Newsmakers: Apr. 26-May. 4, 2011

Vancouver’s pot-friendly mayor, Dr. Seuss’s trouble-making turtle, and Obama’s ‘really big stick’

Newsmakers

John McDonnell/Getty Images

Double lucky

Winning a big lottery jackpot once is improbable. Twice? That’s near impossible. But don’t tell that to Virginia Fike. The Berryville, Va., woman bought two winning tickets to a single Powerball draw recently. Each one was worth a cool US$1 million. After taxes, Fike will take home about US$1.4 million—not a bad haul for what started as a stop at the gas station. Fike found out she’d won while visiting her mother in the hospital. She plans to spend the money on her parents and bills.

Pipelines, no. Pot farms, yes.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has come a long way from the juice farm. The former organic smoothie magnate has an iron grip on city hall. Now he’s flexing his political muscle outside his own jurisdiction. Robertson wrote a comment piece for the Vancouver Sun urging the federal government to think twice about a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion that could nearly triple the number of oil tankers off Vancouver’s coast. Days later, he added his name to an open letter calling for the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Seven other B.C. mayors also signed the letter, but Robertson’s name was by far the most prominent on the page.

Blood greed

Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a special court in The Hague. The one-time warlord helped rebels in Sierra Leone carry out a campaign of rape, murder and mutilation over several years, the tribunal ruled, and he did it all, not for political gain, but to line his own pockets. Taylor is the first head of state since the Second World War to be found guilty in an international court. He’ll serve out whatever sentence he receives in a British jail.

Twitter twits

From the fingertips of idiots straight to your computer screen—that’s the Twitter guarantee. Just ask Joel Ward. The Washington Capitals forward scored one of the biggest goals in all of hockey—a game seven, overtime winner to lift his team past the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what should have been the best moment of his career so far was quickly overshadowed by the reaction to it online. Ward, who was born in North York, Ont., is black. His parents emigrated from Barbados. And after he scored, so-called fans unleashed a torrent of racial fury on Twitter, letting the N-word fly. The insults sparked a furious backlash online. But Ward, for his part, shrugged them off. “It doesn’t faze me at all,” he told USA Today. “We won and we’re moving on.”

Spat in a hat

The subversive words of Theodor Geisel—a.k.a. Dr. Seussare at the heart of another dispute between B.C. teachers and administrators. Dave Stigant, a senior school district official in Prince Rupert, ruled recently that a quote from Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle was too political for the classroom. Yertle was, of course, a well-known subversive. But the quote in question was particularly risible. “I know you on top are seeing great sights,” it reads, “but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.” Truly words no child should hear.

Biden alert

It was a time of deep political boredom. The Republican primaries were all but over. The walking punchlines—Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich—had all gone home. Across the land, quip writers and talk show hosts were bereft. We need material, they cried. We need jokes. And so, hark, Joe did come to deliver them from their torpor. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivered a signature Biden line during a foreign policy speech in New York. Channelling Teddy Roosevelt, he told the audience his boss, President Barack Obama, believes in the old maxim you should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” He could have stopped there. That would have been fine. But it wouldn’t have been Joe. “Trust me,” the vice president of the United States continued. “The President has a really big stick.” And lo, the writers’ rooms rejoiced, for Biden had delivered them once more.

Blasphe-maybe

Egyptian actor Adel Imam, a comedic legend in the Arab world, was convicted by one court of insulting Islam in his films, then acquitted by a second days later on different, but similar, charges. Imam plans to appeal the first verdict. But the multiple trials and contradictory rulings have already done further damage to the image of the shambolic Egyptian justice system. Meanwhile, in Tunisia, a verdict is expected next week in the trial of Nabil Karoui, a television station owner who broadcast the film Persepolis last year. Persepolis has been called blasphemous for its portrayal of Allah in one scene. Angry mobs have called for Karoui’s conviction, and for his station, Nessma, to be shut down ever since it aired.

Rupert is ‘unfit’

British lawmakers slammed Rupert Murdoch, fingering the aging media mogul for the phone hacking scandal that shook his News Corp. The scathing parliamentary report, which came out mere days after his judicial inquiry testimony—in which he heaped blame for the scandal on anyone and everyone except, of course, himself—deemed Murdoch unfit to run his own company. He and son James showed “wilful blindness” about the scale of hacking, the panel found, and sought to “cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing.”

Hunger games

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, is on a hunger strike. Once the face of the Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko is now a prisoner, serving a seven-year sentence for supposedly abusing her office. Tymoshenko claims guards at her prison have beaten her and her family says her health is failing rapidly. But she refuses to be treated in a Ukrainian hospital, fearing foul play. Tymoshenko’s plight is a problem for the Ukrainian government in Europe, where the charges against her are widely thought to be laughable. Germany, for one, is now threatening to boycott the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, scheduled to be held this summer in Poland and Ukraine.

Tough on crime

An accused criminal in Saskatchewan reversed his own guilty plea after initially asking a judge for more time behind bars. Dennis Taniskishayinew, who was charged with stealing a laptop, trying to rob a convenience store and threatening his mother, told the court he functioned better in jail, according to Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix. “When I’m in the community, I go crazy,” he says. Taniskishayinew’s lawyer and the prosecutor had agreed on a 3½-year sentence. But the man, who says he first went to jail when he was 12, pulled out of the deal when the judge told him he couldn’t guarantee that he’d get to spend the time in a psychiatric facility, which was the accused’s preference.

Toothless crime

A spurned dentist in Poland could face criminal charges after she plucked out her ex-boyfriend’s teeth. Cab driver Marek Olszewski made the mistake of visiting his ex, a dentist, with a toothache days after leaving her for another woman. Rather than treat the offending tooth, however, Anna Mackowiak sedated her ex, pulled out his entire mouthful, then wrapped his face in gauze to hide the damage, reports the Daily Mail. It wasn’t until Olszewski arrived home that he noticed his now-empty jaw. Olszewski says his new girlfriend, no fan of a toothless lover, has now left him, too. Mackowiak, meanwhile, could lose her licence and spend years in prison.

Bad coverage

Colombian rebels shot and kidnapped a French journalist during a clash with government forces. Romeo Langlois went missing while filming a documentary for a French television station. Officials in Colombia say he was nabbed after a battle between FARC rebels and the local military. He also took a bullet in the arm during the melee. Meanwhile, in Mexico, a magazine journalist who covered crime and drug trafficking was beaten to death in Veracruz. Police found Regina Martinez dead in her bathroom. More than 40 journalists have been murdered in Mexico in recent years, as gang and drug violence has escalated.

Organ failure

There are many ways to thank someone for giving you a kidney. It’s a big gift, after all. Flowers might be nice. Maybe a card. But one New York woman says the only thanks she got for her good deed was an email saying, “Thanks more than I can ever say,” and the gift of unemployment. In court documents, Deborah Stevens says she was fired after donating a kidney to help her boss move up a transplant list. After the surgery, Stevens says she was belittled for wanting time off, lost her office and was eventually let go, according to Reuters. “My gal is just a good-natured woman who’s trying to save a life,” her lawyer told the agency, “and as soon as she did, everything changed.”

Feeling broody

The “is she or isn’t she” rumours started up again last week when Prince William held little Hugo Vicary in his arms during an official event. For the record, the baby’s father, a soldier, thought William was a “natural,” while the three-week-old just smiled adorably at his royal admirer.

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