Thursday, March 29, 2012

IRS Drastically Increases Its Audits Of America's Richest Taxpayers

In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service announcedplans to unleash a new enforcement unit called the Global High Wealth Industry, the goal being to better investigate the complex finances of America's wealthiest taxpayers. They weren't kidding.

Recently released IRS statistics indicate that the federal government increased their audits of America's richest taxpayers -- those with incomes above $10 million -- by 75 percent last year. Nearly one in five -- 18.5 percent -- of America's richest households dealt with an audit. In 2009, the Global High Wealth Industry's first year of operation, the IRS audited only one in ten of America's richest taxpayers.

Complex tax evasion has become an increasing problem in recent years, with popular strategies including conversion of income into capital gains and stashing cash in Swiss banks.

Audit rates also increased among some lower income brackets, but none so much. The second highest audit increase was among the second highest income bracket: those reporting incomes of $5M-$10M. They saw a 55 percent increase in their audit rate, totaling 11.6 percent. High, but much smaller than the increase experienced by the $10M-plus bracket. Audits rate for those with incomes between $1-$75K remained largely the same.

Overall, the IRS increased the percentage of audits by about 11 percent from the year prior. That means 1.58 million tax returns -- about 1.11 percent of all returns filed -- were audited, costing the IRS about 53 cents per $100 collected -- a 3 cent increase from 2009.

Criminal investigations by the IRS also increased by 14.2 percent this year, according toBusinessweek. Demographic breakdowns of the alleged criminals are unavailable.

The Huffington Post - Maxwell Strachan

Should prisoners be allowed to use Facebook ,Twitter ,or Google+


Inmates on Facebook? South Carolina Considers Banning Social Media Behind Bars

One South Carolina state lawmaker says, absolutely not, and he is trying to make it punishable by law if they are caught using social media sites.
“This bill would be the first bill of such in the whole country that would be a crime for any inmate while in prison to set up social media as a means of communications.

If a person gets caught, he or she would have a lot of time added to what they’ve been given. It also carries a fine,” said state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston who is proposing the law.

Inmates are accessing the popular social websites using smartphones smuggled inside prison walls, which is already illegal in South Carolina. But prisoners aren’t just using Facebook to update their status or share interesting videos. Some victims and victims’ families have complained that the inmates are using popular social networking sites to stalk, harass and threaten them.

“Stalkers, batterers, gang members live to intimidate, harass and terrorize their victim, that’s what they do,” says Veronica Swain Kunz, CEO with the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network. “Anybody on Facebook can reach out and send a message to anybody that they want to, and it could be a really terrorizing thing for them.”

The bill to stop social networking for prisoners would add 30 days to a prisoner's sentence and require them to pay a $500 fine if they are caught posting on social networking sites.

“It will send a message to our youth, crime doesn’t pay,” said Gilliard. “We have to get back to reforming people, we have not done that. We have given them an outfit where they feel comfortable.”

And the reach of this proposed law wouldn’t stop at prison walls. Families or friends of prisoners could face misdemeanor charges if they are caught setting up social network pages or posting any messages for prisoners on the Internet. Rep. Gilliard hopes just proposing the bill sends a message across the country.

“It’s just not South Carolina and Northern California, other states have this problem too. Hopefully this will bring it out to the forefront,” he said.
But the proposed bill has already met resistance. The ACLU calls it a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech in the Constitution. Ashleigh Merchant, a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, agrees saying that any move to restrict free speech in any form for anybody is wrong.

“A lot of times, this is an only outlet for an inmate. If a son or daughter is in prison, their family wants to have an outlet, sort of keep family members up to date on what’s going on with that inmates life – that’s still a member of that family,” she says.

Merchant agrees that inmates should not be using cell phones in prison and says prison officials should spend more energy enforcing the inmate cell phone bans and stalking laws that are already on the books. She says a proposed social networking ban is redundant and unnecessary.

“It’s already illegal to have cell phones in prison – so if they enforce that law and they actually worked a little harder to keep cell phones out of prison, I think that would serve the same goal,” Merchant said. “There has been some talk about threats being made through social media and threats are already illegal, so they have an avenue to enforce that. They don’t need another law to enforce that.”

Rep. Gilliard said the Republican leadership in the South Carolina State House supports his bill and he hopes that it will come up for a vote as early as next week.

Facelift Project for Hollywood Stirs Divisions

Hollywood, once a sketchy neighborhood in a spiral of petty crime and decay, has been well on its way over the past 10 years to becoming a bustling tourist destination and nightlife district. But now it is on the verge of another transformation: to a decidedly un-Californian urban enclave pierced by skyscrapers, clustered around public transportation and animated pedestrian street life.

A far-reaching rezoning plan that would turn parts of Hollywood into a mini-city — with residential and commercial towers rising on streets like Vine, Hollywood and Sunset — has won the support of key Los Angeles officials. And it has set off a storm of opposition from residents fearful that it would destroy the rakish small-town charm of their community with soaring anodyne buildings that block views of the Hollywood Hills (and its iconic sign) and overwhelm streets with traffic.

“More is not better, bigger is not better,” Sarajane Schwartz, the president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association, told City Council members and planners at a lively three-hour hearing on Tuesday. “Hollywood needs limits, protections and preservations, not structuring and high density. Please save Hollywood. Once it’s lost it will be gone forever."

For Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and Eric M. Garcetti, a council member who represents much of Hollywood, the Hollywood Community Plan reflects the latest attempt to move Los Angeles away from its reliance on cars, creating a concentrated urban area along a thriving subway line where people would work, live and shop — by foot, no less. It is a school of urban planning that has been tried with considerable success in many cities over the past decade, though, of course, Los Angeles is not really like many other cities.

“You love to write about this being the city of sprawl and how we are not like New York and other cities that are more vertical,” Mr. Villaraigosa said in an interview. “This is L.A.’s opportunity to match the growth of our transit system with the jobs and housing that is critical to smart growth.”

“From the beginning, I said we are going to move away from our single-passenger automobile system,” he said. “We are going to remake what the city looks like.”

Mr. Garcetti said that building guidelines in this 25-square-mile zone had not been changed in 24 years. “If there was a moment in time to freeze Hollywood, it would not be 1988,” he said. “The average tourist stay in Hollywood then was 23 minutes. Crime was at its peak. And things like the subway just weren’t in the area.”

Yet while the plan has considerable institutional support — business groups turned out to testify for it at the Tuesday meeting — it has stirred anxiety among people who live in the neighborhood and have long been loyal to its unique charms and hidden treasures. To opponents, the plan is a sop to real estate developers who see an opportunity to make fast money.

“It’s gotten kind of nasty here in Hollywood in the last few days,” said Richard MacNaughton, a lawyer who has lived in the area for 40 years and is one of the opponents of the effort. He said the changes would result in a real estate free-for-all. “You’ll destroy the flatlands, you destroy the quality of life. Tourists come here to see the dream. They don’t come to see some high-rise.”

Richard Platkin, a planner who used to work for the city, argued that upper-middle-class residents who could afford the kind of apartments envisioned would not want to give up, say, living in the hills or near the ocean for a still gritty area notable for its lack of parks, wide sidewalks or other amenities.

“I’m not opposed to the philosophy here,” he said. “I’m only opposed when it’s imposed as a pretext for real estate speculation. The plan is designed to make it easier to build big buildings. It does nothing to improve amenities.”

The Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the Council, after hearing nearly three hours of conflicting testimony on Tuesday, put off its vote pending further study. Still, the plan is expected to come before the City Council in the next few months and both sides said that as of now, it seems likely to win approval.

The battle is the latest chapter in a 30-year effort by Los Angeles officials to develop a comprehensive urban plan in a city that seems, by design, to resist one, given its sprawl of self-contained, unique and often architecturally disparate neighborhoods. The idea of concentrating development near transit lines has been tried, with considerable success, in Arlington, Va., Dallas, Houston and Charleston, S.C.

“We’re seeing a significantly growing demand for this kind of development,” said Abigail Thorne-Lyman, director of the Center of Transit-Oriented Development with Reconnecting America, a nonprofit transportation advocacy group. “L.A. has been behind the curve in accommodating households near transit.”

She praised city officials for the project and for pushing to expand transit and the use of bicycles. “L.A. has the single largest transit investment coming in the country right now,” she said. “Plus, L.A. has an amazingly visionary bicycle plan.”

For all the improvement, including $120 million spent on sprucing up the neighborhood over the past 20 years, Hollywood has not lost its edge. On any given day, the streets are filled with homeless people, hustlers and teenagers wandering along with guitars over their shoulders. While there has been an influx of restaurants and nightclubs, there remain many open lots, run-down buildings or stores covered with sliding metal gates (albeit decorated with fading paintings of movie stars). Late-night crime associated with the clubs is not unusual.

The commercial anchor of the upsurge is the Hollywood Highland Center. That project, whatever its financial success, has been widely panned as an architectural car-crash — Steve Lopez, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, described it as “a commercial abomination” — and that is one reason some people are nervous about this latest potential development. As it is, the city is already considering proposals by a New York developer to build two towers, one 48 stories high, around the Capitol Records Tower, a 13-story landmark just off Hollywood and Vine.

The overall plan seeks development that could accommodate 244,000 new residents by 2030; the current population is 198,228. Opponents note that the population in Hollywood has declined by 6 percent over the past 10 years, and that even if builders responded to the lure of easier zoning, the result would be a series of empty towers.

“This is a low-rise city,” said David Bell, the president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. “Wherever you are in Hollywood you can look up and see the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood sign. If they put 20-, 30- or 40-story skyscrapers on Sunset Boulevard, it is going to change the nature of Hollywood and not for the better.”

City officials describe the objections as exaggerated, saying the big buildings would be on the outskirts of Hollywood’s famous historic district.

“They are responding to facts not in evidence, as a lawyer would say, to fears not in evidence,” Mr. Villaraigosa said. “There’s a great deal of support for this.”


A California city considers a smoking ban — for homes?

A California city considers a misguided proposal that would do just that, and be a serious encroachment on privacy

It’s an accepted – and often much appreciated – fact of modern American life that there aren’t too many places you can smoke. It’s been a long time since anybody was allowed to light up on an airplane, in an office, in most bars and restaurants. In New York City, you’re not even legally permitted to smoke in many outdoor public places. And in Orange County, you can’t light up on your own patio or balcony. Well, at least you can still come smoke in your own home, right? I said, right?

Not so fast, Don Draper.

On Wednesday, the city of Elk Grove, Calif., began discussions to ban smoking from rental apartments. Unsurprisingly, the California Apartment Association and the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley are opposed to the smoker-repelling measure. The Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition, meanwhile, is urging the city to become the first in the county to enforce an apartment-smoking ban. Several complexes in Elk Grove already have privately issued residential smoking bans — bans that are echoed in apartment complexes and co-ops around the country.

But the possibility of making a smoking ban a city issue is a thorny issue, one that permeates the public and private sectors like a freshly lit Newport on wool fibers. Cigarette smoke unquestionably and unavoidably stinks. It’s also a bona fide health hazard, especially for the very young, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. And it’s not like your neighbor’s smoke stays neatly in your neighbor’s two-bedroom. As local resident Mimi Dixon, who lives in a senior facility, told the city council recently, secondhand smoke “comes in through the walls, the plumbing, through the lighting. It comes through everywhere.”

As someone who’d prefer her own home not smell like an ’80s frat party, I’m not thrilled when the heady aroma of tobacco (or other smokable substances) wafts into my apartment. And if my building were to suddenly issue an all-points ban on smoking, it would bother me only to the extent that our awesome, eternally puffing super would probably have to move. But I was more aromatically offended when we had a neighbor who had cats and a penchant for never cleaning the litter box. True, secondhand cat box stink isn’t a health issue, but how serious a threat is a smoker when you’re not under the same roof?

Left to the needs and desires of individual landlords, co-operative shareholders and tenants, smoking bans can potentially raise the value of a property and increase the quality of life for everybody. But when it becomes a city mandate about what you can do with a legal substance in your own home, it’s an encroachment on the privacy of everybody, not just smokers. And that shouldn’t make anybody feel like breathing easier.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams - staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Why the MPAA doesn’t want your kid to see “Bully”

With its unerring instinct for being on the wrong side of every major social and aesthetic issue, the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board has refused to budge off its R rating for “Bully,” an earnest and moving documentary made for and about tormented preteens and teenagers. There’s almost a perverse, Santorum-style integrity about the MPAA’s staunch resistance. Its ratings board — an anonymous group of Los Angeles-area parents — stands tall for some unspecified and imaginary set of American values, in the face of a viral lobbying campaign that has enlisted Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp, Martha Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and nearly 500,000 other people, and made an overnight media celebrity out of 17-year-old Katy Butler, a self-described victim of bullying who started the online petition.

But what’s really perverse, of course — not to mention cruel and repellent — is a ratings decision that ensures that the kids who most need the succor that “Bully” has to offer are now the least likely to see it. I’m both a parent and a movie critic, and I understand the usefulness of a ratings code and the impossibility of screening all entertainment options for your kids in advance. But while the MPAA board pretends to be a source of neutral and non-ideological advice to parents, it all too often reveals itself to be a velvet-glove censorship agency, seemingly devoted to reactionary and defensive cultural standards. In the “Bully” case, the board has ended up doing what it usually does: favoring the strong against the weak, further marginalizing the marginalized, and enforcing a version of “family values” that has all sorts of unspoken stereotypes about gender and sexuality and race and other things baked into it. In short, the MPAA has sided with the bullies and creeps.

Controversies over MPAA ratings are nothing new, of course, and there’s already an entire documentary film — Kirby Dick’s “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” — devoted to the subject. But in the past they’ve usually concerned depictions of non-normative sexuality (especially lesbian/gay sex, or adult female sexuality of any kind), about which the ratings board is infamously panicky, or violence, which is tolerated at almost any level and intensity. In stigmatizing a social-issue documentary, the ratings board has accidentally opened up a new front in the culture wars — one where, over the long haul, its nervous-Nellie neo-Puritan values are unlikely to prevail.

Without doubt, the MPAA has handed “Bully” director Lee Hirsch and Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing the film, a formidable marketing weapon and a tremendous amount of free publicity. Even more significantly, it has provided Weinstein an opening to drive a wedge into the MPAA’s rating system and its hegemonic control over what films are shown where. As promised some weeks ago, the Weinstein Co. will now release “Bully” without a rating, which would ordinarily kill off any chance of reaching a mass audience. While MPAA ratings have no legal force, national cinema chains generally won’t program unrated movies, and often can’t advertise them in newspapers. (Unrated releases are assumed to be adult-oriented indies or foreign films, released by specialty distributors and confined to art-house theaters.)

Mind you, there’s no one in show business who knows how to sell a movie from a maverick or outsider position better than Harvey Weinstein. He has apparently persuaded AMC, the second-largest theater chain in North America, to screen “Bully” in some locations, and it’s possible other exhibitors will follow suit. But while the pissing contest between Weinstein and the MPAA should make for good spectator sport — and may further erode the MPAA’s power, which is certainly welcome — it’s still true that middle schools and high schools won’t be able to screen “Bully” for their students, and that in most cases theaters showing it won’t admit unaccompanied teenagers.

At least officially, the R rating for “Bully” is a response to some frank teenage conversation (especially the use of the word “fuck,” always a shibboleth). As a parent of young children, I wholeheartedly agree that young people should be instructed to avoid such language at Grandma’s dinner table (or within adult earshot generally). But are we really expected to take that seriously? A few F-bombs in a sober, serious, troubling documentary — and that’s what we need to protect real-life teenagers from? As I see it, the smatterings of profane language make a convenient stand-in for all the stuff in “Bully” that’s genuinely obscene, and that can and should make us all uncomfortable. Like the story of Kelby Johnson of Tuttle, Okla., a 16-year-old out lesbian who has been ostracized by her entire town, including her teachers, school officials and other authorities; or 17-year-old Tyler Long of rural Georgia, an awkward and introverted kid who hanged himself in his bedroom closet after years of taking abuse from classmates and being ignored by adults; or 14-year-old Ja’Meya Jackson of Yazoo County, Miss., who went to prison after confronting her school-bus tormentors with a loaded gun.

No one knows exactly how or why the MPAA voters make their decisions (the deliberations of the Supreme Court are a model of transparency, in comparison), so we can only judge them by their actions. Whether consciously or not, the board is acting to suppress the painful truths in “Bully” in exactly the same way as the movie’s adult authority figures do. One of Hirsch’s central subjects, in fact, is the difficulty that bullied kids often have communicating with grown-ups, and the difficulty grown-ups often have listening. At one point during the shoot, Hirsch actually hands over to school authorities footage he shot of 12-year-old Alex Libby being verbally and physically tormented during his morning bus ride in Sioux City, Iowa. Alex hadn’t told anyone about it; he said the kids on the bus were his friends, and described the constant threats, humiliations and physical abuse he endured every day as “messing around.”

Over and over again in “Bully,” we see adults who feel bureaucratically paralyzed, who look the other way, who are unwilling to make judgments between perpetrators and victims, or who actively condone vicious and sadistic behavior as the Darwinian natural order of childhood. In many cases you can feel considerable sympathy for these people. After all, the schools must try to educate bullies as well as victims (and the latter often turn into the former), the distinction between normal horseplay and bullying can be hard to parse, and no adult can protect a child from all possible harm. Declaring that underage kids can’t even see this film without a grown-up to hold their hands, however, falls somewhere near the nastier end of that spectrum of indecision. With the stated goal of not offending anybody, the MPAA has essentially told the bullied teens in the movie and outside it — gay and lesbian kids, autistic kids, disabled kids, fat kids and nerds and Goths and plain old weird kids who don’t fit in — that their very existence is too upsetting for normal kids to see, and they should crawl back under their rocks. 


Where are Zimmerman’s injuries?

In a newly released police video, George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, does not appear to have any of the injuries that he reportedly received from the 17-year-old Martin before he shot him, according to the Associated Press. The Orlando Sentinel reported Monday that police officials said that Martin “decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered.”

The AP said, “Zimmerman’s attorney, Craig Sonner, has said in more than one interview that his client’s nose was broken during the fight with Martin.”

The paper continued, “That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say. There have been no reports that a witness saw the initial punch Zimmerman told police about.”

Zimmerman’s attorney said the head wound, allegedly from Martin bashing his killer’s head into the sidewalk, “probably was serious enough for stitches, but he waited too long for treatment so the wound was already healing.” There is no blood visible in the police tape.

Martin’s family attorney Ben Crump said the video was “icing on the cake” that supported the family’s claim that Zimmerman was the aggresor.

See the video obtained by ABC News below.

video platform video management video solutions video player This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Would Court Throw Out All Of Obamacare?

Concluding three days of fervent, public disagreement, a Supreme Court seemingly split over ideology will now wrestle in private about whether to strike down key parts or even all of President Barack Obama's historic health care law. The justices' decision, due this June, will affect the way virtually every American receives and pays for care.

The court wrapped up public arguments Wednesday on the overhaul, which is designed to extend health insurance to most of the 50 million Americans now without it. The first and biggest issue the justices must decide is whether the centerpiece of the law, the requirement that nearly all Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty, is constitutional.

Wednesday's argument time was unusual in that it assumed a negative answer to that central question. What should happen to other provisions, the justices and lawyers debated, if the court strikes down the requirement? If the justices are following their normal practice, they had not even met to take a preliminary vote in the case before all argument concluded.

Questions at the court this week days showed a strong ideological division between the liberal justices who seem inclined to uphold the law in its entirety and the conservative justices whose skepticism about Congress' power to force people to buy insurance suggests deep trouble for the insurance requirement, and possibly the entire law.

The divide on the court reflects a similar split in public opinion about the law, which Congress approved two years ago when Democrats controlled both houses. The justices' decision is sure to become a significant part of this year's presidential and congressional election campaigns, in which Republicans have relentlessly attacked the law.

Both liberal and conservative justices appeared on Wednesday to accept the administration's argument that at least two important insurance changes are so closely tied to the must-have-coverage requirement that they could not survive without it: provisions requiring insurers to cover people regardless of their existing medical problems and limiting how much those companies can charge in premiums based on a person's age or health.

Less clear was whether the court would conclude the entire law, with its hundreds of unrelated provisions, would have to be cast aside.

The justices also spent part of the day considering a challenge by 26 states to the expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program for low-income Americans – an important feature which alone was expected to extend coverage to 15 million people and which no lower court has rejected.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mega Millions Jackpot Reaches Record $476 Million

It's almost unimaginable. No one picked the six correct numbers in the latest multi-state Mega Millions lottery game, sending the jackpot to a record $476 million for the Friday drawing.

In Tuesday night's game, 47 players came very close, matching 5 of the 6 winning numbers. Each of those tickets is worth at least $250,000.

Mega Millions is played in more than 40 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The winning numbers Tuesday night were: Nine, 19, 34, 44 and 51. The Mega Ball was 24.


" Total Recall " Trailer Teaser Starring Colin Ferrell, Jessica Beil and Kate

The "Total Recall" trailer teaser has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses by Sony Pictures Entertainment. If this trailer teaser is anything to go by, gravity will play a major roll in this film's dramatic plot development.

Behold! Colin Ferrell, Jessica Beil and Kate Bekinsale in lots of quick shots of leaping, jumping and plummeting. With some gun-cocking, explosions and serious looking faces thrown in for good measure.

Following in the recent marketing footsteps of the upcoming sci fi film "Prometheus", the teaser doesn't give away much except a taste of what to expect Sunday April Fool's Day, er, 1st on ABC during the NBA game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat game, and will be followed by an extended cut trailer on Apple trailers.

The "Total Recall" reboot/remake takes place on a future Earth, whereas Paul Verhoeven's 1990 fan favorite starring former California Governator and action star Arnold Schwarzenegger was set on Mars. This is perhaps the biggest apparent difference between the films, and the reboot's synopsis highlights more:

Total Recall is an action thriller about reality and memory, inspired anew by the famous short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), even though he's got a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) who he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life - real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man.

Finding himself on the run from the police – controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the leader of the free world – Quaid teams up with a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) to find the head of the underground resistance (Bill Nighy) and stop Cohaagen. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate.

In this first trailer, aside from one familiar scene in the Rekall machine where Douglas Quaid is presumably getting his memories implanted (second slide in the photo gallery below), the rest of the new Total Recall world looks like a mashup of Bladerunner, Mass Effect and The Fifth Element.

Fans with fond memories of the extremely violent original will no doubt be waiting for Sunday's trailer and wondering if Farrell and Co. will deliver a line or two in the spirit of Verhoeven's take.

Here's hoping for at least one Johnnycab moment.

George Zimmerman's Lawyer, Reportedly Flees MSMBC Interview (VIDEO)

In a bizarre turn of events, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell interviewed an empty chair on his program Monday night, after scheduled guest Craig Sonner reportedly fled from an MSNBC studio in Orlando just moments before the show began.

Sonner represents George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watchman who shot and killed 17-year-old Florida resident Trayvon Martin in February. His appearance on O'Donnell's program would have been just the latest in a string of high-profile media interviews over the past several days, as he's attempted to shift the narrative surrounding the case.

 In previous conversations, Sonner has continually insisted that the shooting was motivated not by race, but was instead a matter of self-defense -- though the attorney has declined to answer several questions about the specifics of his client's defense.

O'Donnell characterized Sonner's previous interviews as lacking in rigor, and claimed that it was his more aggressive approach to interviewing that scared the attorney away:

Craig Sonner has been the first guest in the history of this particular show, to get scared, to be terrified, so terrified of coming on this show that he has literally run away. He's in our car right now, taking him home from our studio, afraid to face the questioning he would face on this show.

 Watch out for wherever Craig Sonner shows up next on television, because wherever he shows up next on television has an obligation to put him through serious questioning about what he's doing and what he knows, and the contradictions in the things he's already said on television.

Later on during the segment, O'Donnell turned to Sonner's empty chair and began reciting the many questions he had planned for the aborted interview. Those questions included:

"Who is paying you, Mr. Lawyer?"

"Does George Zimmerman have a job?"

"Did you represent him when he was arrested for assault on a police officer in 2005?"

"Your client was not injured enough to go to the hospital that night. You say he sought some sort of medical treatment the next day. Do you have those medical records that you can show us?"

The Huffington Post | By Peter Finocchiaro

" Blame " A Timely Message from Samuel L. Jackson (Video)

Samuel L. Jackson starred in a PSA for gun violence in 2010 telling us to stop the killing and put down the gun.

Recently the video went viral. In light of the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin.

The video is eerily prescient and timely for the national discussion we should all be having about guns, race, and our shared humanity


Get To Know The Dodgers' New Owners

Local legend Magic Johnson needs no introduction. He's one of the greatest NBA players of all time, has sports ownership experience as a former co-owner of the LA Lakers and is beloved for his philanthropy and HIV activism. As a longtime and well-known Angeleno, he provides that crucial "local" stake that Dodger fans have been clamoring for in a new owner.

But who are the others in Johnson's bidder group, now known as the Guggenheim Baseball Management? Thankfully, the team includes Stan Kasten, an MLB vet with decades of baseball management experience under his belt. And since this is LA, there is a touch of Hollywood in the form of mega-producer Peter Guber of Mandalay Bay Entertainment. Lastly, there is money -- lots of it -- both from global investing firm Guggenheim Partners and some oil fields.

As for those who are saying "good riddance" to previous owner Frank McCourt, don't break out the champagne just yet. The official announcement notes that while McCourt is shedding ownership of the team, he also sold the Chavez Ravine (that means the land that the stadium and the parking lots are on) -- to himself. He and affiliates of some of the new owners have formed their own joint venture, buying the property for $150 million.

It's not exactly clear how that will play out when it comes to those infamous parking lots (in the past, McCourt has vowed to retain ownership even to the point of losing some bids), but LA Times baseball reporter Bill Shaikin tweets that Johnson and McCourt would have to agree on any new parking lot decisions, but that Johnson has veto power.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Email Still Connects More Of The World Than Facebook

Most of the world is interconnected thanks to email and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, according to a new poll released on Tuesday.

Eighty five percent of people around the globe who are connected online send and receive emails and 62 percent communicate through social networking sites, particularly in Indonesia, Argentina and Russia, which have the highest percentage of users.

More than eight in 10 Indonesians and about 75 percent of people in Argentina, Russia and South Africa visit social media sites, the new Ipsos/Reuters poll showed.

Although Facebook and other popular social networking sites, blogs and forums, were founded in the United States the percentage of users was lower at six in 10, and in Japan it fell to 35 percent, the lowest of the 24 countries in the global survey.

"Even though the number in the United States was 61 percent, the majority of Americans are using social media sites," said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs.

The fact that more than six in 10 people worldwide use social networks and forums, she added, suggests a transformation in how people communicate with each other.

"It is true interconnection and engagement with each other. It is not just about a message back and forth but building messages across communities and only the meaningful messages stick," she explained.

"It looks like a majority of the world is communicating this way," she said, adding the numbers were more than half in almost every country polled.

Ipsos questioned a total of 19,216 adults around the world in the online survey.

Email usage was highest in Hungary, where 94 percent of people communicated online. The numbers were similar in Sweden, Belgium, Indonesia, Argentina and Poland.

Saudi Arabia, where 46 percent of people said they communicate via email, had the lowest usage, followed by India at 68 percent and Japan at 75 percent. In all the other countries eight or nine out of 10 people were email users.

Although Americans and Japanese are thought to be very tech savvy, voice-over IP (VOIP), audio conversations conducted via an Internet connection, were not very popular in both countries with less than 10 percent of people using the relatively new technology, compared to 36 percent in Russia, 32 percent in Turkey and 25 percent in India.

By Patricia Reaney - Rueters

Google is working on third-party commenting platform to rival Facebook

Google is working on third-party commenting platform to rival Facebook’s, according to multiple reports. The system will be deeply integrated with several Google products so that comments left on third-party websites appear in Google search results and on Google+.

The commenting platform was allegedly discussed at an event Google hosted in Saudi Arabia earlier this week and later confirmed by inside sources to The Next Web. A spokesperson for Google declined to comment on the matter.

With so few details, it’s difficult to speculate what sort of impact a Google commenting system would have on the online publishing landscape. Should there be a SEO, and a resulting referral traffic advantage, to using Google’s commenting platform, it would likely attract a fair amount of interest among publishers — even those already using Facebook’s commenting system. Google’s tool could also pose a threat to independent commenting platforms such as Disqus, Livefyre and Intense Debate.

In addition to a commenting system, news emerged from the Saudi Arabia event that Google would roll out vanity URLs for Google+ users in the near future

By Lauren Indvik - Mashable

Sunday, March 25, 2012

U.S. Justice Dept could bring a hate crime charge in Trayvon Martin shooting

Legal experts say the U.S. Justice Department could bring a hate crime charge against the shooter in the killing of a black Florida teenager.

But that will require a finding that neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin because of racial bias.

Drexel University law professor Donald Tibbs thinks Zimmerman’s bias is obvious. He thinks a 911 tape shows Zimmerman muttering a racial slur just before last month’s shooting.

But others say that the recording isn’t conclusive and that there is nothing definitive showing the 28-year-old Zimmerman acted because of prejudice. They say he might have followed Martin because the neighborhood had been hit by a string of burglaries committed by young black males.

Martin was heading back to the home of his father’s fiancée when he was shot.

By Associated Press, Updated: Sunday, March 25

Senators Ask Feds To Probe Employers' Requests For Facebook Passwords

Two U.S. senators are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether employers asking for Facebook passwords during job interviews are violating federal law, their offices announced Sunday.

Troubled by reports of the practice, Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said they are calling on the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to launch investigations. The senators are sending letters to the heads of the agencies.

The Associated Press reported last week that some private and public agencies around the country are asking job seekers for their social media credentials. The practice has alarmed privacy advocates, but the legality of it remains murky.

On Friday, Facebook warned employers not to ask job applicants for their passwords to the site so they can poke around on their profiles. The company threatened legal action against applications that violate its long-standing policy against sharing passwords.

A Facebook executive cautioned that if an employer discovers that a job applicant is a member of a protected group, the employer may be vulnerable to claims of discrimination if it doesn't hire that person.

Personal information such as gender, race, religion and age are often displayed on a Facebook profile – all details that are protected by federal employment law.

"We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's the right thing to do. While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users," Facebook said in a statement.

Not sharing passwords is a basic tenet of online conduct. Aside from the privacy concerns, Facebook considers the practice a security risk.

"In an age where more and more of our personal information – and our private social interactions – are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence," Schumer said in a statement.

Specifically, the senators want to know if this practice violates the Stored Communications Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Those two acts, respectively, prohibit intentional access to electronic information without authorization and intentional access to a computer without authorization to obtain information.

The senators also want to know whether two court cases relating to supervisors asking current employees for social media credentials could be applied to job applicants.

"I think it's going to take some years for courts to decide whether Americans in the digital age have the same privacy rights" as previous generations, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Catherine Crump said in a previous interview with the AP.

The senators also said they are drafting a bill to fill in any gaps that current laws don't cover.

Maryland and Illinois are considering bills that would bar public agencies for asking for this information.

In California, Democratic Sen. Leland Yee introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from asking current employees or job applicants for their social media user names or passwords. That state measure also would bar employers from requiring access to employees' and applicants' social media content, to prevent employers from requiring logins or printouts of that content for their review.

MANUEL VALDES   03/25/12 08:06 AM ET  AP

How To Sign Up For Instagram's Android App

Instagram Android Signup Page Starts Accepting Registration Requests

While the popular photo-sharing service has been vague about how soon it will release an app for the Android platform, the company has opened a registration page where Android users can submit an email address ahead of the new app's official launch.

The pre-registration page, first pointed out by The Next Web, can be found here

The Huffington Post | By Catharine Smith

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lawsuit Filed against TBN Televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch

Two former employees of the world's largest Christian television channel Trinity Broadcasting Network are accusing the non-profit of spending $50 million of its funding on extravagant personal expenses.

Among purchases, the network founded by Televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch, is accused of misappropriating its 'charitable assets' toward a $50 million jet, 13 mansions and a $100,000-mobile home for Mrs Crouch's dogs.

Their granddaughter, Brittany Koper, 26, recently filed her allegations in court after a brief appointment as the network's chief finance director in July.

Accused: Brittany Koper, center, recently filed a suit accusing the Trinity Broadcasting Network, its founders Janice Crouch (left) and Paul Crouch Sr (far right), in squandering $50 million of its funding She claims she was fired in September after discovering the 'illegal financial schemes' according to the lawsuit obtained by the Los Angeles Times, and consequently reporting them to Mr Crouch.

Her lawsuit follows a second by another former employee and Koper in-law, Joseph McVeigh, the uncle of Mrs Koper's husband, Michael Koper, who detailed the opulent spending by the Christian network.

According to Mr McVeigh's accounts filed in his lawsuit, the network used their collections for side-by-side mansions in Florida, as well as in Texas, Tennessee and California.
The network, whose headquarters is pictured, is seen on every continent but Antarctica 24 hours a day, seven days a week, raking in $92 million in donations in 2010 and $175 million in tax-free revenue 

The network's $50 million luxury jet was purchased through a sham loan while Mrs Crouch's personal jet, a Hawker, totalled $8 million, according to his suit.

Dog house: Mrs Koper claims she was fired after reporting financial irregularities in their spending which according to one of two suits filed accuses Mrs Crouch of spending $100,000 on a mobile home for her dogs The 13 properties listed in the suit were also referred to as 'guest homes' or 'church parsonages' while their directors also received $300,000 to $500,000 in meal expenses, as well as the use of chauffeurs.The suit also accuses the network of using funds to cover up sex scandals according to the Times' review of the suit.

Mrs Koper claims she was fired after reporting financial irregularities in their spending which according to one of two suits filed accuses Mrs Crouch of spending $100,000 on a mobile home for her dogs


$100,000-mobile home for Mrs Crouch's dogs $50 million luxury jet purchased through a sham loan $8 million personal Hawker jet for Mrs Crouch 13 properties listed in the suit as 'guest homes' or 'church parsonages' in Florida, Texas, Tennessee and California $300,000 to $500,000 meal expenses for network directors, as well as the use of chauffeurs In a reverse lawsuit filed by debt-collection company Redemption Strategies last year, the Kopers have been accused of forging documents to obtain items such as several vehicles, jewelry, a boat, motorcycle, and life insurance. The debt collection company was registered with the state by a TBN attorney one day before it filed suit against Mr Koper.

They accuse Mr McVeigh of also receiving thousands of dollars from the non-profit without their authorization.

That lawsuit against Mr McVeigh and Mr Koper was later dropped by the court, but not before Mrs Koper and two in-laws were added as defendants.

Mrs Koper countersued, alleging that TBN's attorneys formed Redemption Strategies to retaliate against her for whistleblowing.

Her suit doesn't list TBN as a defendant, but it alleges that Mrs Koper was fired and made to turn over her house, condominium, life insurance policy, car, furniture and jewelry as 'an act of Christian contrition' when she complained about the financial misdeeds at TBN.

In the similar suit filed by Mr McVeigh, he alleges that TBN attorneys also targeted him as part of a campaign of retaliation for his reporting of their lavish spending.

TBN attorney Colby May called the McVeigh's lawsuit a 'tabloid filing' and said the allegations in both cases were 'utterly and completely contrived.' TBN suspects McVeigh, who claims he received a $65,000 loan from the family empire, was working with the Kopers to steal money from the ministry, Mr May said.

Attacks: The family feud could draw further scrutiny of TBN after its previous trouble with allegations of a homosexual encounter by Mr Crouch and a five-year battle with the FCC The network's spending is in line with its mission to spread the gospel throughout the world, Mr May said, and the Crouches travel by private jet because they have had 'scores of death threats, more than the president of the United States.'

The ministry keeps large amounts of cash in reserve because incurring debt goes against the Biblical exhortation to 'owe no man any thing,' he said.

'The answer is, there is no fire there,' Mr May said. 'They pay as they go and every now and then one of the things that they pay as they go on is the acquisition of a broadcast facility and that's a multi-million dollar transaction.'

The outbreak of legal skirmish offers a rare window into the secretive world of the sprawling religious non-profit and exposes a family feud that could draw more outside scrutiny of TBN. Attorneys from both sides say they have contacted police and the Internal Revenue Service.

Growth: The network, whose headquarters is pictured, is seen on every continent but Antarctica 24 hours a day, seven days a week, raking in $92 million in donations in 2010 and $175 million in tax-free revenue The Crouches founded TBN in 1973 and grew it into an international Christian empire that beams prosperity gospel programming — which promises that if the faithful sacrifice for their belief, God will reward them with material wealth — to every continent but Antarctica 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It has 78 satellites and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates and owns seven other networks, as well as its headquarters in Costa Mesa in Orange County, an estate outside Nashville called Trinity Music City, USA and the Holy Land Experience, a Christian amusement park in Orlando.

On any given day — or night — viewers from the United States to India can watch Christian-inspired news updates, documentaries, movies, talk shows and sermons by preachers such as Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes and Dr. Creflo Dollar without leaving their armchairs.

Expenditures: Additional claims detail the purchase of two jets at a cost of $50 million and $8 million each, and 13 mansions across the U.S. reported as 'guest homes' or 'church parsonages' The lawsuit attention comes at a bad time for TBN, which has seen viewer donations drop steeply.

Additional claims detail the purchase of two jets at a cost of $50 million and $8 million each, and 13 mansions across the U.S. reported as 'guest homes' or 'church parsonages' 
TBN raked in $92 million in donations in 2010 and cleared $175 million in tax-free revenue, but its net income plummeted from nearly $60 million in 2006 to a loss of $18 million in 2010, the most recent year available. Donations fell by nearly $30 million in the same period — a hit the network blames on the bad economy.

At the same time, Mrs Koper's father — the eldest Crouch son — resigned abruptly as vice president and chief-of-staff late last year. The unexplained departure of Paul Crouch Jr. roughly coincided with his daughter's legal battle and came just months after he launched iTBN, a project to expand the network's online and mobile reach.

TBN places a premium on privacy and it's almost impossible to divine what is going on behind the scenes. Yet televangelist empires built largely on charisma often encounter choppy waters as their founding personalities age.

Needs: The attorney for Mrs Crouch, seen shielded by security in New York, said the Crouches travel by private jet because they have had scores of death threats, more than the president of the United States 'It's true that in these large ministries, they do become family enterprises ... and in many ways that can be a most precarious problem for them,' said David E. Harrell, a professor emeritus of American religion at Auburn University, who has written about well-known televangelists. 'Business squabbles, if they're complicated with family squabbles, can get nasty indeed.'

Mr May dismissed the idea of family turmoil and said the reason behind the legal fight was simple: Mrs Koper and her husband stole from the network.

'They're attempting to create a diversion and to create as much public spectacle as they can in the vain hope that this will all get resolved and that's simply not going to happen,' he said.

TBN's reach and programming are expansive, but what is more impressive is the amount of money it receives from viewers — even in a downturn.

Sex scandals: The suit also accuses the network, whose headquarters is pictured from the roadside, of using funds to cover up additional sex scandals according to the Los Angeles Times' review of the suit During TBN's Praise-A-Thon earlier this month, a preacher exhorted viewers to bellow 'Fear not!' three times, count down from 10 and then rush to the phone with donations. In exchange, he said, they would receive a miracle from God 'about this time tomorrow.' Within seconds, all 200 phone lines were busy.

Ministry watchdogs have long questioned how TBN — which declared more than $800 million in net assets in 2010 — spends that wealth.

TBN files reports with the IRS, but the Crouches run nearly two dozen other organizations that are harder to track and they operate extensively overseas, said Rusty Leonard, who founded Wall Watchers, an organization that monitors the financial transparency of church ministries to which its members donate.

Wall Watchers gives TBN an 'F' for financial transparency and keeps them on its list of the 30 worst ministries.

Lawsuits: In a reverse lawsuit filed against Mrs Koper and her husband, they have been accused of forging documents to steal from the network themselves, whose Texas location is shown, but that case was dropped by the court 'They could run a loss like the one they ran last year for an awfully long time before they would run out of money,' Mr Leonard said. 'They're basically taking money from old people and putting it in their pocket and living the high life.'

TBN is no stranger to outside scrutiny.

In 1998, the elder Crouch secretly paid an accuser $425,000 to keep quiet about allegations of a homosexual encounter. Crouch Sr. has consistently denied the allegations, which were first reported by the Los Angeles Times, and has said he settled only to avoid a costly and embarrassing trial.

In 2000, after a five-year battle, a federal appeals court overturned a ruling by the FCC that found Mr Crouch had created a 'sham' minority company to get around limits on the number of TV stations he could own.

With their termination from the network, both Mr MacLeod and Mrs Koper plan to file a wrongful-termination suit according to the Times.