What’s Up: January 21, 2012?

 

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· Cheesecake Factory pasta on list of caloric “food porn”

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A Cheesecake Factory pasta dish with more than 3,000 calories – or more than a day and a half of the recommended caloric intake for an average adult – is among the headliners on this year’s Xtreme Eating list of the most unhealthy dishes at U.S. chain restaurants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-focused nonprofit group that promotes healthier eating, compiles an annual list of “food porn” to alert consumers to menu items with eye-popping levels of calories, saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium.

“You’d think that the size of their profits depended on their increasing the size of your pants,” CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson said of the industry’s Xtreme Eating winners. The list was released on Wednesday.

CSPI for years has used the “awards” to raise awareness and drum up support for calorie disclosure on restaurant menus – something that larger chains soon will be required to do under the U.S. health reform law.

The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta, made with a butter and cream sauce and topped with battered, fried shrimp, has 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium, said CSPI, which said it confirmed nutritional data with companies on the list.

Cheesecake Factory said that dish has 3,020 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and 1,076 milligrams of sodium.

Typical adults are advised to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

“It’s like eating three orders of Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico plus an order of tiramisu for dinner,” CSPI said. Some in the food and beverage industries have dubbed the Washington-based group the “food police.”

More than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10 percent of the nation’s healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The nation’s food and beverage industries are under increasing pressure from consumer, health and parents’ groups to offer more healthy alternatives.

Restaurant companies say it is their job to give consumers choices. Many, including Cheesecake Factory, have lower-calorie sections on their menus alongside the indulgent offerings.

Cheesecake Factory is known for its ample portions and wide array of cheesecakes – many of which weigh in at around 1,000 calories per slice.

It makes regular showings on the Xtreme Eating list, but since August 2011 has promoted its “SkinnyLicious” menu of entrees with 590 or fewer calories, including salmon rolls and a pear and endive salad.

Jayne Hurley, CSPI’s senior nutritionist and an author of this year’s Xtreme Eating report, said such lower-calorie items should be re-categorized as “normal” rather than “diet.”

“It’s the steady stream of high-calorie foods that sabotage your diet not just for the day, but for the entire week,” Hurley said.

“The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices. Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories,” Donald Evans, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

Evans also said Cheesecake Factory diners often share their dishes or take home leftovers.

Other Xtreme Eating winners for 2013 include:

– Johnny Rockets’ Bacon Cheddar Double Hamburger with 1,770 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 milligrams of sodium. For comparison, three Quarter Pounders with Cheese from McDonald’s have 1,570 calories.

– Cheesecake Factory’s Crispy Chicken Costoletta with 2,610 calories, 89 grams of saturated fat and 2,720 milligrams of sodium. CSPI said an entire 12-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe fried chicken has about the same number of calories but less than half the saturated fat. Cheesecake Factory told Reuters that dish has 2,560 calories, 86 grams of saturated fat and 2,767 milligrams of sodium.

– Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie, which includes peanut butter, banana, sugar and grape juice. A 40-ounce, large size of that drink has 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar plus 29 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar.

The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day and that men consume no more than nine.

– Chocolate Zuccotto Cake from Maggiano’s Little Italy. One slice weighs nearly one pound and has 1,820 calories, 62 grams of saturated fat and 26 teaspoons of added sugar – or 15 Hostess Ho Hos, CSPI said. Story Continued:

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· ALGERIA: 32 MILITANTS KILLED, WITH 23 HOSTAGES

In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday – seven – was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remained unaccounted for.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.

Algeria’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation – first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

“To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army’s special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities,” Algeria’s Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.

Immediately after the assault, French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria’s tough tactics, saying they were “the most adapted response to the crisis.”

“There could be no negotiations” with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.

Hollande said the hostages were “shamefully murdered” by their captors, and he linked the event to France’s military operation against al-Qaida-backed rebels in neighboring Mali. “If there was any need to justify our action against terrorism, we would have here, again, an additional argument,” he said.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. stood ready to provide whatever assistance was needed in the wake of the attack.

“This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in North Africa. In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the Government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” the statement said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the militants’ terrorist attack and said all perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of such “reprehensible acts” must be brought to justice.

In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed the hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the Special Forces, Algeria’s state news agency said. The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry statement said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan natural gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians and explosives experts.

The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined with explosives, and that the process of clearing it out is now under way.

Algeria has fought its own Islamist rebellion since the 1990s, elements of which later declared allegiance to al-Qaida and then set up new groups in the poorly patrolled wastes of the Sahara along the borders of Niger, Mali, Algeria and Libya, where they flourished.

The standoff has put the spotlight on these al-Qaida-linked groups that roam these remote areas, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests. The militants initially said their operation was intended to stop a French attack on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali – though they later said it was two months in the planning, long before the French intervention.

The militants, who came from a Mali-based al-Qaida splinter group run by an Algerian, attacked the plant Wednesday morning. Armed with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers in four-wheel drive vehicles, they fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses’ military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian – probably a security guard – were killed.

The militants then turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers’ living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.

Saturday’s government statement said the militants came across the border from “neighboring countries,” while the militants said they came from Niger, hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the south.

On Thursday, Algerian helicopters kicked off the military’s first assault on the complex by opening fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages to stop them from escaping, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.

The accounts of hostages who escaped the standoff showed they faced dangers from both the kidnappers and the military.

Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer who works as one of the project management staff for the Japanese company JGC Corp., described how he and his colleagues were used as human shields by the kidnappers, which did little to deter the Algerian military.

On Thursday, about 35 hostages guarded by 15 militants were loaded into seven SUVs in a convoy to move them from the housing complex to the refinery, Andrada said. The militants placed “an explosive cord” around their necks and were told it would detonate if they tried to run away, he said.

“When we left the compound, there was shooting all around,” Andrada said, as Algerian helicopters attacked with guns and missiles. “I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate.”

Andrada’s vehicle overturned allowing him and a few others to escape. He sustained cuts and bruises and was grazed by a bullet on his right elbow. He later saw the blasted remains of other vehicles, and the severed leg of one of the gunmen.

The site of the gas plant spreads out over several hectares (acres) and includes a housing complex and the processing site, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) apart, making it especially complicated for the Algerians to secure the site and likely contributed to the lengthy standoff.

“It’s a big and complex site. It’s a huge place with a lot of people there and a lot of hiding places for hostages and terrorists,” said Col. Richard Kemp, a retired commander of British forces who had dealt with hostage rescues in Iraq and Afghanistan. “These are experienced terrorists holding the hostages.”

While the Algerian government has only admitted to 23 hostages dead so far, the militants claimed through the Mauritanian news website ANI that the helicopter attack alone killed 35 hostages.

One American, a Texan – Frederick Buttaccio from the Houston suburb of Katy – is among the dead.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. stood ready to provide whatever assistance was needed in the wake of the attack.

“This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in North Africa. In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the Government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” the statement said.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that a Frenchman killed, Yann Desjeux, was a former member of the French Special Forces and part of the security team. The remaining three French nationals who were at the plant are now free, the Foreign Ministry said.

The British government said Saturday it is trying to determine the fate of six people from Britain who are either dead or unaccounted for.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said, “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way. Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it.”

The Norwegian government said there were five Norwegians unaccounted for.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Saturday one Romanian hostage was killed in the course of the siege, while the Malaysian government said two of its citizens were still missing.

The attack by the Masked Brigade, founded by Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar, had been in the works for two months, a member of the brigade told the ANI news outlet. He said militants targeted Algeria because they expected the country to support the international effort to root out extremists in neighboring Mali and it was carried out by a special commando unit, “Those Who Signed in Blood,” tasked with attacking nations supporting intervention in Mali.

The kidnappers focused on the foreign workers, largely leaving alone the hundreds of Algerian workers who were briefly held hostage before being released or escaping.

Several of them arrived haggard-looking on a late-night flight into Algiers on Friday and described how the militants stormed the living quarters and immediately separated out the foreigners.

Mohamed, a 37-year-old nurse who like the others wouldn’t allow his last name to be used for fear of trouble for himself or his family, said at least five people were shot to death, their bodies still in front of the infirmary when he left Thursday night.

Chabane, an Algerian who worked in food services, said he bolted out the window and was hiding when he heard the militants speaking among themselves with Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian accents. At one point, he said, they caught a Briton.

“They threatened him until he called out in English to his friends, telling them, `Come out, come out. They’re not going to kill you. They’re looking for the Americans,'” Chabane said.

“A few minutes later, they blew him away.” Story Continued:

· LAPD conduct investigation after cop gives cyclist ticket ‘for arguing with me’

An LAPD officer’s conduct is being investigated after a YouTube video of him ticketing a bicyclist who told him he was blocking the bike path went viral. The cyclist’s ticket has since been canceled.

In the 10-minute clip, a cyclist turns on his helmet camera and records the interaction on the Venice Beach bike path, which drew a handful of onlookers who protested that the cyclist had done nothing wrong and that the officer needed to address serious crime in Venice.

The bicyclist, who identifies himself at 34-year-old Chris Jackson of Venice, posted the video after Thanksgiving weekend, when he was ticketed for speeding after telling a motorcycle officer he was blocking the popular bike-only path.

On Friday, Detective Gus Villanueva of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section said that the “ticket had been canceled in the interest of justice.” The department is conducing a personnel investigation into the conduct of the officer involved and would not comment further, Villanueva said.

In the video, Jackson states that he had passed the officer’s motorcycle and complained that the vehicle was blocking traffic. The officer, identified only by his surname, Gracey, pulled him over shortly after, according to the description of the video, which was posted by user AnarchisticGringo.

Several minutes of back-and-forth with Gracey follow, during which Jackson argues with the officer that he hasn’t broken a law by crossing the path’s dotted yellow line, and points out other cyclists riding on the wrong side, and pedestrians illegally walking on the bike path.

He tilts his camera down to show the red-and-white beach cruiser he is riding — a bicycle designed for stability and a slow, easy ride.

The officer finally settles on giving Jackson a ticket under California Vehicle Code 22350, the Basic Speed Law.

“Listen to me, sir. The reason why I’m going to write you for unsafe speed is because you are arguing with me,” Gracey says. “This is a catch-all, 22350. Because you’re riding on the wrong side of the back path, you’re looking at me, and you’re complaining because my emergency vehicle is on the bike path. And that’s unsafe speed. Looking in the wrong direction, traveling in the wrong way, that’s unsafe.”

During the interaction, a small group of onlookers gathers around Gracey and Jackson.

Read more stories on NBCLosAngeles.com

“This isn’t the kind of police work that we need help with here,” states another cyclist who stops to opine. “People are getting robbed. I got robbed about a month ago … We’d love to have you out here protecting us, not harassing us.”

Jackson states that he will contest the ticket.

The code under which it was issued appears to apply vehicles traveling on a highway, so it’s not clear if it applies to bicycles on a Class I bike path such as the beachside one in Venice.

The video was highlighted by the community blog Yo! Venice! on Thursday and reposted and analyzed by the popular bike blog Biking in LA on Friday.

Jackson was due in court Friday, according to the video.

The LAPD’s Villanueva said earlier Friday that he was not yet familiar with the video and had no comment at that time. A phone message left for the LAPD West Traffic Division’s bicycle liaison sergeant was not returned.  Story Continued and to watch the video:

· Change Comes: After 4 Years, Friends See Shifts in the Obamas

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Barack and Michelle Obama have spent more than a thousand days on display before the nation’s eyes, but the personal changes they have undergone can be hard to detect.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, greeted her husband after introducing him at a campaign event in Iowa last year. Those who know the Obamas say they can see a number of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago.

Up close, though, those who know the Obamas say they can see an accumulation of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago. The man who wanted to change the nature of Washington now warns job candidates that it is hard to get anything done there. Not so long ago, he told others that he did not need a presidential library, a tribute to himself costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Now a former aide, Susan Sher, is quietly eyeing possibilities for him in Chicago.

The first lady who wanted to forge connections with her new city found that even viewing the cherry blossoms required a hat, sunglasses and wheedling the Secret Service. In a demonstration of how difficult it can be for any president or first lady to sustain relationships, Mrs. Obama stopped taking on girls in a mentorship program she founded because of concerns that other teenagers would envy the lucky advisees, according to an aide.

When the president returned from consoling families of teachers and children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — he wept as they handed him photos and told him stories of victim after victim — aides could see in his face the toll of absorbing the nation’s traumas. “This is what I do,” Mr. Obama told them.

“This position has perhaps cost him more on a personal, and even energic, level than most of his predecessors, because he was most entirely an outsider,” observed the playwright Tony Kushner, a supporter who recently dined with Mr. Obama to discuss the film “Lincoln,” for which Mr. Kushner wrote the screenplay.

The Obamas have gained and lost in their four years in the White House, becoming seasoned professionals instead of newcomers, more conventional, with a contracted sense of possibility. They are steady characters, not given to serial self-reinvention. Yet in interviews, current and former White House and campaign aides, donors and friends from Chicago said they could see how the president and the first lady had been affected by their roles.

Describing them, they used phrases like: more confident but more scarred. More isolated. Less hesitant about directing staff members, whether butlers or highest-level advisers. Gratified by re-election, which the Obamas view as sweet vindication, and bloodier-minded when it comes to beating Republicans. And Mr. Obama has learned that his presidency will be shaped by unanticipated events — “locusts,” one former aide called them, for the way they swarm without warning.

Mr. Obama never wanted to be an ordinary politician — there was a time when Mrs. Obama could barely use that noun to describe her husband — and his advisers resist the idea that he has succumbed to standard Washington practice. Some donors and aides give an “if only” laugh at the idea that the couple now follows political ritual more closely: this is a president who still has not had Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton to dinner but holds lunches to discuss moral philosophy with the fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

“He thinks about destiny in human terms,” Mr. Wiesel said in an interview.

Still, others say the Obamas have become more relaxed schmoozers, more at ease with the porous line between the political and social, more willing to reveal themselves. They have recently begun inviting more outsiders into their private living quarters, including Mr. Kushner, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis at the “Lincoln” dinner. At a dinner in late November to thank top campaign fund-raisers, the first couple was like a bride and groom, bantering and traveling from table to table to accept congratulations and good wishes for the years ahead, making sly jokes that guests would not repeat for publication.

Even Mr. Obama’s speech has changed a bit, close observers say. Though he still disdains Washington, he often sounds less like a disapproving outsider and more like a participant. One former aide was startled to hear Mr. Obama use “impact” as a verb, a particular tendency in the capital. Another longtime adviser said he was struck during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations when Mr. Obama grew offended that House Speaker John A. Boehner did not return his multiple phone calls. The old Barack Obama would have thought the who-calls-whom protocol was stupid, the adviser said, but “the world that he inhabits now is the world of inside-the-Beltway maneuvering.”  Story Continued:

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