Category Archives: Politics

SCANDALICIOUS! Anthony Weiner and Christopher Lee set the stage for the latest gooey, sweet mess

Americans have an insatiable appetite for political scandals, and the cable networks and news media are doing everything that they can to feed our hunger.  The rich and powerful have become the stars of the latest version of reality television, and the elite are now being voted off the proverbial island on a somewhat regular basis.

Frankly, I was pretty shocked during the episode where former Senator Christopher Lee forgot that he was married.  I was stunned during the scene where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger remembered that he was a father.  I even chuckled when former Congressman David Wu donned his tiger costume and brought some much needed comic relief.  Jeez, I’ll miss him…

I actually blogged about the latest chapter, where agents from the Transportation Security Administration made a cameo appearance and confiscated a professor’s cupcake at an airport security checkpoint.  They concluded that the dessert’s gel-like icing violated federal regulations, and she was forced to surrender the cupcake at the climax of the story.

And then it ended.  Just like that, without any twists and turns, exciting previews or an opportunity to see a political official wearing a tiger costume.  The episode simply faded into the background of our daily lives, lost in our collective consciousness as we turned our attention to the holidays, our friends and family and the upcoming new year.

Well, leave it to the federal government to beat a dead horse, only to revive the poor critter so that it could be beat yet again.  Pop the popcorn and grab the remote – here comes the inevitable sequel.

/sigh

The TSA is now embracing the use of social media to reach its audience and disseminate pictures with the public.  Somewhere, former Congressman Anthony Weiner is grinning a devilish little smirk.

The agency has recruited Blogger Bob Burns to lead a team that operates its official blog.  He recently used the platform to rejuvenate interest in CupcakeGate by using a bit of humor in defending the confiscation of the suspiciously sweet dessert:

This will be short and “sweet.” Like many of you, when I think of a cupcake, I don’t think of it being in a jar. However, the photo (above) shows the “cupcake” that was prohibited from being taken into the cabin of a plane last month….  I wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill cupcake…

I’m not going to argue for or against the propriety of the seizure of the cupcake.  I do, however, want to note that Blogger Bob Burns has a point: this crazy little confection doesn’t resemble any type of dessert that I’ve squeezed into my diet.  It almost looks like a science experiment gone awry, and reminds me of that jar of half-eaten food that was lost under a pile of dirty clothes during my college years, only to be uncovered at the end of the semester. I was pretty popular with my roommates, but that’s probably a story best left for another day…

You can read the remainder of the TSA’s post here. In the meantime, though, be sure to tune in during the next episode.  You never know when another federal hero will shamelessly forget his marriage, suddenly remember the birth of a child or gleefully prance around in a tiger costume.

LEGISLATORS, LOBBYISTS AND SCHOOL LUNCHES: heroic efforts to save our children, one frozen pizza at a time

Scientists are constantly identifying new species.  These plants and animals are often discovered in remote parts of the world, such as uncivilized and unexplored rainforests or deep within uncharted oceans.  For example, we recently welcomed the aquatic Rogue Mushroom (Psathyrella aquatica), Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) Attenborough’s Pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the edible Udderly Weird Yam (Dioscorea orangeana).

These new species haven’t received nearly as much mainstream attention as the latest discovery: an edible vegetable commonly known as a frozen pizza.  This vegetable is hardy and versatile; it can be found thriving in a wide range of harsh environments, including school lunchrooms and the coldest parts of grocery stores.

Alright, this isn’t necessarily a new discovery.  Federal regulations have historically classified frozen pizzas as vegetables so long as they contain at least 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.  The reasoning for the classification is probably pretty darn simple: frozen pizzas are made with tomato sauce, and tomatoes are vegetables, and therefore frozen pizzas must be vegetables.  It’s a straightforward and nutritious application of the transitive property of mathematics.

The reasoning and the application are also arguably erroneous.  Tomatoes are generally not classified as vegetables; they are generally considered to be fruits.

Regardless, the classification is important for several reasons. First, applying this transitive property of nutrition, I can sprinkle trace amounts of a green, leafy substance on dozens of chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries and feel as if I’ve consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. That’s one heck of a breakthrough, and I already feel noticeably thinner and far more athletic.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the classification impacts the administrative of federal cash subsidies.  Under the current law, schools qualify for federally subsidized lunches only when they serve food to students that meets certain nutritional guidelines.  Schools that serve frozen pizzas that qualify as vegetables are more readily able to satisfy these nutritional guidelines and therefore qualify for federal subsidized lunches.

Simple, right?  Maybe.  The United States Department of Agriculture is much better at explaining this:

[p]ublic or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Well, the USDA recently attempted to raise the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Frozen pizzas would therefore require more tomato sauce to qualify as vegetables, at least in the eyes of the law.

If the proposed regulations were officially enacted, schools would have a financial disincentive to sell traditional frozen pizzas to students.  They would likely only sell frozen pizzas that met the heightened threshold, because otherwise the schools would have greater difficulty in meeting the nutritional requirements for cash subsidized.

Manufacturers of frozen pizzas were that concerned using 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prepare frozen pizzas would increase the costs associated with production.  They’re probably right, and they were angry.  Some responded by hiring lobbyists.  This made the lobbyists happy.

The happy lobbyists complained to Congress on behalf of the angry manufacturers.  Congress acted upon their demands by including a provision within H.R. 2112, a recent minibus funding bill, that prevented the USDA from raising the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  On November 17, 2011, Congress passed the minibus funding bill and the President signed it the very next day.

The new law ensures that schools likely will continue to sell frozen pizzas containing only 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to students.  These frozen pizzas will also continue to be classified as vegetables, and students will therefore continue to consume the frozen pizzas at school.  Adolescents rejoiced.

Manufacturers no longer needed to worry about the potential for increased costs of producing the frozen pizza.  They were no longer angry.  They rejoiced.

The American Frozen Food Institute was the primary trade organization that lobbied Congress to maintain the traditional standards for classification of frozen pizzas as vegetables.  It may have represented frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Schwan Food Co., but it was really working for the best interests of children.  Don’t believe me?  Consider that the trade organization:

  • stressed that children would benefit from this “important victory,” because any other action would “force companies… to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,”
  • noted that “we believe we can improve child nutrition by ensuring that schools are able to provide vegetables in any form… It’s a little bizarre for us that in trying to improve nutrition, you take items from school cafeterias that do provide vital sources of vitamins and nutrients.”

I’m not necessarily sure that I’m buying the trade association’s claim the frozen pizzas truly provide vitals sources of nutrients for students.  The nutritional values may vary from school to school and from pizza to pizza, but several fairly reliable sources indicate that frozen pizzas sold to children are the equivalent of intestinal garbage.  According to LIVESTRONG, for example, generic school pizzas contain around 530 calories per slice.  Each slice also reportedly contains 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat, 81 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1333 milligrams of sodium.

Holy freakin’ bloated bellies, Batman!

Whatever.  I’ve ranted about childhood obesity in previous entries, so I’m not going to jump on the soapbox this morning.  Suffice it to say, though, we really shouldn’t be surprised that incidents of type 2 diabetes among children have been occurring with increasing frequency and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years.  These are disturbing trends, and it appears that the trends are going to get worse before they get better.

I also don’t think that I’m over-exaggerating the severity of the issue by claiming that this act is indicative of the manner in which federal government caters to the interests of corporate America above the health of the nation’s children.  This isn’t necessarily shocking, simply because I’m not really surprised by any action taken by the federal government.  Heck, I wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if the federal government attempted to classify hot dogs and sausages as vegetables so long as they contain a modicum of ketchup.  That’s pretty unrealistic, but even far-out and far-fetched ideas are becoming more and more commonplace.

Wait.  What?  A previous administration already attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

Oh brother.  I feel another rant coming on.  It’s probably best to just grab a pinch of a green leafy substance and get back to my hordes of healthy and nutritious chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries.  I need to work on my figure, anyways.

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