National Post

Crowded 504 King streetcar to get all-door boarding in effort to cut travel times

The King streetcar will officially begin all-door boarding in the new year in an effort to speed up travel on the busiest surface route in the city.

The proof of payment method, which relies on the honour system among riders, is already employed occasionally but as of Jan. 1, it will be the standard practice from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays on the 504 line.

It means that anyone holding a Metropass, transfer or some other pass can board from the rear doors instead of waiting to cram on through the front. TheTTC has a fleet of fare inspectors that will divide their time between King, Queen and Spadina, which also have all door boarding.

The TTC says almost 20% of a streetcar’s journey is spent at stops. All door boarding is expected to cut that to 7%.

Mayor John Tory announced the official changes at a press conference on King Street with TTC CEO Andy Byford and chair Josh Colle.

“This initiative also rests on trusting Torontonians to pay their fares,” said Mayor Tory. “For those who don’t, no mercy, as they will spoil it for everyone else.”

The King car moves 60,000 people every day.

More to come.

Prince William, Duchess Kate kick off U.S. trip with visit to White House and NYC child development centre

Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s not every day that an Oval Office visitor generates more buzz than the president himself.

President Barack Obama welcomed Prince William for his first visit to the White House to thank the Duke of Cambridge for the British royal family’s hospitality during presidential visits to the U.K. and to underscore “the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom,” the White House said in announcing the visit.

The president and the prince posed briefly for photographs at the start of their meeting and made no remarks.

Meanwhile, his wife, Kate Middleton met with Chirlane McCray, New York City’s first lady Monday morning. They both visited the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem where the Duchess of Cambridge was greeted with cheers from a crowd of several dozen spectators standing behind police barricades across the street.

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesU.S. President Barack Obama meets with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, in the Oval Office of the White House Monday in Washington, DC.

The centre provides educational and mental health services to about 3,300 children and families each year.

William and Kate arrived in New York City yesterday. It’s the royal couple’s first visit to the U.S. since 2011 and the first either has made to New York or Washington. They left their 16-month-old son, Prince George, at home.

Government House NZ via Getty Images

Government House NZ via Getty ImagesPrince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge attend Plunkett’s Parent’s Group at Government House on April 9, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. The couple did not take their son with them on their trip to the U.S.

The prince took the U.S. Airways shuttle from New York to Washington this morning.

The centrepiece of 32-year-old William’s visit will be his speech later today at a World Bank conference highlighting the poaching of animals and the illegal ivory trade. The prince is the president of United for Wildlife and will speak at the opening session of the International Corruption Hunters Alliance, according to the World Bank.

Tonight it’s a meeting of royalty, of sorts. The couple is scheduled to see a basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are led by star forward LeBron James, who is known as “King James.”

The National Basketball Association is a partner with the prince’s Royal Foundation and United for Wildlife.

Tomorrow, the couple will visit the National Sept. 11 Memorial museum, visit a charity serving youth in New York, attend a reception showcasing British arts in New York and attend a gala and fundraiser at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honour of the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland.

AP Photo/Neilson Barnard

AP Photo/Neilson BarnardKate, left, Duchess of Cambridge and Britain’s Prince William arrive at The Carlyle Hotel, Sunday in New York.

But no first-time visit to New York is complete without a trip to the top of the Empire State Building, and the Duchess of Cambridge, it turns out, is no different from any other excited tourist when it comes to sorting out her priorities.

Royal aides had left her off the list of dignitaries for an official visit to the city’s most famous building on Tuesday, anxious to give her some down-time to make allowance for her pregnancy.

But the Duchess, it seems, cannot resist the opportunity to visit the 86th-floor viewing platform and has told her staff she would like to go too.

The spot is perhaps best known as the location where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet for the first time in the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, and the Duchess will be able to ask Hanks about his memories of filming the scene when they meet at a dinner later the same day.

Despite their privileged upbringings, neither the Duke nor the Duchess has ever been to New York before, and they have been “immensely looking forward” to exploring the city, aides said.

But their 48-hour stay will have no time for private sightseeing or Christmas shopping before they fly home on Tuesday night, and the 32-year-old Duchess is clearly keen to grab every opportunity to see as much if the city as she can.

A royal source said: “The Duchess has told us that if she is feeling up to it she would like to join her husband at the Empire State Building on Tuesday.

“Her program has been put together to take account for the fact that she is five months pregnant and had an illness for the first stage of her pregnancy.”

The Duke of Cambridge will be at the Empire State Building to attend a reception for British entrepreneurs as part of the Government’s GREAT Britain campaign to promote investment in the U.K.

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle

AP Photo/Craig RuttleLauren Nichols of Chardon, Ohio, huddles in the cold while she awaits Britain’s Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, at an event in New York Monday.

The Duchess will have spent several hours on her feet by then, spending the morning at a youth organization in Harlem and part of the afternoon at another GREAT campaign reception, this time to celebrate New York-based Britons working in the arts and creative industries.

Later that evening the couple will attend a gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to raise money for the St. Andrews University 600th anniversary appeal. Tom Hanks, whose daughter, like the Duke and Duchess, studied at St Andrews, will give the toast at the dinner.

Danny Lopez, the British consul-general to New York, said: “Over the last few weeks it has been incredible to witness the level of excitement from people here wanting to be part of this.”

The royal couple, who are staying at the Carlyle hotel, began their visit last night by attending a private dinner hosted by Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of the WPP advertising group, and attended by 15 supporters of the Duke and Duchess’s Royal Foundation charity.


KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty ImagesFirst lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray greets Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as they arrive to visit the Northside Center-Child Development in Harlem on Monday in New York.
AP Photo/New York Post, Chad Rachman

AP Photo/New York Post, Chad RachmanKate, centre, Duchess of Cambridge and Britain’s Prince William, right, are greeted by The Carlyle hotel manager Giovanni Beretta, Sunday in New York.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Andrew Harrer/BloombergU.S. President Barack Obama, right, meets Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday.

With files from The Associated Press

University of Toronto’s MBA program pulls assignment after ‘sexism’ complaints over portrayal of ditzy woman

U of T

An assignment criticized as sexist was given to MBA students at the prestigious Rotman School of Management with the approval of the course’s professor, the school says.

The Toronto Star reported Monday that an assignment for a first-year MBA course on capital markets was pulled last week after it was criticized for its portrayal of a clueless female business student seemingly out of a 1950s Archie comic.

The assignment in Professor Kent Womack’s class was written by a teaching assistant but was approved by the professor, Rotman spokesman Ken McGuffin told the Post Monday. He would not provide details on the teaching assistant.

Professor Womack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U of TProfessor Kent Womack, seen in an undated photo.

The assignment features a female business student named “Elle Forest” who is offered a job with her “favourite company of all time,” jeweller Tiffany & Co., and cannot decide on what compensation package to take. She takes the dilemma to her “Yale-educated boyfriend, Chip” (the most 1950s name on record), who gives her advice, which Elle apparently can barely handle with her eyes open.

“Oh, right. Sorry. I was dreaming of that pair of Louboutins,” she tells Chip, referring to the designer shoes, a theme that comes up several times in the assignment. (She later falls asleep “dreaming of those little blue boxes and beautiful shoes.”)

A student who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Womack apologized for the assignment but also warned students about speaking to the media.

“The (topic) Wednesday was: this is offensive; this isn’t cool. On Thursday the question was: how does this affect the Rotman brand?” the student said.

The school called the assignment an “ill-advised satire of a pop-culture character” and says it won’t be used again.

First-year MBA students at Rotman pay more than $45,000 in tuition and fees for their initial year in the program.

Pennsylvania man murdered his step-daughter so he could have sex with her corpse, prosecutors claim

FacebookGregory Graf

EASTON, Pa. — Prosecutors say necrophilia motivated a Pennsylvania man to fatally shoot his stepdaughter last month.

Gregory Graf was charged after police found 33-year-old Jessica Padgett’s body buried on his property in Northampton County.

District Attorney John Morganelli said Friday that Graf videotaped himself sexually abusing the body. Authorities say they found the video on Graf’s computer on Thursday.

Morganelli says the 53-year-old fencing company owner confessed to killing Padgett, a mother who worked at a day care. Padgett’s mother was in Florida at the time of the slaying.

Graf is being held without bail on a homicide charge. Morganelli says he will also be charged with abuse of a corpse.

Graf doesn’t have a lawyer.

Protecting and expanding access to public health care

Canadians have long benefited from a public health care system. Part of the reason for that is the work that the labour movement has done in this area, says Mike Luff, senior researcher for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) in Ottawa.

“We were involved in the fight for public health from the start,” said Luff. “We fought for a national plan that would ensure all Canadians had equal access to the same level of medical and hospital services no matter how much money they had or where they lived in this country.”

The labour movement continues in its quest to champion public health care needs. In recent years, it has been addressing concerns over access to care when and where it is needed. “There are significant concerns over wait times for particular services and there are concerns about increasing demand and changing needs due to our aging population,” Luff says. “Our health care system must adapt to meet these challenges.”

Part of its focus is on strengthening and expanding the system, including recruiting more professionals. A key to that is the creation of a national health care human resources strategy, Luff says. “It’s not enough for provinces to recruit health care professionals from other provinces to fill their ranks. Bringing more people into the system needs to be a national initiative.”

Another more recent initiative that is gaining momentum is emergency preparedness measures to protect front line members. “We must ensure the system is ready to fight a public health care crisis,” Luff says. “This goes back to the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks, and more recently with the potential for an Ebola crisis. We’re advocating for measures to ensure patients, workers and communities are properly protected. We’re also asking the government to act with greater urgency in terms of more training and better protective equipment.”

In addition, the labour movement is working with government on reducing the cost of prescription drugs on the system and for the individuals who need them. “We’ve done a lot of work through collective bargaining to negotiate health benefits for members and their families,” Luff says. “But there are still three million Canadians who can’t afford the prescription drugs they need. The best way to address this issue is through a national universal prescription drug program.”

Estimates are that a national approach will save the system up to $11-billion a year through bulk purchasing and reduced administration costs.

Recently, the labour movement partnered with the Mental Health Commission of Canada to create the country’s first national Mental Health Strategy. “We worked with the Commission to develop a strategy that will raise awareness about mental health, reduce stigma, expand services and provide safe housing and work environments.”

Yet another health care-related initiative for the labour movement is improving the number of available beds and quality of life within long-term care homes. This includes advocating minimum staff/resident ratios and prescribing the minimum number of hours of hands-on care per patient.

Ultimately, a good quality health care system is key to anyone raising families, working, and participating fully in their community, Luff says. “We have one of the most enviable health care systems in the world. But we also know we are facing increasing demand and changing needs. We all need to adapt.”

This story was produced by Postmedia’s advertising department on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress for commercial purposes. Postmedia’s editorial departments had no involvement in the creation of this content.

Lise Thibault, Quebec’s former lieutenant-governor, pleads guilty to fraud and breach of trust

QUEBEC — Former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Thibault entered the pleas as her trial resumed in Quebec City Monday morning.

The charges were laid after a joint report filed by former provincial auditor general Renaud Lachance and his federal counterpart at the time, Sheila Fraser.

The document suggested more than $700,000 in alleged improper expenses had been claimed.

Thibault held the provincial vice-regal post between 1997 and 2007.

Republican state senator spent campaign funds to enter a ‘Tough Mudder’ obstacle-course race

AP Photo/Mike Groll

Donors to Gregory R. Ball’s successful campaigns for the New York state Legislature might have been surprised by where he spent their money.

He financed excursions to Cancún and Acapulco, and a leisurely road trip on his way back. He sprang for thousands of dollars in bar and restaurant bills in Texas — and entry fees for an extreme obstacle-course race called Tough Mudder.

The freewheeling spending by Ball, a Republican senator from New York City’s northern suburbs, was only a sliver of the questionable conduct turned up by investigators for the Moreland Commission, a powerful anti-corruption panel that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created last year to clean up Albany.

AP Photo/Mike Groll“Those aren’t loopholes. Those are the laws that are written,” said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (left), defending his continued exploitation of the so-called LLC loophole.

But Cuomo, a Democrat, abruptly shut the commission down as part of a budget deal with the state Legislature in March. Government watchdog groups were outraged. Federal prosecutors began a criminal inquiry.

Their work has entailed examining the commission’s shutdown while also picking up where the commission had left off, including looking at Ball’s spending, which he maintains was legitimate, some of it a repayment of personal loans he had made to his campaign.

So far, people with knowledge of the matter say, prosecutors have found that Sheldon Silver, the powerful Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, failed to disclose some of the income he earned in the private sector. While he has disclosed earnings from a major personal-injury law firm for years, prosecutors found other law-firm income that he did not detail as required. A spokesman for Silver said that he had disclosed all of his law-practice income, but declined to answer questions about its source.

A pay raise would never be contemplated without the inclusion of significant reforms

Much of what the Moreland Commission uncovered, however troubling, will never wind up in a courtroom.

In Albany, some of the most questionable conduct by elected officials has long been perfectly legal, safeguarded by the only people who can outlaw it: the lawmakers themselves.

Before it was disbanded, the Moreland Commission had urged elected officials to close loopholes, to toughen criminal statutes, to increase disclosure requirements and to restrict how campaign funds could be spent — so that beachfront vacations in Mexico, among other things, would be off limits.

Now, eight months after its work was cut short, little in Albany has changed.

  • Powerful politicians — including the governor himself — continue to exploit a loophole in state law that allows corporations to funnel huge donations to them in smaller gifts that disguise the true sources of the money.
  • Lax personal financial disclosure laws, critics say, give corrupt legislators a way to mask political payoffs under the guise of part-time jobs. A 2011 reform presented as requiring disclosure of some clients was so narrowly drawn as to be meaningless, and another enacted this year allowed enough wiggle room that lawmakers could well continue to avoid scrutiny.
  • The line between political donations and outright bribery remains murky. Some politicians used their campaign treasuries as piggy banks for personal expenses, the commission’s investigators found, and bank records showed that lawmakers had failed to report some donations and expenditures altogether. A new, beefed-up Board of Elections enforcement unit has yet to show its strength.
Daniel Barry/Getty Images files

Daniel Barry/Getty Images filesA subtle change in the annual disclosure of Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, suggests he may have failed to disclose a source of outside income from a law firm.

Lawmakers are negotiating with the governor to return to the state capital for a special session in the coming days — to give themselves a pay raise. In return, Cuomo, bruised by the fallout from his closing of the commission, wants improvements to ethics laws. A spokeswoman for the governor, Dani Lever, said, “A pay raise would never be contemplated without the inclusion of significant reforms.”

But any deal appears unlikely to include the kind of strictures that good-government groups in New York have long sought.

Had it survived, the Moreland Commission — named for a 1907 law and stocked with current and former prosecutors — appeared bent on pushing for those kinds of reforms.

The commission’s unfinished business, a New York Times examination found, centred largely on how politicians were taking advantage of gaps in the law, and exploiting weaknesses in its enforcement, to raise money for campaigns as well as to enrich themselves personally.

And those gaps and weaknesses remain.

The Times‘ examination included a review of hundreds of pages of internal documents, emails and subpoenas; campaign-finance records; and interviews with commissioners and staff members, other state officials, defence lawyers and law enforcement officials.

For Cuomo, the commission has been a source of considerable controversy and the subject of damaging reports by news organizations including The Times. He set it up with public promises that it would be independent. But as The Times reported in July, Cuomo repeatedly meddled in the commission’s work when it sought to scrutinize groups with ties to him.

July 28:

In March, when Cuomo disbanded the commission in exchange for new ethics laws, those statutes failed to address the fund-raising practices that most troubled the panel’s members and seemed unlikely to make a dent in what they called Albany’s “pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks.”

Cuomo easily won a second term in November. To pave the way for that victory, he raised about $47 million — much of it through the same kinds of enormous donations that the commission was building a case to outlaw.

‘LLC Loophole’

For powerful politicians and the big businesses they court, getting around New York’s campaign donation limits is easy.

Emails that investigators unearthed between a fundraiser for Cuomo and an executive at Glenwood Management, a developer of Manhattan rental apartments, show how it is done.

Corporations like Glenwood are permitted to make a total of no more than $5,000 a year in political donations. But New York’s “LLC loophole” treats limited-liability companies as people, not corporations, allowing them to donate up to $60,800 per election cycle. So when Cuomo’s campaign wanted to nail down what became a $1 million multiyear commitment — and suggested “breaking it down into biannual instalments” — the company complied by dividing each payment into permissible amounts and contributing those through some of the many opaquely named limited-liability companies it controlled, like Tribeca North End LLC.

The Cuomo campaign reminded the firm later of 10 Glenwood-controlled LLCs that had already made donations.

A lawyer for Glenwood, Alan Levine, declined to comment. Lever, the governor’s spokeswoman, said his campaign “operates within the bounds of the current campaign-finance system.”

The torrent of money that flows into New York politics was a central concern for the Moreland Commission, and the LLC loophole was one of the most glaring weaknesses it saw in the campaign-finance system. Investigators subpoenaed several companies known to exploit it, including Glenwood and the Durst Organization, another real estate powerhouse.

Documents the investigators obtained provided unusual insight into what watchdog groups had long asserted: Corporations were strategically dividing up huge contributions to maximize their giving — and their influence. The use of limited-liability companies concealed the magnitude of their gifts from public view.

In one instance in 2012, the Real Estate Board of New York solicited donations for Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat who at the time was running for a state Senate seat (whose previous occupant had pleaded guilty to accepting bribes).

James Whelan, a senior vice president for the board, a major lobbying force, emailed a Durst executive, Jordan Barowitz: “If you could find one of your more obscure LLCs, that would be grand.”

Whelan, through a spokesman, declined to comment. Barowitz said the requested donation was never made.

The Moreland Commission wanted to press to close the LLC loophole, which one member, Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor, recently said “makes the greatest mockery of the idea that New York has campaign finance limits.” He also said that of the system’s many flaws, the loophole was “the easiest to fix.”

When the commission was closed down in March, the loophole remained wide open.

Since then, Cuomo has collected more than $2 million in donations from limited-liability companies, according to campaign finance records. In all, the governor received more than $9 million from LLCs over his entire first term — roughly 20 per cent of the $47 million he raised.

That is a wholly unworkable route if one wants to stay in public service, because then you would lose, and you would get nothing done’

When Cuomo ran for governor in 2010, he characterized large LLC contributions as one of the campaign finance system’s “loopholes,” proposing that such donations be counted against the parent company’s $5,000 contribution limit, to make that limit “meaningful.” In June 2013, he proposed lowering that limit to $1,000 and applying it to limited-liability companies as well.

But Cuomo has also defended his continued exploitation of the LLC loophole — even if it meant contradicting himself. “Those aren’t loopholes,” he said in July 2013. “Those are the laws that are written.”

Just before his re-election this year, Cuomo renewed his call to shut off the spigot of LLC contributions, again using the word loophole. But he rejected any suggestion that he model good behaviour by voluntarily declining contributions that exploited it.

To do so, the governor explained, would be like unilaterally disarming.

“That is a wholly unworkable route if one wants to stay in public service,” he said, “because then you would lose, and you would get nothing done.”

Following the Money

With so much money pouring into campaign coffers, investigators worried about how it was being spent — and what prevented politicians from turning donated cash into their own private slush funds.

They concluded that little did — and that the state’s Board of Elections was decidedly not up to the task.

State law was surprisingly minimalist on the subject. One sentence in the law forbids the use of donations for personal purposes “unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.” The provision provides no further guidance.

Emboldened by the lack of clarity in the law, some legislators took an expansive approach, buying everything from cat food to a swimming-pool cover.

The Moreland Commission turned Albany upside down searching for such abuses. It obtained the bank records of more than two dozen legislators’ campaigns to see whether their filings matched up to reality. Armed with subpoenas, investigators followed the money to an auto-body shop in the Bronx, a chocolatier and a winery near Niagara Falls.

Their findings bore out their suspicions: Personal, nonpolitical expenditures were routinely made using the credit or debit cards tied to lawmakers’ campaign accounts.

Investigators also found many expenses in bank records that had never been reported to the Board of Elections at all — flouting state election law.

Sen. George D. Maziarz, a Republican whose district stretches along Lake Ontario in western New York, stood out.

Investigators scrutinizing his campaign spending from 2007 through 2013 found more than $28,000 at stores like Pier 1 and Michaels; $7,500 at Shutterfly, the photo-printing site; and $7,850 for reading material, including a stop at a Borders store at Kennedy Airport.

The Moreland Commission fired off subpoenas to see what books and photos Maziarz’s campaign had bought.

Investigators also learned that Maziarz’s campaign had failed to disclose $147,000 in contributions and $325,000 in spending.

His campaign had written more than 300 checks to cash, totalling $137,000; about one-fifth of the checks were never reported to the Board of Elections.

A lawyer for Maziarz, Joseph M. LaTona, declined to comment. Maziarz, whose spending is now the subject of a federal investigation, did not seek re-election this year.

The commissioners also focused on Ball, the Republican state senator, whose campaign had managed to spend money in 17 other states, investigators found.

It was his foreign spending that was most eye-catching, however. In 2010, when Ball was an assemblyman, he picked up a $700 bill at a hotel in Cancún, and withdrew $500 from ATMs there. The commission’s scrutiny of Ball and Maziarz, as well as some details of their spending, were reported this year by City & State, a website and magazine, and The Times Union of Albany.

Ball returned to Cancún after his election to the Senate that November, investigators found. He soon made his way to Acapulco before embarking upon a road trip back home from Texas, with more campaign-funded purchases in Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia.

He also traveled repeatedly to Austin, Texas, where he paid $4,000 in bar and restaurant bills — along with a $160 charge at Brooks Bros. Those trips were, in a way, less surprising: Ball, who did not seek re-election this year, is fond of Texas, and recently announced that he would move there after leaving office.

It is not best practices, but it is not a violation of any of the campaign finance laws. I don’t think there is a rule or regulation out there that says you can’t do this

Among the unusual outlets for spending from his campaign accounts was Tough Mudder, the organizer of extreme obstacle-course races. (Ball posted Facebook photos showing him crawling through the mud in a Tough Mudder race in 2012, and said at the time that he was trying to raise money for charity.)

Joseph Tacopina, a lawyer for Ball, acknowledged his client’s accounting left much to be desired, but that the senator had done nothing wrong and that he was confident Ball would not be charged with a crime. Tacopina said some of the spending was for bona fide political purposes but that he also was owed money by his campaign, and sometimes used the campaign account for personal items to run down that debt.

“It is not best practices, but it is not a violation of any of the campaign finance laws,” Tacopina said. “I don’t think there is a rule or regulation out there that says you can’t do this.”

The Moreland Commission saved even harsher criticism for the sleepy Board of Elections. In a preliminary report released in December 2013, the commission wrote that the board had “largely abdicated its duty to enforce our election and campaign finance laws.”

In fact, the board sometimes seemed to be avoiding investigations altogether.

Its policy dictated that anonymous complaints never be investigated, regardless of the information they contained.

A former Board of Elections investigator told the Moreland Commission that his superiors gave him so few cases to work on, he spent his days playing computer solitaire and studying Bible verses.

The commission recommended that the Legislature create an “entirely new, structurally independent election and campaign finance law enforcement agency,” similar to the well-regarded Campaign Finance Board in New York City.

It also recommended rewriting the law to impose tight restrictions on how campaign money could be spent, something Cuomo had also proposed.

Lawmakers did no such thing.

Instead, as part of the new ethics laws enacted in the deal that shut down the Moreland Commission, the governor and the Legislature established a new enforcement unit at the Board of Elections.

To lead it, Cuomo selected Risa Sugarman, who oversaw criminal investigations for the state tax department and had worked for Cuomo when he was state attorney general.

Sugarman started work in September. She said the enforcement unit had begun reviewing more than 100 potential cases, but provided no details.

Second Paychecks and Subpoenas

Speaker of the state Assembly would seem to be a demanding job.

But Sheldon Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who has held that post since 1994, managed to earn upward of $650,000 last year from outside legal work.

Yet Silver, like the many other lawmakers who hold outside jobs, is not required to reveal much more than the source of his extracurricular income.

The Moreland Commission wanted to find out what legislators like Silver did to earn such second paycheques — or if they were merely cashing in on their political influence.

Investigators subpoenaed a host of law firms and a mixed bag of other businesses, among them a Rochester coffee shop and a Long Island concrete company.

But the law firms drew the most attention.

Silver works at a large personal-injury firm, and many other legislators also work at law firms, including his counterparts in the state Senate leadership: Dean G. Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and Jeffrey D. Klein, a Bronx Democrat.

I’m surprised these guys weren’t fired

Lawmakers are paid a base salary of $79,500 a year, but they are allowed to hold outside jobs. The approximate amount that they earn from outside employment was long redacted from public view, but was made visible under an ethics law that Cuomo negotiated in 2011.

That ethics law was also intended to force legislators to disclose some of their clients. But it was so narrowly written that almost none have been revealed.

There is also reason to doubt the accuracy of the information that lawmakers do disclose: Legislators have been advised to hand-deliver their paperwork each year, to avoid the possibility of federal fraud charges if they lied on the forms and then submitted them through the mail.

Suspicious that some lawyer-legislators were holding no-show jobs, Moreland Commission investigators subpoenaed their law firms for building access-card data and sign-in sheets, invoices, expense reports and records detailing their clients.

Lawmakers became infuriated over the scrutiny, calling it a witch hunt into the legislative branch. Law firms went to court to block the subpoenas, as did the Senate and Assembly.

Silver’s law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, argued that it was irrelevant “what time Sheldon Silver enters and exits” its office building each day.

The litigation was unresolved when the Moreland Commission shut down.

The speaker has — as required by law — disclosed all income he has received, including from the practice of law

Yet Cuomo marvelled at how much the subpoenas sent to outside law firms — including Skelos’ employer, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek — had discomfited lawmakers. “I’m surprised these guys weren’t fired,” Cuomo told members of good-government groups last spring. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, whose office took control of the Moreland Commission’s files around that time, revived some of its investigations, including several involving lawmakers’ outside income.

Silver quickly became a focus of prosecutors’ interest.

Two people with knowledge of the matter said prosecutors have issued federal grand jury subpoenas to some of the same law firms that resisted the commission’s subpoenas, including Weitz & Luxenberg and Ruskin Moscou Faltischek. (A spokesman for the former firm declined to comment; the latter did not respond to messages.)

But prosecutors and FBI agents have also been able to determine that for some time, Silver had failed to disclose income from another law firm besides Weitz & Luxenberg, the people said. (Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.)

It is not known what Silver did to earn this income. Both people characterized the discovery as potentially significant, but emphasized that no evidence had yet been uncovered to suggest that he had committed a crime.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Silver, said it would be inappropriate to comment on any continuing federal investigations.

“That said, the speaker has — as required by law — disclosed all income he has received, including from the practice of law,” Whyland said. A review of Silver’s annual financial disclosure forms shows a subtle but perhaps significant change in 2009. Over the previous six years, he had listed his law-firm income as deriving from “Weitz & Luxenberg, of Counsel — Fees” or “Weitz & Luxenberg — Fees.”

But starting with 2009, Silver began using a different construction that suggests his income from practicing law extended beyond what he received from Weitz & Luxenberg. That year, he listed “Law Practice — Fees (including Weitz & Luxenberg).” In each of the four succeeding years, he listed some version of “Law Practice — Including of Counsel to W&L.”

Whyland would not say why the language had changed.

Critics have long drawn a connection between Silver’s employment by Weitz & Luxenberg and his steadfast opposition to tort-reform legislation.

One founding partner of the firm, Perry Weitz, is a director of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, a heavy lobbying presence in Albany. The other, Arthur Luxenberg, is listed as treasurer of Lawpac, the trial lawyers’ political action committee, in state records.

Little is known about Silver’s work at Weitz & Luxenberg. He has said that he represents “plain, ordinary simple people,” often in federal court; aides have said he represents neither lobbyists nor clients with business before the state.

No system is completely reformed in a single session, or even a single term

But when asked to point to a specific court proceeding Silver had been involved in, Whyland did not respond.

Lawmakers have shown little inclination to force one another to reveal exactly how and from whom they make money outside public service.

In January, Cuomo proposed stricter disclosure requirements, including that legislators provide more details about how they earned outside income and disclose any clients of their firms with business before the state.

But in the deal that shuttered the Moreland Commission, they agreed to require only the disclosure of clients referred to legislators by lobbyists.

Yet that requirement can be set aside, among other reasons, if disclosing a client’s identity “would cause embarrassment for the client.”

Cleanup Effort Cut Short

When Cuomo kicked off his 2010 campaign for governor, he stood outside the Tweed Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, named for the famously corrupt leader of the Tammany Hall political organization.

“Albany’s antics today could make Boss Tweed blush,” he said.

Cleaning up the capital was such a priority for Cuomo that he released a 115-page book outlining his proposals on ethics.

But when Cuomo closed down the Moreland Commission, his cleanup effort came to a halt.

The Legislature agreed to a new enforcement unit at the Board of Elections, and to tougher criminal statutes on bribery and corruption, which Cuomo said would help local prosecutors.

But what the commission’s members saw as most corrosive to state government — donation loopholes, lax campaign-spending rules and opportunities for murky but lucrative outside employment — so far remain unaffected.

Lever, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the ethics laws passed in March would “help clean up Albany more than any other passed in decades,” and faulted the Legislature for blocking other improvements Cuomo has sought.

“No system is completely reformed in a single session, or even a single term,” she added.

But Cuomo, at times, has suggested there is not all that much more to do. “I got 85 per cent of what I wanted,” he said in October, justifying the Moreland Commission’s disbandment.

On his last weekend of campaigning, he was asked to explain how he arrived at that 85 per cent figure.

“It’s metaphoric,” he said.

Cloud atlas: How cartography works in the digital age and what it means for Canada

British Library // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

On August 10, 1535, Jacques Cartier sailed up a river and into a bay, naming it St. Lawrence — only to have a cartographer later scrawl the name across the entire river, where it has remained ever since. But then even the mistakes in a map tell a story — of the land, and of a culture. The latest narrative: The Canadian Geographic Atlas of Canada, produced by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Collins Bartholomew, a Glasgow-based division of HarperCollins renowned for its cartographic expertise. John Geiger, the CEO of the RCGS, spoke to the National Post‘s Joe O’Connor about how cartography works in the digital age, what stories the atlas tells about who we are now (from changes in industry to new territories) and what’s left to explore.

British Library // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA map from 1775.

Q When did Canada get its name on a map?

US National Archives and Records Division // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

US National Archives and Records Division // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA map from 1795.

A The first map to use the name Canada, indeed, the first map to use the name in any document — and that is important — was on the world map by Nicolas Desliens, dated 1541. Desliens was a mapmaker from Dieppe, France. There is some dispute among cartography scholars that 1541 is an accurate date, but certainly by 1544 Canada was on the map. Also, the first map to show a land mass that was likely part of Canada was drawn circa 1500, by Juan de Cosa. It shows the coast of Newfoundland.

Q Why, in a world of Google Maps, do we even need a new atlas?

A They are oddly interesting as an artifact. If you get an atlas, as an example, for graduation or birth, that atlas is a snapshot of our country at that very moment. This new atlas tells a story of Canada, and a history of Canada, until this moment. In 50 years things will be different, but the atlas will be no less interesting. Maps are also beautiful things. In a way, they are works of art.

Q What has changed on the Canadian map from 50 years ago?

A Some highlights would be the demise of fishing in Canada, particularly cod fishing as a major part of the economy, and the introduction of new crops, such as canola seed developed by Balder University in Manitoba in 1974, which is now Canada’s main cash crop. In industry, there’s the exploitation of Alberta’s natural resources, for example, or the diamond industry — non-existent 50 years ago, and now Canada is the world’s third largest producer. And administratively, Prince Edward Island was connected to the mainland with the Confederation Bridge opening in 1997, and the new territory of Nunavut was created in 1999.

Courtesy of Canadian Geographic

Courtesy of Canadian GeographicQuebec in 1895.

Q Do mapmakers still do land surveys? Were there any boots on the ground in the atlas project?

A Unfortunately for the romantic notion of mapmakers, most cartography is now desk-based. There are many more experts on the ground specializing in measuring and examining things in such detail that the cartographer is now best placed taking direction from them. They provide the answers to specific local questions — the height of X mountain, for example. Atlas makers can then “scale” the satellite imagery.

Shutterstock/Pictureguy // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Shutterstock/Pictureguy // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicAn area of Saskatchewan.

Q Are the lines we now see on the Canadian map drawn in indelible ink, or are some borders and boundaries still in flux?

A There is a whole world, really, under the water in northern Canada that has not been mapped. For shipping safety reasons, we need to understand what is there. And we don’t. Only about 5% of Arctic waters have been charted.

Q Five per cent? That’s it?

A The Canadian Hydrographic Service is very active, but it is a vast area. One of the benefits of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition, and earlier efforts led by Parks Canada to find the Franklin expedition ships lost in the 1840s, was to map substantial areas of Queen Maud Gulf, Alexandra Strait and also Victoria Strait. The process is ongoing.

Q Where does Canada end?

A That is an ongoing question. Canada recently restated its belief that our rights extend all the way up to the North Pole. These are not national boundaries, but boundaries related to sub-surface and seabed rights. But the North Pole claim is subject to dispute.

Q Toronto likes to imagine itself as the centre of the Canadian universe, but where is the actual geographic centre of Canada?

A It depends on how you are measuring it, whether it is the median, the centre of gravity or the mean centre. There are different ways you can measure. Having said that, the Government of Canada says that the geographical centre of Canada is just south of Yathkyed Lake, Nunavut — or about 240 km west of Hudson Bay. There are no people living there, and you probably need a guide to get there, just in case a bear ambles by.

National Archive of Canada // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

National Archive of Canada // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicAn iceberg in Nunavut.
Shutterstock/Nelepl // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Shutterstock/Nelepl // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicManitoba.
RCGS/Scott Forsyth  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

RCGS/Scott Forsyth // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicNewfoundland and Labrador.
RCGS/Michelle Valberg // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

RCGS/Michelle Valberg // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicNewfoundland and Labrador.
Shutterstock/Nelu Goia // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Shutterstock/Nelu Goia // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA lake in British Columbia.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicAn aerial view of Toronto.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicAn aerial view of Montreal.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite view of Ottawa-Gatineau.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite view of Charlottetown.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite image of Calgary.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite image of Edmonton.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite view of Winnipeg.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography  // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite image of Edmonton.
Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian Geographic

Chris Brackley / As the Crow Flies Cartography // Atlas of Canada by Canadian GeographicA satellite image of Vancouver.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

National Post

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U.S. ‘unaware’ a convoy was headed to ransom South African hostage before it launched doomed Yemen rescue mission

Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images

ISTANBUL — For 18 months, a group of civilians in South Africa worked to accomplish what their government had been unable to do: negotiate the release of a South African couple held by al-Qaida in the lawless desert of southern Yemen.

Marco Longari / AFP / Getty ImagesYolande Korkie, a former hostage and wife of slain hostage Pierre Korkie.

In January, the civilian negotiators succeeded in securing the release of the woman, Yolande Korkie. And in recent weeks, they received confirmation that the terrorist group had agreed to free her husband, Pierre Korkie, in return for a $200,000 ransom. On Saturday morning, a convoy of cars was set to leave the southern Yemeni city of Aden to pick up the 54-year-old hostage from the remote outpost where he was being held.

At 6 a.m. in Johannesburg, Imtiaz Sooliman, director of the aid group that had led the long effort, sent a text message to Yolande Korkie: “The waiting is almost over.”

At 8:03 a.m. Sooliman’s phone rang with incomprehensible news: Korkie was dead.

Hours before his expected release, the South African hostage was killed by his al-Qaida guards when a military operation by the United States to save his cellmate – Luke Somers, an American photojournalist – went wrong. Somers and eight civilians were also killed in the raid.

U.S. officials say they did not know Korkie was about to be freed, revealing the dangerous disconnect that can occur when civilians are left to negotiate hostage releases on their own. The government of South Africa -like the United States – hews to a strict policy of not paying ransoms to terrorist groups holding their citizens, maintaining that payments encourage kidnappers and perpetuate the problem.

Yet as kidnapping for ransom has turned into a lucrative business for al-Qaida and its more extreme offshoot, the Islamic State, an increasing number of Westerners have been abducted. Frustrated by what they see as passive responses from their governments, the families and colleagues of hostages have been thrust into the role of amateur negotiators, initiating contact with the terrorists themselves.

That role proved to be nerve-racking for Yolande Korkie and the South African charity trying to free her husband, who went to Yemen as a teacher.

“The night before, I spent hours on the phone with Yolande to try to calm her down,” said Sooliman, who heads the charity, Gift of the Givers, that runs humanitarian projects in eight countries, including Yemen. “I told her, ‘I’ll call you the moment Pierre is in our hands,’” he said. “She went to sleep with that good feeling in her heart.”

Hani Mohammed / The Associated Press

Hani Mohammed / The Associated PressAmerican photojournalist Luke Somers, seen in 2013, who was kidnapped over a year ago and killed during a botched rescue mission.

Unbeknown to them, a risky nighttime raid was already in progress in Yemen. President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for a unit of Navy SEAL Team 6 commandos to attempt to rescue Somers after concluding that his life was in imminent danger, because a deadline that his captors had set to meet their demands was about to expire. Just as Yolande Korkie was trying to fall asleep at her home in Bloemfontein, South Africa, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor planes were sweeping toward a darkened village in rural Yemen.

It remains unclear what went wrong. Soon after the commandos reached the compound where the hostages were being held, gunfire erupted. Both Korkie and Somers were shot by their guards before the commandos could get to them.

Korkie had been dead for several hours when Yolande Korkie awoke Saturday and resumed texting with Sooliman, organizing the final details of her husband’s release.

Those planning the U.S. operation had no indication that the South African hostage was about to be freed, they said.

“We were not aware in advance about any release plans for other hostages,” a U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss the delicate operation, said shortly after the failed rescue mission. “That was not part of our planning.”

Gift of the Givers had not informed Yemeni officials or the United States of the planned release because their al-Qaida contacts had warned them to keep the plans confidential, Sooliman said. It remains unclear whether the South African government – which said in a statement that it had been working with Gift of the Givers and had “undertaken numerous initiatives” to try to free Korkie – had informed the United States or Yemen about his imminent release.

In addition to not paying ransoms, unlike some countries in Europe whose officials have secretly funneled tens of millions of dollars to free their citizens, South Africa and the United States, do not engage in other ways with the terror groups holding their citizens. A prisoner exchange that led to the release of an American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was different, U.S. officials say, because special laws apply to prisoners of war and because the Taliban, which was holding Bergdahl, had not been designated as a terrorist organization.

Gregory D. Johnsen, the author of a book on al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen who was nearly kidnapped on the same street in Sanaa where Somers was abducted last year, said he was troubled by the United States’ approach.

“When the U.S. unilaterally takes all the other options off the table and leaves itself with only the military option, then if that goes wrong, the results can be tragic,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways to negotiate even without paying ransom. It calls for innovative diplomacy.”


MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP / Getty ImagesThe building that U.S. photojournalist Luke Somers lived in is seen in the the old city of Sanaa on Sunday.

Sooliman said Gifts of the Givers felt a moral obligation to help the Korkies – fellow South Africans in harm’s way in a country where the charity had deep ties. Although he said the South African government had helped with diplomatic hurdles – such as issuing Korkie a new passport – its policy of non-engagement meant that the charity was on its own in contacting the terrorist group.

A South African government spokesman, Nelson Kgwete, said in a text message: “We do not, under any circumstances, pay ransom.” He did not answer further questions about what else the country had done to help Korkie.

Using its tribal connections in southern Yemen, Gift of the Givers contacted the kidnappers last year.

More than seven months after her abduction on May 27, 2013, al-Qaida released Yolande Korkie in January without requiring a ransom. They refused to let her husband go, demanding $3 million for him and saying that releasing him without payment would set a bad precedent.

“They said they would not be able to waive the ransom for Pierre, because ‘if we do it for you, then we will have to do it for everyone,’” Sooliman said.

After months of silence, Gift of the Givers had a breakthrough in August, when tribal leaders sent a delegation, acting on behalf of the charity, into the remote badlands. The assembled al-Qaida fighters took a vote on reducing the ransom, and half the jihadists voted “yes” while half voted “no,” Sooliman said. In October, the abductors said they would accept $700,000. The family, which had said it could not afford $3 million, still did not have enough money.

In November, the tribal leaders went back to meet with al-Qaida members. The car was hit by a drone strike, killing the mediators, according to Sooliman.

“We thought it was over,” he said.

That’s when I got the call. I said, ‘How can Pierre be dead?’

But that tragedy appears to have spurred al-Qaida to agree to a lower sum, which it promised to use in part to reimburse families of the dead tribal negotiators. On Nov. 26, Korkie’s abductors sent word they would accept $200,000, to be split with the tribe members.

By Saturday, the money raised by Yolande Korkie from friends and other donors had been delivered to Yemen. The cars were preparing to leave.

“That’s when I got the call. I said, ‘How can Pierre be dead?’” Sooliman said. “They are going now!”

The cash was not delivered and will be returned, he said.

Korkie’s body is due to be transported to South Africa on Monday. His remains will arrive at roughly the same time that Korkie was expected to be reunited with his family.

With files from Eric Schmitt and Kareem Fahim, New York Times

Furry convention chlorine gas leak sends 19 to hospital: Police it was intentional

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Chlorine gas sickened several people and forced the evacuation of thousands of guests from a suburban Chicago hotel early Sunday, including many dressed in cartoonish animal costumes for an annual furries convention who were ushered across the street to a convention centre that was hosting a dog show.

Nineteen people who became nauseous or dizzy were treated at local hospitals, and at least 18 were released shortly thereafter.

The source of the gas was apparently chlorine powder left in a 9th-floor stairwell at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, according to the Rosemont Public Safety Department. Investigators believe the gas was created intentionally and are treating it as a criminal matter.

The hotel is hosting the 2014 Midwest FurFest convention, also called “Anthrocon,” where attendees celebrate animals that are anthropomorphic — meaning they’ve been given human characteristics — through art, literature and performance. Many of the attendees, who refer to themselves as “furries,” wore cartoonish animal outfits.

They said they come for fun, but also for the spiritual and artistic aspects of the convention, during which they celebrate animal characters from movies, TV shows, comic books, video games and characters they create themselves. Anthrocon conventions typically draw thousands of participants from around the world, many dressed in costumes that they say can cost as much as $3,000.

This is intense weekend of socialization. It’s kind of weird, but it’s not weird here

Guests were allowed to return a few hours later after the hotel had been decontaminated, and by mid-morning the furries were pouring back into the hotel for more activities, chat with each other and make their way to a outdoor courtyard where they took part in a group exercise session, with foxes, dragons and other characters getting an aerobic workout.

“We ask you to continue to be patient, and remember that the volunteers who make Midwest FurFest happen intend to give 110 per cent to make sure that the fun, friendship, and good times … overshadow last night’s unfortunate incident,” organizers said in a statement posted on the group’s website. Organizers declined to discuss the matter in person.

Pieter Van Hiel, a 40-year-old technical writer from Hamilton, Ontario, said the conventions are about having fun with people who enjoy the same hobby.

“This is intense weekend of socialization. It’s kind of weird, but it’s not weird here,” said Van Hiel, who said he writes role-playing games for animals. He laughed as he described being herded out of the hotel and across the street to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center: “There was a dog-grooming trade show going on and in walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes.”

The conventions includes displays and vendors, an artists’ show, cartoon and character-related presentations, dances and live performances, and draw artists, puppeteers, costume makers, writers and just plain fans.

We ask you to continue to be patient, and remember that the volunteers who make Midwest FurFest happen intend to give 110 per cent to make sure that the fun, friendship, and good times … overshadow last night’s unfortunate incident

“Everyone is from a different background,” said Michael Lynch, a 25-year-old computer technician from Madison, Wisconsin. “Nobody judges anybody. It’s nice to come to a place like that.”

Dressed head-to-toe in a fox outfit, 35-year-old forklift operator Frederic Cesbron, of France, wanted to make one thing clear: “Nobody uses real fur.”