Friday, January 29, 2010

Michelle Obama: Child obesity a crisis

The economy can make it harder for families to make healthy choices but childhood obesity threatens America's future, first lady Michelle Obama said Thursday.

During an appearance in Alexandria, Va., with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Dr. Judith Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in Alexandria, Va., the first lady said childhood obesity is "nothing short of a public health crisis threatening the future of this nation."

The first lady and the officials released a paper by the surgeon general on the public health challenge of obesity and toured a YMCA playroom that featured physical activities, including interactive video games good for groups, bikes set up so kids can race others on a screen and a dancing game.

Obama told an audience that included representatives from scouting, the YMCA, YWCA, Children's Defense Fund, Girls Inc. and the National PTA that the activity room represented the "next generation" and should be encouraged in other places.

"It's just easier" to order pizza or go through a fast-food drive-through, especially in tough economic times, she said.

Obama said her family is making healthier choices by limiting TV time, keeping an eye on portion sizes and some "very minor stuff" like throwing apples and water bottles into her daughters' school lunches.

"Small changes can lead to big results," Obama said.

US considering 9/11 trial move from New York

WASHINGTON — US officials are discussing options to move the trial of the alleged 9/11 mastermind out of New York City after mounting pressure from local politicians, an administration official said Friday.

"Conversations have occurred within the administration to discuss contingency options should the possibility of a trial in Lower Manhattan be foreclosed upon by Congress or locally," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A group of eight New York lawmakers wrote to US Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday expressing concern about plans to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described chief organizer of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and four other co-accused to Manhattan for trial.

The move would be a blow to the Obama administration's bid to bring the accused plotters to trial in civilian federal court just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.

Signatories to the letter included Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez and the speaker of New York State's assembly, Sheldon Silver.

On Wednesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, expressed his opposition to the idea, reversing his initial support.

GDP Rose in 4th Quarter 2009

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has announced the estimate of Gross Domestic Product for the final quarter of last year:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, (that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.

The Bureau emphasized that the fourth-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see the box on page 4). The “second” estimate for the fourth quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on February 26, 2010.

The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from private inventory investment, exports, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE). Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

The acceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected an acceleration in private inventory investment, a deceleration in imports, and an upturn in nonresidential fixed investment that were partly offset by decelerations in federal government spending and in PCE.

Motor vehicle output added 0.61 percentage point to the fourth-quarter change in real GDP after adding 1.45 percentage points to the third-quarter change. Final sales of computers subtracted 0.03 percentage point from the fourth-quarter change in real GDP after subtracting 0.08 percentage point from the third-quarter change.

There’s a “cup half empty” and a “cup half full” way to view these figures.

The good news is that 5.7% is a very solid growth rate, an expanding economy is better than a contracting one, and things, e.g. motor vehicles, that were subsidized did well. The bad news is that things that weren’t subsidized, e.g. computers, contracted, which still shows weakness. I should also point out that strong growth in the face of declining employment indicates rising productivity. As long as productivity is rising, outputs are increasing, and the future is as uncertain as it is will we see an increase in employment?

'Wall Street 2' trailer: Gordon Gekko is back

Even Gordon Gekko is feeling a bit of distress in these hard economic times.

Check out the trailer for the Oliver Stone-directed sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

The music, quick cuts and Michael Douglas acting like his badass self make the film look like a lot of fun. Oh, and make sure to check out the oversized '80s mobile phone.

Fun doesn't necessarily convey plot though, so here's a quick rundown. It's 2008 and Gordon Gekko has just been released from jail. There's definitely a bit of culture shock, but Gekko is still a money whisperer and can tell which way the financial winds are blowing -- towards a stock market crash.

Unfortunately, no one will listen to his warnings, so he finally gets help from his estranged daughter's (Carey Mulligan) fiance Jacob (Shia LaBeouf), who is looking for revenge after his mentor was killed.

"Wall Street 2" will hit theaters on April 23.

Federer Stomps Tsonga, Teases Murray Entering Australian Open Final

by Staff
World No. 1 Roger Federer turned back the clock on Friday at the Australian Open, looking his invincible best in thrashing Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to gain his fifth career final at the Australian Open.

“In these matches you always have to deal with how your opponent plays — but sometimes they play exactly how you want,” said Federer, who committed only 13 unforced errors over three sets, and his victory was never in doubt, unlike his early struggles against Nikolay Davydenko in the quarerfinals. “I just think it’s easier with the top players if you get them in the first set. It’s nice going through like this.”

The win was also a bit of revenge for the Swiss, who lost to Tsonga in Montreal last year. The win advanced him to a record 22nd Slam final.

For the fatigued Tsonga it was difficult going after coming off two consecutive five-set wins.

“I was just a bit more tired after the first set,” said Tsonga, the Aussie Open runner-up two years ago. “And, yeah, it was tough to play against him today. He was really good, and that’s it…sometimes you play against him again and he play just unbelievable.”

A frustrated and emotional Federer broke down crying during his post-match speech to an appreciative Aussie crowd after losing last year’s five-set final against Rafael Nadal. After cruising past Tsonga, and with the Slam-less Andy Murray waiting for him in the final rather than Nadal, Federer was in a more jovial mood.

“I know he’d like to win the first [Slam title] for British tennis since what is it, 150,000 years?” Federer joked to the crowd after the match regarding Murray. “The poor guy who has to go through those moments over and over again…”

Murray’s best Slam effort was a runner-up at the US Open in 2008, last year reaching the semis at Wimbledon, losing in the quarters at the French, and the 4th round at the Aussie Open and the US Open. Federer by contrast is appearing in his 22nd Slam final in 27 Slams contested since he won his first major at Wimbledon in 2003.

It remains to be seen whether Federer’s confidence approach versus Murray is bravado meant to intimidate his opponent, or to cover nerves. Murray’s off-speed, flow-killing game style has given the Swiss problems through their 10 career meetings thus far.

Federer has won his last two matches against Murray in tight fashion, but lost to the Brit twice last year in Indian Wells and Doha. Murray leads the career head-to-head with Federer 6-4.

TSA agent given desk job after being caught sleeping at the airport

New York writer Bucky Turco (of the awesome Animal New York blog) snapped this picture when he was waiting for a flight out of La Guardia airport. The TSA agent has obviously had a long day, and needed to catch some Z's, but failed to realize that doing this in the public departure lounge may not be the best place.

The agent has been reassigned to a desk job pending an investigation. I'm slightly torn on the issue (as are most other people talking about the incident). On the one hand, I understand how tough the job can be - a long day of screening people who still don't know about liquid bans will probably be enough to put anyone to sleep, but to do so in public is just plain stupid.

The TSA is having a pretty crappy month already - first they let someone enter Newark airport through a door that was supposed to be monitored, then someone passes into a secure area at JFK.

With road games against the Hawks and Lakers looming in the next few days, the Celtics desperately needed to get off on the right foot when they visit

6-year-old Jasmina Amena lost her courageous battle to leukemia yesterday. Her mother Thea made the sad announcement: “Today, January 27, at 10:55 p.m., Jasmina lost her fight against leukemia.”

Singers Rihanna and Lil Mama helped rally support to help find a suitable bone marrow donor for their young fan. But it was too late.

Commenting from the White House, U.S. president Barack Obama said:

It is with great sadness today that Michelle and I extend our condolences on the passing of Jasmina Anema. Jasmina showed tremendous bravery in the face of adversity, and her ability to stay positive throughout her battle was an inspiration to me and to all those she touched. As the parents of two young girls, our hearts particularly go out to Jasmina’s devoted mother Thea. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and with all who knew and loved Jasmina.”

Celtics Blow 16-Point Lead, Fall to Magic 96-94 on Late Layup

With road games against the Hawks and Lakers looming in the next few days, the Celtics desperately needed to get off on the right foot when they visited the Magic on Thursday.

The outcome wasn't exactly what Boston imagined.

After being down by as many as 16, the Magic took their first lead of the night with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter and escaped with a 96-94 win. Rashard Lewis beat Kevin Garnett off the dribble and notched the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.

Ray Allen led the Celtics with 20 points and Rasheed Wallace chipped in with 17 off the bench. Orlando's Dwight Howard was limited in the first half due to foul trouble but still finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes.

Magic 96, Celtics 94
Amway Arena, Orlando, Fla.

NBA All-Star Reserves Leak

The official word comes tonight, but the guys at Ball Don’t Lie got the scoop on the All-Star reserves. As a Boston fan, I’m happy Rajon Rondo got a deserved spot. Paul Pierce too, even if it may be on legacy at this stage.

Point guards Deron Williams of Utah, Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Boston’s Rajon Rondo will make their All-Star Game debuts next month in Dallas, sources said Thursday. Besides Rondo and Rose, the East roster includes Boston’s Paul Pierce, Toronto’s Chris Bosh, Charlotte’s Gerald Wallace and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Al Horford.

The West reserves are the New Orleans’ Chris Paul, the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, Memphis’ Zach Randolph and Portland’s Brandon Roy.

Knicks fans, quit your whining. David Lee hasn’t played defense since his days at the Swamp.

The amount of young talent on the team bodes well for the future of the league as well as for the tens of thousands that will flock to Dallas’ football mega church for the game. Now if only AI can come up with a phantom ankle injury…

Bill Gates pledges $10 bln for vaccines for poor

DAVOS, Switzerland — Bill Gates, the world's richest man, on Friday promised 10 billion dollars to develop vaccines for the world's poorest nations.

The Microsoft tycoon announced at the World Economic Forum that the money will come over the next decade from the foundation he runs with his wife Melinda, and that vaccines will become the top priority for the foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has now committed more than 25 billion dollars to various health projects, especially targeting AIDS and polio and other diseases that hit poor countries.

"We must make this the decade of vaccines," Bill Gates said in Davos. "Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries.

"Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before."

Increased vaccination could save more than eight million children by 2020, he added, but called on governments and the private sector to do more.

"Increased investment in vaccines by governments and the private sector could help developing countries dramatically reduce child mortality by the end of the decade," Gates said in a statement.

Melinda Gates added: "Vaccines are a miracle -- with just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime.

"We?ve made vaccines our number-one priority at the Gates Foundation because we?ve seen first hand their incredible impact on children?s lives," she added.

Gates began working full time at the Foundation after leaving Microsoft in July, 2008. He is in Davos as the world's leading philanthropist and his activities again overshadowed those of the political and business elite at the Swiss ski resort.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou held new meetings seeking to shore up international support for his country's austerity programme as its borrowing costs shoot up and debt problems in Greece and other countries put pressure on the euro.

Blair defends Iraq war at inquiry

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has defended his decision to send UK troops into Iraq, saying the September 11 attacks changed the "calculus of risk" associated with Saddam Hussein.

Giving evidence at a public inquiry in London on Friday, Blair conceded that the Iraqi leader did not become a greater threat following the attacks but said that the "perception of risk" had changed.

"The point about this act in New York was that had they been able to kill even more people than those 3,000 they would have. And so after that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all."

"From that moment Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq ... all of this had to be brought to an end," he said.

"The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that after September 11 if you were a regime engaged in WMD [weapons of mass destruction], you had to stop."

'Political theatre'

The inquiry is Britain's third major investigation into the conflict. It was set up last year by Gordon Brown, who took over from Blair as the UK's prime minister, to learn lessons from the conflict.

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent in London, said the inquiry was not going to see "any smoking guns".

"Everyone calls this judgement day, but this isn't really judgement day, it's political theatre. And Tony Blair knows the part he's got to play," he said.

Blair's decision to send 45,000 British troops to Iraq in 2003 was the most controversial move of his 10-year leadership.

Hundreds of protesters, including anti-war campaigners and the families of some of the 179 soldiers who have died in Iraq, have gathered outside the building where Blair is giving evidence.

Many accused the former prime minister on Friday of being a "coward" after it was reported that he had been driven into the building through a side entrance.

Others have called for Blair to be tried for war crimes over his decision to join the US-led invasion.

'Not a trial'
As the hearing opened John Chilcot, the panel's chairman, reminded the audience that the hearing "is not a trial".

Anthony Seldon, a political commentator and biographer of Blair, said the hearing would be a "pivotal day him [Blair], for the British public and for Britain's moral authority in the world".

"This is an enormous day and it goes way beyond him and his own reputation," he said.

But Shane Greer, the executive editor of the UK-based Total Politics magazine, said the inquiry was unlikely to really challenge Blair.

"I don't think we're going to see anything particularly new from this," he told Al Jazeera.

"Tony Blair is a tremendous communicator and this is very much a natural environment for him. He's someone who is used to facing very severe questioning."

'Dodgy dossier'

The inquiry is likely to focus on the public justification Blair's government gave for the war, notably the so-called dodgy dossier of September 2002.

In a foreword to the dossier Blair wrote that possession of chemical and biological weapons by Saddam Hussein, the then ruler of Iraq, was "beyond doubt" and that he could deploy them within 45 minutes.

But the inquiry has already heard from senior civil servants who said intelligence in the days before the invasion indicated that Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" had been dismantled.

Blair has always insisted the war was legal, but he has been unable to shake off accusations that intelligence was doctored to support the case for it.

Critics of the inquiry say the five-person team has been too soft on witnesses.

Senate Confirms Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a Second Term

With just 72 hours left before his term ended, the Senate voted 70-30 Thursday to confirm beleagued Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second, four-year term.
"To vote against confirmation could unnerve investors and exacerbate economic uncertainty in the marketplace, which is exactly what we do not need at this time," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey). "We need the wisdom of patience. Let us not judge the man or the work prematurely."
The Senate voted 77-23 to end debate, which lasted more than two hours. Lawmakers were harshly critical of Bernanke's handling of the financial crisis and said the Federal Reserve failed to heed warning signs that the housing and credit markets were destined to crash.
Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, said "Bernanke fiddled while our markets burned."
"The Federal Reserve played a key role in setting the stage for the financial crisis," he added.
But Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, who was was the principal author of legislation that bailed out foundering Wall Street banks to the tune of $700 billion, said the Bernanke was caught between a rock and a hard place.
"The chairmanship of Ben Bernanke has in no small measure made it possible for this nation to avoid a catastrophe," Dodd said.
Dodd recently announced his retirement from the Senate, which was due, in part, to the fact that he fell out of favor with Democratic voters after revelations surfaced that the Connecticut lawmaker received special treatment in his acquisition of a mortgage loan from subprime mortgage company Countrywide Financial, through a program that identified him and others as friends of Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo.
The New York Times reported that Bernanke's confirmation "came after a week in which top White House officials and Mr. Bernanke himself met with Democratic leaders in the Senate to secure support and it served as an indication that Congress would insist on transparency form a historically secretive institution following its extraordinary interventions in the market since 2008."
Bernanke was at the center of one of the Federal Reserve's most controversial moves, the Wall Street Journal noted, just as the financial crisis started to peak:
Deciding which firms to save and which to let fail. Each of those steps, from rescuing American Internation Group Inc. to allowing Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. to go down, is being scrutinized by lawmakers.

Critics have assailed the Fed for supporting AIG at taxpayers' expense. The insurer got about $180 billion from the federal government and AIG counterparties, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, got $62 billion for tearing up insurance contracts with the embattled insurer.

On Wednesday, Bernanke sent a letter sent to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) and said the financial stability of AIG's major trading partners did not play a role in deciding what institutions should be bailed out. Bernanke added that while he backed the decision to rescue AIG, he "was not directly involved in the negotiations with the counterparties."