Saturday, February 25, 2012

Conservative staffer resigns amid 'robocalls' probe

Conservative staffer resigns amid 'robocalls' probe

Michael Sona, left, is seen with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in this undated photo released by the Prime Minister's Office.
A Conservative staffer has resigned following reports that Elections Canada is investigating fake election day phone calls used to keep voters away from polls.

Michael Sona, who until Friday was a staffer in Conservative MP Eve Adams's office, also worked for Conservative candidate Marty Burke in Guelph, Ont.

Voters in that riding complained they were the target of automated robocalls claiming to be on behalf of Elections Canada that directed them to the wrong polling station. Telling voters to go to the wrong or non-existent polling stations is a voter suppression tactic and illegal under the Elections Act.

Opposition MPs let loose on the Conservative Party on Thursday after an Ottawa Citizen report linked a call centre used by some of their campaigns to the robocalls.

Sona offered his resignation and it was accepted, a source told CBC News.

In a statement Thursday, the Conservatives' 2011 national campaign manager hinted that whoever was behind the robocalls acted alone.

"The party was not involved with these calls and if anyone on a local campaign was involved they will not play a role in a future campaign," Jenni Byrne said in a statement.

There is no public evidence Sona was involved in the robocalls.
Calls traced to Racknine

Nine Conservative campaigns used the services of Racknine, the call centre whose services were used for the fraudulent calls. It's not unusual to use call centres for legitimate campaigning.

Ridings across the country reported fraudulent calls on May 2, 2011, redirecting voters to the wrong polling station.

The RCMP told CBC News on Thursday that Elections Canada is investigating the matter.

Sona made news before the election when he allegedly tried to grab a ballot box at the University of Guelph. He claimed the polling station was illegal. A statement released by Burke's campaign said nobody from their team touched a ballot or ballot box. Elections Canada allowed the ballots to be counted.

Sona graduated from the University of Guelph in 2010, according to a webpage showing his professional history. He worked for Conservative MP Rob Moore from June 2010 until March 2011 and from May to September 2011. He also worked for Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore for four months in 2009.
Liberals demand emergency debate

Liberal Leader Bob Rae announced Friday he's asking House Speaker Andrew Scheer for an emergency debate into voter suppression.

"In my opinion, this debate is necessary because denying someone the opportunity to vote is to deny them the most basic right that exists in our democracy," Rae says in his letter to Scheer.

"These reports undermine the reputation of Parliament and cast a shadow over the legitimacy of all parliamentary proceedings."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Indiana lawmaker: Girl Scouts in league with Planned Parenthood

Indiana lawmaker: Girl Scouts in league with Planned Parenthood

(CNN) -- An Indiana lawmaker who opposes celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America says the group "sexualizes" young girls, promotes homosexuality and is a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood.

In a letter sent to members of the Republican Caucus, Indiana State Rep. Bob Morris said many parents were "abandoning the Girl Scouts because they promote homosexual lifestyles."

"As members of the Indiana House of Representatives, we must be wise before we use the credibility and respect of the 'Peoples' House' to extend legitimacy to a radicalized organization," he said, warning them not "to endorse a group that has been subverted in the name of liberal progressive politics and the destruction of traditional American family values."

In the Febraury 18 letter, obtained by CNN affiliate WRTV, Morris lobbied lawmakers to oppose a nonbinding resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.

Morris was the only member not to sign the measure.

After doing a "small amount" of research on the Internet, Morris said, he and his wife came to the conclusion that the Girl Scouts have become a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood and are part of an agenda that includes "sexualizing" young girls.

Morris' two daughters have been pulled from the Girl Scouts, he said, and instead will become active in American Heritage Girls Little Flowers organization -- a group that "will not confuse their conservative Hoosier upbringing."

Morris said he takes the stand despite the knowledge that "99.9% of Girl Scout troops in this country" are run by good leaders, he told WRTV. The concern, he said, is where the money goes on the national level.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana President and CEO Betty Cockrum said she was disappointed in Morris' words, calling them "inflammatory, misleading, woefully inaccurate and harmful."

The controversy is the latest involving Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation briefly cut funding for some Planned Parenthood projects amid increased scrutiny by Congress over how the organization provides abortion services.

After Komen's initial decision, Planned Parenthood said money from the foundation has largely paid for breast exams at local centers. In the past five years, it said, grants from Komen have directly supported 170,000 screenings, making up about 4% of the exams performed at Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide.

Karen Handel, a vice president with the Komen Foundation, resigned her position this month following a controversy.

In stark contrast to his Republican colleague, House Speaker Brian Bosma handed out Girl Scout cookies on the floor of the General Assembly Tuesday.

"There are a lot of sideshows at the General Assembly ... and all walks of life, and you just have to determine which one's you're going to go into," Bosma told CNN affiliate WISH.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Music exec: Whitney Houston looked 'healthy and beautiful' days earlier

Music exec: Whitney Houston looked 'healthy and beautiful' days earlier

Beverly Hills, California (CNN) -- Two loud booms jolted awake the music industry executive in her fifth-floor room of the Beverly Hilton hotel.

The time was 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The thuds seemed to be coming from the room below. The voice of a man, loud and urgent, followed.

It was only later that she learned the news: Whitney Houston, a guest in the room below hers, had died.

Cause of death: Unclear.

Time pronounced: 3:55 p.m., February 11, 2012.

Age: A mere 48.

The shock and grief from fans worldwide was immediate: Houston's pipes and presence, her grit and glamour had made her an icon.

For a decade and a half, she ruled the charts: 170 million albums sold, including seven back-to-back multi-platinum ones.

Numerous No. 1 hits, including the biggest-selling U.S. single of all time, "I Will Always Love You."

Emmys, Grammys, Billboard Music awards. Dozens of them.

While her luster dimmed in recent years as she battled drug addiction, Houston was in the midst of a comeback. A few shows here and there, mostly abroad, and a movie in the works.

She had appeared healthy and beautiful in recent days, said the music executive -- who did not want to be identified because she didn't want reporters hounding her.

Just days before, the exec had seen Houston swimming in the hotel pool with daughter Bobbi Kristina. They looked happy, she said.

What exactly happened Saturday afternoon now awaits a coroner's examination.

Police and fire officials were called to Houston's room at 3:43 p.m., after Houston's bodyguard found her unconscious body.

Medics tried reviving her, but failed.

There were "no obvious signs of criminal intent," said Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen.

Medics removed her body from the hotel room early Sunday morning and an autopsy has been scheduled.

But the county coroner's office could not say when.

Outside, grieving fans laid roses and flickering candles on the front and back entrances of the sprawling complex.

Some sang songs. Others played her music videos on their smartphone.

"Everyone has their own demons, and some overcome them and some never do," said Tya Conerly, referring to Houston's history of drug abuse. "Sometimes life gets the best of us."

Inside the hotel, music industry's biggest names gathered in elegant attire for an annual pre-Grammy party that had been long planned by Houston's mentor, Clive Davis.

"I do have a heavy heart, and I am personally devastated by someone so close to me for so many years," Davis told the gathering of artists and entertainers, that included Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight and Britney Spears.

"My heart goes out to her daughter Bobbi Kristina and her mother, Cissy."

He then asked for a moment of silence.

"We dedicate this evening to her," he said.

Houston had been scheduled to attend the festivities. She had performed as late as Thursday night at a pre-Grammy event in the area, a raspy rendition "Jesus Loves Me" with singer Kelly Price.

The organizers of Sunday's Grammy Awards said they have retooled the show to pay respect to Houston, with the help of singer Jennifer Hudson.

"It's going to be something respectful," said Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the show. "It's not going to be a full-blown tribute. That's too early and it's too fresh at this moment. It's going to be something respectful to Whitney's memory."

But musician Paul Shaffer said he thinks the whole show will double as a tribute to Houston.

"Here is music's happiest night combined with such a sad note," he said. "You got to be some kind of philosopher to make some kind of sense out of this. I certainly can't."

Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 9, 1963, the daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston.

Her cousin was Dionne Warwick; her godmother Aretha Franklin.

"You couldn't find a more auspicious template for great expectations," said music critic Gene Seymour.

In the mid-1980s, Davis spotted Houston in a New York nightclub and signed her on the spot.

For the next quarter century, he steered her career and served as her mentor.

"I saw a depth and a range and soul ... that rarely ranks at the top level," he said Thursday. "And that's why we've been working together ever since."

You," "How Will I Know," "The Greatest Love of All," "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."

In 1991, Houston's commanding performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl, just days into the first Persian Gulf War, electrified audiences and became the gold standard for performing the national anthem, according to many music critics.

The next year, she released the soundtrack to her movie "The Bodyguard," one of the top 10 biggest-selling albums of all time.

Her cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" for the soundtrack has been interpreted by many but rarely duplicated.

She appeared in several more films in the 1990s, including "Waiting to Exhale."

In 2000, Houston earned her sixth Grammy for best female R&B performance and, a month later, she was named female artist of the decade at the "Soul Train" Music Awards.

But by then, her battle with drugs -- cocaine and marijuana -- and her tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown were taking their toll.

The couple appeared together in the mid-2000s on the reality show "Being Bobby Brown," and had one child together, Bobbi Kristina.

They divorced in 2007. Brown performed at a "New Edition" concert Saturday night in South Haven, Mississippi.

"The atmosphere felt bittersweet," said iReporter Moshiu Knox, who attended the concert with his wife. "Bobby was crying during his performance and at one point had to walk off stage. ... The crowd was emotional and tears were flowing all over the arena."

Video of the concert show Brown asking the audience to pray for the couple's daughter. "If you find the time, can you say a prayer for me because I'm going to need it," he says.

In a 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Houston recalled how her mother arrived one day at her doorstep with sheriff's officers and a court order in a drug intervention.

"(My mother) says, 'I have a court (injunction) here,'" Houston said. "Either you do it my way, or we're just not going to do this at all. We are both going to go on TV, and you're going to retire.'"

She entered rehab and took a long hiatus. Her 2009 release, "I Look To You," was her first in seven years.

"I just took a break, which sometimes you have to," Houston said. "You have to know when to slow that train down and kind of just sit back and relax for a minute."

She recently returned to a movie set for "Sparkle," a remake of the 1976 hit that was loosely based on the story of The Supremes.

It is scheduled to be released nationwide in August, her first movie role since 1996's "The Preacher's Wife."

Music mogul Simon Cowell said Houston's death is one of those events where you remember what you were doing when you heard the news.

"It's that significant," he said. "I'm so sad for her. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest superstars of all time, one of the greatest voices in our lifetime we're likely ever to hear."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mexico beating victim recovering after surgery

Mexico beating victim recovering after surgery

Sheila Nabb and her husband Andrew are shown in a family photo.

A Calgary woman who was brutally beaten at a Mexican resort has undergone extensive reconstructive surgery and now faces a long recovery, her family said in written statement Thursday.

Last month Sheila Nabb, 37, was found unconscious with extensive facial injuries in an elevator of a five-star resort in Mazatlan, where she was staying with her husband, Andrew Nabb.

She is recovering in an intensive care unit at a Calgary hospital after Saturday’s operation, her husband said.

“Sheila’s injuries were very serious and she has a long recovery ahead, but we are looking forward to having her back home where she belongs,” he said, adding her doctors said the procedure was successful.

"Although she is still sedated, she has been very responsive and we are happy to see small improvements every day," he said.

Nabb also said he was grateful for the concern and support that has been expressed by Canadians across the country.

"I would also like to thank the media for continuing to respect our family’s privacy during this difficult time," he said.

Mexican man to stand trial for beating

Jose Ramon Acosta Quintero, 28, was formally charged with attempted murder by Mexican judge late Wednesday.

With this announcement, the trial can begin, according to Mexican law.

Quintero admitted he hit Nabb in a hotel elevator in a luxury resort in the Mazatlan area, but denied he wanted to kill her. He also said his confession was forced. He has been denied bail.

Nabb, 37, of Calgary was on vacation with her husband at the upscale Riu resort last month when she was found lying in a pool of blood in one of the elevators.

Virtually every bone in her face was shattered after the attack, and she is recovering in a hospital in Calgary.

Quintero was arrested on Jan. 27. Prosecutors and investigators said they based their arrest on a hotel security video that showed him leaving the elevator where Nabb was attacked.

Quintero said in a public statement in Spanish and English that he was drunk and high on cocaine when he encountered Nabb.
Confession forced, says Quintero

He said the Canadian was naked when he began chatting with her in an elevator and he panicked when Nabb began screaming, "He won't let me out" when the doors reopened.

Quintero told reporters that he had blocked her exit with his hand because he wanted to continue talking to her. He said he hit her four to five times in the face when she continued to scream.

The confession before the media holds no legal weight and is a common practice in Mexico.

Quintero said he was forced by police to sign two confessions, including one stating he meant to kill Nabb, as authorities swore at him.

He also told The Canadian Press that he was never allowed to read the confession or speak with a lawyer.

"So I have no idea what my confession says," he said.

Major snow storm targets Denver area

Major snow storm targets Denver area

(CNN) -- Light snow started falling in Denver on Thursday as it braces for a major winter storm that is expected to blast some areas with up to two feet in a few days.

Parts of the region could be plowing out of two feet of snow by Saturday when conditions are expected to gradually taper off.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning starting Thursday evening along the Interstate 25 corridor, including the city of Denver.

Areas east of the city are under a blizzard warning, where snowfall rates of up to 2 inches per hour are expected.

The warnings will remain in effect into late Friday evening.

With the approaching storm expected to cause numerous delays, Denver International Airport announced it had up to 180 cancellations. "This number is very fluid," said Jenny Schiavone, a spokeswoman at the airport.

The airport has nearly 300 pieces of snow equipment and a team of approximately 500 trained snow removal personnel who will work throughout the duration of the storm.

An avalanche watch is posted for the Front Range and Sangre de Cristo mountains until Friday morning. A rapid heavy snow load addition onto the currently weak snowpack structure will quickly raise the avalanche danger Friday, according to The Colorado Avalanche Information Center website.

The storm will be slow moving, so a prolonged period of snow will occur through early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

With winds gusting 40 mph or higher, blowing snow will make visibility at times near zero and travel on roads could be treacherous, if not impossible.

A number of school districts in the Denver Metro area have announced closures on their websites, including Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools and Douglas County Schools.

Temperatures are expected to remain into the 30's into early next week.

Police accused of ignorance as Egyptian soccer faces up to bleak future

Police accused of ignorance as Egyptian soccer faces up to bleak future

(CNN) -- With recriminations and accusations flying in the wake of riots that left 79 football fans dead in the northeastern city of Port Said, the immediate future for Egyptian soccer looks particularly bleak.

Three days of mourning have begun for the victims of the violence that erupted after local team Al-Masry had beaten Cairo-based Al-Ahly 3-1 on Wednesday, but it will take far longer than that to understand how such a tragedy could have occurred.

The domestic league was suspended indefinitely after the deaths just hours before Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri sacked the entire leadership of the Egyptian Football Association -- a move that is sure to warrant attention from FIFA.

Soccer's world's governing body stipulates that governments should not tamper with a national soccer federation's affairs, and an international ban for the Egyptian team could follow.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has expressed his sympathy to the victims' families and also asked for a detailed report on what happened.

Given the current confusion about exactly what did take place, he may be waiting a while.

According to Al-Ahly board member, Khaled Mortagy, the security forces present in the stadium at Port Said have a lot to answer for.

"There were huge, even massive security breaches at the game -- the police showed total ignorance," he told CNN.

"The fans moved like a tsunami, and quickly we were looking at a massacre. We believe that this is something that has been well organized.

"I'm sure there are some hidden hands behind this. But we can't really see or we cannot really confirm who is behind all that."

In the wake of the tragedy, a number of Al-Ahly's players have said they are going to retire from the game, but Mortagy hopes they change their mind.

"(The players) are in a very bad shape in terms of morale. They've seen people die in the dressing rooms, which normally doesn't happen in the sports world. I think they have been under a lot of stress.

"Al-Ahly has over 60 million fans and supporters. And I don't think that the players will leave these fans because again the fans need them, and they need the fans."

Blame has also been attached to the aging Port Said stadium, which hosted the fateful game between two of Egypt's biggest clubs.

James Montague, author of "When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone," a book about football and politics in the Middle East, says many arenas in the country are not fit for the purpose.

He told CNN: "I've been to many football grounds across Egypt. We're talking about stadiums built in the 1920s and 1930s, big crumbling concrete bowls that have few exits.

"They are death traps, and this is something that has been waiting to happen.

"There might be 70,000 allowed in a football stadium but 100,000 people come in, or 40,000 are supposed to be there and 70,000 people get in."

There were flashpoints between fans when the teams played each other back in April, and Montague says it is inexplicable the authorities on hand at the stadium did not do more to protect fans.

"At the moment everybody is wondering how and why the police allowed this to happen," he added.

"In any country in the world, if you have a rivalry between two football teams, and you don't police it, there's likely to be a high degree of violence and probably deaths involved.

"In this case, for some reason, the police stood back and didn't police the match properly.

"Obviously the soccer ultras (hardcore fans) had a key role in the revolution, fighting the police and trying to bring down Hosni Mubarak (former Egyptian leader) -- many people are questioning if that is the real reason this wasn't policed properly.

"The league is a mess and I can't see it resuming anytime soon."