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.]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Critics pan instructions to Environment Canada scientists at Montreal conference

Government media minders are being dispatched to an international polar conference in Montreal to monitor and record what Environment Canada scientists say to reporters.

The scientists will present the latest findings on everything from seabirds to Arctic ice and Environment Canada’s media office plans to intervene when the media approaches the researchers, Postmedia News has learned.

Media instructions, which are being described as a heavy-handed attempt to muzzle and intimidate the scientists, have been sent to the Environment Canada researchers attending the International Polar Year conference that started on Sunday and runs all week.

“If you are approached by the media, ask them for their business card and tell them that you will get back to them with a time for (an) interview,” the Environment Canada scientists were told by email late last week.

“Send a message to your media relations contact and they will organize the interview. They will most probably be with you during the interview to assist and record,” says the email obtained by Postmedia News.

The Flight From Conversation

WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

Paul Ryan Promises to Raise Taxes on the Poor and Middle Class

For the past thirty years Republicans have used every argument under the Sun to convince Americans that giving the wealthy more entitlements was the path to prosperity through their absurd trickle-down economics scam. Americans never quite caught on to the theory’s failure, and during the Bush administration, Republicans promised that if the people gave more to the rich and eliminated regulations, prosperity would finally trickle down to the working class. Instead, working Americans got a Great Recession, declining wages, lost jobs, and the wealthiest Americans got richer.

The Republican’s never meant to create wealth that trickled down to the masses because their philosophy is giving everything in America to a few wealthy families, and in the past year they have attempted to make drastic cuts to government that create poverty, homelessness, and kill jobs to make room for more tax cuts for the rich. This week, Eric Cantor revealed a new notion to help the wealthy and it entails increasing taxes on the poor and middle class to give more entitlements to the wealthy.

'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help

Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world's greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.

Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil's National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.

It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". People are pouring on to the Awá's land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.

What France's Presidential Race Means for the U.S. and the World

France is preparing for a presidential vote that has potentially major consequences for the eurozone, European integration, and transatlantic relations. The two main contenders--incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy from the center-right Union for a Popular Movement and Francois Hollande of the center-left Socialist Party--are not expected to garner 50 percent of the vote on April 22, making a runoff round likely on May 6.

Opinion surveys have given Hollande a consistent edge, although the gap has been closing as the vote draws near. Many French voters are ready for a respite from Sarkozy, whom they view as having failed to improve economic conditions and as a mercurial and unpredictable leader. Unemployment stands at close to 10 percent, and growth is anemic. Earlier this year, the U.S.-based rating agency Standard and Poor's stripped France of its AAA credit rating in a wave of downgrades, signaling that European states were not taking sufficient action to address systemic problems in the eurozone.

Nonetheless, Sarkozy has of late been making a comeback; he is a talented and energetic campaigner, especially in comparison with Hollande's bland style. And, as across much of Europe, the fortunes of the right are being strengthened by fear about immigration and the socioeconomic intrusions of globalization.

US introduces $60 LED light bulb

Made by Dutch electronics giant Philips, the bulb swaps filaments for light-emitting diodes to provide illumination.

Using LEDs endows the light with a long life and a hefty price tag. The first versions are set to cost $60 (£37).

Philips has arranged discounts with shops that will sell the bulb meaning some could buy it for only $20 (£12).
Production ban

The bulb triumphed in the Bright Tomorrow competition run by the US Department of Energy that aimed to find an energy efficient alternative to the 60-watt incandescent light bulb.

The DoE challenged firms to develop a design that gave out a warm light similar to that from an incandescent bulbs but was much more energy efficient.

Philips was the only entrant for the competition and its design underwent 18 months of testing before being declared a winner.

A cheaper and less efficient version of the LED bulb is already sold by Philips in the US and Europe.

LED bulbs face competition from compact fluorescent lights which are almost as energy efficient and cost a lot less.

Sales of more energy efficient bulbs are being aided by official moves to end production of higher wattage incandescent bulbs.

Production of 100 watt bulbs has ceased in the US and Europe. Production of 60 watt bulbs has been stopped in Europe and is being phased out in the US. From 2014, incandescent bulbs of 40 watts or above will be banned in the US.

Original Article
Source: BBC

Carney warns of potential housing market trouble

Canada's top banker suggests the housing market could be headed for trouble in parts of the country where home prices are high.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Carney told host Evan Solomon there are "issues in some segments" of the housing market but stopped short of saying a housing bubble exists in Canada.

"There are issues particularly in some parts of the country, in the condo market, without question, where activity has been particularly strong ... and in some of our major cities, without question, evaluations are extremely firm," Carney said.

"Some caution is warranted in that environment," he added.

Economists have pointed to the condo markets in Toronto and Vancouver as being particularly unsustainable.

The average home price in Vancouver finally saw a decline in March at $730,998 from $823,749 in February, while the average home price in Toronto rose again in March at $503,998 from $499,354 in February.

"We're warning of an issue at a time that we can still do something about it," said Carney.

Debate set to resume on Canada's F-35 fighter purchase

OTTAWA — Parliamentarians will return to House of Commons on Monday ready to do battle over whether Canadians were misled when it came to the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program.

Wading through the gamut of conflicting statements, political spin and daily back-and-forth has muddied the waters to the point where few Canadians can tell truth from fiction. Here’s what you need to know to follow the debate:

What is the F-35?

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a single-engine, single-seat jet developed and produced by Texas-based defence giant Lockheed Martin. The U.S. Defence Department is overseeing the project and there are nine partner nations, including Canada.

The F-35 is envisioned as a jack-of-all-trades aircraft that will be able to attack ground targets and engage in air-to-air combat. There are three versions, the main difference being how much runway is needed to take off and land. Canada is planning to purchase only the standard variant, which requires a normal-length runway.

Clerical errors not grounds to invalidate election: Elections watchdog

OTTAWA - Procedural irregularities shouldn't be sufficient grounds to overturn the results of an election, Canada's elections watchdog is arguing in a potentially precedent-setting court hearing.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand makes the argument in a factum filed in response to a defeated Liberal MP's attempt to invalidate the results of last May's election in his Toronto riding.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj maintains at least 181 voters were improperly allowed to cast ballots in Etobicoke Centre, in some cases possibly more than once. Wrzesnewskyj lost by just 26 votes to Conservative Ted Opitz.

His case, to be heard Monday, marks the first time a court has been required to rule on a contested election using Part 20 of the Canada Elections Act, which was added by Parliament in 2000. It stipulates that an elector or candidate may seek to invalidate an election in a riding if "there were irregularities, fraud, corrupt or illegal practices that affected the results of the election."

Mayrand argues that Parliament intended the provision to be applied sparingly.

"It is important that elections not be overturned lightly," he says in the factum.

Earth Day rally draws massive crowd in Montreal

A sea of people gathered in downtown Montreal for the annual Earth Day rally, under heavy police presence.

The march was so massive that, more than two hours after it began, a large crowd was still waiting to begin at the starting point.

Many of the demonstrators said they were upset by the Harper government's environmental policies, including its decision to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Protocol. Others took aim at Quebec Premier Jean Charest's plan to develop the province's north.

"It feels like we're not on the same page," said Melanie Demers, 38, who brought her family to the march.

"It feels as if they're running a business, but I think that it's more than running a business to run a country or a province."

Police were out on horseback, bicycles and foot to oversee security, in light of recent protests in the city that ended in violence.

Earth Day organizers say they contacted Quebec student federations to remind them that Sunday's rally was peaceful and family-oriented.

Absence of non-white appointments to the bench shows appointments process is broken

Merit should be the number-one criterion for judicial appointments, and there seems to be a startling coincidence between merit and skin colour on federally appointed courts. Out of the last 100 appointments to those courts, which include the superior courts of provinces, only two have been non-white. Is merit the near-exclusive preserve of white people?

Of course it’s not, and the pattern of exclusion – discovered in legwork by Globe and Mail reporter Kirk Makin – should be treated as a call to action by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the cabinet and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

There is something deeply wrong with a judicial nominating process that appears to have a sustained habit of overlooking a large number of qualified Canadians. It may be that, in some provinces, a shortage exists of qualified candidates – a minimum of 10 years at the bar is the first prerequisite. But that should not be an issue in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The paucity of non-white appointees suggests not just a shortage of qualified candidates but an absence. It’s simply not so.

The judicial appointments process is broken. If some qualified candidates are being ignored, it is no great leap to surmise that others are being appointed who may not be the most meritorious.

The buck stops somewhere. It might be supposed the process is at arm’s length from government and politics, because there exists a federal Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, which oversees a network of 17 judicial advisory committees. But the objectivity is illusory.

It is the Justice Minister – Rob Nicholson – who selects the members of the advisory committees from lists provided by “nominators” such as law societies. And after the committees review applicants and decide whether they are “recommended,” it is up to cabinet, on the advice of Mr. Nicholson, to choose. On chief justices and associate chief justices, the advice comes from the prime minister.

As a start, Mr. Nicholson, Mr. Harper and the rest of cabinet could show some sorely lacking leadership by ensuring that they keep track of diversity in appointments – and achieve some.

Original Article
Source: Globe
Author: Globe Editorial

Hollande tops Sarkozy as far-right party makes big gains in French presidential election

PARIS—Socialist Francois Hollande and conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy are heading for a runoff election in their race for France's presidency, according to partial official results in a vote that could alter the European political and economic landscape.

French voters defied expectations and handed a surprisingly strong third-place showing to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has run on an anti-immigrant platform aimed largely at Muslims. That could boost her influence on the French political scene, hand her party seats in parliament and affect relations with minorities.

With 75 per cent of the vote counted, Hollande had 27.9 per cent of ballots cast and Sarkozy 26.7 per cent, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry after final polls closed.

Le Pen was in third with 19.2 per cent of the vote so far. In fourth place was leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon with 10.8 per cent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.2 per cent and five other candidates with minimal support.

Turnout was also surprisingly high, projected by polling agencies at about 80 per cent, despite concern that a campaign lacking a single overarching theme had failed to inspire voters.

The anti-Sarkozy vote

FAR from the giant rallies and big-screen showmanship of the final days of a presidential campaign, the sleepy town of Donzy in Burgundy feels untouched by politics. The talk in the bars is of the local fête and fishing. Only one campaign poster, for a fringe anti-capitalist, has been pasted to the municipal noticeboard. Yet this bellwether town is a pointer to how the French will vote in the election on April 22nd and May 6th: at every poll since 1981, it has gone for the winner.

In 1981 Donzy backed François Mitterrand, a Socialist. In 2007 it swung behind Nicolas Sarkozy, on the Gaullist right. This time the little town, encircled by wheat fields and home to factories making plastic straws and umbrellas, looks likely to back François Hollande, the Socialist. “My bet is that Donzy will vote Hollande,” says Jean-Paul Jacob, the (independent) centre-right mayor. This is not out of enthusiasm for the man, as “people find him cold, there’s no fervour about him.” Rather, the mayor thinks, it reflects disappointment with Mr Sarkozy. “His personality”, he says wryly, “doesn’t leave people indifferent.”

Other locals concur. Cécile Rebeillard, a retired statistician, reckons the mood is “more a rejection of Sarkozy” than zeal for Mr Hollande. “I think Sarkozy will be beaten,” agrees Thierry Flandin, a farmer and (independent) councillor for Donzy and nearby communes. “Not because of his policies, but his attitude. People here were shocked by his behaviour, his vulgarity, all the mistakes early on in his term. It’s a rejection of the man.”

Violent IDF officer provides snapshot of Israeli society

Once in a while, the Israeli occupation provides some instances of comic relief to break the monotony of desperation. Funny to the point of tears is the roundish and unkempt figure of Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner, limping on his way for "medical treatment," complaining of pains, showing the cameras his bandaged pinky and his arm hanging from a brace as if it were some serious orthopedic injury. No less amusing is the claim that demonstrators broke the deputy brigade commander's pinky. It's also amusing to hear one of the settler leaders say the demonstrators blocked off traffic on the "Dan-Eilat highway."

It's funny to hear Eisner admit that it's possible he "committed a professional error in judgment, using my weapon in front of the cameras," and that his actions were "in order to carry out my duty and to protect my soldiers." It's also funny to hear the director of the IDF's public relations branch, Roni Daniel, warn that following this incident, "People will not want to become officers in the IDF" (as if it wouldn't have been better if people like Eisner weren't officers in the IDF ). And it's no less ridiculous to hear the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, say Eisner's actions "run contrary to IDF values" - as if IDF officers and soldiers don't behave in exactly the same way every day in the territories, just not usually on camera.

Indeed, even the excessive storm that the blow with the rifle butt gave rise to is funny. After all, what happened? There were cameras.

What CBC already knows, but won't tell you

Sometimes, your biggest strength ends up being your biggest weakness. And for the CBC, that painful truth means that, even though its management and staff may have extremely sharp and legitimate opinions about the recent budget-cutting actions of the federal government, those opinions are staying resolutely out of their coverage.

The irony here is that the CBC is extremely professional — so professional, in fact, that the Harper government is counting on that professionalism to prevent the CBC from saying publicly what is obviously true.

I don’t have any of those strictures — opinion is what I do. So I don’t have any problem in stating what should be abundantly obvious, and that is that the current federal government is deliberately singling out the CBC for heavier budgetary punishment because the Harper government does not like the coverage it gets.

Now that they hold the majority reins, they are taking extreme pleasure in laying on the whip.

Face it: if the current federal government could find a way to close down the political news-gathering side of The Globe and Mail and Postmedia, they’d do that, too. If they could pick off individual editorial writers — the ones who aren’t consistently glowing, for example — they’d jump at that, too.

Because this is not Bob Stanfield’s Conservative party. It’s not Joe Clarke’s. It’s not even Brian Mulroney’s.

MI5 'gave Libyan spies details of dissidents in Britain'

The UK's intelligence services have come under renewed pressure with the emergence of a fresh cache of secret documents that suggest MI5 officers forced Libyans seeking asylum in Britain to co-operate with the regime they had fled.

For the last three months, Scotland Yard detectives have been investigating MI6's alleged involvement in two so-called rendition operations that saw two Libyan dissidents kidnapped along with their families and flown to one of Muammar Gaddafi's prisons in 2004.

The role MI6 is said to have played is described in a batch of documents discovered in an abandoned government office in Tripoli last September. The two men have lodged civil claims against MI6 and against Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time.

Well-placed officials said on Sunday that a key question, and the one that worried them, was how much information MI5 offered Libya about individuals in Britain. That issue is central to investigations now under way into MI5 and MI6 relations with Gaddafi and his security and intelligence agencies, they made clear.

A War on Nuns?

The fight over contraception and health-care reform was portrayed as various kinds of wars—on women, on religion, between the G.O.P. and Obama—but it also included a skirmish in a longer fight within Catholicism, with the Vatican and bishops on one side and American nuns on the other. On Wednesday, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which for a few years has been conducting an inquiry into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main association of American nuns—provoked, it said, by its discernment of “radical feminist themes” in the L.C.W.R.’s work—released a Doctrinal Assessment that found the L.C.W.R.’s state to be “grave and a matter of serious concern.” The nuns in question, according to the Vatican, “perpetuate a distorted ecclesiological vision, and have scant regard for the role of the Magisterium as the guarantor of the authentic interpretation of the Church’s Faith.” An archbishop and two bishops were being urgently dispatched to show them the error of their ways.

Evening the Odds - Is there a politics of inequality?

The most striking change in American society in the past generation—roughly since Ronald Reagan was elected President—has been the increase in the inequality of income and wealth. Timothy Noah’s “The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It” (Bloomsbury), a good general guide to the subject, tells us that in 1979 members of the much discussed “one per cent” got nine per cent of all personal income. Now they get a quarter of it. The gains have increased the farther up you go. The top tenth of one per cent get about ten per cent of income, and the top hundredth of one per cent about five per cent. While the Great Recession was felt most severely by those at the bottom, the recovery has hardly benefitted them. In 2010, ninety-three per cent of the year’s gains went to the top one per cent.

Since rich people are poorer in votes than they are in dollars, you’d think that, in an election year, the ninety-nine per cent would look to politics to get back some of what they’ve lost, and that inequality would be a big issue. So far, it hasn’t been. Occupy Wall Street and its companion movements briefly spurred President Obama to become more populist in his rhetoric, but there’s no sign that Occupy is going to turn into the kind of political force that the Tea Party movement has been. There was a period during the Republican primary campaign when Romney rivals like Newt Gingrich tried to take votes from the front-runner by bashing Wall Street and private equity, but that didn’t last long, either. Politics does feel sour and contentious in ways that seem to flow from the country’s economic distress. Yet much of the ambient discontent is directed toward government—the government that kept the recession from turning into a depression. Why isn’t politics about what you’d expect it to be about?

Danielle Smith Is No Sarah Palin

The Wildrose Party, a political upstart made up of largely angry white people, sketchy Tories and climate change deniers, seems posed to replace the incompetent bunch of Conservative libertarians, panjandrums and climate change skeptics who have run Alberta into the ground.

Alberta's media have compared Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith to Sarah Palin, but she's no grizzly momma. Smith, a Fraser Institute libertarian, fronts a party that raises money by declaring: "Only when the government of Alberta supports and trusts its most important industry -- oil and gas -- will Alberta's future be truly secure."

Palin, the original "Drill, Baby, Drill" girl, knew better and acted accordingly. In her recently released emails the rogue Republican regularly expressed disgust with the way Big Oil bullied the state's politicians and electorate.

As governor, Palin once stood up a group of Exxon officials by going off and reading to a kindergarten class instead. In a more gutsy move Palin increased the share of royalties for Alaskans by maturely working with Democrats.

Alaska's new governor, a former oil lobbyist, is now working to reverse these gains.

Drone Use Takes Off on the Home Front

With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

The more than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than many outsiders and privacy experts previously knew. They include not only agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security but also smaller ones such as the police departments in North Little Rock, Ark., and Ogden, Utah, as well the University of North Dakota and Nicholls State University in Louisiana.

The information, released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, came to light as the Federal Aviation Administration gears up to advance the widespread use of the drones. By the fall of 2015, Congress wants the agency to integrate remotely piloted aircraft throughout U.S. airspace.

Although the documents don't indicate how the aircraft will be used, the disclosures likely will fuel privacy concerns involving drones.

On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas asked the acting administrator of the FAA to answer questions about the privacy implications of increased drone use.

The Rich Are Different From You and Me -- They Pay Lower Taxes

Benjamin Franklin, who used his many talents to become a wealthy man, famously said that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. But if you're a corporate CEO in America today, even they can be put on the backburner -- death held at bay by the best medical care money can buy and the latest in surgical and life extension techniques, taxes conveniently shunted aside courtesy of loopholes, overseas investment and governments that conveniently look the other way.

In a story headlined, "For Big Companies, Life Is Good," the Wall Street Journal reports that big American companies have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more profitable than ever: flush with cash, less burdened by debt, and with a greater share of the country's income. But, the paper notes, "Many of the 1.1 million jobs the big companies added since 2007 were outside the U.S. So, too, was much of the $1.2 trillion added to corporate treasuries."

To add to this embarrassment of riches, the consumer group Citizens for Tax Justice reports that more than two dozen major corporations -- including GE, Boeing, Mattel and Verizon -- paid no federal taxes between 2008 and 2011. They got a corporate tax break that was broadly supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Corporate taxes today are at a 40-year-low -- even as the executive suites at big corporations have become throne rooms where the crown jewels wind up in the personal vault of the CEO.

Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist

Desperate for new revenue, Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would make it easier to recover money from businesses that defraud the state.

It was quickly flagged at the Washington headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that views such “false claims” laws as encouraging frivolous lawsuits. ALEC’s membership includes not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country — including dozens who would vote on the Ohio bill.

One of them, Bill Seitz, a prominent Republican state senator, wrote to a fellow senior lawmaker to relay ALEC’s concerns about “the recent upsurge” in false-claims legislation nationwide. “While this is understandable, as states are broke, the considered advice from our friends at ALEC was that such legislation is not well taken and should not be approved,” he said in a private memorandum.

The legislation was reworked to ease some of ALEC’s concerns, making it one of many bills the group has influenced by mobilizing its lawmaker members, a vast majority of them Republicans.

Wal-Mart Involved In Mexico Bribes, Report Finds

NEW YORK -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hushed up a vast bribery campaign that top executives of its Mexican subsidiary carried out to build stores across that country, according to a published report.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement officials even after its own investigators found evidence of millions of dollars in bribes. The newspaper said the company shut down its internal probe despite a report by its lead investigator that Mexican and U.S. laws likely were violated.

The bribery campaign was reported to have first come to the attention of senior executives at Wal-Mart in 2005, when a former executive of its largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, provided extensive details of a bribery campaign it had orchestrated to win market dominance.

The Mexican executive, previously the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits, said in emails and follow-up conversations that Wal-Mart de Mexico paid bribes to obtain permits throughout the country in its rush to build stores nationwide, the Times reported.

Wal-Mart's growth in Mexico has been so rapid that one of every five Wal-Mart stores now is in that country. It is Mexico's largest private employer, with 209,000 employees there.

Alberta campaign ends with all-party disobedience of Fourth Commandment

As the 2012 Alberta election campaign moves through its final 24 hours this Sabbath day, all party leaders are hard at work, a stoning offence in Old Testament times but apparently not even a political molehill to be climbed here in Bible Belt Alberta, notwithstanding the fundamentalist frothing on certain other Biblical commands that have rattled this short and nasty campaign.

Unsurprisingly, media reports last night tended to focus less on today's violations of the Fourth Commandment and more on the final moments of each major party's campaign. This is an inevitable if not very informative journalistic tradition, since, like hockey players before a big game, politicians all tend to say the same things before a big election.

Here were the Postmedia News campaign-closer offerings yesterday:  "Smith visits crucial ridings to drum up support," "Chow revs up Mason's campaign," "Sherman capitalizes on Tory Broken Promises," and, I'm not making this up, "Redford having fun in final stretch."
As to that last point, I don't think so!

In case you've just stepped off an interstellar Greyhound from Alpha Centauri, AB, and are wondering which Smith is visiting those crucial ridings (Joseph?) and what kind of chow was revving up the NDP's campaign, the traditional journalistic parenthetical explanations would be as follows: (Wildrose Party Leader Danielle), (Trinity-Spadina NDP MP Olivia) and (NDP Leader Brian), (Liberal Leader Raj), and (faltering Progressive Conservative Premier Alison).

Acknowledging the World Around Us

Let's use Earth Day to fight back against our blindness to and disconnection from our natural environment.

A colleague told me his toddler was wandering through a neighbourhood park picking up twigs and sticks, brandishing them as tools for digging, poking, and tapping. Suddenly the boy stopped and pointed excitedly to the canopy of branches above. “Look papa. Sticks come from trees!”

Mentally reconnecting fallen branches to their home on the trunk is obvious to an adult, but many of us have lost our profound sense of wonder about the interconnected web of life that surrounds us. This is especially true when it comes to the plant world.

Trees filter pollutants, absorb carbon dioxide, and breathe out life-giving oxygen, and plants provide food and medicine. However, most folks are largely oblivious to our photosynthesizing companions. This has led some researchers to examine “plant blindness,” a condition whereby we cannot see the forest or the trees.

In 1998, American botanists James Wandersee and Elizabeth Schussler defined plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment,” which leads “to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” This prognosis rings true in an age when most youngsters can identify hundreds of corporate logos and branded products but can’t name the plants and trees in their backyards.

Investors are the casualties in a booming oil patch

Alberta’s oil patch is roaring. Oil prices are flying, pipelines are pumping millions of barrels a day, and companies are engaged in a rollicking spending spree.

Every 2½ weeks, companies shovel another billion dollars into oil sands projects. Drilling rigs across the province are tapping big new pools of oil. And firms desperate for skilled workers are scouring the globe to help them get on with ambitious growth plans. Western Canadian oil output is expected to surge by more than a third to 3.6 million barrels a day by 2018.

When Suncor Energy Inc. in February announced record 2011 profit and cash flow of $9.75-billion, chief executive officer Rick George couldn’t quite restrain himself: “Internally, we actually thought we had a shot at a $10-billion cash flow number,” he said.

“We didn't quite get there. But listen, it's all good, and really has been a great year.”

Alberta’s energy frenzy has all the makings of a hollering rodeo party. But there’s one group conspicuously missing out on the action: investors.

Wildrose Party set for sweeping majority, latest poll shows

Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party is poised for a sweeping majority in Monday's Alberta election, the latest poll says.

The poll, conducted by Forum Research Inc., shows Wildrose maintaining a wide lead over the Progressive Conservatives, with 41 per cent of voters backing the party compared to the PC’s 32 per cent. It's a wider gap than what was found by another major poll earlier this week.

The support is enough for Wildrose to capture 62 of the province's 87 seats, Forum projections show. “We expect to welcome a new majority government to the provincial scene on Monday night,” polling firm president Lorne Bozinoff said.

The PCs, however, dismissed the results, saying their internal polling was much stronger. “I think we're going to be in fine shape on Monday night,” PC leader Alison Redford said Saturday.

Nonetheless, the poll – conducted with a total of 2010 responses gathered Saturday evening by automated phone response – is the latest to project a Wildrose majority, and suggests the party hasn't been hurt by gaffes in the past week.

Rupert Murdoch to testify about his political influence in UK

LONDON—He was long considered one of the most important power brokers in British politics. Now, with his influence shriveled by Britain’s phone hacking scandal, media mogul Rupert Murdoch is returning to the U.K. to face questions about his ties to the country’s most senior politicians.

It could be an uncomfortable few days for Britain’s ruling class.

Murdoch is “not somebody you’d like to get into a battle with,” said Steve Fielding, the director of the Center for British Politics at the University Nottingham. “I don’t think he thinks that he has very much to lose.”

Rupert Murdoch’s appearance before Lord Justice Brian Leveson’s inquiry this week is expected to focus on the network of personal and professional ties that have bound his newspaper and television operations to some of the most senior politicians in the United Kingdom.

Those ties have frequently come under criticism, with many observers saying British politicians were scared of crossing Murdoch because of his company’s domination of the British media landscape.

Rage boils in Bahrain’s streets, but Grand Prix still on

Formula One drivers race in Bahrain on Sunday while rage boils on the streets outside, among protesters who denounce the Grand Prix as a gaudy spectacle by a ruling family that crushed Arab Spring demonstrations last year.

In the Shi’ite villages dotted around the capital, demonstrators hurling petrol bombs have clashed nightly with police during the past week, and security forces responded with teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot.

Black smoke from burning tyres wafted over Budaiya, a village outside the capital that saw mass protests this week.

For those inside the Formula One bubble, far from the scenes of protest, the unrest has had little impact. Teams assembled at Bahrain International Circuit amid the usual security precautions ahead of the race. At hotels where race participants were staying, guests swam and relaxed poolside in the morning. The highway to the circuit was lined with police cars.

The luxury sporting event is the government’s chance to show that life has gone back to normal in the island kingdom after security concerns over anti-government demonstrations forced last year’s race to be delayed, then cancelled.

Thousands descend on Queen’s Park to protest McGuinty budget

More than 15,000 protesters from labour unions and community organizations across the province rallied outside Ontario’s Legislature Saturday afternoon to vent their fury over the minority Liberal government’s austerity-focused budget.

“We’re sending a signal to Dalton McGuinty that the budget he’s introduced is grossly unfair,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, the group responsible for organizing the “Day of Action” event.

A sea of flag-toting protesters arrived by the busload early in the afternoon to demonstrate against the proposed budget, a belt-tightening fiscal blueprint that calls for wage freezes for more than a million public servants and pension plan changes as a way to rein in the province’s multi-billion-dollar deficit.

Gathered on the grassy stretch facing the Legislature, the group of public servants and other labour supporters jived to a Bob Marley cover band as union and community group leaders prepared to take the stage for speeches, sporadic cries of “Shame, shame on McGuinty!” filling the air.

“McGuinty has gone too far. We need to support the public sector,” said Don Guest, a Brantford-based millwright and United Steel Workers member.

Feds pressured by coal industry to weaken regulations, records reveal

OTTAWA - Environment Canada weakened a draft version of regulations to crack down on pollution from coal-fired power plants following pressure from the industry, newly-released federal records have revealed.

Briefing notes prepared by the department in September said the proposed regulations offered the equivalent of an 18-month deferral on enforcement of the regulations "because of the interventions made by ATCO," an Alberta-based energy company.

The regulations, if finalized, are slated to come into force by July 1, 2015, but ATCO was seeking the deferral "to the end of 2016," to protect its existing "Battle River 3" generating unit.

"ATCO's views had an influence on the proposed regulations as published," said the briefing note, produced a few weeks after Environment Minister Peter Kent unveiled his plan.

Previously released federal records have also revealed that Kent was pressured by the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, an environmental group, to close potential loopholes, allowing companies to avoid the regulations for any unit built before 2015.

First Nations leaders to Joe Oliver: Plans to gut environmental assessment process deeply disturbing

The First Nations Leadership Council has issued the following open letter:

April 19, 2012
Honourable Joe Oliver
Ministry of Natural Resources Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6

Sent via facsimile: 613-943-1562

OPEN LETTER: Federal Announcement of the Responsible Resource Development Plan (April 17th, 2012)

Dear Minister Oliver:

We are writing with respect to your government's shocking announcement to completely gut the environmental assessment process. We are gravely concerned with this announcement to eviscerate the process for environmental review on resource development projects after the changes lay waste to the credibility of the process. These environmental laws and the associated processes do not replace the judicially-recognized and constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Title, Rights and Treaty Rights but there are vital parts of the Crown's relationship with First Nations. Fundamental changes to the environmental assessment process and other environmental protection laws can only be undertaken with meaningful consultation with First Nations. We urge the federal governmental to work with First Nations to improve environmental protections rather then weaken them with the reduction of assessment timelines and the reduction of required organizations responsible for such reviews.