Thursday, January 31, 2013

LCBO Sniffing Alcohol Fumes

When not price-gouging beer, wine and spirits purchasers, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) indulges in its own brand of fuzzy thinking. The recently harmonized sales tax lowers the tax rate on LCBO products from the current 12 percent to eight percent. This indicated a lower retail price.

Now begins the mixed message known as fuzzy thinking: Prices increased. Big Brother LCBO claimed a "social responsibility" preventing it from lowering prices to a level that would encourage alcohol abuse. As if lowering prices a few pennies would produce more drunk drivers, more broken homes or more productive hours lost. The Board did not explain how it determined the price level that would discourage alcohol abuse.

Yet at the same time, the LCBO sold wines and spirits at discount prices of up to four dollars. In February 2013, a slick 16-page insert in daily newspapers, screamed: "Discover savings in every aisle", "Collect more all month long", "Bold value", "Save $6.00" on cognac, $3.95 on rum (increased to $5 in 2014) and so on for 12 pages. And the following week, a 40-page booklet extolled the social importance of hosting a party "like a bon vivant" with Southern Cocktails. And radio advertising with a women's dulcet tones promising the good life.

How does lowering prices by a few pennies discourage alcohol abuse, while much larger discounts do not? According to the Ontario Finance Minister, the smaller price decrease would be reckless. No word what he thought about the steeper discount prices, and the ceaseless promotion.

Purportedly for "social responsibility" reasons, the Board has also increased its mark-up on imported wines from 64 to 71.5 percent, and on domestic wines from 58 to 65.5 percent. This is the business ruse of using a new system to increase profits, as occurred when Canada went metric, as currently occurring while the one-cent coin is withdrawn from circulation.

Fuzzy thinking is elevated to an art form when the LCBO hides behinds the skirts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The Board claims a close association with organizations formed to promote safe consumption of alcohol. How does it explain to mothers the discounts and promotions?

Premier Dalton McGuinty did not deny the charge of price gauging. This will all look good for LCBO nabobs when they next demand fat pay increases or bonuses.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Switzerland Taxes Believability

A Reuters report informs us that Switzerland "intends to take a tougher stance on multinational companies which have minimized their tax bills by channelling revenues through low-tax jurisdictions."

This comes from one of the many little nations whose economies float on the dirty money of the world. In its secret accounts, this mountainous region hides billions of dollars for tin-pot dictators, drug dealers, money launderers and just ordinary tax-dodging rich people.

In Switzerland, tax avoidance evasion is a national pastime, but only when done against foreign nations. When the victim is the Swiss government itself, righteousness sets in.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Magic Box Appears in Toronto, One More Time

During the 1950s when feelings of nationalism were stirring among many Africans, some people decided to capitalize on the situation. They went about the countryside selling "independence boxes".

They convinced purchasers that the boxes contained all the wonders of independence -- freedom, security, success, comfort, and perhaps an improvement in the weather. Your problems and anxieties will disappear, they promised, but on condition you do not open the box until the day of independence.

In 1973, a fund-raiser for the separatist party rolled into Quebec and sold $800,000 worth of boxes containing "completed things", "a culture and a country", "something good and creative", with the promise "you have nothing to lose."

In 1989, the box emerged in Toronto. It contained the multi-purpose SkyDome that would cost the taxpayer not one cent. In the hope of a return on their investment, Ontario citizens shelled out $360 million towards the building's cost of $578 million.  When the box was opened, fifteen years later, this financial boondoggle was sold to Rogers Communication for $25 million.

The magic box has reappeared in the form of a casino proposed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.  The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition promises that the box is loaded with wondrous things -- $400 million for a "fully funded subway expansion", one kilometre of subway tunnelling annually, and "the cornerstone of a fully funded subway expansion plan that doesn't raise taxes one cent."

The Coalition report promotes the casino as an opportunity the city "cannot afford to pass up". The mission statement of this three-year old group says, in part, "While taxes are a fact of life, properly tendering contracts and prudent fiscal planning, budgeting, and spending will dramatically reduce the tax burdon (sic) on our residents."

The taxpayer will not know what's at the bottom of the box until the casino is in operation. OLG CEO Paul Godfrey admits Toronto's share of the income will not know until after Toronto Council has made its decision. Sign a blank cheque, he urges. Only when it's too late will the income and tax and social burden be known.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dirty Money In Little Countries and their Abettors

In September 2010, CBC-TV reported that 1,785 Canadians are hiding money in HSBC Bank in Switzerland. The Opposition in Parliament demanded the government press criminal charges against those named in documents received leaked by a former bank employee.

The Tax Justice Network (TJN) has designated Switzerland the least transparent, that is the most secretive, in financial matters, in the world. What is this mountainous region hiding?

Despite evidence of wrong doing, the Canadian government is about (October 2010) to sign an agreement with the Swiss government which allows Canadian accounts to remain hidden. In the future, if the government presents credible evidence of Canadian laws being violated, application may be made to the bankers in yodel land. Thus, the victim must apply to the perpetrator-enabler who will decide if the evidence is credible.

The Swiss government said it would agree to exchange information with other countries on a case-by-case basis for "specific and justified" requests. In the land that gave us the cuckoo clock, tax evasion is a national pastime. (This nation's actions in moving Nazi-confiscated money during the Second World Was are part of its glorious history.)

The United States Department of Justice has exposed fraud abetted by UBS, Switzerland's largest bank. There are an estimated 52,000 tax-dodging Americans hiding about $15-billion in UBS accounts. Rather than face prosecution for conspiracy to defraud the American people, the bank agreed to open its books and pay a $780-million penalty.

It paid the fine.  By October 2010, the bank still refused to open its books claiming that release of clients' names would place their employees in danger of prosecution. Well yes, that's the idea. The 60 staff members knowingly involved in the scam deserve punishment.

The bank also contends that release of clients' names violates Swiss privacy laws and constitution. Thus the government is complicit in what would be a crime in any other country.

Counting on the public's short-term memory, in January 2011, UBS ran a series of feel-good ads in The New York Times.

British tax authorities plan to chase 50-billion Euros in unpaid tax on money sent abroad to Switzerland and Luxembourg.

The Swiss government is involved in this global conspiracy. It enjoys the taxes paid by banks on its revenue from these accounts amounting annually to about $120 million. In return, the government enacts laws designed to protect this globally harmful practice.

This is particularly strange. In 1991, Switzerland's Federal Banking Commission announced that the country would abolish "most" of its anonymous accounts. This, in a bid to rehabilitate the nation's reputation by forcing tax dodgers to hide their money elsewhere. More than twenty years later, little has changed.

U.S. prosecutors have also launched a criminal investigation into American clients of HSBC with accounts in Asia. In a similar probe, German authorities have raided all 13 branches of Credit Suisse. This bank harbours an estimated 80 billion dirty dollars. Britain has joined the hunt for untaxed earnings held by 6,000 of its richest and most powerful.

The Boston Consulting Group says that nine trillion (yes, trillion) of untaxed money is stashed in these accounts. Switzerland accounts for at least $1.8 trillion of it.

It's time to punish nations such as Switzerland whose economies float on the dirty money of the world (listed below). Some of these pieces of land would not even exist as nations were it not for their destructive banking services. Honest people do not need accounts hidden from legitimate scrutiny. 

The civilized world must boycott nations offering safe haven for the ill-got proceeds of tax dodgers, tin-pot dictators, tyrants and Ponzi scheme operators. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives, these people annually evade taxes amounting to more than $250 billion.

Yasser Arafat tucked away $5-billion in Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands. Auditors have traced to Swiss banks $240-million in the names of the sons of deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Augusto Pinochet of Chile hid $25-million in foreign banks. How much of the Ugandan treasury did Idi Amin stow in such accounts? Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines? Suharto of Indonesia? Gaddafi of Libya? The deposed Shah of Iran siphoned off millions into foreign banks.  Moussa Traoré has stashed away much of  the wealth of Mali. How much of the Afghanistan treasury has the Karzai family moved to Swiss banks? 

Taxes estimated at $35-billion annually are lost to the debt-stricken Greek economy by 2,059 of its wealthiest citizens.  Their $3.3 billion is in the Geneva branch of HSBC.  

In October 2010, the names of these Greek tax evaders (the Lagarde list) was given to the former Greek finance minister.  He is accused of removing from the list the names of three of his relatives, claiming that someone else had erased the names.  In October 2012, the list was published by an independent magazine. The journalist, Costas Vaxevanis, was arrested and charged with invasion of privacy. His lawyers have informed him of other pending charges. "The case was a top story in the international press," Vaxevanis said, "but not in the country where it took place." 

Owners of hidden accounts do not receive interest.  Rather, they pay an annual fee.  Therefore, if the access number should die with the tyrant, the Swiss bank will eventually take the entire account.  In the meantime, have free use of that money for its own purposes.

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier is a special case. In the decade before his ouster, he embezzled at least $500 million which he deposited with UBS. By January 2011, Duvalier learned that chateau living is expensive, so his hoard had dwindled to $6 million. So, Baby Doc returned to Haiti in hopes of getting more. Haitians also wonder where the $300 million, Duvalier's friends stole from the treasury of that impoverished island has been deposited. The issue remains unsettled.

Where would these little countries be without money from deposed Liberian president Charles Taylor, Zimbabwe's blood-diamonds Robert Mugabe, the self-serving war lord Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan? Fingers also point to corrupt leaders of Ukraine as Swiss bank patrons.

Word is that Libya's Gadhafi family have billions of dollars salted away in Dubai. A probe into the assets of deposed (January 2011) Tunisian leader Ben Ali and his 33 of his family extends to Switzerland.

The world must also condemn nations whose banks and governments benefit from blood diamonds, weapons dealers, drug lords, slave traders, crime syndicates and money launderers, as well as garden variety tax evaders.

American authorities have obtained documents showing that the bank runs similar operations for about 5,000 Canadians and the $5.6-billion they have hidden in UBS. The Canadian government must follow the American lead and expose our home-grown tax evaders, drug dealers and other criminals.

Wealthy Americans have now (2011) withdrawn almost completely from Swiss banks. This, as a result of the global clampdown on tax evasion and that dispute between U.S. authorities and UBS.

 July 23, 2012

Research by TJN states that offshore havens are currently hiding $32 trillion in non-taxed wealth. It sets the amount of lost annual tax revenue to national governments at $280 billion. This does not include non-financial assets such as real estate, yachts, gold, diamonds and racehorses.

This ability to hide money especially harms the economies of 139 developing countries, the report continues. It estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of these countries had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of "unrecorded offshore wealth".  This represents "a huge black hole in the world economy", according to TJN economist James Henry. 

November 2, 2012

A letter to the Globe and Mail from a Liberal Senator reads in part: "The case of Canadians with secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein is well-known. A list of 106 Canadians with accounts totalling more than $100-million was given to Ottawa in 2007. Five years later, less than one-third of the money owing has been collected. And not a single charge."

January 5, 2013

The United States has been pursuing tax dodgers through a combination of pressure on offshore havens  and amnesty programs at home.  In December, UK-based HSBC Holdings (Europe's largest bank by assets)  paid US$1.9-billion settlement with the American government for its activities in money laundering in aid of drug traffickers.

To that same end, Switzerland's oldest bank, Weglin, paid U.S. authorities $57.8 million for its conspiracy to help Americans evade taxes. The bank's managing partner said its behaviour is common in Swiss banking. The bank went out of business permanently, telling is, in effect, its entire operation was of this nature.  

Switzerland's State Secretariat for International Financial Matters is negotiating with U.S. officials for an industry-wide settlement. This tends to confirm the suspicion that every Swiss bank is in the business of sheltering the world's dirty money. 

Of the 8O  tax havens in the world, places that provide legal and financial secrecy, the Tax Justice Network lists the  ten worst offenders. In TJN order:  Maldives, Nauru, Antigua and Barbuda, Netherlands Antilles, Bermuda, Brunei Dar es Salaam,  Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guatemala, St. Kitts and Nevis, Lebanon, St. Lucia, Liechtenstein, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Macau, Montserrat, Seychelles, Turks & Caicos, Samoa, British Virgin Islands.

March 19, 2013

The Argentine government has accused HSBC Holdings PLC of conspiracy to hide bank accounts, thereby helping private companies to evade tax payments and launder money.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Guns and Rights

The Portage County District Library of Ohio posted this notice on its website: 

It is illegal to carry a firearm, deadly weapon, or dangerous ordinance anywhere on library premises, pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code.

On March 2, 2010, the US Supreme Court declared that a state law banning the carrying of guns constitutes a violation of citizens' right to defend themselves against criminals.  Never mind that the United States has more hand-gun deaths than the rest of the world combined.

The Second Amendment, on which this decision is based, reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

Under the jack-boot of the American gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), courts have contorted the obvious meaning of this amendment into the virtually uncontrolled use of firearms, or have been paid off since judges run for office down there.  The "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" clause in the US Constitution is also invoked by the NRA.

This is another example of the limitation of law.  Rather than debating the social benefits of carrying guns or not, the matter rests on whether or not a ban violates the Constitution.  No thought is given to the value of a document that permits such behaviour, or to rescinding the Second Amendment.

More gun-related reports from the USA:

In January 2014, pre-eminent gun journalist lost his job with Guns and Ammo magazine, lost his job as star of a gun television show, and lost the income from gun endorsements. The October 2013 issue of the magazine ran his column titled "Let's talk limits" in which Dick Metcalf  suggested there be a debate on US gun laws. The former Cornell and Yale history professor wrote, "The fact is all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been and need to be."  

The wrath of almost every gun-toting American descended on him, as well as e-mail death threats. Similar happened to Jerry Tsai, editor of Recoil magazine for writing that body-piercing ammunition was "unavailable to civilians and for good reason."   And in 2007, author of 23 hunting books, Jim Zimbo, was punished for suggesting that military-style rifles were "terrorists" weapons.

States that have official weapons:
Utah --  the Browning MI911
Arizona -- the Colt revolver
Tennessee -- the Barrett .50-calibre rifle
Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania Long Rifle
West Virginia --  1819 flintlock rifle 

Also from gun-addled Arizona comes a report that state legislators want to arm university professors and students.  The argument runs that they should have the fire power to ward off the next deranged campus invader. It is difficult to image teachers becoming gun-slingers when many in our police forces fail accuracy tests. [See Guns label below.]

In August 2012, a three-year-old deaf boy in Nebraska was ordered to change the way he signs his name.  School authorities claim that his hand gestures may look like a gun.  School policy forbids any "instrument" that "looks like a weapon".

In January 2013, a six-year-old Maryland boy was suspended from school for pointing his finger like a gun and saying "pow".  Earlier, he was accused of pretending scissors were a gun.  A school official characterized these actions as threats to shoot a student.  The family's lawyer is trying to get the school system to remove the incident from the boy's permanent record.  Such reports may be used against the youngster for the rest of his life.

Thus, in the United States, it is legal to carry a loaded assault rifle into a school.  It is not illegal until the perpetrator actually shoots someone.  But should a youngster make an imitative gesture, retribution will follow.