->Michelle Obama joins People “most beautiful” list

michelle-obama

Breast cancer survivor Christina Applegate made the cover of People magazine’s 100 most beautiful people issue on Wednesday in a list that welcomed newcomers U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and “Twilight” heart-throb Robert Pattinson.

Pattinson’s vampire-loving co-star Kristen Stewart, teen music idols Nick and Joe Jonas and “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel also made the coveted list for the first time, in the celebrity magazine’s annual issue that hits newsstands on Friday.

Applegate, 37, the star of the U.S. TV show “Samantha Who?,” won admiration for going public last year about her breast diagnosis and later underwent a double mastectomy.

The actress, who has since undergone reconstructive breast surgery, told People in an interview it was hard to look at herself naked.

“You don’t look the same anymore and you never will. A part of you is gone. … It’s a decision that you made to save your life,” she said. It was Applegate’s third appearance on the People list.

Michelle Obama, who has achieved celebrity status and has wowed the world as a fashion icon, made the list for the first time.

“I had a father and a brother who thought I was beautiful, and they made me feel that way every single day,” Obama told the magazine.

“I grew up with very strong male role models who thought I was smart and fast and funny, so I heard that a lot. I know that there are many young girls who don’t hear it. But I was fortunate,” she added.

Also included in a “Barack’s Beauties” section were White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others.

Pattinson, 22, who has a huge teen girl following after appearing in the “Twilight” movie blockbuster, said he didn’t quite understand his heartthrob status.

“I don’t get it. It’s funny, you look the same for years and no one ever mentions it. Then suddenly it’s a big deal,” he told People.

The 100 list also included old favorites George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Halle Berry. Some of the celebrities, including actress Eva Mendes and supermodel Cindy Crawford appeared in a “Stars Without Makeup” section in which they were photographed wearing no make-up for their close-ups.

-Reuters

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-WHO confirms 114 cases of swine flu worldwide

swine flu worldwide.

An official at the World Health Organization said Wednesday evening that his agency has confirmed 114 cases of swine flu worldwide.

However, that number does not include additional cases announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now 91. The WHO was still listing 64 swine flu cases for the United States.

“It’s clear that the virus is spreading, and we don’t see it slowing down at this point,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of WHO, at a news conference. He said the most severe cases are in Mexico; other countries have milder cases so far.

-CNN

Taliban kidnap dozens of Pakistani security forces

Pakistan

Pakistani airstrikes killed dozens of Taliban fighters in a fierce struggle to drive them from a district near the capital, while the militants took over police stations and kidnapped more than 50 security forces, the army said Wednesday.

One member of the security forces also died, the top military spokesman said.

Also Wednesday, a suspected U.S. missile killed at least five alleged militants in South Waziristan tribal region near Afghanistan.

Pakistan is acting under intense U.S. pressure to take a tougher line against Islamist militants expanding from the strongholds along the Afghan border, where al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden may also be hiding.

Government forces have begun trying to force the Taliban back into the Swat Valley, from where they had pushed out in the direction of an increasingly nervous Islamabad under the cover of a controversial peace process.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said helicopters inserted commandos into the main town in Buner, a once-peaceful farming region in the northwest, on Wednesday morning just as ground troops fought their way in from three directions against an estimated 450-500 militants.

Militants were putting up stiff resistance and detonated three roadside bombs near the Ambela Pass, a key gateway to the mountainous region. Three more troops were injured, he said.

After warplanes struck late Tuesday, attack helicopters engaged “miscreants” and killed more than 50, Abbas told reporters in Rawalpindi, south of Islamabad.

Rather than fleeing, militants seized three police stations in the north of Buner on Tuesday and kidnapped 70 police and paramilitary troops, he said. Eighteen of the troops were “recovered” Wednesday, he said, giving few other details.

Security forces prevented some reporters from entering the area and telephone services were interrupted, making it hard to verify the army’s account of the fighting.

The Taliban advance into Buner brought them to within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the capital, Islamabad, raising concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed country. The army also says troops have killed scores of militants in recent fighting in Lower Dir, another area neighboring Swat.

Both lie within Malakand, the region covered by the government’s much-criticized peace deal. Officials agreed to impose Islamic law in return for peace in a region devastated by two years of bloody fighting.

Pakistani officials said the Islamic law concession robbed the militants of any justification for retaining their arms.

But officials in Washington, which is propping up Pakistan’s army and government with billions of dollars and worrying about the rising insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, have slammed the peace process as a surrender and welcomed the resumption of military action.

The Pakistani offensives are “exactly the appropriate response” to the Taliban advance, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.

“We are hopeful and encouraging of the Pakistani military that they are able to sustain these operations against the militants and to stem this encroachment on the more populated areas of Pakistan.”

The Obama administration has an opportunity to reiterate that demand when Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari joins his Afghan counterpart in Washington for talks next week.

The subject of U.S. missile strikes may also come up. Pakistan has publicly protested the drone-fired attacks, though analysts suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing them.

Two of the five suspected militants killed in Wednesday’s strike on a vehicle in the Kani Guram section of South Waziristan were foreigners, said two intelligence officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. Four people were wounded, they said.

Mohammad Ayub, a tribesman living nearby, said a drone was flying in the area just before the evening prayers. Soon after the strike, Taliban militants surrounded the scene, he said.

Reflecting alarm in Western capitals at the advance of extremists into Pakistan, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told lawmakers Wednesday that Britain would boost aid spending to support efforts aimed at rooting out terrorists.

“The greatest international priority is the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Brown told the country’s House of Commons, calling the frontier a “crucible of terrorism.”

Government officials said Britain would spend around 665 million pounds ($980 million) to bolster governance, education and health, half of it in the country’s Northwest Frontier Province and tribal belt.

Pakistan has waged several offensives in the border region since turning against its former Taliban allies and allying with the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

But the operations resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the flight of hundreds of thousands of others, and were often halted by short-lived peace deals from which militants emerged stronger than before.

Amnesty International estimated Wednesday that at least 33,000 civilians have fled their homes in Lower Dir alone.

Witnesses told of bodies left lying in the fields because residents were too scared to move them, the rights groups said. At least five civilians died, it said.

– AP

David Beckham As a Designer!

david_beckham_

David Beckham already has multiple perfume lines and several endorsement deals but now he is also a designer. WWD reports that the football star has partnered with James Bond, the owner of the undefeated sneaker-freak boutiques, to create a capsule fall-winter men’s collection for Adidas Originals by Originals. Beckham already has a sneaker deal with Adidas but doesn’t plan to cash in on his famous face and body to promote the new line.

Obama initiates sweeping foreign policy changes

In just 100 days, President Barack Obama has broken the American foreign policy mold.

He’s turned the focus of the anti-terror war away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan, lifted decades-old restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ visiting and sending money to their homeland, moved to reverse a slide in relations with Russia and reached out to tell Muslims worldwide that the U.S. is not their enemy. He’s declared repeatedly he knows the United States isn’t immune to mistakes.

Obama 100 Days World

The scope, sweep and breadth of the new president’s engagement abroad — two major trips, significant policy directives — are dizzying, and all the more so given he took office in the midst of the country’s worst economic and financial crises in decades.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says Obama has initiated a “vast diplomatic agenda.” And, he suggested in a recent opinion column in The Washington Post, “The possibility of comprehensive solutions is unprecedented.”

That doesn’t guarantee success.

Failure could lurk in the unforeseeable future. One hundred days are just a snapshot as the horses leave the starting gate. The finish line is distant.

All in all, “it’s a risky gamble,” says Chris Dolan, a political scientist at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. “It’s a coordinated, selective strategy of trying to improve the U.S. image, to show humility, banking in return on more cooperation from the rest of the world.”

While the world is paying rapt attention, there’s been an initial ho-hum response at home.

Does it signal an American public that was ahead of its most recent leaders, believing, as Obama does, that their country’s image abroad has been badly tarnished, especially during President George W. Bush’s eight years? Does the muted response perhaps reflect that Obama has taken on so many foreign policy tasks at once that potential critics are flummoxed about how to respond? Or are Americans simply so deeply absorbed with their frightening economic prospects that they aren’t paying attention?

Whatever the answer, Obama’s absorption with foreign policy “puts him in the mold of a grand strategist,” says Andrea Hatcher, professor of political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. “The scope of what he has done far exceeds what was expected.”

Unable to predict an outcome, students of what Obama is trying to accomplish are racing to keep current the catalog of what he already has set in motion. In his first three months, he has:

_Set a 2011 end date for American involvement in the unpopular Iraq war, while increasing troop levels in Afghanistan for the fight against al-Qaida and a resurgent Taliban. He named veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke to serve as special envoy to the region.

_Appointed former Sen. George Mitchell, famous for negotiating a peace deal in Northern Ireland, as envoy to the Middle East, signaling a determination to refocus on an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. Most recently he invited Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to the White House for separate talks on a peace plan. Jordan’s King Abdullah II already has paid a visit.

_For the first time, put an American negotiator at the table along with European nations working to convince Iran that it should back away from its perceived drive to build a nuclear weapon.

_Lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ returning to their homeland and on the amount of money they can send back to families still on the communist-run island. Obama has left the impression he is ready to do even more to repair the half-century of estrangement should the Castro brothers improve their treatment of dissidents.

_Shaken hands with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, disregarding the leftist president’s vitriolic attacks on the U.S. during the Bush years.

_Made known that China’s poor human rights record, while still important to Washington, is not the defining issue in the countries’ relationship.

_Reprimanded North Korea for its test launch of what was seen as a ballistic missile capable of carrying one of its handful or nuclear warheads toward the United States or one of its allies. At the same time, he stressed a determination to bring the North back into negotiations to rid the divided Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

_Sought to reset relations with Russia to reverse a dangerous slide under Bush. Obama’s effort turns on an offer of negotiations on a nuclear reduction treaty to replace the START II pact that expires soon.

_Gone out of his way on important and early travel to Europe and Latin America to acknowledge what he viewed as past U.S. errors in relations with both regions. He also conceded that fault for the deep recession gripping the globe had its origins, in part at least, in unregulated greed among America’s financial barons and freewheeling, credit-card fueled spending by U.S. consumers.

_Ordered the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, closed within 12 months and rejected interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration that have been viewed broadly as torture.

_Most dramatically, released memos from the Bush Justice Department that gave legal cover for “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Obama said he would not rule out a decision by his Justice Department to launch an investigation of those who issued those legal rulings.

It’s quite a start, but there’s a long way to go.

Will Obama be overwhelmed by what Kissinger says is a broad diplomatic agenda that is still fuzzy about how it can be achieved?

In other words, it’s easy to set lofty goals, but much harder to bring them to fruition.

-AP