A Pennsylvania man who bought a raffle ticket for $140 dollars has won the top prize - a Picasso worth $1 million.
Jeffrey Gonano, 25, entered a raffle put on by Sotheby's in Paris offering "1 Picasso for 100 Euros" as a fundraising event for the International Association to Save Tyre, an ancient Phoenician city in Lebanon.
Gonano, who works for his family's fire sprinkler business, found out on Wednesday that he'd won with one of the 50,000 tickets sold and is now the proud owner of the 1914 "Man in the Opera Hat," which dates from Pablo Picasso's cubist period.
"I'm still in shock. It's still very odd," Gonano said. "I never thought I would win. I just saw a news article on Yahoo and bought a ticket. I don't even know why."
The Associated Press quotes Gonano as saying he "wants to keep the artwork, which features vivid shapes in opaque gouache paint."
"Maybe I'll lend it to a museum and let them put it on display rather than putting it in a vault, so other people can enjoy it," he told the newspaper. "It all depends. I don't know what the taxes are or anything."
Having sold all 50,000 tickets, Sotheby's should have raised close to $7 million for charity event.
President Obama came to office after bemoaning the disparity in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine offenses, and with a background as a community organizer and constitutional law teacher that had some progressives anticipating a robust use of the Constitution's "reprieves and pardons" power.
But Obama has never come close to matching those expectations, leaving him open to criticisms from progressives like MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry that he seemed more willing to pardon turkeys than people.
The 13 pardons and eight clemencies announced by the White House Thursday brought Obama's total to 52 pardons and nine clemencies, the lowest number for any modern president. (A clemency shortens a sentence being served; a pardon is an official forgiveness of the crime, which restores an individual's citizenship rights, such as voting.)
Some speculated that during his first term, Obama may have been reluctant to use his pardon power for fear of Republican charges that he was soft on crime. And there was always the risk that a clemency recipient might get in trouble, creating a Willie Horton-style vulnerability during Obama's re-election campaign.
But as Obama has noted, he doesn't have to worry about re-election again. Still, the president hasn't really explained his relatively low number of clemencies and pardons.
In a written statement explaining his action Thursday, Obama did cite the crack/power cocaine discrepancies:
"Three years ago, I signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which dramatically narrowed the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late. If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
"Today, I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system."
White House press secretary Jay Carney didn't shed much more light. "I would simply say that all of these cases are handled in the ordinary process through the Justice Department. And the Justice Department makes, like — makes recommendations to the president."
Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about the president's relative paucity of pardons compared with his predecessors. "We are at year five, I guess, of eight," said Holder. "So I would say, hold on."
There are a lot of people who will have to hold on, however. One estimate is that there are 8,000 people with situations similar to those whose clemencies were announced Thursday.
Her is the best film of the year by a so-wide margin. It's gorgeous, funny, deep — and I can hear some smart aleck say, "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?" Let me tell you, I'd like to!
I certainly identify with the protagonist, Theodore Twombly, who falls in love with his computer operating system, his OS, which calls itself — sorry, I gotta say "who calls herself" — Samantha, and who sounds like a breathy young woman.
When Her begins, it doesn't seem as if it's going to be a romance but a sci-fi social satire, set in an unspecified future Los Angeles in which the architecture has no connection to people — they stroll through faceless plazas gazing into electronic devices, talking to unseen listeners. People eagerly embrace a new kind of OS — what an ad calls "an intuitive entity that listens to you and understands you and knows you."
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, and it's the performance of the year. The character has a job writing cards and letters on behalf of other people — intimate, sometimes erotic. The irony is, he can't find words to communicate with people in his life. He's in mourning for a wife, played by Rooney Mara, who left him for reasons remaining vague; they simply fell out of sync. He's desperately lonely.
Phoenix wears glasses and a thick mustache, but behind his Groucho mask he's wide open. He's the kind of actor who works to get himself into a state where he loses his emotional bearings, which sometimes means he doesn't connect with other actors. But in Her, he's meant to be all by himself, responding to Samantha's voice, and the performance is like a free-form solipsistic dance. It's not pure solipsism, because Samantha exists. But you might be watching a 4-year-old talking to an imaginary friend; it's that inward.
Scarlett Johansson does the voice of Samantha. It's not mechanical. It's seductive, throaty. At first she does what operating systems do, only charmingly: clean up his hard drive, remind him of appointments. Then she begins to wrestle with ideas, feelings. Suddenly, she and Theodore are taking soulful walks — he has an earpiece, she can see through a camera.
Then they take it to an erotic level. The question is implicit: Do we need our bodies, or is love all in our brains? Their relationship is real enough to make us ask what a real relationship is.
And Samantha continues to evolve, which you can hear — yes, hear. Samantha has spiritual needs, a drive to find new realms of communication. So Theodore feels her moving beyond his grasp — like many real lovers move on, in life.
Theodore and Samantha aren't the only show in Her. Amy Adams plays a friend of Theodore's who designs computer games and has her own relationship problems. But mostly we're in Theodore's head, and Jonze creates a lyrical, impressionistic palette. Every image is colored by emotion — and by the longing to break free of one's limited self and merge with another being.
The first time I saw Her, I was disappointed that director Spike Jonze didn't explore the Big Brother aspect, or the way whatever company created Samantha would track its users' buying habits and so forth. But that didn't interest him. He's not a satirist; he's a romantic transcendentalist.
Although sci-fi teems with cautionary tales of machines growing smarter than humans and taking over the world, on the basis of Her, I think Jonze yearns on some level for what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls "the Singularity," when machines will take on human characteristics and our minds will be expanded by machines. Jonze began with what could have been a one-joke idea, and in the course of getting it on screen, discovered the wellspring of love. (Recommended)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will "soon" pardon one of his sharpest critics — jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky — and said that a newly enacted amnesty law would free imprisoned Greenpeace activists and two members of the punk band Pussy Riot.
NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow on All Things Considered that the surprising news came minutes after a four-hour news conference by Putin, when the Russian leader told reporters "that he will soon pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Russian oil giant, Yukos oil."
Khodorkovsky was arrested in October 2003, when masked commandos stormed into his jet as it was parked on a runway in Siberia. Two years later, he was convicted of tax evasion and in 2010 found guilty of embezzlement.
Khodorkovsky, regarded by human rights groups such as Amnesty International as a political prisoner, has been in jail for the past decade. However, the former tycoon only has about eight months left on his original sentence.
"He has spent more than 10 years behind bars. It's a tough punishment," Putin said. "He's citing humanitarian aspects — his mother is ill. A decree to pardon him will be signed shortly."
Flintoff reports: "Putin also spoke today about the amnesty law that — on his instructions — was just enacted by Parliament. He confirmed that amnesty will be granted to the two members of the Pussy Riot punk band who remain in prison, and to 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace protest in September."
The punk band members were arrested after an irreverent 2010 protest at Moscow's main cathedral that Putin described as a publicity stunt that "crossed all barriers." The Russian leader has said the Greenpeace activists' Arctic protests were aimed at hurting Russia's economic interests.
The Associated Press says:
"Analysts viewed the decision as a clever step ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
" 'At first blush, the pardon for Khodorkovsky appears to be a rather canny move that will throw Putin's critics off-balance in the run-up to Sochi, while sending a clear message of self-confidence to his domestic political opponents,' Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a written commentary."
A bipartisan measure defying President Obama would impose new sanctions on Iran if it breaks an interim deal to curb its nuclear program.
The "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" would also compel the United States to back any Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Democrats Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Charles Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk, along with 23 others, introduced the bill intended to choke off funding to Iran's nuclear program by cutting off its oil sales.
"Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also has said a new sanctions law would kill the interim agreement reached in Geneva on Nov. 24 between Iran and the 'P5+1' powers. In that agreement, Tehran agreed to limit uranium enrichment in return for an easing of international sanctions."
"[We've] been in regular, very direct conversations with members of Congress on this subject, and have made very clear to them that we do not believe now is the time to pass any additional new sanctions through Congress," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.
"With regards to this particular measure, we don't think it will be enacted," he said. "[If] Iran does not comply with its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action, the preliminary agreement, or if Iran fails to reach agreement with the P5+1 on the more comprehensive agreement over the course of six months, we are very confident that we can work with Congress to very quickly pass new, effective sanctions against Iran."
The Associated Press reports:
"The goal, according to supporters, is to strengthen the negotiating leverage of the Obama administration as it seeks to pressure Iran into a comprehensive agreement next year that would eliminate the risk of the Islamic republic developing nuclear weapons. But it could also create added complications for U.S. negotiators, who promised Iran no new economic sanctions for the duration of the six-month interim pact that was finalized on Nov. 24 in Geneva.
" 'Current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table,' said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who spearheaded the effort with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
"Kirk called the draft law 'an insurance policy to defend against Iranian deception.' "
Meanwhile, 10 Senate Democrats who head key committees sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposing the measure.