Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Perez Hilton sues Black Eyed Peas manager

A new front has opened in the battle between Perez Hilton and the Black Eyed Peas manager accused of hitting him: a civil lawsuit.

The celebrity blogger, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, sued the Peas' manager in Los Angeles on Wednesday for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking unspecified damages of more than $25,000.

The suit states Hilton is seeking to protect his rights to free speech and claims Polo Molina attacked him because he made critical comments about the Black Eyed Peas' new album.

Molina was arrested in Toronto early Monday after he allegedly punched Hilton following a heated argument between the blogger and Black Eyed Peas leader He is due to appear in court on Aug. 5.

An e-mail sent to the group's publicist was not immediately returned Wednesday.

"Perez Hilton was assaulted by the band's road manager because he would not agree to stop writing about the Black Eyed Peas on his Web site," Bryan Freedman, Hilton's lawyer, said in a statement. "Whether you love Perez or hate him, he is entitled to his freedom of speech without fear of physical violence. This lawsuit will make the statement that violence is never the answer."

The lawsuit details the events leading up to Molina's alleged attack on the blogger.

The complaint states Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie approached Hilton on Saturday and asked why he was writing "mean" things about her and the group. Hilton replied that he was "simply being honest and truthful about his opinions of them," according to the lawsuit.

On Sunday, Hilton claims he was pushed by an unidentified member of the Black Eyed Peas' entourage, who "slammed his shoulder into Hilton's shoulder and thereafter pushed him."

The lawsuit claims Fergie again approached him at an afterparty for the MuchMusic Video Awards on Sunday night and that his argument with happened at another party.

The lawsuit claims the blogger was trying to leave that party when Molina punched him at least three more times.

"Lavandeira sustained injury to his eye and was bleeding as a result of this violent and malicious attack," the lawsuit claims.

The blogger is seeking unspecified damages in excess of $25,000, including medical costs and damages due to "humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress."

The lawsuit also claims that Molina used an alias when he turned himself in and that he is on probation in California for a drunken driving conviction under his real name, Liborio Molina.

Hilton, who is openly gay, said Monday that he called a "faggot," a gay slur, inside the club after the musician told the blogger not to write about his band on his Web site.

He posted about the attack on the popular microblogging site Twitter on Monday, and has since rejected a call by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to apologize for using the term.

Iran thwarts opposition protest

Hundreds of Iranian riot police have deterred opposition supporters from staging a rally near parliament in Tehran to protest against the outcome of the presidential election held on June 12.

Witnesses said security officers, armed with batons and shields, filled the surrounding streets on Wednesday and forced the protesters attempting to gather in Baharastan Square to disperse.

"Yasmin", a student protester, told Al Jazeera that several hundred people had gathered in metro stations, pretending to be just passing by, to avoid the police.

"But it's very difficult for us," she said.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated main opposition candidate in the presidential election, has distanced himself from the protest with his official website saying the proposed rally was an independent initiative and had not been organised by him.

Khamenei's vow

Earlier during the day, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, vowed not to give in to opposition protests over the poll outcome.

In depth

The latest on Iran's post-election unrest

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The protesters have been challenging the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president.

"On the current situation, I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law. That means we will not go one step beyond the law," Khamenei said on state television.

"Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost," he said, defending Ahmadinejad's landslide victory.

Mousavi's wife has said that protesters are refusing to buckle under the situation.

Zahra Rahnavard, a former university dean who campaigned beside her husband, said on a pro-Mousavi website that his followers had the constitutional right to protest.

Rahnavard said the government should not deal with them "as if martial law has been imposed in the streets".

Government 'illegitimate'

Mehdi Karoubi, another defeated candidate in the election, has dismissed Khamenei's warning, calling the new government "illegitimate".

"I do not accept the result and therefore consider as illegitimate the new government. Because of the irregularities, the vote should be annulled," Karoubi's website quoted him as saying.

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At least 19 people have been killed in clashes with police and pro-government militia amid angry protests that broke out after Mousavi declared that the election had been rigged.

Karoubi, who came fourth in the poll according to official results, has called for Iranians to hold ceremonies on Thursday to mourn those killed in the protests.

Although streets protests have diminished since police and pro-government militias used tear gas, batons and water cannon against protesters on Saturday, calls for further protests among supporters of Ahmadinejad's opponents have continued.

Nazenin Ansari, the diplomatic editor of the Kahylan newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the fall in numbers gathering to protest was understandable given the "degree of repression on the streets".

Ansari said: "Without a doubt, although there are not millions gathering on the streets because of the indiscriminate fire and repression, this is going to transform [politics in Iran].

"In provinces, where people were before gathering in universities, in recent days we are seeing people gathering in main squares."

CIA blamed

Sadeq Mahsouli, Iran's interior minister, has accused the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of helping those who have taken part in the protests.

Iran unrest online

Social media is playing a crucial role in Iran's crisis. Follow the conversation online here:

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Mousavi, a former prime minister, and the two other candidates in the election have all filed complaints to the Guardian Council about alleged problems with the June 12 vote.

But on Wednesday, Mohsen Rezaie, the conservative candidate who finished third in the election, withdrew his objections.

"I see it as my responsibility to encourage myself and others to control the current situation," the official IRNA news agency reported Rezaie as saying in a letter to the Guardian Council.

"Therefore I announce that I'm withdrawing my submitted complaints," the former head of the Revolutionary Guard said.

Rezaie had originally complained that he had won more votes than he had been credited with when the interior ministry declared the results.

Alireza Ronaghi, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, said: "I think he wants to remain in the framework of the Islamic republic - the framework that conservative newspapers are trying to push Mousavi and Karroubi out of.

"Mohsen Rezaie intends to stay close to the core of the Islamic republic and show his allegiance to the supreme leader by obeying his call that the elections are over."

'No major fraud'

Despite Khamenei agreeing to extend the deadline for filing election complaints by five days, a spokesman for the Guardian Council said that there will not be a fresh vote.

"If a major breach occurs in an election, the Guardian Council may annul the votes that come out of a particular affected ballot box, polling station, district or city," Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei was quoted as saying by Press TV, an Iranian government-funded television station.

"Fortunately, in the recent presidential election, we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election.

"Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place," he said.

Meanwhile, an aide to Mousavi said that the former prime minister's newspaper had been raided and 25 employees arrested.

Ali Reza Beheshti said that the raid took place on Monday evening as they were preparing to relaunch Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word.

The newspaper had been unavailable for more than a week.

Police: Suspect in coach killing attacked house

Police say a 24-year-old man charged with murdering a prominent Iowa high school football coach was supposed to be taken to taken to a hospital psychiatric ward after taking a baseball bat to a Cedar Rapids home Saturday night and leading police on a car chase.

Cedar Falls Police Chief Jeff Olson says Butler County Sheriff's deputies were supposed to take Mark Becker to a hospital psychiatric unit after the Saturday night incident.

Olson says Becker was released at some point but that his department wasn't notified.

It wasn't immediately clear if the deputies took Becker to the hospital. The Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the matter.

Becker is charged with first-degree murder in the Wednesday slaying of Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas. Authorities say Becker, a former player, walked into the high school weight room and unloaded several shots into Thomas in front of some current players.

Becker was charged Monday with eluding police pursuit.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PARKERSBURG, Iowa (AP) — A 24-year-old former high school football player walked into the school's weight room Wednesday morning and fatally shot his former coach, before sheriff's deputies arrested him at a nearby home a short time later, authorities said.

Mark Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas several times with a handgun after walking into the room at about 8 a.m., authorities said. Thomas was rushed to nearby Waterloo hospital, where he died.

Several students were in the room at the time of the shooting, but none were injured, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. School was not in session Wednesday.

"The people that were present were not threatened in any way," Winker said.

Becker is charged with first-degree murder and was being held in Butler County jail.

Winker said Becker was arrested without incident at a home in rural Parkersburg shortly after authorities received a 911 call about the shooting.

He said he couldn't discuss what Becker's motive for the slaying might have been, or what Becker might have been up to in the days leading up to the shooting.

"Motive is one of those things we're looking into," Winker said.

Winker said Becker used a handgun in the shooting. He did not elaborate.

He said investigators plan on interviewing students who were in the weight room and to look into Becker's past.

"Mr. Becker's entire past is being looked at," Winker said.

The school is in Parkersburg, about 80 miles northeast of Des Moines.

Thomas compiled a career record of 292-84 in 37 seasons as a head coach, 34 of them at Aplington-Parkersburg, and was one of the most well-known high school football coaches in Iowa. He was honored as the NFL High School Coach of the Year in 2005, and four of his former players are in the NFL: Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville's Brad Meester, Detroit's Jared DeVries and Denver's Casey Wiegmann.

Sanford’s affair: a distraction the GOP doesn’t need

Sex scandal engulfing South Carolina's governor may keep Republicans from focusing on their real task: to define an alternative vision to Obama's.

Gov. Mark Sanford’s admission of an adulterous affair will, if nothing else, complicate his immediate future as top executive of the Republican-red Palmetto State.

But more critically, it will no doubt be a huge distraction from the real task before the Republican Party: to come up with a credible alternative vision to the one President Obama offers, to find a leader who can articulate it, and to shake off the shroud of hypocrisy that befalls the family-values party whenever one of its own admits to adultery.

“This just underlines again that Republican politicians should leave the preaching of moral values to preachers,” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Until they move away from divisive social issues, this is going to happen to them again and again.”

While sex scandals involving Democrats Bill Clinton and John Edwards may have hurt their careers, the party itself largely withstood the fallout. The damage may run deeper for the GOP. Recent scandals involving Republicans such as former Sens. Larry Craig and David Vitter, former Rep. Mark Foley, Rep. John Ensign, and, now, Governor Sanford come at a time when the party is struggling to be relevant in Washington, perhaps by working with majority Democrats – against the druthers of its political base of social conservatives.

One thing after another for the GOP

“It’s easy to say, ‘There goes another one,’ ” says Bruce Gronbeck, a political scientist who studies political scandal at the University of Iowa. “It seems the party is split … now between the governing segment and populist state organizations, and it’s giving the party fits. Then you throw up one scandal after another, and they soon have no nails to bite at all.”

On the other hand, Dr. Gronbeck adds, Sanford’s admission helps Republicans with their process of “character evaluation” of their party’s field of possible candidates – a sort of winnowing out process ahead of next year’s congressional elections, which they hope to fine tune by the 2012 presidential election. Sanford’s libertarian-style leadership and his willingness to stand up to the Obama administration on economic issues have earned him kudos from many in the GOP establishment.

Sanford resigned immediately from his chairmanship at the Republican Governors Association, a perch from which he had been preparing for the possibility of a presidential run. The speed at which the RGA made the announcement spoke volumes about the national political impact of the governor’s admission, experts say. The Democratic Governors Association followed quickly with a press release, too, expressing sympathy for the governor.

A public admission

Sanford disappeared from sight and cellphone reach last week. His staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact, Sanford jetted to Buenos Aires to meet a woman with whom he has been having an affair since last year, he admitted Wednesday.

Sanford publicly apologized to his wife and four sons. “I’ve been crying for five days in Argentina,” he said during an emotional press conference Wednesday, where he at times appeared to be holding back tears.

Buzz about whether the state legislature would try to impeach Sanford for “serious misconduct” under the state’s constitution immediately gave way to questions about whether he would or should resign. When asked, Sanford did not address that issue. His term ends in January 2011, and he cannot run again under term limits.

A career-killer

The fact that Sanford apparently misled his staff, who then repeated the misinformation to reporters, guarantees that the story will continue to dog not just the governor, but also the Republican Party, says Dr. Sabato.

“His White House hopes are dead, and he’ll never again be elected to statewide office in South Carolina,” Sabato says. “It’s over. His career is finished.”

Whether Sanford’s strange trip and shocking admission will ultimately help Republicans address the political liability of espousing moral behavior while major figures in the party fail to adhere to such codes in their private lives is one lingering question for the party, Gronbeck says.

“This is affecting the party in all kinds of ways right now, and you don’t know how long it will take, how far you have to drop, before you’re willing to bounce back and get that coalition-building going again,” says Gronbeck.

For NJ: Nothing Finer When Compared to Carolina

By Richard A. Lee

First it was New York, where bickering lawmakers have been unable to decide who is in charge of the State Senate. Now it’s South Carolina doing its part to make New Jersey look good in comparison to the other 49 states.

For this we can thank South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford whose whereabouts were a mystery for a few days. According to news reports:

∑ Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who is second in command, did not know where Sanford was, and she was not put in charge of the state during his absence.

∑ The governor’s wife Jenny and their four children did not hear from him for several days, even on Father’s Day.

∑ Calls placed to Sanford’s cell phone went straight to voice mail, and he did not respond to text messages.

∑ The State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for the governor, was unable to reach Sanford.

∑ Several days after the governor disappeared from public view, his spokesperson, Joel Sawyer, said he had not spoken with Sanford nor was he aware of any other staff member who had. Sawyer did note that the governor told his staff where he was going planned to check in, but said little else about his whereabouts.

The mystery surrounding the governor came to an end on Monday when his office announced that he had been hiking on the Appalachian Trail and would return to work on Wednesday.

We’ve had our share of well-known missing persons in New Jersey – from former State Senator and Assemblyman David Friedland who faked his death and vanished in 1985 after his conviction on racketeering charges, to Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy who was missing for nearly two weeks in 2007 in the aftermath of allegations about false claims in his military records.

But to the best of my knowledge, New Jersey has never had a governor go AWOL – not that some haven’t tried to escape the public spotlight from time to time.

Governor Whitman apparently was quite good at the practice, according to a lengthy Star-Ledger profile published during her 1997 re-election campaign. The story recounts tales of the governor climbing out of a window in her office, donning a wig and hat to sneak past State Troopers, and even dropping down into the moat and climbing over a stone wall to escape to a local pub during a national governors’ conference.

Living under a microscope cannot be fun, so it is no wonder that public figures relish their rare opportunities to enjoy the type of privacy that is afforded to the general public. President Obama recently said that’s one of the reasons he takes pleasure in playing golf. For six hours, he gets to feel normal, the president told Harry Smith on CBS’ Early Show. “There are a whole bunch of Secret Service guys, but they're sort of in the woods,” he said. “It feels as if you you're out of the container, and actually – I realize now – as close as you're going to get to being outside of this place.”

Obama’s point is well taken. Everyone, including presidents, needs a break every now and then. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it. While presidents, governors, mayors and other elected officials have a right to take vacations, they also have obligations to the people they serve – and that means taking proper steps and following proper procedures to ensure that everything is in order while they are away. We shouldn’t stand for anything less in New Jersey – and neither should the citizens of South Carolina or any other state in the union.

# # #

Richard A. Lee is Communications Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. A former journalist and Deputy Communications Director for the Governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University, where he is completing work on a Ph.D. in media studies.

Fed readies statement amid fragile recovery signs

The Federal Reserve, concluding a two-day meeting Wednesday, readied a new monetary policy statement expected to acknowledge tentative signs of recovery from the economy's prolonged recession.

Despite the so-called "green shoots," economists expect the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to maintain its near-zero interest rate policy and to reaffirm a commitment to keep pumping money into the financial system.

The panel led by chairman Ben Bernanke was due to release its statement at the end of the meeting Wednesday around 1815 GMT.

Analysts say that although no change in policy is expected, the Fed statement will offer clues to the central bank's view on recovery and when it may end its vast stimulative effort some call "quantitative easing."

"We're sure the FOMC will be discussing today how to manage the unwinding of the array of unconventional policies put in place to deal with the turmoil of the past year and a half," said Ian Shepherdson at High Frequency Economics.

But Shepherdson said it is too soon to signal any pullback from the aggressive stimulus.

"The commercial banking system in the US still requires life support," he said.

"There is no evidence of sustainable recovery, merely signs that the catastrophic plunge in activity which began in the aftermath of the Lehman (Brothers) crash (last September) is over. That is welcome, but it is not enough."

While a change in the benchmark federal funds rate is unlikely, traders are expected to pay close attention to the communique, said Mike Schwager, market strategist at Claymore Securities.

"The market seems to be growing fearful that the Fed doesn't have an exit strategy in place -- removing the liquidity from the market to temper inflation -- while not acting too soon to squash the still fragile recovery," Schwager said.

"One potential solution that seems to be evolving in the market would be for the Fed to move from the current federal funds rate range of zero to 0.25 percent to a single point of 0.25 percent."

The Fed's job has been complicated by a jump in yields on the bond market, which influences other rates including mortgages that the Fed cannot directly control.

This reflects some renewed fears of inflation once a recovery takes root, but the higher rates could put the brakes on a recovery, say some analysts, who are pricing in a Fed rate hike by the end of this year.

"The Fed knows it must implement a correct monetary policy and on top of that it might have to take some steps to salve the bond market," said Robert Brusca at FAO Economics.

"Ironically the Fed may have to raise the Fed funds rate before it wants in order to keep long-term rates in check if the bond market is spooked by stronger than expected growth in the economy. That is a major complication."

Dean Maki at Barclays Capital said that based on stimulus efforts including the recently passed "cash for clunkers" measure to spur auto sales, the economy could grow at a relatively strong pace of 2.5 percent in the third quarter and 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter after steep declines. But he said the Fed will remain stimulative.

"We are not changing our Fed call in response to this economic forecast change; we continue to expect the federal funds rate to be unchanged through 2010," he said.

"We project the unemployment rate to rise further this year and to drift down only gradually, remaining above 9.0 percent throughout 2010. With this much slack in the economy, we think the Fed will keep rates on hold unless the rebound is more vigorous than we project."

The Fed has already embarked on a massive program to purchase up to 1.2 trillion dollars in government and agency debt in an effort to bring down a variety of interest rates it does not control.

Bernanke calls the effort "credit easing" while others call it "quantitative easing." It is aimed at lifting the economy out of its worst crisis in decades.

Analysis: SC gov's disappearance a problem for GOP

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's mysterious disappearance from his state, topped with misinformation from his staff about where he had gone and what he'd been doing, is the latest sign that Republican governors — once thought to be President Obama's most credible adversaries — haven't quite lived up to their billing.

From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's cringe-inducing nationally televised response to Obama's first budget address to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that his state might secede, GOP governors — including those said to be eyeing a potential 2012 presidential bid — haven't exactly looked like the political grown-ups many party strategists had promised.

And none has had a rockier go of it than the party's best-known governor, Alaska's Sarah Palin. The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee has been dogged by ethics complaints and has engaged in public feuds with David Letterman and with Levi Johnston, the former fiance of Palin's teenage daughter, Bristol, and the father of Bristol's infant son.

Palin, whose vice presidential bid sparked a devoted grass-roots following across the country, has also angered GOP leaders in Washington for poor communication and for canceling appearances at party events and fundraisers.

But the latest high-profile fiasco involves Sanford, the Republican Governors Association chairman whose outspoken effort to refuse part of the federal stimulus money due his state has made him a darling of conservatives and fueled talk that he harbors presidential aspirations.

Sanford planned to return to work Wednesday after a six-day absence from South Carolina, during which time his staff said he'd been hiking along the Appalachian Trail.

That information proved incorrect. Sanford emerged at the Atlanta airport Wednesday morning, telling a reporter for The State newspaper that he had traveled to Argentina instead. Sanford said he had told his staff before leaving that he might go on the U.S. hike.

While Sanford's spokesman called the governor's absence an opportunity for him to unwind after a stressful legislative session, his whereabouts were unknown to his security detail, and even his wife said she didn't know.

So odd was the disappearance that Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, another Republican, publicly complained about Sanford's lack of communication.

The 49-year old Sanford has been a fierce critic of Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package, even going to court to block $700 million South Carolina was to receive. He lost the court battle but boosted his national profile, making him a target of attack from national Democratic operatives — many of whom pounced on Sanford's unusual departure.

"Being a chief executive means being on call all the time, and Gov. Sanford either doesn't get that part of the job or can't handle it," Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, scolded.

To be sure, not all politically ambitious GOP governors have seen their political fortunes stuck in the spring mud.

Mississippi's Haley Barbour was heading out Wednesday for high-profile visits to New Hampshire and Iowa, states with key early presidential contests. Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty announced last month he would not seek re-election next year, clearing the way for an expected 2012 bid.

Florida's Charlie Crist is running to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez next year and could well have a presidential bid in the future. And Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who won praise for pushing his party to diversify, was viewed as enough of a political threat to Obama in 2012 that the president appointed him to be ambassador to China.

Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a well-regarded political strategist before becoming Mississippi governor, has long insisted that GOP governors would lead the party's efforts to rebuild. He reiterated that belief in an interview Tuesday, while acknowledging some of his colleagues' recent public relations challenges.

"When Democrats have majorities in Washington, Republicans there can oppose bad things and propose good things, but can't demonstrate that Republican ideas work," Barbour said. "The reason governors are so important is that they can take our ideas, implement them and show they can work."

In a sign that the political fortunes of Democratic governors may not be faring much better than their Republican counterparts, Barbour attended fundraisers this week for GOP gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia.

In New Jersey, polls show former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie leading incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, while former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell is running a strong race against Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds to be the state's first GOP governor in eight years.