Thursday, November 26, 2009

Polanski prepares for luxury Alpine house arrest

GSTAAD, Switzerland — After two months in a Swiss jail, Roman Polanski prepared Thursday for the splendid captivity of his $1.6 million chalet in one of world's most luxurious winter resorts.

Polanski will have views of snowcapped Alpine peaks, spacious rooms and the all the amenities of a town with a reputation for catering to the wishes of the rich and famous.

But he won't be able to go out the front door.

In this isolated bastion of wealth — which Elizabeth Taylor once called home and Michael Jackson visited — the 76-year-old director will be placed under house arrest as soon as he posts $4.5 million bail, surrenders his identity documents and is fitted for an electronic bracelet that allows authorities to monitor his whereabouts.

The Justice Ministry declined Thursday to appeal a court decision granting Polanski bail, and said it would release him from jail while it considers whether to extradite him to the United States for having sex in 1977 with a 13-year-old girl.

"He must not leave this house," the ministry said in a statement.

Should he violate the terms of release, the bail will be forfeited to the Swiss government, it added.

Even without stepping outside, Polanski's life will improve from the small detention cell he had in Zurich with a sink, toilet, television and storage compartment.

Gstaad (pronounced guh-SHTAHD) offers a range of quality restaurants and hotels, and "people here can order food to their chalets any time," said Marlene Mueller of the local tourism agency.

From the gourmet shop Pernet Comestibles, fine food such as fresh oysters, Swiss cheeses and a range of whiskies and wine can be delivered.

And, even though Polanski may now be the world's most famous fugitive, most locals are likely to leave him alone.

"You can get almost everything here, provided you've got the money," tourism chief Roger Seifritz told The Associated Press. "Locals tend to go to the big cities to buy things, but our rich guests can get what they want right here."

The village of 3,500 full-time residents has cultivated its image as a haven of luxury since Swiss boarding schools set up their winter campuses here for the children of industrialists and aristocrats a century ago.

The locals' relaxed attitude to celebrities is typical in Switzerland and especially pronounced in Gstaad, where a "don't stare, don't tell" mentality has lured stars such as Roger Moore and Richard Burton away from the limelight at home.

"We prefer discretion," said Mayor Aldo Kropf. "That's why people come here."

Polanski also will get the same treatment from Swiss police, who have vowed to handle his transfer quietly.

"We don't want to show him off like an exotic animal," Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli told The Associated Press.

The bail decision was a major win for the director of "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" after a series of legal setbacks following his Sept. 26 arrest on a U.S. warrant as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival.

Polanski was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl after plying her with champagne and a Quaalude pill during a modeling shoot in 1977. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy, but he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.

In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and sentence him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. The evaluator released Polanski after 42 days, but the judge said he was going to send him back to serve out the 90 days.

Polanski then fled the United States on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was to be sentenced, and has lived in France since. He claims the U.S. judge and prosecutors acted improperly in his case, and his attorneys will argue before a California appeals court next month that the charges should be dismissed.

Despite ordering Polanski's release, the Swiss Criminal Court said it still considered Polanski a high flight risk.

That threat was underscored Thursday by Interpol's secretary general.

"Given Mr. Polanski's history of international travel while defying a judicial order, a $4.5 million bail and an electronic bracelet do not mean that law enforcement lets its global guard down," Ronald K. Noble said.

"Mr. Polanski has given us more than 30 years of proof that he does not feel bound to respect any court decision with which he does not agree," he said. "The world law enforcement community should do all in its power to make sure that the Swiss judicial process is allowed to run its course, and if Mr Polanski defies the conditions of his release, no country should welcome, offer safe haven to, or defend his conduct."

Utah family struggles to make sense of cave death

ALT LAKE CITY — The brother of a man who died early Thursday trapped 700-feet inside a Utah cave said his family is remarkably strong but struggles to make sense of what happened.

John Jones, 26, of Stansbury Park, died nearly 28 hours after he became stuck upside-down in Nutty Putty Cave, a popular spelunking site about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City.

His death is the first known fatality at the cave, according to the Utah County sheriff's office.

"We all were very optimistic and hopeful. But it became increasingly clear last night after he got re-stuck that there weren't very many options left," Jones' brother, Spencer Jones, 30, of San Francisco, told The Associated Press.

Workers at one point had freed John Jones, but a rope and pulley system failed and he became stuck a second time.

"We thought he was in the clear and then when we got the news that he had slipped again. That's when we started to get scared," Spencer Jones said.

The family is expected to issue a statement Thursday afternoon. His funeral is planned for Saturday in Stansbury Park.

He had a wife and 8-month-old daughter and was a second-year medical student at the University of Virginia.

A recovery effort to extract John Jones' body from the cave was on hold Thursday as the Utah County sheriff's office tried to determine how best to proceed, Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.

It's unclear when the effort will resume. Rescue teams had been using drilling equipment to try and free Jones from the cave. Cannon said recovery work can be more aggressive than a rescue because the victim's well-being is considered differently.

John Jones was part of a group of 11 people exploring the cave passages. The 6-foot-tall, 190-pound spelunker got stuck with his head at an angle below his feet about 9 p.m. MST Tuesday. At times more than 50 rescuers were involved in trying to free him.

The crevice was about 150 feet below ground in an L-shaped area of the cave known as "Bob's Push," which is only about 18 inches wide and 10 inches high, said Utah County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

Jones was freed from the crevice late Wednesday afternoon but fell back several feet into the tight space when an anchor in the cave roof that supported the pulley system failed, Cannon said.

Rescuers were able to get him food and water during that temporary freedom. But in the hours after he became wedged again, Jones' physical condition deteriorated.

"It's a tough," Cannon said. "It's not very often where you come in, you have high hopes and you are going into an operation you have done before with success and then you get into a situation where it doesn't go as you planned."

Search and rescue workers successfully rescued two people from the same spot in the 1,500-foot-long cave during the same week in 2004.

"Caving isn't generally considered to be a dangerous sport," Cannon said. "But I think you can safely say this is a dangerous spot in that cave."

Cannon said the sheriff's office wouldn't give an opinion about whether the cave should remain open for recreation or be closed.

The cave is privately owned by Utah's State Institutional Trust Land Administration. An access pass is required to explore the cave, with usage restricted to about six groups daily.

Spencer Jones said the family of five boys and two girls was close, and his brother was a wonderful person.

"He would have done anything for you, so that's what makes it even harder. It's senseless," he said.

Obama's "Christian" grandmother in Mecca for Hajj

Why the deception? And who was behind it? AP? The Obama camp? Someone else? What was its purpose?

AP, March 5, 2008:

"In the world of today, children have different religions from their parents," she said. She, too, is a Christian.

Is she really?

"Saudi Arabia: Obama's grandmother in Mecca for 'Hajj' ceremony," from AKI, November 25 (thanks to C. Cantoni):

Mecca, 25 Nov. (AKI) - The grandmother of US president Barack Obama has arrived in Saudi Arabia for the 'Hajj' or Islamic pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, a Saudi daily said on Wednesday. Sarah Obama, 87, is being accompanied by a nephew and Obama's cousin, Omran.

On Wednesday Sarah Obama was in the valley of Mina with an African delegation, according to the Saudi daily Okaz.

Obama, the mother of the American president's father, lives in a village in Kenya and is one of the many guests of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud....

Philippines massacre: journalists' death toll rises to 21

It is now reported that 21 journalists were killed in the massacre that took place on Monday in the Philippines' southern province of Maguindanao.

The Manila-based Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility told the International Press Institute that a total of 34 journalists are believed to have been part of a convoy that was ambushed by over 100 gunmen at a police checkpoint .

The convoy was travelling to file candidacy papers for gubernatorial candidate and local mayor Esmael Mangudadatu. He was not on board the convoy.

Police have found the bodies of 57 people buried in shallow graves close to the checkpoint.

Among the confirmed dead are the following journalists: Ian Subang (Dadiangas Times), Leah Dalmacio (Forum), Gina dela Cruz (Today), Marites Cablitas (Today), Joy Duhay (UNTV), Henry Araneta (DZRH), Andy Teodoro (Mindanao Inquirer), Neneng Montaño (formerly of RGMA), Bong Reblando (Manila Bulletin), Victor Nuñez (UNTV), Macmac Ariola (UNTV), Jimmy Cabillo (UNTV), Bart Maravilla (Bombo Radyo, Koronadal), Rey Merisco (MindaNews), Bienvenido Lagarte (Sierra News).

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that police have named Andal Ampatuan Jr, a member of President Gloria Arroyo's ruling coalition, as the leading suspect in the massacre.

Though Arroyo has promised to bring the perpetrators to justice, no arrests have been made.

Ampatuan is the mayor of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao province and a political opponent of Mangudadatu. His father, Andal Ampatuan Sr, is the provincial governor and commands his own private army.

According to an article on the Inquirer's website, "Ampatuan Sr. had been grooming his son to take over as governor of Maguindanao, and the victims' relatives have alleged the Ampatuans organised the murders so that Mangudadatu would not run for governor."

IPI director David Dadge said: "We urge President Arroyo and other Philippines' high ranking officials to ensure the swift arrest of those responsible for this massacre. The democratic process in the Philippines cannot be allowed to be undermined by individuals who act without conscience or respect for life."

In addition to the journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre, IPI has counted 58 journalists killed in the Philippines in the past 10 years in connection with their profession.

Sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland was covered up for decades, report says

Four Archbishops, including Cardinal Desmond Connell, will be named over their mishandling of hundreds of allegations, including not reporting crimes to the police.

The senior clerics’ motive was to protect the church above defenceless children, the report will find.

The Dublin Archdiocese Commission is the third inquiry in the last four years to rock the Catholic Church in Ireland following independent investigations into abusive priests.

The pattern of senior clerics moving abusers from parish to parish rather than dealing with the problem will also be addressed.

The 700-page report includes 45 potted histories of a sample of priests from 1975 to 2004 who were investigated by the Commission.

It is understood only ten priests will be named, as they are either dead or in jail, with the rest given aliases.

So a report by the Catholic Church that says that abuse was covered up, is actually itself covering up all the abuses but ten.

Why am I not surprised?

NY Judge Gives Couple Thanksgiving Present , Wipes Out $525,000 Mortgage, Blasts Bank

Here's a feel-good story for your Thanksgiving day. Finally, a victory for the little guy:

A Long Island couple is home free after an outraged judge gave them an amazing Thanksgiving present -- canceling their debt to ruthless bankers trying to toss them out on the street.

Suffolk Judge Jeffrey Spinner wiped out $525,000 in mortgage payments demanded by a California bank, blasting its "harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive" acts.

The bombshell decision leaves Diane Yano-Horoski and her husband, Greg Horoski, owing absolutely no money on their ranch house in East Patchogue.

Spinner pulled no punches as he smacked down the bankers at OneWest -- who took an $814.2 million federal bailout but have a record of coldbloodedly foreclosing on any homeowner owing money.

The Horoski's probably would have been able to make their mortgage payments, had it not been for our current health care system:

Yano-Horoski, a college professor of English and cognitive reason, and Horoski, who sells collectible dolls online, bought their 3,400-square-foot, one-level house 15 years ago for less than $200,000.

It eventually ended up being either owned or serviced by IndyMac, and the bank sued the couple in July 2005 when they began having trouble making payments because of Horoski's health problems. Read on...

This story really encapsulates the sad state of affairs in America and sets an interesting precedent. Of course, OneWest will appeal the decision, but don't be surprised to see lawyers across the country cite this case. It's about time someone spoke loudly and clearly on behalf of the people!

Report: Former MVP Allen Iverson set to retire

PHILADELPHIA — With no apparent interest from NBA teams, Allen Iverson is set to retire, according to an online report.

Commentator Stephen A. Smith published a statement on his Web site Wednesday attributed to Iverson. It said Iverson plans to retire but also that "I feel strongly that I can still compete at the highest level."

The statement also said Iverson has tremendous love for the game and the desire to play, adding there is "a whole lot left in my tank."

"His legacy would be huge," Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star LeBron James said. "He's one of the best when you talk about guys 6-foot and under in the game of basketball. He played injured and he played hard every single night. I don't think it should end this way, but if it does, he's left a lot of great things behind."

The 10-time All-Star played three games this season with Memphis before taking a leave of absence to attend to personal matters. He was waived after the two sides agreed to part ways.

It was the second straight ugly ending for Iverson, who was unhappy last season playing for the Pistons. He was upset that Detroit coach Michael Curry and Memphis' Lionel Hollins used the former MVP as a reserve.

The New York Knicks considered signing Iverson last week after he cleared waivers, before deciding he would take too much playing time away from younger players they are trying to develop.

The Knicks seemed to be the only team who would consider bringing in Iverson, so there was no guarantee he'd play in the NBA this season, anyway. Still, the announcement Wednesday came as a surprise to George Karl, who coached Iverson in Denver.

"I think he still has something left to give some team out there. If that's his decision, he'll go down in history, I think, as the greatest little guard ever to play the game of basketball," Karl said.

"I was happy to have him for a couple years and hopefully our paths will cross. But I have a sneaky feeling that somewhere along the way an injury or a circumstance with a team will open that window back up."

One of the NBA's great scorers, Iverson entered this season with a career average of 27.1 points that ranked fifth all time. Yet there was almost no interest in him this summer before he went to the Grizzlies on a one-year deal.

Iverson can still score, as he averaged 17.4 points with the Pistons last season. Yet he has made it clear he doesn't view himself as a backup, which has likely hurt his chances of signing with a contending team.

"It's sad man, especially coming from a guy that's close to me and a friend," former Nuggets teammate Carmelo Anthony said. "To see him go out the way he's going out right now, it's not like he wants to go out, he's almost being forced to retire. It's a bad situation right now.

"It was just, he got dealt a bad hand from when he went to Detroit up to right now. Everything kind of spiraled downhill. I never want to see nobody go through nothing like that, especially a guy with his talent, somebody who can still go out there and be productive."

The 6-foot guard thanked former players and coaches in the statement, plus the fans in Memphis and Philadelphia, where he spent his best years. He said stepping away would allow him to spend more time with his wife and kids.

He also said he thought he could still play after 14 seasons.

"I always thought that when I left the game, it would be because I couldn't help my team the way that I was accustomed to," it read. "However, that is not the case."

Messages were left for Iverson's agent, Leon Rose, and his business manager, Gary Moore.

If this is the end for Iverson, he leaves with four scoring titles and a playoff scoring average of 29.7 points that ranks second only to Michael Jordan. He led the 76ers to the 2001 NBA finals but never won a championship.

Or he could choose to wait and see if a team in need of a scorer comes looking for him later this season.

"I don't ever believe anyone retires until they get to the point they have to," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "He had a great career if it is true, but I still think he has more to offer."