Amici Curiae: The Federal Election Roundup, Wal-Mart Class Action, and Google Buzzing with Controversy Edition

Election Bores

Early last week the Harper Conservatives fell after being found in contempt of Parliament. No one (the opposition aside) seemed to care. Nevertheless it is déjà vu all over again – we have an election!

Early election drama has centered on – cue sarcasm – seminal questions that cut to the core of our political identity: would Mr. Ignatieff attempt to form a coalition if he lost? Did Mr. Harper try to form a coalition towards the end of the Martin government in 2004? Should the federal government pay for daycare or just provide tax credits to families? Early public responses have ranged from a mild ‘don’t know’ to a partisan ‘don’t care’…

With polls suggesting the Conservatives will neither attain a majority nor lose their plurality, this vote has the potential to go down as one of the most boring and unnecessary in Canadian electoral history. That being said, here are a few interesting election-related stories in the media:

The Debates

Possibly the most hyped-up and routinely disappointing part of election cycles are the leaders’ debates. Let’s be honest, there hasn’t been any real drama in a leaders debate since Mulroney-Turner in ’84. That said, the leaders debates’ have already captured headlines this time around.

First, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has been excluded from the leaders debates between Harper, Ignatieff, Layton, and Duceppe. With support from Green-Shifter and then Liberal leader Stephane Dion, May was granted a spot in the 2008 debate. It appears, however, she will not be so fortunate this time around. While May and others have voiced significant displeasure with her absence, The Star’s Chantal Hebert does a good job explaining why she was excluded and is unlikely to be included this time around.

What may inspire more attention is the possibility of a one-on-one, gun-slinging, “mano a mano” showdown between Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff. On Wednesday, Harper called out the Liberal leader (via Twitter of all mechanisms). While Ignatieff did announce that he would be game, thus far the only result has been squabbling, bickering and false accusations between the two sides over the debate’s details. While no doubt such an event would (justifiably) elicit outrage from NDP and Bloc Quebecois supporters, we are curious as to how the two would square up. Harper the calculating, wily politician, versus Ignatieff the calm, professorial chief. Perhaps we could even bring in Joe Rogan in to do the pre-fight hype and the post-fight interviews…?

CBC Bias?

Don’t know which party you support or what the differences are between them? You’re not alone. That said, the CBC has come up with a handy tool to tell you how to vote…. or perhaps not so handy, as it turns out.

In combination with the University of Toronto, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is proud to present: “The Vote Compass – 2011 Federal Election: Whose Views Are Most Like Yours?

The Vote Compass is a simple enough idea. It asks you a few questions ranging from Afghanistan to euthanasia, you respond along a range of options from ‘strongly agree to strongly disagree’, and it tells you which party you are ideologically closest to and farthest from.

Unfortunately, it turns out determining one’s political orientation just isn’t that easy – either that or the big red tent known as the Liberal party is larger than we ever imagined! As it turns out, the test seems to have an inherent bias towards the Libs. Kathy Brock has come out staunchly against the tool, declaring it methodologically flawed. Brock, a professor at Queen’s University, took the test three times with three distinct strategies but was nevertheless declared a ‘Liberal’ each time. CBC has defended the accuracy of the test, but in a rare moment of ideological alignment, NDP and Conservative representatives have condemned it.

SCOTUS Hears Wal-Mart Class Action Suit

The Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments this week to determine whether a sex-based discrimination claim against retail giant Wal-Mart could proceed as a class action. If approved, the case would be the largest sex-discrimination class action suit in U.S. history.

The plaintiff, Wal-Mart employee Betty Dukes, claims Wal-Mart favours men over women in allocating pay and promotions. The case has been filed on behalf of at least 500, 000 and possibly up to 1.6 million female plaintiffs, putting damages in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, should the class action succeed.

However, pundits do not expect the court to allow the suit to proceed as a class action. A slim majority of the U.S. top court’s bench are conservatives, and reports indicate they were highly skeptical and at times adversarial towards the plaintiff’s lawyer when oral submissions were made on Tuesday.

Google Aims to Build Stronger Privacy Protection

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action against Google and its Google Buzz social-network last year over its use of deceptive tactics and violation of its own privacy policy.  Google has now entered into settlement with the FTC, which includes a comprehensive reporting program prepared by an independent company for the next 20 years.

Google Buzz was launched as a social network via its Gmail e-mail service. The FTC alleged that Google Buzz is deceptive in its command options, in that users might have been misled into joining the social network without knowing. Google Buzz might also have disclosed the identity of your “followers” and who you were “following” without clear consent from users.

The settlement, subject to public comment and final approval, is unanimously approved by the FTC commissioners.

Japan Disaster’s Tech Aftermath

The disasters in Japan have caused major disruptions to the supply chains of many global companies, including Apple Inc, Toshiba, and Sony.

For instance, Japan provides approximately 60% of the global silicon wafers supply. The silicon wafer is used to manufacture integrated circuits and other micro devices. Other hi-tech companies including Apple Inc. are affected due to the lack of NAND flash, which are made by Toshiba Corp and SandDisk in Japan.

Apple’s hottest iPad 2 also contains numerous parts, including the super-thin battery and LCDs, which are produced exclusively in Japan. If this shortage continues, its supply might not be able to meet the demand of the product. Moreover, twelve Sony plants are currently closed in Japan, and the production of their Sony PlayStation games consoles might have to be shifted overseas.

Malcolm Penn, chief executive of research firm Future Horizons, said that the supply shortage will be most evident in three months’ time. Chief executive Yang Yuanqing of Lenovo also told BBC news: “In the short term, there won’t be much impact. We are more worried about the impact in the next quarter.”

This disruption to the global supply chain could have far-reaching effects that could potentially get worse. The decrease in supply will drive market price upwards. It is unclear whether our electronics would get more expensive in the future…

Closed-Captioning for the Hearing-Impaired

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that song lyrics and other aural content must be provided for the hearing-impaired during a football game. The National Association of the Deaf filed this lawsuit in 2006 after the operators at the Washington Redskins FedEx Field refused to provide closed-captioning on their jumbotron for public announcements.

“By having access to the lyrics, plaintiffs have the opportunity to participate in the communal entertainment experience,” the Court of Appeals wrote in its judgment. “Without access to lyrics played, for example, during cheerleader dance routines and the halftime show, plaintiffs would not fully and equally experience the planned and synchronized promotional entertainment that large stadiums like FedEx Field provide.”

The decision is an interesting development in the case law concerning accommodation of persons with disabilities.

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