Saturday, April 25, 2009

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Conviction Overturned, Prosecutors Now Facing Charges

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Conviction Overturned, Prosecutors Now Facing Charges

Written by: Karen Benardello

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens obtained a legal victory when his corruption conviction was dismissed and it was announced his prosecutors are now facing criminal investigations themselves.

The prosecutors weren't in court when Stevens' verdict was overturned, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said during his 25-year career, he has never seen like the mishandling and misconduct that took place during this case. The judge then had the unusual task of appointing a new prosecutor to investigate Stevens' prosecutors.

Washington attorney Henry Schuelke was appointed to investigate possible contempt and obstruction by the Justice Department team during Stevens' case, during which he was convicted of accepting thousands of dollars in undisclosed gifts. After the verdict was reached, an FBI informant accused the prosecution of misconduct. The team was replaced, and the new team acknowledged that key evidence was withheld.

No Restraining Order Against Lohan

Lohan Does Not Have to Stay Away from Girlfriend:
Ronson Decides Not to Go Ahead with Restraining Order

Written by: Karen Benardello

After celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson broke up with Lindsay Lohan, PEOPLE Magazine reported that the Ronson family inquired about obtaining a restraining order on Monday, April 6 at the Beverly Hills Police Department, against an unidentified person.

The magazine originally speculated that Lohan was the person, after Ronson and her family stopped the actress from entering the "I Heart Ronson" party at Bar Marmont in Hollywood (the party was celebrating the launch of Ronson's sister's clothing line).

But Ronson's attorney, David Bass, later told PEOPLE that she decided against the restraining order, as there is "no basis for one." The DJ wasn't even with her family at the time of the request, as she was in Las Vegas, working at Prive.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fans of the New Movie "A Haunting in Connecticut" Visiting Real-Life House that Inspired the Film

Fans of the New Movie "A Haunting in Connecticut" Curious of Real-Life House:
Like Fans of "The Amityville Horror" Series, Fans Visiting Home that Inspired the New Movie, Stressing Current Owners

Written by: Karen Benardello

The new horror film "A Haunting in Connecticut," which is based on an alleged true story, has already spawned curious fans, reminiscent of those of "The Amityville Horror." The alleged haunting has driven droves of people to gawk at the former funeral parlor home in Southington, central Connecticut, the Associated Press (AP) is reporting.

Susan Trotta-Smith, who bought the home 10 years ago with her husband, said "It's just been really, really stressful. It's been a total change in a very quiet neighborhood to looking out the window and seeing cars stopping all the time." The family has said they have never seen anything unusual in the house and does not believe the property is haunted.

The family has removed the number from the house and has posted "No Trespassing" signs on the property. Trotta-Smith says that most people are respectful by staying in their cars on the street.

The movie stars Virginia Madsen, and tells the story of the Snedeker family's reported experiences in the house during the 1980's. They claim their son would hear strange noises in his basement bedroom, which once held coffin displays and was near the old embalming room. He also claimed he would see shadows on the wall of people who weren't there.

The Snedekers brought in Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-described paranormal researchers, who originally became famous for documenting the Amityville house hauntings. Lorraine said she felt an evil presence in the Southington home and experienced a haunting herself when she spent a night there, but the house was "cleared of its evil presence" after a seance in 1988.

This case was also the inspiration for the 2005 pilot episode of the documentary series "A Haunting" on the Discovery Channel.

New Route of Macy's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade Uncertain

New Route of Macy's Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade Uncertain:
If Broadway Becomes a Pedestrian-Only Zone Around Times and Herald Squares, Parade Will Have to Seek Different Route, Affect Area Businesses

Written by: Karen Benardello

New York City is already trying to figure out what alternative route the balloons and floats can use during this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to make Broadway a pedestrian-only zone around Times Square and Herald Square this spring.

The typical 2.5-mile route starts at Central Park West and West 77th Street, and ends at Herald Square, in front of Macy's. But since Bloomberg wants to make the city greener, safer and less congested, the Times Square Alliance says portions of this year's parade may have to be moved north of Times Square, which would keep it close to Broadway.

If the parade instead moves to the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.), as Crain's New York Business has reported, it would be the first time in the parade's 84-year history that it would completely bypass Times Square. Doing so would hurt businesses along the traditional route, as the parade is one of the most profitable events of the year for these businesses.

Officials Look to Reopen Anna Nicole Smith's Death Case

FL and CA Officials Look to Reopen Anna Nicole Smith's Fatal Overdose Case

Written by: Karen Benardello

South Florida prosecutors are once again looking at the evidence in the 2007 death of actress-model Anna Nicole Smith. Broward County prosecutors have met with Los Angeles authorities and the California Department of Justice, a spokesman for FL State Attorney Michael Satz said, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

This move comes after the March 13 indictment of Smith's former boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, and two doctors in CA, on charges of conspiring to illegally prescribe drugs to Smith. Broward County prosecutors want to see if any evidence from the indictments can help open a new case into Smith's death.

When Smith died on Feb. 8 in the Seminole Hard Rock hotel in FL, it was ruled as an accidental drug overdose. The Seminole Police Department, which handled the case because it happened on tribal land, said it had provided prosecutors and authorities with investigative materials, but had no plans to reopen the case itself.

"Project Runway" Has New Home

"Project Runway" Has New Home:
Lifetime Channel Gets the Hit Design Competition Show

Written by: Karen Benardello

After months of legal disputes, the hit fashion show "Project Runway" has finally found a home. The Associated Press (AP) has reported that the Lifetime network now legally has the right to air the design-competition show, which originally aired on the Bravo network.

The legal struggle involved NBC Universal, which owns Bravo, The Weinstein Co. and the Lifetime channel, and began last April. NBC had sued Weinstein after the company made a $150 million deal with Lifetime for the series. That lawsuit has already been settled.

NBC released a statement, saying Weinstein will pay them "for the right to move "Project Runway" to Lifetime. All parties are pleased with the outcome."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lindsay Lohan's Partying Ways Lead to Break-Up With Girlfriend Sam Ronson

Lindsay Lohan's Partying Ways Lead to Break-Up With DJ/Girlfriend Sam Ronson:
But Despite Pleas From Ronson, Break-up Leading Lohan to Old Partying Ways

Written by: Karen Benardello

Since Lindsay Lohan and DJ girlfriend Samantha Ronson decided last week to take a break so the actress can reportedly focus on herself, Ronson has allegedly reached out and asked Lohan to take care of herself.

While the actress' partying ways are what supossedly lead to the breakup, PEOPLE Magazine is reporting that Lohan, "despite appearances, is insecure and has relied on (Samantha) and their relationship to build her up. (Lindsay) barely sleeps, which explains a lot of her behavior. She's exhausted. She can't even sit down for a minute without pacing around the room. It's really sad."

OK! Magazine is also reporting that right after the split, Lohan went out at 2AM to party in the Hollywood hills, while Ronson was in San Francisco for a DJ gig.

Friday, April 3, 2009

U.S. Authorities Cracking Down on Mexican Drug Dealers

April National Scene Magazine National article

America Fighting Drug War: U.S. Authorities Cracking Down on Mexican Drug Dealers

Written by: Karen Benardello

In an effort to help Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa combat drug cartels, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the United States’ top military officer, visited Mexico to confer with leaders there to discuss the Merida Initiative. The three-year plan, which was signed last June, is aiming to send $1.4 billion USD to the U.S.-Mexican border for law-enforcement training, equipment and technical advice to strengthen Mexico’s judicial system.

The money and assistance is expected to help President Hinojosa stop drug lords from killing any more people, as more than 6,300 people have already died at their hands since January 2008. While the cartels don’t usually target civilians, hundreds have already died in the crossfire, and the U.S. doesn’t want to see anymore innocent people killed for drugs.

Not only does U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration want to stop the violence on both the U.S. and Mexican borders, especially in the border states of Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, the initiative is also expected to stop the Mexican drug cartels that control about 90 percent of the cocaine trade in America. The U.S. Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center says these drug cartels also control most of the marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin markets in America, with operations in 230 cities.

In the agency’s 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment, it states that Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, known as DTOs, control drug distribution in most U.S. cities, and are gaining strength in markets that they do not yet control, from inner cities to suburban and rural areas. It also concludes that Mexican DTOs represent the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S.

The cartels’ threats became more imminent in late February when the results of Operation Xcellerator, a nationwide sweep by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, were released by the Justice Department. More than 750 people were arrested, and 12,000 kilograms of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.3 million ecstasy pills and more than 160 weapons, nearly all attributed to Mexican-connected operations, were seized.

The Department of Homeland Security all these drugs came from small blocs around Mexico that are loyal to the cartels. One block is loyal to the Gulf cartel; another answers to the Sinaloa cartel, and another does business with the Tijuana cartel. While all of their violence worries U.S. authorities, they are most focused on the rivalry between the Gulf cartel leaders, known as Los Zetas, and the Los Negros, the Sinaloa cartel.

Many of their fights occur between Ciudad Juarez, near the point where Texas and New Mexico meet, and Nuevo Laredo, which is across the border from Laredo, Texas. U.S. authorities are worried that this is the heaviest launching pad for contraband entering the U.S., and almost everything is approved by either the Gulf or Sinaloa cartels. Authorities are having the most trouble cracking down on this area, as much of it is desert and rugged mountain terrain.

While the wars aboard are what many Americans are concerned about, President Obama should also aim to fight the drug war here at home. While the U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan need protection from terrorists, both American and Mexicans, particularly innocent and naïve teens, need protection from drugs.

Arrest Finally Made in Murder Case of Intern Chandra Levy

April '09 National Scene Magazine National Article

Proof That the Wheels in Washington Do Move Slowly: Arrest Finally Made in 2001 Murder Case of Intern Chandra Levy

Written by: Karen Benardello

A long-awaited break has been announced in the Chandra Levy murder case, nearly eight years after her death. Washington, D.C. police announced on Tuesday that they have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe killed the intern.

Police hope to charge Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique with first-degree murder in Levy’s attack and slaying in a Washington park. While he is currently serving time in a federal prison in Adelanto, California for attacking two other women, he is expected to be brought back to the nation’s capital sometime within the next two months.

When Levy disappeared, she had just finished an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. She remained in Washington, even though she was originally from Modesto, California. When last alive, Levy left her apartment to go running in the park. Her remains remained missing for nearly a year, until a man walking his dog found her skull and bones in the park.

The announcement is a welcome one, as the case has long stumped the city’s police department. The initial investigation received criticism for being compromised, as police missed leads and even searched the wrong part of the park for Levy’s body. When her remains were found, they were so decayed investigators couldn’t recover much evidence.

Authorities didn’t immediately focus in on Guandique; instead, they questioned Levy’s congressman, former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California, whose political career was sabotaged due to the investigation. However, Condit, a popular Democrat for a dozen years in his district who was romantically linked to Levy, was never considered a suspect.

But police eventually were led to Guandique, based on interviews with at least two witnesses who claimed he told them he killed Levy. Washington police also conducted interviews with the man who found Levy’s remains, as well as other victims who were attacked in the park. Police were unable to arrest Guandique sooner because, according to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, but the circumstantial evidence collected from over the years led investigators to him.

For example, one witness told police last month that Guandique said he and two male teenagers were in the Washington park smoking marijuana and cocaine when he saw Levy jogging. Reportedly, he told the teens that Levy “looked good” and that he was going to “get her.” The three then allegedly followed, grabbed and took her into the bushes. He then choked her to death so that no one would hear the struggle, according to the witness.

Even though Levy allegedly scratched Guandique during the struggle, he instructed his family to tell police that if they were ever questioned, just to say the scratches came from a fight with his girlfriend. Investigators did speak with Guandique immediately after Levy’s death in 2001 and 2002, and at one point, even gave him a polygraph test, which turned out to be inconclusive. They did also question his family and friends, but could not find any evidence linking him to the case.

However, even in light of this new information, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, Guandique’s public defenders, urged the public not to “draw any conclusions based on speculation by the media and incomplete information.”

Levy’s parents, Bob and Susan, told the Associated Press though that this new development meant their young daughter, who was only 24 at the time of her death, can now finally rest in peace. “Thankfully the individual responsible for this most heinous and terrible crime will finally be held accountable for his actions and hopefully unable to hurt anyone else ever again,” they also said.

Saudi Arabia Losing Control Over International Public Image

April '09 National Scene Magazine International Article

Ultra-Conservative, Religious Saudi Arabia Losing Control Over International Public Image With Attempts to Control Women

Written by: Karen Benardello

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is facing new international criticism and outcry over its ultraconservative religious police and judiciary after a 75-year-old widow was sentenced on March 3 to 40 lashes and four months in jail for being in contact with two men who are not her close relatives.

Abdel Rahman al-Lahem, the lawyer for Khamisa Sawadi, the widow, told the Associated Press (AP) on March 9 that he would appeal the verdict, which also states that she will be deported after her sentence is finished. Sawadi, who has not yet started serving her jail time, is Syrian, but was living in the country because she was married to a Saudi.

Rahman al-Lahem would not provide any more details about the case, as Sawadi did not want to speak with the media. But the newspaper Al-Watan has stated that she met with two 24-year-old men last April as they were delivering five loaves of bread to her home in al-Chamil, a city north of Riyadh, the country’s capital.

Al-Watan identified one of the men as Fahd al-Anzi, a nephew of Sawadi’s late husband, and the other was his friend and business partner Hadiyan bin Zein. The two men were also arrested by the religious police, convicted and sentenced to lashes and prison.

The court decided to convict the three based on testimony from al-Anzi's father, who accused Sawadi of corruption. “Because she said she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed,” the court verdict read.

This conviction was based on the country’s strict interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow men and women who are not immediate relatives to mingle. But Sawadi tried to overturn her conviction by telling the court that she considered al-Anzi to be her son because she breast-fed him when he was a baby. The religion recognizes a degree of maternal relation with breast-feeding, even if a woman nurses a child who is not biologically hers. But the court denied her claim, saying she didn’t provide evidence of this maternal relation.

Journalist Bandar al-Ammar, who works for Al-Watan, wrote in a recent article that he reported on Sawadi’s case “so everybody knows to what degree we have reached.” Her conviction is the latest act in a string of recent harsh acts by the Saudi government. Sawadi case came a few weeks after King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral content.” The move was seen as part of an effort to weaken the hard-line Sunni Muslim establishment.

Complaints from Saudis about the religious police and courts overstepping their broad mandate and interfering in their citizens’ lives don’t come unfounded. The country doesn’t allow women to drive, and prohibits its citizens from playing of music, dancing and movies that are considered to violate religious and moral values. While everyone is entitled to their own religious and moral views, women, or any other group for that manner, should be oppressed or banned from enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Further Proof of Martian Life

April '09 National Scene Magazine Space article

Further Proof of Martian Life: Mars Recently Underwent Ice Age

Written by: Karen Benardello

A newly-released study has proven that Mars underwent an ice age as recently as 1.25 million years ago, during which water flowed across the surface towards the planet’s equator. This find means the planet could potentially support future life.

Since the start of the new millennium, scientists have found numerous geological features, such as lakebeds, that indicate this possibility. They have also found such water-bearing minerals as carbonates that show that water has reacted with the Martian dirt.

But whatever water is presently on the Martian surface is completely in ice form, because the planet is currently too cold for liquid water. The planet’s climate has continuously fluctuated between warmer and cooler periods, due to the planet wobbling on its axis during its 4 billion-year history and the changes in the amount of sunlight the surface receives.

The new study, which is profiled in the March issue of the journal Geology, used a gully (which are young surface features) system located in the large Promethei Terra region to prove that water flowed on Mars more recently than previously thought.

The specific gully system the scientists examined shows that water-borne sediments were carried down steep slopes of alcoves. The sediments were then deposited during four different time periods. This was determined by the fact that certain parts of the alcoves were filled with craters, while other parts were completely free of craters.

The scientists also determined that ice and snow deposits formed in the alcoves when Mars was tilted millions of years ago, as opposed to the water that is confined to the poles today. About half a million years ago, the planet’s tilt change and the ice began to melt.

With more scientists publishing reports which prove water is in fact present on our neighboring planet, it becomes increasingly more difficult to deny that other life forms are present. While people are certainly more concerned with the current state of the economy, they should also prepare to face the possibility of co-habiting with other beings.

My Newsday Insider movie review of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!

Read my Newsday Insider movie review of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!

(Yeah! Got it published on the Newsday website! lol ),0,5928708.htmlstory <-- here's the link!


Just when horror movie fans were hoping to see the last of the recent remakes of iconic classics, studio company Rogue Pictures released the latest rehasing of one of the scariest films to date-"The Last House on the Left." Unlike most of the other remakes, which often times can instead pass as sequels, this movie, which stars Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Garret Dillahunt and Sara Paxton, stays true to the original, while updating the storyline just enough from the 1970s to the present day to leave its audience wondering how safe seemingly innocent-looking strangers really are.

However, before "The Last House on the Left" hit theaters, its superstitious release date of Friday the 13th seemed to be its only advantage. Rogue Pictures, which is a subsidiary of Universal and primarily releases horror movies, including "The Return," "The Hitcher" and "The Strangers," hired Dennis Iliadis as the movie's director, even though he has only directed one movie before. Trying to break into mainstream movies, it was questionable whether Iliadis could positively distinguish this version of "The Last House on the Left" from other 1970s and '80s remakes, including "Friday the 13th," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes" (which, along with the original "The Last House on the Left," famed horror director Wes Craven directed). However, Iliadis did well bringing this updated version of "The Last House on the Left" to life, as it focuses on the Collingwood family's struggle with dealing with the death of son Ben.

Surviving child Mari travels to the family's vacation lake home in the middle of nowhere with her parents Emma and John for the summer, and on the first night, asks to go visit her friend Paige at the store she works at in town. While Emma is at first hesitant to let her drive into town alone, as Ben died in a car accident, John ultimately convinces her to let Mari go. While at the store, Paige and Mari meet fellow teen Justin, who convinces them to go back to his motel room to smoke marijuana with him.

Once there, Mari and Paige meet their untimely demise as Justin's father, uncle and friend come back after escaping from the police. Justin's father becomes upset he made the first page of the newspaper, and believing Mari and Paige will call the police, he takes them into the woods to kill them. Later in the night, Justin and his family unknowing take refugee from a rain storm at the Collingwood house, and when Mari's parents realize who their guests really are, they begin to torment and attack them.

While the remake slightly alters details from the original, the updated version of "The Last House on the Left" is still terrifying, especially when the Cullingwoods' fight their daughter's attackers. For example, the scene where John injects Justin's father with something to paralyze him from the waist down, puts his head in the microwave and turns it on shows to what lengths a father would go to protect his daughter. While the majority of the actors are unkowns, except for Potter, who starred in such movies as "Saw" and "Along Came A Spider," and Paxton, who starred in "Sydney White" and TV's "Summerland," their acting showed they put time and effort into researching and studying the minds of their characters. Even though anticipated movies often thrive on the big-name actors the studio hire to draw in money, the excitement over the original movie seemed to draw in fans, as it made an estimated $14,658,000 during its first weekend. Contrastingly, the 1972 original earned an estimated $3.1 million during its entire box office run, which, adjusting for 2009's inflation, would be approximately $16,468,225.

While "The Last House on the Left" remake is a must-see for avid horror fans, parents of young children shouldn't let them see it, as they might find it disturbing, since it contains some nudity, a rape scene, profanity and extreme violence and blood throughout. The only things adults will find disturbing is the fact that no one actually says the Collingwood house is the last house on the left, despite it being said in the trailers, and the fact that the house looks nothing like it does on the theatrical poster.

Piven Won't be Punished for His Early Exit from Broadway Play

Jeremy Piven Won't be Punished for His Early Exit from "Speed-the-Plow":
Actors' Equity Association and Broadway League Unable to Reach Unanimous Decision

Written by: Karen Benardello

Good news for Jeremy Piven: it seems likely he won't face penalties for leaving his role in Speed-the-Plow early in December because of his high mercury level.

The actor was summoned to a grievance hearing initiated by the producers of the Broadway revival of the hit play. Piven had starred in the comedy's previews, which began in October, and then abrubtly left two months later, citing his illness, which was possibly a result of eating too much fish, as his reason.

In a joint statement, the Actors' Equity Association and the Broadway League said the actor's fate was determined when a committee of five actors and five producers were unable to reach the necessary unanimmous decision that was necessary to penalize Piven. The committe structure was stipulated in a contract from the producers and actor's union. The producers, though, have the right to proceed to arbitration.

Piven was represented by the Actors' Equity when he attended the hearing, in which he was met by a hurd of entertainment reporters when he arrived. He later released a statement saying the producers "did not prevail" in their efforts to convince the committee that he should have remained in the play.