Monday, May 11, 2009

Ida Ljungqvist: Hugh Hefner's First African Playmate of the Year

Many puns can come into play with the news of Playboy magazine czar Hugh Hefner selecting a naturally born African woman as his latest playmate, but we will refrain.

On May 2, Tanzanian-born Ida Ljungqvist was named the 2009 Playmate of the Year at Las Vegas' famed Palms Hotel & Casino. Our pals over at were there to catch all the happenings as they went down.

Along with the title of 50th Playmate of the Year, the 27-year-old (who was previously know as Miss March 2008) was given $100,000 in prize money, a new Mazda6 car and a bigPlayboy magazine bottle of Patron.

"I come from a fantastic family. If someone asked you to take your clothes off, what would you do?" Ljungqvist told reporters about baring her all. "My mother didn't speak to me for a month.

Hefner, 83, called the former BeBe boutique staffer "truly unique." The aspiring actress added, "as for being naked, I'm done with that." We'll see about that.

The bicentennial Playmate of the Year celebration was the first time the ceremony was not held at the Playboy Mansion.

Vikings president: We're still interested in Favre

The Minnesota Vikings have spoken: Yes, they're interested in Brett Favre. The Vikings broke their silence Monday, with president Mark Wilf saying the team is considering the supposedly retired star.

"He's a Hall of Fame quarterback. He's a great competitor," Wilf said. "Ultimately, you'll have to ask Brett what his plans are, but sure there's interest in Brett Favre. But again, it's part of a process we have in general with any of our players. We're always looking to make our team better."

Wilf said the Vikings were assessing "a variety of factors" concerning Favre. Wilf also said he was "not aware of any meeting" in the past between team officials and the three-time MVP.

Several conflicting and contradictory media reports swirled last week around the possibility of Favre, who retired for the second time at the end of last season, returning to play for the Vikings.

Neither Favre nor the Vikings commented last week, which only added more confusion to the situation.

Favre was released by the New York Jets on April 28 and issued a statement that said, "At this time, I am retired and have no intention of returning to football."

He hasn't been heard from since.

His agent, Bus Cook, has said that Favre remains retired to his knowledge. Cook did not immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press on Monday.

Wilf, who along with brother Zygi purchased the team in 2005, spoke about Favre during a previously scheduled community visit. It was the first question asked by a fan during a panel discussion between Wilf and linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber as part of a "You Made the Team" luncheon with the Marshall Chamber of Commerce.

After Greenway gave a politically correct answer, Wilf jumped in to defend the current stable of quarterbacks — incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, newcomer Sage Rosenfels and third-stringer John David Booty.

"With Sage and Tarvaris and John David, we're pleased with the quarterbacks we have," Wilf said. "Let's not let that get forgotten here. And we just feel as a whole as a roster, we're trying to improve every day. We feel we've made a lot of steps to improve off an NFC North division win and we're ready to take the next step and to go all the way."

It's a little bit of deja vu for the Vikings. Last year, Favre renounced his retirement from the Packers and, after being told Green Bay was going with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it was believed that Favre wanted to play for the NFC North rival Vikings.

After a messy divorce with Green Bay, Favre was shipped to the Jets, where he threw 22 touchdown passes and 22 interceptions for a team that finished 1-4 to miss the playoffs.

But with Favre, retirement has become an annual ordeal. He was released by the Jets on April 28 and now is free to sign with the Vikings if he is healthy enough and still has the desire to play.

Reaction: Can the Pope contribute to Mideast peace?

Obama replaces top general in Afghanistan

General David McKiernan replaced by counter-insurgency specialist as Obama's new strategic plan is put in to action

Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal is shown in this 2003 file photo. McChrystal is replacing General David McKiernan as the top Nato leader in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama today replaced his top general in Afghanistan in an attempt to turn round a war that has been going badly for the US and to step up the hunt for the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden.

General David McKiernan, who was in overall command of all Nato forces, including the British, has lost the the job after only 11 months in command. Taliban forces have been making advances in Afghanistan in a war that the US had thought it had won in 2001. He is to to replaced by a soldier who has spent most of his career in one of the most secretive forces in the US, specialising in counter-insurgency.

The Pentagon declined to say why McKiernan was being replaced. But the change comes as General David Petraeus, who overseas military strategy for the region, is putting in to place Obama's new strategic plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, announcing the change at a Pentagon press conference, said there was a time for "new thinking" on Afghanistan.

Gates said McKiernan had done nothing wrong but there was a feeling that there was a need for a fresh look.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who attended the press conference with Gates, said McKiernan would have been rotated anyway after at the end of 18 to 24 months.

McKiernan had been repeatedly asking for a significant increase in US or other Nato forces in Afghanistan, saying he needed at least 30,000 more troops for what he warned was going to be a tough 12 months.

Obama gave him only two-thirds of that, and this included troops who would not have a combat role but instead are to train Afghan forces.

McKiernan is to be replaced by Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, who has spent most of his career behind the scenes in special forces and has led operations aimed at targeting particular individuals, such as the one that resulted in the killing of the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in 2006.

McChrystal has built his reputation on co-ordinating various strands of intelligence in a ruthless pursuit of enemies.

The switch comes only weeks after Obama announced the outcome of a review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As part of that, Obama indicated he wanted a more focused counter-insurgency approach, which would suit McChrystal more, and is sending an extra 21,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

The coming months are potentially fraught for US and Nato forces as the Taliban in past years have used spring and summer to mount their offensives, and the Afghanistan election scheduled for later this year gives them even more of an incentive to create chaos.

McChrystal headed a secretive force but he was outed by President George Bush who gave him public credit for the Zarqawi killing. He could turn out to be a controversial choice. When he faced a Senate confirmation hearing last year, with senators asking about alleged mistreatment of detainees by special forces under his command in Iraq and Afghanistan.

McKiernan, who had been a top commander in Iraq, was named to the Afghanistan job by President George Bush. He had led US forces on the ground in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

He said last year that the problem posed by Afghanistan was tougher than Iraq. He described Afghanistan as "a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq." The country's mountainous terrain, rural population, poverty, illiteracy, 400 major tribal networks and history of civil war all make for unique challenges, he said.

Obama, since becoming president, has overseen a shift in US priorities away from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in the few short months he had been in power, the security situated in both countries has deteriorated, particularly in Pakistan.

He argued that the military alone could not win the war and there is a need for build up the civiian infrastructure, particularly along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Sykes rips Limbaugh: Hopes his kidneys fail

Comedian Wanda Sykes tore into Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner on Saturday night, suggesting that the conservative commentator’s anti-Obama agenda makes him akin to a terrorist, specifically, one of the 9/11 hijackers.

“Rush Limbaugh said he hope this administration fails,” said Sykes, who was the featured comedian at the hotly anticipated social event in Washington, D.C. attended by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. “So you’re saying, ‘I hope America fails.’ He just wants the country to fail. To me, that’s treason. He’s not saying anything different than what Osama Bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight.”

“Too much?” asked Sykes, as the crowd responded in a mixed fashion.

”Rush Limbaugh? 'I hope the country fails',” continued Sykes. “I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a little waterboarding. That’s what he needs.”

By Sunday, Washington insiders were debating whether and how Limbaugh would retaliate against Sykes in the week ahead.

Sykes, who in November announced she is a lesbian, became the first African-American women and the first openly gay person ever to be the featured comedian at the dinner, an annual gathering for journalists who cover the president. She jokingly targeted numerous members of the Washington establishment in her remarks, including Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Obamas, noting their tendency to be photographed in ways that reveal their nipples (the president) and arms (the First Lady).

Sykes even took a shot at Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who did not attend the dinner.

”She pulled out at the last minute,” Sykes said. “Somebody should tell her, that’s not really how you practice abstinence.”

Rihanna: Nude Photo Drama

Rihanna's camp is firing off the first response to nude pictures, allegedly of Rihanna, that hit the internet today.

RihannaTMZ has learned the legal department at Island Def Jam Music Group, RiRi's label, sent a letter to at least one website that published the photos. The letter refers to "unauthorized photos purported to be...Rihanna," demands that the photos be removed from the site, and calls the photos a violation of "the Artist's rights."

It's not clear whether Rihanna really is the woman in the buff because you can't see her face in the nude shots. She is clearly pictured in two fully clothed pics.

Interestingly, the letter from Island Def Jam does not deny (or confirm) if it's really Rihanna.

Iran releases jailed US journalist

Iran has released an American-born journalist jailed for spying for the United States after a court reduced her sentence.

Roxana Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison last month, but Monday's ruling saw that cut to a two-year suspended sentence.

"I'm okay. I don't want to make any comments but I am okay," she said shortly after walking out Of Tehran's Evin prison. She was then then driven away by her father.

Saberi's father, Reza, earlier told Al Jazeera that he is planning to take Roxana out of the country as soon as possible.

"She was very hopeful and we were very hopeful [that she would win the appeal], so we are happy with the news," he said.

"We asked the authorities to be lenient on her and all the support and people's kindness helped a lot."

Saberi launched a hunger strike on April 21 in protest at the sentence, taking in only water or sugared water, but she ended it after about two weeks when she was briefly hospitalised.


The ruling came after a court in the capital, Tehran, heard Saberi's appeal behind closed doors.

Roxana's father speaks

"We couldn't believe it [when Roxana was convicted]. Roxana is a balanced reporter. She never took sides.

"She never intended to pass any news to any other country that was against the interest of Iran. She hasn’t done anything wrong.

"Whatever happened in the courts we don’t know. We are happy they have decided to release her.

"There will be some friends around to celebrate but tonight of course we just want her to rest, when we go home we will celebrate."

"The verdict of the previous court has been quashed," Saleh Nikbakht, her defence lawyer, said on Monday.

"Her punishment has been changed to a suspended two-year sentence."

Saberi was initially detained in January reportedly for buying alcohol, but was later charged with espionage.

"The article of law that was referred to in her conviction was article 501 that says any co-operation with hostile governments and hostile countries deserved one to 10 years in prison," Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi, reporting fom Tehran, said.

"That article of law has been disputed by lawyers who say Iran is not at war with anyone at the moment and the phrase of 'hostile government' should be interpreted more seriously."

Saberi has reported for US National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News, and has lived in Iran for the past six years. Tehran says that she has been working in the country illegally after her press card was revoked in 2006.

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, another defence lawyer, said Saberi would be banned from doing any journalism in Iran for five years.

The original sentence was handed down just weeks after Barack Obama, the US president, said that his administration would work towards better relations with Tehran after three decades with no official ties.

Al Jazeera's Ronaghi said: "They [Iran] don't want to jeopardise all the possibilities and potential of future changes in Iran-US relations with one court order."

Washington has repeatedly denied that Saberi was involved in spying for the US.

Base shooting kills five soldiers in Iraq

-- A U.S. soldier opened fire on soldiers at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, killing four and wounding three before killing himself, U.S. military officials said.

Military officials did not provide other details about the incident at the military base near the Baghdad airport, CNN reported.

CNN reported the troops killed were from the United States, but nationalities of the wounded soldiers were unknown. However, a Camp Liberty spokesman only said all of the dead and wounded were coalition members and would not confirm anyone's nationality.

Also on Monday, gunmen killed a senior Iraqi police official who was traveling to work in Baghdad, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said. Officials said two vehicles intercepted then fired on the car carrying Brig. Gen. Abdul Hussain Kadhim, attached to the traffic police, to work, CNN reported.

Elsewhere, police told the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA they discovered the bodies of three Iraqi citizens in the Tarmiya district of Saladin province. The three people were kidnapped several days ago.

The attack on Kadhim is the second in two days on traffic police, officials said. On Sunday, a roadside bomb struck a convoy with Gen. Jaafar Toma, traffic police director general, who walked away unharmed. Four members of his security detail were wounded.

Poll: Most Miami-Dade Catholics oppose celibacy vow

Among 400 Catholics polled in Miami-Dade, most supported scandal-hit Rev. Alberto Cutié, saying the church's celibacy rules are outdated.

Despite declaring he is not ashamed of being with the woman he loves, the Rev. Alberto Cutié remains highly popular among Miami-Dade Catholics, who overwhelmingly oppose the church's long-standing policy of requiring a celibate clergy, a poll conducted for The Miami Herald over the weekend has found.

Among the poll's findings:

A substantial majority -- 74 percent -- of those surveyed, including Hispanics and non-Hispanics, oppose the Roman Catholic Church's prohibition of priests marrying or having any type of sexual relations. Only 22 percent said they supported the prohibition, while 4 percent said they were unsure or gave no answer.

That majority was even larger -- 81 percent -- when those polled were asked whether they thought priests and nuns should be able to marry because the ``celibacy requirement for Catholic clergy is antiquated and no longer viable.''

''In rejecting one of the cardinal tenets of church dogma, Roman Catholics in Miami-Dade now believe that church policies on celibacy from the 12th century no longer make sense for the 21st century,'' said Fernand R. Amandi, executive vice president of Bendixen & Associates, which conducted the poll for The Miami Herald.

The poll's results are based on responses from 400 Miami-Dade Catholics interviewed Friday and Saturday. The sample is representative of the county's Catholic population by ethnicity, age, gender and geographic distribution. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The poll also shows that the public's perception of Cutié, who is no longer leading his Miami Beach parish, has not been severely damaged by the scandal that engulfed his religious life after a magazine published photos of him with a woman on the beach, including one with Cutié's hand inside the woman's bathing suit. Another photo shows the couple kissing at an unidentified terrace bar.

Those polled were asked:

``Taking into consideration everything that you know about Father Alberto Cutié, do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of Father Alberto?''

Of those questioned, 78 percent said they had a favorable impression, and 10 percent said it was unfavorable, with 12 percent who were uncertain or had no opinion.

''The scandal has not had a serious impact on Father Cutié's popularity at all,'' Amandi said. ``The figures that he has are figures that would be the envy of any elected official.''

Sixty-four percent of those polled believed that Catholic priests do not adhere to the celibacy vow throughout their lives.

Cutié will give his first English-language interview Monday on CBS' The Early Show. He gave Spanish-language network Univisión an exclusive interview on Friday.

The poll also found that interest in the Cutié controversy is almost universal among Miami-Dade Catholics.

More than 90 percent of those interviewed said they were aware of the story, and two-thirds said they were ``very aware.''

One poll question asked whether they agreed with the Archdiocese of Miami's suspension of Cutié from duties at his parish, St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach. Cutié said he was not suspended, but that he asked for time off for meditation and reflection after the compromising photos of him and the woman were published in a Mexican celebrity magazine. Cutié told The Miami Herald Friday night that marriage and a family were not out of the question for him.

The Catholics polled appear conflicted about Cutié's romantic relationship. A majority said both that ''it is OK for Father Alberto to be romantically involved with a woman'' but, at the same time, ``the Archdiocese did the right thing by suspending him from his duties at his parish.''

Among those polled was Carolyn Hatfield, a 63-year-old real estate agent from Aventura who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. She said Cutié had done nothing wrong.

''The church's stand is antiquated, and it's time that these priests were allowed to live a life that we all are entitled to live,'' Hatfield said. ``It served its purpose in the church all those years ago, but now people want to have a life and a family.''

Still, Hatfield said she did not feel sorry for Cutié, who was relieved on Tuesday of his duties at his parish and at the Archdiocese of Miami's radio and television arm, which he oversaw.

''He obviously knew he was taking a chance,'' she said.

Richard Antosiewicz, a 62-year-old retired telecommunications project manager, told pollsters that Cutié erred when he decided to become intimate with a woman.

''I see [Cutié's] point of it: that he's a man and she's a beautiful woman,'' he said. ``I can see that, but these are the rules of the church, and unless those rules change you have just got to obey those things. You just can't pick and choose what you want them to be.''

Antosiewicz said he understood both the arguments for and against the vow of celibacy, and said the requirement may need to be reconsidered.

''You've got to take a look at it,'' he said.

William Dayoub, a 72-year-old retired salesman from Coconut Grove, said the Catholic Church's celibacy requirement is hundreds of years behind the times and other priests should follow Cutié's lead.

'They should rebel and say, `No. This is enough,' '' he said.

Carrie Prejean -- Who's the Boob Now?

Those topless photos of Miss USA California Carrie Prejean were taken after she turned 18, according to one of her former pageant sponsors. This contradicts Carrie's position that she posed for the pics when she was only 17.

We obtained an email sent by the sponsor (we were asked not to use his name) and he says Carrie sent him one of the topless photos after January 6, 2009, asking "if she was in good enough shape for the Miss USA Pageant." The date is significant, because that's the day Carrie got a boob job. The former sponsor says the pic was post boob job and she was well over 18.

TMZ obtained 4 topless photos a week ago. Her rep contacted us and said Carrie's position was that she was naive at the time she posed. Then we got a second email stating she was only 17. As a result we did not publish the photos. But the sponsor says he's positive they were taken when Carrie was a full-grown adult.

Cheney backs Limbaugh over Powell on GOP future

Dick Cheney made clear Sunday he'd rather follow firebrand broadcaster Rush Limbaugh than former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell into political battle over the future of the Republican Party.

Even as Cheney embraced efforts to expand the party by ex-Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and the House's No. 2 Republican, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the former vice president appeared to write his one-time colleague Powell out of the GOP.

Asked about recent verbal broadsides between Limbaugh and Powell, Cheney said, "If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh. My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."

Powell, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush and held the nation's top military post under President George H.W. Bush, endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president last year. Nonetheless, since the election he has described himself as a Republican and a right-of-center conservative, though "not as right as others would like."

Cheney, citing Powell's backing of Obama over Republican nominee John McCain, said, "I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interests."

Cheney's remarks on CBS' "Face the Nation" were the latest step in his slow-motion estrangement from Powell since the two worked closely together to manage the Persian Gulf war in 1991 — Powell as the Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cheney as defense secretary for the elder Bush.

Under the younger Bush, Powell initially backed action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and delivered a famous U.N. speech laying out the U.S. case. But Powell and Cheney increasingly parted ways over the Bush administration's policies on the war and terrorism, with Cheney usually prevailing. Powell left the administration after Bush's first term.

Wading into the debate over the GOP's future, Cheney called efforts by George W. Bush's brother Jeb, along with Cantor and Romney, as "a good thing to do," but set a limit on how far the party should go.

"The suggestion our Democratic friends always make is somehow if you Republicans were just more like Democrats, you'd win elections," Cheney said. "Well, I don't buy that. We win elections when we have good solid conservative principles to run upon."

Powell has argued the Republican Party needs to move toward the center and reach out to growing black, Hispanic and Asian communities, but instead has been shrinking because it hasn't changed as the country changed in the face of economic distress. "Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less," Powell said last week.

For months, Powell has urged the party to turn away from the acid-tongued Limbaugh. "I think what Rush does as an entertainer diminishes the party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without," Powell said.

"Colin Powell is just another liberal," Limbaugh retorted. "What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat." Limbaugh said Powell is "just mad at me because I'm the one person in the country that had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama. It was purely and solely based on race." Both Powell and Obama are black.

On other topics on the CBS interview, Cheney:

_said transferring suspected terrorists from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States would be a bad idea that would enlarge their legal rights. Obama's national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, told ABC's "This Week" the White House isn't going to do that if it would make Americans less safe.

_reiterated his belief the U.S. has become more vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack since the Obama administration renounced harsh interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, that Cheney said provided good intelligence. Jones said he didn't believe the nation was at greater risk and that even some in the Bush administration disagreed with Cheney on that score.

_renewed his call for the administration to release two CIA memos he said list successes derived from those interrogations, including "attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped." The Obama administration is reviewing Cheney's request. Obama has said the memos are not so clear-cut and do not address whether the information could have been obtained without such methods.

_said he has been speaking out about the Obama administration although George W. Bush remains silent, because if he didn't, "then the critics have free run, and there isn't anybody there on the other side to tell the truth."

UN denounces Sri Lankan civilian 'bloodbath'

The UN condemned on Monday the killing of civilians in Sri Lanka at the weekend as a "bloodbath" in which more than 100 children died, as the government and rebels traded blame for the attacks.

Artillery strikes in the small stretch of coastline still held by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas caused major casualties among the tens of thousands of non-combatants, both sides reported.

"The large scale killing of civilians, including the death of over 100 children, over the weekend shows that the bloodbath scenario has become a reality," Gordon Weiss, the United Nations' spokesman in Colombo, told AFP.

The rebels said the civilians had died as the military pressed ahead with its offensive, but the defence ministry accused the Tigers of firing mortars to create a humanitarian crisis and attract foreign intervention.

"They are bombarding their own civilians with heavy weapons to lay the blame on the Sri Lankan forces," the ministry said in a statement.

"Hopefully, in their calculation, this will attract the foreign countries to throw a life line to save their souls."

The government on Monday said 250 civilians had been killed or wounded in the attacks blamed on the rebels, while the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said that the weekend death toll had risen to 3,200.

Casualty claims from the war zone are impossible to verify as journalists and international monitors are not allowed to travel freely in the area.

Sri Lanka's government believes its soldiers are on the verge of defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after 37 years of conflict.

At the height of their power in 2006, the Tigers -- who want an independent Tamil homeland in the Sinhalese-majority island -- controlled roughly a third of the island.

The Tigers have since been driven back into a sliver of land on the northeastern coast, where the UN has accused them of holding up to 50,000 Tamil civilians hostage.

Sri Lankan leaders have refused all international calls for a ceasefire, despite reports from the UN last month saying up to 6,500 civilians may have been killed and 14,000 wounded in fighting since January.

Japan, which is Sri Lanka's largest aid donor, must "shoulder its responsibilities" and confront the worsening humanitarian crisis there, human rights and conflict prevention groups said Monday.

The appeal was made in a joint letter to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso from the heads of Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

"If the world continues to look away from the suffering of civilians in Sri Lanka, as it has largely done until now, it will be a failure of historic proportions," the letter said.

The Sri Lankan government has recently criticised Western nations for calling for a ceasefire that would end its campaign against the Tigers before a complete victory had been secured.

Last month the military announced that it had halted the use of heavy weapons in order to protect civilians as the fighting was confined to a small area measuring just a few square kilometres (square miles).

U.S. Bancorp to sell $2.5 billion of stock

U.S. Bancorp (USB:

USB 20.54, +0.98, +5.0%) said that it will offer around $2.5 billion of its common stock for sale to the public. Subject to consultation, the firm expects to notify the U.S. Treasury that it intends to repurchase all of its Series E Preferred Stock and the related warrant issued to the U.S. Treasury under the Capital Purchase Plan. If permitted to do so, the firm expects to fund a portion of any such repurchase with the proceeds of this offering. U.S. Bancorp may also, concurrently with this stock offering, offer medium-term notes in a benchmark amount in a public offer. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are joint bookrunners for the offer. End of Story

Somalia: Government Says It Was Attacked

Somalia — Farhan Ali Mohamud, the information minister of the Somali government has said in a press conference he held in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Sunday that bases of the transitional government were attacked by what he called anti-peace groups.

Mr. Farhan said that groups against the Somali government attacked several bases of the transitional government in the past 48 hours denying that there were any government controlled places captured in the fighting.

The information minister accused the opposition groups of being behind the attacks against the government soldiers and described them that they are people who don't want peace and to rule the country with Sharia law adding that there were foreigners who involved the fighting in Mogadishu.

"We could respond the assaults but we were respecting the Somali people and the civilians. The places that they are claiming they captured are the places where the civilians lived and there are no casualties reached our side or the government soldiers," Mr. Farhan said.

The statement of the information minister of the Somali government Mr. Farhan Ali comes after four days of heavy fighting that killed more than 50 people in Mogadishu and it is the first time that the Somali government talks the fighting since the fighting began.

Developments on swine flu worldwide

Key developments on swine flu outbreaks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and government officials:

_Deaths: Global total of 53 — 48 in Mexico; three in the U.S.; one in Canada and one in Costa Rica. One of those who died in the U.S. was a toddler from Mexico. Officials said the Canadian, U.S. and Costa Rican victims also had other underlying medical conditions.

_Confirmed cases, according to WHO and CDC: more than 4,500 in 29 countries, including at least 1,626 in Mexico, at least 2,532 in the United States and 286 in Canada.

_Third U.S. death was a man in his 30s in Washington state, where health officials said he had underlying heart conditions.

_Japan reported its first four cases: a teacher and three students who had been on a high school trip to Canada. China confirms its first case on the mainland. Australia reported its first confirmed case Saturday.

_WHO says up to 2 billion people could be infected by swine flu if outbreak turns into pandemic over months or years. But WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda says it's too early to tell how widespread or severe the outbreak will become.

_President Barack Obama sought to reassure Hispanics that swine flu won't lead to epidemic of discrimination in the United States just because Mexico has been the center of the outbreak.

_Mexico's U.N. envoy says nations need common rules for responding to flu outbreaks to prevent discrimination and unfair trade restrictions; says Mexicans unfairly singled out.

_High schools, universities, dance halls, movie theaters and bars have reopened across Mexico. Primary schools will reopen next week.

_CDC says only about 10 percent of Americans with swine flu are believed to have gotten it during trips to Mexico.

She's Hired!: Rivers wins 'Celebrity Apprentice'

Comedian Joan Rivers was hired and poker champ Annie Duke was fired on the final faceoff of "Celebrity Apprentice."

Rivers beat out Duke on Sunday's finale by planning a better fundraising gala — and, maybe, by launching better zingers at her rival.

Rivers won $250,000 for her chosen charity (God's Love We Deliver, which brings meals to the seriously ill who are homebound). She also won sweet revenge against her bitter adversary, with whom she swapped many less-than-charitable words as the season wore on.

NBC's over-padded three-hour broadcast eventually led to Duke being summoned to the decisive boardroom session, aired live from Manhattan's Museum of Natural History. There, she heard the dreaded verdict from series host Donald Trump: "You're fired."

But before that, as she and Rivers sat across the boardroom table from Trump, the fur continued to fly.

"You are a two-faced person," Rivers railed at Duke. "You have said I'm a cancer. You said you hoped I would die. You never said it to my face!"

"For six boardrooms," said Duke, holding tight to her composure, "I sat here and acted professional."

"Professional-ly," Rivers corrected her.

"And there's only so much a girl can take," Duke continued.

"You're not a girl anymore, darling," Rivers shot back. "You're a woman."

Rivers and Duke were the last of 16 celebrities who started the season vying for the title of Celebrity Apprentice.

In its eighth season, "Celebrity Apprentice" has displayed remarkable stamina as a reality-show infomercial whose mission, in the form of a contest, is to plug brand names. Last week's challenge called for the celebrity contestants to come up with the winning jingle to promote a certain brand of tuna. Sunday's finale was built around a photography brand piggybacked onto product placement for a popular theater production.

"Celebrity Apprentice" is also dedicated to breathing new life into the brands of the celebrity participants themselves, who, as this season began, included Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, former "Monster Garage" host Jesse James and TV personality Khloe Kardashian.

For the final task, dueling project managers Rivers and Duke were assigned to create a pre-theater party and silent auction, sponsored by Kodak, for patrons attending Cirque du Soleil's "Wintuk."

Project teams were composed of previously fired contestants including former football great Herschel Walker, Playboy pinup Brande Roderick, country music performer Clint Black, former NBA basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman, comedian Tom Green and TV host Melissa Rivers, reunited with her mom, Joan.

Difficulties (and enmity between the teams) spiked when Rivers tangled with the design firm that had been hired to assist both teams. The company pulled out on Rivers' team — and Duke's team, too.

"This woman needs to die," Duke seethed as she tried to fix a problem she blamed on Rivers.

But now that the game is over, can the rift between them heal? In the show's final seconds, Rivers rose to her feet and gave Duke, still seated beside her, a hug.

NBC is owned by General Electric Co.

Miss Usa- Not All topless Photo's Are Equal

There's another reigning beauty queen who took some very topless photos before she won her pageant -- but unlike Carrie Prejean, Miss Rhode Island USA's crown was never ever in jeopardy.

According to Alysha Castonguay, she dropped her top for a Maxim magazine shoot and a few swimsuit calenders way before her competition -- but there was no controversy over the pics because they were all seen and approved by the Miss USA pageant officials.

But Alysha tells TMZ she feels for Miss Cali saying, "I personally believe this situation is stemming from the controversy over her opinion and not a photo."

The final decision on dethroning Carrie Prejean is still being deliberated by the Miss USA and Miss California officials.

AP Top News at 7:00 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Bill Clinton took on health care reform, industry leaders fought back, killing the White House proposal before it could gain any traction. Now those industry leaders are trying to help President Barack Obama find a solution to the problem of uninsured Americans, offering $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years.

Obama's Day: Health care, basketball

— Reforming the health care system to make it affordable for all Americans is one of President Barack Obama's top priorities.

Obama plans to talk Monday about a health care industry offer of $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years to help pay for the program. Six major groups are pledging to cut the growth rate for health care costs by 1.5 percentage points each year.

With this move, Obama is picking up key private-sector allies that fought former President Bill Clinton's effort to overhaul health care.

Later, the president welcomes the NCAA champion University of North Carolina men's basketball team to the White House.