Romanian government to strengthen laws against tax evasion

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Monday, April 11, 2005

The Romanian government has drafted legislation pertaining to tax evasion that makes it a criminal offence on the same level as crimes against individuals. Developed with the aid of Romania’s business community, the new law is expected to reduce corruption and tax evasion. According to the new law, the maximum jail term for tax evasion will be boosted up to 20 years. This sentence, however, will only be passed in circumstances of large-scale fraud. For evasion of up to the equivalent of 10,000 euro, the punishment will be either a fine or up to 2 years in prison. For tax fraud of up to 500,000 euro, the term will be extended to 2-8 years in prison. It is only for those whose tax evasion exceeds 1 million euro that the jail term will range between 10 and 20 years.

In the same package of legislation, the government approved several changes to banckruptcy law, which makes it easier for businesses to file for bankruptcy. The new laws are expected to make Romania’s business environment cleaner, resulting in more foreign investment, less corruption and more revenue for the government.

At the start of the year, the Romanian government introduced a new flat tax system for Romania, in which the tax rate is 19% for both personal income and corporate profit. This has led Romania to have one of the most liberal tax policies in Europe. The lower rate of tax has already reduced fiscal evasion to a significant extent because more people and businesses are encouraged to pay the tax. However, in order to further reduce the grey economy in Romania, advisers said at the start of the year that the government must also back this up with tougher legislation against tax evasion. Previously, Romania’s tax evasion laws were fairly lax, leading to quite a significant extent of tax fraud. Now, with the new, highly-publicised tax evasion laws, it is expected that the risk of getting prosecuted for not paying an already-low tax rate will force many businesses out of the black market into the legal economy.

Australian governments to meet for first COAG meeting of 2006 today

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Friday, February 10, 2006

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will meet in Canberra today for its first meeting of 2006. Members of COAG are the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Australian Capital and Northern Territory Chief Ministers, and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. COAG is chaired by the Prime Minister.

On the agenda is a wide range of issues such as health, economic reform, regulation, and education.

The state leaders (all of whom are members of the Australian Labor Party), met last night to develop a strategy for dealing with John Howard, Australia’s Prime Minister.

Wikinews interviews Aurélien Miralles about Sirenoscincus mobydick species discovery

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

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A group of researchers published a paper about their discovery of a new species of Madagascar mermaid skink lizards last December. The species is the fourth forelimbs-only terrestrial tetrapods species known to science, and the first one which also has no fingers on the forelimbs.

The species was collected at Marosely, Boriziny (French: Port-Bergé), Sofia Region, Madagascar. The Sirenoscincus mobydick name is after the existing parent genus, and a sperm whale from the 1851 novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

This week, Wikinews interviewed one of the researchers, French zoologist Aurélien Miralles, about the research.

((Wikinews)) What caused your initial interest in Madagascar lizards?

Aurélien Miralles: Well, I would say that since I am a child I am fascinated by the biodiversity of tropical countries, and more especially by reptiles. I did a PhD on the evolution and systematics of skink lizards from South America. Then, I get a Humboldt grant to do a postdoc in Germany, at the Miguel Vences Lab, in order to study Malagasy skinks. Madagascar being a fabulous hotspot for reptiles (and not only for reptiles actually), it was a very nice opportunity. Professor Vences proposed me to associate our complementary fields of expertise: he is expert in herpetology for Madagascar, and I am expert in skinks lizards (family Scincidae). It was a very fruitful experience, and many other results have still to [be] published.

((WN)) How was the new species discovered?

AM: By a very funny coincidence actually. In 2010, I went to Madagascar for a long trip through the south of the island, in the semi-arid bush for collecting lizards and snakes samples. Then, during the last days, just before coming back to Germany, I have visited by coincidence the zoological collection of the University of Antananarivo. In that place, I found an old jar of ethanol with two weird little specimens previously collected by a student who didn’t realize it was something new. Being expert on skinks, I immediately recognised it was something very probably new, very different from all the other known species.

((WN)) What does “Sirenoscincus” stand for?

AM: I am not the author of the genus name Sirenoscincus. This genus name was already existing. It has been described by Sakata and Hikida (two Japanese herpetologists). “Sireno” means mermaid. “Scincus” means skinks, a group of little lizards on which I am particularly focusing my studies. So, Sirenoscinus means “mermaid skink”, in reference to [the] fact it has forelimbs but no hindlimbs.

((WN)) How deep underground do the lizards live?

AM: Hard to answer this question because nothing is known on the ecology of this species. But more reasonably, we can hypothesize, by comparison to similar species of skinks, that it is probably living just under the sand surface, [a] few centimeters deep, probably no more, or below [a] rock, leaf litter, or piece of dead wood.

((WN)) What do the lizards eat?

AM: Again, by analogy, I would say most likely small invertebrates (insects, larvae, worms etc…).

((WN)) What equipment was used during the research?

AM: Classic equipment (microscope) and also a state-of-the-art device: a micro CT-scan. It is a big device producing [a] 3D picture of the internal structure without damaging the specimen. It is actually very similar to the scanner used in human medicine, but this one is specially designed for small specimens. Otherwise, I am currently studying the DNA of this species and closely related species in order to determine its phylogenetic position compared to other species with legs, in order to learn more about the evolutionary phenomena leading to limb loss.

((WN)) There are several news sources that have a photo of the species. Is it a photo as seen in a CT-scan?

AM: No, this picture showing a whitish specimen on a black background is not a CT-scan. It is a normal photograph of the collection specimen preserved in alcohol (the one that was in the jar). You can see the complete of picture (including CT-scan 3D radiography, drawing…) in the original scientific publication.

((WN)) Do you know when the newly discovered mermaid skink species was put into the jar? Do you have its photo (of the jar)?

AM: No, I have no picture of the jar. The specimen has been collected in November 2004.

((WN)) What were the roles of the people involved in the research? What activity was most time-consuming?

AM: As first investigator, I did most of the work…and the longest part of the work was to examine closely related species in order to do comparisons…and also to check the complete bibliography related to this topic and to write the paper.
Mrs Anjeriniaina is the student who […] collected the specimen a couple of years ago.
Mrs Hipsley and Mr Müller learnt me how to use the CT-scan, and helped me concerning some point relative to internal morphology. Mr Vences helped me as supervisors. Additionally, all of them have corrected the article, and gave me many relevant advices and corrections, thus improving the quality and the reliability of the paper.

((WN)) Did you get in touch with an external entity to get the new species officially recognised?

AM: No. In zoology, it is only needed to publish the description of a new species (and to give it a name) in a scientific journal, and to designate a holotype specimen (= specimen that will be the official reference for this species), to get this new species “officially” recognised by the scientific community. That does not mean that this new species is “correct” (it might be invalidated by subsequent counter-studies), but that means that this discovery and the new name of [the] species are officially existing.

((WN)) Are there any further plans on exploring the species habitat and lifestyle?

AM: No, not really for the time being, because ecology is not our field of expertise. But other studies (including molecular studies) are currently in progress, in order to focus on the phylogenetic position and the evolution of this species.

Chicago Metra considers selling naming rights for train lines, stations

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chicago’s Metra is currently considering the possibility of selling the naming rights to its train stations, rail lines, and even bridges to generate more revenue. 

The regional rail system for Chicago and its surrounding suburbs has been experiencing revenue shortfalls, along with other public transportation agencies such as the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. They all rely on sales taxes and fares to fund their services, but the recent recession has reduced sales tax revenues, and unemployment has caused ridership to fall. Compared to 86.8 million trips in 2008, Metra reported that only 82.3 million trips were provided in 2009. As spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said, “We’re looking at any opportunity to increase non-fare revenue.”

A law approved by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in 2008 granted free rides to all seniors regardless of income, adding to the decreasing fare revenues as well. State lawmakers are trying to restrict the free rides to low-income seniors; Metra has not yet commented on the issue, however. 

New designs put on the agency’s website last September has attracted more traffic, and Metra is considering selling advertising space online. In addition, advertising space could be sold on the outside of train cars as well. As for the naming rights to stations and routes, Metra plans to hire a consultant that would figure out the details of such a proposal. Spokesperson Meg Reihle did not know how much money Metra could gain from the sale or which organizations would be interested in buying. 

According to Ms. Reihle, public transit agencies in other cities have sold naming rights as well, such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in Cleveland and Long Island Rail Road in Long Island. TECO Energy sponsors a rail line in Tampa’s Hillsborough Area Regional Transit for US$1 million over ten years. 

Throughout its 26-year history, Metra has named several of its locomotives and renamed two stations: Ogilvie Transportation Center, which was previously named North Western Station, and Millennium Terminal, which was previously called Randolph Street. No transactions were made in renaming those two stations, however. There is also a Station named after the candy maker Mars, but that station was named before Metra took it over, and the company doesn’t pay Metra for any naming rights. 

I think the business community recognizes that transit is positive for their advertising benefit

Execuive Director Phil Pagano sees the proposal as a way for businesses to advertise themselves. “I think the business community recognizes that transit is positive for their advertising benefit,” said Mr. Pagano at a board meeting. In addition to businesses, hospitals located near the train stations could purchase naming rights as well. However, Mr. Pagano has also stated that “the agency would be selective about the type of businesses it partners with.”

Metra has said that it will be sensitive to the wishes of the communities near the stops, and town names will not be removed from station names. Rather, both the municipality and the sponsoring organization would share the naming rights, such as in renaming Naperville Station to “Naperville Boeing Station”. “I’m not sure whether [the old name] is first or second, but definitely it’s going to have to be there,” said Mr. Pagano.

Lady Sonia McMahon dies in Sydney, Australia at 77

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lady Sonia McMahon has died in a Sydney, Australia hospital. A statement from St. Vincent’s Private Hospital reported that McMahon died late on Friday with her family.

McMahon was born in August 1932, and was the wife of former Australian Prime Minister Sir William McMahon. Sonia was also a Sydney socialite. McMahon made world headlines after being photographed at the White House wearing a revealing dress in the company of her husband and United States president Richard Nixon, in 1971. McMahon had three children: Melinda, Debra, and Julian; Julian is a noted actor in the United States. She became Lady after Billy McMahon was knighted in 1977. She became a board member and patron of many charities after Billy’s death in 1988, including the National Brain Foundation, the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, the Microsearch Foundation and Australia’s Sudden Infant Death Syndrome association.

Sonia McMahon was seriously injured in a fall last year. At the time of her death she reportedly had been fighting cancer for over a year.

Gay Talese on the state of journalism, Iraq and his life

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gay Talese wants to go to Iraq. “It so happens there is someone that’s working on such a thing right now for me,” the 75-year-old legendary journalist and author told David Shankbone. “Even if I was on Al-Jazeera with a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be pleading with those bastards! I’d say, ‘Go ahead. Make my day.'”

Few reporters will ever reach the stature of Talese. His 1966 profile of Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, was not only cited by The Economist as the greatest profile of Sinatra ever written, but is considered the greatest of any celebrity profile ever written. In the 70th anniversary issue of Esquire in October 2003, the editors declared the piece the “Best Story Esquire Ever Published.”

Talese helped create and define a new style of literary reporting called New Journalism. Talese himself told National Public Radio he rejects this label (“The term new journalism became very fashionable on college campuses in the 1970s and some of its practitioners tended to be a little loose with the facts. And that’s where I wanted to part company.”)

He is not bothered by the Bancrofts selling The Wall Street Journal—”It’s not like we should lament the passing of some noble dynasty!”—to Rupert Murdoch, but he is bothered by how the press supported and sold the Iraq War to the American people. “The press in Washington got us into this war as much as the people that are controlling it,” said Talese. “They took information that was second-hand information, and they went along with it.” He wants to see the Washington press corp disbanded and sent around the country to get back in touch with the people it covers; that the press should not be so focused on–and in bed with–the federal government.

Augusten Burroughs once said that writers are experience junkies, and Talese fits the bill. Talese–who has been married to Nan Talese (she edited James Frey‘s Million Little Piece) for fifty years–can be found at baseball games in Cuba or the gay bars of Beijing, wanting to see humanity in all its experience.

Below is Wikinews reporter David Shankbone’s interview with Gay Talese.

Contents

  • 1 On Gay Talese
  • 2 On a higher power and how he’d like to die
  • 3 On the media and Iraq
  • 4 On the Iraq War
  • 5 State of Journalism
  • 6 On travel to Cuba
  • 7 On Chinese gay bars
  • 8 On the literary canon
  • 9 Sources

Smoke from massive warehouse fire in Buffalo, New York USA can be seen 40 miles away

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Buffalo, New York —A massive warehouse complex of at least 5 buildings caught on fire in Buffalo, New York on 111 Tonawanda Street, sending a plume of thick, jet black colored smoke into the air that could be seen as far away as 40 miles.

As of 6:40 a.m., the fire was under control, and firefighters were attempting to stop it from spreading, but could not get to the center of the fire because of severe amounts of debris. Later in the morning, the fire was extinguished.

“The fire is mostly under debris at this point. It’s under control, but it’s under some debris. We really can’t get to it. We’re just going to have to keep on pouring water on it so it doesn’t spread,” said Thomas Ashe, the fire chief for the North Buffalo based fire division who also added that at one point, at least 125 firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze. One suffered minor injures and was able to take himself to the hospital to seek medical attention.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m. as many as 3 explosions rocked the warehouse sending large mushroom clouds of thick black smoke into the air. After the third explosion, heat could be felt more than 100 feet away. The fire started in the front, one story building then quickly spread to three others, but fire fighters managed to stop the flames from spreading onto the 3 story building all the way at the back.

According to a Buffalo Police officer, who wished not to be named, the fire began at about 7:00 p.m. [Eastern time], starting as a one alarm fire. By 8:00 p.m., three fire companies were on the scene battling the blaze. Police also say that a smaller fire was reported in the same building on Saturday night, which caused little damage.

At the start of the fire, traffic was backed up nearly 4 miles on the 198 expressway going west toward the 190 Interstate and police had to shut down the Tonawanda street exit because the road is too close to the fire.

At one point, traffic on the 198 was moving so slow, at least a dozen people were seen getting out of their cars and walking down the expressway to watch the fire. That prompted as many as 10 police cars to be dispatched to the scene to force individuals back into their cars and close off one of the 2 lanes on the westbound side.

One woman, who wished not to be named as she is close to the owner of the warehouse, said the building is filled with “classic cars, forklifts, and money” and that owner “does not have insurance” coverage on the property. The building is not considered abandoned, but firefighters said that it is vacant.

Officials in Fort Erie, Ontario were also swamped with calls to fire departments when the wind blew the smoke over the Niagra River and into Canada.

It is not known what caused the fire, but a car is suspected to have caught on fire and there are reports from police and hazmat crews, that there were also large barrels of diesel fuel being stored in one building. Firefighters say the cause of the blaze is being treated as “suspicious.” The ATF is investigating the fire and will bring dogs in to search the debris.

Second Arab-Israeli bulldozer attack in July 2008

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sixteen were wounded, one seriously when a Palestinian rammed a backhoe loader into a bus followed by attacks on several other vehicles Tuesday afternoon in Jerusalem before he was shot dead by the security forces. This is the second such incident in Jerusalem in three weeks. A spokesman for the Israeli police said that a civilian shot the vehicle’s driver but the bulldozer was still running. A police patrol continued shooting until the driver died.

The bulldozer driver who was, according to witnesses, wearing a large white skullcap common to religious Muslims, first hit the No. 13 bus on its side and then chased it while raising the shovel of his front-end loader, the driver managed to make a right turn and get away from the bulldozer which then went on to zig zag across the street and hit further cars until it came to a stop following the driver being gunned down.

Today’s bulldozer attack is a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long.

Speaking in Amman, United States presidential candidate Barack Obama said: “Today’s bulldozer attack is a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long. I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security.”

After the attack, which follows a similar attack on July 2, and the indictment of six Israeli-Arabs from Jerusalem accused of belonging to a terrorist cell, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, said: “We should reconsider the employment of these people.”

US unemployment rate reaches 9.8%

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Companies in the United States are shedding more jobs, pushing the country’s unemployment rate to a 26-year high of 9.8%.

The US Labor Department said on Friday that employers cut 263,000 jobs in September, with companies in the service industries — including banks, restaurants and retailers — hit especially hard. This is the 21st consecutive month of job losses in the country.

The United States has now lost 7.2 million jobs since the recession officially began in December 2007. The new data has sparked fears that unemployment could threaten an economic recovery. Top US officials have warned that any recovery would be slow and uneven, and some have predicted the unemployment rate will top 10% before the situation improves.

“Continued household deleveraging and rising unemployment may weigh more on consumption than forecast, and accelerating corporate and commercial property defaults could slow the improvement in financial conditions,” read a report by the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, predicting that unemployment will average 10.1% by next year and not go back down to five percent until 2014.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com, said that “it’s a very fragile and tentative recovery. Policy makers need to do more.”

“The number came in weaker than expected. We saw a lot of artificial involvement by the government to prop up the markets, and now that that is starting to end, the private sector isn’t yet showing signs of life,” said Kevin Caron, a market strategist for Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.

Also on Thursday, the US Commerce Department said factory orders fell for the first time in five months, dropping eight-tenths of a percent in August. Orders for durable goods — items intended to last several years (including everything from appliances to airliners) — fell 2.6%, the largest drop since January of this year.

The US government has been spending billions of dollars — part of a $787 billion stimulus package — to help spark economic growth. There have been some signs the economy is improving.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday that spending on home construction jumped in August for its biggest increase in 16 years. A real estate trade group, the National Association of Realtors, said pending sales of previously owned homes rose more than 12 percent in August, compared to August 2008.

A separate Commerce Department report said that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, rose at its fastest pace in nearly eight years, jumping 1.3 percent in August.

Other reports have provided cause for concern. A banking industry trade group said Thursday the number of US consumers making late payments, or failing to make payments, on loans and credit cards is on the rise. A survey by a business group, the Institute for Supply Management, Thursday showed US manufacturing grew in September, but at a slower pace than in August when manufacturing increased for the first time in a year and a half.

Stock markets reacted negatively to the reports. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 41 points in early trading, reaching a level of 9467. This follows a drop of 203 points on Thursday, its largest loss in a single day since July. The London FTSE index fell 55 points, or 1.1%, to reach 4993 points by 15.00 local time.

Getting even with the law: Wikinews interviews New York City’s ‘Jimmy Justice’

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

“What bothers me is watching an officer write someone a summons and then commit the exact same violation with their official vehicle.

A civilian known as ‘Jimmy Justice’ who resides in New York City (NYC), New York, the largest city in the United States, has been videotaping NYC police officers and city workers, breaking the law while on the job.

Since 2007, he claims to have caught “hundreds of officers and other city employees violating the law,” and says he has them all on camera. He has posted his best confrontations with them to the video sharing website YouTube. As a result, Justice states that he has been asked to do a United States television show and Wikinews got an exclusive interview with him. For protection, Justice wished not to be called by his real name in fear of police retaliation.

Last year, Justice videotaped a police officer parking in front of a fire hydrant, but has only recently gained attention on social networking news sites such as Digg and reddit.com. So Wikinews contacted Mr. Justice, known as JimmyJustice4753 on YouTube, for an exclusive interview to find out what caused him to get revenge on the law.

On June 30, 2007, Justice caught officer E. Anderson of the NYPD, traffic division, parking directly in front of a fire hydrant while she went inside a restaurant to take a 15 minute lunch break.

“Do you think there is something wrong with parking a vehicle, blocking a fire hydrant,?” says Justice while following Anderson to her car after her meal.

“Mrs. Anderson I’m talking to you,” says Justice as Anderson ignores him. “You parked your vehicle blocking a fire hydrant. You are not allowed to do that. Somebody else would get a ticket for that. Why are you allowed to do it? You should be ashamed of yourself Mrs. Anderson.”

By this time, the incident has gained the interest of people nearby the scene and passing it. One unidentified woman, who claims to be a retired NYC police officer decides to intervene stating that people “are not supposed to film any police, [or] anybody employed with the police department because of the terrorism.” A short time later the woman walked off camera.

Since 2007 Justice says he has caught “hundreds of law enforcement officers and city officials” on “over 30 hours of video” violating laws from illegal U-turns in business districts to blocking bus stops and fire hydrants. Justice has only uploaded the “most colorful ones to YouTube” and recently, on April 8, 2008, Justice videotaped a NYPD tow truck officer blocking a hydrant while he also ate lunch inside a restaurant. According to NYC law, it is illegal for any vehicle to park within 15 feet of a fire hydrant and to park in front of a bus stop. It is also illegal for any person to make a U-turn in a business district. Fines for these violations can cost a driver up to US$115.00 for each violation occurred.

When Wikinews asked Justice why he decided to start filming the violations made by officials he answered, “what bothers me is watching an officer write someone a summons and then commit the exact same violation with their official vehicle. I started making these videos to remind the officers (and complacent civilians) that City employees have to abide by the same laws that they are paid to enforce. I plan on doing this and inspiring others to do this as well as a means of leveling the playing field against discourteous officers.”

“In NYC, the traffic cops are notorious for their draconian indiscretion in handing out summonses to civilians for petty violations. Obviously the laws are not enforced as a matter of public safety, but rather to raise revenue,” added Justice.

Justice makes little effort to get the violations on videotape saying “all I have to do to catch them is open my eyes.”

“The problem with abuse of authority is rampant in New York City. I take my video camera with me on the way to work and on the way to social events and band rehearsals and when I see action it takes me less than 4 seconds to have the camera out and in record mode,” states Justice.

His videos have drawn the attention of media and he has been featured on ABC’s ‘I-caught videos’ and Inside Edition. Justice also states that the popularity of his videos have gotten the attention producers in Hollywood, California and as a result, there are plans for a television show.

Since Justice began getting even with officials and their violations, he states that there has been a positive change in the communities.

“The publicity my videos have received has effected positive change in the community, but we still have a long road ahead of us,” added Justice.

As a result of his videos, at the time the NYPD launched an investigation into the violations, but it is not known if any officers were charged or punished. Justice himself has never been arrested, but has been assaulted.

“I have never been arrested for this yet but they have threatened me with arrest. I have been spit on, cursed at, assaulted, and I had 2 cameras broken already,” added Justice.