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.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fair trade activists oppose new U.S. 'fast track' legislation

On Thursday afternoon, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (pictured), a Democrat from Montana, introduced a trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that would give U.S. President Obama the ability to "fast track" trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership through Congress with minimal debate. Voices on theleft and right oppose the move but the TPA's big business supporters believe it isessential to getting the pacific and European deals passed without a bothersome democratic process.
The fast-track bill, which was co-sponsored by Republicans Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Dave Camp (Michigan), would deprive Congress of the opportunity to amend or filibuster trade agreements. It goes further than similar 2002 legislation by giving "marching orders" to U.S. trade officials on issues like the treatment of state-owned enterprises and so-called localization barriers ("buy local" policies), currency manipulation, intellectual property rights, and how Congress should be consulted during the negotiating process.

Ariel Sharon's legacy of economic and military cynicism

Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, had been known as a brilliant tactician and lousy strategist. But when he took office as Israel’s Prime Minister, in February 2001, he had a clear strategic vision for the country, which he pursued doggedly and successfully.
Sharon’s vision consisted of two elements, both having to do with dismantling the legacy of the Labor party that had returned to power for a few years in the 1990s: reversing the results of the Oslo Accords and reasserting Israel’s control over the occupied Palestinian territories, and reshaping the Israeli economy according to an extreme neo-liberal model.

Canada Job Grant ads cost $2.5M for non-existent program

The federal government blanketed the internet with ads and bought pricey TV spots during playoff hockey as part a $2.5-million publicity blitz to promote a skills training program that doesn't yet exist, CBC News has learned.

TV commercials for the Canada Job Grant often ran twice per game last May during the widely watched Hockey Night in Canada NHL playoff broadcasts on CBC. There were ads on radio, as well.

Alberta The Champion Of Disturbing Natural Landscape: Study

EDMONTON - A national study suggests that Alberta has disturbed more natural landscape than any other province.

The analysis by Global Forest Watch adds that Wild Rose Country also has two of the three areas in Canada where the rate of disturbance is the highest.

"There were at least three major hotspots, two in Alberta," report author Peter Lee said Monday.

Two-Tier Internet Is Big Telecom's Plan For Canada: Michael Geist

As telecom giant Rogers reportedly prepares to launch its own competitor to Netflix, a prominent tech expert is warning such moves may lead to a “two-tier” internet, where some content is favoured over others.

Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, is warning that the “net neutrality” debate of several years ago is about to rear its head again.

How US Evangelicals Fueled the Rise of Russia’s ‘Pro-Family’ Right

This past June, the Russian Parliament passed an anti-gay law that came as a surprise to much of the rest of the world. The statute, an amendment to the country’s Code of Administrative Offenses, bans “propaganda” regarding “nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” (In earlier versions of the bill, it was simply referred to as “homosexual propaganda.”) The bill’s language is so vague that it could include just about any kind of gay rights advocacy, from newspaper editorials and advertisements to public information campaigns and demonstrations. Among the penalties: fines of up to 5,000 rubles for an individual and 1 million rubles for a media organization or other legal entity. (A few days later, a bill banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples in countries that recognize gay marriage was also passed.) In November, the editor of a newspaper in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk was charged under the new law after quoting an LGBT activist saying, “My entire existence is credible proof of the normality of homosexuality.”

Elizabeth Warren's New Bill Could Save Taxpayers Billions

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that aims to make government settlements with corporations more transparent and fair. It could end up saving taxpayers billions of dollars.
When banks and other corporations are accused of breaking the law, the government often settles cases instead of going to trial. In the wake of the financial crisis, for example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and government banking watchdogs have settled cases against banks that helped tank the economy. Regulatory agencies have argued that settlements are adequate tools to enforce the law, but Warren has protested. She notes that many settlements are tax-deductible. Other deals are confidential, meaning the public has no idea whether the terms of the agreement are fair.

How the West Virginia Spill Exposes Our Lax Chemical Laws

The West Virginia chemical spill that left some 300,000 people without access to water has exposed a gaping hole in the country's chemical regulatory system, according to environmental experts.

Much the state remains under a drinking-water advisory after the spill last week into the Elk River near a water treatment facility. As much as 7,500 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the washing of coal, leaked from a tank owned by a company called Freedom Industries.


In 1930, George Bernard Shaw rose to toast Albert Einstein, and said, “If you take the typical great man of our historic epoch—and suppose I had to rise here tonight to propose a toast of Napoleon. Well, undoubtedly, I could say many, many flattering things about Napoleon.” But about that greatness, Shaw deadpanned, something else would have to be considered, “perhaps the most important thing”: “Which is that it would perhaps have been better for the human race if he had never been born.”

I write as Ariel Sharon’s funeral proceeds; the Israeli media is flooded with flattering memories: he was brave; he was loyal; he was charming; he was headstrong, thus charismatic (even if, at times, he defied commanders and shaded the truth); he was pragmatic; he did his homework, then acted boldly; he could reverse course. None of this changes perhaps the most important thing.

Noam Chomsky on the Legacy of Ariel Sharon: Not Speaking Ill of the Dead "Imposes a Vow of Silence"

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85 after eight years in a coma. Sharon was one of the most dominant political figures in Israel’s history, involved in each of Israel’s major wars dating back to its founding in 1948. Among Palestinians, Sharon was one of the most reviled political figures in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is seen as father of the settlement movement and an architect of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that killed a reported 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese. We discuss Sharon’s legacy with three guests: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University; and Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading scholars on the Israeli-Arab conflict. "There is a convention that you’re not supposed to speak ill of the recently dead, which unfortunately imposes a kind of vow of silence, because there is nothing good to say," Chomsky says. "He was a brutal killer; he had one fixed idea in mind which drove him all his life: a greater Israel, as powerful as possible, as few Palestinians as possible. ... He doubtless showed courage and commitment to pursuing this ideal, which is an ugly and horrific one."

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Noam Chomsky: Sabra & Shatila Massacre That Forced Sharon’s Ouster Recalls Worst of Jewish Pogroms

We look at one of the most shocking incidents in the career of the late former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Up to 2,000 Palestinians died on Sept. 16-17, 1982, when the Israeli military allowed a Christian militia to attack the camp. Then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was forced to resign after a special Israeli investigative panel declared him to be "personally responsible" for the massacre. We air a description of the killings by Ellen Siegel, a Jewish-American nurse who was working at Gaza Hospital at the Sabra camp at the time of the attacks, and speak with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, and Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Rashid Khalidi & Noam Chomsky: For Peace Today, US Must End Support for Sharon’s Expansionist Legacy

Upon the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, we look at how his legacy of separating Gaza from the West Bank and building a "separation wall" to seal off Israeli settlements has impacted the peace process in the Middle East today. We speak with Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University; and Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading scholars on the Israeli-Arab conflict. "What [Secretary of State] John Kerry should do is insist on implementing a very broad international consensus, virtually universal, calling for a two-state settlement on the internationally recognized border," Chomsky says. "This is supported by the entire world; it’s been blocked by the United States for 35 years. We should shift that policy, join the world, and carry out measures which might conceivably bring a semi-decent peace."

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Global Warming 'Pause' Isn't What Climate Change Skeptics Say It Is

Scientists who study climate change and skeptics of human-caused global warming can agree on at least this: Global temperatures haven't risen nearly as much this century as model projections say they should have.
At least, that's the way it looks today. But according to a recently published study in the scientific journal Earth's Future, the greenhouse gas-fueled heating of the planet hasn't stopped at all during the global warming pause or "hiatus" widely touted in recent years.
"Global warming is continuing, it just gets manifested in different ways," says Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who co-authored the study with NCAR's Dr. John Fasullo.

Bangkok Shutdown: Thai Protesters Try To Paralyze Capita

BANGKOK, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The Thai Foreign Ministry once occupied a neoclassical palace built for a revered 19th-century king.

To find the ministry today, you must search the corridors of a half-deserted Bangkok convention centre for a modest room where top officials relocated on Monday to avoid citywide protests - one of many back-up arrangements for a government struggling to fend off protesters besieging the capital.

Lawsuits Allege Private Prison Company Covered Up Youth Sex Abuse

A pair of recent lawsuits against a private youth prison operator in Florida amplify claims that the company, Youth Services International, has frequently covered up reports that staff sexually abused young people held inside its facilities.

According to a suit filed in October in federal court, the top administrator at one YSI youth prison regularly made sexual advances toward teenage boys held there in 2010 and 2011 and on at least one occasion brought inmates home with him and into his bedroom. A separate case filed in Florida court in November alleges that a female guard at another YSI facility in 2012 began an "intimate and sexual relationship" with a 14-year-old inmate.

Enemies of the Poor

Suddenly it’s O.K., even mandatory, for politicians with national ambitions to talk about helping the poor. This is easy for Democrats, who can go back to being the party of F.D.R. and L.B.J. It’s much more difficult for Republicans, who are having a hard time shaking their reputation for reverse Robin-Hoodism, for being the party that takes from the poor and gives to the rich.

And the reason that reputation is so hard to shake is that it’s justified. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that right now Republicans are doing all they can to hurt the poor, and they would have inflicted vast additional harm if they had won the 2012 election. Moreover, G.O.P. harshness toward the less fortunate isn’t just a matter of spite (although that’s part of it); it’s deeply rooted in the party’s ideology, which is why recent speeches by leading Republicans declaring that they do too care about the poor have been almost completely devoid of policy specifics.

Misleading job grant ads fell on deaf ears anyway: survey

OTTAWA — A $2.5-million government ad campaign to promote the not-yet-existent Canada Job Grant appears to have resonated with few outside the office of the country’s advertising watchdog.

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians who participated in a public opinion survey this summer couldn’t recall ever seeing the advertisements that ran for seven weeks starting last May on television during the NHL playoffs and on popular internet sites like YouTube and MuchMusic. Of those who did see the ads, 95 per cent said they weren’t compelled to do anything after viewing them.

Many political Hill staffers signed lifelong gag order without reading it

Hundreds of Parliament Hill staffers who perfunctorily signed the new, mandatory staff gag order—which applies for life and has been included as part of employment forms required by the House administration since last spring—regret not reading the text more closely, and are now looking with concern to the Commons Board of Internal Economy’s anticipated review of the agreement.

“Many staff have [signed it]. …In some cases, they were just starting out or changing offices or changing positions within the research bureau where they had no choice but to sign it, so a significant majority of our membership have signed it for various reasons,” said Anthony Salloum, an NDP House lobby staffer for NDP Whip Nycole Turmel (Hull-Aylmer, Que.) and head of the NDP staffers’ union (Communications, Energy and Paperworkers local 232), which he said has an estimated 675 members, including about 500 in MPs’ Hill and constituency offices and about 125 to 175 in the OLO.

Noam Chomsky: Obama Trade Deal A 'Neoliberal Assault' To Further Corporate 'Domination'

The Obama administration's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is an "assault," on working people intended to further corporate "domination," according to author and activist Noam Chomsky.

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky said during an interview with HuffPost Live.

Carbon Footprint of BC LNG Boom Could Rival Oilsands

This month, provincial MLAs are preparing for the upcoming legislative session, in which they will debate rules for carbon pollution and taxes for liquefied natural gas (LNG) development.

Canada's Slide into Sleaze with Harper as CEO

The Senate scandal that will continue to plague Stephen Harper when the House resumes sitting is far more than just a run of the mill scandal, of which Canada has had many over the years. This one seems to present the result of an accumulation of rot, amorality, casual thuggery and complete lack of shame, as one politico put it. It feels like we are approaching the end point of the collapse of public morality.

I think it started as soon as the political, business and media elites decided that the new mantra for the state was that government needed to be run like a business. At first blush this may seem like an innocent precept because, as its advocates were careful to frame it, it could mean little more than just running things more efficiently.

Nation's Library Advocate Raises Questions about Federal 'Culling'

The Canadian Library Association (CLA), a voice for the nation's 3,000 public libraries, will soon issue a policy statement on its growing concerns about the dismantling of over a dozen federal libraries, including seven world class facilities operated by the Department of Fishery and Oceans (DFO).

"Our greatest concern is whether there was consultation with the communities these libraries served as well as the impact on service and access to content," said Marie DeYoung, president of the CLA and a librarian at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

Harper's corporate governance: The problem of running government like a business

The Senate scandal that will continue to plague Stephen Harper when the House resumes sitting is far more than just a run-of-the-mill scandal, of which Canada has had many over the years. This one seems to present the result of an accumulation of rot, amorality, casual thuggery and complete lack of shame, as one politico put it. It feels like we are approaching the end point of the collapse of public morality.
I think it started as soon as the political, business and media elites decided that the new mantra for the state was that government needed to be run like a business. At first blush this may seem like an innocent precept because, as its advocates were careful to frame it, it could mean little more than just running things more efficiently.
But running government like a business begs the question: just what kind of business are you talking about? The mom-and-pop grocery or Goldman Sachs? The local shoe store or Lehman Brothers? The local eatery or Enron? It does make a difference.

Fantino’s election spending finally getting its due review

It is said that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly and exceedingly fine.

And so it is with Elections Canada.

Investigators from Canada’s electoral watchdog are officially delving into complaints about the 2010 campaign finances of Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino – finally. 

The move comes years after receiving affidavits from former members of Fantino’s Electoral District Association in Vaughan, and a third complainant. To that third complainant, Carrie Liddy, word of the investigation is bittersweet.

Ottawa’s Minister of State for Science downplays criticism

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The Harper government continues to face criticism over their handling of science resources and scientists in general. But the politician in charge of science is brushing off claims Ottawa has prevented scientists from speaking about their work — or worse.

A survey conducted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada found 34 per cent of over 4000 federal scientists asked feel they’re being prevented from talking to media or the public about their work, and said 24 per cent said they have been asked by the government to alter their findings for non-scientific reasons.

Federal programs and research facilities that have been shut down or had their funding reduced

Hundreds of federal programs and world renowned research facilities have been shut down or had their funding reduced by the federal government. This list was compiled by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. If you are a federal government scientist or researcher and your program, project, or research facility has been affected by the cuts we would like to hear from you, please comment below or send us an email at

Neil Young Blasts Harper Government For Allowing Oilsands Development

TORONTO - Canadian rock icon Neil Young launched a blistering attack on the Harper government and Alberta's oilsands at a news conference on Sunday, saying that he was "shattered" after visiting a Fort McMurray industrial site he compared to the atomic bomb-devastated wreckage of Hiroshima, Japan.

Joined on the Massey Hall stage by representatives from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Young was especially scathing in his criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "hypocritical" administration, which Young said was ignoring science to irresponsibly drive corporate profits.

Canadian military is raising the rent — and hackles.

OTTAWA — The families and single men and women who live in the military’s 12,000 housing units across Canada will be facing a rent hike on April 1.

The average increase across the 32 bases will be slightly more than two per cent. Some will pay more, some less.

But that’s only the tip of the military housing iceberg.

What irks many residents is the well-documented dilapidated state of the aging houses and the federal government’s freezing of a “post living differential allowance” at 2009 levels that former chief of defence staff Walter Natynczyk complained had created a “haves and have-nots” situation for forces members renting military housing.

Fed lawyers press for more in labour talks

OTTAWA - The Harper government has promised hard-nosed contract talks this year with most of its public-sector unions, but one group may be in for a somewhat easier ride: lawyers.

The Conservative government last year signed a deal with its lawyers that gave them a whopping 12 per cent salary increase for the current year.

And the workforce downsizing that hit most departments has not been nearly as severe among the 2,500 federal lawyers at the Justice Department and elsewhere.

Norway's Oil Fund Heads For $1 Trillion; So Where Is Alberta's Pot Of Gold?

Every man, woman and child in oil-rich Norway became a theoretical millionaire this week.

The country’s oil fund — which collects taxes from oil profits and invests the money, mostly in stocks — exceeded 5.11 trillion crowns ($905 billion) in value this week, making it worth a million crowns per person, or about $177,000 per Norwegian.

Republicans Defend Christie By Invoking Benghazi

Some of the nation’s most prominent conservatives sought to downplay New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s bridge scandal on the Sunday morning political talk shows, suggesting it paled in comparison to purported Obama Administration perfidies like Benghazi, or the IRS “targeting” of conservative groups.
“Chris Christie has been totally open here,” Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), said, dismissing any notion that Christie had something to do with the political closing of the George Washington Bridge.

How The Government Could Make Public College Free For All Students

Tuition at public colleges came to $62.6 billion in 2012, according to the latest government data. That’s less than what the government already spends to subsidize the cost of collegethrough grants, tax breaks, and work-study funds, which comes to about $69 billion. It spends another $107.4 billion on student loans.
That means that with the money it already spends to make college affordable, the government could instead subsidize public college tuition, thereby making it free for all students. This would not just mean anyone could attend a higher education institution without worrying about cost, but it could incentivize private ones to reduce their costs in order to compete with the free option.

Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — For over six years, Roger Shuler has hounded figures of the state legal and political establishment on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, a hothouse of furious but often fuzzily sourced allegations of deep corruption and wide-ranging conspiracy. Some of these allegations he has tested in court, having sued his neighbor, his neighbor’s lawyer, his former employer, the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Alabama State Bar and two county circuit judges, among others. Mostly, he has lost.

But even those who longed for his muzzling, and there are many, did not see it coming like this: with Mr. Shuler sitting in jail indefinitely, and now on the list of imprisoned journalists worldwide kept by the Committee to Protect Journalists. There, in the company of jailed reporters in China, Iran and Egypt, is Mr. Shuler, the only person on the list in the Western Hemisphere.

Unemployment Cuts Leave Many With Bleak Options

WASHINGTON (AP) — A cutoff of benefits for the long-term unemployed has left more than 1.3 million Americans with a stressful decision:

What now?

Without their unemployment checks, many will abandon what had been a futile search and will no longer look for a job — an exodus that could dwarf the 347,000 Americans who stopped seeking work in December. Beneficiaries have been required to look for work to receive unemployment checks.

Thai protesters blockade roads in Bangkok for 'shutdown'

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters are occupying parts of central Bangkok, meeting no resistance from the authorities.

Police and soldiers maintained a low profile as the "shutdown Bangkok" drive got under way in Thailand's capital. The mood was festive, with many protesters singing and dancing in the streets.

Led by former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, thousands of protesters have set up permanent barricades and encampments at seven sites across the city. Major intersections that normally teem with cars and trucks are blockaded, but city trains and river ferries have been operating, most shops are open and motorbikes have plied the roads freely.

John McCain seeks congressional investigation into 'broken' NSA

John McCain, the Republican senator and former presidential candidate, has called for a congressional investigation into America’s “broken” National Security Agency, ahead of week in which the White House will announce its own reforms.

President Barack Obama will reveal a number of changes to the way the NSA and associated secret courts operate on Friday, concluding months of debate within the administration about the appropriate response to disclosures made by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA's Telephone Metadata Program Is Unconstitutional

In my last post, I concluded that the NSA's bulk telephony metadata program is a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. But because the Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches, the next question is whether the program is "unreasonable." This turns out to be a rather complicated question. So, bear with me as I try to work my way through it.

At the outset, it is important to recall exactly what the bulk telephony metadata program does. Under section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as interpreted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the NSA is authorized to obtain from telephone service providers on a daily basis the calling records of millions of Americans. The calling records, or metadata, consist of the phone numbers called by a particular phone number and the phone numbers that have called that particular number. They do not include any information about the identities of the individuals or the contents of the calls. The NSA holds this metadata in a very large database for a period of five years, after which it is expunged.

No Longer Human

At this moment in a Fort Worth hospital, Marlise Munoz’s body is hooked up to machines that are keeping her body alive. Her brain function, her ability to communicate, or hold her child, or kiss her husband—all of those are tragically and irreversibly lost as the result of a pulmonary embolism she suffered the week after Thanksgiving. Marlise had expressed to her husband Erick—both of them were paramedics—that she never wanted to be kept alive this way. So why, despite her own clear wishes and those of her husband and her parents, is she still on life support?

Because Marlise was fourteen weeks pregnant when she passed.

Studies Find That Successful People Tend To Be Bad

On 29 July 2010, Britain's Economist headlined "Wealth, Poverty and Compassion: The Rich Are Different from You and Me; They Are More Selfish," and summarized a study, to be published in the November 2010 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, titled "Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior." The authors - Michael Kraus, Paul Piff, and three others - said in their "Abstract": "Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous ..., charitable ..., trusting ..., and helpful ..., compared with their upper class counterparts, ... because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion."

On 13 December 2010, Rich O'Hanlon of bannered "Study of the Day: Rich People Feel Less Empathy," and he reported that, "In mock job interviews, researchers ... asked more than 300 upper- and lower-class people to read the emotions of people in photos and of live strangers. Those [test-subjects] with a higher education-level, more money, and a self-defined social position, struggled to figure out whether or not someone was angry or happy." This study's main author, Michael Kraus, summarized: "We found that people from a lower-class background - in terms of occupation, status, education and income level - performed better in terms of emotional intelligence, the ability to read the emotions that others are feeling." The study's press release, issued by the journal Psychological Science, headlined "Upper-Class People Have Trouble Recognizing Others' Emotions." This study, published October 25th in Psychological Science, was titled "Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy."

Vivian Bercovici, Toronto Lawyer, Named Canada's New Ambassador To Israel

OTTAWA - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he doesn't want to "pile on" Israel for its recent decision to build new settlements in Palestinian territory.

Baird sidestepped the controversy as he introduced Canada's new ambassador to the Jewish state: Vivian Bercovici, a Toronto lawyer who has praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and taken a hard line against Hamas and the Palestinian leadership.

Harper and the ghost of Paul Martin past

In the endless handicapping of Stephen Harper’s chances of being re-elected, people should remember the name Paul Martin.

If anyone saved Canada from going into the abyss of Mulroney-era deficits, it was the former finance minister in Jean Chretien’s government. As Preston Manning observed, Canada dodged a bullet in the financial meltdown of 2008 precisely because Martin got the deficit under control in the mid-1990s, casualties and all.

Martin also produced successive budget surpluses, reduced the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio from 70 per cent to 50 per cent and got Canada’s AAA credit-rating restored. Despite this solid domestic record, and international successes involving the creation of the G20, the electorate was unkind. The best Paul Martin could do with voters was a minority government, followed promptly by defeat. 

A Reality Check on Mr. Harper's "Achievements"

On New Year's Eve, Stephen Harper published a list of what he called his "accomplishments" in 2013. Strangely absent was any mention of integrity, transparency or accountability, or any plan to confront the ethics scandal that triggered police allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust among his most senior personnel.

But that little "omission" aside, what about the things for which Mr. Harper claimed credit?

On the positive side, all Canadians support federal commitments to help those in Lac Megantic, southern Alberta and elsewhere who suffered industrial or climatic disasters last year. Canadian assistance to typhoon victims in the Philippines and to innocent civilians affected by the conflict in Syria is also welcome.

Canada Abandons a Former Partner

In two week's time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years -- water salvage, education, women's micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

It won't be easy. It's never been simple. But for over 15 years a large number of Canadians have been investing in such initiatives, even during some of the worst years of the now-concluded civil war. During those early occasions, Canada's reputation had been sullied by the presence of a Canadian oil firm that, in Southern Sudanese eyes, was making a fortune out of their misery. Eventually the firm pulled out and we sensed a warming to Canada as our government invested more deeply in peace initiatives and relief efforts, and as it became clear that we weren't just interested in financial gain.

Who's watching the CSE? A call for national security accountability

Imagine your boss putting a hidden camera in your office or a spying device in your telephone recording your conversations. Imagine the reaction when, after rumours spread about his misbehaviour or after some whistleblower leaks documents about his actions, he admits that he "did it" but quickly adds that he did it only "incidentally"! Are you going to believe him and are you going to trust him again? Of course not! Well, this scenario isn't a simple assumption or a fictive statement.
It is our new reality and it is happening even closer to us than we expected. However the culprit isn't your boss (or maybe it is, who knows these days!) and the victim isn't just you. The Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) is the governmental entity conducting this type of spying, not on one Canadian in particular, but on all Canadians. At this stage, I am speculating more than anything else, but I would rather assume the worst since by their own admission, the CSE "did it." On who exactly? When? Where? We still don't know!

Government’s rivals pounce on job numbers

OTTAWA - The opposition pounced Friday on the Conservative government's insistence that the Canadian economy is still strong despite unexpectedly grim job numbers and an unemployment rate that ticked upwards in December.

The numbers serve as a reminder that the "economic recovery remains fragile, and we must stay focused on our plan to grow the economy and keep taxes low to create the environment where job creation can flourish," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in a statement.

Monthly job numbers are "volatile and our overall trend is positive," he added.

Research Cutbacks By Government Alarm Scientists

Scientists across the country are expressing growing alarm that federal cutbacks to research programs monitoring areas that range from climate change and ocean habitats to public health will deprive Canadians of crucial information.

“What’s important is the scale of the assault on knowledge, and on our ability to know about ourselves and to advance our understanding of our world,” said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Peter MacKay Pushed To Enforce Parliamentary Law In Senate Scandal

OTTAWA - Federal Liberals are trying to drag Justice Minister Peter MacKay into the Senate expenses scandal, urging him to ensure no legal stone is unturned in the quest to prosecute all those involved.

Liberal justice critic Sean Casey wrote MacKay on Friday, arguing that he has a legal duty to ensure that public affairs are conducted lawfully.

In particular, Casey said MacKay has a statutory obligation to ensure enforcement of Sec. 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act, which so far appears to have been ignored by the RCMP as it investigates allegations against Sen. Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff.

Jack Kingston Says There's 'No Such Thing As Free Lunch,' But Gets Free Lunch All The Time

WASHINGTON -- Weeks after Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) made headlines for suggesting low-income students sweep cafeteria floors to learn there's "no such thing as free lunch," Savannah TV station WSAV 3 looked at the "free lunches" Kingston himself has received as a member of Congress.

There's no precise way to count the number of lunches Kingston has enjoyed on taxpayer dollars, but the station took a look at expense reports and disclosures to uncover staggering figures from the congressman's three years in office.

Noelle Roni, Former School Principal, Says She Was Fired For Opposing 'Disrespectful' Practice

A former Colorado charter school principal is claiming she was terminated from her job after attempting to halt a practice that embarrassed students.

Noelle Roni was the principal of Peak to Peak Elementary School for more than eight years before being abruptly fired last November. Roni says that higher-ups at the school became angry with her when she demanded that cafeteria workers stop stamping the hands of children who did not have enough money in their account to pay for lunch, according to CBS Denver.

New Curriculum Erases Enviro Ed, Says Science Teacher

The British Columbia government may be the only provincial government in Canada to proudly declare itself carbon neutral, but at least one teacher says B.C.'s proposed curriculum changes are anything but green.

Draft social studies and science curriculums for Kindergarten to Grade 9 were released this past fall, with teachers, administrators, parents and the public invited to submit feedback.

Unlike the current curriculum, the drafts are less detailed about what content must be taught, which the government hopes will leave students more time to delve into the subject and provide teachers more autonomy over what they teach.

Dismantling of DFO libraries a blow to democracy

The Harper government penchant for suppressing science and information has had a numbing effect over time. There’s just been too much. You may recall a few: abolition of the long-form census, making it hard to know what’s going on and thus formulate sensible policy. Or barring scientists from the Experimental Lakes Area so they couldn’t collect data to help preserve freshwater lakes. That one struck a chord, maybe due to all those beer ads set at the cottage. But the net was cast too wide: fisheries, crime, food safety, public health, the climate. For a depressing refresher, visit the Muzzling Science Timeline.

Some of it’s been overtly about shutting scientists up. A recent Environics survey found 24 per cent in the public service “had been directly asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons.” A half knew of cases where their department “suppressed information” with the effect of “misleading” the public.

Research cutbacks by government alarm scientists

Scientists across the country are expressing growing alarm that federal cutbacks to research programs monitoring areas that range from climate change and ocean habitats to public health will deprive Canadians of crucial information.

“What’s important is the scale of the assault on knowledge, and on our ability to know about ourselves and to advance our understanding of our world,” said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

We Need Privacy Laws for the Digital Era

In December, two federal judges reached opposite conclusions on the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s program for collecting and searching data on every phone call made in the United States. The first judge, Richard Leon in Washington, DC, deemed the program likely to be unconstitutional; the other, William Pauley of New York, deemed it perfectly lawful. What divided the two was the digital age itself.

Judge Pauley concluded that a 1979 analog-era Supreme Court case, Smith v. Maryland, which allowed the government to collect the phone numbers a person has called over a short period, required him to uphold the NSA program, which collects such phone data on every American’s every phone call, stores them in a massive database for five years, and uses sophisticated computers to search them for associations and networks without a warrant. Judge Leon, by contrast, concluded that the digital age fundamentally alters the kind of private information the government can glean from such records, and therefore the 1979 case does not govern. Leon is right: if we rigidly apply analog-era precedents to digital-era problems, the Fourth Amendment will no longer serve its intended purpose of protecting privacy from prying government eyes.

Christie Says, "I Am Not a Bully." Here Are 8 Videos of Him Yelling, Name-Calling, and Belittling People.

On Thursday, New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie held a press conference to address allegations that his appointees orchestrated a dangerous traffic jam for political revenge. Christie maintained that he was deceived by a member of his "circle of trust" and noted that he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who was implicated in the scandal. He insisted that he had not known that Kelly ordered the traffic problems until the news broke on Wednesday. But many commentators have wondered if this whole episode—whether Christie was in the know or not—has bolstered the view that Christie is a bully.

Here’s Proof That Governor Christie Is Still Misleading The Public On Bridge Scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) still insisted on Thursday that New Jersey officials may have closed three lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September to study traffic patterns, directly contradicting statements Port Authority officials made last year.
“What I was told was that it was a traffic study, and there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday,” Christie said at a press conference apologizing for his administration’s role in shutting down bridge lanes and causing potentially life-threatening traffic jams. “There still may have been a traffic study that now has political overtones to it as well,” he added.

Goodbye to the U.K.’s National Health Service?

Britain may not have the world’s model medical service for long. NHS official Kailash Chand predicts the inexpensive and efficient nationalized system could be replaced by a largely privatized version involving worse “access, equity, health outcomes and cost” within five years.

The service is on the chopping block, ready to be sold in pieces to private corporations by Prime Minister David Cameron and MP and Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, both members of the Conservative Party.

Chand, who has 35 years of experience with the NHS as a doctor and a chair, writes at The Guardian, “For the entire length of 2013, the NHS came under relentless attack on grounds of ‘quality’ by politicians and the right-wing press, driving the privatization agenda.”

Israel to build 1,400 new homes on disputed land

Israel plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Palestinians claim for their state.

Israel's housing ministry announced on Friday that 800 new houses would be built in the West Bank and 600 in East Jerusalem – a contentious move that is likely to further hamper the progress of peace talks led by the US secretary of state, John Kerry.

NSA and GCHQ activities appear illegal, says EU parliamentary inquiry

Mass surveillance programmes used by the US and Britain to spy on people in Europe have been condemned in the "strongest possible terms" by the first parliamentary inquiry into the disclosures, which has demanded an end to the vast, systematic and indiscriminate collection of personal data by intelligence agencies.

The inquiry by the European parliament's civil liberties committee says the activities of America's National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, appear to be illegal and that their operations have "profoundly shaken" the trust between countries that considered themselves allies.