “invited to celebrate innovation success.” Netsweeper received two grants from NRC totalling around $350,000 in 2007 and 2009.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence has provided funding to Netsweeper in the past, as well. Spokeswoman Denny Allen said OCE maintains relationships with its partner organizations but does not condone unethical activity.

Filtering in the UAE is mandated by the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, which implements policy prohibiting access to a range of content, including pornography, gambling, and material related to terrorism. Past testing by Open Net has found that sites critical of Islam or the government’s human rights practices have also been blocked, along with secular and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender material, dating services and proxy and anonymity tools.

According to Open Net, UAE’s other telecom, Etisalat, uses McAfee’s Smartfilter software.

Source: Toronto Star 

Australia Veil Law Targets Muslim Women

CANBERRA, Australia -- Muslim women would have to remove veils and show their faces to police on request or risk a prison sentence under proposed new laws in Australia's most populous state that have drawn criticism as culturally insensitive.

A vigorous debate that the proposal has triggered reflects the cultural clashes being ignited by the growing influx of Muslim immigrants and the unease that visible symbols of Islam are causing in predominantly white Christian Australia since 1973 when the government relaxed its immigration policy.

Under the law proposed by the government of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, a woman who defies police by refusing to remove her face veil could be sentenced to a year in prison and fined 5,500 Australian dollars ($5,900).

The bill – to be voted on by the state parliament in August – has been condemned by civil libertarians and many Muslims as an overreaction to a traffic offense case involving a Muslim woman driver in a "niqab," or a veil that reveals only the eyes.

The government says the law would require motorists and criminal suspects to remove any head coverings so that police can identify them.

Critics say the bill smacks of anti-Muslim bias given how few women in Australia wear burqas. In a population of 23 million, only about 400,000 Australians are Muslim. Community advocates estimate that fewer than 2,000 women wear face veils, and it is likely that even a smaller percentage drives.

"It does seem to be very heavy handed, and there doesn't seem to be a need," said Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie. "It shows some cultural insensitivity."

The controversy over the veils is similar to the debate in other Western countries over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear garments that hide their faces in public. France and Belgium have banned face-covering veils in public. Typical arguments are that there is a need to prevent women from being forced into wearing veils by their families or that public security requires people to be identifiable.

Bernie noted that while a bandit disguised with a veil and sunglasses robbed a Sydney convenience store last year, there were no Australian crime trends involving Muslim women's clothing.

"It is a religious issue here," said Mouna Unnjinal, a mother of five who has been driving in Sydney in a niqab for 18 years and has never been booked for a traffic offense.

"We're going to feel very intimidated and our privacy is being invaded," she added.

Unnjinal said she would not hesitate to show her face to a policewoman. But she fears male police officers might misuse the law to deliberately intimidate Muslim women.

"If I'm pulled over by a policeman, I might say I want to see a female police lady and he says, 'No, I want to see your face,'" Unnjinal said. "Where does that leave me? Do I get penalized 5,000 dollars and sent to jail for 12 months because I wouldn't?"

Sydney's best-selling The Daily Telegraph newspaper declared the proposal "the world's toughest burqa laws." In France, wearing a burqa – the all-covering garment that hides the entire body except eyes and hands – in public is punishable by a 150 euro ($217) fine only.

The New South Wales state Cabinet decided to create the law on July 4 in response to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione's call for greater police powers. Other states including Victoria and Western Australia are considering similar legislation.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

The Emergence of a Canadian Culture War

In 2008, during the run-up to the then federal election, Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne argued that Stephen Harper's much maligned $45 million cut to Heritage Canada's budget was not representative of some sort of Canadian Culture War as was then feared.

Instead Coyne argued that Harper's budget cuts were indicative of an emergent class conflict.

In 2008, perhaps Coyne was right. Brouhaha over arts and culture funding was indeed representative of divergences between "ordinary Canadians" and "Canadian elites."

However, I would argue that over the interceding three years (ages in politics) we have crossed the Rubicon from class conflict into what appears to be some sort of cultural conflagration.

For most people the concept of culture war alludes to the United States whose societal dichotomies have been documented since the 1960s if not before. However, the concept was popularized during the Reagan administration, when socially contentious issues such abortion, gay rights and censorship were quick to divide the electorate. In 1991 author James Davison Hunter defined America's two opposing camps as progressives and traditionalists; America has been fighting variants of that same war ever since.

In Canada, however, our culture war has been kept in check by an almost unified belief in the notion of progressivism; a belief that has helped define what it means to be Canadian over the past century. The progressive notion that government involvement was essential to societal betterment was once a beacon for our two largest political parties: the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

But progressivism has proven to be a 20th century concept, one that bled out of the sweatshops and mass immigration of our industrial revolution but died with Y2K.

Canadian progressivism has now been sullied in the political arena, married to the electorate's fear of elitism, and exploited by class dynamics where a progressive identity is no longer essential to our Canadian sense of self.

As the demise of progressivism continues, so rises Canada's emerging culture war.

The powder keg erupted rather unobtrusively in 2009, when then Minister Dianna Ablonczy was reprimanded for dolling out almost $400,000 to Pride Toronto as part of the Marquee Tourism Events stimulus program; the event was not stimulating enough for some (socially) Conservative MPs.

Soon members of our national media would join in on the government's fun. Take SunTV's Krista Erickson, whose June 2011 interview with Canadian interpretive dancer Margie Gillis proved to be more of a witch hunt then anything factual. At one point, while flapping her hands in an attempt to mimic Margie's dance moves, Krista asks: "why does this (hand waving) cost $1.2 million over 13 years?" (She is referring to grants Gillis's Foundation had received from the government.)

John Doyle in the Globe and Mail probably has the best rebuttal of Erickson's interview, where, he notes that the Canadian taxpayer pays for a lot of stuff that we may not know about or agree with including subsidies of $327,160 to Sun TV's parent company, Quebecor, to help publish its magazine 7 Jours.

While Gillis' "hand waving" is the type of artsy-fartsy production presumably only appreciated by the upper class, Erickson's interview is classless (in both senses of the word). As Gillis talks about compassion towards the end of the interview Krista bangs the war drums, wondering how she could dare compare her work to the death of 150 Canadians in Afghanistan.

And that crazy analogy is Canada's class war veering off into the abyss of a culture war as we question the very basis of how our national culture relates to our nascent military state.

And a culture war has reared its head in local politics where Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford decided to skip the city's aforementioned Pride Parade to spend time with his family in Muskoka.

But fear not heathens, city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti decided to put on his best Gossip Girl outfit so he could film the city's Dyke March, only to demand that the city revoke future funding due to the political nature of the march. Note that even the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, which has over the past year struggled with its relationship to Pride and Pride's relationship with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, doesn't seem to want anything to do with Mammoliti's obsessive fascination with all things gay.

As fall out, Mammoliti and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday want the city to create a policy that will prevent public dollars from being spent on events that contain political messages. Such a policy would potentially mimic the apparent reasons why federal funding was revoked for SummerWorks, a Toronto theatre festival. While official reasons surrounding its funding refusal are sketchy, the festival is infamous for its decision to produce a play that the Harper government felt was sympathetic to the Toronto18 Terrorists.

In my mind, all of this boils down to the emergence of our very own culture war. The apparent class war over cultural funding is now moot; Ablonczy wasn't reprimanded for funding the Calgary Stampede nor is SunTV advocating for the removal of federal magazine subsidies. Instead an emerging culture war is defining just what it means to be Canadian in the post-progressive era.

On one side we have those who would argue that patriotism should be defined by our military allegiance and inoffensive cultural pursuits while on the other side of we have...

Sadly progressivism is dead -- we just haven't found what to replace it with.

Source: Huffington 

Instead of Exiting Afghanistan, it's Time to Re-Engage

A few days ago I spoke with a highly placed individual in the Canadian Department of Defence who made the following troubling observation: "Glen, with the drawing down of Canadian forces out of Afghanistan, it will be inevitable that long-term development will follow suit. Nothing can be done about it."

One supposes it was inevitable that the Canadian war effort would come down to this kind of "zero-sum" logic. At one point there were 150,000 foreign troops from 47 countries deployed in the Afghan conflict, with the Canadian component adding up to roughly 3,000 personnel. Yet what had began as an all-out effort to remove the Taliban has evolved into a complex maze of counterinsurgency -- all of this occurring amid the backdrop of tens of thousands killed.

It's hard to believe that billions upon billions of dollars have been poured into a country that some are now assuming will become more devoid of the effective delivery of aid. This has been standard reasoning because Western leaders have repeatedly justified military intervention as a means for providing security for community-building development efforts. Perhaps it's time we revisited that construct.

We continue to underestimate the desire of the Afghan people to rid themselves of the rigors and punishments of the Taliban movement. A reduction in the number of security forces will surely have a negative impact, yet the people themselves still desire schooling for their children, along with medical institutions, clean water, and a women's institute for the training of female leaders with promise.

One example of how to break out of the "no development without security" paradigm is the concept of "Community-Driven Reconstruction" -- a promising new model for conflict areas like Afghanistan. In his book Adapt, author Tim Harford writes of a partnership between development researchers and the International Rescue Committee. It works like this. A non-governmental organization persuades a local community to form a community democratic council, elected by citizens, whose job it is to prioritize and assist in overseeing needed projects in its region, as well as watching out for corruption which they could spot far more easily than any aid worker.

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Source: Huffington 

Murdoch's American Sins: Less Sensational, But More Dangerous

For more than three decades, as global press baron Rupert Murdoch amassed more and more power over both the journalism and the politics of the Western world -- usually to the detriment of both -- the question lingered in the air. What, if anything, could possibly bring down the empire of this turn-of-the-millennium Citizen-Kane-without-the-sled, a man who seemingly had the power to pick American presidents and collected British prime ministers as easily as Wingo cards on the way to fame and billions of dollars?

Now, not long after Murdoch celebrated his 80th birthday, we may finally know the answer.

It wasn't the years of influence trading on a global scale, but his paper's ruthless treatment of a murdered 13-year-old and her family.

That's always the way, isn't it? The stunning news today is that Murdoch is shutting down his reportedly most lucrative publication, the sleazy British News of the World tabloid, in the wake of a phone hacking scandal marked by intercepting messages left for the slain girl, Milly Dowler, in a way that impeded the police probe and gave her parents false hope she was still alive. The power of the scandal seemed a fitting a bookend to a week in which we debated what kind of news pushes our buttons -- and why.

It was only Tuesday here in America that a nation staggering from a years of a high unemployment -- with a crisis of governmental gridlock looming -- stopped to absorb every detail of a lurid Florida murder case -- and that shouldn't surprise anyone: It's as easy to get emotionally wrenched by the death of an adorable 2-year-old and the flaunting of bad motherhood as it's hard to wrap yourself around the true meaning of $14 trillion, or understand why there are no new jobs in America anymore.

Viewers prefer human dramas involving total strangers over the ideological debates that affect our actual lives; likewise, journalists crave these simpler morality plays of good and evil -- where the facts are smaller yet objectively provable or disprovable -- over the ever-so-complicated big picture. In American politics, we saw a president impeached for lying about an extramarital affair of no national import, while no punishment even close to that was seriously discussed for his successor who invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

And so now it's the simple memory of a slain Brtitish teenaged girl -- with the added shock that family members of casualties in that Iraq War and in Afghanistan were also phone-hacked, and reports of police officers taking bribes from journalists -- that brings the world's largest media empire to the edge of the abyss.

Right now, there's still a big disconnect between the uproar over the Murdoch empire in Great Britain -- salacious, tabloid-style crimes committed by tabloid journalists -- and closer scrutiny of the press baron's operation in the United States, which in addition to the highly profitable Fox television network also includes the politically influential Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post among its outlets.

I would argue there's no disconnect at all.

There are important differences but also key similarities between the way that Murdoch -- an Australian by birth who amassed a lot of a fortune first in the UK and finally in America, where he is now a citizen -- does business on either side of the Atlantic. The common denominator is a seamless rinse-repeat cycle of using his media power to gain political influence and then using that influence to gain greater wealth. In England, the dirty tricks and apparent lawbreaking of The News of the World helped Murdoch on the wealth side by selling lots of newspapers with scoops about racy murders and celebrity gossip -- but it's less clear how that pseudo-journalism mucked up the nation's broader politics.

In the U.S. of A., it's a different story, and it cannot be understated. Here, Murdoch's sins were less sensational -- but more important, arguably a matter of life and death on some stories. With his most audacious move, the invention of the Fox News Channel, Murdoch and his minions created a vortex of misinformation and emotion draped in an American flag that changed a nation's politics for the worse. That affects a lot more people than phone hacking, no matter how heartless that was.

Murdoch had help from brilliant, cynical aides on both sides of the pond. In England, it was the massively ethically challenged, wild-eyed redhead Rebekah Brooks; in America, it is the frumpy and grumpy Roger Ailes, the only man to run the Fox News Channel since it was launched in the mid-1990s. As recent documents have shown, Ailes -- who learned the American conservative politics of middle-class resentment at the foot of the master, Richard Nixon -- was long involved in a scheme for a conservative TV counterweight to the so-called "liberal media." But it took the arrival of Murdoch years later to execute the plan with the vision that a conservative cable news network could make millions in profits while wielding influence on a scale that a "Headless Body in Topless Bar" newspaper could only dream of.

But Ailes and Murdoch -- with a typical disregard for the consequences -- created a monster as their FNC grew in popularity over the course of the 2000s. They held onto to their millions of viewers by playing to their emotions, and to what they felt was true about America -- regardless of whether it was actually true. Over the years, misinformed Fox viewers wielded more and more clout over a directionless Republican Party that in turn drove the U.S. body politic, with disastrous consequences.

You want examples?

Iraq and the war on terrorism: America's misguided "pre-emptive war" in the oil-rich Persian Gulf would not have been possible unless the 9/11 attacks and a response to terrorism became conflated with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which for all its horrors had nothing to do with the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Fox News Channel, and its parade of GOP-talking-point infused hosts and military "experts," helped to make sure that wrongful conflation took place, as later evidence proved.

A 2003 poll by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks found that regular Fox News viewers were significantly more likely than other news consumers to believe one of three significant falsehoods about the Iraq war -- that Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11, that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, or that global opinion was in favor of the war. These jingoistic myths -- most heavily adopted by Fox viewers -- fueled years of continued fighting in a war in which thousands of Americans and Iraqi civilians died needlessly.

Climate change: It's hard to believe in 2011, but there was a time a few years ago when a majority of Republicans, just like a majority of all Americans, believed that man-made global warming was real and needed to be addressed in some fashion. That was before a parade of global warming skeptics and outright deniers on Fox News Channel -- a development that was actually encouraged by FNC top management. Most famously, FNC's Washington bureau chief wrote in a December 2009 memo " we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."

In recent years, Fox News Channel has found a variety of ways to spread misinformation and outright lies about the state of the world's climate -- claiming, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the world is actually cooling -- and the plan has worked. A majority of Republicans now believe that climate change theories endorsed by 90 percent of the world's leading climatologists are a hoax, and more importantly, so do the political leaders they elect. Fox-fueled opposition scuttled what appeared to be momentum for climate change legislation in Washington, even as the planet records its hottest years on record and predictions of future food shortages and natural disasters grow more dire.

The 2010 elections: The right-wing tide that changed the direction of Congress last November was powered by a large turnout of conservative voters, who once again -- as research showed -- were misinformed on the issues if their primary source of information was Fox News. It started with what the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking outfit Politifact called its Lie of the Year for 2010 -- the reporting on Fox News that President Obama's health care plan was "a government takeover" of the system.

But that was just one area where Fox News viewers had bad info, according to a new report (PDF) by the Program on International Policy Attitudes; this study found that FNC watchers were much more likely to think that their taxes went up (they were cut in 2009 for most Americans) or that health care reform increases the deficit (it lowers it) or that Obama was possibly not born in the United States.

There's more, but I think you get the idea. Meanwhile, misinformed Fox viewers are the tail wagging the dog of American politics; just ask the now former South Carolina congressman who had the nerve to criticize the then-popular, now-departed FNC host Glenn Beck before his 2010 primary defeat. Increasingly, it's impossible to tell where Fox News stops and the Republican Party begins, which is why it wasn't surprising to hear that FNC's Ailes even lobbied a would-be candidate, New Jersey's Chris Christie, to enter the 2012 White House race. Did Ailes think that would be good for the country or good for ratings?

That's the kind of ethical question that doesn't get asked any more at Murdoch's Fox News Channel than it was asked at Murdoch's News of the World. But the stakes in this country -- endless wars, looming environmental disasters, lousy policies that are leaving America mired in economic despair -- are far greater. So if you are outraged tonight by what the Murdoch empire was up to in Great Britain all these years -- and you should be -- than you should be doubly outraged by what they've pulled off here.

The only real question for America is what are we going to do about Rupert Murdoch now?

Source: Huffington 

Data Shows Goodwill Means Good Wages At Canadian Charities

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - Goodwill means good wages for thousands of Canadian charity workers.

An analysis of tax filings by The Canadian Press has found salaries often run well into six figures -- raising questions about how money raised in the name of charity is being spent.

The Canada Revenue Agency keeps a database of all the country's registered charities, which now number around 85,000. Charities must disclose how much their 10 highest-paid workers take home.

There are around a million charity workers in Canada. The agency's database shows more than 6,000 of them earned above $120,000 last year. A few hundred made over $350,000.

Another 12,000 workers made between $80,000 and $120,000. And about 163,000 earned less than that.

It's likely the number of charity workers making six-figure salaries is actually greater since organizations must only disclose their Top 10 earners.

Charities defend the high pay by saying they have to pay top dollar for the brightest talent.

"If you really want those charities to have an impact and make a real difference, you're going to need to bring in the best people to work in that sector," said Marcel Lauziere of Imagine Canada, an advocacy group for Canadian charities.

"It's not only in government and in business. So you will have to pay salaries that are commensurate to that."

The definition of a charity is murky. Not every group that's registered as a charity builds schools in poor parts of the world or raises money to fight diseases.

Many are Canadian hospitals, school boards, universities and colleges. These groups tend to pay top dollar to attract the best talent, which perhaps explains many of the six-figure salaries.

Registered charities with at least 10 people earning $350,000 or more include the La Salle Manor retirement home in Scarborough, Ont., the Regina Qu'Appelle Regional Health Authority, the University of Saskatchewan and Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

There are also many churches and religious or community groups. By registering as charities, these groups can issue tax receipts for donations.

Some spend millions of dollars on salaries.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation paid its 156 full-time workers and 30 part-timers nearly $13 million last year, Canada Revenue Agency records show.

All of the foundation's top earners made more than $120,000 last year -- and three of them made between $200,000 and $249,999.

The foundation also spent about $23 million last year on charitable works, including research grants and scholarships.

Sandra Palmaro, head of the foundation's Ontario branch, said that's the going rate.

"From our perspective, that's basically what the market dictates as the acceptable salary range for employees at that level for our size of organization" she said.

The Sick Kids Foundation, which mainly raises money for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, paid its staff of 136 full- and part-time employees nearly $12 million last year.

The 10 highest-paid workers at the Sick Kids Foundation all made more than $160,000 -- and five of them made more than $200,000.

The group raised $51 million for the hospital last year, and spent another $1 million on other charitable programs.

Ted Garrard, head of the Sick Kids Foundation, said the group's board of directors sets the top salaries and reviews them every year.

"We are a large and complex organization," Garrard said.

"We want to make sure that we attract qualified people to oversee and manage our various programs."

Source: Huffington