May 24, 2024

F.D.A. Says Importers Must Audit Food Safety

Major food importers and consumer advocates generally praised the new rules, but the advocates also said they worried the rules might give the companies too much discretion about whether to conduct on-site inspections of the places where the food is grown and processed. They said such inspections must be mandated.

The law itself was grappling, in part, with problems that have grown out of an increasingly globalized food supply. About 15 percent of food that Americans eat comes from abroad, more than double the amount just 10 years ago, including nearly two-thirds of fresh fruits and vegetables. And the safety of the food supply — foreign and domestic — is a critical public health issue. One in every six Americans becomes ill from eating contaminated food each year, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, F.D.A. commissioner, estimated. About 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

The F.D.A. has tried to keep tabs on imports, but, in reality, manages to inspect only 1 to 2 percent of all imports at American ports and borders.

The new rules would subject imported foods to the same safety standards as food produced domestically and require companies importing the food to make sure it meets those standards. American companies would have to prove that their foreign suppliers had controls in place with audits of the foreign facilities, food tests, and reviews of records, among other methods. The companies would also have to keep records on foreign suppliers. They would be allowed to hire outside auditors to make on-site inspections — if such inspections were ultimately required. The auditors would be vetted in a process approved by the F.D.A.

Consumer advocates said that the test would be whether importers were required to conduct such on-site audits, or whether that was left to the companies’ discretion, as one option proposed in the draft rules would allow. If that option becomes final it would effectively allow the industry to police itself, advocates said.

“Without more clarity, this could end up as a paper exercise,” said Erik Olson, head of food programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts. He added, however, that the rules were “an important improvement over the weak current import system.”

Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the F.D.A., said the different options simply reflected an effort to be flexible regarding a very complex food supply. “We envision circumstances in which it would be required to have an on-site audit,” he said. “We are trying to — with these two different options — flesh out different ways of getting there.”

These are the last major rules needed to put into effect the Food Safety Modernization Act, a law passed by Congress in 2010 that was the first significant update of the agency’s food safety authority in 70 years. The Obama administration has been criticized for taking more than two years to propose the rules; some complained that the White House delayed acting to avoid Republican attacks, at the cost of public safety.

Some of the biggest importers, like Walmart and Cargill, praised the proposed rules and said they already do much of what they would be required to do to avoid food outbreaks that could damage their global brands.

“What we’re really looking for is a level playing field here,” said Michael Robach, vice president for food safety at Cargill. He said the company was still studying the rules to determine if it needed to make any changes.

Consumer groups said that outbreaks had persisted under the current system, and noted that a significant share of imports were brought to the United States by smaller companies.

The new rules on imports would cost $400 million to $500 million, Mr. Taylor said. The money reflects new costs, because, in the past, no one was legally accountable for ensuring safe food production before the food arrived in the United States.

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New York Times/CBS Poll: Unity on Issues Falls to Politics

That disconnect could explain why Democrats and Mr. Obama are still struggling to translate public support into tangible political backing for their initiatives. Americans did not give Mr. Obama high marks for his handling of those issues — even though more than two-thirds of Americans over all, including a majority of Republicans, disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their job.

“I’m for stricter gun laws, but the reason I favor the Republicans over the Democrats and the liberals on gun laws is because they have always been against the Second Amendment and the right to own guns,” said Jim Hensley, 69, a Republican from Grandville, Mich., in an interview after the poll was conducted.

“Yes, I believe the Republicans should have voted for background checks, and they should not legalize automatic weapons,” Mr. Hensley added. “I was against the repeal of the ban on automatic weapons, and I don’t support the N.R.A. But it’s like marriage. You stick with your wife no matter what, and you don’t just ditch your political party on one issue.”

Two weeks after a bipartisan measure that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers was defeated in the Senate, nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed said they favored background checks on all gun buyers, and 6 in 10 said they were disappointed or angry with the vote.

On immigration, 83 percent of respondents said they supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, as long as certain requirements — like paying fines and back taxes, passing a criminal-background check and learning English — were met. And nearly 6 in 10 favored a combination of cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the federal deficit, echoing the plans being pushed by Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats.

Yet Americans are closely divided on whether Republicans would handle these issues better than Mr. Obama, the poll showed.

Both stricter gun laws and an immigration overhaul received strong support from Republicans, with 86 percent favoring background checks on all potential gun buyers, and 83 percent favoring a path to citizenship if certain requirements were met. Last month, a bipartisan group of eight senators proposed such immigration legislation, which would offer a 13-year path to citizenship, as well as require certain border security measures.

Only 41 percent of those surveyed approved of Mr. Obama’s handling of gun policy, and 52 percent disapproved. Americans were about evenly divided on whom to trust to make decisions about gun laws and an immigration overhaul — Republicans in Congress or the president.

Rick Buckman, 52, a Republican and an electrical engineer from Dallas, Pa., said that while he supported stricter gun legislation, he did not necessarily approve of the president’s approach. “I was really ticked off that the law didn’t pass,” Mr. Buckman said. “But I thought it was wrong of President Obama to get in front of the public and use people who had been damaged by gun violence as props.”

Mike Brady, 68, a Democrat and semiretired lawyer in Farmington Hills, Mich., viewed the Republicans’ opposition to the gun control legislation as self-serving. “Well, Obama’s trying his best to do the obvious right thing for the country, but he’s been roadblocked extensively for political reasons by people who even among themselves would take a different position,” he said. “So it’s cynical, unprincipled obstructionism.”

The poll also showed that 57 percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit. Thirty-six percent of respondents supported reducing the deficit by cutting federal spending.

Though churning support for his agenda remains a problem for the president, according to the poll, Congress is struggling with overcoming its own unfavorable image. Three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, the poll found, and nearly 9 in 10 said most members of Congress were more concerned with serving special interest groups than helping the people they represent.

“It’s like the gladiator sports, where the emperor keeps the people entertained, even though we’re starving,” said Roberta Hughes, 61, of Elizabeth City, N.C. “But real people are losing out in real ways when they enact the drama.”

The nationwide poll of 965 adults was conducted from April 24 to April 28 on land lines and cellular phones, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they would vote for a candidate who did not share their views of immigration. Only 4 in 10 said they would vote for a candidate who did not share their views on gun control — seemingly making immigration a less controversial issue at the voting booth, for now, than gun legislation.

“Stricter gun laws might help with some of the out of control people who randomly go around shooting others or killing themselves,” said Debby Warnock, 44, an independent from Pueblo West, Colo. “I do favor background checks, though some of the people who have killed others had clean backgrounds.”

She added: “I personally don’t care whether Republicans or Democrats make the decisions as long as it’s in the best interest of our country.”

Megan Thee-Brenan, Dalia Sussman and Marina Stefan contributed reporting.

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Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: Time Warner Considers Shedding Some Magazines and Panera Appeals to Consumers’ Decency

Time Warner is in talks with the Meredith Corporation to spin off much of Time Inc., the country’s largest magazine empire and the foundation on which the $49 billion media conglomerate was built, Amy Chozick and Michael J. de la Merced write. The deal would move the bulk of Time Inc.’s magazines, including titles like People, InStyle and Real Simple, into a separate, publicly traded company that would include Meredith publications like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal. The new company would borrow money to pay a one-time dividend of about $1.75 billion to Time Warner, making the transaction resemble a sale. Time Warner would continue to control the newsmagazines Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and the magazine Money. The deal is one of several options under consideration to reduce Time Warner’s troubled publishing unit.

Many analysts have wondered how a company like Meredith, with a market value of $1.6 billion, could afford to buy a business as big as Time Warner’s non-news magazines, given that Time Warner’s publishing arm reported $3.4 billion in revenue last year. The agreement is possible because what’s being discussed is not really a sale but the formation of a joint venture, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Michael J. de la Merced explain in DealBook. The result would be a publicly traded assemblage of Time Warner titles, like People, and Meredith publications, like Better Homes and Gardens. Shareholders of both conglomerates would be given shares in the new venture. While important details are still being discussed, it appears that Time Warner shareholders would hold about two-thirds of the new company and Meredith shareholders would get the remainder.

Pro-social or purpose-based marketing — persuading consumers that a company operates in a socially responsible manner that appeals to their values, behavior and beliefs — is a growing trend on Madison Avenue. More shoppers say that what a company stands for makes a difference in what they buy, and advertisers have been quick to act on the idea, Stuart Elliott writes. An ad campaign with an estimated $70 million budget to be introduced on Monday by the Panera Bread Bakery restaurant chain is a case in point. The commercials, based on the slogan “Live consciously. Eat deliciously,” will focus on Panera’s positive policies, like donating unsold baked goods, operating donation-based restaurants and working with organizations like Feeding America. The risk of such an approach is that if consumers find a company’s practices at odds with their stated values there could be a backlash.

Mekado Murphy interviews Eugene Gearty, the sound engineer who worked on Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” the allegorical tale of a boy trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger. The film has been nominated for 11 Oscars, two of which are related to sound. Water sounds were of the utmost importance and a particularly challenging sequence involved a school of flying fish landing in Pi’s life raft, Mr. Gearty said.

Mr. Gearty was involved with sounds, but David Magee, the scriptwriter for “Life of Pi,” almost wrote a film that was largely silent, Melena Ryzik writes. Mr. Lee wanted to shoot the entire middle section in silence, but Mr. Magee disagreed. “You would talk to an animal — it’s a natural thing,” he said.

The Knight Foundation said on Twitter that it was a mistake to pay Jonah Lehrer $20,000 to speak at a lunch they held on Tuesday, Julie Moos writes on Poynter’s MediaWire. “Controversial speakers should have platforms,” the foundation wrote in a statement, “but Knight Foundation should not have put itself into a position tantamount to rewarding people who have violated the basic tenets of journalism.”

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Profound Weight of Layoffs Seen in Survey

While about 8 percent of Americans are unemployed, nearly a quarter of Americans say they were laid off at some point during the recession or afterward, according to the survey. More broadly, nearly eight in 10 say they know someone in their circle of family and friends who has lost a job.

“This to me is why the recession was so all-consuming and is likely to influence the American psyche,” said Cliff Zukin, a public policy and political science professor at Rutgers and co-author of the report. “Almost everyone, four out of five, were directly or one step removed from unemployment and all that goes with it financially, socially, psychologically.”

The survey presented a bleak view of the economic future.

A majority of Americans say they think it will be at least six years before the economy is made whole again, if ever. Three in 10 said the economy would never fully recover from the Great Recession.

“Despite significant improvements in the nation’s labor market, American workers’ concerns about unemployment, the job market, job security and the future of the economy have not changed much since we conducted a similar survey in August 2010,” the report said.

Just a third of Americans surveyed in this poll, conducted from Jan. 9-16, said they thought the economy would be better next year, the same share that said so two years earlier.

Of those laid off in recent years, nearly a quarter said they still had not found a job. Re-employment rates for older workers have been particularly bad, with nearly two-thirds of unemployed people 55 and older saying they actively sought a job for more than a year before finding one or had still not found work.

Not surprisingly, those who are unemployed are especially downbeat about many economic issues in addition to their own finances. Of those who were jobless and looking for work, 31 percent said their jobless benefits had run out and 58 percent said they were concerned their benefits would run out before they found work.

Of those who have found work, nearly half say their current job is a step down from the one they lost, and a slim majority say they earn less than they did in their previous job. A quarter of those re-employed said they thought that the hit to their standard of living would be permanent.

The reliance on one’s personal network and savings rather than the social safety net showed up frequently in the survey data.

More people reported borrowing money from friends and family than reported using food stamps. A third cut back on doctors’ visits or medical treatment. A quarter of the unemployed said they had enrolled in retraining programs of some kind; half of them reported paying for the education on their own or through family assistance. Twenty-three percent received some type of government financing for their training programs.

Unemployed workers were more likely than employed workers to say that the government is primarily responsible for helping the jobless. But even then, a majority of the unemployed thought that workers and employers were more responsible for getting people back to work than the government was.

Americans over all were also somewhat less critical of bankers this time than they were two years earlier. About one in three (35 percent) respondents attributed high unemployment levels to the actions of Wall Street, compared with 45 percent in 2010.

Americans were most likely to attribute high unemployment to cheap foreign labor. Four in 10 also said they believed illegal immigrants were taking Americans’ job opportunities — which does not bode well for political support for an amnesty program now being discussed in Washington.

Most people surveyed lost at least some of their savings. Asked about their financial health, six in 10 Americans said their finances would not improve in the next few years; just 16 percent said their family finances were already back to prerecession levels or suffered no loss in the first place.

More educated, better-off people were substantially more likely to report being as financially secure as they were before the recession began.

Responses are based on an online survey conducted by GfK using a nationally representative sample of 1,090 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

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Off the Charts: Where Banking Crisis Raged, Trust Is Slow to Return

For banks around the world, the answer to that question seems to be the determining factor in whether banks are largely trusted. In countries whose financial systems did not blow up during the worldwide recession, trust has remained high. But in some European countries where the banks were generally viewed as having caused the crisis, trust plunged and has not recovered.

The accompanying charts show the results of online surveys of “informed publics” in 26 countries around the world by people hired by Edelman, a public relations firm. Respondents were asked how much they trusted banks “to do the right thing,” on a scale of one — “do not trust them at all” — to nine — “trust them a great deal.” The figures in the charts show the proportion in each country who chose one of the four highest numbers, six to nine.

In the 2013 survey, conducted in October and November and released this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, more than two-thirds of the respondents in seven areas — all but one of them in Asia — thought the banks were worthy of trust. They were Indonesia, India, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico.

At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than a third of the respondents in six countries — all in Europe — thought bankers could be trusted. They were Ireland, Spain, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.

Those questioned were limited to well-educated successful people; they had to be college graduates age 25 to 64 with income in the top quartile of their age group who said they followed the news regularly.

In the United States, trust in banks plunged after it became clear that bad lending practices played a major role in the housing boom that led to a bust.

In the 2008 survey, taken in the fall of 2007 just before the American recession began, banks had the trust of 71 percent of the people polled. By the 2011 survey, taken in 2010, that figure was down to 25 percent. But in the current survey, it was back up to 50 percent and the United States had the largest recovery in trust for bankers among the countries surveyed.

That revival came despite continuing bad publicity over mortgages, both in lending during the boom and in foreclosure policies after the collapse. The American economy has been slowly recovering, though, unlike those in many European countries, and that may have helped.

But the fact that half of those questioned now have at least some trust in banks does not mean people think the banks are doing a good job. Asked how banks were performing in six areas, more than half of the American respondents said they were doing a good or excellent job in only one of them, ensuring privacy and security of customers’ personal information.

In each of the other areas — small-business lending, mortgage lending, credit cards, trading and investing in government bonds and overseeing initial public offerings for companies — less than 40 percent thought performance was good or excellent.

In Britain, the figure was under 40 percent in all six areas. In China, a majority voiced approval for the performance of the banks in five of the areas, the exception being initial public offerings, where slightly less than half gave positive responses.

Canada, a country whose banking system largely emerged unscathed from the crisis, is remarkable in how little variation there has been in the rankings, which have been from 50 to 60 percent throughout the period.

In China and India, whose growth continued when most countries fell into recession, at least three-quarters of the respondents trusted the banks every year. At the other end of the spectrum, the last three surveys have shown that banks were trusted by less than 20 percent of respondents in Ireland, which experienced a housing bust that led the government to go deeply into debt to bail out the banks.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at

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Bucks Blog: Why People Still Want Paper Retirement Statements

Instead of “paper or plastic,” Americans are being asked to weigh the question, “paper or digital?” — at least when it comes to key retirement documents.

A new survey commissioned by AARP finds that most adults — not just older ones — prefer to receive retirement documents on paper. Plus, they’re more likely to read and retain documents provided on paper, the survey found. And they prefer policies that call for delivering retirement information by paper as the default method, with an option to receive it electronically, rather than the reverse.

AARP conducted the survey because of recent initiatives to make electronic delivery the default method for providing retirement documents to plan participants.

The telephone survey included 1,028 adults, 25 and older, who are current or former participants in a retirement plan, like a 401(k). SSRS,  an independent research company, conducted the survey for the AARP in October. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Just thinking of my own reading habits, I’d have to say I prefer to get retirement documents in both formats. I like to have hard copies to read in detail, and it’s easier to get them by mail rather than printing them out at home. But I like to have them electronically too, so I can quickly do a search for any specific information that I might need.

I’m apparently not alone. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of those surveyed for the AARP said they receive retirement documents in paper format through the mail. Another 27 percent get them both in the mail and online, and 7 percent get them electronically only.

Older respondents, however, were more likely to get paper documents only, while younger adults were more likely to get them both by paper and electronically.

The survey asked all participants to specify which method, paper or electronic, they would pick if forced to choose just one option. Most — three-fourths — chose paper delivery by mail, with 25 percent choosing electronic delivery. (While older participants were more likely to prefer paper, two-thirds of younger participants also preferred paper).

How do you prefer to read your retirement plan documents, on paper or on your computer?

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Bucks Blog: Fewer Americans Confident About Retirement Savings, Survey Finds

The sluggish economy is taking a toll on Americans’ confidence in their retirement savings, a new survey found.

Only a quarter of working Americans are “very confident” that they will have enough money for basic living expenses in retirement, down from 42 percent last year. And two-thirds say they believe they will need to work at least three years longer than they had planned, because of the economic environment.

The findings come from the Sun Life Financial “Unretirement Index” Survey. The survey was conducted by Knowledge Networks in September, using a probability-based sample of roughly 1,500 working adults. The margin of sampling error is 3 percent.

The Unretirement Index is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 reflecting highest confidence about retirement. The Index score dropped from near the middle of the range (44) in September 2010, toward the bottom third of the scale (36) in September 2011, down 18.2 percent. The survey is the fifth in a series that began in 2008,

The survey also found less faith in the durability of government benefits. Confidence in the future of Social Security benefits plunged to 9 percent today, from 22 percent in 2008. And confidence about Medicare benefits has also plummeted, to 8 percent today from from 20 percent in 2008.

How confident are you about your plans for retirement?

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AT&T Reports Sluggish Quarter, Meeting Expectations

ATT, the nation’s biggest telecommunications company, reported third-quarter results Thursday that just met analysts’ expectations, amid growing competition from rival wireless carriers Verizon and Sprint. The company posted a profit of $3.6 billion, or 61 cents a share, compared with a profit of $12.3 billion, or $2.07 a share, during the same quarter a year earlier, although the 2010 figures were bolstered significantly by the sale of assets. Analysts had expected ATT to earn 61 cents a share.

The company said that it activated only 2.7 million iPhones during the quarter. That number is the lowest the company has reported in several quarters, signaling that ATT is beginning to feel the competitive threat of rival carriers who are now also selling the iPhone. In addition, many wireless customers were probably waiting for the release this month of the next-generation iPhone.

Investors seemed slightly disappointed by the earnings, as shared dipped 2 percent in pre-market trading. Analysts say that the wireless industry is struggling for growth amid growing saturation.

“This may be the new normal,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein who follows the telecommunications industry. “It looks more and more like ATT is going to have to depend on organic growth and unfortunately, there isn’t any. The wireless industry just isn’t a growth industry anymore.”

ATT said, however, that during the quarter it sold 4.8 million smartphones, which made up nearly two-thirds of all device sales during that period. The company also said that the sale of Android devices more than doubled year over year.

“Mobile broadband growth continues to be robust, execution was strong across the business, and we delivered another solid quarter,” said Randall L. Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive of the company, in the statement. “The next waves in the mobile Internet revolution represent tremendous growth potential, and we are laying the groundwork required for that future.”

The company said that it added 319,000 wireless customers during the quarter. The company has faced greater competition from rival carriers who are also selling portfolios of smartphones and mobile devices.

ATT’s operating revenue slipped to $31.48 billion during the quarter, compared with $31.58 billion a year ago. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected the company to report operating revenues of $31.60 billion.

The operator is still looking for regulatory approval to move forward in its acquisition of T-Mobile, although Mr. Moffett said it is looking more and more like that deal may disintegrate under government scrutiny.

Mr. Stephenson said that ATT was still working “toward a successful completion of our planned T-Mobile USA merger.”

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Media Decoder: Studio Eyes a Revised Sitcom Without Sheen

It is not certain that CBS’s hit comedy “Two and a Half Men” will return next season, but the show’s studio, Warner Brothers, confirmed Thursday that it was trying to bring the show back without its original star, Charlie Sheen.

A senior Warner Brothers executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because no deal has been set yet for the new version, confirmed Thursday that Chuck Lorre, the creator of the series, has set to work on a reconstruction of the show’s format.

The executive did not reveal any details of the new format but emphasized that the one definitive aspect of the new effort will be the presence of a new star. “We are not bringing the show back with Charlie,” the executive said.

CBS declined to comment.

The executive also said that Mr. Lorre is actively working on reconfiguring the series around a new star, one who has not yet been hired –- or even selected. “We have no offers out to anyone,” the executive said.

Jon Cryer, left, and Angus T. Jones on “Two and a Half Men,” which could resume.Greg Gayne/Warner Brothers Television Jon Cryer, left, and Angus T. Jones on “Two and a Half Men,” which could resume.

The list of potential actors does not include several of the names that have been floated as possible replacements for Mr. Sheen. The executive specifically ruled out Jeremy Piven of “Entourage,” Woody Harrelson of “Cheers” and Bob Saget of “Full House.”

“Two and a Half Men,” which has been the most watched comedy on television over much of the last decade, suspended production only about two-thirds though the current season because of conflict with Mr. Sheen. His drug-influenced behavior, which had forced previous interruptions in the production, and his disparaging comments about Mr. Lorre, led executives from Warner and from CBS to shut the show down on Feb. 24.

Mr. Sheen then initiated a highly publicized campaign to try to resume the show without Mr. Lorre. He was fired on March 7 and filed suit against Warner Brothers.

More recently, Mr. Sheen has made statements, mainly during a stage tour, indicating he was open to returning to the show with Mr. Lorre back in charge. But those entreaties have gone nowhere, according to both the Warner Brothers executive and an intermediary who has been in contact with Mr. Sheen.

Eliminating Mr. Sheen from the series carries risks because “Two and a Half Men” has been built around his character. He played a somewhat fictionalized version of himself, a bachelor with a taste for women and alcohol.

But Mr. Lorre has one of the most impressive records of any comedy writer in recent years, with two other successful shows on CBS’s schedule, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike and Molly.”

He will have to work fast, however. CBS announces a new fall schedule on May 18.

“We have about three weeks,” the senior Warner executive said, adding that it is not a sure thing that a new show will come together. “There is a scenario where the show doesn’t come back,” the executive said. But all the parties involved, the studio, the network and Mr. Lorre are committed to trying to keep the show alive, the executive added.

“Things will start to move within the next week, I think,” the executive said.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 28, 2011

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated who Charlie Sheen has filed suit against. He is suing Warner Brothers, not Warner Brothers and CBS.

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