Goodbye trans fat: FDA is ordering a phase-out of the last of the artery-clogging substance

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heart-clogging trans fats were once a staple of the American diet, plentiful in baked goods, microwave popcorn and fried foods. Now, mindful of the health risks, the Food and Drug Administration is getting rid of what’s left of them for good.

Condemning artificial trans fats as a threat to public health, the FDA announced Thursday it will require the food industry to phase them out.

Manufacturers already have eliminated many trans fats, responding to criticism from the medical community and to local laws, Even so, the FDA said getting rid of the rest -- the average American still eats around a gram of trans fat a day -- could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.

It won’t happen right away. The agency will collect comments for two months before determining a phase-out timetable. Different foods may have different schedules, depending how easy it is to find substitutes.

"We want to do it in a way that doesn’t unduly disrupt markets," said Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. Still, he says, the food "industry has demonstrated that it is, by and large, feasible to do."

Yasser Arafat was probably poisoned, scientists say; Israel denies involvement

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Yasser Arafat’s mysterious 2004 death turned into a whodunit Thursday after Swiss scientists who examined his remains said the Palestinian leader was probably poisoned with radioactive polonium.


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Yet hard proof remains elusive, and nine years on, tracking down anyone who might have slipped minuscule amounts of the lethal substance into Arafat’s food or drink could be difficult.

A new investigation could also prove embarrassing -- and not just for Israel, which the Palestinians have long accused of poisoning their leader and which has denied any role.

The Palestinians themselves could come under renewed scrutiny, since Arafat was holed up in his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound in the months before his death, surrounded by advisers, staff and bodyguards.

Arafat died at a French military hospital on Nov. 11, 2004, at age 75, a month after suddenly falling violently ill at his compound. At the time, French doctors said he died of a stroke and had a blood-clotting problem, but records were inconclusive about what caused that condition.

Pakistani Taliban pick as new leader a commander who was behind attack on teen activist Malala

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) -- The ruthless commander behind the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai as well as a series of bombings and beheadings was chosen Thursday as the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, nearly a week after a U.S. drone strike killed the previous chief.

The militant group ruled out peace talks with the government, accusing Pakistan of working with the U.S. in the Nov. 1 drone strike. Islamabad denied the allegation and accused Washington of sabotaging its attempt to strike a deal with the Taliban to end years of violence.

Mullah Fazlullah was unanimously appointed the new leader by the Taliban’s leadership council, or shura, after several days of deliberation, said the council’s head, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhitani. Militants fired AK-47 assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns into the air to celebrate.

The previous chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by the drone in the North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border. He was known for a bloody campaign that killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personnel, a deadly attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan and was believed to be behind the failed bombing in New York’s Times square in 2010. The U.S. had put a $5 million bounty on his head,

Mehsud’s killing had outraged Pakistani officials. The government said the drone strike came a day before it planned to send a delegation of clerics to invite the Pakistani Taliban to hold peace talks, although many analysts doubted a deal was likely.

People whose coverage is being canceled could improve overall risk of Obama insurance plan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Insurance cancellations are fueling a political backlash against President Barack Obama and Democrats supporting his health care overhaul, but they may be a silver lining for the law itself.

It’s Economics 101, a little-noticed consequence of a controversial policy decision. And there are winners and losers.

Millions of people who currently buy their own health insurance coverage are losing it next year because their plans don’t meet requirements of the health care law. Experts say the resulting shift of those people into the new health insurance markets under Obama’s law would bring in customers already known to insurers, reducing the overall financial risks for each state’s insurance pool.

That’s painful for those who end up paying higher premiums for upgraded policies. But it could save money for the taxpayers who are subsidizing the new coverage.

"Already-insured people who do roll over will improve the risk pool, not hurt it," said David Axene, a California-based actuarial consultant for health plans, hospitals, government programs and employers.

Senate passes gay rights bill barring workplace discrimination; chances in House dim

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Reflecting Americans’ increasing acceptance of gays, the Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would bar workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gay rights advocates hailed the bipartisan, 64-32 vote as an historic step although it could prove short-lived. A foe of the bill, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has signaled that the Republican-led House is unlikely to even vote.

Seventeen years after a similar anti-discrimination measure failed by one vote, 54 members of the Senate Democratic majority and 10 Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It is the first major gay rights bill since Congress repealed the ban on gays serving openly in the military three years ago.

"All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a chief sponsor of the bill.

Proponents cast the effort as Congress following the lead of business and localities as some 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 22 states have outlawed employment discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

JFK’s Caroline: Family’s sole survivor is keeper of family flame and new ambassador to Japan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- She is the little girl riding her pony Macaroni around the White House lawn, the big sister hiding under the Oval Office desk with her little brother John. And in a heartbreaking childhood photo, she is the white-gloved daughter kneeling with her mother at the coffin of her slain father, the president.

Flash forward 50 years and here is Caroline Kennedy again: author, lawyer and mother of three, tending to the Kennedy flame as her family’s sole survivor. And, finally, after decades protecting her privacy, she’s stepping into a more public role as U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Kennedy, 55, was five days short of her sixth birthday when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

The family’s nanny gently informed Caroline that her father had been shot "and they couldn’t make him better."

With that, Caroline’s world was shaken, not for the first time or the last.

Strongest typhoon of the year slams Philippines; ‘There will be catastrophic damage’

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- The world’s strongest typhoon of the year slammed into the Philippines early Friday. It had been poised to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at landfall, a weather expert said.

"There will be catastrophic damage," said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane meteorologist who is meteorology director at the private firm Weather Underground.

The U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii shortly before landfall said Typhoon Haiyan’s maximum sustained winds were 195 mph, with gusts up to 235 mph.

"195-mile-per-hour winds, there aren’t too many buildings constructed that can withstand that kind of wind," Masters said.

The local weather bureau had a lower reading, saying the storm’s speed at landfall had sustained winds at 145 miles per hour, with gusts of 170.88 mph. The bureau takes measures based on longer periods of time.

New video shows Toronto mayor in a rage, threatening to ‘kill’ someone

TORONTO (AP) -- A new video that surfaced Thursday showed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford threatening to "murder" someone and "poke his eyes out" in a rambling rage, deepening the conviction among both critics and allies that he is no longer fit to lead North America’s fourth largest city.

The mayor told reporters moments after the video was posted online that he was "extremely, extremely inebriated" in it and "embarrassed" by it. The context of the video is unknown and it’s unclear who the target of Ford’s wrath is. The video, which appeared at length on the Toronto Star’s website and in clips on the Toronto Sun’s website, prompted another round of calls for Ford to step down.

The controversy surrounding Ford escalated last week when police announced they had obtained a different, long-sought video that shows Ford smoking a crack pipe. After months of evading the question, Ford admitted Tuesday to smoking crack in a "drunken stupor" about a year ago.

Despite immense pressure, the mayor of Canada’s financial capital has refused to resign or take a leave of absence.

Ford, who is married with two school age children, said Thursday he made mistakes and "all I can do is reassure the people. I don’t know what to say." Dazzling Twitter debut sends stock soaring 73 percent, could invite more companies to do IPOs

NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Twitter went on sale to the public for the first time Thursday, instantly leaping more than 70 percent above their offering price in a dazzling debut that exceeded even Wall Street’s lofty hopes.

By the closing bell, the social network that reinvented global communication in 140-character bursts was valued at $31 billion -- nearly as much as Yahoo Inc., an Internet icon from another era, and just below Kraft Foods, the grocery conglomerate founded more than a century ago.

The stock’s sizzling performance seemed to affirm the bright prospects for Internet companies, especially those focused on mobile users. And it could invite more entrepreneurs to consider IPOs, which lost their luster after Facebook’s first appearance on the Nasdaq was married by glitches.

In Silicon Valley, the IPO produced another crop of millionaires and billionaires, some of whom are sure to fund a new generation of startups.

Twitter, which has never turned a profit in the seven years since it was founded, worked hard to temper expectations ahead of the IPO, but all that was swiftly forgotten when the market opened.

A future of food without trans fats? It won’t taste much different than today

NEW YORK (AP) -- What will food without trans fats taste like? You probably already know.

Artificial trans fats -- widely considered the most dangerous of the so-called bad fats in the American diet -- were officially shown the door by the Food and Drug Administration this week, but the truth is most food manufacturers and restaurants started the eviction process years ago.

The trans fat purge began when federal officials first took aim at the ingredient more than a decade ago, but hit critical mass when trans fat content was added to nutrition labels on packaged foods in 2006. As consumer awareness grew, companies worked fast to reformulate products to reduce or eliminate trans fats, which are considered unsafe at any level.

The restaurant industry wasn’t far behind, particularly after New York City banned trans fats from all restaurant food in 2008, with communities around the country following suit. Rather than grapple with a patchwork of regulations, major chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King decided to remove trans fats from their menus nationally.

You’d think we would have noticed. After all, trans fats can play a significant role in a food’s texture, structure and taste. Like butter -- but more cheaply and with better shelf life -- they put the flakiness in flakey pie crusts, and Americans baked with them in the form of Crisco (also now free of trans fats) for generations.