Hunting Italy’s tax scofflaws and their yachts off the Sardinian coast

There used to be a time when Italy’s super-rich gravitated to the smartest enclaves of Sardinia for a summer of relaxation and luxury. Not any more. In an increasingly austerity-conscious country, the yacht-owning classes are coming under increasing and unwelcome scrutiny, some of which would not look out of place in a scene from the film Apocalypse Now…

The tough measures have been enough to spark a furious reaction from royalty, actors and entrepreneurs who keep their yachts on the nearby Costa Smeralda and are now threatening to move on to Corsica or France’s Côte d’Azur.

“These helicopter raids are a huge problem and many yachts won’t be back to Sardinia any time soon,” said Roberto Azzi, who runs a rental agency called Emerald Yachts.

The helicopter raids top a terrible summer for Italy’s upmarket sailors, who have suffered regular visits from tax inspectors instituting prime minister Mario Monti’s crackdown on tax avoidance. “We are 30% down this season,” complained Azzi…

Azzi admitted that the islands have long been officially out of bounds, but the boats had flocked there anyway. “And now, with the crisis on, they go and send in a helicopter? The rules are arbitrary and there are 2,000 people employed in the business here who stand to lose their jobs if the yachts flee…

Azzi said that the helicopter raid was not the only way Italian law enforcers were managing to upset the rich this summer. “Since the sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, there has been a ban on cruise ships sailing too close to protected areas,” he said.

The problem, he added, is that police have been confusing mega-yachts with cruise ships and harassing billionaires as they lie at anchor in a beauty spot: “They ordered Roman Abramovich’s yacht to retreat from the Costa Smeralda and return to Porto Fino.”

As the mega-yachts sailed by the wealthy Russians fall foul of the law, the smaller motorboats run by Italians are proving a magnet for tax police inspectors who are sent out by the Monti government to crack down on tax dodgers and raise crucial funds for Italy’s battered balance sheet. “We are in a state of war” against tax evasion, Monti warned on Friday.

I’m not exactly overwhelmed with sympathy for these tax dodgers. They and their pet politicians like Berlusconi – our own pet politicians like Romney – only add to the bill that ends up being paid by working people who can’t afford gold-plated tax attorneys and lawyers.

At the Gitmo tribunals, don’t mention the “T” word

CIA agents have written books about it. Former President George W. Bush has explained why he thought it was necessary and legal. Yet the al Qaeda suspects who were subjected to so-called harsh interrogation techniques, and the lawyers charged with defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the treatment they consider torture.

Defense attorneys say that and other Kafkaesque legal restrictions on what they can discuss with their clients and raise in the courtroom undermine their ability to mount a proper defense on charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Prosecutors say every utterance of the alleged al Qaeda murderers, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, must be strictly monitored precisely because of the defendants’ intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency’s clandestine overseas prisons…

“Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn’t tell you that,” Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, said after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center…

At one point in the arraignment, another of bin Attash’s attorneys, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, was explaining why his client refused to cooperate. Just when things got interesting, a security officer cut the audio feed to the media and others observing the proceedings from behind a soundproof glass wall with a 40-second audio delay.

“The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big-boy pants down at the CIA, it makes it impossible …,” Schwartz said during the blocked portion of the arraignment, according to a partial transcript later declassified.

Prosecutors have said in court filings that any revelations about the defendants’ interrogations could cause “exceptionally grave damage.”

RTFA for more of the same.

We have become a nation ruled by lawyers and politicians who don’t give a damn about our constitutional heritage, every historic utterance on behalf of freedom of speech, the right to think illegal thoughts because our system can’t stand to hear them.

Humbug. There is only one reason for this fear and it is fear of someday, somewhere, being put on trial for the crimes our own government has committed. And they even lie about that.

Aetna to buy Coventry — expand Medicare/Medicaid business

Health insurer Aetna said on Monday that it would buy rival Coventry Health Care for $5.6 billion to increase its share of the fast-growing, U.S. government-backed Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The purchase, which will add more than 5 million members to Aetna’s ranks, comes just weeks after rival WellPoint struck a deal to buy Amerigroup in a major expansion of its Medicaid business, administering the government’s health plan for the poor.

Bankers and investors see the wave of health insurer consolidation accelerating further as the United States moves to implement President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul…

Investors see the move as acknowledgement of Obamacare as an improvement providing growth in the number of insured – and the likelihood of Obama being re-elected, the defeat of the Republican campaign to reverse better healthcare or turn it over exclusively to corporate-run insurance.

The U.S. health reform law aims to provide coverage for 16 million more Americans through privately run insurance exchanges in each state and will expand Medicaid eligibility for an additional 16 million people by raising limits on household income.

The question of this acquisition acknowledging an Obama victory was put to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini on SOTS, this morning, by Jim Cramer. He dodged the bullet with platitudes about working to cut healthcare costs regardless of insurance programs – and threw in a red herring about costs increasing in every nation whether single-payer universal healthcare – or kludgier systems like ours.

The significant difference remains the rate of growth and whether or not prices are negotiated and fixed by the government. Countries like Canada haven’t the skyrocketing costs that we have in the United States which exceed inflation rates by two or three times – or more.

DNA tests if you’re using stolen wood, helps curb illegal logging

Unlike the Crime Scene Investigators from the popular TV series, these detectives are hired to look for evidence of rogue wood from stores increasingly worried about being duped by a global trade in illegal timber now worth billions.

They take wood samples into their lab and put them through DNA tests that can pinpoint the species and origin of a piece of timber. They also track timber and timber products from forest to shop to ensure clients’ shipments are legal.

This is like CSI meets save the planet,” says Jonathan Geach, executive director of Double Helix Tracking Technologies, the Singapore company that has developed and commercialized DNA testing for wood, the only firm in the world to do so…

The money earned from a trade that Interpol estimates at up to $30 billion annually is untaxed and often run by organized gangs to fund crime and conflict. The logging increases global warming with heightened carbon emissions, and landslides through loss of watersheds. It causes loss of livelihoods in forest communities and dents global timber prices.

Until now, the battle against trade in illegal timber has been waged with regulations and preventive measures, and has not met with much success. Now it is increasingly focused on using the criminal justice system and law enforcement techniques.

Retailers such as Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer and Australian timber wholesaler Simmonds Lumber are either already using the technology or looking to add it to their existing timber sourcing practices…

As new U.S. laws started to bite over the past two years, and with tougher laws set for Europe in 2013, the number of clients is growing, says Kevin Hill, DoubleHelix’s founder.

Within two years, the aim is to license Lowe’s DNA extraction technique to accredited laboratories globally, as the $150 billion timber industry comes under increasing pressure to stamp out illegal wood.

As much as I hate the phrase, this is a true win-win situation for consumers and sellers alike. Contractors and end users will have verified questions like sustainability. Lumbering interests and mills will profit from sales with guaranteed quality, legality.

RTFA for many details about the economics and science. Interesting stuff.

Iron bar removed from construction worker’s head


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission – Ricardo Moraes

A builder is recovering after an operation to remove a 1.8m-long iron bar from his head…The bar fell from the fifth floor of a building under construction, went through Eduardo Leite’s hard hat, pierced the back of his skull and exited between his eyes.

Amazingly the 24-year-old survived and when he arrived at hospital he was conscious and able to tell doctors what had happened.

Luiz Alexandre Essinger, chief of staff of Miguel Couto hospital, Rio de Janeiro, said doctors successfully withdrew the bar during a five-hour operation on Wednesday.

“He was taken to the operating room, his skull was opened, they examined the brain and the surgeon decided to pull the metal bar out from the front in the same direction it entered the brain,” Essinger said…

Ruy Monteiro, the hospital’s head of neurosurgery, told the Globo TV network Leite escaped losing one eye and becoming paralysed on the left side of his body by just a few centimetres.

He said the bar entered a “non-eloquent” area of the brain that doesn’t have a specific, major known function. Leite is expected to remain in hospital for at least two weeks.

Phew! Anytime I worked a job site requiring a hard hat I always made certain that critter stayed on my noggin every second on the job. But, this is just too scary. I don’t think the sturdiest mountaineering helmet generally available would have helped much with this accident. Eduardo Leite is a lucky dude to have survived.