With the New Year only days away, you can smell the change is in the air.  Or, is that just more PR?

All natural, but the process

Let the change begin with snack foods.  Well maybe not.  Apparently we consumers are ‘howling’ for natural.   Or at least the absence of artificial – as in additives, preservatives and colors.  So much so that we spend nearly $13 billion a year on natural foods – those defined as having all natural ingredients.  Though I don’t think they count arsenic in that total.

Nearly seven in 10 consumers surveyed by researcher Mintel said they were "very" or "somewhat" interested in natural products. In surveys by Brand Keys consultancy, "natural ingredients" ranks second only to "taste" in influencing consumer purchasing behavior, CEO Robert Passikoff says.

So Frito-Lay is revamping it’s product line so consumers will have the choice

•A bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime Tortilla Chips will lose all of these additives: monosodium glutamate, sodium diacetate and artificial colors.

•Lay's Barbeque chips will drop the monosodium glutamate and some other additives.

Note the high salt and fat remain.  After all, they are ‘all natural’ ingredients.  It seems we want better – all natural ingredients, not best – all natural products.  So don’t expect to see a run on the apple and carrots any time soon.

Earmarking Out, Lettermarking and Phonemarking In

Tea Party supporters and House Republicans have pointed shaming fingers at earmarks as a shining example of what is wrong with congress – pork barrel spending.  But apparently, it is not pork barrel spending when Congress participates in lettermarking and phonemarking two less well-known processes used to request funding for projects in their home districts.

Representative Mark Kirk a vocal opponent of earmarks and President Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009 doesn’t see a contradiction:

Mr. Kirk, for example, sent a letter to the Department of Education dated Sept. 10, 2009, asking it to release money “needed to support students and educational programs” in a local school district. The letter was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the group Citizens Against Government Waste, which shared it with The New York Times.

The district, Woodland School District 50, said it later received about $1.1 million in stimulus money.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Kirk explains his actions thusly:

“Senator-elect Kirk became the first member of the Appropriations Committee to stop requesting earmarks and voted against the stimulus bill,” the spokeswoman, Susan Kuczka, said in a prepared statement. “He has and will continue to be an advocate for his Illinois constituents before administration agencies but will not request Congressional earmarks to be included in House or Senate legislation.”

And what makes lettermarking and phonemarking even better for righteous earmarking opponents?  They take place outside the normal appropriations process and are less easily tracked.

BLS  Redefines Long-term category, Not Official Unemployment Count

Not satisfied with the way unemployment is quantified, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has decided to make changes.  Though not in a way you might think.  In 1994 the US government changed the definition of the “Official” unemployment rate from U5 which included “discouraged workers” and “marginally attached workers” to U3 (only those workers who had actively looked for work within the last 4 weeks) thereby magically shrinking the ‘official’ number of unemployed.

Now the BLS is making changes again.  But not to add back the ignored unemployed.  They are only adding another category to measure their official count of the long term unemployed.  They want to be able to follow the wave of people moving from two years unemployed to five years.  Yes, it will be nice to be able to follow the tsunami.  But it won’t change the official unemployment rate.  Which will remain, officially, much lower than the unemployment reality.

Citing what it calls "an unprecedented rise" in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.

The move could help economists better measure the severity of the nation's prolonged economic downturn.

The change is a sign that bureau officials "are afraid that a cap of two years may be 'understating the true average duration' — but they won't know by how much until they raise the upper limit," says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

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So what changes are you seeing?  And are they real or just PR?

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