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   WASHINGTON (AP) — Even the scoreboards in high school gyms eventually will have to promote good health.
   Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules that will be proposed Tuesday by the White House and the Agriculture Department would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools. They would phase out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day and ensure that other promotions in schools were in line with health standards that already apply to school foods.
   That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually wouldn't be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, but it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, which is also owned by Coca-Cola Co. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters and menu boards advertise foods that don't meet the standards would also be phased out.
   Ninety percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages, and many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to their own healthier products.
   The proposed rules are part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary this week. Mrs. Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the new rules at a White House event.
   "When parents are working hard at home, they need to rest assured that those efforts aren't being undone when kids are out of their control at school," Sam Kass, White House senior nutrition policy adviser, said ahead of the announcement.
   The rules also would allow more children access to free lunches and ensure that schools have wellness policies in place.
   The proposed rules come on the heels of USDA regulations that are now requiring foods in the school lunch line to be healthier.
   Rules set to go into effect next school year will make other foods around school healthier as well, including in vending machines and separate "a la carte" lines in the lunch room. Calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day at 100,000 schools. Concessions sold at afterschool sports games would be exempt.
   The healthier food rules have come under fire from conservatives who think the government shouldn't dictate what kids eat — and from some students who don't like the healthier foods.
   Aware of the backlash, the USDA is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and asking for comments on some options. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut's "Book It" program, which coordinates with schools to reward kids with pizza for reading.
   Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.
   Off-campus fundraisers, like an event at a local fast-food outlet that benefits a school, still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food may not be allowed in school hallways. An email to parents — with or without the advertising — would have to suffice. The idea is to market to the parents, not the kids.
   The rule also makes allowances for major infrastructure costs — that scoreboard advertising Coca-Cola, for example, wouldn't have to be immediately replaced. But the school would eventually have to get a new one with a healthier message.
   The beverage industry — led by companies Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo — is on board with the move. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the healthier drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."
   "Mrs. Obama's efforts to continue to strengthen school wellness make sense for the well-being of our schoolchildren," Neely said.
   Although Mrs. Obama lobbied Congress to pass the school nutrition bill in 2010, most of her efforts in recent years have been focused on the private sector, building partnerships with food companies and retailers to sell healthier foods.
   The child nutrition law also expanded feeding programs for hungry students. The rules being proposed Tuesday would increase that even further by allowing the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free. According to the USDA and the White House, that initiative would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.
   The USDA has already tested the program, which is designed to increase participation for students and reduce paperwork and applications for schools, in 11 states.
   In addition, the Obama administration will announce new guidelines for school wellness policies. Schools have been required to have general wellness policies that set their own general standards for foods, physical activity and other wellness activities since 2004. But the new rules would require parents and others in the school community to be involved in those decisions.
Published in National News
   WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House is applauding a University of Missouri football player's decision to announce that he is gay, with President Barack Obama's spokesman, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden all portraying him as a courageous and inspirational athlete.
   Biden and the first lady took to Twitter on Monday to comment on Michael Sam, the all-American college player who declared publicly on Sunday that he is gay. Mrs. Obama says she "couldn't be prouder" of Sam's courage, both on and off the field.
   The tweet was signed "-mo," which is how the White House marks messages personally sent by the first lady.
   "Your courage is an inspiration to all of us," Biden said. The message was signed "-VP," which designates that the vice president sent it personally.
   Sam could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL. He's scheduled to participate in the league's weeklong scouting camp, where potential draftees are evaluated, later this month in Indianapolis. He is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.
   White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president "shares the sentiments expressed by the first lady and the vice president and so many others in marveling at his courage and congratulating him on the decisions he's made, on the support he's had from his team and wishing him well in the future, including in professional football."
   Carney said Sam's announcement should not affect his standing on the NFL draft and that his abilities should be measured by his performance.
   "And in this case, his performance has been exceptional," Carney said.
 
Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The president's advisers are warning that if lawmakers won't work with the White House, the White House will go around them.

President Barack Obama makes his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Top White House aides say Obama will try to work with Congress where it's possible.

But press secretary Jay Carney and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer say the White House will take action with executive orders if needed.

On ABC's "This Week," Carney says the White House will "bypass Congress where necessary."

Pfeiffer tells "Fox News Sunday" that Obama, quote, "has a pen, and he has a phone, and he's going to use those."

Republican Sen. Rand Paul tells CNN's "State of the Union" that it sounds like a threat.

Published in National News
Tuesday, 10 December 2013 02:42

Obama to get help from former top Clinton aide

   WASHINGTON (AP) — John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and a trusted Democratic operative, will join the White House staff as a senior counselor to President Barack Obama, two persons familiar with the move said late Monday.

   Podesta will take his place at the White House at a critical time for Obama as his health care law tries to shake itself off from a disastrous enrollment rollout and as the president seeks to re-establish his agenda going into a midterm election year.

   Podesta is the founder and former president of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank with close ties to the White House.

   The New York Times first reported Podesta's move. The two persons familiar with the development confirmed it to The Associated Press on the condition they weren't named because the announcement was not official.

   Podesta, 64, is well respected in political circles both as a strategist and a policy thinker. He would likely step into the role played by Pete Rouse at the White House, who is expected to leave soon after serving as a counselor and, for a time in 2010, as acting chief of staff for Obama.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 02:46

US lays groundwork for possible Syria strike

   WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for potential military action in Syria in the coming days, with intelligence agencies readying additional evidence about last week's alleged chemical weapons attack and high-ranking U.S. officials declaring there was "no doubt" that Bashar Assad's government was to blame.

   Administration officials also said Assad's actions posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing President Barack Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress. However, officials did not detail how the U.S. was directly threatened by an attack contained within Syria's borders. Nor did they present concrete proof that Assad was responsible.

   "Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

   The U.S. and international partners were unlikely to undertake military action before Thursday. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of Parliament, where lawmakers were expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response.

   Obama and Cameron spoke Tuesday, their second known conversation since the weekend. A Cameron spokesman said the two leaders agreed that a chemical attack had taken place, and that the Assad regime was responsible. Cameron "confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack," the spokesman said.

   Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking U.S. official to charge that Assad's government fired chemical weapons last week near Damascus. Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations "preposterous."

   "There's no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime," Biden said.

   Obama is weighing a response focused narrowly on punishing Assad for violating international agreements that ban the use of chemical weapons, an act the president repeatedly has said would cross a "red line." Officials said the goal was not to drive the Syrian leader from power nor affect the broader trajectory of Syria's bloody civil war, which is now in its third year.

   "The options we are considering are not about regime change," Carney told reporters.

   According to U.S. officials, the most likely military operation would be largely sea-based, with the strikes coming primarily from Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Fighter jets often are deployed to monitor the area and protect the ships, but Syria's robust air defense system makes airstrikes more difficult and risky.

   Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said military forces stood ready to strike Syria immediately if the commander in chief gave the order. The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean within range of targets inside Syria and also has warplanes in the region.

   "We are ready to go," Hagel said in a BBC television interview Tuesday while traveling in Asia.

   Ahead of any strike, the U.S. also planned to release additional intelligence it said would directly link Assad to the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs. Syrian activists said hundreds of people were killed in the attack. A U.S. official said the intelligence report was expected to include "signals intelligence" — information gathered from intercepted communications.

   All of the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

   Even before releasing that information, U.S. officials said they had very little doubt that Assad was culpable in the attack, based on witness reports, information on the number of victims and the symptoms of those killed or injured, and intelligence showing the Syrian government has not lost control of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

   Other administration officials echoed Biden's comments, which marked a subtle shift in the administration's rhetoric on who bears responsibility for the attack. Earlier in the week officials would say only that there was "very little doubt" Assad was responsible.

Published in National News
Monday, 25 February 2013 01:09

The "Sequester" would hit bi-state area hard

Unless a deal is reached by Friday, massive federal budget cuts will automatically go into effect -- and Missouri and Illinois will feel the pinch. The "sequester" would cut $85 billion from the budget, half from defense and half from domestic programs. As part of their campaign to avoid the automatic spending cuts, the White House Sunday released a state by state breakdown of the impact.

Besides the pain of deep defense cuts which could lay off some 8,000 defense workers, Missouri could lose nearly $12 million in education funding.

In Illinois, the defense cuts would furlough more than 14,000 defense department employees and cut more than $30 million from education.

Democrats have proposed a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, including a tax on income above $1 million and eliminating tax breaks for oil companies.

Republicans have said they will only consider spending cuts.

Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart of Belleville, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the defense cuts would hit the area hard because of the importance of Scott Air Force Base and other military installations to the local economy.

Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus told KSDK-TV that he doesn't believe a deal will be reached before the deadline.
Published in Local News
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's chief of staff says the White House hasn't proposed "anything to Capitol Hill yet" on immigration even as a leading Republican criticizes a reported draft proposal regarding illegal immigrants.

That draft, according to USA Today, would create a visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years.

Obama aide Denis McDonough tells ABC's "This Week" that the White House is working with a bipartisan group of senators.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says if such a measure was proposed, it would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.

McDonough says "let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed" because the White House and Congress are able to work out a deal.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — Outgoing Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue has some parting shots for Congress, the White House and advocates for seniors. They have all "really walked away from Social Security," he says, leaving the program "fraying because of inattention to its problems."

Instead of making the hard choices to fix Social Security's financial problems, policymakers "use it as a tool of political rhetoric," Astrue said.

Astrue, 56, has headed the federal government's largest program since 2006 — he was nominated by former President George W. Bush. By law, Social Security commissioners serve six-year terms, so President Barack Obama will now have the opportunity to choose his own nominee, who must be approved by the Senate. Astrue's last day on the job was Wednesday.

The trustees who oversee Social Security say the program's trust funds will run dry in 2033, leaving Social Security with only enough revenue to pay about 75 percent of benefits. Already the program is paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes.

As commissioner, Astrue served as a trustee. He regularly urged Congress to address Social Security's long-term financial problems but refrained from publicly weighing in on various options to cut benefits or raise taxes — until now.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Astrue said benefit cuts and tax increases are inevitable — despite fierce opposition to both. Yet he questions whether Congress is up to the task.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's choice to head the CIA faces a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing just hours after lawmakers are expected to receive a classified report providing the rationale for drone strikes targeting Americans working with al-Qaida overseas.

The White House counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, is Obama's nominee to run the nation's spy agency. He helped manage the deadly drone program.

Brennan's confirmation hearing today sets the stage for a public airing of some of the most controversial programs in the covert war on al-Qaida, from the deadly drone strikes to the CIA's use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding during the George W. Bush administration.

The Senate committee's chairman, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the secret legal opinion about drone strikes would be provided to her committee by this morning.
Published in National News

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