Dianne Feinstein decries effort to delay train safety measure

California train crash
With photos of victims of the deadly Southern California train crash behind her, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday launched a counter-offensive to preserve a 2015 deadline for railroads to install collision avoidance systems on trains carrying passengers and toxic materials.

"Hundreds of thousands of commuters are at risk until this system is put into place," she said on the Senate floor.

But Feinstein could be facing a tough fight. A transportation bill headed for a House vote in a few weeks would extend by five years, until 2020, the deadline for installation of the high-tech braking system known as positive train control. An effort is expected to be made in the Senate to extend the deadline by three years.

The 2015 deadline was included in 2008 rail safety legislation at the urging of Feinstein and others after a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., killing 25 people and injuring more than 130. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Metrolink’s engineer was text messaging and failed to stop for a red signal. 

A 2008 congressional report cited 52 rail accidents throughout the country in the previous decade in which the installation of a positive train control system "would likely have prevented the accident.''

Metrolink is moving to complete installation of its $201-million system by mid-2013.

But Feinstein said extending the deadline could make deployment of the collision system more difficult. The 2015 deadline, she said, "creates a substantial incentive for industry to develop new and cost-effective technology that lowers the deployment cost for everyone, including Metrolink.''

House Republicans included the new deadline in their $260-billion, five-year transportation bill after industry complaints that it is costly and difficult to install.

"What they are delaying is a device that saves lives," Feinstein said. "The case has not been made to do so." Congress, she said, should await a report from the Federal Railroad Commission on the issue "before scaling back or delaying a system that can prevent crashes."

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees railroads, said in a recent interview that financially strapped commuter rail operators in the Northeast have told him that the current deadline could force them to put off other critical safety measures. "There are significant technological issues associated with PTC that require additional time for consideration,’’ he said.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) hopes to bring the House floor an amendment that would keep the 2015 deadline. But a similar effort was soundly defeated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a bipartisan vote.


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-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: The 2008 crash of a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., was the deadliest rail collision in modern California history. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

'Underwear bomber,' seeming unrepentant, to be sentenced today

Underwear Bomber faces a life sentence today.

The man dubbed the "underwear bomber" faces a sentence of life in prison Thursday in U.S. District Court in Detroit for trying to blow up an international flight on Christmas Day 2009 using a bomb hidden in his underwear.

Prosecutors are seeking the harshest penalty possible, arguing that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains unrepentant and defiant and would attack the United States again if given the chance.

A court-appointed criminologist who interviewed the defendant said he actually was encouraged by his failure to blow up the jetliner on Christmas Day.

"The failed martyrdom mission, in his mind, is no more than a possible test of patience imposed on him by God," Israeli criminologist Simon Perry, who has studied Islamic suicide bombers, said in a court report quoted by the Christian Science Monitor. "One can interpret this rhetoric as meaning that he has not given up on aspirations to martyrdom."

On paper, the sentencing appears routine. After all, Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to eight felonies in October and knew that a life prison term was to be expected.

But little about this case has been routine. Abdulmutallab's guilty plea was an abrupt disruption to the trial and came against the wishes of his defense team.

The Nigerian defendant and admitted Al Qaeda operative accepted responsibility but continued to justify his failed attack on the United States. The federal court case has been marked by Abdulmutallab's repeated outbursts, and he has repeatedly mocked the United States and warned the country that its judgment day was near.

"The United States should be warned that if they continue to persist and promote the blasphemy of Muhammad and the prophets," Abdulmutallab said as he entered his guilty plea, "the United States should await a great calamity that will befall them through the hands of the mujahedin soon."

The jetliner that Abdulmutallab tried to blow up was carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members. The incident became fodder for late-night talk-show jokes even as the government was embarrassed at the obvious lapses in airline security. The incident directly led to much of the heightened security seen at airports today.


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New Jersey expected to approve gay marriage; Christie vows veto

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is scheduled to be sentenced today in a federal courtroom in Detroit. Credit: U.S. Marshals Service

Which is easier: Driving in L.A. or passing a highway bill?

Getting a highway bill through Congress is becoming more challenging than navigating Los Angeles traffic.

A $260-billion, Republican-drafted House bill is facing opposition from the left and the right, forcing GOP leaders Wednesday to put off a final roll call while they scramble to line up the votes to pass it.

The White House on Tuesday threatened a veto, saying the measure "jeopardizes safety, weakens environmental and labor protections and fails to make the investments needed to strengthen the nation's roads, bridges, rail and transit systems." If the bill gets to the president's desk, the White House budget office said, his senior advisors will recommend that he veto it. 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, has called the legislation the worst transportation bill he has seen in 35 years of public service.

The bill would, among other things, open up a portion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and some new coastal sections -- including an area off Southern California -- to energy exploration to generate money for road projects.

It also would end the decades-old use of a portion of gasoline-tax revenue for mass transit.

Further, the measure would extend by five years, until 2020, the deadline for operators of trains carrying passengers and hazardous materials to install collision avoidance systems. The mandate was included in 2008 rail safety legislation after a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., killing 25 people and injuring more than 130.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) hopes to bring the House floor an amendment that would keep the 2015 deadline. But a similar effort was soundly defeated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a bipartisan vote.

House Republican leaders say the bill would generate jobs, speed up traffic-easing projects and increase domestic production of oil at a time when gas prices are once again rising.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), acknowledging concerns about the bill among his rank and file, told congressional Republicans Wednesday, "I want you to have a chance to offer amendments, to have a full debate on the floor. This debate is a debate we want to have,'' according to an attendee of the closed-door meeting.

"It’s more important that we do it right than that we do it fast,'' the speaker said, according to the attendee.

Boehner also advised his fellow Republicans that when their constituents ask about high fuel prices, "tell them about this bill that we’re working on.”

The final vote on the five-year bill is expected after the Presidents Day recess.

The Senate is considering a $109-billion, two-year bill that has had bipartisan support. But it is encountering gridlock because of expected Republican efforts to attach controversial measures to it that supporters fear could jeopardize it, such as a rider mandating approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.


House transportation bill: Traffic is heavy -- against it

Virginia House advances antiabortion 'personhood' measure

After Russell Pearce ouster, Arizona may alter recall process

-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: The Capitol is seen behind some stoplights in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' winning over Lincoln historians

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" won't be in theaters until June 22. But the horror-meets-history thriller that re-envisions our 16th president as an ax-wielding fang-fighter already has an unexpected fan base: historians.

But that fan base didn't develop overnight. When the experts at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., first heard about the fictional book "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," by Seth Grahame-Smith, they were not exactly pleased. Would it make a mockery of the Great Emancipator? Would it ignore Lincoln's pivotal role in history? Would it portray him as a cartoonish figure in a stovepipe hat?

"There was a lot of skepticism, let's just say that," library spokesman Dave Blanchett told The Times.

But "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" appears to be winning over historians with its attention to fact and detail even as it swings wildly into the fantastic and the fictional.

The trailer for the movie was posted online Monday by 20th Century Fox, timed to coincide with  the official observances of the 203rd anniversary of Lincoln's Feb. 12, 1809, birth.

That trailer was a mere morsel for the masses when compared to the banquet served up Friday night at the library.

Director Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted," "Night Watch") and actor Benjamin Walker, who plays Honest Abe, personally introduced several scenes from the movie to library staff and movie critics who flew in as part of a Hollywood junket. Producer Tim Burton couldn't make it, but he sent the next best thing, Blanchette said: a black-and-white digital message with several Burtonesque touches that seemed to thrill those in attendance.

Continue reading »

'The check is in the mail' could soon be a legal excuse

MailWith Postal Service cuts threatening to slow mail delivery, a group of lawmakers is pushing legislation to require banks, credit card companies and other businesses to credit a customer’s account on the date a payment is postmarked rather than the date it is received.

The Postmark Payment Act is similar to a 1995 bill that had bipartisan support but never made it through Congress in the face of opposition from banks and other industries that warned it could lead to higher costs. Similar opposition is expected with the new effort.

"We do not think a company’s success or profitability should be tied to the U.S. Postal Service," a spokeswoman for the American Financial Services Assn. said Tuesday.

But Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the bill’s chief sponsor, sees a greater need for the bill now as the Postal Service considers cuts to mail service.

"Each month, thousands of Americans are charged late fees and penalties for bills they believed in good faith they had paid on time, through no fault of their own,” he said in a statement.

Proponents of the bill note that the Internal Revenue Service uses the postmark as proof that a taxpayer mailed his or her tax return on or before the deadline.

Postal officials have delayed until mid-May plans to change delivery standards for first-class mail and close facilities, to give lawmakers time to explore a financial reform plan.

The bill would exempt any payment where another method, such as electronic payment, is required by regulation, contract or law. It has been referred the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for consideration.


In Atlanta, a legal sideshow over training of circus elephants

Valentine's Day gets Google Doodle but began with beheading

Gay marriage poll: Most in New Jersey support it, but want vote

--Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Bundles of mail wait to be sorted in the City of Industry. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

House transportation bill: Traffic is heavy -- against it


A highway and mass transit bill headed to the House this week has drawn opposition from an eclectic array of organizations.

The Episcopal Church has come out against a provision that would open a portion of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration to generate money for road projects.

The American Society of Landscape Architects and other groups oppose a provision that would end a mandate for a portion of transportation funds to go toward bike paths, scenic beautification and other "transportation enhancements."

And a civil rights group and the Teamsters are among the groups opposing a provision that would end the decades-old use of gas tax funds for mass transit.  

The strange bedfellows in opposition to provisions of the $260-billion five-year bill underscore the challenge facing Republican leaders in rounding up votes to pass the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act.

The Senate is considering a $109-billion, two-year bill, but it's less controversial than the House measure.

Those pushing to end the requirement that a portion of transportation funds -- about $925 million last year -- go to "transportation enhancements" have said Congress should give states greater flexibility in deciding how to spend funds at a time when gas tax funds have fallen off because of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Critics of the spending also have questioned some of the projects that have received funding, such as $198,000 awarded to the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky for a simulator theater. A museum official previously defended the spending as helping motorists, especially teens, perfect their driving skills and reduce the risk of accidents.

"Over the years, Congress has diluted the intent of the federal transportation program by adding mandates, set-asides and government edicts telling states how to spend gas tax revenues," said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Many of these requirements are simply not in the federal interest and are best left to state and local decision makers.''

But supporters of the funding contend that it has paid for important safety projects for bicyclists and pedestrians and improved the quality of life in communities. "From a trails, walking and bicycling perspective, the current House bill is probably the worst piece of legislation. Ever," says the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

"It really will take us back decades to a time when -- instead of funding the balanced transportation system that people want -- the federal role will be restricted to building highways," Kevin Mills, the group’s vice president of policy, added in an interview. The Senate bill would preserve the program but subject projects to greater competition for funds.

A spokeswoman for the American Society of Landscape Architects noted that bicycling and walking make up about 12% of trips in the U.S., yet receive less than 2% of federal transportation funding.

The Episcopal Church, while not taking a position on the overall bill, is encouraging Episcopalians to contact members of Congress to "oppose the use of the transportation reauthorization process as a 'back-door' effort to get around consistent congressional opposition to drilling."

Taxpayers for Common Sense, meanwhile, complained in a letter to lawmakers Monday about the "budget gimmicks'' included in the bill, such as relying on "highly speculative oil and gas revenues'' from drilling in the Arctic refuge and in coastal areas to fund transportation projects.

Heritage Action for America, a conservative group, has expressed concern about the bill's level of spending. It also said the bill "seeks to find additional sources of revenue, most of which have no relationship to road usage, thus breaking the user pays principle." Club for Growth, another conservative group, urged a "no" vote on the House bill. Both groups also oppose the Senate bill.

A wide range of other groups -- including local bus and rail operators -- oppose the provision to end the use of gas tax funds for public transit -- in place since the Reagan administration, warning that it would subject the public transit to annual budget battles for funds at a time when Congress is seeking to reduce deficit spending.

According to the American Public Transportation Assn., the bill, after a one-time appropriation, provides "no guarantee for any public transportation funding beyond FY 2016. This makes it virtually impossible for public transit agencies to develop reliable long-term capital plans, and it could leave the future of the public transit program in peril."

A spokesman for Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee said the change was needed because of the threatened insolvency of the highway trust fund. "The upfront transfer of $40 billion keeps the mass transit account solvent through fiscal year 2016 and provides Congress and stakeholders the opportunity to engage in a serious conversation about how to equitably fund mass transit moving forward,” the spokesman said in a statement.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is planning to seek to amend the bill on the House floor to restore gas tax funding for mass transit.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also has come out against the measure, saying it would hurt low-income people who rely disproportionately on public transit.

A coalition of federal and postal employees and retirees also is opposing a provision that would increase employee pension contributions and change the way pensions are calculated for new employees in order to fund transportation.

"With payroll costs to the taxpayer approaching $450 billion per year, and pension costs exploding, asking federal workers and Members of Congress to contribute more to their retirement is not a burden too heavy," Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), sponsor of the pension changes, said in a statement.


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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: No one likes traffic (this is a scene from the Santa Ana Freeway), and it seems no one much likes a new House transit bill either. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

House transportation bill would harm California, Democrats say

As Congress gears up for an unusual fight over a new transportation bill, virtually all of California’s Democratic delegation has come out against the Republican-drafted measure, saying it would cut funding to the state.

The state’s Democrats also say they object to provisions that would bar funding for California’s high-speed rail project, open the Southern California coast to energy exploration and "cripple our transit agencies" by ending the decades-old use of gas tax funds for mass transit. They contend the bill would cut highway funding to the state by nearly $725 million over five years.

"If this bill is enacted into law, it will hurt California’s fragile economy by cutting vital funding, prohibiting new funds from being dispersed to one of California’s largest infrastructure projects and delaying safety measures," the lawmakers said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The five-year, $260-billion House bill, dubbed the "American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act" by its drafters, includes one measure eagerly sought by Los Angeles officials to speed up expansion of the region’s public transit system: $1 billion a year nationwide for a federal program that provides loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit to  help fund projects.

But while transportation bills traditionally have enjoyed bipartisan support, the House bill has drawn Democratic opposition because, among other things, it relies on revenues from new oil drilling to fund road projects and would end the use of gas tax funds for public transit.

Passage of a transportation bill has been complicated by consumers buying more fuel-efficient cars, which reduces gas tax revenues, and Congress ending the practice of lawmakers earmarking funds for projects in their districts.

The earmarking helped win votes for bills in the past but sparked a public outcry after the last big transportation bill, in 2005, was filled with thousands of earmarks, including Alaska's "bridge to nowhere.’’

"It's a lot harder to win votes when you don't have goodies to pass out," Boehner told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Boehner also said at a news conference the measure would be the first highway bill he's ever supported.  "In the past, highway bills represented everything that was wrong with Washington: earmarks, endless layers of bureaucracy, wasted tax dollars and misplaced priorities,'' he said.

Transit agencies have expressed concern that the House bill would subject public transit to annual budget fights at a time when lawmakers are eager to reduce deficit spending.

California Democrats also complained about the prohibition on funding high-speed rail in the state.

"Prohibiting funds for high-sped rail in California, when other states are free to move forward with high-speed rail, will prevent California from being able to decide how to best address its capacity constraints and transportation needs," they wrote.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), who sought to prohibit funding for the project, said in a statement: “Highway bill money should be used on highways.

"This administration and the California legislature want high-speed rail at any cost, they will spend lavishly without a disciplined plan and say anything to get it done, but this amendment will prohibit highway bill money from being used on a project that is going nowhere fast.”

The House could vote on its bill as early as next week. The Senate is considering a two-year, $109-billion transportation bill.


Motorcycle-only checkpoints rev up controversy in Congress


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Motorcycle-only checkpoints rev up controversy in Congress

Motorcycle check
Motorcycle-only safety checkpoints have revved up controversy among some lawmakers who say the inspections are another example of intrusive federal policies.

A measure inserted into the House transportation bill would bar the U.S. Department of Transportation from providing grants to local or state governments for such inspections.

The action grows out of a furor over checkpoints set up in Georgia last year and planned again this year under a $70,000 federal traffic safety grant.

The roadside checkpoints operate similar to the popular drunk-driving checkpoints. Law enforcement officials signal motorcyclists to pull over and then conduct on-the-spot safety inspections, checking on the condition of the bikes and whether drivers are properly licensed and complying with the state helmet law.

Similar checkpoints have been set up in New York.

But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who pushed for the provision in the bill, assailed motorcycle-only checkpoints as "an intrusive governmental overreach."

"Motorcycle riders are right to be outraged at being singled out for safety inspections," Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) added in a statement.

Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, criticized the provision. The group describes itself on its website as a coalition of "consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer."

"What you see are the fingerprints of the anti-helmet people,'' Gillan said in an interview. "We're fighting efforts in state legislatures to repeal rider helmet laws. Now, what they're doing is attacking, in those states that require helmets, the ability of law enforcement to enforce the law.''

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman said that the agency's administrator David Strickland is concerned about the increasing proportion of fatalities among motorcyclists.

"If the argument is, well, you can't single us out by vehicle, we do,'' said Lt. Jim Halvorsen of the New York State Police. "When we do seat-belt checkpoints, we waive the motorcyclists through because they don't have seat belts. Both helmets and seatbelts are required safety devices."

Of approximately 27,000 motorcyclists that passed through their checkpoints last year, about 2,500 were stopped for closer inspection, Halvorsen said. Of those, 380 were ticketed for an illegal helmet. Six motorcyclists were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Forty-nine motorcyclists were ticketed for operating a motorcycle without the proper license class. A total of 1,665 tickets were issued.

In 2009, 4,462 motorcyclists were killed, a decrease of 16% from the previous year, according to the most recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Twenty-two percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2009 were riding without a valid motorcycle license at the time of the collision, compared with 12% of drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes who lacked a valid license, according to the agency.

The American Motorcyclist Assn. believes that "strategies to promote motorcycle safety must be rooted in motorcycle crash prevention, and don't include arbitrarily pulling over riders and randomly subjecting them to roadside inspections," according to its vice president of government relations, former Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard.

Strickland, in a 2010 letter to the American Motorcyclist Assn., noted that of 225 motorcyclists inspected at one New York checkpoint, 11% were found to have unsafe tires, and 36%were not wearing helmets meeting state law.

A letter sent to the House Transportation Committee by the bipartisan group of lawmakers in support of the provision said that funds would be better spent on educational programs aimed at reducing motorcycle crashes

Both chambers of Congress are expected to consider their own versions of the transportation bill next week.


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PHOTO: A Laguna Beach police officer checks a motorcycle. Credit: Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times

Super Bowl 'bird': Angry parents' group demands NBC use tape delay

The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about what kids see on TV, has launched an on-line petition targeting NBC for M.I.A.'s apparent curse word and vulgar gesture; both came during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna and other performers.

The advocacy group's petition demands, among other things, that: "NBC put all future live broadcasts on an adequate tape delay and to hold on-air talent accountable for their actions during live broadcasts."

Melissa Henson, the council's spokeswoman, told The Times that she wants other broadcasters to abide by the rules too. But she noted that both ABC and CBS have gone to great lengths to create safeguards  -- such as a time delay -- to help prevent such vulgarities from reaching home audiences, especially young viewers.

About eight minutes into Madonna's half-time act at Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, British sensation M.I.A. appeared to curse, saying, "I don't give a … ." It's difficult to hear her clearly on the video. But what came next was much clearer: She flipped her middle finger to the more than 110 million American viewers. 

The L.A.-based Parents Television Council says sports leagues and networks can no longer pretend they've been caught off guard by vulgarities or that they're ill-prepared for misbehaving celebrities. That grace period expired long ago with Nipplegate -- the now-infamous 2004 halftime show featuring Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Janet Jackson's nipple.

Given that history, the group says, NBC should have been ready. "If NBC had procedures in place, adequately trained staff, a reasonable time delay, and a commitment to preventing inappropriate content from airing during live broadcasts, the entire incident could have been avoided," the group says in an e-mail blast via its newsletter.

Henson said the Parents Television Council is particularly irritated with NBC given that the network has found itself in this situation before. (Examples: Bono dropping the F-bomb during the 2003 Golden Globes, and -- do not click the following links if you are easily offended -- both Tiki Barber and Jane Fonda dropping the C-word on audiences.)

In the years since Nipplegate, the Super Bowl has tried to play it safe with artists unlikely to run afoul of good taste. But Henson said that "it was a bit naïve on the part of the NFL to believe that this particular slate of artists would deliver a squeaky clean halftime show. But ultimately NBC is the one that licenses the airways."

Henson said the blast went to subscribers, which number between 80,000-100,000. She said the missive went out last night, and that it isn't yet known how many on-line signatures have been collected. The petition, and signatures, will be presented to NBC.

A spokesman for NBC could not be reached before this story was posted.

NBC and the NFL have apologized for the Super Bowl fallout. But the Parents Television Council says that isn't good enough; it wants those responsible to be held "accountable." The Federal Communications Commission, which stepped in after Nipplegate and fined CBS, said this week that it has no comment at this time about on Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI halftime show.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: MIA performs at the Super Bowl halftime show. Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Anger bubbles up in Congress over anti-obesity ads targeting soda


Taxpayer-funded anti-obesity ads targeting soda aren’t going down well with a Tennessee congressman, who has introduced legislation to prohibit federal spending on any campaigns targeting legal American-made products.

Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais’s "Protecting Foods and Beverages from Government Attack Act" would prohibit the use of federal dollars for "scare campaigns" against products lawfully marketed under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

He introduced the measure in response to ads, funded with federal economic stimulus funds, that target soda. A New York ad, for example, shows blobs of fat being poured out of a soda can and admonishing, "Don’t drink yourself fat."

"When I see stimulus money being used to attack American companies and American workers, I think it would be very unsettling to be working on the assembly line of Coca Cola, look up and see an ad that’s trying to hurt the very job that you make your wages and pay taxes from," DesJarlais said in an interview outside the House chamber.

"These advertisements strike at the heart of personal responsibility," DesJarlais added in a letter to congressional colleagues seeking their support for the measure. Food and beverage companies, he added, "should not have to be concerned that their very own tax dollars are being used against them."

The congressman, who’s a physician, added: "Dietary choices should be a personal decision, or they should be made by individuals in consultation with a doctor or dietitian."

But Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's director of public health, said in an interview, "We need to educate people about what’s in the food that they eat." A Los Angeles County website features a bottle of soda pouring packs of sugar into a glass and says, "You wouldn’t eat 22 packs of sugar. Why are you drinking them?"

"Tobacco is a legal product, but if we hadn’t had government help in sponsoring ads that help people understand the harm from tobacco, where would we be today?" Fielding added. "Obesity is our biggest epidemic, so trying to attack it with both hands tied behind our back would make it very difficult."

A DesJarlais spokesman said that while it is appropriate for government to require companies to post the nutritional value of their products, it's not Washington's job to try to persuade people in what they should or should not eat.

A Seattle anti-obesity campaign shows a mother pouring sugar out of soda bottle into a glass and handing it to her child. "You’d never serve your kid a glass of sugar," it says. "Those extra calories can bring on obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

The American Beverage Assn. supports the legislation, which has been sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, said: “Childhood obesity is a serious health issue, especially when considering that one-third of our nation’s children are overweight or obese….We should be promoting proven and promising interventions to address the childhood obesity epidemic and not putting arbitrary or ill-conceived limitations on campaigns and other initiatives that will help improve the health of our youth.”


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--Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: An anti-obesity campaign appearing in Seattle. Credit: Public Health -- Seattle & King County


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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