Newsmakers: September 1-8, 2011

Bieber goes Hollywood, Big Buff goes off his diet, and Bibi’s wife faces new staff abuse allegations


Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Scales of justice

The Winnipeg Jets haven’t iced a team yet, but star D-man Dustin Byfuglien has been hit with a major penalty. The former Chicago Blackhawk, who helped propel the team to the 2009-10 Stanley Cup, was arrested Wednesday night near the lakeside community of Excelsior in his home state of Minnesota on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. “Big Buff” spent three hours in the penalty box of the Hennepin County Sherrif’s Office after refusing to submit to a blood or urine test. Possible charges are pending. The Jets have two causes for alarm: the police weigh-in showed Byfuglien has ballooned to 286 lb., about 40 lb. above his usual playing weight. As well, a criminal conviction would complicate crossing the border to Winnipeg. “He’s got to grow up,” his stepfather Dale Smedsmo told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, presumably a reference to attitude, not poundage.

Cutting remarks

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not known for his love of journalists, so it came as a surprise that his new communications director is a member of the pencil press. Angelo Persichilli, 63, a political editor of the Italian-language newspaper Corriere Canadese and an occasional columnist for the Toronto Star, replaces former mouthpiece Dmitri Soudas. The hire may score points in the ethnic community, a target of Tory affections. Persichilli faces the daunting task of selling federal spending reductions. Meanwhile, budget cuts south of the border factored into outspoken Gen. David Petraeus’s last act after a 37-year military career. He warned reductions may hurt the army’s ability to fight insurgencies. Expect him to guard the CIA’s budget like a hawk when he takes over as America’s spy chief this week.

The sun sets, even on Venus

Venus Williams rocked the tennis world this week, dropping out of the U.S. Open just minutes before she was set to take the court. The tennis great, a favourite to win the women’s crown at Flushing Meadows this year, announced she’d been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a little-known disorder that causes fatigue and joint pain. “Some mornings I feel really sick,” said the seven-time Grand Slam winner. “The more I tried to push through it, the tougher it got.” This week, she could barely lift her serving arm. Venus feels “positive” she can come back, and medication to help control the disorder should take effect within six months. Regardless, bouncing back at 31 in tennis is a tall order, and fans of the game worry the diagnosis spells the end for one of the finest women to have ever picked up a racquet.

A shot of honesty

It’s an age-old gimmick at hockey rinks across North America: in pursuit of a prize, a randomly chosen fan tries to shoot a puck through a tiny hole in the net. Most fail miserably. Not Nate Smith. During the intermission of a game in Minnesota, the 11-year-old boy nailed his attempt from 27 m, a feat that should have put US$50,000 in his pocket. But the company that ran the promotion refused to pay up because the winning raffle ticket actually belonged to Nick Smith—Nate’s twin brother, who was at his seat (Nate wasn’t) when the ticket was called. How did the organizers find out? The boys’ dad came forward. “We told them that Nate made the shot. We did the right thing,” Pat Smith said. “I just think that honesty is more important than any prize or money you could get.”

They grow up so fast

Puberty strikes everyone, eventually, and sometimes in unusual ways. One day, your child is all floppy hair and high-pitched ballads. The next, he’s groping a tree snake on worldwide TV. Stratford, Ont.’s favourite son, Justin Bieber, so recently a sexless heartthrob for nine-year-old girls, is all grown up. The now 17-year-old singer appeared at the recent MTV Video Music Awards in an outfit best described as a cross between urban hipster and confused nerd. He had red jeans and leopard-print shoes and a writhing gold and white snake. When his girlfriend, teen sensation Selena Gomez, interviewed him on the red carpet, he told her the reptile’s name was “Johnson.” Subtle. The Biebs, shorn of his famous mop-top, made headlines a second time last week when he dinged his black Ferrari in California’s San Fernando Valley.

In D.C., truth ain’t carved in stone

A throwaway phrase in former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney’s memoir In My Time has angered his former colleague Condoleezza Rice. His claim that the former secretary of state “tearfully admitted” to a mistake during a meeting with him angered Rice, famous for her Thatcherite toughness. “That doesn’t sound like me, now does it?” she told Reuters. Speaking of misquotes, poet Maya Angelou says the one carved on the massive, new Washington monument to Martin Luther King Jr. makes him look like “an arrogant twit.” It reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” In fact, responding to critics who said he was an attention-craver, he’d said: “If you want to call me a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”

Out for Justice (Part II)

In his heyday, Steven Seagal was a Hollywood action star famous for wearing a ponytail, packing a punch, and making movies with three words in the title (Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death). His reality show, Steven Seagal: Lawman, follows the same model, minus the ponytail. But for a change, the actor-turned-cop is the one being cast as a villain. An Arizona man filed a lawsuit last week against Sheriff Seagal, claiming that a made-for-TV tank raid on his home ended with the shooting death of his 11-month-old puppy. The plaintiff, who was allegedly operating a cockfighting ring, is demanding US$25,000 and a letter of apology.

Not so funny

Gabriel Roy, a popular Montreal comedian and blogger, thought he was using his influence for good: to shame a KIA car dealership into returning a friend’s $500 deposit. His online attack included a YouTube video of an employee nonchalantly refusing to refund the woman’s money, and a Facebook page describing the lot owner as a “crook.” Unfortunately, someone took his campaign a step too far—setting the dealership ablaze and slashing tires on two dozen cars. It took firefighters 90 minutes to get the flames under control. Roy de­nounced the arsonist and insisted he had nothing to do with the crime, but says he had no regrets.

Pick up your iPhone, Steve

What to make of Abdulfattah John Jandali? A former university professor and now senior casino executive, the 80-year-old says he wants to finally meet his biological son: Steve Jobs, the billionaire co-founder of Apple who recently resigned because of poor health. Jandali, a Syrian national who was teaching in Wisconsin when his son was born in 1955, said he had no choice but to put the baby up for adoption because his girlfriend’s family objected to their relationship. Jandali insists that he just wants to meet Jobs before one of them dies—and has no interest in his son’s “fortune.” Yet Dad also says that his “Syrian pride” keeps him from making the first call. “Steve will have to do that,” he says.

Nobody likes a sore loser

The former president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, and his wife, Simone, were charged last week with “economic crimes, armed robbery, looting and embezzlement” in the ugly aftermath of an election that did not go well for the 66-year-old. Gbagbo had clung to power after losing the election last November. That triggered months of conflict, an outright war and 3,000 deaths. Meanwhile, a UN report blames fighters loyal to new President Alassane Ouattara for several “extrajudicial” executions.

Last man standing

The once-thriving city of Tomioka, Japan, is now an irradiated no-man’s land between two of the country’s tsunami-damaged nuclear reactors. Or, more accurately, Tomioka is a one-man’s land. The sole resident is stubborn rice farmer Naoto Matsumura, who has defied government orders to leave, despite the health risk and the stench of decaying animals. He likens himself to the Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender after the Second World War. “If I give up and leave, it’s all over,” he told the Associated Press.

Israeli PM’s domestic affairs

The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is under increasing fire over allegations about her extravagant lifestyle and abuse of domestic staff. Last week Tara Kumari, a Nepalese worker hired to nurse Sara Netanyahu’s aged father, was fired after airing claims that Sara shouted abuse, withheld pay, refused her days off and rushed at her during a dispute, causing Kumari to fall and break a finger. A statement from the PM’s office denied any “physical contact” between the women. But using government staff to issue denials caused its own problems. The Netanyahus were forced to hire a privately paid spokesman to deal with the so-called “Sara-Tara” affair.

Lloyd signs off

After 41 years of reading the news, CTV’s Lloyd Robertson stepped away from the anchor desk on Sept. 1. According to the network, 2.1 million Canadians tuned in—an all-time high for the newsman. Not bad for a guy born when R.B. Bennett was prime minister and Babe Ruth was still playing ball.

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