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CHRISTIE FACES POLITICAL FALLOUT OVER TRAFFIC JAM

Thursday, 09 January 2014 08:23 Published in National News

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has scheduled a news conference for Thursday, one day after emails and text messages revealed his administration may have closed highway lanes to exact political retribution.

There was likely to be fallout for the second time in weeks, given that the governor issued a statement Wednesday saying he was "outraged and deeply saddened" by the revelations. He said he was misled by a key aide and he denied involvement.

"This completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," he said in the statement. "People will be held responsible for their actions."

The governor was set to answer questions at the Statehouse at 11 a.m., just weeks after he announced the resignation of a top appointee at the center of the controversy. During a previous news conference, Christie had called a Democratic-led state investigation into the incident politically motivated and joked that he had personally put up traffic cones to close the lanes.

This was supposed to be a month of celebration for Christie's political future.

But after the personal messages revealed Wednesday that his administration may have closed highway lanes to exact political retribution, the prospective Republican presidential candidate is faced with what may be the biggest test of his political career.

The revelations thrust a regional transportation issue into a national conversation raising new questions about the ambitious governor's leadership on the eve of a second term designed to jumpstart his road to the White House.

Critics quickly emerged across New Jersey and beyond, high-profile Democrats and Republicans among them, including some who know the 51-year-old governor best.

"What are these people doing?" asked a baffled former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, whom Christie has often described as a mentor. "The closer to the governor this is, the more harm that it's going to do."

The emails and text messages suggest that one of Christie's top aides engineered traffic jams in the New Jersey town last September to punish its Democratic mayor. The messages do not directly implicate Christie, but they appear to contradict his assertions that the closings were not punitive and that his staff was not involved.

The messages were obtained by The Associated Press and other news organizations amid a statehouse investigation into whether the lane closings that led to the tie-ups were retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie for re-election last fall.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in August in a message to David Wildstein, a top Christie appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, which runs between New Jersey and New York City.

Beyond the specifics of the lane closures, critics suggest the incident reflects a darker side of Christie's brand of politics that contradicts the image he'd like to project as he eyes the presidency.

The governor repeatedly sidestepped criticism that he bullied adversaries in an overwhelming re-election victory in November. Facing a little-known and underfunded opponent, he cast himself as a different kind of Republican: a compromising, consensus builder who ultimately earned strong support from minorities, union members and even many Democrats.

It was described as the opening argument for Christie's prospective White House run. That argument is now clouded, at least temporarily, during one of the most important transitions of his political career.

In less than two weeks, he is scheduled to celebrate his second inauguration in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on historic Ellis Island, a symbolic beginning to a second term designed to expand Christie's bipartisan appeal. He also is expected to unveil his second-term priorities — solidifying his presidential resume — in a state-of-the-state address later this month, while beginning an aggressive national travel schedule as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Even if Christie navigates the current situation quickly, Republican operative Hogan Gidley said it would almost surely come back to haunt him in a presidential run. He described Christie's "bulldog style" as both a political asset and a liability.

"I don't necessarily think it's Christie's policy that's going to ultimately catapult or sink his campaign; I think it's his personality," said Gidley, a senior adviser to 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

The messages also raise questions about Christie's most recent appointee to the Republican Governors Association, Bill Stepien, who was in communication with Wildstein about the lane closures while managing Christie's re-election campaign. Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor, is scheduled to testify later Thursday before a state Assembly committee but is fighting the subpoena.

National conservative opinion leaders joined Christie's critics Wednesday, while the Democratic National Committee released a web video that details Christie's earlier assurances that neither he nor his staff had anything to do with the closures.

"I've made it to very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they've all assured me that they don't," Christie said in mid-December, mentioning Stepien by name.

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said the "revelations are troubling for any public official." But she said: "They also indicate what we've come to expect from Gov. Christie — when people oppose him, he exacts retribution. When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his administration, he bullies and attacks."

Other Republicans have been critical of Christie's politics in the past.

In a book released in November, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney raised concerns about Christie's insistence that Romney obtain Christie's approval to raise money in New Jersey. Romney found Christie's position "galling, like something out of 'The Soprano's,'" according to the authors of the book "Double Down: Game Change 2012."

Kean said it was imperative for Christie to address the latest issue head on.

"He's known as a straight shooter and a straight talker. He's got to be the same on this one," Kean said. "Whatever's there, get it all out, and do it now."

___

Peoples reported from Washington.

FOOD COMPANIES CUT 6.4 TRILLION CALORIES

Thursday, 09 January 2014 08:20 Published in Health & Fitness

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some of the nation's largest food companies have cut calories in their products by more than 6.4 trillion, according to a new study.

The study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found between 2007 and 2012 the companies reduced their products' calories by the equivalent of around 78 calories per person per day. The total is more than four times the amount those companies had pledged to cut by next year.

Seventy-eight calories would be about the same as an average cookie or a medium apple, and the federal government estimates an average daily diet at around 2,000 calories. The study said the calories cut averaged out to 78 calories per day for the entire U.S. population.

The 2010 pledge taken by 16 companies - including General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Hershey Co. - was to cut 1 trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation signed on to hold the companies accountable, and that group hired researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to painstakingly count the calories in almost every single packaged item in the grocery store. To do that, the UNC researchers used the store-based scanner data of hundreds of thousands of foods, commercial databases and nutrition facts panels to calculate exactly how many calories the companies were selling.

The researchers aren't yet releasing the entire study, but they said Thursday that the companies have exceeded their own goals by a wide margin.

Dr. James Marks, director of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the group is pleased with the results but the companies "must sustain that reduction, as they've pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a nonpartisan philanthropic and research organization that works to improve the nation's health.

Even though the companies that made the commitment represent most of the nation's most well-known food companies, they sold only around a third of all packaged foods and beverages at the beginning of the study. Missing are many off-label brands sold under the names of retailers, and it's unknown whether those products have changed.

It is also unclear how the reduction in calories translates into consumers' diets. When the companies made the pledge in 2010, they said one way they would try and reduce calories would be to change portion sizes in an attempt to persuade consumers to eat less. The companies also said that they would develop new lower-calorie options and change existing products so they have fewer calories.

Evidence of those efforts are visible on any grocery store shelf. Many products now come in lower calorie versions, are baked instead of fried, or sold in miniature as well as larger versions.

Marks says he believes that companies' efforts to package smaller servings - 100 calorie packs of popular snacks, for example - and smaller cans of sugary drinks may have contributed to the reduction in calories. He says the main contributors most likely were the public's increasing willingness to buy healthier foods and companies responding to those consumers.

The companies involved are all part of an industry coalition of food businesses called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation that has organized to help reduce obesity. The foundation pledged to reduce the calories as part of an agreement with a group of nonprofit organizations and made the 2010 announcement as part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to combat childhood obesity.

Lisa Gable of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation says the study's findings "exceeded our expectations."

She said the companies achieved the goal by coming together and also competing to make new lower-calorie foods. Market studies have shown that many of the healthier foods have outperformed other products, she said.

"This is a very significant shift in the marketplace," Gable said.

---

Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter: HTTP://TWITTER.COM/MCJALONICK

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No. 21 Missouri 'too cool' in OT loss to Georgia

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 23:19 Published in Sports
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Frank Haith thinks his Missouri team was "too cool," and it cost the 21st-ranked Tigers the nation's longest home-court winning streak.
 
"I hate cool," the Tigers coach said Wednesday after losing 70-64 in overtime to Georgia. "We were really too cool and I don't like cool. Cool gets you beat and we got beat tonight."
 
Jabari Brown had 19 points and Earnest Ross added 15, but Ross missed a desperation 3-point attempt in the final seconds trailing 68-64. Missouri (12-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) had won 26 consecutive games at home dating back to Feb. 21, 2012, when it lost to Kansas State. In his third season, Haith lost for only the second time in 42 home games.
 
Jordan Clarkson, who missed from the top of the key at the end of regulation, had 12 points.
 
Missouri led 63-58 with 2:51 remaining in overtime after a three-point play by Ross. But Georgia's Nemanja Djurisic hit the tying 3-pointer with 1:39 to go, and Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris hit a pair of free throws apiece in the final half-minute.
 
"It's definitely going to sting, especially losing at home, but we have to have a short memory and we have to bounce back," Clarkson said. "We can't let one loss turn into two. We have to go get a road win and I know we'll come prepared to do that."
 
Missouri will face Auburn on Saturday.
 
Georgia's Charlie Mann scored 18 points, including the go-ahead basket with 35.8 seconds to go in overtime, and Djurisic finished with 16 points after tying a career high with four 3-pointers.
 
Mann pulled up in the lane before hitting the go-ahead basket less than a half-minute after Brown missed a 3.
 
The Bulldogs (7-6, 1-0) had lost consecutive road games by double digits at George Washington and Colorado and was a double-digit underdog against Missouri.
 
"We didn't have the right look about us," Haith said. "Hopefully we can learn from it. The toughness thing is something that's hard for a coach to accept. You have to compete and that's hard for me.
 
"We didn't compete."
 
Even with Morris' free throws at the end, Georgia was 13 for 26 at the line with Marcus Thornton just 1 for 6. Djurisic was 4 for 5 from 3-point range, matching his career best, after being held to four points his last game.
 
Georgia entered hitting just 65 percent from 3-point range, 12th in the conference.
 
Mann missed a 3-pointer for the lead with 24 seconds left in regulation and Clarkson held the ball before missing a bid to end it with about a second to go. Georgia ended a four-game losing streak against Missouri.
 
Missouri also was vulnerable in its previous game, trailing most of the first half before pulling away to beat Long Beach State by 10 on Saturday. The Tigers had been 4-1 trailing at the half, rallying to beat UCLA and North Carolina State, with the other loss to Illinois.
 
Missouri opened the second half on a 12-4 run and took the lead at 35-34 on another 3-pointer by Ross. Georgia went 7:10 between baskets in the second half.
 
Missouri spotted the Bulldogs eight points to start the game before settling in, and the Tigers got their first lead on a 3-pointer by Ross that made it 20-19 with about 6 minutes remaining. That lasted a half-minute before Djurisic answered with two straight 3s to key an 11-0 run that gave Georgia it's largest lead at 30-20 before Missouri finished the half with five points in a row.

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