Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicago designers to outfit Olympic delegation

CHICAGO — Fashion designer Maria Pinto has been a favorite of first lady Michelle Obama. President Barack Obama has worn suits from menswear maker Hart Schaffner Marx.

Both Chicago labels have been chosen to dress members of Chicago's Olympic delegation, along with tiemaker Lee Allison, for outfits debuting at this Friday's International Olympic Committee vote on the 2016 Summer Games.

Chicago is in a tight race for the bid with Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Chicago 2016 officials say it's customary for members of a city's delegation to wear the official wardrobe "to signify teamwork and cohesion."

Details of the apparel have been scarce — Chicago 2016 officials say the designs are to be unveiled Friday at the vote — but Allison described the clothing as an integrated, sporty but professional look for the men, with a more feminine silhouette for the women.

"The whole goal was to project an air of confidence and competence," Allison said. "In a sense the ties, they're very discreet. They say we're a professional team and we're here to get the job done."

The president and first lady will lead the Chicago delegation along with Oprah Winfrey, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Richard Daley. Fourteen Olympic and two Paralympic gold medalists, including Michael Johnson, Nadia Comaneci, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Nastia Liukin made the trip to Denmark.

Chicago fashion experts say they expect a classic, tailored look.

"The clothes are going to be on the conservative side, which lends itself to some of the philosophy of Chicago," Chicago fashion commentator and image consultant Barbara Glass said. "We're not a flashy city."

Glass said she also expects lots of red, white and blue.

Allison said the fact that all local designers were chosen is a sign the city is ready to host the world. "It's like a coming-out party for the town in all aspects, including its fashion industry," he said. "They can outfit this team and they don't have to leave the hometown."

Kristen Amato, president of the Chicago Fashion Foundation, said the selection demonstrates a certain caliber of work within the city's small-but-strong style community.

"This gives a lot of credibility to Chicago," said Amato, who designs her own jewelry line, K. Amato.

Amato said she expects Pinto to design for many different female body types.

"They've got to be able to speak to masses of people," Amato said. "They'll see a very polished, classic American style. I don't think we're in for any huge fashion surprises or shocks."

Mrs. Obama has worn Maria Pinto designs to important events in her husband's political career, including the day he announced his candidacy in Springfield and the night she spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Chicago 2016 said in a news release that the designers donated their time and will provide the clothing to the delegation at cost.

"On October 2, Chicago will be on an international stage, and our city's fashion designers will share in the spotlight," Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan said. "Our bid plan celebrates Chicago and we are proud to showcase the talents of the art and design community that thrives here."

Allison will offer one hint: The ties, he said, contain a hidden message.

"I can't tell you what it is," he said. "But it's an inspirational, aspirational thing there for the delegation."

DJ AM death 'accidental overdose'

Celebrity DJ Adam Goldstein aka DJ AM died of an accidental overdose according to the New York City medical examiner's office.

A toxicology report shows Goldstein had a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs and cocaine in his system.

The cause of death has been given as acute intoxication due to the combined effects the drugs.

The 36-year-old Hollywood DJ, who once dated Nicole Richie, was found dead in his New York apartment on August 28.

Goldstein spoke openly about his previous drug addictions and had recently filmed a reality TV show for MTV which aimed at helping drug users.

The celebrity DJ cheated death last year when he survived a plane crash alongside close friend and DJ partner Travis Barker from Blink 182.

Four of their friends were killed in the accident.

DJ AM played at Hollywood clubs, parties and festivals and was also well known for his private life.

He had often appeared in celebrity magazines as he had dated reality star Nicole Richie, daughter of Lionel Richie, and actress and singer Mandy Moore.

NYC terror suspect pleads not guilty, kept in jail

NEW YORK — An Afghan immigrant pleaded not guilty Tuesday to planning a New York City terrorist attack with bombs made from beauty-supply chemicals — an alleged plot authorities say was helped by at least three accomplices whose whereabouts and level of involvement haven't been revealed.

"The conspiracy here is international in scope," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Knox told a federal judge in Brooklyn.

Najibullah Zazi, wearing a blue jail smock, never spoke and showed no emotion as his lawyer entered the plea in a packed courtroom. He was ordered held without bail.

"You get the impression he's a nice guy, don't you?" defense attorney Michael Dowling told the reporters afterward.

The 24-year-old Denver airport shuttle driver has been the only alleged terrorist identified so far. But authorities have said three people traveled from New York City to suburban Denver this summer and used stolen credit cards to help Zazi stockpile products containing hydrogen peroxide and acetone — common ingredients for homemade bombs.

The Full Story

What happened at the Pittsburgh G20?

I didn’t attend the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last week, but I’ve been poring over the communiqué. Here are some initial thoughts on what it all means (numbers in square brackets refer to paragraphs in the original), incorporating analysis and intel from the Oxfam team at the event.

Headline: Pittsburgh formally enshrined the rise of the BRICs and relative decline of the G8: ‘We designated the G-20 to be the premier forum for our international economic cooperation’ [preamble, 19]. The passing of the baton takes place in Canada next June, where the G8 and G20 summits will coincide.

Winners and Losers: Institutions

The World Bank and IMF were once again anointed as the lead agencies on almost everything. ‘The World Bank and other multilateral development banks are critical to our ability to act together to address challenges, such as climate change and food security, which are global in nature and require globally coordinated action…. The World Bank should strengthen.. its focus on food security, … Its focus on human development and security in the poorest and most challenging environments, … support for private-sector led growth and infrastructure… contributions to financing the transition to a green economy through investment in sustainable clean energy generation and use, energy efficiency and climate resilience.’ [24]

Full Story

World Bank Head: Dollar will lose its place to the euro and renminbi

Funny that we talked about this just yesterday in regard to a relatively obscure article, and now it is the 2nd leading story on the front page of the NY Times. Get a load of this:

The president of the World Bank said Monday that America’s days as an unchallenged economic superpower might be numbered and that dollar was likely to lose its favored position as the euro and the Chinese renmimbi assume bigger roles.

“The United States would be mistaken to take for granted the dollar’s place as the world’s predominant reserve currency,” the World Bank president, Robert B. Zoellick, said in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. “Looking forward, there will increasingly be other options to the dollar.”

Mr. Zoellick, who previously served as the United States trade representative and as deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush, said that the euro provided a “respectable alternative” for financing international transactions and that there was “every reason to believe that the euro’s acceptability could grow.”

Over the next 10 to 20 years, he said, the dollar would face growing competition from China’s currency, the renmimbi. Though Chinese leaders have minimized their currency’s use in international transactions, largely so they could keep greater control over exchange rates, Mr. Zoellick said the renmimbi would “evolve into a force in financial markets.”

Read the article. It is beyond extraordinary that the US-appointed head of the World Bank would be so in-your-face provocative, casting doubt on Obama’s strategy to lead us to financial recovery under the supervision of the Fed (as opposed to the Treasury) and openly questioning whether we can pay our debts without igniting inflation. I personally don’t think so, and it’s clear Zoellick doesn’t, either. All of these points were discussed here yesterday, and it’s clear Zoellick read this site before presenting at Johns Hopkins.

Bank of America Cuts Ties with ACORN

This broke yesterday.

Bank of America Corp. is suspending its work with the housing affiliate of embattled community organizing group ACORN. The decision comes as three Republicans in Congress ask Bank of America and 13 other financial institutions to give Congress a complete accounting of their dealings with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now or its affiliates.

In a statement, Bank of America said it would not enter into any further agreements with ACORN Housing Corp. until the bank is satisfied all issues have been resolved. ACORN Housing Corp. and Bank of America have worked together for years on mortgage foreclosure issues.

This is important for a number of reasons. First, we've heard about a number of governmental agencies that were cutting ties to ACORN. Then, the Congress voted to cut off all funds to ACORN. Yet, ACORN has downplayed all of these actions because in their assertion, they get most of their money from private sources. Well, Bank of America is private. It's also a major donor of the group. So, this is no small hit to the group.

If this were a boxing match, ACORN would be slowly taken apart by a fighter like Floyd Mayweather Jr. They continue to take blows from every side. None are themselves a knockout but it's clear they are getting their clocks cleaned. From time to time, they counter like when they announced they would sue, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, but ultimately they are slowly being taken apart. What we are watching is the slow dismantling of this group and there's really nothing they can do about it.

It's an almost certainty there's more tapes. The media coverage isn't letting up and there's so much corruption to report on the media will be busy for years. Meanwhile, having BofA cut them off is the equivalent of a tough body blow. You can bet there will be more body blows to come. Like all boxing matches, body blows add up until the fighter finally disintegrates under the weight of a constant barrage. That's what's happening to ACORN. They're not ready to fall yet, but it's only a matter of time until they drop and are knocked out entirely.

FDIC expected to ask banks to prepay $36B in fees

Marcy Gordon
Looking to shore up the diminishing fund that insures bank deposits, the FDIC may take the unprecedented step of requiring banks to prepay three years' worth of premiums: about $36 billion.

The insurance fund has been sapped by billions from a rash of bank failures that began in mid-2008. The board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. likely will call for "prepaid" bank insurance premiums at its public meeting Tuesday to discuss the issue, three industry executives and a government official said. The banking industry prefers that option over a special emergency fee — which would be the second this year.

The executives and the official spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the decision had yet to be made public.

It would be the first time the FDIC has required prepaid insurance fees. Under the plan, banks would have to pay in advance their insurance premiums for 2010-2012, bringing in about $12 billion for each of the three years, two of the executives said. That is the normal amount of insurance fees, though it could vary somewhat according to growth in total insured deposits — the basis for determining the fees.

Off the table, at least for now, are the options of tapping the agency's $500 billion credit line with the Treasury Department and the agency borrowing billions of dollars from healthy banks by issuing its own debt, the industry executives and the government official said.

A spokesman for the FDIC declined to comment Monday afternoon.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said earlier this month that she was "considering all options, including borrowing from Treasury," to replenish the insurance fund. Yet she is generally perceived as considering that the most unpalatable approach.

Borrowing from the Treasury could create the undesirable impression of another taxpayer-financed bailout, while borrowing from the banks might make the FDIC look as if it were beholden to the banking industry, experts say.

Ninety-five banks have failed so far this year as losses have mounted on commercial real estate and other soured loans amid the most severe financial climate in decades. The insurance fund fell 20 percent to $10.4 billion at the end of June, its lowest point since 1992, at the height of the savings-and-loan crisis. The fund has now slipped to 0.22 percent of insured deposits, below a congressionally mandated minimum of 1.15 percent.

Some analysts expect hundreds more banks to fail in the coming years and the FDIC forecasts the fund will need $70 billion through 2013 to deal with those losses. But the FDIC is fully backed by the government, which means depositors' money is guaranteed up to $250,000 per account.

Besides the prepayment plan, the agency could still later propose an emergency assessment, or a transfer of cash collected in fees from the FDIC's temporary rescue program that guarantees hundreds of billions of dollars of debt that banks issue to each other. The agency has collected about $9 billion in fees from banks issuing debt under the program, and $596.7 million of it already has gone into the deposit insurance fund.

The first emergency fee, which took effect June 30, brought in around $5.6 billion. Another one would allow the healthiest banks to keep more capital for investment, but could drive weaker banks toward failure, further depleting the insurance fund.

"I think they will continue to levy (emergency) assessments on an ad hoc basis," said Bert Ely, a banking industry consultant in Alexandria, Va.

Bair acknowledged earlier this month that the agency did not want to "stress the industry too much at this time, when they're still in the process of recovery." U.S. Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, who with Bair is a member of the FDIC board, has said another emergency levy "could cause more stressful conditions."

"We're pleased that they're looking at alternatives to another special assessment," said Karen Thomas, executive vice president of government relations at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

In addition to the insurance fund, the FDIC has about $21 billion in cash available in reserve to cover losses at failed banks, down from $25 billion at the end of the first quarter. The independent agency likely wouldn't consider tapping its credit line at the Treasury unless that cash were depleted, FDIC officials have said.

The Associated Press

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index

The July S&P/Case-Shiller 20 city Home Price Index said prices fell 13.3% y/o/y, less than the expected decline of 14.2%. It is the smallest decline since Feb ‘08 and it takes the index to the highest since Jan ‘09 as it rose 1.61% m/o/m. At 144.23, it is down 30% from the all time high in July ‘06. Seattle and Las Vegas are the only two cities of the 20 that saw a m/o/m drop. Every city still has y/o/y declines led by Las Vegas and Phoenix. This data is not seasonally adjusted and combining the seasonal strong time of the year with the $8,000 first time home tax credit and a moderation in the pace of foreclosures and we have continued stabilization in the home price data. With an expected pick up in foreclosures, continued compression in higher end home prices and the uncertain fate of the tax credit, we’ll see if the improvements in pricing can continue in the face of this. The worst of the financial crisis will end when home prices stop going down and I don’t believe we’ve seen the worst of the price declines in this cycle notwithstanding the recent government induced bounce.

Janet Jackson Encourages People to be ‘Warriors’ Against AIDS

Janet Jackson spoke before an audience filled with celebs at amfAR Milano, an inaugural event to support AIDS research.

amfAR's chief executive Kevin Robert Frost expressed gratitude for having Janet on board to chair the event. He said, "She brings incomparable grace and a history of dedication to the fight against AIDS."

Janet said to her captive audience, "We are so grateful that you are opening your hearts and together we can realize our dream of a world without AIDS…This battle needs all of us to be brave warriors."

The Grammy-winner spoke to an audience that included Dita von Teese, Rachel Bilson, Donatella Versace, and Kanye West with his girlfriend Amber Rose.

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research and HIV prevention. The event took place in conjunction with Milan Fashion Week in Italy.

BA's transatlantic gamble

TODAY marks the launch of British Airways’ new business-class-only service between London City airport and New York JFK. BA will use Airbus A318s, the largest plane able to cope with London City’s short runways, which will be equipped with 32 lie-flat seats as well as internet and text-messaging capabilities. Westbound planes will have to refuel at Shannon airport in Ireland, but passengers will be able to spend their Irish sojourn clearing US customs.

The flights—two daily in each direction—have taken over Concorde’s old numbers BA001, BA002, BA003, BA004, which BA describes as “prestigious”. Hmm. Well, the prices are certainly prestigious. Return flights start from around £2,000, but for those you’ll be returning on a Sunday or Monday. Business travellers are more likely to be paying around £4,000 for a semi-flexible ticket; a fully flexible option costs over £5,800.

Plane Stupid, an environmental action group, plans to protest at the launch against the emission-intensive use of A318s to carry just 32 people. Given that Willie Walsh, BA's boss, recently pledged that airlines would halve their carbon emissions by 2050, the group appears to have a point.

Environmental considerations aside, how sound is the business case? Eos, MAXjet and Silverjet all tried and failed to master the business-class-only idea. They were partially undone by high fuel prices and inappropriate airports (Stansted, anyone?). BA has neither of these hindrances, and Mr Walsh has spoken of the need to "embrace the future and innovate" in harsh business climes. Indeed not all analysts think the timing is poor for the launch of a premium product. The Guardian quotes one who says:

In March 2008, Silverjet and Eos carried 10,000 passengers a month, BA will have capacity for 3,000 a month, so there is reason to believe there will be more than enough demand for BA to fill the requisite number of seats…. The premium market has shrunk about 20% since then, but even then there should be plenty of demand.

So perhaps BA really does have a viable product? Six months should clarify matters.

Animal Abuse: James Davis Arrested for Duct-Taping Cat in Philly

By Pete Kotz in Animal Cruelty
The duct-taped kitty in Philly

​What's the deal with young men torturing cats? Yesterday, we told you the tale of Acea Schomaker, who was hit with 90 days for stuffing his cat in a homemade bong. Today's weirdness comes from Philadelphia, where 19-year-old James Davis was arrested for duct-taping a cat mummy-style.

Out saga begins when Davis saw a cat in his yard. He apparently wasn't happy about this, so he decided to duct-tape the feline for... well... we couldn't exactly tell you. But the cat wouldn't stop wailing, so three hours later he stuck it in a shopping bag and left it in a neighbor's yard. The neighbor discovered it and called the cops...

James Davis
​A Pennsylvania animal group put out a $2,000 reward to catch the cat taper. So Davis turned himself in.

But there's a little more to the story than meets the eye. Davis' brother and father were both murdered in recent years, and judging from police, the young man may not be right in the head.

"Basically he saw the animal in his yard, didn't like the animal in the yard," animal rescue worker George Bengal told WPVI-TV in Philly. "I think this young fellow has a lot of issues going on in his life. He was very remorseful for what he did. Hopefully he will get the help that he needs."

The upside is that Bengal's received 100 requests to adopt the animal.

Tropical Storm Ketsana Kills More Than 240, Displaces More Than 609,000 in Philippines

Tropical Storm Ketsana, locally referred to as Ondoy, deluged Manila and surrounding areas with 455mm (18 inches) of rain in 24 hours Saturday, killing 240 people and displacing 609,548 according to SitRep 12 (29 September) from the Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). Ketsana caused the country’s worst flooding in 42 years, according to the Philippine government and observers on the ground.

The numbers of dead and displaced are expected to rise significantly as floodwaters recede, allowing rescuers to gain access to isolated areas, and health officials have expressed concern about the spread of swine flu, diarrhea, and leptospirosis.

Rainfall from Tropical Storm Ketsana as estimated by NASA’s TRMM satellite, several hours before the heaviest rainfall began in Manila. The small core of rainfall rates off-scale (greater than 1.6 inches/hour) to the east of Manila, and passed directly over the city between 8am and 2pm local time on 25 September. Source: Navy Research Lab, Monterey, California. Click to enlarge.

410.6 mm (16.2 inches) of rain fell in Quézon City in the nine hours immediately after Ketsana made landfall, surpassing the previous 344.5mm record for rainfall in the Philippines in a 24-hour period, recorded 7 June 1967. Images and video distributed through social networking resources such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (sample YouTube video) showed vehicles floating down city streets, 80% of which were flooded in Manila at the height of the storm.

Nathaniel Cruz, weather services bureau head of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), told GMANews.TV that “This could be again a manifestation of climate change. Due to climate change, we should expect more extreme weather events like extreme rainfall."

Early official blame was placed in part on citizen inaction and refuse-choked drainage systems. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dr. Prisco Nilo, chief of PAGASA, said that flood warnings had been issued prior to the storm, and that “instead of just watching the soap operas on TV, [people] should also watch the news.”

As the severity of the event became apparent, however, the Marikina River crested its banks, and officials worried that additional rains could weaken dams. Portions of the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila were converted into refugee shelters. Although President Gloria Arroyo has termed Ketsana a “once in a lifetime event”, flooding in Manila has steadily become more frequent and more severe in the latter half of the century, in part due to heavy groundwater extraction, which is causing the land around Manila Bay to sink.

Ketsana has since strengthened into a typhoon, and is expected to intensify further as it approaches Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, according to a government weather forecaster. A second tropical depression is now forming in the Pacific Ocean, and is heading toward the Philippines.

—Jack Rosebro

Secret Service Investigating Facebook Poll Asking Whether Obama Should Be Killed

The Secret Service is investigating the circumstances surrounding an eye-opening Facebook poll that asked whether Obama should be assassinated, a Secret Service spokesman confirms to us.

“We are taking the appropriate investigative steps,” the spokesman, Ed Donovan, told our reporter, Amanda Erickson. “We are aware of it.”

The poll asked: “Should Obama be killed?” It offered four choices: No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.

The poll, of course, is only the latest example of the sort of viral incitement to violence that flares up when the sparks of anti-Obama hatred are fed oxygen by the bellows of the Internets. While anyone can put up such a poll, this kind of stuff is a sign of the moment — as David Kurtz put it, it’s akin to graffiti on the virtual wall of our times.

According to a source, the Secret Service has contacted Facebook and asked them to take the poll down. And, indeed, it’s already down.

Given that the Secret Service is investigating the circumstances of the poll, it seems clear that they’re looking into who was behind it. More if we learn it.

Update: A lot of folks are Twittering at me that this blogger broke the poll story.

Iran promises inspection 'soon'

Iran has said it will soon inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of a timetable for inspection of its second uranium enrichment plant.

The head of Iran's atomic energy body was quoted as saying that it would resolve the issue with the UN body.

Meanwhile China called for restraint ahead of talks between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany on 1 October.

Iran revealed the second plant, thought to be near Qom, on 21 September.

The IAEA had requested "specific information and access to the facility as soon as possible" after receiving the letter from Tehran admitting to the existence of the plant.

Iran told the agency that no nuclear material had been introduced into the "new pilot fuel enrichment plant" which it said was still under construction.

We hope relevant countries can make efforts for the relaxation of the situation instead of doing things to the contrary

Jiang Yu
Chinese Foreign Ministry

Tougher sanctions

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she hoped that there would be a "relaxation of the situation".

"We hope relevant countries can make efforts. We support the maintenance of the international non-proliferation regime and uphold the proper handling of the issue through negotiations," she said.

Her comments came amid tensions between Iran and the West that have escalated yet further in the days leading up the talks in Geneva.

Iran has test-fired a series of medium- and longer-range missiles that put Israel, parts of Europe and US bases in the Gulf within potential striking range.

The White House called the move "provocative" but Iran's foreign ministry said the tests were merely part of an annual military drill, and were not a reaction to the nuclear crisis.

Iran insists that all its nuclear facilities are for peaceful energy purposes and refutes accusations from the US and others that it is seeking a nuclear weapon.

President Obama has hinted at pursuing tougher sanctions against Tehran if progress over the crisis is not made.

Russia recently signalled it might be prepared to soften its opposition to further sanctions.

China, which is also a permanent Security Council member, has said such pressure would not be effective.

Film Director Polanski Asks Swiss Court for Release from Custody

Lawyers for Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski, who faces sentencing in the United States for statutory rape, have asked a Swiss court to release him from custody.

A court in Zurich Tuesday said a decision would be made within weeks. Polanski is expected to remain jailed until a ruling is issued and any appeals are complete.

Swiss police arrested Polanski Saturday, as he arrived in Zurich to receive a film award. Authorities said he was detained on a 2005 international alert, and said they were awaiting an extradition request from the United States.

Polanski, famed for such films as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, was arrested in the late 1970s in Los Angeles. He was charged with giving drugs and alcohol to a 13-year-old girl and having unlawful sex with her. He fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty.

Polanski won an Academy Award in 2003 for the film The Pianist, but did not return to Hollywood to receive the Oscar.

Since then, the victim, now in her 40s, says she does not want him to be jailed.

Earlier this year, a judge in Los Angeles rejected the fugitive's bid to dismiss the case, despite new evidence showing the original trial judge colluded illegally with prosecutors in 1978.

In his ruling, the new judge said there appeared to be substantial judicial misconduct in the original case. However, he said he could not rule on Polanski's dismissal bid until the director returned from exile.