Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook Privacy Changes

Privacy campaigners and civil liberties groups have criticised an update to Facebook users' profile settings, saying that it was pushing members to share personal information.

The changes, which were announced last week and are now rolling out across the site, asks users to review their privacy settings, and adjust them to ensure they are only sharing personal information, videos and photos with the people they want.

But privacy campaigners say this "transition tool" is "nudging" Facebook's 350 million users towards creating more open profiles, with details and information that can be viewed by anyone.

"Facebook is nudging the settings toward the 'disclose everything' position," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in the United States. "That's not fair from the privacy perspective."

The changes mean that Facebook users will be able to decide how much their status updates, photos, videos and other personal data are shared with other Facebook users outside their network. It will also dictate whether any of this data is shared beyond Facebook, making it viewable across the broader web. In October, Facebook signed a deal with Microsoft's search engine, Bing, that would see public status updates included in Bing's search results to improve its real-time search capabilities.

Campaigners criticised Facebook for requiring that certain personal information, including a person's gender and the city they live in, is made publicly viewable to all, rather than just to friends. They also said that the layout of the transition tool – which would make all messages viewable to everyone, unless the user specifically chose to retain their current settings – was misleading.

"These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before," said a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns for internet rights. "Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

But Facebook said that users could make some simple adjustments to their profiles – such as leaving the gender and city fields blank – to ensure that information was not publicly available. A spokesman for the social-networking site also said that with the new privacy settings, users could restrict who has access to a particular message or piece of content every time they post something to Facebook, making the recommended default setting less relevant.

"Any suggestion that we're trying to trick them into something would work against any goal that we have," said a Facebook spokesman. He said that Facebook was recommending that posts were viewable by all other users because such open sharing of information was consistent with "the way the world is moving".

Top Chef Winner: Michael Voltaggio

Michael Voltaggio is the winner of Top Chef, season 6. He beat out his brother, the subtle Bryan Voltaggio, and fan favorite Southern charmer Bearded Kevin.

In the Top Chef Season 6 Finale, judges Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio were accompanied by a number of guest judges. They tasted every dish and reacted accordingly.

The Top Chef competition began in Las Vegas with 17 chefs. Every Wednesday, the cheftestants went different places and cooked delicious dishes to stay back for next one week. It was an emotional moment, when Jennifer was eliminated for her salty goat cheese, last week.

Kevin and Bryan and Michael V were the last Top Chefs standing in season 6.

Michael Voltaggio
, 30, of Angeles, California, is Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room, at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa. He got his education at The Greenbrier Hotel Culinary Apprenticeship Program.

Kevin Gillespie, 26 of Atlanta, Georgia, is Executive Chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. He got his culinary education at the Art Institute of Atlanta, and various restaurants.

Bryan Voltaggio, 33, of Frederick, Maryland, is Chef and Partner at the VOLT Restaurant. He received his education from A.O.S Culinary Arts, C.I.A.

Michael Voltaggio was named Top Chef this evening after serving judges an impressive four-course menu in California wine country that showed his creativity and technical prowess.

After winning the Top chef title, Michael broke into tears, as he wished he and his brother Bryan could win the title together.

Michael Voltaggio wins $225,000 in cash and merchandise, a spread in Food & Wine magazine and a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado.

Kevin Gillespie was fan favorite but had a tough luck in the finale. He had to cook with unfamiliar matsutake mushrooms, which didn’t satisfy the judges.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama: 30,000 More Troops To Afghanistan by Summer

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday he was dispatching 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, accelerating a risky and expensive war buildup, even as he assured the nation that U.S. forces will begin coming home in July 2011. The first new Marines will join the fight by Christmas.

The escalation — to be completed by next summer — is designed to reverse significant Taliban advances since Obama took office 10 months ago and to fast-track the training of Afghan soldiers and police toward the goal of hastening an eventual U.S. pullout. The size and speed of the troop increase will put a heavy strain on the military, which still maintains a force of more than 100,000 in Iraq and already has 68,000 in Afghanistan.

"The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 the fastest pace possible so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers," Obama was to say in his Tuesday night prime-time speech. The White House released excerpts in advance.

The increased troops, Obama said, "will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."

Looking to America's experience in Iraq, Obama put said a U.S. withdrawal would be executed "responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."

"We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government and, more importantly, to the Afghan people that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country," Obama said.

Obama also leaned heavily on NATO allies and other countries to join in escalating the fight.

"We must come together to end this war successfully," the president said. "For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility. What's at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world."

Obama's Tuesday evening speech to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., to be broadcast nationally, ends three months of exacting deliberations that won praise from supporters and criticism from opponents. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Obama was "dithering," too inexperienced to make a decision on the troop buildup requested in September by commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Senior officials said Obama also would underscore his commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan and scouring corruption out of the government of President Hamid Karzai. Obama has vowed to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida boss Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization.

Most of the new forces will be combat troops. Military officials said the Army brigades most likely to be sent will come from Fort Drum in New York and Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Marines, who will be the vanguard, will most likely come primarily from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

There will be about 5,000 dedicated trainers in the 30,000, showing the emphasis on preparing Afghans to take over their own security. And the president is making clear to his generals that all troops, even if designated as combat, must consider themselves trainers.

Announcing a start to a U.S. withdrawal by July 2011 does not tie the United States to an "end date" for the war, officials said. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because the speech had not been delivered.

The address could become a defining moment of the Obama presidency, a political gamble that may weigh heavily on his chances for a second White House term. It represents the beginning of a sales job to restore support for the war effort among an American public grown increasingly pessimistic about success — and among some fellow Democrats in Congress wary of or even opposed to spending billions more dollars and putting tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers and Marines in harm's way.

A new survey by the Gallup organization, released Tuesday, showed only 35 percent of Americans now approve of Obama's handling of the war; 55 percent disapprove.

Even before the president spoke, his plan was met with skepticism in Congress, where Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and liberal House Democrats threatened to try to block funding for the troop increase.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs a military oversight panel, said he didn't think Democrats would yank funding for the troops or try to force Obama's hand to pull them out faster. But Democrats will be looking for ways to pay for the additional troops, he said, including a tax increase on the wealthy although that hike is already being eyed to pay for health care costs. Another possibility is imposing a small gasoline tax that would be phased out if gas prices go up, he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans said that setting a timetable for withdrawal would demonstrate weakness.

"The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Obama's campaign rival in last year's presidential race.

If the timeline for the troop increase holds, it will require a costly logistical scramble to send in so many people and so much equipment almost entirely by air. It will also probably require breaking at least an implicit promise to some soldiers who had thought they would have more than 12 months at home before their next deployment.

At the same time, NATO diplomats said Obama was asking alliance partners in Europe to add 5,000 to 10,000 troops to the separate international force in Afghanistan. Indications were the allies would agree to a number somewhere in that range. The war has even less support in Europe than in the United States, and the NATO allies and other countries currently have about 40,000 troops on the ground.

The main mission of the new troops will be to reverse Taliban gains and secure population centers in the country's volatile south and east. The addition of some Marines before year's end would provide badly needed reinforcements to those fighting against Taliban gains in southern Helmand province.

Obama briefed dozens of key lawmakers Tuesday afternoon, before setting off for West Point.

Late Monday, the president spent an hour on a video conference call with Karzai. The White House said Obama told the Afghan leader "that U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan are not open-ended and must be evaluated toward measurable and achievable goals within the next 18 to 24 months."

On Tuesday Obama contacted Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to tell him the United States wanted to open a long-term commercial and security relationship. Obama also had planned to speak of a need to help Pakistan stabilize itself from the threats it faces not only from al-Qaida but Taliban forces that are increasingly behind terrorist bombings in that country, officials said.

The United States went to war in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States.

Bin Laden and key members of the terrorist organization were headquartered in Afghanistan at the time, taking advantage of sanctuary afforded by the Taliban government that ran the mountainous and isolated country.

Taliban forces were quickly driven from power, while bin Laden and his top deputies were believed to have fled through towering mountains into neighboring Pakistan. While the al-Qaida leadership appears to be bottled up in Pakistan's largely ungoverned tribal regions, the U.S. military strategy of targeted missile attacks from unmanned drone aircraft has yet to flush bin Laden and his cohorts from hiding.

Probiotics for Weight Loss?

Believe it or not, the human body contains more bacteria living inside than individual cells: 100 trillion microorganisms live in our gastrointestinal tract as compared with a "mere" 10 trillion human cells in our body. And one of the best kinds of microorganisms we can have flourishing inside our bodies are the probiotics, the healthy bacteria that live in our intestines or gut. Now, new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital and Clinics suggests probiotics might even enhance weight-loss programs.

The Stanford researchers first noticed the beneficial effects of probiotics on weight when working with extremely obese patients who've had gastric-bypass surgery. But studies are showing that the benefits of probiotics are not limited to those who've had this medical procedure.

So why are probiotics assisting with weight loss? Several studies have suggested that the guts of normal-weight people contain a different mix or balance of the types and amounts of bacteria that are found in the intestines of overweight folks. One study even found these same imbalances among the microorganisms in 7-year-old kids who were overweight.

Could it be that bad bacteria are causing at least some of our weight issues? Is it possible that one day we'll just ingest a dollop of "weight-friendly" bacteria to bring our body size under control?

It's too soon to know exactly where this discovery will lead, so here are my recommendations:

Be sure to include foods in your diet that contain probiotics, such as yogurt.

Avoid brands of yogurt that have the "fruit" at the bottom and instead go with low-fat, low-sugar varieties that contain plenty of protein and calcium. A cup of yogurt is a great snack to hold you over in between meals or after a workout. Greek yogurts are especially high in protein.

Make prebiotics part of your regular diet as well. Prebiotics--tiny fibers found in some fruits and vegetables--just happen to be what probiotics and other good bacteria eat. Good sources of prebiotics include wheat, bananas, onions, garlic, and leeks. (Europeans eat far more prebiotics than do people in the U.S--might this explain part of the weight discrepancy between the U.S. and European populations?)

If you have digestive issues, be sure to talk with your doctor or dietitian about "pharmaceutical-grade" probiotics, which are the equivalent of prescription-strength good bacteria.

Last, a caveat: Don't even think about starting to load up on probiotics so that you can slack off on exercise or ignore your healthy eating plan. There is no miracle probiotic cure in the pipeline!

Fritz Henderson:GM Motor CEO To Resign

General Motors Co. CEO Frederick "Fritz" Henderson stepped down Tuesday after the board determined that the company wasn't changing quickly enough. Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. said at a hastily called news conference that he will serve as interim CEO, and an international search for a new CEO and president is planned.

Whitacre thanked Henderson for his work during a period of challenge and change, but said it is time to accelerate the pace of rebuilding the largest U.S. automaker.

The resignation comes just eight months after Henderson, 51, replaced former chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, who was ousted March 29 by the Obama administration's government's auto task force.

Henderson has been with GM his entire career and was the government's choice to run the beleaguered company after Wagoner left. Whitacre, picked by the government in June to be chairman of the new GM, is considered an industry outsider, having run AT&T Inc. for 17 years.

Whitacre and the board have become increasingly active in the company's decisions, at times challenging some of Henderson's decisions. In November, the board voted to abandon plans to sell GM's European Opel unit. That reversed an earlier option favored by Henderson to sell it to a consortium led by Canadian auto parts supplier Magna International Inc.

"Based on the determination of the board and the pace of the change in the company, it was determined that it was best to initiate a change in direction," spokesman Chris Preuss said.

An Obama administration official said in a statement that "this decision was made by the Board of Directors alone. The Administration was not involved in the decision."

Henderson replaced Wagoner a few months before GM entered bankruptcy protection and led the company through a painful government-led and court-supervised reorganization

Dubai Isn't Alone In Debt Overload

Like overstretched American homeowners, governments and companies across the globe are groaning under the weight of debts that, some fear, might never be fully paid back.

As Dubai, that one-time wonderland in the desert, struggles to pay its bills, a troubling question hangs over the financial world: Is this latest financial crisis an isolated event, or a harbinger of still more debt shocks?

For the moment, at least, global investors seem to be taking Dubai's sinking fortunes in their stride. On Monday, the American stock market rose modestly, even as share prices plunged throughout the Persian Gulf.

But the travails of Dubai, a boomtown that, with its palm-shaped islands and indoor ski slope became a potent symbol of hyperwealth, nonetheless have some economists wondering where other debt bombs might be lurking -- and just how dangerous they might turn out to be.

Big banks that have only just begun to recover from the financial shocks of last year are now nervously eyeing their potential exposure to highly indebted corporations and governments.

From the Baltics to the Mediterranean, the bills for an unprecedented borrowing binge are starting to fall due. In Russia and the former Soviet bloc, where high oil prices helped feed blistering growth, a mountain of debt must be refinanced as short-term i.o.u.'s come due.

Even in rich nations like the United States and Japan, which are increasing government spending to shore up slack economies, mounting budget deficits are raising concern about governments' ability to shoulder their debts, especially once interest rates start to rise again.

The numbers are startling. In Germany, long the bastion of fiscal rectitude in Europe, government debt is on the rise. There, the government debt outstanding is expected to increase to the equivalent of 77 percent of the nation's economic output next year, from 60 percent in 2002. In Britain, that figure is expected to more than double over the same period, to more than 80 percent.

The burdens are even greater in Ireland and Latvia, where economic booms driven by easy credit and soaring property values have given way to precipitous busts. Public debt in Ireland is expected to soar to 83 percent of gross domestic product next year, from just 25 percent in 2007. Latvia is sinking into debt even faster. Its borrowings will reach the equivalent of nearly half the economy next year, up from 9 percent a mere two years ago.

Like Latvia, the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia remain worryingly exposed, as do Bulgaria and Hungary. All of these nations carry foreign debt that exceeds 100 percent of their G.D.P.'s, said Ivan Tchakarov, chief economist for Russia and the former Soviet states at Nomura bank. External debt is often held in a foreign currency, which means governments cannot use devaluation of their own currencies as a tool to reduce their debt when they run into trouble, according to Maurice Obstfeld, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Few analysts predict a major nation will default on it government debts in the immediate future. Indeed, many maintain that rich nations and the International Monetary Fund would intervene if a government needed a bailout.

But there are no assurances that companies in these nations, which, like governments, gorged on debt in good times, will be rescued. Dubai's refusal to guarantee the debts of its investment arm, Dubai World, may set a precedent for other indebted governments to abandon companies that investors had in the past assumed enjoyed full state backing.

"I see very good reasons to be worried that at some point in 2010 we are going to see more cases of ring-fencing because governments realize they can't afford to guarantee the debts of these companies," said Pierre Cailleteau, managing director of the global sovereign risk group and chief economist of Moody's.

Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist whose recent book, "This Time Is Different," chronicles 800 years of financial crises, said: "I think right now every vulnerable country has one or two deep-pocketed backers that pretty much rule out a sudden run." But Mr. Rogoff said he expected a wave of defaults about two years from now, when the countries now serving as implicit guarantors turn their focus to economic problems at home.

One feature of the financial crisis is that some governments have taken on increasingly short-term debt. In the United States, for example, Treasury debt maturing within one year has risen from around 33 percent of total debt two years ago to around 44 percent this summer, while falling slightly since then, according to Wrightson ICAP. The United States will soon have debt problems of its own.

"In another couple years as industrialized countries' own debts -- in places like Germany, Japan and the United States -- get worse, they will become more reluctant to open up their wallets to spendthrift emerging markets, or at least countries they view that way," Mr. Rogoff said.

This might spell trouble for struggling nations. Facing a need to roll over their maturing debts, emerging markets may have to borrow around $65 billion in 2010 alone, according to Gary N. Kleiman of Kleiman International.

But while government debt may be a problem, corporate debt may set off a crisis that, in some ways, is already unfolding.

Corporate borrowing surged over the last five years. According to Mr. Kleiman, $200 billion of corporate debt is coming due this year or next year. He estimates that companies in Russia and the United Arab Emirates account for about half of that borrowing.

"This is where the Achilles heel is," he said.

Companies in several countries face immediate tests. Companies in China will have to borrow $8.8 billion in 2010; companies in Mexico $11 billion.

According to an analysis by JPMorgan Chase, Russian companies borrowed $220 billion from banks or by selling bonds from 2006 to 2008. That is the equivalent of 13 percent of Russia's gross domestic product. In the Emirates, that figure was $135.6 billion, or 53 percent of G.D.P.; in Turkey, it was $72 billion, or 10 percent of G.D.P.; and in Kazakhstan, it was $44 billion, or 44 percent of G.D.P.

In the past, if companies could not meet those obligations, governments might have stepped in. But already some companies have defaulted on payments after assumed government guarantees failed to materialize.

In Russia, for instance, the foreign debt totals more than $470 billion. But only a tiny fraction of that -- about $29 billion -- is sovereign debt. The rest is owed by Russian companies, including state giants like Gazprom.

The most troubling case in Russia is Rusal, the world's largest aluminum company, which owes $16 billion and has been in a standstill on repayment this year while dealing with creditors.

A subsidiary of a Russian state aircraft manufacturer defaulted on bonds last autumn despite a presumed sovereign guarantee. In Ukraine, the state energy company, Naftogaz, and a state railroad, have restructured or asked to restructure their debt.

"This was a trail that was blazed in this part of the world," said Rory MacFarquhar, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Moscow, referring to governments retreating from implied guarantees of state company debt, as in the case of Dubai World.

The Dubai World debt restructuring is already lifting borrowing costs for Russian companies that must repay a total of $20 billion in December, according to Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist of UralSib bank in Moscow.

Jaimee Grubbs PHOTOS: Pictures Of Tiger Woods' New Alleged Mistress

TMZ is reporting that cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs has told Us Weekly that she had a 31-month affair with Tiger Woods. According to TMZ, Grubbs, 24 and best known for her stint on VH1's "Tool Academy," claims to have voicemails and text messages to corroborate her story. TMZ adds:

"According to Us Weekly, Grubbs has more than 300 text messages from Tiger -- who married Elin Nordegren in 2004.
The magazine, which comes out tomorrow, claims Grubbs had 20 sexual encounters with Tiger.

Police:Tiger Woods at Fault in Crash, Will Get Citation

Tiger Woods will be cited for careless driving in a car crash outside his Orlando-area mansion, but will not face criminal charges, the Florida Highway Patrol said Tuesday.

Woods faces a $164 fine and four points against his driver’s license, not close to enough to have it suspended. The citation closes the investigation of last week’s crash.

The patrol “is not pursuing criminal charges in this matter nor is there any testimony or other evidence to support any additional charges of any kind other than the charge of careless driving,” Sgt. Kim Montes said.

According to an accident report, Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree at 2:25 a.m. Friday. The airbags did not deploy and Woods’ wife told Windermere police she used a golf club to smash the back windows to help him out.

Woods withdrew Monday from his own golf tournament, citing injuries from the crash.

Since the accident, tabloids and gossip Web sites have fueled speculation about the events leading up to it, including that there may have been a domestic dispute between Woods and his wife.

The crash came two days after The National Enquirer published a story alleging that Woods had been seeing a New York nightclub hostess, and that they recently were together in Melbourne, where Woods competed in the Australian Masters. The woman, Rachel Uchitel, denies the affair.

An attorney for the neighbors who dialed 911 after the crash said Woods did not appear to be driving under the influence and showed no signs of having been in a fight. Montes said there were no claims of domestic violence and insufficient evidence to subpoena any medical information.

“Despite the celebrity status of Mr. Woods, the Florida Highway Patrol has completed its investigation in the same professional manner it strives to complete each traffic investigation,” Montes said.

Bill Sharpe, an attorney for the neighbors, said Woods’ injuries were “consistent with a car wreck and inconsistent with him being beat up. The scratches on his face were consistent with someone who maybe was in a minor car accident and hit his head on the windshield. … None of his injuries looked like he was beat up by his wife.”

Sharpe said neighbor Linda Adams and her two adult sons went outside their home in the exclusive gated community of Isleworth after hearing the crash and Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren, asked them to call the 911 emergency number.

He said the neighbors found Nordegren kneeling beside her husband, upset about his injuries. Sharpe said Woods appeared woozy and had scratches on his face and that his wife was trying to console him. The Adamses wrapped Woods in a blanket and made sure he didn’t move.

Tabloid speculation has focused on whether Woods and his wife were fighting before the accident.

“One thing we want to make clear is that Mrs. Woods’ attitude was consistent with her being concerned about her injured husband,” Sharpe said. “Mrs. Woods was trying to help him. Mrs. Woods was worried about her husband. She was concerned.”

Sharpe said the Adams family did not see the crash and did not see Woods’ wife with a golf club. He said he was hired to get the message out that the Adams family members have told investigators everything they know about the crash and aren’t hiding anything.

By skipping his tournament, Woods will escape the TV cameras and a horde of media seeking more details. The tournament was to be the last of the year for Woods anyway, and he did not say when or where he would make his return next year.

When healthy, he has made his season debut at Torrey Pines every year since 2006. The San Diego Invitational this year is scheduled the week of Jan. 25. That could mean Woods avoids the media for 10 weeks.

Neighbors in the exclusive Isleworth community said Tuesday they did not know if Woods was home. There were no cars in his driveway as the highway patrol held its news conference, and there was little sign that any accident had taken place - the fire hydrant Woods struck had either been repaired or replaced. The grass was perfectly trimmed.

The complex’s private security force patrolled the plush community in marked cars and golf carts, the primary source of transportation around Isleworth.