Monday, April 30, 2012

Jeez Gretz time to bench her!

Gretzky's daughter returns to old habits
Monday, April 30, 2012
Photo courtesy of Instagram

Paulina Gretzky has resurfaced on the picture sharing site Instagram with a racy new set of photos showing herself and others in compromising positions.

In her latest series of lewd images, Paulina, the daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, appears to be partying with a group of friends in a tropical location, wrestling in a bikini and wearing lingerie.

The oldest of five Gretzky children, Paulina first gained notoriety after posting a series of suggestive photos on her Twitter account in recent years.

Following a brief Twitter hiatus, the Great One’s daughter appears to moving in the direction of bad habits while providing a more than attentive audience a behind the scenes look at her party lifestyle.

Happy May Day feel the 'Vibe" yet?

Vibe: Private Twitter Alternative Helps Protesters Organize Anonymously

By Keith Wagstaff @kwagstaff
Monday, April 30, 2012
If you notice an uptick in #OWS hashtags on Tuesday, you’ll know that the Occupy movement has risen from its relatively dormant winter and early spring for May Day protests. Once again, social media will play a huge part in how protesters organize, although this time Occupiers might be a little more wary of tweeting out personal details.

That’s because last week a criminal court judge denied Malcolm Harris’ motion to quash a subpoena that will allow Twitter to hand over his information to Manhattan prosecutors. Harris, a contributing editor to The New Inquiry, was one of the more than 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy protest on October 1. The prosecutors hope to disprove Harris’ and other protesters’ assertion that police led people in the crowd onto the roadway to arrest them for disrupting traffic.

The lines are blurry when it comes to who exactly owns what you post on social media networks like Twitter. That’s why developers have created an alternative set of social media tools with privacy in mind, including the newly released version of Vibe, out now for iOS and soon for Android.

Why would a protester want to use Vibe instead of Twitter? It lets you register anonymously and attach messages to specific locations, meaning only people within a certain radius can see them. Each message can also be set with an expiration date.

(MORE: Move Over, Twitter: ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Activists Feel the ‘Vibe’)

According to Betabeat, developer Hazem Sayed also created a new feature for Vibe 2.0 which lets you use double hashtags that keep messages out of the public stream and only visible to those who search explicitly for those hashtags. The idea is that people can use double hashtags to coordinate certain events instead of exchanging emails or telephone numbers.

Sayed told Betabeat that Vibe isn’t just for protesters — for example, a company could use it to let employees communicate within an office building. But its appeal to protesters is its most obvious selling point.

Paired with independent wireless networks — provided by organizations like the Free Network Foundation, which I wrote about earlier — you have a much more private way of organizing, especially when paired with other privacy-conscious tools like Facebook-alternative Diaspora and search engine DuckDuckGo.

In the end, I think you’ll start to see two tiers of social networking when it comes to protests. You’ll have your public campaigns via traditional social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll have the on-the-ground social media meant to organize active protesters without fear of surveillance. The idea that the Internet has to be decentralized might not have struck a chord with the general public, but it’s finding a quite a testing ground within the camps of the Occupy movement.

MORE: DuckDuckGo Founder Gabriel Weinberg Talks About Creating a More Private Search Engine

"Wall Street got bailed out and Main Street didn't that's how we got here ....."

Because you're not using the Secret Service!

Why Can't We Catch this Guy?

As America acknowledges the one-year anniversary of Osama Ben Laden's death, Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reminds us that al-Qaeda's mastermind, Ayman al-Zawahiri is still very much alive.

On what day this year will you have done you duty to God, Queen and "The Taxperson?"

Good Day Readers:

Every year British Columbia think tank The Fraser Institute calculates the day you stopped working for the government to pay all your taxes (municipal/provincial/federal) and begin working for yourself. In 2011 it was June 6. To estimate the day this year you'll have done your duty to God, Queen and "The Taxperson," visit the following link to answer a few simple questions:

Try not to get too, too depressed. Remember, we need all those over paid politicians with platinum-edged pensions or do we?

Clare L. Pieuk

But who's watching the taxperson when the taxperson misbehaveth?

Documents reveal hundreds of 'high risk misconduct' cases at CRA
By Daniel Leblanc
Sunday, April 29, 2012
The Canada Revenue Agency has offices across the country, including this one in Winnipeg. (The Canadian Press Images)

Allegations of corruption that have rocked the Montreal offices of the Canada Revenue Agency are just a fraction of the total instances of “high-risk misconduct” reported at the federal tax agency every year, records show.

The CRA has dismissed seven officials from its Montreal offices in connection with an RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption involving senior team leaders and auditors at the tax-collection agency.

Documents show that over the past eight years the CRA has identified a total of 456 founded cases of high-risk misconduct across the country, an average of 57 a year. The CRA defines these cases as involving breach of trust, conflict of interest, falsification or destruction of documents, fraud, off-duty conduct, abuse of authority, and unauthorized access or disclosure of confidential information.

The NDP used a parliamentary procedure known as the “order paper” to obtain information on the number of ethical breaches at the CRA, and shared the figures with The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada.

In an interview, New Democrat MP Hoang Mai said he is concerned that upcoming cutbacks at the CRA will prevent the agency from keeping up internal controls over the conduct of its employees and ensuring that all Canadians pay their taxes.

According to the 2012 federal budget, the CRA will have to cut its budget by $253-million over the next three years.

“There are major cuts at the CRA in the budget, and we already know that officials at the agency are overworked,” said Mr. Mai, the NDP’s critic for national revenue.

Mr. Mai will be seeking more information from the CRA, saying he is deeply concerned about the RCMP investigation into allegations that surfaced in 2008 that tax officials in Montreal offered preferential treatment to companies and individuals in exchange for kickbacks.

“It’s been four years, and we still don’t have charges,” he said. “We’ve been asking lots of questions, and the only answer that we are getting is that the CRA can’t comment because of the ongoing investigation.”

The CRA is insisting it will not compromise the integrity of its processes, both in terms of reminding employees of their obligations and in developing systems to catch and stop wrongdoing.

Since 2004, the agency has nearly doubled the number of internal investigators, to 25 from 13. In addition, the budget for internal investigations has gone up 146 per cent, reaching $2-million.

In a statement, the agency pointed out that it has 40,000 employees, which means that high-risk misconduct files affect only 0.125 per cent of its work force.

“The limited cases in which an infraction is committed must not lead to a negative perception regarding the honesty and integrity of thousands of CRA employees who do their work in an exemplary fashion,” CRA spokesman Noël Carisse said.

The government said it will ensure that the budget cutbacks do not impact any measures designed to prevent wrongdoing among CRA staff.

"The integrity of our tax system is important to all Canadians and our Government will take any steps necessary to ensure it is protected," said Nancy Bishay, a spokeswoman for Revenue Minister Gail Shea.

The CRA can fire employees in the event of severe wrongdoing, and it refers cases to the RCMP that could involve criminal activity.

The allegations in Montreal that Mounties are investigating have rocked the entire agency.

RCMP search warrants allege that CRA officials helped firms in Quebec's construction industry evade taxes.

In addition, some of the CRA officials targeted by the Mounties are accused of collecting kickbacks from businessmen, such as restaurant owners, in exchange for lax audits or for turning a blind eye to unreported income.

The RCMP has also alleged in search warrants that CRA officials received gifts or compensation from a construction firm, including free home renovations, trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas, and an upscale evening at a Montreal Canadiens home game.

Two CRA auditors were fired in 2009 after investigators alleged that they shared a bank account containing $1.7-million in the Bahamas with Francesco Bruno, owner of construction firm B.T. Céramique. At least seven other officials in the CRA’s offices in Montreal have since been disciplined in relation to various files, including allegedly fraudulent research-and-development tax credits.

No charges have been laid as part of the RCMP investigation and none of the allegations in the search warrants have been proven in court.

The taxperson cometh! The taxperson cometh!

It's Tax Deadline Day, But What If You Don't File A Return?
Monday, April 30, 2012
April 30 at midnight is the deadline for most Canadians to file personal tax returns, but what happens if you miss the deadline — or decide to skip doing your taxes entirely?

The answer depends mainly on whether you owe taxes or not.

April 30 is the deadline to file in order to avoid penalties. Individuals can still mail in their tax returns over the following months, or Netfile their 2011 taxes up until the system shuts down on Sept. 30 this year.


And as the saying goes, the only sure things are death and taxes — the government wants to see a tax return even if you passed away during the tax year. The person acting for your estate has until April 30 of the following year to file for you, unless you died in November or December, in which case the return is due within six months of the date of death.

If you're late filing and don't owe taxes then you won't pay penalties — but you can still take a financial hit. The government will hang on to any refund until you file a return, and there might also be a delay getting benefit payouts you're eligible for, such as the GST or Child Tax benefits.

"It’s good to file, because a lot of our credits are based on your tax return," says Brian Quinlan, an accountant with Toronto-based Campbell Lawless. "So if the government doesn’t know your income, you won't get these credits sent to you."

If you owe taxes and either don't file a return or don't pay, starting May 1 you'll start racking up penalty charges and daily compound interest on the unpaid amount.

The penalties start at five per cent of the amount owing, plus one per cent of the balance owing for each full month that the return is late — and compound daily interest is charged on the total amount due. If you file late more than once in a four-year period, the penalties can double.

And if you don't report income twice or more within a four-year period, you can be hit with a “repeated failure to report income” penalty. This penalty is a big one – 20 per cent of the total amount of income that was earned and not reported in the most recent year.

CRA Investigations

It's when you don't pay the taxes you owe, file any returns at all, or when you fudge the numbers that the government can start investigating your finances and things can get sticky.

The country's top auditor, Michael Ferguson, investigated what the CRA does to track down people or businesses that don't file the returns they're required to under the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act. That can include chasing after never-filed income tax returns, as well as identifying businesses that were required to register for the GST or HST but didn't.

The group that tracks down "non-filers" and "non-registrants" isn't terribly large – just 700 of the CRA's 39,000 employees work on it — and the program's budget is $39 million, less than one per cent of the CRA's overall $4.5-billion budget. But the CRA turns up about 185,000 potential non-registrants a year, according to the auditor's report, and reviews about half of these files.

Going to court

The CRA tends to investigate files that have a good probability of a return for the government. In the two fiscal years the auditor general examined, the sleuthing of those 700 employees uncovered $2.8 billion in additional taxes, interest and penalties each year. That's an average of $4 million in tax revenue per employee per year.

Inside the Canada Revenue Agency's website lies a section titled Convictions, where the department unapologetically publicizes cases in which Canadians have been fined or imprisoned for not paying or for cheating on their taxes.

A recent news release, for example, highlights the case of a Manitoba chiropractor who was fined $162,513 and sentenced to six months in jail for tax evasion. The CRA says it releases such information to the media to seek "publicity on conviction in the case of tax evasion" in order to "increase compliance with the law through the deterrent effect of such publicity." The website also serves as a reminder and warning to Canadians that jail is an option for those thinking of not paying.

"People do go to jail. It does happen," Toronto tax lawyer Jonathan Garbutt told CBC News.

However, he noted that in general in Canada, "people don't go to jail for as long as they do in the U.S." for tax-related offences.

Cases can be settled out of court, but Garbutt said the CRA has a high percentage rate of conviction when it has decided to take a case to criminal trial, somewhere around 98 per cent. "If they go to trial, it's because they have somebody cold."

In its annual report to Parliament, the CRA seems to suggest as much. "The rate of conviction is very high due to case selection," the report says. "Cases are selected for prosecution based on their expected outcome as there is a high cost to this type of compliance intervention ... In this way, Canadians and Canadian businesses are reassured that the most egregious cases are pursued to the fullest extent."

According to the CRA, in the fiscal year 2010-2011, 204 taxpayers were taken to court by the government in cases related to tax evasion or fraud. The government reported a 100 per cent conviction rate, and the court imposed $22.8 million in fines and a total of 47 years worth of jail sentences.

Mostly 'civil sanctions'

The Income Tax Act lays out the penalties for tax evasion, which is considered a hybrid offence. That means the Crown can treat it as either an indictable offence or summary conviction (an indictable offence is more serious).

On summary conviction, a sentence can range from 50 to 200 per cent of the amount of the tax evaded and/or prison of up to two years.

For an indictable offence, the sentence can range from between 100 and 200 per cent of the amount of tax evaded and/or prison of up to five years.

But tax lawyer Vitaly Timokhov said that, as a rule of thumb, Canada "prefers not to impose criminal sanctions unless those people involved are into bad cases of bad evasion."

"[The CRA] prefers to use civil sanctions. You really don't see a lot of criminal cases."

He said about 90 per cent of cases are resolved by settling with the CRA without going to court.

"Going though any litigation, including tax court litigation, is just too expensive."

Lower threshold

While the CRA has a high conviction rate in criminal courts, it is still difficult to get the evidence needed for a guilty ruling. The agency seems to prefer going though civil proceedings, where there's a lower threshold to meet.

"The department of justice has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that all elements of a tax evasion offence have taken place. It's an extremely high threshold to meet, to prove beyond reasonable doubt to a judge that all elements, and intent, and the act have taken place."

Timokhov suggested that, in tax court, the deck is somewhat stacked against the defendant because there's a "presumption of correctness" on the side of the CRA. This means the court presumes the CRA to be correct, unless the taxpayer presents enough information to refute those assumptions, he said.

Timokhov added that a financial judgment against a defendant may "financially destroy" someone, so the threat of a civil ruling can have a strong deterrent effect.

The courts have so far been siding with the CRA in the cases of "tax protesters" who believe the idea of taxation is unconstitutional. Just recently, three Moosejaw tax protesters had their sentences upheld. The sentences ranged from three months to 16 months in jail, with fines of up to $189,796.


The Children's Arts Tax Credit
1  of  8
This new credit was a budget measure that was designed to address criticism that the earlier Children's Fitness Tax Credit (which is still in effect) unfairly left out parents who paid for programs where the kids had to do more thinking than sweating.

It provides a 15 per cent non-refundable federal tax credit on the first $500 spent on your kids' artistic, musical, recreational or cultural development in 2011. That means the tax credit is worth a maximum of $75 per child.

Parents of disabled children can claim a 15 per cent tax credit on the first $1,000 of eligible spending, or a maximum of $150.

To get the credit, children must be under 16 at the start of the year in which the program is taken (under 18 in the case of disabled children).

To qualify, a program must be at least eight consecutive weeks in length, or, in the case of children's camps, at least five consecutive days. Receipts are a must.

Fire sale! Fire sale! .....selling the Queen's property

Psst ... want a Riopelle?
Feds selling off priciest works of art to save cash

By Jennifer Ditchburn
Monday, April 30, 2012
"La Cathedral enguirlandee" 1951, oil on canvas, by renowned Quebec painter Paul-Emile Borduas is among 20 valuable pieces of art at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

OTTAWA - The Department of Foreign Affairs is poised to sell off paintings in its collection by some of the most famous and sought after artists in Canadian history, including Riopelle, Borduas and Kurelek, to make some extra cash.

The proposed sale, the first of its kind in the department's history, is part of wide-ranging budget cuts involving the closure of some offices and belt-tightening across the foreign service.

Some of the art has hung in Canadian embassies, consulates and official residences around the world since the 1930s, purchased when the artists were up-and-coming.

A Jean-Paul Lemieux called "Girl with Fur Hat" was bought from the artist directly for $600 in 1963. The department estimates its value at $300,000, but a Lemieux recently fetched $2.34 million at auction.
The idea is to sell the art to museums and public institutions, but at a 30 per cent discount.

The move has been in the works for two years, and is part of a strategy to cut costs in the department. The details were outlined in documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The value of the 22 identified pieces was set at $4 million. Another 140 pieces have been considered as a second phase of the sale. The proposal was supposed to return $3 million to the department annually between 2011-2014, and then $1 million each year after that.

"The DFAIT new business model includes a new approach to the management of the art collection," wrote one assistant deputy minister in September 2010.

"While endorsing the current policy objectives of showcasing emerging and contemporary Canadian art at our Embassies, High Commissions and Official Residences abroad, to ensure risks are managed and to make annual purchases self-sustaining, as well as part of a savings initiative, a selection of pieces from the collection will be offered for sale."

The department has been extraordinarily cagey about the sale, despite elaborate communications plans that were drawn up behind the scenes.

"None of the 20 pieces have been sold or given away," spokesman Jean-Francois Lacelle said last week.

 There was no response to questions about when or whether the sale might occur.

But a memo last August suggested the process was well in motion.

"All but one of the 22 pieces of art have been gathered in storage in (Ottawa)," wrote the manager of the department's fine art collection.

"The one outstanding painting to be returned is coming from Tunisia in September."

The department created a furor in Quebec last summer when it removed two paintings by modern master Alfred Pellan from the lobby of its Ottawa headquarters and replaced them with a photo portrait of the Queen. Those two paintings were also slated for sale, but were subsequently removed from the list.

The other pieces identified by the department include a Jean Paul Riopelle oil painting acquired in 1959 for $900, currently valued at $300,000. The records suggest it had hung in Washington, D.C. since the 1950s.
Riopelle's daughter Yseult, who maintains the Riopelle catalogue, told The Canadian Press she was unaware the painting even existed.

Also included in the proposed sale are two paintings by Riopelle's mentor Paul-Emile Borduas, an untitled piece and a 1953 work entitled "La Cathedral enguirlandee," the piece that had hung in the embassy in Tunisia.

Concordia University art historian Francois-Marc Gagnon said the Riopelle would possibly fetch $1 million or more if it was put up for auction. Collectors around the world salivate over Riopelle's striking works of abstract expressionism.

"They are very important, Borduas and Riopelle in particular, because they were at the beginning of the movement of non-figurative, abstract art across Canada," says Gagnon, who is the founding director of the Gail and Stephen Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art.

"In that sense, they're very important to the history of art in Canada for the development of modern art here.

 They were people who lived in Europe, and in the case of Borduas, even in the United States. They made Canadian art known around the world, both in Paris and in New York. For our history, they're people who had a very significant contribution, there's no doubt."

One of the most valuable pieces in the proposed sale is by landscape artist Clarence Alphonse Gagnon, valued at $500,000.

Painters from outside Quebec on the list include Jack Bush, Edwin Holgate, David Milne and William Kurelek.

The piece by Kurelek, depicting a barn on fire and called "Our World Today," is currently on loan for a travelling show of his work. Kurelek, a Ukrainian-Canadian from the Prairies, depicted the lives of many cultural groups across Canada. Many Canadians might be familiar with his illustrations in "A Prairie Boy's Summer" and "A Prairie Boy's Winter."

David Tuck of the Wynick/Tuck Gallery says embassies have often been the main place for Canadian artists to gain recognition, because Canada doesn't have the same number of wealthy museums and collectors that countries like the U.S. do.

"It's very disappointing to see their commitment diminishing, and I think it's frankly counterproductive over the long-term," said Tuck. "The balance of payments...on cultural exports is huge a source of revenue for developed cultural economies and it's an area where Canada has lots of work to do in still, and I think this is a backward step."

The records make clear that bureaucrats inside Foreign Affairs have been uncomfortable with the sale.

"You know my views about privatizing public goods which I continue to firmly believe and have expressed...," wrote one public servant.

"However, I will also support Deputy decisions as long as they are realistic and do not put the integrity of our programs at risk."

Others repeatedly underlined to higher-ups in the department that their vision of recouping millions by selling to museums was unrealistic. One bureaucrat warned about negative publicity.

"In view of the public reaction and attention that was created by the simple removal of two paintings from the lobby of the Lester B. Pearson building at the end of June, we should reconsider the risk involved with the proposed sale of DFAIT art assets...," the bureaucrat wrote.

"It might be controversial and potentially embarrassing to the government to announce that they are now available for sale."

Although Foreign Affairs provided no details on the proposed sale, internal communications plans make a few elements clear.

One is that the department does not want to have to resort to auctioning the pieces off. It also will not sell any artwork that was donated to the department.

And the department emphasizes, at least privately, that its policy is to support emerging and contemporary artists — it does not have the same sort of historical mandate as a museum.

The 494 "high-value" pieces held by the department were appraised at a market value of approximately $18.7 million, according to the records. The entire collection, including donation pieces and other lower-value items, is valued at $35 million.

The government was forced to buy back china and silverware from Rideau Hall for $100,000 after it had sold them for $4,000 on a government surplus auction website in 2009. The Sun newspaper chain reported that some of the items included three sterling silver flower baskets on loan from Buckingham Palace.

The artwork held by the Department of Foreign Affairs is also considered the property of the Queen.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Whatever happened to .....?

Good Day Readers:

Expect an announcement very shortly from the Canadian Judicial Council regarding the status of the Douglas Public Inquiry. Suffice it to say for now we've been in negotiation with Counsel to the Inquiry for the past few weeks. Out of respect for the CJC, and not wishing to steal its thunder, CyberSmokeBlog arbitrarily decided to withhold comment until after the Council issues its Press Release upon which we'll have a lot more to say.

Clare L. Pieuk

Playing the slots with your money!

At the slots with your Member of Parliament ..... Ca-Ching! Ca-Ching! Ca-Ching!
Unplug the MP Magic Machine
If you could put a loonie into a machine and get $23.30 out every time, would you ever stop?

Probably not. That human nature may explain why Members of Parliament have been moving so slowly to reform their platinum-plated pension plan. Unfortunately for taxpayers, we are that cash machine.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) released a report showing that taxpayers put in $23.30 for every one dollar parliamentarians contribute to their pension plans. Some MPs snarled back at the CTF, claiming the numbers were wrong (they aren’t). Others made it clear they were entitled to their entitlements. A few shared the public’s concern that the payouts were too far out of line with what regular Canadians were experiencing.

Still nothing has changed. The governing Conservatives have promised action, but the federal budget came and went with no specifics on MP pension reform. So the taxpayer keeps on paying.

The dirty little secret about MP pensions is that they aren’t invested into the market like other pension funds.

They simply set an arbitrary rate of interest and taxpayers kick in whatever amount is necessary to make it grow by that much. Naturally, MPs settled on a return of 10.4 per cent per year—making it the best-performing pension in Canada.

When the recession hit in 2008, the MP pension fund still grew by its legally mandated 10.4 per cent, while the Canada Pension Plan lost 18.6 per cent, the B.C. Public Service Pension Plan lost 14.2 per cent, the B.C. Teachers Pension Plan lost 13 per cent and the WorkSafe B.C. Pension Plan lost 11.2 per cent.

Add to that an incredibly low eligibility threshold for MPs to collect—age 55, six years of service, fully indexed at age 60 and tied to CPI increases annually—and taxpayers are on the hook for millions and millions of dollars for a pension they could only dream of receiving themselves. It would take a normal Canadian nearly 30 years to save the nest egg necessary to produce the pension payout a backbench MP receives after six years of service—making the same monthly contribution.

If he retired from politics in 2015, a second-term, opposition MP like Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP) would start with an annual pension of $33,148. If he collected until age 80, Davies would take home $1.07 million in total pension payouts. That’s basically the bare minimum for serving as an MP, after annually contributing $10,900 of his own money while in office.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Liberal), who would start with an annual pension of $134,211. John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, Conservative) would collect $126,829. Dick Harris (Cariboo-Prince George, Conservative) would start with $118,236. And Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP) would have to make due with $94,818. These amounts are all indexed to inflation and increase every year—thanks to Canadian taxpayers.

This has to change. The Conservative government has promised details of a new MP pension plan this fall, but taxpayers have been waiting years already—politicians continue to be reluctant to step away from the machine multiplying their money.

It’s up to taxpayers to unplug the machine by putting pressure on their local member to support MP pension reform. Sign the CTF petition, write or call your MP and let them know that this pension inequity must come to an end.
By: Jordan Bateman
Posted: April 26, 2012
Topic: British Columbia

Congratulations Mr. Harper on your government's prestigious award!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stephen Harper's Conservative government has won this year's Code of Silence Award from the Canadian Association of Journalists days away from their one-year majority win.

The annual award recognizing Canada's most secretive government or publicly funded agency was handed out in Toronto Saturday evening.

The federal government was named for keeping information out of public hands on files such as the F-35 program, avoiding questions at media events and for restricting both public and media access to contentious information.

Association president Hugo Rodrigues said the Harper government was the overwhelming choice of the CAJ's 600 members across the country.

"The death grip on information has long frustrated journalists in this country, but it may now be reaching a point where the public at large is not only empathetic, but shares it," he said.

The CAJ said federal government departments now deal with media almost exclusively by emails that often contain little, if any, of the information requested.

The Kochtopus: What isn't it up to ..... playing politics at the platinum level!

The Koch Brothers - Exposed
By Julian Brooks/Friday, April 20, 2012
Charles and David Koch

If the Koch brothers didn't exist, the left would have to invent them. They're the plutocrats from central casting – oil-and-gas billionaires ready to buy any congressman, fund any lie, fight any law, bust any union, despoil any landscape, or shirk any (tax) burden to push their free-market religion and pump up their profits.  

But no need to invent – Charles and David Koch are the real deal. Over the past 30-some years, they've poured more than 100 million dollars into a sprawling network of foundations, think tanks, front groups, advocacy organizations, lobbyists and GOP lawmakers, all to the glory of their hard-core libertarian agenda. They don't oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the the holiness of free markets. Still, you can't help but notice how neatly their philosophy lines up with their business interests.) They like to think of elected politicians as merely "actors playing out a script," and themselves as supplying "the themes and words for the scripts." Imagine Karl Rove’s strategic cunning, crossed with Ron Paul’s screw-the-poor ideology, and hooked up to Warren Buffett's checking account, and you’re halfway there.

For years, the brothers shunned the spotlight. David Koch used to joke that the family business, the Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries – with annual revenues* estimated at $100 billion, it's the second-biggest private firm in America – was "the largest company you’ve never heard of." But when Barack Obama became president, the Kochs, like a lot of right-wingers, flipped out. They threw their weight behind a stealth campaign to turn back the president’s "socialist" agenda: They were early backers, some say puppet masters, of the Tea Party movement, and when the tea-infused GOP retook the House in the famous midterm "shellacking" of 2010, it was with a big assist from Koch money. (They later blessed the brief, ill-fated presidential run of Tea Party-favorite Herman Cain. That's how crazy – or cynical – these guys are.) Progressive activists and the news media started paying attention – most notably ThinkProgress and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker – and pretty soon the Kochs had become the poster boys of "the 1 percent" and a surefire fundraising tool for the Democratic Party; at the mere mention of the Koch name, liberal wallets fall open.

Now the Kochs are the subject of a blistering (but to all appearances factual) documentary by the activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald. Koch Brothers Exposed aims to show how the brothers' machinations affect the lives of "living, breathing human beings," as Greenwald put it to me at the film’s New York premiere in late March. "When I learned about the damage the Kochs were doing to our democracy, I wanted to make sure more Americans understood what they're up to."

On the evidence of Koch Brothers Exposed, the more relevant question is: What aren't they up to? The film – scrappy and low-budget, but effective all the same – weaves together a string of shorter videos produced over the past year by Greenwald’s nonprofit Brave New Films, each looking at a separate tentacle of the "Kochtopus," as lefty wags have dubbed the Kochs' network. It recounts how the brothers have:

 • helped fund efforts to undo a model diversity policy in the Wake County school system in North Carolina, effectively resegregating the district – part of a larger campaign, the film alleges, to weaken the public school system and prepare the way for widespread privatization;

• pushed voter ID laws – purportedly aimed at combating ballot fraud but really designed to keep Democrats from voting – through their financial support for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an increasingly radioactive business group specializing in the drafting of corporate-friendly pick-up-and-pass legislation for state lawmakers. (ALEC is also behind the insane "Stand Your Ground" gun laws at issue in the Trayvon Martin shooting case);

• pumped millions of dollars into more than 150 colleges and university in exchange for control over hiring and curriculum decisions, to ensure students will be exposed to the free-market fundamentalism of Ayn Rand, Freidrich von Hayek and like minds;

• bankrolled a coordinated campaign to swing public opinion in favor of privatizing Social Security, deploying Koch-funded think tanks, experts, and pundits to spread the myth that the program is on the brink of bankruptcy.

(Greenwald might equally well have documented Koch-funded efforts to repeal Obama's health care law, deny climate change, undermine collective-bargaining rights, or block Wall Street reform, but there's only so much a single film can cover.)

All diabolical stuff, from the liberal point of view. Of course, you might want to argue that even if the scale of the Kochs' doings puts them in a league of their own, they're just exercising their constitutional right to play politics at the platinum level, like plenty of other high rollers on the right (and on the left, for that matter). Which of course gets at the basic problem – the gigantic power of money in American politics makes a joke of our democracy. And, for sure, without ever touching the subject directly Greenwald's film makes a powerful case for campaign finance reform, by showing the malign sway a couple of rich guys with radical views can have over millions of lives. But Greenwald isn't just saying the system is rotten, or that the Kochs are wrong (though he is saying both); he wants to persuade us – viscerally – that these guys are bad.

He makes a strong circumstantial case. The film brings us to Penn Road in Crossett, Arkansas, a low-income black community where, by all appearances, the residents who haven't already died from cancer are stuck at home, tethered to oxygen tanks. Could all this death and illness have anything to do with the stream of stinking toxic waste water out back oozing downstream from the Koch-owned Georgia-Pacific plant? The residents sure think so. A woman named Dolores Wimberley sobs at the grave of her non-smoking, non-drinking 43-year-old daughter, who died of lung cancer, and says, "I feel that Georgia Pacific and Koch is responsible for my daughter’s death."

Koch Industries vehemently denies any responsibility for the cancer deaths in Crossett and touts its environmental record as "exemplary." As ThinkProgress and others have documented, it is not: Koch Industries has been named one of the top ten worst polluters in the country and found criminally liable in more than one pollution-related case, including one involving the discharge of (carcinogenic) benzene. And, wouldn't you know, the company has lobbied hard to prevent the E.P.A. from classifying formaldehyde, produced in huge quantities by none other than Georgia-Pacific, as a "known carcinogen" in humans.

Greenwald lays it on a bit thick here and there, but that's kind of the point. "A lot of progressives really believe that if we can turn out one more white paper with bullet points about how to fix Problem X, we can fix it," Greenwald says. "But that's not primarily the way you reach people or move them. You reach the heart first. What I always try to do is make the political personal."

But you have to ask: Who’s going to watch, or even hear about, Koch Brothers Exposed?  The film isn't being released to theaters, since Greenwald reckoned few moviegoers would be willing to pony up $10 or more to see a no-frills documentary about a couple of oldster ideologues, however powerful or well researched. So to get the word out Brave New Films has teamed up with 40-plus progressive membership organizations and labor unions to form a far-flung anti-Koch coalition. The idea is that groups and individuals will hold screenings everywhere from their homes to bowling alleys, church basements, college campuses, and union halls. "The ultimate goal," Greenwald told Alternet, another partner, is "organize, organize — and then, organize." (Lefty activists are notoriously single-issue, but the all-enveloping reach of the Kochtopus makes opposing the brothers something all liberals can get behind: education, environment, labor rights, campaign finance, corporate malfeasance – everyone’s cause is on the line.) Available via streaming outlets and cable video-on-demand starting May 8, the film has the potential at least to reach beyond the choir into millions of American homes.

Have the Kochs caught Greenwald's flick? It has certainly crossed their radar. Google "Koch Brothers Exposed" and the first thing you see is a paid text ad that reads, "YouTube propagandist-for-hire dishonestly attacks Koch for cash." It links to, the company’s all-purpose damage-limitation website. A lawyer for Koch industries recently fired off a statement to Deadline Hollywood saying, "Mr. Greenwald's statements are maliciously false and misleading, and we urge the news media not to republish them," conveniently forgetting that the news media (from The New Yorker to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) is a major source of Greenwald's information. The film maker is pushing back with his Top Ten Koch Facts and a busy media schedule.

Whether or not Greenwald’s film reaches its hoped-for audience, we can expect to hear plenty about the Koch brothers this campaign season. Obama and the Democrats are going to make the election a referendum on a Republican Party hijacked by ideological zealots, 1 percenters, and religious nuts – we’re a long way from hope and change here – and the Kochs make a handy proxy for two out of the three. Team Obama regularly beats the Koch drum in their fundraising emails, leading to an angry public back-and-forth recently between a Koch lieutenant and the president's campaign manager. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has been discreetly courting the Kochs, who backed him for president in 2008 and are said to have pledged to raise $100 million to defeat Obama. As Greenwald put it in a recent interview, Charles and David Koch "are going to do everything their money will allow them to do to influence this election negatively."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Buzz off you little buggers ..... then again, not so fast we need you!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The cheapskate was Arthur Huntington everybody!

Washington (CNN) -- The Secret Service agent at the center of the Colombia prostitution scandal has been identified as Arthur Huntington, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Friday.

According to the sources, Huntington was the agent in a seventh-floor hotel room in Cartagena who had a dispute over pay with an escort.

CNN also learned that Huntington has left the Secret Service, but it was not clear under what circumstances, according to CNN's Drew Griffin.

According to sources, the alleged prostitutes -- the youngest of whom were in their early 20s -- signed in at Hotel Caribe.

One of these women, Dania Suarez, allegedly was later involved in a dispute about how much she was to be paid for the night, which brought the entire incident to light. Suarez, 24, through a statement credited to her attorney, said she was an escort, not a prostitute.

At least three agents assigned to rooms on the seventh floor left Cartagena early, according to hotel records.

Two agents have been cleared to return to work, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Monday, a man who identified himself as Arthur Huntington declined comment to a CNN producer.

Thursday, someone at his residence closed the door and made no comment. No one answered the door Friday or responded to phone calls. The residence was just listed for sale this week.

Huntington, 41, is married and the father of two boys, according to neighbors.

A woman who identified herself as a family friend called the situation "heartbreaking."

"I know him and his character," she said of Huntington. "I would question the allegations."

Also Friday, the Secret Service distributed new rules for its agents on assignment intended to prevent a repeat of such alleged misconduct, according to two government sources familiar with the resulting investigation.

White House misses Grassley deadline

Called Enhanced Standards of Conduct, the new guidelines given to all Secret Service personnel make clear that standards of behavior required in the United States apply on missions abroad, the sources said.

Effective immediately, the new standards require detailed briefings before each trip that will include safety precautions and any necessary designations of establishments and areas that are "off limits" for Secret Service personnel, the sources said.

Also in the new standards, foreigners are banned from Secret Service hotel rooms at all times, except for hotel staff and host nation law enforcement and government officials on official business, according to the officials, and all Secret Service personnel are prohibited from going to a "non-reputable establishment."

The new standards specify that U.S. laws apply to Secret Service personnel when traveling, rendering invalid the excuse that specific activity is legal in the foreign country, the officials said.

In addition, the new guidelines allow moderate alcohol consumption when off duty, but prohibit alcohol consumption within 10 hours of reporting for duty or at any time when at the hotel where the protected official is staying, the officials explained.

An additional supervisor from the Office of Professional Responsibility will now accompany the "jump teams" that bring vehicles for motorcades and other transportation, the officials said. Agents involved in the Colombia incident were part of such a jump team.

First word of the new regulations came Thursday night, when Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas outlined them on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" after meeting with Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan about the scandal that has embarrassed the 147-year-old agency and raised questions about possible security breaches.

Allegations of further transgressions by agents have emerged after the initial reports of heavy drinking and consorting with prostitutes this month before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas.

New claims include an account from El Salvador described by CNN affiliate Seattle TV station KIRO as very similar to the Colombia scandal, involving members of the Secret Service and other government agencies.

A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of not being identified, acknowledged there had been missteps among Secret Service members. Such problems are to be expected over the agency's long history and don't necessarily reflect a systemic or cultural issue, the official said.

"We have had employees that have engaged in misconduct," the official said. "People make mistakes."

Meanwhile, a congressional source said Thursday that reports of other incidents involving members of the agency, which is charged with protecting the president and other top officials as well as investigating criminal activity, have been brought to the attention of Congress.

That includes the alleged incident in El Salvador, which the Secret Service has told Congress it is looking into as well, according to the congressional source.

The KIRO report cited an unnamed U.S. government contractor who worked extensively with the Secret Service advance team in San Salvador before Obama's trip there in March 2011.

The source said he was with about a dozen Secret Service agents and a few U.S. military specialists at a strip club in the city a few days before Obama arrived. The men drank heavily at the club, and most of them paid extra for access to a VIP section where they were provided sexual favors in return for cash, the source told the station.

The station reported that the strip club's owner corroborated the allegations. The owner confirmed that a large number of agents, and some military escorts, "descended on his club" that week and were there at least three nights in a row, KIRO reported.

The owner said his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting agents from the FBI and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, KIRO said.

The government contractor source said he told the agents it was a "really bad idea" to take the strippers back to their hotel rooms, but several agents bragged that they "did this all the time" and "not to worry about it," KIRO reported.

KIRO investigative reporter Chris Halsne told the CBS show "This Morning" on Thursday that he considers his source very credible, and he later told CNN that he had checked billing records, receipts, credentials and other information to confirm the contractor was with the Secret Service in Central America at the time of the incident.

Brazilian ex-prostitute plans to sue U.S. Embassy

The source told him about the alleged scandal last year, while Halsne was in El Salvador on a different story. Halsne said he pressed for details at that time, but the man didn't want any information from him to be used then in a news story.

After the allegations involving Secret Service agents in Colombia surfaced, Halsne again pressed his source, who this time agreed to the use of his account in the KIRO report.

Sonia Ertel, manager of Lips club and restaurant, said Friday that she cannot be certain Secret Service agents were there.

Ertel said: "It is not ethical for any of our security or for me as a person to be in the entrance and question you: 'Excuse me, where are you from? What nationality do you have? What do you do as a profession? What kind of work do you do?'"

Responding to the KIRO report, Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said, "The recent investigation in Cartagena has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources. Any information brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up on in an appropriate manner."

CNN cannot independently confirm the allegations.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that his department is not investigating any of its troops over the reported incident in El Salvador. But the State Department is questioning its embassy staff in El Salvador about the allegations, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration also is prepared to look into, "in an appropriate manner and immediately," allegations that it deems "credible" regarding its agents in El Salvador, agency spokesman Rusty Payne said. But he added that, while the DEA has seen news reports, "We are unaware of any allegations of misconduct."

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa -- the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which received a briefing on the Colombia scandal this week by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano -- said the KIRO report "only reaffirms the need for independent investigations by the (Homeland Security Department's independent) inspector general."

Appearing on CNN on Friday, Grassley said he had yet to get a response from the White House to his request for further information.

Nine Secret Service members have resigned or are being forced out as a result of the scandal over the alleged events in Colombia. The military has launched its own investigation into 12 members who were in Colombia in advance of Obama's visit.

CNN's Tom Cohen, Brian Todd, Paul Courson, Dana Bash and Shasta Darlington contributed to this report.

Kill the little buggers ..... with kindness

"Ode to .....?"

Good Day Readers:

With the announcement recently the New York Yankees would be introducing an official his/her fragrance, we wondered what would you call your favourite team's?

For us it was easy. Basketball is the thinking person's game the intellectual capital of which is in Boston.
Not to be outdone what about, "Kevin Garnett's After Game Sneakers" or "Paul Pierce's Post Victory Uniform" or our favourite, "Rondo's Triple Double Socks" - the possibilities are endless. Perhaps "Green Perspiration" would have market appeal.

Clare L. Pieuk
Yankees Enter Fragrance market, expert Panel Samples Scent
By John M. Clark Jr./Contributor
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Smells like Team Spirit (Image Via Cloudbreak Group)

Branding the fragrance is the brainchild of Cloudbreak exec Tom Butkiewicz. “They’re a prestige brand,” he told The Times. “They’re a brand that exudes class.”

Another Cloudbreak representative said they wanted “the unique sense of swagger that the Yankees have.”

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and center fielder Curtis Granderson will represent the brand. And no, for now Cloudbreak has no plans for future baseball team scents.

All this is well and good. But we wanted something more, some insight, maybe even a trial. Thankfully, the good folks at Deadspin assembled a panel of experts for a quick sniff-and-chat. Here are the results:

Michael Carl, Vanity Fair fashion market director: “This is like when you walk into the gym locker room and this is whatever random fragrance they have. It’s like the one they just sprayed and I walk into it and I’m like ‘Oooh, intense fragrance!’ But? it’s also not upsetting. It’s really a generic kind of scent.”

Chandler Burr, former perfume critic for T: The New York Times Style Magazine and the current curator of olfactory art at the Museum of Art and Design: “They’ve put in a classic masculine fresh. It’s verrrrry much a masculine trope that started in 1986 with Drakkar Noir that used a clean clothes and freshly showered deodorant scent as the default masculine model.”

Nick Axelrod, senior fashion news editor at Elle: “I guess this is what guys want to smell like? It’s very much like any of those drug-store fragrances.”

Page 2 of 3

But after a few seconds, another smell starts to come through … and our panelists look pretty intrigued.

Burr: “This is … wow! It’s really startling to me because it’s overlaid—that [masculine] model is overlaid with a huge amount of sweet fruit.”

Axelrod: “It’s sweet! Oh my god, there’s like a lot—there’s a lot of tropical fruit. There’s this weird, subversive fruity smell. Wow, this is a fucking gay smell for a Yankee.”

(Axelrod, by the way, is gay.)

Burr, after taking another big sniff: “This is absolutely the pitch perfect Justin Bieber hit. You get a perfectly constructed pop hit that stays resolutely within the boundaries of comfort and familiarity but has a great hook. The boundaries of comfort and familiarities are the 1980s late 20th century masculine and the hook is a very sweet fun fruit—like a raspberry. It’s the Justin Bieber of scents—if you could bottle Justin Bieber this would be it.”

Axelrod: “There’s a Sex and the City episode where Carrie gets with the Yankee. This scent epitomizes that scene in Sex and the City. She gets the Yankee phone number. This is the smell of that moment. This is the smell that mingled between her Nina Ricci and his Polo—whatever a Yankee wears.”

But wait, what’s happening to that masculine part?

Axelrod: “You lose that beginning part. Whatever masculine pretension the fragrance had completely disappears within the first five minutes and you’re left with—remember that gum? The striped one that lasted for like 10 minutes? It had a zebra on the packet.”

Pinstripes, meet Fruit Stripe.

And who’s the target audience?

Carl: “Someone in Staten Island?”

Burr: “I think it’s perfect for a kid anywhere from 15 to 25.”

Page 3 of 3

Axelrod: “Maybe I want to wear this? It smells like bubblegum. It smells like candy! It’s smells like your boyfriend’s candy or something. As a gay man you’re always looking for the new or the next thing, right?”

But whenever you’re talking about the Yankees, the conversation inevitably comes back to one thing—money. Our panel did not like the price.

Carl: “For $30 I wouldn’t buy it, but I wouldn’t fault someone for buying it. But for $50? I would fault someone.”

Axelrod: “Fifty Dollars! For that small thing? That’s crazy. I would say that would be like $30. Seriously, $50? It’s way overpriced.”

Deadspin’s conclusion?

“Justin Bieber in a bottle; pretensions of masculinity but ultimately fruity; way overpriced. Smells about right.”