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.]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Supreme Court Bans Protests On Its Grounds

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds, two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.

The regulation bans activities on the court's grounds or building such as picketing, speech-making, marching, vigils or religious services "that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers."

Syria's Assad Used Chemical Weapons Against Rebels, U.S. Officials Conclude

U.S. officials have concluded that the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel fighters, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Congressional sources told CNN that investigators concluded that Syria has used chemical weapons multiple times.

In a statement released on Thursday, the White House says U.S. intelligence concluded that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent Sarin, against rebel fighters in the last year.

Massive police raid launched in Toronto

Toronto Police using surveillance techniques were “investigating the existence” of an alleged crack cocaine video linked to Mayor Rob Ford several weeks before the story first surfaced, CTV News reported Thursday in the wake of a massive multi-city police drugs and guns sweep.

The broadcaster quoted a “highly placed source” as confirming that “persons of interest discussed that video in detail, and referred to the mayor’s alleged presence in the video.”

Zama City Spill: Wastewater Leak The Largest In Recent History

The wastewater spill near Zama City, Alberta, at 9.5 million litres, is North America's biggest in recent history.

The spill, first spotted June 1, has leaked oil, water and other chemicals out of Apache's wastewater pipeline, and is the third major spill in the area, The Globe and Mail reports.

Anger greets secret private Library and Archives Canada deal

OTTAWA — Confusion and anger over a major, secretly brokered deal between Library and Archives Canada and a private high-tech consortium heightened Wednesday amid damage-control efforts by archive officials who say the deal is a good one.

Details of the project, revealed late Tuesday by the Ottawa Citizen, would see Library and Archives hand over millions of publicly-owned books and documents to which, in exchange, will get a 10-year exclusive licence to sell it in sophisticated digital format.

Government mum after former diplomatic staff disciplined at Denmark embassy

OTTAWA — The federal government has punished unnamed diplomats who worked at the Canadian embassy in Copenhagen last year following a probe into whistleblower allegations of serious misconduct at the mission.

With that, the Department of Foreign Affairs has slammed the door on the matter. It refuses to say what wrongdoings were uncovered, who was involved and what specific actions have been taken.

“The issue has been investigated thoroughly. The investigation is now complete. Appropriate administrative and disciplinary actions have been taken,” the department said in a terse email Friday.

Harper Joins Cameron Galvanizing G-8 Austerity Alliance

Canada and the U.K. are seeking to galvanize an austerity alliance within the Group of Eight amid mounting pressure to ease up on the spending-cut strategy.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets his U.K. counterpart David Cameron today after addressing the British Parliament at noon in London. He then visits Paris and Dublin as part of a week-long European trip that concludes with a G-8 summit in Northern Ireland starting June 17.

MacKay issued seven secret directives to eavesdropping agency: documents

OTTAWA - Declassified records show the defence minister quietly issued new instructions to Canada's electronic eavesdropping agency that detail how and when it can help CSIS and the RCMP investigate Canadians.

Briefing notes disclosed under the Access to Information Act say the directive from Peter MacKay to the Ottawa-based Communications Security Establishment was one of seven such ministerial instructions issued in November 2011.

Toronto police probing alleged crack video linked to Ford weeks before story broke

CTV News has learned that Toronto Police were investigating the existence of an alleged video involving Mayor Rob Ford, several weeks before the story first appeared in the Toronto Star.

As part of the investigation leading to the raids on Thursday, officers obtained telephone wire-tap evidence.

A highly-placed source confirms to CTV News that on those wiretaps, persons of interest discussed that video in detail, and referred to the mayor's alleged presence in the video.

Stephen Harper, David Cameron and the political uses of Islamophobia

On Thursday, Stephen Harper joins an exclusive list of world leaders and heads of state to address the UK Parliament. Harper is the first Canadian Prime Minister to have this honour in nearly 70 years, and it is a prestige he no doubt hopes will gain him respect and recognition among the Tory parliamentarians whose policies and manner he has come to mimic so markedly.

Since 2010, Harper has sought to strengthen ties and relations with David Cameron, celebrating the "similar values" they share. His speech comes at an opportune time -- when politically motivated attacks have mobilized a new kind of rhetoric and reaction among politicians, touching on Islamophobia and calling for stricter policies and measures to counter terrorist threats.

Overpriced Toronto condo market a risk to economy, says Bank of Canada

OTTAWA — An overbuilt and overpriced condominium market is posing a risk to Canadian households, banks and the economy in general, the Bank of Canada warned Thursday in its latest review of the health of the country’s financial system.

The central bank particularly singles out the Toronto condo market, which it notes continues to carry a high level of unsold highrise units in the pre-construction or under construction phases.

Walmart Only Hiring Temporary Workers In Many U.S. Stores: Report

Wal-Mart Stores Inc has in recent months been only hiring temporary workers at many of its U.S. stores, the first time the world's largest retailer has done so outside of the holiday shopping season.

A Reuters survey of 52 stores run by the largest U.S. private employer in the past month, including one in every U.S. state, showed that 27 were hiring only temps, 20 were hiring a combination of regular full, part-time and temp jobs, and five were not hiring at all. The survey was based on interviews with managers, sales staff and human resource department employees at the stores.

Obamacare, Public Opinion, and Conservative Self-Delusion

One of the more important conservative beliefs about Obamacare, running right alongside the certainty that the law is a disaster that will fail in every respect, is the belief that Americans share their antipathy to the law. It certainly is true that the Affordable Care Act has a bad reputation, and the latest poll showing that support for Obamacare has dipped prompted the same wave of conservative gloating that results from every such poll. But looking even an inch beneath the surface reveals a public more frustrated and confused by Obamacare than opposed. Its specific elements poll well, though they’re the least known elements. Four out of ten Americans don’t realize the law hasn’t been struck down. A new poll out shows that the public, by a ten-point margin, trusts Democrats over Republicans on health-care issues. By a 52–34 percent margin, they want Congress to implement or tinker with the law rather than repeal it. The nearly ubiquitous conservative belief that the public shares its passion for repealing Obamacare is a spate of self-delusion.

Supreme Court DNA Ruling: Court Says Human Genes Cannot Be Patented

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes, a decision with the potential to profoundly affect the emerging and lucrative medical and biotechnology industries.

The high court's unanimous judgment reverses three decades of patent awards by government officials. It throws out patents held by Salt Lake City-based Myriad Genetics Inc. on an increasingly popular breast cancer test brought into the public eye recently by actress Angelina Jolie's revelation that she had a double mastectomy because of one of the genes involved in this case.

Conservatives use marathon midnight House sittings, majority to push eight bills through Commons

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Conservatives have used their majority to rush eight government bills through the House of Commons into the Senate and another two government bills from the Senate through the Commons ready to become law, since Government House Leader Peter Van Loan forced the House into daily midnight sittings three weeks ago.

But even though the Conservatives also sent another six government bills and three bills from backbench Conservative MPs into House committees for scrutiny and testimony from witnesses, the NDP was insisting on Wednesday it intends to keep the House of Commons sitting for another week to continue pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) over his biggest crisis since taking office—the ongoing controversy over Senate travel and living expenses and a $90,172 cheque that his former chief of staff Nigel Wright made out to Sen. Mike Duffy to get him off the hook in the expense scandal.

'Fix The Debt' Companies Would Reap Up to $173 Billion From New Territorial Tax System, Report Finds

The founders of a controversial debt reduction group are advocating for corporate tax reform that could save companies involved with the group billions of dollars, even as the group is pushing for cuts to social safety net programs, a new report says.

Co-founders of the "Fix the Debt" campaign, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, want the U.S. to move toward a territorial tax system that could save 59 companies involved with the campaign up to $173 billion in taxes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank.

House Approves Derivatives Deregulation Bills That Would Open More Loopholes For Wall Street

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a slate of bills Wednesday intended to roll back recent financial reforms and deregulate derivatives, the complex financial products at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.

The legislation aimed at the 2010 overhaul of financial regulation known as Dodd-Frank cleared with broad bipartisan backing. One bill passed despite strenuous objections from the White House, leading regulators and senior lawmakers such as Maxine Waters (D-Calif), the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. Nearly two-thirds of House Democrats opposed that measure, which aims to curb U.S. supervision of overseas activities by U.S. banks, even though nearly two-thirds of Democrats on the banking committee voted for it last month.

Secret Money Is Now Swaying State Judicial Elections

Sam Ervin IV must have been feeling pretty good about his chances of winning a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court last fall.

He had name recognition—his grandfather was the legendary senator who led the Watergate investigation—and a poll released less than a week before Election Day showed him leading his opponent, incumbent Justice Paul Newby by 6 points, 38-32.

The Private-Intelligence Boom, by the Numbers

Edward Snowden revealed to the world the startling breadth of the National Security Agency's surveillance efforts, but his story also highlighted another facet of today's intelligence world: the increasingly privatized national security sector, in which a high school dropout could bring in six figures while gaining access to state secrets. Over the last decade, firms like Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked for three months, have gobbled up nearly 60 cents out of every dollar the government spends on intelligence. A majority of top-secret security clearances now go to private contractors who provide services to the government at stepped up rates.

Danielle Powell, Grace University Student Kicked Out For Being Lesbian, Must Repay Thousands

Danielle Powell was close to getting her bachelor's degree when she was kicked out of her university for being gay in 2012, and now says the only way the school will transfer her credits to another school is if she agrees to pay $6,300. In response, Powell has launched an online petition to pressure the school to forgive the debt.

Powell was a student at Grace University in early 2011 when she began her first same-sex relationship. Up until that point, neither she nor her then-girlfriend identified as lesbian. When Grace, a religious university in Omaha, Neb., found out about the relationship through a spiritual adviser at the school, they brought Powell before a judiciary board to decide whether she should be allowed to stay enrolled.

RCMP Legal Aid Program Set Up For Accused Officers

RICHMOND, B.C. - The association that represents Mounties says new federal legislation will give RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson the power to be "judge, jury and executioner" of officers accused of wrongdoing.

The Mounted Police Professional Association announced a legal aid program on Wednesday to cover the costs of legal advice and lawyers for accused officers.

Conservatives, researchers at odds over crime data

OTTAWA – A battle is breaking out between the Conservative government and academic researchers over data related to a bill before Parliament that changes the not criminally responsible law.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said researchers who prepared a report for the Department of Justice, and then changed their numbers in a second version after saying they discovered a coding error, have “misinformed the debate.”

Records missing from Conservative MP's campaign file

Questions are being raised about how Elections Canada is handling MPs' campaign files after the agency refused to allow CBC News to see documents in the campaign file of Conservative MP Eve Adams.

At the end of every federal election, candidates have to turn in paperwork, including receipts, to back up their spending. That information is available to anyone who requests the files from Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa.

'Stop the tar sands' protest to greet Harper's speech to the British Parliament

An ad hoc coalition has come together to protest the appearance of Stephen Harper in London. The Prime Minister will be speaking to the British Parliament on Thursday, the first time a Canadian PM has done so since MacKenzie King in 1944.

Campaigners have, on numerous previous occasions, held protests against the tar sands outside Canada House on London's Trafalgar Square. But Thursday's action may boast the longest list of civil society endorsers. The following statement was signed by over 25 organizations.

Has 'Local' Food Gone Too Far?

If you live in the Kootenays, is an Okanagan apple local? If you live in Vancouver, are Abbotsford strawberries local? What about a Gulf Islands oyster or an Alberta potato if you live in Atlin?

Until recently, the answer to all of these queries would have been 'no'.

But last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) changed the definition of local. It used to apply to food grown within 50 kilometres of sale. Now, any food produced in B.C. or within 50 kilometres of provincial borders is technically considered local and can be labelled as such -- but not all farmers and retailers are happy about it.

Car-tracking devices spark privacy concerns

Privacy advocates are sounding alarm bells over a new device that can record certain driving habits of Canadian motorists. But one of the auto insurance companies offering the product says those fears are misplaced.

"It definitely has ramifications from a privacy point of view because it's a new technology that will involve the collection of new personal information that, up until now, hasn't been done," said lawyer Kris Klein, an expert in privacy law.

Turkish PM offers 'final warning' to protesters

Turkey's prime minister issued a "final warning" to protesters on Thursday, demanding that they end their occupation of a park next to Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square.

Sticking to his trademark defiant tone, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also rejected condemnation by the European Parliament over the excessive use of force by Turkish riot police against demonstrators.

Rob Ford’s billion-dollar lie

Despite refusing to acknowledge the crack scandal that won’t go away and overshadows everything he does, the mayor has been out campaigning for re-election, and it looks like the central plank in his 2014 platform will be a line of billion-dollar BS. That is, Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug have been proudly, repeatedly claiming that he’s “saved” taxpayers in Toronto $1 billion since he got elected. It’s a lie. A bald-faced, outright lie that he seems to think he can get away with by simply repeating it again and again. Here’s the truth: Torontonians are paying more today in taxes and fees than they were on the day Ford was elected. And the city is now spending more on programs and services than it was under David Miller. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that, except that Ford is claiming the opposite.

Environmental groups turn up the heat against Keystone XL pipeline

Green groups have mounted an aggressive attack against TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by filing a lawsuit in federal court Monday accusing the State Department and their latest Keystone XL Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of being "plagued by conflicts of interest."

"Imagine if the surgeon general was replaced with a tobacco executive," Robin Mann, former Sierra Club club president, said during a press call on Tuesday. "At the State Department, we're seeing something just as outrageous."

From Kensington Market to Gezi Park: Gentrification is a global force

Gezi Park in Istanbul has been making headlines for two weeks, tempting the West's fickle appetite for revolution. Last Monday, 50 protestors occupied the nine-acre park to confront demolition crews preparing to turn one of the last remaining green spaces in the city into a shopping mall. Three days later, their number had grown to 10,000.

Western media reports have followed a predictable pattern for anyone bred on the script written by the Arab Spring: an autocratic government, supported by militia thugs, are suppressing the people's demand for democracy. "Democracy" in this context is a messy, sticky term, but surely, like Justice Potter Stewart we will know it when we see it.

NHS Hospitals Spent £2m On Gagging Orders For 50 Potential Whistleblowers

The boss of NHS England has faced furious calls to quit after it was revealed hospitals have spent £2 million on more than 50 gagging orders preventing staff speaking out.

Tory MP Steve Barclay, who obtained the figures, accused NHS chief Sir David Nicholson of either failing to ask questions about the orders or being "complicit in a cover-up".

Northampton General Hospital paid £50,000 to silence a whistleblower in 2011 and £95,000 to another the following year.

Stephen Hester Quits As Royal Bank Of Scotland Chief - And Gets A Potential £5.6m

Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Stephen Hester is to step down from the group later this year.

The subject of numerous 'fat cat' headlines, Hester is guaranteed 12 months' pay and benefits worth £1.6 million and the potential for a £4 million shares windfall from a long-term incentive scheme. But he will receive no bonus for 2013.

dward Snowden vows not to 'hide from justice' amid new hacking claims

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden vowed on Wednesday to fight any move by the US to have him extradited from Hong Kong, saying he was not there to "hide from justice" and would put his trust in its legal system.

In his first comments since revealing his identity in the Guardian at the weekend, Snowden also claimed that the US had been hacking Hong Kong and China since 2009, and accused the US of bullying the territory to return him because it did not want local authorities to learn of its cyber activities.

Greek coalition in disarray after state broadcaster's closure

Greece's fragile coalition government is in disarray after the prime minister tipped the country into an unexpected crisis following a decision to shut down the state broadcaster with immediate effect to meet bailout austerity measures.

The draconian move on Tuesday night, designed to prove that the government was serious about tackling the bloated public sector, has left the Greek public in shock, leaving 2,700 unemployed and prompting two general strikes planned for Thursday.

Turkish PM's chilling warning: 'these protests will be over in 24 hours'

Turkey's prime minister defied a growing wave of international criticism on Wednesday and issued a chilling warning to the protesters who have captured central Istanbul for a fortnight, declaring that the demonstrations against his rule would be over within 24 hours.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ultimatum, which he said was conveyed to his police chief and interior minister, ratcheted up the tension in Turkey after a relatively calm day following the mass teargas attacks by riot police in Istanbul city centre on Tuesday evening.

NSA chief says data disrupted 'dozens' of plots

In a US Senate hearing, National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander defended the internet and telephone data snooping programmes.

Also, US Secretary of State John Kerry said they showed a "delicate but vital balance" between privacy and security.

The programmes were revealed in newspaper accounts last week.

Terror Bytes: Edward Snowden and the Architecture of Oppression

Edward Snowden revealed himself this week as the whistleblower responsible for perhaps the most significant release of secret government documents in U.S. history. The former CIA staffer and analyst for the private intelligence consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton spoke to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman in Hong Kong, providing convincing evidence that the U.S. government, primarily the National Security Agency, is conducting massive, unconstitutional surveillance globally, and perhaps most controversially, on almost all, if not all, U.S. citizens.

Columns One American Who Isn’t for Sale

So it’s true, as filmmaker Michael Moore once warned us, the Carlyle Group is Big Brother. That’s the $176 billion private equity firm that once employed former President George H.W. Bush, his Secretary of State James A. Baker III and a host of political luminaries that would put any other list of America’s ruling elite to shame. Plenty of Democrats too, including former President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and Arthur Levitt, the man Clinton appointed to head the SEC during the creation of the housing bust.

Daniel Ellsberg On NSA Spying: 'We're A Turnkey Away From A Police State'

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Famed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg had harsh words for the Obama Administration during an event here Tuesday evening, charging that the rapid expansion of government surveillance since 9/11 has left the country "a turnkey away from a police state."

"We're not a police state yet, but the foundation has been set," he continued. "It could happen overnight."

The Meta Question -- What is the NSA doing with your metadata?

Ever since we learned about PRISM, the NSA’s secret project to collect metadata on everyone by tapping into commercial online services, we’ve been confounded by a tangle of intangible clashing values. We are asked to balance “preventing terrorism” against “protecting privacy.” It is hard to demonstrate what terrorism would have occurred without preventative measures, and privacy is as much a feeling as a circumstance.

A hypothetical versus an emotion: the invisibles clash at the coliseum. There is a danger that this crucial controversy is being framed in so blurry a manner that it will blend into the wind and blow away. Maybe reflecting on the terms will bring the situation into focus.

Trent Franks: 'The Incidence Of Rape Resulting In Pregnancy Are Very Low'

During a House Judiciary hearing on his abortion bill Wednesday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said that he opposes an exemption for rape victims because "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."

The Arizona Republican's comments echo those made last year by former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who notoriously claimed that women cannot become pregnant from "legitimate rape."

Chris Pyle, Whistleblower on Domestic Spying in 70s, Says Be Wary of Attacks on NSA’s Critics

As NSA director General Keith Alexander blasts the leaks that exposed widespread surveillance of Americans, we’re joined by Chris Pyle, a former military instructor who exposed the CIA and Army’s monitoring of millions of Americans in the 1970s. Pyle discovered the Army and CIA were spying on millions of Americans engaged in lawful political activity while he was in the Army working as an instructor. His revelations prompted Senate hearings, including Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence, ultimately leading to a series of laws aimed at curbing government abuses. Now teaching constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College, Pyle says the NSA is known for attacking its critics instead of addressing the problems they expose.

Author: --

Apache Canada's Zama Pipeline Spills 9.5 Million Litres Of Industrial Waste Water

ZAMA CITY, Alta. - A pipeline operated by a Texas-based oil company has leaked 9.5 million litres of industrial waste water in northern Alberta.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board said the spill was first reported by Apache Canada Ltd. on June 1.

The pipeline breach is about 20 kilometres northeast of Zama City, a remote community near the Northwest Territories boundary.

Conservatives Defeat NDP Bill To Make Budget Watchdog Independent

OTTAWA - The Harper government has nixed an attempt to give the federal budget watchdog more teeth.

Conservatives on Wednesday killed a private member's bill introduced by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, which would have made the watchdog a full-fledged, independent officer of Parliament.

The parliamentary budget officer is currently an officer of the Library of Parliament and has less independence as a result.

Target Canada Refused Most Zellers Workers, Hired Tory-Linked Lobby Group: UFCW

Target is busily opening new stores across Canada this year, but some employees and labour leaders aren’t happy with the way the retail chain is going about it, and plan to protest at the company’s annual general meeting in Denver Wednesday.

They are also criticizing the retail chain’s hiring of a Conservative Party-linked lobbyist, evidently to pressure the federal government to keep country-of-origin labelling out of Canada’s legislation.

Harper passes buck on Duffy cheque

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in no mood Wednesday to respond to questions about the Senate spending scandal that forced his chief of staff to resign.

During a media availability with reporters that lasted just over three minutes, Harper was asked about the cheque Nigel Wright gave to Sen. Mike Duffy so the former television host could repay more than $90,000 in ill-gotten expenses.

Ministry Mired in 'Quick Wins' Scandal Got $1-Million Boost Ahead of Election

Almost $1 million was siphoned from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation to increase the nearly $2.5 million budget for the multiculturalism portfolio a year before the provincial election campaign, according to documents gathered for the in-house review of the BC Liberals' Multicultural Outreach Strategy.

The outreach strategy was outlined in a 17-page leaked memo that included plans to coordinate party and government resources to "re-engage with ethnic voters" and find "quick wins" in apologizing for past injustices, such as the Chinese head tax. The leak became known as a "quick wins" scandal, one that dogged the Liberals throughout the election.

MPs can vote to suspend two Tory MPs without Speaker tabling letters from Elections Canada in Commons, says former House law clerk

PARLIAMENT HILL—The past law clerk to the House of Commons says MPs can vote to suspend two Conservative MPs for failing to comply with a request from Chief Electoral Office Marc Mayrand to correct their campaign returns from the 2011 general election—which would put their campaign expenses several thousand dollars over their Elections Canada limits—regardless of whether House Speaker Andrew Scheer tables letters from Mr. Mayrand alerting him to the fact that the MPs are in breach of the Canada Elections Act.

Obama's whistleblower conundrum

So U.S. President Barack Obama is suddenly mustard for a lively public discussion on whether the intelligence agencies he commands should be secretly collecting Americans' private phone and internet records.

"I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy," the president declared, after stories erupted last week describing how the National Security Agency has been logging just about every phone call, email, upload and download in the country for years.

Senate expenses scandal: Pamela Wallin repaid money, Mac Harb owes $231K, Tkachuk confirms

OTTAWA—Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk confirms Sen. Pamela Wallin has reimbursed taxpayers for some of her expenses and that Sen. Mac Harb will have to repay far more.

“The administration had dealt with some of her issues and she had dealt with some of them herself and had pointed out some problems,” Tkachuk told the Star Wednesday as he attempted to clarify some of the questions surrounding the origins of the probe.

Some striking elevator workers forced back to work under rarely used labour law

Some striking elevator technicians in the GTA will be forced back to work next week by a rarely used piece of labour law that members worry will divide the union — and won’t restore full service to places such as nursing homes and apartment towers.

Under the Labour Relations Act, trades involved in residential construction may legally strike or be locked out only between May 1 and June 15. Their three-year contracts all end simultaneously on April 30.

Rob Ford’s brother Doug raring to help re-elect him, but won’t run for council again

Councillor Doug Ford says he’ll have lots of time to help brother Rob campaign to be re-elected mayor in 2014.

That’s because Ford doesn’t plan to run to retain his council seat, but rather is interested in seeking provincial office in the next Ontario election, in 2015.

Councillor Ford said the firing of Councillor Jaye Robinson from the powerful executive committee wasn’t a big deal, but Mayor Ford needs to have close allies around him as the election looms closer.

N.S.A. Scandal: God Save Us From the Lawyers

As the repercussions of Edward Snowden’s leaks about domestic surveillance continue to be debated, law professors and lawyers for the Bush and Obama Administrations are out in force, claiming that the spying agencies have done nothing wrong and it’s all much ado about nothing.

In the Financial Times, Philip Bobbitt, a law professor at Columbia who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations, argued that the National Security Agency, in sweeping up a big part of the nation’s phone records, was upholding the law rather than subverting it. At the influential Lawfare blog, Joel F. Brenner, a legal consultant who between 2006 and 2009 was the head of counterintelligence at the White House, trotted out similar arguments and claimed that the United States “has the most expensive, elaborate, and multi-tiered intelligence oversight apparatus of any nation on Earth.” On the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, Michael Mukasey, who served as Attorney General in the Bush Administration, questioned whether there has even been a meaningful infringement of privacy, writing, “The claims of pervasive spying, even if sincere, appear not merely exaggerated, but downright irrational.”

Traders Manipulated Currency Rates To Profit Off Clients

To the long and growing list of global markets subject to wanton manipulation by traders, including interest rates, derivatives, gold and oil, we can now add the currency market.

Traders at banks around the world have regularly worked together for "at least a decade" to move a key benchmark currency rate in ways that profit them and hurt their clients, Bloomberg reports, citing anonymous former traders.

FEMA Denies Funds To Rebuild West, Texas After Fertilizer Plant Explosion

HOUSTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide additional money to help rebuild the small Texas town where a deadly fertilizer plant explosion leveled numerous homes and a school, and killed 15 people.

According to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, FEMA said it reviewed the state's appeal to help but decided that the explosion "is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."

NSA Surveillance Sparks Concern, Confusion Among Lawmakers

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers voiced their confusion and concern, and some called for the end of sweeping surveillance programs by U.S. spy agencies after receiving an unusual briefing on the government's yearslong collection of phone records and Internet usage.

"People aren't satisfied," Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said as he left the briefing Tuesday. "More detail needs to come out."

Gender Wage Gap Heavily Influenced By Occupation Segregation (INFOGRAPHIC)

"While much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity ... this legislation is a significant step forward," President John F. Kennedy said in 1963 when he signed the Equal Pay Act, a bill intended to ensure that women and men are paid equally for the doing the same work for the same employer.

Fifty years later, the White House's National Equal Pay Task Force has issued a report examining the many advances women have made since 1963 and the economic inequalities that persist.

Rep. Peter King: Reporters Should Be Prosecuted For Publishing Leaked Classified Information

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said on CNN's "AC 360" Tuesday night that reporters should be prosecuted for publishing stories with leaked classified information.

After King explained why he believes the recent NSA leaks pose a grave threat to national security, host Anderson Cooper asked him if he thinks the reporters who break stories off of leaked information should be punished in some way.

Walmart Accepted Clothing From Banned Bangladesh Factories

Since the Rana Plaza building collapse killed more than 1,100 people in April, retailers have faced mounting pressure to improve safety at Bangladesh garment factories and to sever ties with manufacturers that don't measure up.

The world's largest retailer, Walmart, last month released a list of more than 200 factories it said it had barred from producing its merchandise because of serious or repeated safety problems, labor violations or unauthorized subcontracting.

NSA: Senators Who Back NSA Spying Oppose Gun Background Checks For Infringing Rights

WASHINGTON -- Just months after many U.S. senators opposed tougher background checks for gun buyers on the grounds that they would tread on Americans' liberties, many of them are standing behind the far more intrusive intelligence-gathering programs of the National Security Agency.

Senators -- mainly Republicans -- argued during the debate after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre that instituting broader background checks would violate the Second Amendment, infringe on privacy, and be the first step toward taking away people's guns.

Michael Morell Retires As CIA Deputy Director

Michael Morell, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has retired, the AP reports.

Director John O. Brennan said Morell will be replaced by White House lawyer and agency outsider Avril D. Haines, according to the Washington Post.

President Barack Obama announced Morell's appointment to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board on Wednesday.

Elizabeth Warren Free Trade Letter Calls For Trans-Pacific Partnership Transparency

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama's nominee to head U.S. trade negotiations, expressing concerns about the administration's lack of transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal being negotiated largely in secret.

Labor unions, public health advocates and environmental groups have long decried so-called free trade policies for undermining important regulations in the pursuit of corporate profits. The letter signals that Warren's tough stance on bank regulation extends to other major consumer and public interest matters.