Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama: Bloodshed in Iran affects prospects for US dialogue

He dismisses Ahmadinejad's accusation that US meddled in Iranian politics and must apologize.
By Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Reporter Howard LaFranchi discusses Germany's push to get the US to do more when it comes to global warming.

Washington - President Obama continued dialing up his rhetoric on Iran as the regime there pursued its repression of election protests, on Friday saying for the first time that Tehran's violence against the people will affect prospects for US engagement with Iran.

"There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks," Mr. Obama said in a midday White House press appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He added, "We don't yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran."

His comments came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded an apology from Obama for what he said was interference in Iran's internal affairs. Mr. Ahmadinejad was proclaimed the victor in the June 12 election that thousands of protesters have concluded was rigged.

Obama's sideline strategy

The Iranian president's comments drawing Obama into the election fray is exactly the kind of excuse-making – blaming turmoil on the meddling of the Great Satan – that Obama had said he'd hoped to avoid. Obama has faced criticism from Republicans and some Democrats as he labored for nearly two weeks to keep a low profile on the elections in Iran.

But as bloodshed mounted in Tehran – and then as he stood in the White House East Room with Chancellor Merkel, the first Western leader to demand a full recount in Iran's presidential election – Obama acknowledged he could not stay on the sidelines. He did, however, reemphasize that the US had consciously shunned the limelight on the elections.

Obama said he did not "take Mr. Ahmadinejad's statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran."

Dialogue depends largely on Iran

How soon, or whether, a US-Iran dialogue begins will be determined more by Iran's political situation than by Obama's comments, say some experts on Iran.

"The real issue is that the dust has not settled in Iran yet. It's still unclear who is going to be governing Iran," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington. He notes, for example, that Ahmadinejad will have to obtain parliamentary approval of a new cabinet, and it's not clear at this point if he can get it.

On the other hand, Mr. Parsi adds, "You have a ticking nuclear clock, so the [US] administration is going to have to find some way to pursue diplomacy."

Merkel reiterates: No nukes

Merkel reiterated the view of the international community that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon – something international powers believe the Iranian regime is pursuing. Iran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful power generation.

Prospects for a continuing tit-for-tat between Obama and Ahmadinejad may have grown, as Obama made specific reference to Ahmadinejad's rival in the elections, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, as a leader who had "captured the imagination" of the Iranian people.

Obama, says NIAC's Parsi, did not cross any new lines in referring to Mr. Mousavi, who has called for continued resistance to the official declaration of Ahmadinejad's victory. "I think he was merely taking note of the reality on the streets as we've seen it," he says.

No doubt Iran observers will be watching to see if Ahmadinejad views it the same way.

'Spendaholic' singer dies in debt

Thriller video
Thriller was the biggest selling album of all time

Michael Jackson, one of the biggest and most successful pop stars of all time, ended his days deeply in debt.

At his peak, few people could match his earning ability, having produced the all-time best-selling album, Thriller.

But the singer who rewrote the rules of pop struggled to fund his lavish lifestyle, and hoped a 50-date tour in London would rebuild his finances.

Prosecutors in his 2005 trial on child abuse charges, of which he was cleared, described him as a "spendaholic".

They said he had a "billionaire spending habit for only a millionaire's spending budget".

Extravagant lifestyle

It is difficult to say how much Jackson earned during his career.

Many reports estimate his earnings to have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In 1991 he signed a $65m (£39m) record deal with Sony.

His 2005 trial provided a glimpse of his extravagant lifestyle.

In figures
$14.6m - the cost of Neverland in 1988
$30m - the amount by which Jackson overspent every year
$47.5m - the amount he paid for ATV, owner of the Beatles' catalogue
$200m - a loan he secured on the back of ATV in 2006

An accountant testified that the singer had an "ongoing cash crisis" and spent $20m to $30m a year more than he earned.

The singer was known for his huge shopping sprees on toys and antiques.

Alvin Malnik, a former financial adviser to Mr Jackson, said he did not travel light.

"Millions of dollars were spent annually on plane charters, purchases of antiques and paintings," he said in an interview with the New York Times in 2006.

"If you want to take a trip to London, that's one thing. If you want to continue that trip and have your entourage of 15 or 20 people go with you, it gets expensive."

Smooth operator

Ironically, the lifestyle of the Thriller performer was, in part, funded by royalties from two other songwriters: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

In 1985, Jackson paid $47.5m for ATV Music, which owned the copyright to the Beatles songs.

Michael Jackson,right, poses with Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, in August 2005, in Dubai.
The son of the King of Bahrain brought a lawsuit against the singer

When he ran into financial trouble in 1995, he agreed to merge ATV with Sony.

Then in 2001, he used his half of ATV to secure a $200m loan from Bank of America. He refinanced these loans in in 2006 in an effort to stave off insolvency.

But even this couldn't keep him out of debt.

He faced a string of lawsuits from people who claimed he owed them money. In 2002, he faced a lawsuit from Union Finance & Investment Corp for $12 million in unpaid fees and expenses. In 2006, he was sued by a veterinarian for unpaid bills. Martin Dinnes claimed that Mr Jackson owed him $91,602.

He also faced a claim from Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad al Khalifa, the second son of the King of Bahrain.

In a lawsuit, Al Khalifa claimed he gave Jackson millions to shore up his finances. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount last year.

Frantic juggling

Right up until his death, Jackson was seeking solutions to his financial problems.

In March last year, he faced foreclosure on Neverland, the 2,500 acre ranch he bought for $14.6m in 1988.

In November, he set up a joint venture with Colony, a real estate investment trust, to take ownership of Neverland.

His hope was that the UK tour could revitalise both his career and his finances.

Lawyers are now likely to be busy for years, unpicking his complex estate.

The copyright to his own songs and those of the Beatles must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and his creditors, family and partners are likely to claim shares.

Overshadowing this complicated financial legacy are his vast debts, reported to be anything between $300m and $500m.

The irony is that with music channels and radio stations replaying his greatest hits, Sony, his record label, may re-issue the songs that made his name and his fortune.

Once again, the Michael Jackson machine will generate money.

The Michael Jackson Video Tribute Dead at 50

Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American recording artist, entertainer and businessman. The seventh child of the Jackson family, he debuted on the professional music scene at the age of 11 as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1969, and began a solo career in 1971 while still a member of the group. Referred to as the "King of Pop"[2] in subsequent years, his 1982 Thriller is the world's best-selling record of all time[3] and four other solo studio albums are also among the world's best-selling records: Off the Wall (1979), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995).

In the early 1980s, he became a dominant figure in popular music and the first African-American entertainer to amass a strong crossover following on MTV. The popularity of his music videos airing on MTV, such as "Beat It", "Billie Jean" and Thriller—widely credited with transforming the music video from a promotional tool into an art form—helped bring the relatively new channel to fame. Videos such as "Black or White" and "Scream" made Jackson an enduring staple on MTV in the 1990s. With stage performances and music videos, Jackson popularized a number of physically complicated dance techniques, such as the robot and the moonwalk. His distinctive musical sound and vocal style influenced many hip hop, pop and contemporary R&B artists.

Jackson donated and raised millions of dollars for beneficial causes through his foundation, charity singles and support of 39 charities. Other aspects of his personal life, including his changing appearance and behavior, generated significant controversy, damaging his public image. Though he was accused of child sexual abuse in 1993, the criminal investigation was closed due to lack of evidence and Jackson was not charged. The singer had experienced health concerns since the early 1990s and conflicting reports regarding the state of his finances since the late 1990s. Jackson married twice and fathered three children, all of which caused further controversy. In 2005, Jackson was tried and acquitted of further sexual abuse allegations and several other charges.

One of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, his other achievements include multiple Guinness World Records—including one for "Most Successful Entertainer of All Time"—13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles in his solo career—more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era and the sale of 750 million records worldwide.[4] Jackson's highly publicized personal life, coupled with his successful career, made him a part of popular culture for almost four decades. Jackson died on June 25, 2009, aged 50.[5] The specific cause of death has yet to be determined.[2] Before his death, Jackson had announced a 50 date sell-out This Is It comeback tour, in London, England.

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Michael Jackson was much more than the King of Pop

When Michael Jackson anointed himself "King of Pop" over two decades ago, there was considerable rumbling about his hubris: Yes, he may have become a world sensation with record-setting sales of "Thriller," and yes, he may have had a string of No. 1 hits with smashes like "Billie Jean" and "Beat It," but the KING OF ALL POP MUSIC?

Surely, in a modern music history that has given us Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and so many other greats, that title was more than a bit inflated.

But in actuality, Jackson understated his significance.

While his elaborate, stop-on-a-dime dance moves and sensual soprano may have influenced generations of musicians, Michael Jackson stood for much more than pop greatness — or tabloid weirdness. One of entertainment's greatest icons, he was a ridiculously gifted, equally troubled genius who kept us captivated — at his most dazzling, and at his most appalling.

At the height of his fame, he was among the world's most beloved figures. Heads of state clamored to meet him, screen legends like Elizabeth Taylor were his close friends, and worldwide, simply the mention of his name could make people do the moonwalk, from Los Angeles to Laos. (The New York Times once accurately described him as one of the six most famous people on the planet).

His whispery, high-pitched speaking voice was constantly imitated, his fedora hat on his lean frame instantly recognizable, his childlike image endearing.

He influenced artists ranging from Justin Timberlake to Madonna, from rock to pop to R&B to even rap, across genres and groups that no other artist was able to unite. He changed music videos with "Thriller" in 1983, still considered by most to be the greatest music video ever made. Stars like Beyonce still mimic his moves. His one glove, white socks and glittery jackets made him a fashion trendsetter, making androgyny seem sexy and even safe.

Almost everyone wanted that Michael Jackson connection (and those who didn't were afraid to say so out loud). His celebrity and adoration was staggering.

So when his image began to crumble, becoming twisted and disturbed, that aspect, too, was larger than life. His multiple plastic surgeries and his vitiligo illness, which saw him transform from a masculine looking black man to a wispy, pale-faced, almost noseless figure, was held up as the standard for bad plastic surgery, a freakish-looking character.

His eccentric behavior left people confused, and when allegations (and later criminal charges) that accused him of sexually molesting two boys surfaced on two separate occasions, people were repelled by his alleged behavior and the man that their former idol had become.

And yet, it was hard to look away.

In the early days, no one wanted to. Jackson came into our public consciousness as an impossibly cute preteen wonder in 1969, an unbelievably precocious singer in his family band, The Jackson 5. The soon-to-be Motown legend channeled songs like "I Want You Back," and "I'll Be There" with a passion and soulfulness that belied his young years. Even then, his dance moves, copped from the likes of James Brown and Jackie Wilson, were exquisite, and his onstage presence outshone seasoned veterans.

The spotlight began to dim when he entered his late teens, however, and while he still had R&B hits with the Jacksons, it seemed as if he would never recapture the pop success that he burst onto the scene with as a child.

But then he met Quincy Jones, and the musical landscape changed. With the legendary producer, Jackson crafted "Off the Wall," what for most artists would be a career-defining album, from the string-enhanced disco classic "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," a party staple which he wrote, to the bitter ballad "She's Out of My Life."

The best-selling album showed the world a grown-up Michael Jackson with grown-up artistry, showcasing his breathy alto-soprano voice and providing a springboard to his early videos, which gave a glimpse of the dance wizardry to come.

At the time, it was Jackson's music that was front and center. A 21-year-old who spoke in a breathy, high voice, still lived at home, had his first, barely noticeable nose job and was a self-claimed virgin in an industry known for its hedonism, he was certainly an odd figure, but his personal life had yet to become intertwined with his public image.

That began to change during "Thriller" — the album that would become his greatest success and his career-defining achievement. Also produced by Jones, it featured even more of Jackson's songwriting talents. Selling more than 50 million albums to become the globe's best-selling disc, it spawned seven Billboard top 10 hits, including two No. 1s with "Billie Jean" and "Beat It." It won a then-unprecedented eight Grammy awards and numerous other awards.

It was an impact measured much more than in stats.

He broke MTV's color barrier, becoming the first black artist played on the young, rock-oriented channel when the success of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" became so overwhelming it could not be ignored. He also established the benchmark for the way videos would be made, with stunning cinematography, precision choreography that recalled great movie musicals. Jackson's amazing talents as a dancer were also displayed to the world during his Emmy-nominated performance for Motown's 25th anniversary. It is still considered one of TV's most thrilling moments, from his moonwalk strut to his pulsating pelvic movements.

But as Jackson's fame grew, his eccentricities, from his strange affinity for children and all things childlike, to his at times asexual image to his fascination with plastic surgery, began to dull the shine off of his sparkling image. As the years went by, those "eccentricities" would become more bizarre, and completely tarnish it.

His skin, once a dark brown, became the color of paste, a transition he blamed on the skin disease vitiligo, though some believed he simply bleached his skin in order to appear more Caucasian. That belief was rooted in his frequent plastic surgeries, which whittled his nose from a broad frame to an almost impossibly narrowed bridge. His image was a tough one to look at, much less embrace.

If his plastic surgery made him disturbingly unwatchable, soon, allegations of child abuse would make him reviled among many. He was first accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in 1993; no charges were ever filed, a civil lawsuit was settled out of court and he always maintained his innocence. Although he had a chart-topping album with "HIStory" in 1995 and was still a superstar, he was a damaged one — and would never fully recover from the allegation.

A criminal charge of molestation of another young boy in 2004, which resulted in his acquittal in 2005, further stripped his marketability and his legacy. After the trial ended, he went into seclusion, and while top hitmakers from Ne-Yo to Akon courted him to make new music, no new CD was ever released. He was overwhelmed with legal and financial troubles, with what seemed like weekly lawsuits against him seeking money owed.

A comeback seemed to be most unlikely. His reputation was considered irreparably damaged, his image mocked and his name an automatic punchline. But when he announced he'd be doing a series of comeback concerts at London's famed O2 Arena, not only did the initial dates sell out immediately, the demand was so insatiable he was signed on for an unprecedented 50 shows. He was expected to embark on a worldwide tour sometime after the concert series was completed in March.

Of course, there will be no comeback now, no Jackson 5 reunion, no new music to share with millions of fans. But the legacy he leaves behind is so rich, so deep, that no scandal can torpedo it. The "Thriller" may be gone, but the thrill will always remain.

Gary, Ind. mourns native son Michael Jackson

By CARYN ROUSSEAU – 50 minutes ago

GARY, Ind. (AP) — Fans formed a prayer circle on the front yard of Michael Jackson's modest childhood home and hundreds more crowded the street after word spread that the "King of Pop" and Gary native had died.

Stuffed teddy bears and roses were left on the porch of the small white frame house where Jackson grew up, which now sits empty, as neighbors gathered to light candles and pen notes of condolence.

"I had to come here because I literally was going to break down if I sat in my house," said Wyatt Puryear, a truck driver from Gary who said he named his son Michael after Jackson, who died in Los Angeles at age 50.

"I grew up on Michael Jackson," said Puryear, 38. "Ever since I was a kid, I was dancing and singing like him."

Bernetta Galloway of Gary said she headed straight to the Jackson home from her doctor's office after hearing the news Thursday. The 50-year-old said residents are proud of Jackson because he was "somebody from Gary who did something with their life."

Jackson was born the seventh of nine children in Gary on Aug. 19, 1958. He was 11 years old when the family moved out of the city after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album in 1969.

Gordon Keith signed the Jackson Five to his Gary-based Steeltown Records in 1967. Decades later he sued Jackson family members over the rights to their early recordings with Steeltown.

Keith, who still lives in Gary, recorded the Jacksons' first record, a 45 with side one "Big Boy" and flip side "You've Changed" released in 1967. Michael Jackson was 7 1/2 or 8 at the time.

"He was super when I first met him and heard him," Keith said. "I definitely knew that about him."

The Jackson 5 played two concerts at West Side High School in 1971, but Michael Jackson did not return to Gary until June 2003. It was his last trip to his hometown.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay, who was not yet mayor then, said Jackson received a hero's welcome. Clay said Jackson made residents in the beleaguered city along Lake Michigan proud of their once-prosperous steeltown.

"I had the opportunity to shake his hand and talk to him ... and that's where I saw the love in his heart and how humble he was as a person," Clay said. "You could feel the love that Michael had for people."

Robert Crawford, 42, a crane operator who has lived in Gary all his life, started singing the Jackson 5 song "Going Back to Indiana" as he stood in front of the Jackson's boyhood home Thursday evening.

"I think his memory is going to live on," Crawford said. "They should bring a statue of Michael right here."