Look at This Crap Cheerios Is Trying to Pull

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Protein is the macronutrient of the moment, embraced by Paleos, low-carb enthusiasts, and other dieters. Sugary breakfast cereals, meanwhile, are out—sales are in the midst of a long, slow decline. Might adding the word "protein" to a hoary old cereal brand spark a sales renaissance? That's the experiment General Mills launched last year when it debuted Cheerios Protein. "I think the protein trend is real. I think it started with [the Atkins diet] back in the day, leveled off and now is gaining steam again," a General Mills exec told The Wall Street Journal at the time.

There's no word on how the product is doing at the supermarket checkout. "We do not release individual product sales data," a company spokesman told me. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest has taken a hard look at the product's label. In a class-action lawsuit filed in a California federal court, CSPI alleges that "General Mills falsely and misleadingly markets Cheerios Protein to children and adults as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios."

In fact, CSPI claims, Cheerios Protein offers just marginally more protein per equivalent serving than the old product—plus, it claims, a startling 17 times more sugar. Insult to injury, General Mills charges a premium for the product: "about 70 cents more per box at stores like Walmart, Giant Foods, and Safeway," CSPI claims in a press release. The lawsuit demands damages for the plaintiffs (aggrieved Cheerios Protein buyers) and an "injunction to stop General Mills’s false and misleading marketing practices with regard to Cheerios Protein."

"We don't normally respond to these publicity-seeking lawsuits from CSPI—but we do reject their comparison," a General Mills spokesman wrote in an email. He added:

Original Cheerios does contain 3 grams of protein per serving—and it’s clearly a great cereal choice. Cheerios Protein contains 7 grams of protein per serving – and it does qualify as a good source of high-quality protein under the FDA standard.

So, who's right? Turns out, General Mills is playing games with serving sizes on its labels.

Here's the regular Cheerios label:

Note that a 28 gram serving delivers 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of sugar.

Now check out the Cheerios Protein label:

Now, we're talking about a much bigger serving size: 55 grams. This new-and-improved Cheerios iteration delivers 7 grams of protein and 17 grams of sugar at this enlarged serving size.

To compare the two, I adjusted the original Cheerios numbers to reflect a 55 gram serving. Just for fun, I added another sought-after ingredient to the mix: dietary fiber. The results are in the chart at the top.

To goose the protein content, General Mills opted to add bite-sized "clusters" made up (see label above) of oats, soy protein, and lentils.

So it's true that the protein-enhanced version delivers marginally more protein—7 grams vs. 5.9 grams per 55 gram serving. That's an 18.6 percent difference. That may sound like a lot, but we're talking about just 1.1 grams. According to Institute of Medicine, adult men need 56 grams of protein per day, and adult women require 46 grams. The extra bit provided by Cheerios Protein doesn't move the needle much.

On the sugar front, the Cheerios Protein delivers about eight times more, my label comparison suggests. That's less than the 17-fold sugar jump alluded to in the CSPI lawsuit, but still a hell of a lot more sugar. For perspective, 17 grams of sugar is equal to about 4 teaspoons—about a third of the Food and Drug Administration's recommended maximum intake. Anyone who drinks a single can of soda (about 10 teaspoons of sugar) after a bowl of Cheerios Protein has instantly leapt above the FDA's threshold.

So how did this happen? How did a major food conglomerate set out to infuse a fading legacy product with one trendy nutrient, and instead lace it with a decidedly non-trendy one like sugar? I imagine it was all about trying to keep the new product palatable despite adding stuff not normally associated with cereal.

To goose the protein content, General Mills opted to add bite-sized "clusters" made up (see label above) of oats, soy protein, and lentils. I'm going to venture a guess that soy protein doesn't taste very good on its own; and its hard to imagine what lentils taste like without salt and savory spices. Perhaps all the added sugar—CSPI notes that Cheerios Protein brings it in no fewer than eight forms, which you can confirm in the label above—is there to overwhelm those legume flavors in this grain-based cereal.

Reporting on a taste test he organized not long after Cheerios Protein's 2014 launch, Huffington Post's Joe Satran wrote that:

Mercifully, our taste testers did not report the cereal tasting like dal. Instead, they found Cheerios Protein to be, broadly, a lot like regular Cheerios. Many noted that the texture was a little more "robust" and firm than traditional Cheerios, but no one reported off flavors. It seemed like they were sweetened and flavored a little more aggressively than normal Cheerios, perhaps to mask the taste of the clusters.

Whatever the thinking behind Cheerios Protein, consumers should know they're getting just a "smidgen more protein"—to quote the CSPI lawsuit—and dramatically more sugar, when they pay up for the new product.

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Here's Why I'm a Bad Debate Watcher

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 1:12 AM EST

Not that anyone cares, but I think I realized tonight why I have such a hard time judging political debates. There are two reasons:

  • The candidates frequently drift off into mini-stump speeches. When that happens, I tune out. I've heard it all before. But for ordinary viewers, this might very well be the part of the debates that makes the most sense to them.
  • The big "moments" also don't do much for me. But that's the stuff that ends up on a 24/7 loop the next day on cable news. By not paying much attention to these highlights, I'm missing out on the things that drive a lot of the post-debate reaction.

This is all in addition to the obvious fact that I react more to policy stuff than to affect and demeanor. Put it all together, and I'm hopelessly out of touch with the common man. Sad but true.

Trump, Guns, and Golf

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 1:02 AM EST

Hey, did Donald Trump ever sign that executive order allowing guns at all his golf resorts, like he promised to do? Just wondering.

Donald Trump Wants to Model His Immigration Plan After Something Called "Operation Wetback"

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 10:52 PM EST

At Tuesday night's debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich ripped into Donald Trump about his plan to deport 11 million immigrants should he become president. "Come on, folks," he said, exasperated. "We all know you can't pick them up and ship them back across the border. It's a silly argument. It's not an adult argument. It makes no sense!"

In response, Trump invoked historical precedent: "Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower. Good president. Great president. People liked him. I liked him. I Like Ike, right? The expression, 'I like Ike.' Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country. Moved them just beyond the border, they came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn't like it. Moved 'em waaaay south, they never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don't get nicer, you don't get friendlier. They moved 1.5 million people out. We have no choice. We. Have. No. Choice." (You can see video of the entire exchange above.)

The Eisenhower program Trump was referring to, if not by name, was called "Operation Wetback." Implemented by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, the program was frighteningly simple: round up undocumented immigrants and drop them off in Mexico by the busload. The more obscure the location, the better. Dozens of the operation's deportees died. The program was initiated by then-Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr., who ordered his officers to shoot "wetbacks" trying to enter America. Ultimately, it wasn't even as successful as Trump claims: Some researchers consider the 1.5 million-deported figure to be highly exaggerated.

White supremacists picked up on Trump's reference immediately:

While the rest of us took to Google:


Ted Cruz Can’t Remember All the Departments He Wants to Defund

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 10:22 PM EST


This Is the Funniest Chart About Tonight's GOP Debate

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 9:58 PM EST

Donald Trump was asked about immigration at tonight's debate and answered with some ramble about Eisenhower or something.

Anyway, here's what happened on Google:


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We Are Live Blogging the GOP Presidential Debate in Milwaukee

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 8:34 PM EST

After a while, these debates all seem to blur into one another. But let's take a crack at evaluating tonight's performances.

John Kasich was very aggressive tonight, barging in and demanding time frequently. At times, he took a moderate stance, suggesting that the others were nuts. At other times—on foreign policy, for example—he was trying to sell himself as the toughest guy on stage. It's a high-risk-high-reward strategy, which is probably appropriate for him right now. Overall, I'd say he benefited a bit, though it's a little hard to say for sure. There were clearly a couple of points when the crowd wasn't with him.

Ben Carson sort of faded into the woodwork. He didn't really address any policy issues at all. He mostly just offered a gauzy vision of making America better and then rambled a lot. He's going to have to defend his assertion that he could take out ISIS "fairly easily," and that might not go well for him. Not a good night for him.

Donald Trump was fairly restrained. He had the best impromptu line of the night when he asked Carly Fiorina, "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?" Probably not fair, but a good barb nonetheless. On another subject, his mini-fight with Bush was, perhaps, the first time he's really articulated his vision of staying out of the Middle East and letting everyone else fight it out for us. I'm not sure how that will go over.

Jeb Bush was, as usual, unremarkable. I don't think he made any big mistakes, but I don't think he helped his cause either. He tried to sound tough on foreign policy, but his actual proposals were tepid. And he was overtly dovish on immigration, which might not help him either.

Ted Cruz was his usual blustery self. I'd sure like to know the fifth agency he wants to eliminate, though. Overall, he said nothing new or memorable.

Rand Paul was....Rand Paul. Meh.

Carly Fiorina was in fine fettle. She apparently decided before the debate to mention "zero-based budgeting" and "three-page tax plan" every possible chance she got. I think she even shoehorned it into a question about foreign policy. I'm just not sure this works, though. Zero-based budgeting was a conservative hot button 30 years ago, but nobody much cares about it today. And the three-page tax plan just isn't going to resonate if she continues to refuse to say what would actually be in this plan.

Marco Rubio was pretty controlled, and got his points across regardless of what the moderators asked. His machine-gun style doesn't do much for me, but I suppose it might seem knowledgeable and high-energy to some people. However, one of these days he might actually have to answer that question about his child tax credit being a new entitlement. Luckily for him, that stuff all bogged down in a discussion about "refundable" tax credits, which I doubt many people understood.

Bottom line: I'd guess that Rubio, Fiorina, and Kasich might benefit a little from their performances. Bush, Cruz, and Trump probably stayed even—though Cruz's bluster might have gone over better than I think. Carson might dip a bit. Paul will stay the non-factor he's always been.

The moderators were OK, but boy did they maintain the reputation of Fox for going easy on Republicans. They didn't push at all on anything that might have hurt any of the candidates. And despite Bartiromo's promise, none of them even remotely tried to challenge the candidates on their tax plans. They basically asked how it would add up, and then let their answers stand without comment.

Transcript here.

OK, I'm up for this. Are you up for this? Sure you are! Together, we can get through the full two hours. We can do it! We can!

11:18 - And that's a wrap.

11:17 - Trump: I'm spending my own money in this campaign. Actually, no, he isn't.

11:14 - Carson: fight political correctness!

11:13 - Jeb wants to rebuild the VA.

11:12 - Fiorina: America will literally collapse if Hillary Clinton becomes president.

11:11 - Kasich worries about his children and grandchildren if Hillary Clinton is president.

11:10 - Time for closing statements!

11:09 - Trump: bring back profits from overseas with a tax holiday. Paul: drill, baby, drill. Bush: natural gas is great.

11:04 - Cruz also says Hillary sucks.

11:01 - Bartiromo: Hillary Clinton has an impressive resume. Audience boos. Not really sure what the question is, but Rubio says Hillary sucks and this election is about the future.

10:59 - Hey, I thought Donald Trump had personally guaranteed this debate wouldn't go over two hours. What's the deal?

10:58 - Fiorina: Dodd-Frank is socialism. Freddie Mac was responsible for housing bust. Etc.

10:54 - Kasich: Put a sock in it, Cruz. Real executives need to make decisions, not philosophize. Kasich says he wouldn't bail out banks, but would help the hardworking folks who put money in the bank. Big boos!

10:51 - Cavuto: Just to be clear, if Bank of America were on the brink, would you let it fail? Cruz: Yes. Also: we need fewer philosopher kings at the Fed. And the gold standard would be great for working men and women!

10:50 - Cavuto: Would you go after Wall Street crooks like Bernie Sanders? Freudian slip, I guess. Cruz would "absolutely" go after them. We need less cronyism. Blah blah blah.

10:48 - Kasich: too much greed on Wall Street.

10:46 - Question to Carson about big banks. This ought to be good. Answer: shouldn't allow banks to "just enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities." Low interest rates are bad. We need less regulation. Hurts the poor and middle class because it raises the cost of a bar of soap by ten cents. Baker: OK, but would you break up the big banks? Carson: I wouldn't allow them to get big in the first place. But, no, I wouldn't tear down banks that already exist.

10:40 - Bush thinks we should raise capital requirements on banks. He says we've reduced them. This is totally wrong.

10:37 - Kasich winds up with yet more whining about not getting enough time. Put a sock in it, John. Besides, what about Ted Cruz? He seems to have virtually disappeared for the past half hour.

10:36 - Kasich: If anyone cyberattacks us, they should know we will destroy their means to perform cyberattacks. Not really clear what this means. Then a tour of the world showing what a tough guy he is.

10:32 - Rubio: Putin sucks. Obama sucks. Blah blah blah, machine gun speech about all the terrible people in the world. Big cheers.

10:31 - Trump to Fiorina: "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?"

10:28 - Fiorina says she's met Putin not in a green room, like Trump, but in a private meeting. Yee haw!

10:26 - Bush says Trump is full of shit. Trump says we have no idea who the rebels are. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. He almost sounds like a Democrat. Almost.

10:24 - Trump is now in full ADD mode on foreign policy. Syria! China! Putin! Ukraine! Germany! But we can't be policeman of the world.

10:22 - Bush says America needs to lead in the Middle East. But his plan is distinctly small-bore: no-fly zone, support the rebels, think about the refugees.

10:18 - Carson: we have to oppose Putin in Middle East. But it's very complicated. Carson's plan for ISIS: We have to make them look like losers. We do that by taking their oil fields and then destroying them. "We could do this, I believe, fairly easily." Carson says he learned that from "several generals." Names, please!

10:16 - Is anyone ever going to ask Fiorina to describe her tax plan? Come on. It's only three pages long!

10:14 - Paul thinks Congress should have the ability to amend treaties. This would, of course, make it impossible to negotiate treaties.

10:11 - Trump says TPP is worst trade deal ever. We should sign deals with each country separately instead. Baker: Is there anything in particular you dislike about TPP? Trump: It doesn't do anything about currency manipulation. China is killing us! Rand Paul points out that China isn't part of the deal.

10:10 - Kasich tries to barge in. Baker finally shuts him up. Kasich is whining a lot tonight.

10:09 - Trump: We need a big military so no one will mess with us.

10:09 - Now Fiorina goes into yet another riff about zero-based budgeting and the three-page tax code. Jesus.

10:07 - Now everyone wants to chime in to show that they want a kick-ass military too.

10:05 - Now Rubio and Paul get into a fight. Somehow this ends up with Rubio saying he wants to spend more on defense, unlike Paul, who's a big wimp. Then a riff about having the most powerful military in the world. Huge cheers.

10:04 - Baker asks Rubio if his child tax credit is just a new entitlement. Rubio doesn't really respond. He just natters on about how important the family is.

10:03 - Jeb Bush delivers some argle bargle about needing a better economy.

10:00 - Cruz would cut five agencies: IRS, Commerce, Energy, Commerce, and HUD. Paging Rick Perry!

9:56 - Rand Paul wants a flat tax. Ted Cruz wants a flat tax. Cruz promises that his plan totally adds up and it abolishes the IRS. The result will be incredible economic growth.

9:52 - Cavuto wants to know which tax plan God would prefer: Trump's or Carson's? Carson sort of rambles on about proportionality and putting more money in people's pockets. Also: his plan will include some kind of rebate for poor people. I believe this is news.

9:49 - The moderators are fulfilling their assigned roles and asking softball questions almost exclusively. Bartiromo said she was going to get to the bottom of all the tax and budget plans, but so far she's done virtually none of that.

9:45 - Fiorina: Nobody can possibly understand Obamacare. Follow-up: What's the alternative? Fiorina: high-risk pools. Obamacare is helping no one and crushing small business. We need free market health care. Also: again with the three-page tax code. Fiorina is really obsessed with this tonight.

9:42 - Cruz delivers pretty good line about elite opinion on immigration being different if it was bankers or journalists crossing the Rio Grande. Probably so!

9:40 - Rubio delivers stock speech about taxes, regulations, energy, and Obamacare.

9:38 - Bush has Kasich's back. We can't just ship all the illegal immigrants back. Big cheers (!).

9:37 - Trump: I'm rich, I don't need to listen to Kasich. Big boos (!).

9:34 - Finally, Kasich starts a fight with Trump over immigration. Then he defends Ohio's honor.

9:32 - Carson: I'm an honest guy. Trump: Immigration is bad.

9:27 - Very subdued debate so far. Everyone seems to have decided that fighting each other just makes the whole field look like children. I wonder how long this will last?

9:26 - Rand Paul goes through a riff on the Fed that I honestly didn't understand. Plus: we should all move to cities and states with Republicans in charge.

9:23 - Fiorina: We need five things. Zero-based budgeting. Three-page tax code. Total review of all regs. Pass the REINS Act. Hold government officials accountable for their performance. Big applause.

9:20 - What specific regs would Bush cut? Answer: repeal every rule Obama has put in place. Internet. Clean power. Water. Repeal 'em all.

9:17 - Cruz says keys to economic growth are tax reform, slashing regulations, and sound money.

9:14 - What would you cut from the budget? Kasich tap dances. Doesn't mention a single thing he'd cut. Follow-up: he'd cut Social Security. And Medicaid. Freeze nondiscretionary spending. Increase defense spending. So: cut basically all domestic spending and increase defense spending.

9:10 - Rubio: if we raise the minimum wage, people will be more expensive than machines. We need more welders and fewer philosophers. (No, I don't get it either.)

9:08 - Carson: people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Wages are too high. Lower wages will create more jobs. High wages create dependency, or something.

9:06 - Trump opposes $15 minimum wage because....we don't win anymore. Also: wages are too high. People are just going to have to buck up.

9:04 - Could Jeb Bush possibly look less enthusiastic during the introductions?

9:00 - And we're off. But first, an inspiring video.

8:58 - Tonight features 90-second answers from the candidates. Substantive!

8:57 - Everybody is already at their podiums. I miss having them walk in and wave.

Mike Huckabee: Take My Wife, Please!

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 8:25 PM EST

Noted without comment, Mike Huckabee's answer to a question about the Fed at tonight's GOP kid's table debate:

Maybe Conservatives Have a Point About the War on Christmas

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 7:44 PM EST

Joshua Feuerstein has earned 15 million views for his viral Facebook video claiming that "Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups." And you know, the guy has a point. We liberals have been mocking the "War on Christmas" for years, but this time maybe we've finally gone too far. Take a look at last year's cup and this year's cup and you be the judge.

Professor at Center of Missouri University Protest Video Offers "Sincere Apologies"

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 7:28 PM EST

The communications professor who called for "muscle" to block a reporter from covering Monday's demonstrations at the University of Missouri—a moment captured in a video that went viral—issued an apology on Tuesday evening. In a written statement tweeted by the university's Department of Communications, Melissa Click—an assistant professor specializing in pop culture and feminism—said she had reached out to the journalists involved "to offer my sincere apologies and to express regret over my actions." Read her full statement below:

Click became the center of a firestorm after a video clip was posted online showing a confrontation between a group of students and a freelance photographer working for ESPN, Tim Tai. Protesters had assembled after Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri system, resigned from his post on Monday amid growing furor over a series of racial incidents at the system's flagship Columbia campus. In the video, students argued with Tai, who was trying to take photographs, and chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go." At the end of the video, Click puts her hand in the lens of the camera filming her, and then calls for help from students to expel reporters. In a longer clip posted later, Click can be seen rallying students to prevent the media from reaching the quad, where a mini tent-city had been erected by protestors. In the wake of the viral video, Click made her Twitter account private and went to ground, apparently enduring rape and death threats.

The showdown between protestors and the press at the University of Missouri has since become a subject of national debate. In the meantime, the dean of the university's famous journalism school, David Kurpius, defended Tai, a senior at the university, by saying the incident provided "an opportunity to educate students and citizens about the role of a free press."