TORONTO – He’s won two Tony Awards, two Emmys and been nominated for an Oscar – among many other accolades – but legendary Canadian actor Christopher Plummer says being honoured by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is special because of its origins.
“This is sweet and delightful because I always consider Stratford a sort of second home,” Plummer, 81, said before receiving the festival’s newly created lifetime achievement award at a gala celebration at the Four Seasons Hotel Monday.
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“I’ve been (performing there) since 1956 and it’s like a prize saying, ‘Hello, why don’t you come home?’ It’s a very sweet prize.”
Several luminaries attended Monday’s splashy soiree in honour of Plummer, who has homes in Palm Beach, Fla., and Connecticut.
Among them were actors Cynthia Dale, Brian Dennehy and Gordon Pinsent, who was slated to give Plummer his award at the swank event, which included performances by Stratford festival stars. Proceeds from the gala, for which individual tickets were priced at $1,000 each, will support several of the festival’s key initiatives.
“He’s masterful, he really is,” said Pinsent, 81, a fellow Stratford festival alum who first met Plummer in ’62 and with whom he did a speaking engagement at the Empire Club of Canada earlier this year.
“He certainly doesn’t believe in anything called ‘retirement,’ neither do I and neither do a good many of us. The man is extraordinary. He’s got so many sides to him. He’s quite remarkable, and when you share a stage with him it’s magic.”
Des McAnuff, the Tony-winning artistic director of the festival in southwestern Ontario, said it was a “no-brainer” to give the inaugural lifetime achievement award to Plummer.
“He is without question a national treasure and I think he’s quintessentially a Stratford Shakespeare Festival product,” said McAnuff, who’s directed Plummer several times at the festival.
“His work in England and London and on the screen and around the world, it all really started, it blossomed under Michael Langham’s direction (at the festival) in the 1950s. It all started there.”
Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Plummer – whose great-grandfather was Prime Minister John Abbott – has appeared in dozens of films and starred on stages from Broadway to Stratford and London.
He made his debut at the Stratford festival in a 1956 production of “Henry V.”
Plummer has performed at the Stratford festival several times since, including his 1996 starring turn in “Barrymore,” for which he later earned a Tony Award when it moved to Broadway. His recent Stratford festival credits include his 2008 tour-de-force role in “Caesar and Cleopatra” and his critically heralded 2010 turn in “The Tempest.”
Next year, Plummer is scheduled to present his one-man show “A Word or Two” at the festival.
Of course, Plummer has also had a distinguished film career. One of his best-known big-screen roles is Capt. Georg von Trapp in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music.”
Last year Plummer earned his first Oscar nomination, for playing Russian author Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station.”
In recent months he’s starred in the film “Beginners,” in which he played a father who comes out of the closet at age 75. In December, he’ll play the patriarch in the Hollywood remake of the highly anticipated “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
“Plummer is a miracle,” said Dennehy, who’s been in two productions at this year’s festival and who starred with Plummer in the 2007 Broadway production of “Inherit the Wind.”
“He’s in amazing health … he’s got a waistline of a 16-year-old boy. It drives me absolutely crazy,” Dennehy added with a laugh.
“He’s probably personally inspired more actors, directors and writers than any other individual who’s alive and working.”
Plummer – who’s also received a Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a Companion of the Order of Canada – may do even more projects at the festival, if McAnuff has his way.
“I have lots of things I want him to do,” said McAnuff, noting he just spoke with Plummer on Sunday about his plans for the 2012 and 2013 Stratford festival seasons.
“The thing that’s fabulous about working with a rare artist like Chris is he’s 81 years old and we talk almost exclusively about the future. That’s a great inspiration to talk to an artist at that point in his career, when he’s still looking steadfastly forward, looking to the future to collaborate.”
TORONTO – Giller-nominated writer Marina Endicott was plodding through a research job she’d been paid to do when she stumbled upon the topic for her latest novel, “The Little Shadows.”
“I would slip off to the archives …. and I kept finding these beautiful photographs of young girls in vaudeville,” the author said during a recent telephone interview from Edmonton.
“I would look up a performance, or I would find a photo of a theatre … so I’d be pulled off on a tangent.”
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As her interest in vaudeville grew, Endicott finished her second novel, “Good to a Fault,” about a guilt-ridden Saskatchewan woman who takes in an entire family after she accidentally crashes into their car.
The book – which followed her debut novel, 2001’s “Open Arms” – was shortlisted for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, Canada and the Caribbean.
“The Little Shadows” (Doubleday), which hit stores Tuesday, sees Endicott traversing wildly different territory. The author laughingly agrees that the subject matter is a departure: “It’s a bit of a shock, eh?”
Endicott’s new novel tells the story of three sisters trying to make their way in the hard-luck world of vaudeville. It opens in 1912 on a frigid January day in Fort MacLeod, Alta., as the girls – Aurora, Clover and Bella – make their way to an audition under the watchful eye of their mother Flora.
Endicott, 52, said she was shocked to discover that vaudeville’s unique brand of song, dance and skits existed north of the border at all.
“I had no idea. I didn’t know that there was vaudeville in Canada. I thought of it as a completely American thing,” she said.
The sisters, who soon become known as the Belle Auroras, encounter a colourful group of performers as they move from show to show, begging for work, all the while haunted by the death of their father and younger brother Henry.
Decidedly unpolished at the novel’s outset, their act is gradually honed by a series of mentors. That initial innocence was a notion that intrigued Endicott as she conducted her research.
“Something about those photographs from that early time. … they’re not yet protected when they’re having their picture taken,” she said.
“Their faces are open to us to look at and the gaze is very honest and frank. And even though they’re trying to be pretty, there’s a truthfulness about their look that I was really captivated by.”
Of course, the girls are constantly trying to appear old beyond their years.
Flora introduces Aurora as 16, noting “we say eighteen, of course,” while Clover is a year younger and 13-year-old Bella is “16, wink-wink.”
While the faraway setting is indeed a break from “Good to a Fault,” it’s perhaps not so surprising, given Endicott’s background.
Born in Golden, B.C., the author grew up in Halifax and Toronto and studied drama in London, England. She later moved to Saskatoon, where she worked in the theatre. The ’90s saw her migrate to Alberta with her husband, an RCMP officer.
She says “The Little Shadows” – which is chock-full of vaudeville bits – was a great chance to remember some of the people she had worked with over the years.
“I love people who are funny,” said Endicott.
“They so often shiver on the edge of despair themselves, but boy they make life better for the rest of it.”
Her far-flung childhood also provided inspiration for the novel: “That’s another thing about vaudeville that rang familiar for me is their nomadic lives,” noted Endicott. “Their community is movable.”
Her vaudeville obsession even prompted a road-trip a couple of years back to look at old theatres, with stops in California, Montana, North Dakota and Oregon. Her two teenaged children came along for the ride.
“They’re sick of vaudeville,” she said with a laugh.
“I wanted to go and just travel through the landscape. Because as much as the theatres are important I think for those girls (in the novel) … they’re travelling through the world as well as the theatre.”
It’s a world Endicott is hoping to conjure for readers of “The Little Shadows.”
Said the author: “It’s a pleasure to me if that lost, ephemeral world (of vaudeville) lives again.”
NELSON, New Zealand – Italy secured a bonus point in a battling 27-10 victory over a resilient United States on Tuesday, setting up the Pool C match against Ireland in five days’ time to determine one Rugby World Cup quarterfinal spot.
The Italians gave a patchy performance at Trafalgar Park despite a glut of possession from a lop-sided 19-7 penalty count. Because of the Americans’ tenacious scrambling defence, the Azzurri were forced to wait until the 66th minute for its fourth try – and the bonus competition point – from a penalty try.
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No. 8 Sergio Parisse, flyhalf Luciano Orquera and tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni scored in the first half for Italy, while U.S. fullback Chris Wyles scored a stunning first-phase try after receiving a pass following centre Paul Emerick’s bust from a lineout.
Italy needed a bonus point to help its calculations for the quarterfinals, which could come down to tries and points scored in the tournament if the Italians beat Ireland on Sunday.
But the U.S. defence held firm for long stretches, three times denying the Italians from scoring a try with the assistance of the video referee. Eventually the pressure at the scrum told, Irish referee George Clancy awarding a penalty try to relieve the tension in the Italian camp.
“We’re happy. Obviously we’ll take the five points – that was the important thing for us,” Parisse said. “The USA gave us a lot of hard work. We scored four tries, that’s important. Now we’re looking forward for the last match against Ireland with a lot of confidence.”
U.S. coach Eddie O’Sullivan had said beforehand that his expectations were limited to wanting his players, in their last match, to test Italy.
He wasn’t disappointed. Outmatched at scrum time, the U.S. midfield defence was ferocious with Todd Clever particularly inspirational. He made crunching hits, stole turnovers and won a personal duel with Italy’s similarly talismanic captain, Parisse.
The U.S. had just 36 per cent of field territory and was forced to play from deep when the ball was secured – usually from a lineout that stole five throws or half the Italian total – but still showed inventiveness and a willingness to take risks.
“We gave it all we had. At the end it wasn’t enough against a strong Italian side,” Clever said. “I’m just super proud of the guys … We’re going to be a great team in the near future.”
Playing with a considerable tailwind, Italy made the best possible start when Parisse crashed over under the posts in the third minute.
Winger Mirco Bergamasco went through a couple of tackles down the left flank into the opposing quarter, hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini took a hit-up to carry on the momentum, before the ball was then spread wide to find Parisse charging up the middle to go over untouched.
Six minutes later, winger Tommaso Benvenuti could have extended Italy’s lead but he fumbled trying to regather a grubber kick.
But Italy was struggling to deal with the Americans’ vigorous defence and work at the breakdown, particularly Clever.
And it was the player dubbed Captain America whose lineout win led to Wyles scoring the levelling try in the 18th minute. Emerick busted through some feeble defence and drew Italy fullback Luke McLean to give Wyles a converted try.
Bergamasco and Wyles traded penalties in the next 10 minutes for the teams to remain locked together. But Orquera sliced through from close range for to score for a 15-10 lead in the 30th after some adept mauling and pick-and-go work from his forwards.
Castrogiovanni was held up over the line not long before the break, but the bearded behemoth wasn’t to be denied in first-half injury time. He ensured Italy’s sustained pressure on the U.S. line was rewarded by scrambling over for a 20-10 halftime lead.
Italy couldn’t make its considerable possession and territory advantage count as time slipped away after the break and the pressure mounted for the all-important fourth try.
U.S. blindside flanker Louis Stanfill was sin-binned for one scrummaging infringement too many, and still the Americans held firm.
It couldn’t last. One scrum too many went down, and Clancy ran under the posts to signal the try. The Americans, however, were unbowed.
BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that the second Greek bailout package might have to be renegotiated amid increasing market speculation Wednesday that European leaders want to force private holders of Greek bonds to take bigger losses.
Merkel didn’t rule out altering the terms to the euro109 billion ($148 billion) package, saying the decision must be based on how Greece’s debt inspectors, the so-called troika, judge Athens’ recent austerity efforts.
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“So we must now wait for what the troika finds out and what it tells us: do we have to renegotiate or do we not have to renegotiate?” she said in an interview with Greece’s ERT television Tuesday night.
Merkel added that she “cannot anticipate the result of the troika.”
Greece was saved from default last year by an initial euro110 billion bailout, and the planned second rescue package includes a voluntary participation by private bondholders, who agreed to write off about 20 per cent on their Greek debt holdings.
But many economists and analysts maintain that Greece – mired in a deep recession worsened by the same austerity measures implemented in return for bailout loans – must have its total debt reduced by as much as 50 per cent if it is to have a chance of recovering.
The Financial Times reported that as many as seven of the eurozone’s 17 members want the banks to take a bigger hit on their Greek bond holdings to allow this to happen.
Citing unnamed senior European officials, the newspaper said Germany and the Netherlands are at the forefront of the calls for the private sector to take a bigger hit, with France and the European Central Bank said to be fiercely resisting the move.
Greece “will not get back on its feet without a serious reduction in debt,” said Ottmar Issing, a former chief economist of the European Central Bank, who has served as an adviser to Merkel in the past.
Athens needs to see its debt cut “at least 50 per cent, probably more,” Issing was quoted by Germany’s Stern magazine.
Germany’s banking association insisted there was no need to renegotiate the terms of the second bailout package. Banks in Germany and France are among the biggest holders of Greek bonds.
Greece’s international debt inspectors will return to Athens on Thursday after they suspended their review of the country’s finances early this month amid talk of budget shortfalls.
Once the fact-finding mission has made its conclusions, the finance ministers of the eurozone will organize a special meeting in October to assess them.
A positive review is required before the troika – the IMF, ECB and European Commission – can release the next batch of rescue loans Greece needs to avoid bankruptcy.
In Athens, another 24-hour public transport strike left commuters struggling to reach work without buses, subway services, taxis or trams.
Greeks have been outraged by the announcement of new austerity measures – including pension cuts and a new property levy – after more than a year of spending cuts and tax hikes.
Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos said he will be unable to pay the new emergency levy without selling property, and argued the country’s ability to pay additional taxes to cover budget gaps has been “exhausted for some time.”
To help Greece and restore confidence in the euro, Jose Manuel Barroso, who heads the executive European Commission, said the 27-nation EU must develop a stronger central government.
“If we do not move forward with more unification, we will suffer more fragmentation,” he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “I think this is going to be a baptism of fire for a whole generation.”
“Today, we are facing the biggest challenges that this union has ever had to face throughout its history – a financial crisis, an economic and social crisis, but also a crisis of confidence,” Barroso said.
The crisis, which began in Greece some 18 months ago, eventually spread to engulf Portugal and Ireland, which also needed bailouts. It now threatens to mushroom further, prompting criticism from analysts and leaders including President Barack Obama that the EU is acting too slowly.
Among the most important measures that European countries have been slow to clear is a proposal to give the eurozone’s euro440 billion bailout fund more powers – the ability to buy government bonds, bail out banks, and lend to troubled governments quickly before they are in a full fledged crisis. Legislators in Germany will vote Thursday, while Finland’s parliament approved the move on Wednesday.
The proposal, along with Greece’s second bailout, was agreed by eurozone leaders on July 21. But the delay in voting and implementing the decisions spooked financial markets in recent weeks.
In the meantime, the ECB has shouldered the burden, buying over euro150 billion ($205 billion) in government bonds to drive down borrowing costs for Italy and Spain.
Fears that the eurozone’s third and fourth largest economy, Italy and Spain, may get sucked into Europe’s debt crisis had stoked concern they would lose access to market funding and be forced into requesting bailouts.
A default by Greece or another country would send shock waves through the global economy, particularly in Europe, authorities fear. Banks would suffer such large losses on government bonds they hold that they would cut off credit to the wider economy and cause a new, sharper recession.
TORONTO – Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty spent much of Tuesday’s televised leaders debate defending himself against a unified attack by his two main rivals, suggesting to voters that the province would be worse off if the opposition were in power.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Andrea Horwath used every chance they got to hammer McGuinty on what they called his dismal record on jobs and tax hikes.
They attacked each other only occasionally, reserving their harshest criticism for the premier.
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“I’m not saying that it’s all sunshine and apple pie,” said McGuinty, who has acknowledged throughout the campaign that with the state of the world economy, the province could once again face tough times.
But his message remained the same: things are getting better under the Liberals, so why risk a change?
“Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative,” he said after the debate. “The fact of the matter is, I think what Ontarians are looking for is not perfection. They’re looking for measurable progress.”
The Liberals’ jobs plan, largely focused around green jobs, is working, McGuinty said, adding that it’s the Tories who would kill thousands of jobs by scrapping a contract with Korean giant Samsung.
Hudak dismissed the green jobs as “nothing but a shell game” which is simply driving up electricity bills.
“Your jobs plan has been a failure,” Hudak said.
Horwath, who like Hudak spoke often about the people she has met and the places she’s visited during the campaign, told McGuinty that stats about job creation meant nothing to the people of Ontario who “feel like you have ignored them for the last eight years.”
“During that recession what you decided to do was hit people with an unfair tax that made things harder,” she said.
McGuinty defended his tax record – he has brought in both a health tax and the HST despite promising no new taxes – saying he would not raise taxes this time around and Hudak should “stop saying” that he would.
“With all due respect, sir, nobody believes you anymore,” Hudak replied.
The Tory leader didn’t escape criticism, however, with McGuinty coming down hard on his use of the term “foreign workers” early in the campaign when speaking about a Liberal plan to give tax breaks to companies that hire professional immigrants.
“I’m not comfortable with this artificial division – foreign students, foreign multinationals, and foreigners,” said McGuinty, leading a rattled Hudak to interject.
“Dalton, you know that’s not true,” said Hudak, claiming he only used that term because it was the way the Liberals initially described it.
Hudak also jumped on McGuinty’s plan to stop construction on a power plant in Mississauga two weeks before the vote, which McGuinty mumbled was just being relocated. The decision, he said, was because “things had changed.”
“The only thing that’s changed is that there’s an election campaign,” quipped Horwath.
The 90-minute faceoff was the only chance for voters to see the leaders of the three main parties at the same time before the Oct. 6 vote.
It also came as polls suggest the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are in a virtual dead heat, creating the potential for a minority government with the NDP playing kingmaker.
The debate was the first one for rookies Horwath and Hudak, and was particularly important for the two opposition leaders because it was their chance to introduce themselves to many voters just tuning in.
York University professor Bob Drummond said all camps will likely feel they got their point across, although there was nothing in the debate that would change anyone’s minds ahead of the vote.
“(There were) no really bad performances or really excellent performances,” said Drummond.
Hudak, said Drummond, was the most repetitive, McGuinty was a bit overenthusiastic and Horwath appeared the most personable.
“If anything, the premier was a little less effective than I thought he would be, but I think, on the whole, he did defend a lot of aspects of the government,” said Drummond.
Hudak spent most of his time attacking McGuinty, and made the fewest references to his platform promises.
Both opposition leaders also made sure to speak about their families, with Hudak mentioning his daughter Miller several times, as he stayed true to his campaign strategy to present himself as a family man who understands the struggles of everyday Ontarians.
Hudak and Horwath already faced off last week in a northern issues debate, which McGuinty declined to participate in.
Horwath couldn’t resist taking a shot at McGuinty over missing the debate, offering the premier a geography lesson when speaking about a man she met in Dubreuilville.
“Don’t know if you know where Dubreuilville is,” she said. “It’s near Wawa.”
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Prolific scorer Daniel Carter says goalkickers at the Rugby World Cup have no excuses if a new ball or unfamiliar weather conditions chip away at their success rates.
Carter, who has a world record 1,250 points in test matches, admitted there were challenges for place kickers in New Zealand conditions and that a new type of ball designed for the World Cup was hard to master.
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But while he might have small advantages – being more familiar with the conditions and having had the new ball to practice with for about two weeks before the World Cup – he said there were no problems for kickers that time on the practice field couldn’t solve.
The World Cup is being played in New Zealand’s spring, one of its most volatile and certainly its most windy season. Many goalkickers have struggled to maintain their usual success rates in often windy conditions, in stadiums which are more exposed to the elements than they are used to.
“I guess the conditions can vary quite a lot in New Zealand depending on where you are,” he said. “In Wellington it can prove fairly difficult with he windy conditions at times.
“A lot of the stadiums overseas are such huge stadiums that it is quite tough for things like wind to get in and be an effect. But that’s something you have to adjust to as a kicker. You can’t use it as an excuse.”
He said the goalkickers were allowed one session before each match at the stadium “to sort of fine-tune things.”
“It can be challenging at times but it’s just something you’ve got to adapt to.”
Weather didn’t come into play when regular sharpshooter Jonny Wilkinson missed several attempts in England’s narrow opening win over Argentina under a roof at the new Dunedin stadium. The new ball was a factor there.
Carter admitted he had been frustrated at times in adapting to the new Gilbert-brand ball being used exclusively at the World Cup. Again, he said, the only answer was long hours on the training field to learn its foibles and to perfect technique.
“It doesn’t have as much give so if you don’t quite strike it right it doesn’t fly as straight as you’d like it to at times,” Carter said. “But once again it’s the same for every kicker and it’s just a matter of continuing to work hard on the practice pitch to make sure you’re fine-tuning your routine and your rhythm, to make sure it’s well intact because if you strike it well then it goes straight.”
Frustrating? “It can be at times. Obviously, when you play with a certain ball you get used to it. To have a new one for such an important tournament can be frustrating early on but it’s just a matter of getting that and working hard on the practice pitch.”
NAPIER, New Zealand – Ander Monro scored a late try and kicked a high-pressure penalty goal as Canada salvaged a 23-23 draw Tuesday to deny Japan its first Rugby World Cup win in 20 years.
Japan led a scrappy contest 23-15 with five minutes remaining, but could not hang on. The teams drew 12-12 at the 2007 World Cup – Japan’s best result since its win over Zimbabwe in 1991.
Monro missed two conversion attempts after replacing injured James Pritchard as goalkicker, but nailed the penalty goal when it mattered in the 79th minute.
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“We probably had the game – I thought we should have won it,” Japan coach John Kirwan said. “I don’t know whether to be happy or sad. The boys played their hearts out.
“A few errors in the second half cost us. We had a good lead, we needed to capitalize … We didn’t it, and it cost us in the end.”
Canada captain Pat Riordan was off the field late in the second half and had to watch the comeback from the sidelines.
“Great play by the boys, great fight at the end to come back,” he said. “We got out of it with a couple of points.”
Canada centre DTH van der Merwe scored the opening try but hooker Shota Horie and right winger Kosuke Endo replied with tries to give Japan a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Left winger Phil MacKenzie got Canada back in the match with a try after the break to kick off a seesawing half which ended with Canada’s resurgent comeback.
The Canadians have six points and are in third place in Pool A from the draw and an opening win over Tonga, and now have a match remaining against top-ranked New Zealand on Sunday.
Japan finished the tournament with two points from three losses and a draw.
Rivals on the sidelines in sunny conditions in front of 14,335 fans at Napier’s McLean Park, Kirwan and Canada coach Kieran Crowley had both been members of the New Zealand squad which won the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
Crowley’s team was dominant early. Van der Merwe was sent bursting through on a 40-yard run after a neat pass from midfield partner Ryan Smith, and only a brilliant ankle tap from Japan fullback Shaun Webb prevented a try under the posts.
Van der Merwe was not to be denied, however, and shook off a soft tackle for a converted try moments later in the seventh minute.
Canada’s lead lasted two minutes as Japan won close-range scrum and Horie barrelled over in the corner.
As the game started getting scrappy, Pritchard was felled by a huge hit going for a loose ball. He lay motionless for about a minute before being helped to his feet to go off for treatment as Conor Trainor came on as a blood replacement.
With Japan starting to get on top, fly half James Arlidge slotted over an easy penalty to make it 10-7. Canada had a chance to level straight after and, with Pritchard off the field, Monro struck the left post with his penalty attempt.
Canada got repeatedly caught out by Japan’s speedy breaks as the first half drew to a close. Moments before the interval, Japan wasted a scoring chance when unmarked Endo received a dreadful pass that went behind him. But the big winger was set-up under the posts for a converted try moments later to give Japan a 10-point lead.
With Pritchard out of the game, Crowley’s team got a boost when MacKenzie drifted past three poor tackles for his second try of the tournament.
Monro missed the conversion but landed a penalty before Arlidge booted Japan to a 23-15 lead with two coolly struck kicks.
Kirwan, meanwhile, set a Rugby World Cup record by being involved in his 23rd match as a coach or player. Kirwan played 11 matches for the All Blacks and the Canada match was his 12th as a head coach. Jason Leonard played 22 matches for England.
WASHINGTON – A man accused of running an illegal contractor spy ring in Afghanistan has resigned from the Air Force, still maintaining his innocence, and still facing possible criminal charges.
Two investigations continue in a case that has tested the definition of what contractors are allowed to do in war zones.
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Air Force civilian employee Michael Furlong, together with his boss, Mark Johnson, resigned in July after the Air Force inspector general told the men they’d face official censure for how they ran an information gathering network in Afghanistan.
“After 17 months of DOD investigations and an FBI investigation, it was determined that no criminal laws were broken,” Furlong wrote in his August 12 resignation letter, obtained by the Associated Press.
But inquiries continue by the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Pentagon’s Defence Criminal Investigative Service, a senior defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters still under legal review.
The CIA alleged in late 2009 that Furlong’s private military contractors were running an illegal covert spying network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, managed by legendary ex-spymaster Duane R. Clarridge. The then-CIA station chief complained those contractors were helping target terrorists for capture and kill operations, and getting in the way of agency operations on the ground, according to multiple U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. All officials spoke anonymously to discuss intelligence matters.
A series of reports by The New York Times first exposed the controversy, leading then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates to order a review. A Defence Department inquiry dated June 2010, obtained by the AP, concluded Furlong’s “Information Operations Capstone” had hidden clandestine spying activity beneath layers of legitimate information collection, violating Pentagon policy and leading to the more in-depth investigations.
Furlong and Clarridge maintained to investigators that they were operating a legal network of paid informants, gathering data on everything from gas prices and local clan disputes to enemy threats against coalition forces. The information was used for everything from mapping tribal loyalties to tracking Taliban bomb-building cells before they could strike, two defence officials said, describing the inquiries.
Clarridge said what he did was no different than what a foreign news network would do, using a system of freelance local stringers across the country to gather information.
Under the Furlong-Clarridge system, a handful of five to six foreigners – former CIA and special operations officers with experience gathering intelligence – ran a network of low-level local operatives, who asked people what they thought or worked their own sources, as directed by their “handlers.”
The problem with information gathering done by a contractor is that the Rolodex of sources becomes an asset of a private company instead of the unquestioned property of the U.S. government, officials said.
That creates a loophole in which there is no way to cross-reference those human sources with existing military and CIA networks on the ground, a crucial step in assessing the veracity of information, and in making sure the same spies or tipsters aren’t double-dealing to two arms of the U.S. government, or getting in the way of each other’s operations, two former intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a classified process.
That issue became especially prickly for the CIA when Furlong’s network started reporting threat information to the military, which Furlong says led to targets.
“Most importantly, we saved U.S. and Afghan lives with the ‘Force Protection Atmospherics’ program,” Furlong said in his letter of resignation. “We enabled the separate targeting board process and the Predator operations to be much more successful than they were or have been since they terminated the Atmospherics program. That is verifiable fact.”
Defence officials say Furlong and subcontractor Clarridge maintained their information even led to CIA Predator strikes inside Pakistan. The officials insist investigations have not proven a link between data gathered by Clarridge’s network and GPS co-ordinates of known U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
In his resignation letter, Furlong does note that his operation was caught in a grey area of intelligence operations, and he said he welcomed the changes in oversight that had since been put in place.
Those changes included the restructuring of how contractors gather what is known as “atmospherics,” like the tone of Friday sermons at a mosque, or the mood on the street of a village toward a local official or NATO. The paid tipsters, still employed by U.S. contractors, now collect information passively, by observing and sharing what they’ve heard on the street.
Those changes came too late for at least one of the other contractors Furlong employed under his multi-armed intelligence network. Tampa-based International Media Ventures (IMV) shut its doors, turned radioactive by association with the investigations, even as high-ranking Pentagon officials praised IMV’s work gathering social and civil data to map Afghan society – work that is now being carried out by another contractor.
Another one of the firms involved, Strategic Influence Alternatives, went back to the business of protecting corporate executives overseas.
Clarridge is now shopping his human-intelligence networking skills to other foreign intelligence agencies, and to U.S. agencies like the FBI, the defence officials say. Clarridge would not comment for this story.
Defence officials said Furlong told investigators he is confident he’ll be cleared.
HOUSTON – The St. Louis Cardinals have done just about everything right in September to make their charge at Atlanta in the NL wild-card race. They wasted an opportunity to finally draw even by losing exactly the kind of game they’ve been winning lately.
Brian Bogusevic scored on Angel Sanchez’s bunt in the 10th inning, giving the Astros a 5-4 victory over the Cardinals on Monday night.
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St. Louis had won 15 of 20 to close the gap on the Braves, who have dropped 16 of 25 games in September following Monday’s loss to Philadelphia. But the Cardinals squandered several scoring chances in Houston, uncharacteristic during their surge. St. Louis has seven one-run victories this month.
“If you’ve watched us over the last two weeks, everything’s been perfect,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “We’ve had some really hard games that most of the time, we win. We’ve only had a couple get away.”
“I kept liking the way we went after it and created situations,” he said. “You just tip your cap when they made pitches and got us out.”
Former Astros star Lance Berkman hit a tying two-run double off Wesley Wright in the eighth, capping a Cardinals rally from three runs down.
But Bogusevic doubled off Octavio Dotel (3-3) in the 10th and advanced on Jason Bourgeois’ bunt. Sanchez then dropped a bunt in front of the plate, and Bogusevic charged home as Dotel mishandled his attempt to flip the ball to catcher Yadier Molina with his glove.
“This is baseball,” Molina said. “Sometimes, you’re going to do the job. Today, it was bad that we didn’t do the job.”
Closer Mark Melancon (8-4) pitched two scoreless innings and Matt Downs hit a two-run homer for the last-place Astros, who drew motivation from playing the spoiler role.
“To have the game be meaningful is fun for us,” Bogusevic said. “We have to play for something, and we’re not just going to play it out and let the season end without trying hard. You owe it to the game in general to play hard.”
Houston led 2-1 in the fourth when Jaime Garcia walked Carlos Lee. Downs then drove a 1-0 pitch into the left-field porch for his 10th home run of the season.
Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth, getting David Freese to roll into a double play before fanning Albert Pujols.
The Astros escaped more trouble in the seventh. Ryan Theriot and Jon Jay led off with singles, and Nick Punto moved up the runners with a sacrifice.
Astros manager Brad Mills brought in Wilton Lopez to relieve Rodriguez, who threw 102 pitches. Lopez then retired pinch-hitters Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso on groundouts.
The Cardinals stranded nine runners in the game.
“We had a good chance to win that game,” Molina said, “and we didn’t execute.”
Pujols singled and Holliday walked leading off the eighth against Fernando Rodriguez. Mills brought in the left-handed Wright to force the switch-hitting Berkman to bat right-handed. Holliday and Pujols pulled off a double steal, and Berkman doubled off the scoreboard, only his sixth double hitting right-handed this season.
If the Cardinals and Braves finish with the same record, they’ll play a tiebreaking game in St. Louis on Thursday. In the quiet clubhouse after Monday’s game, the Cardinals lamented their missed opportunity.
“It’s part of the game,” Pujols said. “It’s not like we didn’t want to take advantage of those opportunities. We fought back, we still have two games left. We’ll see what happens these next couple of games.
“It would be a little tough with Atlanta winning and us losing (Monday). But now, the worst thing that can happen is hopefully we can push this to a Thursday playoff game. Anything can happen in the next couple of days. This game is crazy.”
NOTES: Holliday led off the second inning with his team-leading 36th double. … Cardinals SS Rafael Furcal left the game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring. La Russa said Furcal would probably sit out the final two regular-season games. … Astros LF J.D. Martinez left in the fifth with a bruised left foot. … Wright had not allowed a run in 17th consecutive appearances before Berkman’s double. … Berkman is hitting .406 with 14 RBIs against Houston this season.