Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do We Expect Too Much From Fast Food?

Attack on Taco Bell's Beefy Filling Highlights Changing Ideas About Fast Food

At Taco Bell, 99 cents gets a customer a beefy five-layer burrito: layers of seasoned ground beef, beans, real cheddar cheese and reduced-fat sour cream wrapped up in a nacho cheese-sauce-smothered tortilla, according to the restaurant's menu.

"We are asking that they stop saying that they are selling beef," a representative from the California law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, which is representing the woman in a class action, told the New York Daily News.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders or binders added." The lawsuit, filed Jan. 19 in a California federal court, claims Taco Bell's "seasoned ground beef" is two-thirds binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents. The lawsuit wants Taco Bell to publicly come clean about the content of its Mexican-inspired products.

But for 99 cents -- and ready in seconds -- who expects Grade A beef?

"It may be unrealistic to think that you're going to get a high-quality meat product at an inexpensive fast-food joint," said Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "Ground beef is an expensive ingredient, so it's probably one place they're going to cut corners."

Among the ingredients in Taco Bell's taco meat filling are soybean oil (an anti-dusting agent), silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent) and the common food additives maltodextrin and soy lecithin.

"In most cases, these additives are not necessarily harmful," said Cimperman. "They're added for shelf stability, texture and flavor."

Nevertheless, the plaintiff's "beef" is legitimate, Cimperman said. But she hesitates to say the lawsuit will dissuade Taco Bell devotees.

"People who are interested in eating organic, grass-fed beef aren't eating at Taco Bell," Cimperman said. "I think that if you choose to eat there, it's a conscious decision to eat something less healthy."

Like many fast-food chains, Taco Bell caters to its clientele in three ways: Convenience, taste and price, according to Sara Bleich, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. But there is a growing push from consumers, policymakers and even fast-food chain corporate decision makers to become more transparent about nutrition and promote healthy alternatives.

"It's partly fueled by public demand, and partly by the government's requiring fast-food restaurants to post nutritional information," Bleich said. "But the fast-food industry has also taken it upon itself to provide a healthier set of options, and I view that as a positive thing

Good Value, Bad Food?
But value menus that encourage the overconsumption of low-nutrition foods are still a big problem. At Taco Bell, an extra dollar gets you a bag of Doritos and a soda with your beefy five-layer burrito.

"This is a very good example of food low in nutritional value and high in calories that's also inexpensive," Cimperman said. "You see a greater incidence of obesity in areas of lower socioeconomic status, and I really do think this is part of the problem. These 'value' menus appeal to people who want the highest quantity for the least amount of money."

Bailout Watchdog Sounds "Too Big to Fail" Warning

In a new quarterly report to Congress, bailout watchdog Neil Barofsky warns that the problem of “too big to fail” has not yet been solved, even with the Wall Street reform law signed last summer.

“The continued existence of institutions that are “too big to fail” — an undeniable byproduct of former Secretary Paulson and Secretary Geithner’s use of TARP to assure the markets that during a time of crisis that they would not let such institutions fail — is a recipe for disaster,” Barofsky says. “These institutions and their leaders are incentivized to engage in precisely the sort of behavior that could trigger the next financial crisis, thus perpetuating a doomsday cycle of booms, busts, and bailouts.”

Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP), also notes that in an interview that his office conducted with Geithner last month, the Treasury boss acknowledged that “in the future we may have to do exceptional things again” if the government faces a financial crisis as severe as the 2008 one.

“To the extent that those “exceptional things” include taxpayer-supported bailouts,” Barofsky says, “his acknowledgement serves as an important reminder that TARP’s price tag goes far beyond dollars and cents, and that the ultimate cost of TARP will remain unknown until the next financial crisis occurs.”

In addition, Barofsky also takes yet another shot at Treasury’s embattled mortgage modification program known as HAMP.

“Today, HAMP appears to be under siege, with a chorus of criticisms from all points on the ideological spectrum growing more insistent and calls for termination or a dramatic restructuring gaining traction. The numbers are remarkably discouraging,” Barofsky says, citing that 2.9 million homes received foreclosure filings in 2010, while Treasury’s “anemic” program only led to 522,000 permanent loan modifications.

On Wednesday Barofsky is set to testify before Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee.

“While the warning signs that led to the financial crisis were ignored or went un-noticed, right now, we have a candid assessment warning of the potentially disastrous consequences of institutionalizing a ‘too-big-too-fail’ mentality that rewards risky behavior at the expense of the American taxpayers,” Issa said in a statement today. “The SIGTARP believes we are running the risk of repeating the same mistakes that resulted in the American people footing the bill for the largest bailout in American history. The Committee looks forward to hearing from the Inspector General and from Treasury about what we can do moving forward to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

After Treasury refused to send Geithner to testify, acting assistant secretary for financial stability Tim Massad will head to Capitol Hill instead.

On a positive note, Barofsky says “on the financial side, TARP’s outlook has never been better. Not only did TARP funds help head off a catastrophic financial collapse, but estimates of TARP’s ultimate direct financial cost to the taxpayer have fallen substantially,” from $341 billion in August 2009 to $25 billion in November 2010.

“While Treasury’s ultimate return on its investment depends on a host of variables that are largely unknowable at this time, TARP’s financial prospects are today far better than anyone could have dared to hope just two years ago,” he says

Egyptians Protest to End Mubarak’s Rule

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of people demanding an end to the nearly 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak filled the streets of several Egyptian cities on Tuesday, in an unusually large and sometimes violent burst of civil unrest that appeared to threaten the stability of one of the United States’ closest Arab allies.

The protests, at least partly inspired by the toppling of the authoritarian government in Tunisia, began small but grew all day, with protesters occupying one of Cairo’s central squares. Security forces, which normally prevent major public displays of dissent, initially struggled to suppress the demonstrations, allowing them to swell.

But early Wednesday morning, firing rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades, the police finally drove groups of demonstrators from the square, as the sit-in was transformed into a spreading battle involving thousands of people and little restraint. Plainclothes officers beat several demonstrators, and protesters flipped over a police car and set it on fire.

Protests also flared in Alexandria, Suez, Mansura and Beni Suef. There were reports of three deaths and many injuries around the country.

Photographers in Alexandria caught people tearing up a large portrait of Mr. Mubarak. An Internet video of demonstrations in Mahalla el-Kubra showed the same, while a crowd snapped cellphone photos and cheered. The acts — rare, and bold here — underscored the anger coursing through the protests and the challenge they might pose to the aging and ailing Egyptian leader.

Several observers said the protests represented the largest display of popular dissatisfaction in recent memory, perhaps since 1977, when people across Egypt violently protested the elimination of subsidies for food and other basic goods.

It was not clear whether the size and intensity of the demonstrations — which seemed to shock even the protesters — would or could be sustained.

The government quickly placed blame for the protests on Egypt’s largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is tolerated but officially banned. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said the protests were the work of “instigators” led by the Muslim Brotherhood, while the movement declared that it had little to do with them.

The reality that emerged from interviews with protesters — many of whom said they were independents — was more complicated and reflected one of the government’s deepest fears: that opposition to Mr. Mubarak’s rule spreads across ideological lines and includes average people angered by corruption and economic hardship as well as secular and Islamist opponents. That broad support could make it harder for the government to co-opt or crush those demanding change.

“The big, grand ideological narratives were not seen today,” said Amr Hamzawy, research director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “This was not about ‘Islam is the solution’ or anything else.”

Instead, the protests seemed to reflect a spreading unease with Mr. Mubarak on issues from extension of an emergency law that allows arrests without charge, to his presiding over a stagnant bureaucracy that citizens say is incapable of handling even basic responsibilities. Their size seemed to represent a breakthrough for opposition groups harassed by the government as they struggle to break Mr. Mubarak’s monopoly on political life.

Security officials said a soldier in Cairo, along with two protesters in Suez, were killed in circumstances that were not immediately clear. Scores of demonstrators and more than a dozen soldiers were injured in the Cairo clashes, which lasted hours and included bouts of rock-throwing by both protesters and the police.

There were mixed signals about how the authorities planned to handle the unrest. In contrast with other recent political demonstrations in Cairo, thousands of security officers seemed content at times to contain rather than engage the protesters — especially when it became clear that the demonstrators would not retreat from Tahrir Square. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said its policy had been “securing and not confronting these gatherings.”

But there were signs of other containment tactics. Several times Tuesday afternoon, cellphone networks appeared to be blocked or otherwise unavailable for people calling from Tahrir — or Liberation — Square. Many people had trouble getting access to Twitter, the social networking tool that helped spread news of the protests. Twitter confirmed that its site had been blocked in Egypt, Reuters reported.

By early Wednesday, the police appeared determined to clear protesters from the streets, leading to more clashes.

On a bridge, drivers stopped their cars and some joined the protesters, chanting, “The people want the downfall of the regime.”

In the days leading up to the protests, more than 90,000 people signed up on a Facebook page for the “Day of Revolution,” organized by opposition and pro-democracy groups to be held on Police Day, a national holiday. The organizers framed the protest as a stand against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would not officially participate, though some members were among the protesters in Cairo.

But many people said they did not belong to any particular group and were attending their first demonstration. They included Ramy Rafat, 25, who said he lived in El-Marg, an impoverished neighborhood in north Cairo. Mr. Rafat, who has a master’s degree in petroleum geology and is unemployed, said he learned about the protest on a Facebook page for Khaled Said, 28. Mr. Said’s family says police officers fatally beat him last year.

“There are a lot of things wrong with this country,” Mr. Rafat said. “The president has been here for 30 years. Why?”

Aya Sayed Khalil, 23, brought her sister, her mother and her father to the protest. “I told them the revolution was coming,” she said. Asked about their political affiliation, Ms. Khalil’s mother, Mona, said, “We’re just Egyptians.”

The marchers came from all social classes and included young men recording tense moments on cellphone cameras, and middle-age women carrying flags of the Wafd party, one of Egypt’s opposition groups. A doctor, Wesam Abdulaziz, 29, said she had traveled two hours to join the protest. She had been to one demonstration before, concerning the treatment of Mr. Said.

“I came to change the government,” she said. “I came to change the entire regime.”

What began as a small demonstration outside Cairo’s Supreme Court building around noon Tuesday quickly swelled. Hundreds marched through winding streets while security officers shadowed them in a moving cordon. Scuffles broke out as the officers tried to halt the march by linking arms and forming lines.

“Freedom, freedom, freedom,” the protesters chanted. “Where are the Egyptian people?”

By midafternoon, groups of people had converged in Tahrir Square, where they met security forces in full riot gear and a water cannon truck. Several people said the clashes began in earnest after protesters tried to take control of the water cannon.

In front of the Mugamma, a towering administrative building in the square, young men threw rocks at the police as older demonstrators tried to stop them. Several young men were carried away from the clashes, clutching bloodied tissues to their heads.

As night fell, the crowd grew larger. An older man with a bullhorn appealed to his more Internet-aware counterparts, asking them to spread the word to railway workers and dockworkers. Many people said they planned to sleep in the square.

After midnight, the security forces, using concussion grenades and tear gas, renewed attempts to disperse the protesters.

Since Jan. 14, when President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia fled his country during a popular revolt, autocrats throughout the region have fretted about responses by their own restive populations who shared many of the grievances that toppled Mr. Ben Ali: rampant corruption, injustice, high unemployment and the simple lack of dignity.

It was unclear whether the day of demonstrations would lead to any broader social unrest. “I think it is the beginning of the process,” said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

“Some of the demonstrators are still in Tahrir and said they will not leave until their demands are met by the government,” he said, hours before they were forced out of the square. “Their demands will not be met by the government, but they will not give up.”

State of the Union 2011: 'Win the future,' Obama says

President Obama sought to rouse the nation from complacency in his State of the Union address Tuesday, urging innovation and budget reforms that he said are vital to keep the United States a leader in an increasingly competitive world.

"Sustaining the American dream has never been about standing pat," Obama said. "It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age."

Obama repeatedly declared the imperative to "win the future," comparing the current need for innovation to the 1950s space race against the Soviet Union. Calling for more dedication to research and technology as he raised the specter of a rapidly growing China and India, Obama declared: "This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

Coming less than three months after his party's defeat in the midterm elections, Obama struck notes of optimism and conciliation. He spoke to a House chamber where traditionally segregated Republicans and Democrats mingled, and acknowledged the unusual seating arrangement at the outset of his speech. But, Obama said: "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow."

Facing steep budget deficits, Obama did not call for massive new programs, instead proposing a five-year freeze in most discretionary spending and tens of billions of dollars in defense cuts even as the country fights two wars. Those and other budgetary proposals, outlined previously by Obama and his advisers, were designed to give the president the upper hand in a debate over spending and the broader role of government that is likely to define the legislative year ahead and the presidential election to come.

But Obama also used the prime-time stage to blend a number of policy proposals into a blueprint for how he intends to confront growing threats to U.S. economic dominance. While he has emphasized innovation in his travels to battery factories and solar panel plants over the past year, he has never done so as explicitly as he did Tuesday before a national audience and after a year when the unemployment rate remained stubbornly stuck above 9 percent.

He sought to sway his audience with rhetoric rather than voluminous specifics. He declared the country "poised for progress" with the stock markets and corporate profits on the rebound. Acknowledging the agony of workers who have seen jobs sent overseas, he admitted the "rules have changed" - and must be reckoned with through innovation and education.

"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik├é¸ we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist," he said. "But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs."

Obama's proposals - some of them left over from last year's State of the Union address - ranged from increasing math and science teacher training to investing more in developing clean-energy technology. Behind his words loomed the rising economies of Asia that present both promising new markets for American exports and sharper competition to U.S. industry in areas where the economy is likely to grow most in the coming decades.

Obama did not call for new gun legislation, as some expected he might in the wake of deadly shootings in Tucson less than three weeks earlier. Instead he referred to the massacre, which left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) severely wounded, as an incident that gave the nation pause because it "reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater - something more consequential than party or political preference."

He touched glancingly on immigration, saying it is time to allow students who are in the country illegally to remain. "Let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can be staffing our research labs, starting new businesses, who could be further enriching this nation," he said.

He defended his health-care overhaul, inviting detractors to help him move forward with essential fixes to the law. While he said he would accept minor corrections to "flaws" in the law, he drew a bright line against broader changes favored by Republicans, saying "what I'm not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition."

And, referring to the passage of the repeal for "don't ask, don't tell" - the military's ban on openly gay service members - Obama called on universities to allow military recruiters on college campuses. "It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation," Obama said.

Addressing a Republican-controlled House for the first time, Obama touched on ideas with bipartisan appeal, from medical malpractice reform to deficit reduction. He promised to veto any bill that arrives on his desk with pet projects destined for lawmakers' districts, known as earmarks. His overarching theme - of a plan to "win the future," a phrase he used nearly a dozen times - had patriotic underpinnings, part of his effort to reach a broad swath of the electorate and strike a balance between sounding too rosy and too alarmed about America's standing in the world.

In delivering a State of the Union focused largely on the economy, Obama found himself in familiar territory, recycling themes that have cropped up repeatedly during his time in office.

His five-year spending freeze proposal marked a modest extension of his earlier proposal to halt spending for three years.

He addressed investments in education, infrastructure and energy innovation - concepts he discussed as far back as his first address to Congress in 2009. He urged a revamping of the No Child Left Behind act, a familiar call that is also popular across party lines. When Obama raised a proposal to save $78 billion in defense spending, it was one with a familiar ring: It had already been given a full public airing by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

And Obama talked about the pressing need to create jobs - just as he did the year before, when he declared that "jobs must be our number one focus in 2010."

Yet the demands were presented against a dramatically different political backdrop, after a succession of major accomplishments during his last year, as well as defeats.

In calling on Congress to work with him to rein in the budget deficit, Obama acknowledged the deep spending cuts Republicans have already proposed, although many of them remain unspecified. He said he was "willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without."

"But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens," Obama said. "And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine."

Looking abroad, Obama reiterated his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July, saying the strategy of escalation he adopted at the end of 2009 has shown some success. He also pledged to meet the end-of-the-year deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq more than eights years after the invasion.

He also announced plans to make his first-ever trip to South America, traveling to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in March.

And after weeks of unrest in Tunisia, Obama said "the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator" in the North African nation, where recent demonstrations against economic inequality, official corruption and political oppression drove the autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali into exile after 23 years in power.

"The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people," Obama said.

Obama made his declaration on a day when three people died in anti-government demonstrations in Egypt, where thousands of protesters took to the streets against President Hosni Mubarak, an authoritarian ally of the United States. Obama did not specifically mention the unrest there, which was inspired by the Tunisian example.

Washington Post

Ted Williams leaves rehab after less than two weeks

Ted Williams, the homeless man whose "golden voice" made him an instant celebrity, has reportedly left a rehab facility in Texas less than two weeks after checking in.

Williams left Origins Recovery Center in South Padre Island and headed for the airport, TMZ said Monday, adding that Williams' girlfriend is in rehab in Costa Mesa. No details were given about where Williams was headed. On the way to rehab, with a physician as a chaperone, he'd swung through Ohio to visit with his grandchildren.

"Ted was given the chance to voluntarily enter a drug rehabilitation facility in order to help him in dealing with his dependency on drugs and alcohol," Dr. Phil McGraw said in a statement. "In that it is voluntary, the decision to remain in treatment is Ted's to make."

McGraw hooked Williams up with Origins after the Ohio man went from homeless to Hollywood in a matter of days. A reporter's roadside video of Williams went viral, earning him the spotlight, a family reunion and a few job offers. The fairy tale took a turn for the worse when Williams and one of his daughters got into a fight that wound up with both of them at the police department, chilling out. No charges were filed, and Williams headed to rehab shortly after taping episodes of "Dr. Phil."

Williams entered Origins on Jan. 13, TMZ said; his expenses -- reportedly $49,000 for three months -- were covered, though the deep pockets were not Dr. Phil's. His departure apparently was against doctor's orders.

"We certainly hope that he continues his commitment to sobriety, and we will continue to help and support him in any way that we can," McGraw said Monday, according to CNN.

Talk show host Chelsea Handler wrote Tuesday that she was "not surprised."

"While there are certainly a few people who have a run of bad luck and fall on hard times, for the most part, people are homeless for a reason," Handler said on her blog. "You don't wake up one day and find yourself living under a freeway unless you've made some pretty bad decisions in your life.

"Just because someone has a nice voice doesn't mean that they should automatically be able to keep their [act] together."

The Demand-Side Temptation PAUL KRUGMAN NYTimes

Nick Rowe makes a good point: most of the time, in market economies, sellers feel constrained while buyers don’t. I’m somewhat surprised that he doesn’t mention why: it’s because perfect competition is actually rare, because oligopoly or monopolistic competition — in which prices exceed marginal cost — is actually the norm.

And that, by the way, is how most New Keynesian models set things up: the classic NK model is one in which a number of little monopolists sell differentiated products, at prices they set and revise only occasionally.

Furthermore, in these models more demand actually is good for everyone: if you could keep the economy running a bit hot all the time, that would be a positive thing. The problem is that you can’t: a monetary policy that tries to keep unemployment below the “natural” rate may initially be welfare-enhancing, but only at the cost of ever-accelerating inflation.

Rowe goes on to suggest that demand-side logic is dangerous, because it appeals to our sense that more demand is always better, and could lead to irresponsible policies. Well, there have been times and place where that was true: Latin America used to have outbreaks of macroeconomic populism, Britain had its “go for growth” debacle in the early 70s, and so on.

But what I think Nick misses is the power of the contrary narrative, of the notion of the government as being like a family that must tighten its belt when the rest of us do, of the evils of printing money (hey, I can’t do that, why can Bernanke?).

As so often, Keynes was there first:

The completeness of the Ricardian victory is something of a curiosity and a mystery. It must have been due to a complex of suitabilities in the doctrine to the environment into which it was projected. That it reached conclusions quite different from what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect, added, I suppose, to its intellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere and often unpalatable, lent it virtue. That it was adapted to carry a vast and consistent logical superstructure, gave it beauty.

That it could explain much social injustice and apparent cruelty as an inevitable incident in the scheme of progress, and the attempt to change such things as likely on the whole to do more harm than good, commended it to authority. That it afforded a measure of justification to the free activities of the individual capitalist, attracted to it the support of the dominant social force behind authority.

Add to this the Kalecki notion that captains of industry want governments to believe that it’s all about being nice to business, which makes them hostile to any active policy, and I think you have a rough explanation of the fact that right now hostility to demand-side policies, rather than demands for more, rule our discourse.

Food Makers Devise Own Label Plan

Starting in the next few months, the front of many food packages will prominently display important nutrition information, including calorie, fat and sugar content. The industrywide program was announced Monday by food makers and grocers.

The executives who made the announcement repeatedly invoked the campaign against obesity initiated by Michelle Obama, the first lady, saying they had developed the voluntary labeling plan after she challenged them to help consumers make more healthful food choices.

But in fact, the industry went its own way after months of talks with the White House and the Food and Drug Administration broke down.

The Obama administration wanted the package-front labels to emphasize nutrients that consumers might want to avoid, like sodium, calories and fat. But manufacturers insisted that they should also be able to use the labels to highlight beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein.

The administration concluded that “in the end, the label was going to be confusing, because those things would be included out of context, and it could make unhealthy foods appear like they had some redeeming quality,” said an official who was not authorized to discuss the talks and spoke on condition of anonymity. For example, the official said, “ice cream would be deemed healthy because it would have calcium in it.”

As a result, the industry’s plan received only tepid approval from Mrs. Obama — a stark contrast to her enthusiastic support last week of a healthful eating initiative from Wal-Mart, which pledged to reformulate its store-brand foods and devise an easy-to-understand label showing which foods were more healthful.

The industry move was widely seen as an attempt to influence the F.D.A.’s continuing effort to establish voluntary guidelines for front-of-package labeling. Once those guidelines are issued, perhaps this year, the industry could come under pressure to change its packaging again.

In a statement, the White House said the labeling initiative was “a significant first step” but added that it would “look forward to future improvement” in the system. It said the F.D.A. would closely monitor the effort “to evaluate whether the new label is meeting the needs of American consumers.”

Food industry executives said Monday that they had developed the plan in response to a speech by Mrs. Obama last March, in which she called for “clear, consistent” labels to help consumers make better decisions about food.

“Mrs. Obama challenged our industry to move farther and faster providing consumers with healthier product choices and more information,” said Pamela Bailey, the chief executive of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food makers. “We would not be here today if she had not defined the common objective.”

Ms. Bailey, speaking at a news conference in Phoenix, called the new labeling system “the most ambitious revision of food and beverage labels” since the 1990 law that established the now-familiar Nutrition Facts box that appears on the back or side of packaged foods.

The plan unveiled Monday, called Nutrition Keys, calls for the front of food packages to display a series of icons that show four basic nutrients: calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars.

In that aspect, it responds to a federal Institute of Medicine report last year that recommended that front labels emphasize nutrients that consumers should limit because of their contribution to obesity and heart disease, major public health problems.

But the institute’s report discouraged including positive nutrients on the label because they might confuse consumers and encourage manufacturers to fortify foods unnecessarily with vitamins or other ingredients.

The industry plan allows manufacturers to display as many as two “nutrients to encourage” on each package, from a list of eight — potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron and protein.

The labeling system was developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group that represents retailers, who often contract with food makers to create store brands. The groups said their members, which include a vast majority of food manufacturers and retailers, would begin using the new labels in the coming months. In the fall, they plan to begin a $50 million advertising campaign to promote the initiative.

The industry announcement was the latest episode in a tug of war over how to convey important nutrition facts in a simple, easy-to-understand way on the front of packaged foods.

Two years ago, the industry abandoned a labeling initiative, called Smart Choices, after the F.D.A. said it might mislead consumers. The campaign was criticized for promoting sugary cereals like Froot Loops as a healthy choice.

The F.D.A. then said it would recommend the best way to provide nutrition facts to consumers. The industry’s talks with the administration began last year.

The F.D.A. has said it was interested in a British labeling system using a traffic signal logo to show favorable (green) and unfavorable (red) nutrient content. Industry, however, has resisted such a display, which it fears might drive away consumers.

David A. Kessler, a former F.D.A. commissioner, said the industry should wait for the government to set labeling rules. “What the industry is proposing can make something look healthier than it really is,” he said.

Asked why the industry was proceeding with the labeling plan now, without waiting for the F.D.A. to complete its guidelines, Leslie G. Sarasin, the chief executive of the Food Marketing Institute, said the matter was too urgent to wait.

She added, “Another reason for our quick action on this is that the first lady asked us to do it.”

Obama won't endorse raising retirement age or reducing Social Security benefits

More than two months after his deficit commission first laid out a plan for reining in the national debt, President Obama has yet to embrace any of its controversial provisions - and he is unlikely to break that silence Tuesday night.

While Obama plans to stress the need to reduce record budget deficits in his State of the Union address, he is not expected to get into the details and will instead call for members of both parties to work together to tackle the problem, according to congressional and administration sources.

Democratic lawmakers said that approach makes sense as the White House begins a delicate dance with resurgent Republicans over government spending, tax reform and the other difficult issues that will shape the debate into the 2012 presidential campaign. Until Republicans signal a willingness to work with Democrats to raise taxes as well as cut spending, the lawmakers said, it would be a mistake for Obama to endorse painful policies that could become the target of political attack.

"Reaching agreement requires both sides to demonstrate a willingness to compromise. He's going to want everyone to show their hand at the same time," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who has discussed strategy with the White House.

But the president's decision not to lay out his own vision for reducing the national debt has infuriated balanced-budget advocates, who fear that a bipartisan consensus for action fostered last month by Obama's commission could wither without presidential leadership.

"There is no way you get momentum without the president. If you don't lead now, when is it going to come?" said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "He has to go first and he has to be specific. He has to pivot to something hard."

The direction of Obama's speech became apparent over the weekend, when the White House informed Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the elderly that he would not endorse the commission's recommendation to raise the retirement age and make other cuts to Social Security - the single largest federal program.

Liberals, who have been alarmed by Obama's recent to shift to the center and his effort to court the nation's business community, applauded the decision, arguing that Social Security cuts are neither necessary to reduce current deficits nor a wise move politically. Polls show that large majorities of Americans in both parties - even in households that identify themselves as part of the tea party movement - oppose cutting Social Security benefits.

"Most of us would like to see the Democrats remain the strong defenders of Social Security, which they have to be if they want to win the next election," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future.

Administration officials cautioned that Obama is not necessarily taking benefit cuts off the table. They said his vision for deficit reduction will become clearer with the release of his 2012 budget request in mid-February and in the months beyond, as both parties test the limits for compromise.

"This is a president who, in last year's budget, instituted some tough measures. . . . You've seen proposals already this year to freeze civilian pay for government employees," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday. "And the president, again, will spend some time, not just tomorrow night and not just at the introduction of the budget, but throughout the year, talking about what we have to do, again, to make progress on our spending."

While some Senate Republicans are working with Democrats to advance a deficit-reduction plan, House Republicans have so far shown almost no appetite to do so. Instead, they have focused exclusively on sharp cuts to government agencies other than the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

On Tuesday, hours before Obama is set to deliver his address in the House chamber, the House will vote on a resolution that urges Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to cap spending for non-security programs at 2008 levels - a move that would require an immediate reduction of at least 15 percent in such programs as early-childhood education, law enforcement and food safety inspection.

House conservatives are pressing for deeper cuts that would requires slashing such programs by as much as 30 percent. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday that they would have a chance to offer an alternative to the approximately $60 billion package of rescissions that Ryan and House appropriators are preparing. "This is going to be an open process," he said.

Like Obama, Republicans have been reluctant to endorse specific cuts to the largest federal programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which are hugely popular with the public. On Monday, Democratic lawmakers argued that Republicans' decision to have Ryan deliver the GOP response to Obama's speech suggests that the party supports Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future," which calls for deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare and partially privatizing the two programs.

Ryan has said he would like to include cuts to entitlement spending in the budget blueprint he will draft this spring. Pressed to take a position on Ryan's "Roadmap" over the weekend, Cantor acknowledged on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "the direction in which the 'Roadmap' goes is something we need to embrace." But a senior House Republican aide, noting that Ryan's plan attracted fewer than 20 co-sponsors when it was offered last year, said Ryan will not wade into those waters in his speech Tuesday night.

With both the president and his adversaries ducking the hardest issues as they address the nation, independent budget analysts said their hopes for serious action are growing dim.

"If the president wasn't willing to embrace these sort of changes, he shouldn't have appointed a commission to find solutions. What did he expect?" said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition, which advocates for balanced budgets.


Bush White House Broke Elections Law

WASHINGTON — The Bush White House, particularly before the 2006 midterm elections, routinely violated a federal law that prohibits use of federal tax dollars to pay for political activities by creating a “political boiler room” that coordinated Republican campaign activities nationwide, a report issued Monday by an independent federal agency concludes.

The report by the Office of Special Counsel finds that the Bush administration’s Office of Political Affairs — overseen by Karl Rove — served almost as an extension of the Republican National Committee, developing a “target list” of Congressional races, organizing dozens of briefings for political appointees to press them to work for party candidates, and sending cabinet officials out to help these campaigns.

The report, based on about 100,000 pages of documents and interviews with 80 Bush administration officials in an investigation of more than three years, documented how these political activities accelerated before the 2006 midterm elections.

This included helping coordinate fund-raising by Republican candidates and pressing Bush administration political appointees to help with Republican voter-turnout pitches, particularly in the 72 hours leading up to the election when Democrats took control of the House and Senate for the first time in a dozen years.

The Office of Special Counsel, a relatively obscure federal agency, is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.
Certain members of the White House political staff — including the top aides at the Office of Political Affairs — are exempt, as are the president, vice president and members of the cabinet. But the law still prohibits the use of federal money, even by these officials, to support political causes.

The report found that during the Bush administration, senior staff members at the Office of Political Affairs violated the Hatch Act by organizing 75 political briefings from 2001 to 2007 for Republican appointees at top federal agencies in an effort to enlist them to help Republicans get elected to Congress.

Mr. Rove and Ken Mehlman, who was the director of the office until the end of 2003, did not respond Monday to requests for comment.

Former employees of the office in the Bush administration told investigators that they saw these “political briefings as no more than informational discussions about the political landscape.” The investigators found that most of these briefings took place in federal workplaces or while the employees were on duty.

“These briefings created an environment aimed at assisting Republican candidates, constituting political activity within the meaning of the Hatch Act,” the 118-page report said.

According to PowerPoint slides the investigators collected, the briefings highlighted the importance of the “G.O.P. ground game” and talked about the “Republican Offensive,” in certain states, while detailing the “Republican Defense” in others.

The investigators also found evidence that the Bush White House improperly classified travel by senior officials as official government business, “when it was, in fact, political,” and the costs associated with this travel were never reimbursed.

A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel said Monday that because the administration officials had left office, it no longer has jurisdiction to file any charges. It also said that it had not made a formal referral to the Justice Department to ask it to pursue any possible charges.

A Justice Department official on Monday declined to comment when asked if it might file charges based on the report.

The Obama administration, just last week, announced that it was terminating its own version of the Office of Political Affairs, as Mr. Obama decided to move his re-election campaign operation to Chicago, with the duties of the political office being taken up by the Democratic National Committee.

Taco Bell 'Meat' Only 36 Percent Beef

It's time to become a vegetarian. An Alabama law firm is filing a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell after discovering that the “meat” used in their dishes isn't really meat at all, at least not according to the USDA.

The "taco meat filling" as it's written on their containers has only 36 percent real beef; the rest is a combination of chemicals and odd-ball ingredients like 'cocoa powder'.
The USDA defines "meat taco filling" as having at least 40 percent fresh meat. Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch issued a statement that read, "Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value.
We're happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit."

Read it at Gizmodo

States Take Aim at Distracted Walkers, Runners

Attention texting pedestrians and iPod-obsessed runners on the street: You may soon get unplugged.

Lawmakers in Arkansas and New York are now looking to crack down on pedestrians distracted by their own electronic gadgets.

Lawmakers in both states have proposed restrictions on using cell phones and music players such as iPods by people running and walking on the street or sidewalk. The apparent message: Distracted pedestrians are dangerous.

"It's not just distracted drivers. We focus a lot on distracted drivers, but we also need to focus on distracted walkers and joggers," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices.

The proposal in Arkansas would ban pedestrians from wearing headphones in both ears while on, parallel or adjacent to a street, road, intersection or highway. The measure also applies to runners and cyclists and would allow pedestrians to wear headphones in one ear.

"You might not get the full effect of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with one ear, but you at least will be aware of your surroundings," said Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, a Democrat from Crossett who proposed the legislation.

Democratic State Sen. Carl Kruger in New York has been trying since 2007 to ban the use of cell phones, iPods and other gadgets by pedestrians in major cities while crossing the street. The proposal would ban the use of an electronic device while crossing the crosswalk in a city with a population of one million or more. Violators would face a $100 civil fine.

Kruger said a series of accidents in his Brooklyn district made him concerned about the number of pedestrians he saw paying closer attention to their devices than what was in front of them.

"They were basically oblivious to the circumstances around them," Kruger said. "They got wired up, and ... their head was just in a different place . I don't think it's that much different than a ban on cell phones while driving or any other distraction."

Most states have been tackling distracted driving in some fashion, with 30 states and the District of Columbia banning texting while driving. Many states also have put other restrictions on the use of cell phones, particularly by teen drivers.

The proposed restrictions come as safety advocates say they're worried about a slight increase in the number of pedestrian fatalities. The Governors Highway Safety Association earlier this month reported that pedestrian fatalities rose slightly in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. If the second half of the year shows no change, the group said, it would mark an end to four years of decreases.

Nationally, pedestrians make up about 12 percent of traffic fatalities, the group said.

Adkins said the group is not backing any proposals to criminalize headphones, calling or texting by pedestrians. He said the group would rather see increased public education on the dangers of walking or running while distracted.

"The pedestrian does have to share some responsibility," Adkins said.

Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, said her group doesn't ban headphones but recommends against their use while running or advises runners to at least use only one earphone. Knaack said she's discouraged when she sees runners at group runs or races plugging into their iPhones or other music players, saying it takes away from the social aspect of the sport.

"I certainly would rather see it be more of an education campaign than an outright limitation," Knaack said. "There are some people who have just convinced themselves they can't run without it. They need that crutch to be able to get out and do it."

Jeffress said his legislation, which does not spell out any penalty for a violation, is aimed more at increasing awareness than punishing pedestrians.

"I don't envision the earphone police going out and arresting people," Jeffress said. "I don't see anybody being stopped to check what's in their ears."

OOOPS! Woman Falls 23 Stories, Lands on Taxi, Survives

Witnesses say they saw a woman throw herself from the 23rd story of a Buenos Aires hotel Monday and survive.

The woman landed in a sitting position on the roof of a taxi whose driver got out just before the impact deeply dented his roof and shattered the windshield.

The woman, a 30-year-old Argentine, has injuries throughout her body and is being treated in the emergency room of the Hotel Argerich, said Alberto Crescenti, director of Argentina's Emergency Medical System.

The taxi driver, who gave his name as Miguel, reportedly said he saw a policeman looking up and that prompted him to get out just before the driver's side of the car was smashed by the woman's body.

Another taxi driver, Juan Carlos Candame, told Associated Press Television News that he saw the woman climb over a barrier and jump into the void.

The woman fell from the top of the Hotel Crown Plaza Panamericano, where a restaurant overlooks the landmark Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires.

11 Officers Killed in 24 Hours in 5 States (OH we love guns & stupid people)

Two St. Petersburg, Fla., Cops Latest Victims in Deadly Month for Police Officers on Duty
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - When two wounded law officers were rushed from the scene of a deadly shooting Monday morning on Florida's Gulf Coast, someone handed St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon a ring, two bracelets and a badge.

They belonged to Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, who died from the wounds they sustained helping to serve a warrant on a man with a long criminal history.

"I'm having a hard time letting go of them," said Harmon, whose hands shook as he held the dead officers' mementos.

These were the latest police killings in a month that already proved fatal for 14 law officers across the nation. In just a 24-hour period between Sunday and Monday, 11 officers were shot in five states, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

In the small city of St. Petersburg, officers, officials and residents were stunned by the morning's events.

Shortly before 7 a.m., a U.S. marshal, a Pinellas County deputy and an undercover St. Petersburg detective went to a home to arrest Hydra Lacy Jr., 39, on an aggravated battery charge. Officials confirmed late Monday that's who killed the two officers, wounded a third and then died - either by his own hand or by an officer's bullet.

Officials said Lacy had a long record, with convictions for armed robbery and sexual battery. He was listed with the state as a sex offender and had failed to register with authorities in December as required.

Police confirmed that Hydra Lacy Jr. was the brother of Jeff Lacy, former International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion.

Deputies had been seeking him since December.

"He was somebody we wanted to get off the streets, " the police chief said. "Who expects to walk into a house and get gunfire from the attic?"

The trio of officers knocked on the home's door and were told by a woman that Lacy was in the attic. Chief Harmon said the woman also told the officers that Lacy had a weapon.

The three called for backup and Yaslowitz and Baitinger responded. Yaslowitz was just getting off his night shift but showed up to help.

Twenty-two minutes later, gunfire broke out.

Authorities said Yaslowitz and a U.S. Marshals Service deputy - who is not being named under agency policy - were near the entrance to the attic when they called for the suspect to surrender.

The gunman in the attic fired on the officers, striking Yaslowitz. He fell wounded into the attic. The U.S. marshal was struck and fell to the first floor.

Other officers, including Sgt. Baitinger, were in the house and rescued the marshal. Baitinger was wearing a bulletproof vest, but was mortally wounded by gunfire through the ceiling. As gunfire erupted around them, other officers dragged Baitinger and the marshal out - but Yaslowitz was still in the attic.

A tactical team arrived and set up a perimeter. Hostage negotiators also showed up and talked intermittently with Lacy.

Sometime after 9 a.m., tactical teams entered the home, hoping to rescue Yaslowitz.

Again, there was gunfire between Lacy and officers. A police spokesman said Lacy may have used the fallen officers' weapons to shoot at the tactical team.

Yaslowitz and Baitinger were pronounced dead at a local hospital. The marshal was shot twice but was doing fine, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Tom Figmik said..

It took several more hours for authorities to knock down about a third of the house with battering ram mounted on a tank. They discovered Lacy inside, dead.

"In my mind as a police officer, this crook, this criminal, this murderer, cop-killer, whatever you would like to call him, did a terrible injustice to two of my people today and two of the people that served this community," Harmon said during an afternoon press conference.

The home in a middle-class neighborhood on the south side of St. Petersburg was listed in Lacy's name, according to property records.

Court records show Lacy failed to show for his scheduled trial Nov. 1 on the aggravated battery charge, and an arrest warrant was issued the next day.

State records show Lacy was convicted in 1989 of armed burglary, resisting arrest with violence and other charges. He was released from prison 1991. In 1992, he was convicted of sexual battery with a weapon or force and false imprisonment of a child. He was released in 2001. Details on those convictions were not immediately available.

The officers' deaths came just four days after two Miami-Dade County detectives were killed by a murder suspect they were trying to arrest. That suspect was killed by another detective.

Those officers were being remembered Monday at a funeral, where news of Monday's shooting added to the grief already palpable among the thousands gathered at American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami.

The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund said in a statement that 14 law officers have been slain in the opening weeks of 2011, and 11 officers - including Yaslowitz and Baitinger - shot in a 24-hour period.

"That's not normal," said Steven Groeninger, a spokesman for the group. "It kind of seems like law enforcement, because of their uniform, have a target on their back."

On Sunday, a man opened fire inside a Detroit police precinct, wounding four officers including a commander before he was shot and killed by police. The officers' injuries were not considered life-threatening, said Police Chief Ralph Godbee.

And on Monday, a Lincoln City, Ore., police officer was critically wounded when he was shot during a traffic stop.

Last July, two officers were shot and killed in Tampa during a traffic stop.