Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sale of movie rights to Spielberg sparks new battle among King siblings

DreamWorks Studios’ announcement Tuesday that it plans a big-screen epic on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. quickly sparked a new battle among his three feuding children.

Dexter King, who lives in California, negotiated the sale of rights by the King estate for what he hopes will be “the definitive film” on his father’s life and legacy, he said in a press release.

DreamWorks has been granted permission to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s copyrighted intellectual property, including his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

But his brother and sister, Atlantans Martin Luther King III and Bernice King, said they only learned of the deal in an e-mail from him Tuesday morning as DreamWorks announced the film project.

They don’t consider the deal valid and plan to fight it, Bernice King said in an interview later Tuesday.

“We are taking action. We cannot reveal what it is at this time,” she said.

“Dexter King has entered into an agreement without approval of his shareholders,” she said. “It’s about Dexter King and the empire he is trying to build with Madison Jones.”

Jones, a longtime associate of Dexter King’s, and former Motown Records executive and film producer Suzanne de Passe worked on the deal with DreamWorks and heavyweight filmmaker Steven Spielberg, according to de Passe. Spielberg, Jones and de Passe would be co-producers.

De Passe, in a phone interview, declined to say how much the deal is worth.

Dexter King, 48, who could not be reached Tuesday, is the chief executive of the King estate. Martin Luther King III, 51, and Bernice King, 46, have been contending legally with him for months over its control and other issues.

De Passe said she was aware of ongoing legal fights between the three King siblings.

“But that has no real bearing on [the film],” de Passe said, a comment echoed by a DreamWorks spokeswoman.

Spielberg said in a DreamWorks press release he hoped to bring a movie “of undeniable power that we can all be proud of” to the screen.

De Passe said the next step will be hiring screenwriters, and that production could be two years away.

The three King siblings have gone to court in Georgia over control of the corporation that controls their parents’ legacy. That case revolves around papers of their mother, Coretta Scott King, that Dexter is trying to use for a biography and that Martin and Bernice King are trying to block.

Martin and Bernice King were also angered by a deal cut by Dexter King and a record companyfor recordings of their father.

Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor, diplomat and lieutenant of Martin Luther King Jr., said a movie by Spielberg — maker of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” among other films — might be the best way to tell the slain civil rights leader’s story.

“We’ve had few documentaries but we’ve never had a film that has the budget and the cinematography and the spirit that is capable of telling the King story,” Young said.

“His work was Dreamworks and we all grew up on his dream.”

Young also said such a film has been Dexter’s King’s longtime goal.

“Dexter has been single-minded in his pursuit of this effort … What he has been looking for is a major motion picture production.”

He said he thought Martin and Bernice King had better accepted that Dexter King was in control of at least this aspect of their father’s legacy.

“They have gotten a bad rap but they have given a bad rap to each other,” he said of the three children.

“I think Dexter is a loner. He would have been a hero if he had … continued the legacy by feeding the hungry or if he had gone into politics. But he has always thought he had the responsibility of communicating his father’s and mother’s legacy globally. I think the other two didn’t feel that way, and I could see both sides.”

“They are all accomplished in their own way but none of them are their father and we can’t expect them to be their father.”

Young said the film will have a hard time pleasing everyone.

“The problem is that nobody will like the movie in the Movement,” Young said. ” I don’t know who they can get to play Martin Luther King.”

Political Science Student Receives Prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Warren Seay DALLAS- Warren Seay, a junior majoring in political science in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has been selected as a 2009 Truman Scholar. The prestigious national award recognizes college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government or elsewhere in public service.
Out of more than 600 candidates, Seay is one of 60 students from 55 U.S. colleges and universities awarded the 2009 scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 for graduate study, in addition to leadership training and internship opportunities. Seay is the 12th Truman Scholar at SMU since the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975.
“This Truman Scholarship is a testament to the guidance I’ve received from my professors and mentors at SMU,” says Seay, a Hunt Leadership Scholar and the president of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. “It represents the type of service-learning that SMU offers and that I want to be part of in the future.” Seay also is participating in the 2008-10 Institute for Responsible Citizenship, a leadership program in Washington, D.C. As one of only 24 students nationwide selected for the institute, he interned in Summer 2008 with the Department of Labor and met political leaders including former Secretary of State Colin Powell. “The program gives minority men a unique perspective on social problems and how we can create change through leadership,” says Seay, who will return to Washington this summer for more coursework and another internship. Seay learned about the Truman Scholarship Foundation during his time in Washington. He started the intense application process upon returning to SMU in Fall 2008, with the support of the University’s Office of National Fellowships and Awards. His application focused on minorities and education, particularly in Texas schools and his hometown district of DeSoto.
“I’ve seen what education can do for a person,” he says. “The level of minority underachievement bothers me, and I want to devote graduate school and my career to closing the achievement gap that exists in our country.”
As a result of his research on struggling students and schools, Seay says, he decided to launch a bid for an open seat on the DeSoto Independent School District Board of Trustees.
“I’m a lifelong product of DeSoto’s public school system, I’ve studied the issues, and I know the schools well.” J. Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science, says, “Warren combines a top-notch intellect and drive to achieve academically with genuine concern for the community. His proposal for the Truman on education reform and his related bid for the DeSoto school board reflect this admirable combination.”
After the May 9 board election, Seay heads to Missouri for a Truman Scholar leadership development program at William Jewell College, where he will participate in community service projects and learn about graduate school and public service options. “I haven’t decided yet which graduate schools I will apply to,” Seay says, “but I know public service is in my future.”

Around the World People Rally For Davis

(May 20, 2009) - The countdown has begun for Troy Davis—again.
By Zenitha Prince

The Georgia death row inmate escaped execution three times. But, since his 30-day stay of execution expired Saturday, another appointment with death may be fast approaching.

“I don’t know of anybody who has gone through three execution dates,” said Jared Feuer, southern regional director of Amnesty International, USA, who is affiliated with Davis’ case. “What I think is amazing is he talks about his case being bigger than him. He talks about his faith, his purpose, that his case may be used to stop the death penalty—that has been what has kept him.”

That faith is based on Davis' long-held contention that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, the August 1989 murder of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Ga.

The fact that no weapon was found and that seven of nine witnesses against Davis have since recanted their testimony—three others also said one of the remaining two is actually the killer—supports Davis’ claim, supporters said.

But the courts have refused to hear the inmate’s arguments for granting habeas corpus—relief from unlawful imprisonment—based on procedural laws.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act—among other things—limits federal judges from granting relief if, as in Davis’ particular case, motions weren’t filed in the right order or evidence was not introduced at the state level. That those laws would prevent a possibly innocent man from pleading his case, “demonstrates the insanity of this system,” Feuer said.

Davis’ legal saga has prompted an outpouring of public outrage, expressed at more than 150 events in more than 40 U.S. states and 28 countries around the world during a Global Day of Action for Troy Davis campaign on May 19.

In Washington, several anti-death penalty and social justice advocates spoke at the All Souls Unitarian Church before an auditorium of people bearing signs, buttons and T-shirts with the declaration, “I Am Troy Davis.”

Said Amnesty executive Betsy Hawkins of the show of solidarity, “When justice is denied to one of us, it’s denied to all of us.”

And too often, it’s Blacks and other minorities like Davis who are denied justice, NAACP Washington Bureau Chief Hillary Shelton said, calling for an end to the death penalty.

“We’ve got to end the death penalty today. We’ve got to save Troy Davis,” he said. “This is about the cleansing of a process of summarily executing people of color for crimes that other people would not be executed for.”

About 60 percent of all death row inmates are racial and ethnic minorities and most are there for crimes involving White victims, the longtime civil rights activist said, so there are clear disparities. “As much as we’d like to think that lynching was abolished, this rush to execution is really a modern-day lynching,” he added. “That White supremacist approach to the justice system is still alive today.”

Law and justice officials should be even less inclined to speedy execution—or to any form of capital punishment according to some—given the number of death row inmates who have been exonerated, activists say.

Shujaa Graham, a death row exonoree, said while serving three years in a California prison for robbery, he was wrongly charged for the murder of a prison guard and spent more than a decade fighting for his release. “I became politicized in prison… and being an organizer, I became a target. So instead of me serving three years in prison and going home, I spent the next 12 years in prison fighting for my life,” he said with a tremor in his voice and tears running down his face.

The experience affected not only him but also his family, the 58-year-old said. “When my mother would visit, I would say, ‘Mama, how’re you doing?’ And she would say, ‘Very well.’ She’d say, ‘How’re you doing?’ I’d say, ‘Very well.’ Now I understand my momma and I were lying to each other—we weren’t doing well,” he said before adding, “I feel for the Davis family.”

Now Graham is using his experience to fight the death penalty. “I am not a victim, I’m a survivor and I promised myself that if I ever got out, I would fight against capital punishment, racism and fight for social justice,” he said.

But Davis’ case—and the many cases like it—go beyond the death penalty and speak to the accountability and fairness of the justice system, Feuer said. “This system is set up to pass the buck—like a firing squad where no one knows whose bullet actually kills the person,” he said of the continual shifting of the case between the state and federal courts.

Feuer said more of the focus seems to be on solving and issuing punishment for cases instead of ascertaining innocence and guilt. “I think people are confused and sad that we have a justice system in America that’s not focused on right or wrong and innocence and guilt but on finality,” he said of public response to the case.

That rush to judgment is especially evident in cases involving law enforcement, added Brian Davis of the Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. “When a police office is killed there’s a lot of pressure to solve the case,” he said.

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA—the lead advocacy group in this campaign—said they are optimistic about a possible resolution. “We’re hopeful he’ll finally have his day in court because once that happens, we know he’ll be fine,” he said.
Amnesty and its partners have met with the Congressional Black Caucus, which has agreed to get behind the case, and are setting up a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to seek his support. “We’re reaching the level where everyone is realizing this will be a travesty of justice and a blot on the U.S. human rights record,” he said.

But Cox and others agreed that it is the constant agitation and attention from average Joes and Janes all over the world that has kept Davis alive and will eventually gain his freedom.

Said Feuer, “The death penalty works when executions happen under the cover of darkness. In the light, this case is so egregious that they can’t execute him. … As long as people stay focused on the case, I don’t think they can do it.”

Ebony, Ivory and Bizarre Furniture Commercial Harmony

Racism doesn't make a lot of dollars or sense. Money is green, so why wouldn't you want to market to the widest range of potential customers?

Well, a fledgling hipster ad agency, Rhett & Link, has taken that idea to the next level. In an online ad for a local North Carolina furniture shop, the Red House, the company used race as the focal point of its marketing message.

The ad has gone viral as an awkward Internet marketing sensation. ...

This ad has generated some controversy by linking furniture sales to a discussion of racial reconciliation. Personally, I love the ad. I think it's always good when an ad or any other public event triggers a broad discussion about how our ideas on race play out. Rhett & Link go on to explain:

For those of you who think this video is racist, we'd like you to distinguish between "racist" and "racial." Racism is "hatred or intolerance of another race or other races." Racial is "of, relating to, or based on a race." This video is very obviously racial as opposed to racist. This video doesn't promote or feature hatred or intolerance. Rather, it's the very opposite. This commercial promotes inclusion and reconciliation, if not in a comical way. To point out the obvious, the irony in this video is that it's completely ridiculous for people to relate furniture to their race. People of all colors are welcome at the Red House, which is something that is taken for granted today, but there was a time in the not-so-recent past during which things as simple as a water fountain were NOT for everyone.

What do you think of the commercial?

Economic panel look at energy, green jobs

WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- Energy was the focus of an economic recovery panel meeting Wednesday, but financial oversight and employment aren't far behind, President Barack Obama said.

Members of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board "are doing an extraordinary job" on a range of issues, Obama said after attending the panel's first quarterly meeting.

White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee chaired the meeting, and participants received -- but took no action on -- a paper, "Energy, Environment and Technology," which favored moving toward a cap-and-trade emissions scheme and reviewed anticipated cost increases anticipated by using low-carbon energy, including those that ultimately would be passed on to consumers.

Author John Doerr, of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, said he hopes the paper will be backed by two-thirds of the group.

During the meeting, Obama called a sustainable green economy "a huge, complicated (and) difficult issue." Jeff Immelt, General Electric (NYSE:GE) chairman and chief executive officer, struck an upbeat note on the task of greening jobs.

"I think we're going to be surprised how many jobs we create," he said.

After the meeting, Obama said, "At the end of this discussion, there was impressive consensus about the importance of us getting out front on energy (and) the enormous job creation potential that exists."

The panel also will consider a financial regulatory regime and employment issues as well, Obama said.

The panel, created by Obama in February, is chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Goolsbee, who also was Obama's economic adviser during his presidential campaign, is the committee's staff director. The panel's membership includes experts from business, labor, government and academia.

Colin Powell: I belong to the Republican Party that’s “waiting to emerge”

Reminds me of when Democrats talk longingly about their love for the America That Will Be once the entire progressive agenda is enacted, in contrast to the poor imitation of America that we have now.

I don’t know what just made me think of that.
“Rush Limbaugh says, ‘Get out of the Republican Party.’ Dick Cheney says, ‘He’s already out.’ I may be out of their version of the Republican Party, but there’s another version of the Republican Party waiting to emerge once again,” Powell told the crowd.

No word on what this emerging version will look like, but presumably a key tenet will be that “Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less.” And how long will he have to wait? If Jon Huntsman’s any indicator, a bit longer than three years:

During our conversations last month in Utah, Huntsman had already begun to realize that perhaps the Republican Party was not ready for him. “You cannot have a successful party based upon a very narrow band, demographically,” he tells me. “You’ve gotta broaden it to include more young people, more people of color, more people who are urban-dwellers, more who are the intelligentsia in America, many who have jettisoned the party. … And that’s ultimately I think how it’s going to play out. We’re just not there yet.” Two years was probably not enough time for the party to change. “He realized he’d just be beating his head against the wall with these guys, which made him open to the phone call [from Obama],” says another source close to Huntsman. “If he thought he had a real chance to be the standard-bearer and savior of the party, obviously he would have said no.”

At least one GOP kingmaker thinks Romney’s the answer in 2012, which brings to mind a famous quote from Gertrude Stein. Exit question: Isn’t most of the sturm und drang over how centrist the party should be a luxury of being out of power? If public anger mounts over spending and the backlash sends a wave of Republicans to Congress next year, the responsibility of wielding some measure of power again is going to paper a lot (although not all) of these differences, just as it did when a coalition of hawks, social cons, and fiscal conservatives coexisted relatively happily for the past 15 years. We can’t fight the Democrats right now so we fight with each other. We can fight them again, we will.

Cleveland parties for the Cavs as Orlando series gets under way

Detroit Pistons? Check. Atlanta Hawks? Done.

It's been easy going for the Cleveland Cavaliers so far in the NBA playoffs. So easy that getting worked up for the games has been a bit of a challenge, says party promoter Arnold Hines.

"They've just breezed through the playoffs," says Hines, who's hosted countless postgame basketball parties over the years. "But people are getting more excited with them playing Orlando."

At 8 Friday, Hines will throw a viewing-and-after-party at Sunset Lounge, 1382 West Ninth St., in Cleveland's Warehouse District, 216-531-0001. DJ K-Nyce and DJ Majette will spin. Proper attire. $10.

At 10 p.m. Thursday, May 28, the after-party action hits Anatomy, 1299 West Ninth Street, in the Warehouse District, 216-363-1113. DJ Steph Floss and DJ Fresh will spin. $10.

If you're looking for a pep rally . . . the Cavs will throw a Fan Fest at 6 p.m. Friday on Gateway Plaza, between The Q and Progressive Field.

The Cavs also will host a viewing party at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at The Q when they play in Orlando. Free vouchers are available at area Papa John's pizza shops.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank speaks about Vick

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank answers questions about Michael Vick at the NFL owners meetings:

Q: Do you think he'll be back?

Blank: "I don't know, but if I had to guess I would say yes. It would depend on the coach. It would depend on the owner.

"I think the commissioner has to reach a conclusion in his opinion. There's no question that Michael's paid his debt to society, obviously. But beyond that, the commissioner has to decide whether or not Michael — based on his view — has not only the personal remorse, but has conducted himself not only personally but with who he's associated with in a way that's going to allow him to be a player in the NFL and represent our league well. That's a decision the commissioner will make."

Q: Do you want him back in the league, personally?

Blank: "I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption. But the commissioner needs to satisfy himself that Michael's not only going through his own journey but is prepared to make other decisions that he's made in the past — both personally and who he associates himself with is a very big part of that. So right now, from what I've read, (Vick) is committed to getting his life back in order first, then his family and his own personal life, and at the same time looking to the future in the National Football League. That was pretty clear going through the bankruptcy proceedings."

Q: What sort of backlash will a team face?

Blank: "I have no idea. I mean, I don't know. Obviously, I read, as you probably all did, that he's had conversations with the Humane Society and is prepared to be a spokesperson for them, which is a positive step.

"I think the owner would probably have to go through the same process that the commissioner would, satisfy himself or herself that Michael is ... it goes beyond paying the price, because clearly he's done that. But whether or not he's a different person than he was back in December of 2006, the last time he played a game in the NFL, and whether or not he's surrounding himself in an environment that's going to allow him to be a productive person and productive player and productive team member in the league."

Q: Have you talked to him?

Blank: "I have not spoken to him face to face. I have indicated that I would do anything that I can do on a personal level that would be constructive and productive for Michael, and that still hasn't changed. But we've certainly been in communication."

Q: Those who say he doesn't deserve a chance, what are your thoughts?

Blank: "I don't really get into those discussions. Everybody has their views on that and I respect that, etc. That's for other people to debate.

"Michael and I have written each other. Right now, he's in a car, he's driving from Kansas to Virginia. Hopefully he makes the trip safely."

Q: Will you try to trade him?

Blank: "Obviously, we have his contractual rights. We own those rights. At the appropriate time, we've made it clear Michael's not going to play for us again, as you know. Right now his salary is being tolled so it has no effect on our cap, beyond the allocation of signing bonus, which happens under any circumstances. So we'll deal with it at the time we think is correct.

"We'll deal with the contractual rights at some juncture. Whether or not that means he's going (to) have an opportunity to play again in the NFL will depend on the commissioner's ruling. And whether or not the commissioner lifts his suspension or not, Michael has to make the determination if he's going to play the National Football League or the UFL. My guess is that if the commissioner lifts the suspension in the National Football League and clubs have an interest in him, he would prefer to play in the National Football League as opposed to the UFL. I don't know that, but I would suppose that."

Q: What do you think will figure into his potential reinstatement?

Blank: "It goes beyond has he paid his debt to society, because I think that from a legal standpoint and financially and personally, he has. Whether or not Michael, what's the word, remorse gets used. But it goes beyond words. It goes beyond how he's going to live and how he's going to live personally and how he's going to live in the community with others. And clearly, based on what happened over a number of years, a lot of the issues related to Michael were acts that he has to take responsibility for and he has, I think, personally.

"But also, what contributed a great deal to that, was the people that Michael spent time with and the influence they had on him. His ability to separate those people who can be helpful and productive and have them in his life now versus ones that really have another agenda, their own agenda and not his, I think that's going to be very critical for Michael now, as it is for all of us. But it'll be very critical for Michael now.

"There's the expression, you are what you eat. To some extent, you are who you hang with, too, and that does have an effect on lives for all of us."

Q: Will you offer your opinion to the commissioner?

Blank: "The subject of Michael Vick has been an ongoing point of discussion with the commissioner and I over the last three years, unfortunately in a negative way."

Q: Will you share the letters you wrote and received with the commissioner?

Blank: "I absolutely would share them with the commissioner. Roger is a very good listener, but he also is a very good decision maker. And I think beyond listening to a lot of people, Roger's very insightful, in my opinion. He'll spend time with Michael and draw his own personal conclusion on where he is on his journey and decide at that point if he feels the suspension should be lifted or not."

Flicks: ‘Salvation’ likely end of ‘Terminator’ franchise

I read something funny and something sad about “The Terminator” franchise this week.

First, Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t the first pick for title role. It was Lance Hendrickson. Who is easily confused with Rutger Hauer and Wings Houser. O.J. Simpson was briefly considered, but the film-makers couldn’t see him as a brutal killer. Wait for it ...

Second, Fox canceled “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” No one ever accused Fox of making good decisions.

Nonetheless, more than two decades after the unlikely juggernaut of a franchise launched, it’s back on the big screen, with Christian Bale as the messianic John Connor.

So far, the Bale has made a bigger splash abusing his family and co-workers. And he was in that Heath Ledger movie.

I’m not terribly excited about “Terminator: Salvation.” John Connor is all grown up, which flies in the face of everything on which the franchise has focused. The child, the savior. Fate. Destiny. The fight for future. Now, we get the future, and it’s filled with even bigger robots and bigger explosions than we’d imagined.

The real story was on the small screen, but that’s lost. What we’re left with will probably score huge returns, but will ultimately signal the final thumbs up of “The Terminator.”

‘Night at the Museum’

Some actors are all set playing themselves, Denzel Washington and Will Smith come to mind. Others, not so much.

Ben Stiller returns as himself-as-museum-guard in “Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian.” This movie is a money grab, and it’ll grab and grab and grab. Sickening, but true. Hijinks undoubtedly will ensue.

‘Dance Flick’

I’m a sucker for spoof movies. Sue me. And no one does them better — or worse, maybe — than the Wayans. They’re rolling out a new one to direct, “Dance Flick”! Dante Daman Wayans. Amazing. Still, I wouldn’t spend a dime to see this in the theater. But once it’s on basic cable, my DVR is set.

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Geithner updates panel on TARP, crisis

WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. financial system is starting to mend, but the process and repair will take time, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told a Senate panel Wednesday.

"Today ... there are important indications that our financial system is starting to heal," Geithner testified before the Senate Banking Committee as part of its oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Positive changes in metrics for different yields, declining leverage and banks funding themselves more conservatively "are all welcome signs," Geithner said. "However, the process of financial recovery and repair will take time."

Results of the so-called "stress tests" to determine the financial health of the nation's 19 largest financial institutions found that nine firms have enough funds to weather lousy conditions while 10 need to add a total of $75 billion to their capital buffers, he said.

"This review is helping to increase confidence in the financial system," he said. "To date, more than $56 billion in funds have been raised or announced by the 19 banks ... . Banks without a shortfall have signaled their intent to use funds to repay (the federal bailout funds) if approved."

The government's $1 trillion program to buy troubled assets from banks using a public-private partnerships likely will begin within six weeks, he said.

Less than $100 billion of the $700 billion federal bailout still remained, Geithner said.

Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he and other committee members hope to explore what role TARP would play in getting the financial system back on track as well as what other tools would be needed.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee's ranking Republican, said he remained skeptical about the successes of TARP and other decisions the Treasury Department made to respond to Wall Street's deterioration last year.

Former head of pension agency takes the Fifth

The former director of the government's pension agency took the Fifth Amendment Wednesday when senators asked about allegations that he had inappropriate contacts with Wall Street firms while running the operation, which insures the pensions of 44 million Americans.

Charles E.F. Millard denies that he had improper communications with the firms that recently won multimillion-dollar contracts to advise the agency on a new strategy to invest its assets more heavily in stocks, real estate and private equity rather than more conservative fixed-income treasury securities.

In a statement issued before the hearing, Millard's attorney Stanley Brand questioned the Senate Special Committee on Aging's jurisdiction in the matter. He said he advised Millard to assert his constitutional rights because he believes certain members of Congress appear to have already reached negative conclusions about his client's actions.

"I decline to answer any and all questions," Millard said.

The allegations were contained in a PBGC inspector general's report last week that said Millard's office had hundreds of phone conversations and e-mails with the Wall Street firms bidding for the work in 2007 and 2008 at the same time he was actively evaluating their proposals.

"The draft report was published on a committee Web site and senators were calling for further investigations before the report was even final," Brand said. "The Fifth Amendment protects innocent people against hostile environments. And Congress's recent actions and statements have created a biased and hostile environment toward Mr. Millard."

The hearing was held at a time when the rapidly deteriorating financial health of the PBGC is raising alarms in Congress. Key lawmakers are demanding tougher rules to ensure vigilant oversight of its multibillion-dollar investment portfolio.

The recession is forcing into bankruptcy an increasing number of companies with underfunded pension plans, leaving the PBGC with billions of dollars more to pay out in pension checks to retirees in the future. Its long-term deficit tripled in the past six months to a startling $33.5 billion.

The PBGC says it will be able to meet its obligations for many years to come. Still, it is monitoring weak companies with underfunded employer-sponsored pension plans in all sectors of the slumping economy, including auto, retail, financial services and health care.

"Given the state of the economy, the question of PBGC's viability is more urgent than ever," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who chaired the hearing. "One in seven Americans count on this agency to pay out their pension in case their employer cannot due to bankruptcy. As General Motors teeters on the edge of insolvency, hundreds of thousands of workers' pensions could soon become the responsibility of the PBGC. And though Chrysler has managed to maintain its pension plan despite filing for bankruptcy, it may be only a matter of time before PBGC will have to accept responsibility for that pension plan as well."

In response to the inspector general's and his committee's own probe, Kohl has called for the contracts with the Wall Street firms to be rebid and that if they are not, his committee will ask the Government Accountability Office's special investigations unit to review communications the committee staff has received from the firms that won the contracts.

Kohl also is introducing legislation in coming weeks that will require the agency's presidentially appointed director to remove himself from potential conflicts of interest. The bill also will expand and strengthen the PBGC's board of directors. Kohl has called for the contracts to be rebid.

Three members of the president's Cabinet oversee the government's multibillion-dollar safety net for retirement benefits covered by employer-sponsored plans; 401(k) plans are not insured by the agency. Representatives for the secretaries of treasury, commerce and labor meet regularly, but in 28 years, the full PBGC board has met only 19 times. Kohl's bill would force the board to meet more frequently and stagger membership to make sure experienced board members are serving at all times.

In February 2008, during Millard's tenure, the board approved a new investment strategy that would invest the PBGC's assets more heavily in private equities and real estate. Millard remains convinced that more aggressive investments will help reduce the agency's deficit and perhaps prevent the need for a future taxpayer bailout. To help implement the new strategy, the agency solicited the services of investment firms on Wall Street.

Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and JPMorgan won awards to invest up to $2.5 billion of PBGC assets in real estate and private equity in return for fees that could exceed $100 million over 10 years. So far, no agency assets have been transferred to the three firms. PBGC's acting director, Vince Snowbarger, said Tuesday that the staff was working with the new board members in the Obama administration to decide whether the contracts should be terminated.

Mass. man who fled chemo may be with missing teen

The man authorities believe could be with a Minnesota teenager who ran away to avoid chemotherapy did the same thing more than a decade ago in Massachusetts.

Officials believe Billy Joe Best could be traveling with 13-year-old Daniel Hauser and his mother. The Hausers allegedly fled New Ulm, Minn., after a court-ordered medical exam showed his Hodgkin's lymphoma had worsened.

In 1994, 16-year-old Best ran away to avoid having more chemotherapy to fight his Hodgkin's disease. He returned after three weeks in Houston when his parents promised they would not force him to have the treatments.

Best has claimed his cancer was cured by natural remedies.

His parents, Sue and Bill Best of East Bridgewater, did not immediately return a phone message.

Iran test fires missile capable of reaching US bases or Israel

• Ahmadinejad claims missile landed 'precisely on target'
• Mission by Italy's foreign minister cancelled
• Type of fuel used seen as a technological breakthrough

Iran today test fired a solid-fuel missile capable of reaching Israel or US bases in the Middle East, drawing rebukes from western governments and forcing the abrupt cancellation of a controversial diplomatic mission by Italy's foreign minister.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, announced the launch of the Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface missile in Semnan province in northern Iran, claiming it landed "precisely on target". The defence minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, said the missile was "equipped with a new navigation system as well as precise and sophisticated sensors".

Western officials confirmed the launch, and said the Sajjil appeared to be a two-stage solid-fuel missile, with a range of about 2,000km. The Foreign Office said the launch "underlines profound concerns about Iran's intentions and send exactly the wrong signal to the region and the world at a time the international community is trying to engage Iran".

The test firing of the missile came only two days after Barack Obama warned Iran it had until the end of the year to respond to his diplomatic overtures and enter serious "good faith" negotiations over its nuclear programme.

Iran insists the programme is for energy generation purposes, but the UN Security Council has demanded Tehran suspend enrichment of uranium on the grounds that Iran has so far failed to convince the international community that its intentions are peaceful.

The launch led to the cancellation of a two-day visit to Iran by Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, who was close to boarding a plane to Tehran when he heard that Ahmadinejad insisted on meeting him in Semnan, the site of the launch. The minister, called off the whole trip, fearing Ahmadinejad would use it as a propaganda coup ahead of presidential elections next month.

The president and three challengers were officially approved today to take part in the vote by the electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, out of 450 hopefuls.

The planned Frattini visit had been the source of considerable tension within Europe, as the British and French governments had urged Frattini not to go, arguing that it would help Ahmadinejad electorally and show lack of western unity in the face of Iran's continuing nuclear programme.

An earlier version of the Sajjil was tested in November last year. The Sajjil-2 appears to have a slightly longer range than the prototype.

Mark Fitzpatrick, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the development of the Sajjil missile is significant because of the type of fuel it uses, rather than its range.

"To be able to build a solid fuel missile of medium range represents a significant technological breakthrough," Fitzpatrick said. "It is technically more difficult than a liquid fuel missile, and militarily more significant because it is not as vulnerable to attack while being fuelled."

Schwarzenegger says he's heard voters' anger

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday he's heard "loud and clear" a voter message to take care of deficits through budget cuts alone, without passing additional costs along to them.

Voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected Schwarzenegger's package of budget-balancing measures that he promised would temporarily fix the state's financial crisis.

Instead, he now faces a $21.3 billion budget deficit.

Schwarzenegger said the state's residents have had to sell off motorcycles, second cars and hold garage sales to make ends meet in recent months. Now, they're telling state officials that the government has to shrink, too.

"Don't to come to us for extra help. That was the message," Schwarzenegger said after a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "And you know something. I appreciate that when you hear that from the people. It gives us a chance to go and adjust, and say 'OK, we went in the wrong direction. Now lets go in the right direction and lets go do what the people want.' "

Still, Schwarzenegger said the budget cuts to come may be more painful than California voters realize. While they may not want to pay more for services, they can't say specifically which services they would pare, he said.

He said cuts will certainly come in education, health care and in prisons by transferring undocumented immigrants to federal facilities and transferring more non-violent offenders to local jails. He plans to meet with state lawmakers in the afternoon to discuss the state's options.

Schwarzenegger did get some good news on Wednesday. The federal government informed him that California will remain eligible for an extra $8 billion in Medicaid funds despite complaints from unions that it violated the terms for getting extra stimulus dollars for health care.

The governor said he felt all along the state should trim certain government services, but he didn't want to make what he described as drastic cuts.

"Now we have to. There's no other choice. I think the message was clear from the people: Go all out and make those cuts and live within your means," Schwarzenegger said.

Guantanamo detainee move blocked

The US Senate has overwhelmingly rejected plans to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, and refused funding to close down the prison camp.

Senators voted by 90-6 to block the transfer of 240 inmates, also stalling a request for $80m (£51m).

Correspondents say it is a rebuke to President Barack Obama's plans to close down the camp by January 2010.

Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress detainees could support terror in the US if allowed to go free.

"The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing to terrorists, [and] radicalising others," Mr Mueller told a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

Separately, a federal judge said the US can continue to hold some prisoners at Guantanamo indefinitely without any charges..

Constituency concern

The Senate decision to block a war funding bill meant for the camp followed a similar decision by the House of Representatives.

Democrats and Republicans each argue that there needs to be a better plan for closing Guantanamo, situated on US territory on the island of Cuba.

The American people don't want these men walking the streets of America's neighbourhoods

John Thune
Republican senator

Suspects 'can be detained'
What next for inmates?
The detention centre, established by former President George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks, still holds 240 terrorist suspects.

President Barack Obama has said he wants the camp closed by January 2010 and administration officials insist that deadline will be met.

But many legislators say they need further convincing of White House plans to move many of the detainees onto the US mainland.

"The American people don't want these men walking the streets of America's neighbourhoods," Republican Senator John Thune said.

"The American people don't want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their backyard, either."

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said the White House needed a credible plan for how to close the base.

"Once it has one, we'll consider closing Guantanamo, but not a second sooner," he said.

Democratic leaders say they will reconsider providing the requested funds, once the White House has drawn up more detailed plans.

Most Democrats support his commitment to close Guantanamo Bay, but realise that agreeing to fund an ill-prepared process would provide fodder for the Republican opposition, says the BBC's James Coomarasamy in Washington.

The new setback follows Mr Obama's decision to revive the military tribunal system for some Guantanamo detainees.

In one of his first acts on taking office, he Obama halted the Bush-era military commissions, saying the US was entering a new era of respecting human rights.

Introducing new safeguards for detainees, he said he had supported their use as one avenue to try detainees, and in 2006 had voted in favour of them.

Under extra safeguards for detainees, there will be:

a ban on evidence obtained by harsh interrogation
restrictions on hearsay evidence
more leeway for detainees to choose their own lawyers

Fugitive rebels shot as Sri Lanka celebrates victory

Sri Lanka celebrated victory over the Tamil Tigers with a national holiday as the army hunted down fugitive rebels, shooting dead eight thought to have escaped from the final battle.

Hundreds of troops were deployed in the Muliyawaikal area where the corpse of Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was found after the fighting ended with a showdown in the jungle on Monday, defence officials said.

"They are doing clearing operations," defence spokesman Lakshman Hulugalle said as more bodies were gathered for identification.

The eight rebels were shot more than 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of where the Tigers made their last stand in the far northeast, the army said.

The killings were the first since the government claimed victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and police stepped up security across the island to guard against revenge attacks from surviving guerrillas.

More than 400 dead rebels, including several female fighters, have been recovered from the battlefield where Prabhakaran died, according to military officials.

Prabhakaran's eldest son, Charles Anthony, was among those killed in the area, but the military had no information about the leader's wife, Madiwadani, or their other two children.

"The process of identifying the other Tiger dead bodies is now going on and we want to see if any other close relatives or associates of Prabhakaran are among the dead," a military official said.

The defence ministry said seven more dead Tiger leaders had been identified by Wednesday afternoon.

Sri Lankan television repeatedly broadcast images of what it said was the body of Prabhakaran, showing the upper section of a corpse which was dressed in camouflage fatigues.

The face was intact, with the eyes wide open, and bore a clear resemblance to the stocky rebel leader.

While Sri Lanka marked the end of decades of war with a national holiday, the United Nations has said victory came at the cost of many innocent lives.

The UN and human rights groups have blamed indiscriminate shelling by the military for causing many civilian casualties, while accusing the rebels of using tens of thousands of people as a "human shield."

Relief agencies have complained that access to overcrowded government-run camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians in the northeast has been further restricted in recent days.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to visit Sri Lanka on Friday and Saturday to push for reconciliation on the mainly Sinhalese island.

He told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday he was concerned about the welfare and safety of civilians, and said that any serious allegations of war crimes "should be properly investigated."

Under international pressure to reach out to the Tamil minority, President Mahinda Rajapakse vowed on Tuesday that a political solution to the island's deep-rooted ethnic divisions would be found.

"All should live with equal rights. They should live without any fear or doubt," he told parliament. "Let us all be united."

Schwarzenegger's 3rd budget reform attempt flops

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to permanently fix California's "broken budget system." But three times now he has tried and failed to smooth out the state's roller coaster revenues.

Voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected his latest effort, a package of budget-balancing measures that he promised would provide a short-term patch for the current financial crisis and prevent further catastrophe in the future.

Instead, he now faces a $21.3 billion budget deficit and a budget system that has not changed a bit since he took office nearly six years ago.

"I think he's discovered that this job is a lot harder than he anticipated in a state of economic downturn," Treasurer Bill Lockyer said Tuesday of the governor who came into office in 2003 promising to "end the crazy deficit spending."

The Republican governor faces another tough round of budget negotiations after months spent haggling with lawmakers to close the state's first budget shortfall, which was initially $42 billion through June 2010.

Schwarzenegger will be forced to spend much of his final year-and-a-half in office struggling with the same financial woes that led to the recall of his predecessor instead of enacting the sweeping policy changes he once envisioned.

"The biggest loser would be Arnold," said Dave McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University. "It's time to start looking for a cabinet post in the Obama administration or an ambassadorship someplace warm."

Lockyer said Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have to reach a new budget agreement quickly, with tax revenue coming in far below projections. Unless a compromise is struck by the end of June, the state could have trouble paying its bills by the end of July.

Political observers say Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have little choice but to go after even politically sacred programs such as schools. An unusually high two-thirds vote threshold in the Legislature for passing budgets and partisan polarization could combine for a painful summer.

"The choices facing the governor and Legislature are daunting," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. "Democrats have taken heat for accepting spending cuts. Certain Republicans have taken heat for accepting tax increases, and the heat's only going to get more intense this summer."

Many Californians have been hearing about the state's budget problems but have yet to feel the severity of the crisis. That will soon change, Pitney said.

"For a lot of people, the budget's been an abstraction. But with the next round, there will probably be serious consequences, particularly in the schools," Pitney said.

Last week, the governor said he will consider shortening the school year by seven days, laying off up to 5,000 state employees and taking money from local governments, which likely would translate into cuts to police and firefighting services.

Tens of thousands of teachers also face the prospect of layoffs.

Schwarzenegger's warning did not sway voters, many of whom said they did not trust that the ballot propositions would do much to solve California's budget trouble.

The majority of registered voters didn't bother to vote at all. Partial results from nearly 70 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday showed only 19 percent of voters had cast a ballot, according to the secretary of state's office.

Chris Almanza, 55, of Sacramento was among those who chose not to vote, in part because she was angry and frustrated at state lawmakers.

"I'm not going to vote because I don't think it's going to matter," Almanza said.

The governor had particularly championed Proposition 1A, which would have created a stronger rainy day fund for troubled times and capped state spending, while extending a series of tax increases lawmakers approved in February. Those taxes would have brought in about $16 billion to state coffers in future years.

Proposition 1A also was crucial to solving many of the budget problems Schwarzenegger has had to confront in office and help him carve out a legacy for himself.

He reiterated Tuesday that he wanted to be remembered as a fighter for budget reform and said he wouldn't be dissuaded by the overwhelming repudiation from voters.

"I have been working to accomplish this kind of reform since I was elected in 2003 and I will keep working toward it because we cannot allow this harmful and out-of-control budget process to continue," Schwarzenegger said in a concession statement late Tuesday.

The governor planned to return Wednesday from Washington, D.C., where he spent Election Day, to start discussing the grim options with legislative leaders.

Iran 'test launches' medium-range missile

Iran says it has successfully test launched a mid-range surface-to-surface missile, state media has reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Sajjil-2 missile used "advanced technology" and had "landed exactly" on the unspecified target.

He was speaking in Semnan, from where the missile, with a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles), was reportedly launched.

Correspondents say the test may be seen as provocative by Iran's Arab neighbours and its enemies in the West.

"The defence minister [Mohammed Najjar] told me today that we launched a Sajjil-2 missile, which is a two-stage missile and it has reached the intended target," Mr Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the northern town.

He said the missile used solid fuel and was "able to go beyond the atmosphere then come back and hit its target".

Solid-fuel missiles are reputedly more accurate than liquid-fuel missiles, which make up the majority of Iran's long-range arsenal.

Political message

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mr Ahmadinejad and three others have been cleared to run for office

Iran tested a Sajjil missile in November last year, described by officials at the time as a highly accurate "defensive" weapon.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says the Sajjil-2 is one of Iran's longest range rockets, able to reach Israel and US bases in the Gulf, and the launch is likely to be criticised by the West.

It is hard to tell whether the launch was deliberately provocative, but the fact that it was announced by the president means it is probably intended as a political message, says our correspondent.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for defensive and scientific purposes, but critics say the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

The announcement of the launch came shortly after Mr Ahmadinejad was confirmed as one of the four candidates cleared to stand in Iran 12 June presidential elections.

He will run against two leading reformists - former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi - and Mohsen Rezai, former chief of the Revolutionary Guards.

Iran election candidates approved

Iran's presidential race is officially on after a constitutional watchdog approved four candidates, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Interior Ministry said that the country's Guardian Council gave the green light to Ahmadinejad and three other contenders to run in the June 12 balloting.

The three include prominent reformists Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, and a conservative, Mohsen Rezaei.

The body had rejected 471 other candidates who wanted to run, including illiterate peasants, a 12-year-old-boy and 42 women.

Ahmadinejad faces a tough challenge. His popularity appears to be declining, and many blame him for the country's economic troubles.

Kobe scores 40 as Lakers beat Nuggest 105-103


Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:43 PM MDT

LOS ANGELES - Those wildly inconsistent Lakers showed up for their Western Conference finals opener against Denver and still managed to defend their home court.

Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, including six free throws in the final 30 seconds, to lift Los Angeles to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday night after the Lakers trailed most of the game.

Pau Gasol added 13 points and 14 rebounds and Derek Fisher had 13 points for the Lakers, who faced a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Gasol's two free throws tied the game for the last time at 99 before Bryant went to the line, offsetting a 3-pointer by Chauncey Billups and a free throw by J.R. Smith.

Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points, Billups added 18 and Kenyon Martin had 15 for the Nuggets, who hadn't played since taking care of Dallas in five games last Wednesday.

Game 2 is Thursday in Los Angeles.

Bryant, who was 9 for 9 from the line in the fourth quarter, made two for a 101-99 lead with 30 seconds left. Trevor Ariza stole the inbounds near midcourt and the Lakers were able to run the clock down to 10 seconds when Bryant made two more free throws.

Billups hit a 3-pointer to get the Nuggets to 103-102 with 5 seconds left, but then Anthony fouled Bryant, who made his final two foul shots.

Smith made one free throw with 3.2 seconds left and missed the second intentionally. Bryant grabbed the game's last rebound.

"A good one, an important one," Bryant said of the win. "Like I told the guys in a timeout, this is a different series. We felt kind of down on ourselves with a slow start. ... I told them to forget about that, this is a different series."

The Lakers were back in action 48 hours after closing out Houston in seven games in the conference semifinals.

"We just had to push through it, we didn't come out with the kind of energy we wanted, guys were fatigued, a little tired," Bryant said. "But it was a gut check for us."

Denver led most of the game in its return to the conference finals for the first time in 24 years. But the Nuggets couldn't stop Bryant over the final 6:48, when he scored 15 points, including seven straight to help the Lakers improve to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They are 8-0 this postseason when scoring 100 points.

Bryant got the better of Anthony, his U.S. Olympic teammate.

"It was a lot of fun, he's a bull down there," Bryant said. "I am a little out of my weight class, but I'll give it my best shot."

Neither team led by more than five points in the third quarter, when Laker starters Andrew Bynum and Ariza both picked up their fourth fouls.

The Lakers used a 9-0 run, including seven straight by Fisher, to go up 70-66. From there, though, the Nuggets ended the quarter on a 10-4 run to lead 76-74. Billups had five consecutive points, including a free throw after a technical foul on Bryant, in the spurt.

The Nuggets moved the ball well and aggressively drove the basket in taking a 13-point lead in the opening quarter, but hurt themselves by going 12 of 21 from the line in the half. Billups, who missed three free throws in the first two playoff series combined, missed his first three of the game.

The Nuggets controlled the first half, leading until the final 1:10 of the second quarter. That's when Josh Powell hit two free throws to give the Lakers their first lead.

The Nuggets went back in front before Fisher hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Lakers into halftime leading 55-54. Fisher was 0 for 6 before connecting from the right baseline, which was emblematic of the Lakers' shooting woes. They hit 38 percent from the field, with Bryant going 7 of 16.

Notes:@ The Nuggets fell to 2-3 on the road in the playoffs this season. ... Denver F-G Linas Kleiza played despite a fracture on the tip of his right thumb. ... Faces in the crowd included Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Justin Timberlake, Drew Barrymore, John Mayer, Josh Groban, Andy Garcia and figure skater Michelle Kwan.