The Skinny is
The recent Taco Bell E. Coli outbreak – likely to have originated from green onions – has launched a full-fledged national freak out about the safety of fresh produce.
"Over the past three months, fresh produce has been the culprit in one episode of food-borne illness after another," says the front page of the Washington Post. The federal and state regulations supposedly protecting the country from foodborne illnesses are a "patchwork" that "has become less effective as the nation's produce supply has grown increasingly industrial."
Consumer advocates are arguing for stricter federal standards and more enforcement will solve the problem, while the food service industry prefers self-regulation, "arguing that government rules can take years to put in place."
One "top federal food safety official," David W.K. Acheson, says that doesn't mean more resources for federal regulators will help. "The spinach investigation was, no question, a high priority," he said. "We can always do more with more, but do I think a lack of resources will impact efforts to prevent future outbreaks? No." Anyway, prepare yourself for a potential mini-series featuring some sort of predatory salad.
On the Web: Barney's White House Star Turn
For an awkward chuckle, be sure to check out this year's edition of the White House's annual Christmas BarneyCam production, "Barney's Holiday Extravaganza." (Barney is President Bush's Scottish terrier.)
The video is funny in the way that a video in which Budget Director Rob Portman and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson acting in a scene with a Scottish terrier can be funny.
Or in the way that Education Secretary Margaret Spellings trying to be funny is funny. That is to say that the funny parts are entirely unintentional. So it's mostly just weird.
"Despite extensive sabotage, the oil money is flowing," writes the Times. Why isn't it being spent? Among several, one reason is "a strange new one: bureaucrats are so fearful and confused by anti-corruption measures put in place by the American and Iraqi governments that they are afraid to sign off on contracts."
The problem is not just in the Oil Ministry. All of Iraq's ministries are currently spending "as little as 15 percent" of their budgets and the Oil Ministry has some of the weakest spending habits.
Dead Dictator Dissed
The Washington Post writes that Augusto Pinochet, who died yesterday at 91, once told an interviewer: "I would like to be remembered as a man who served his country, who served Chile throughout his entire life on this earth."
Instead, he wins the prize today for "Ways You Don't Want To Be Described In Your Front Page Obituary." The New York Times calls him "a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption."
The Post cites a "government report" that said Pinochet's "government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000." The Los Angeles Times notes another claim to fame, that "Pinochet's regime pioneered the use of 'disappearance' as a tool of repression, refusing to acknowledge the detention of executed prisoners."
The Wall Street Journal's newsbox perhaps puts it best – or at least, most succinctly – recalling Pinochet as the dictator who "usher[ed] in free market overhauls while trampling on human rights."
OMG, OMG, Obama Totally Went To New Hampshire This Weekend
The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times offer up some front page 2008 news this morning:
The Post, referring to Sen. Barack Obama unabashedly as "the political phenomenon known as Barack Obama," offers an article on the Illinois senator's trip to the primary state, where, "1,500 people paid $25 apiece to hear him speak at a celebration of the New Hampshire Democratic Party's historic victories in last month's midterm elections."
In a shocking twist, "Obama was noncommittal" in discussing plans for a 2008 run. The article includes the inevitable quotes from random area residents, like Marilyn Johnson of Kittery, Maine, who sat in the front row of an Obama event in Portsmouth, and appears to be quite the maverick, telling the paper: "I think it would be a mistake for him to run in 2008." I'm going to put $20 on the potential of Marilyn Johnson appearing on "Hardball" sometime in the next six months.
Apparently, "a frenzied competition has erupted in the Republican Party" over who's going to get the backing of the "fundraising and vote-getting machine" that the Bush family has constructed over the years, writes the Los Angeles Times.
Right now, Sen. John McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are wooing for it and a "sibling divide" is emerging in the Bush family. Some members of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's camp are gunning for Romney and some of President Bush's strategists are backing McCain. Karl Rove has apparently "not taken sides." Oh, the drama.