A powerful image of Michelle Obama and George W. Bush

Click to enlargeAP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A striking image from this weekend offers some symbolic hope for Americans troubled by the country’s stark division along ethnic, political, economic, and gender lines.

At the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture yesterday, photographers including Pulitzer-winner David Hume Kennerly captured a warm embrace between first lady Michelle Obama and former president George W. Bush, who first signed the bill to build the museum in 2003.

The photo clearly resonates with a country grappling with its own history of racism and slavery, one that quite literally built the White House we know today. And as the US anticipates a combative first presidential debate…it’s all the more striking to see leaders reaching across the proverbial aisle in a moment of genuine warmth.

Say, Amen.

After that there are two divergent currents I wish to address. First, the predictable backlash from the overtly racist chunk of America. Pretty good size as we all know. Tweet comments everywhere these photos have appeared automagically fire up the alt/right/racist nutballs. No rational reason to repeat their commentary.

I was surprised – and shouldn’t have been – at the response from sectarian portions of the Left. Including lots of folks who I know would be standing side-by-side with the exploited and oppressed of this nation at any point of confrontation.

I am guilty as any of my comrades, peers in the class struggle, of treating our enemies as cardboard cutouts. Easy to forget that individuals who live and die in service to exploitation and profiteering are individuals, capable of the range of humane feelings about the lives of others that we on the Left sometimes think we own. Not so, my sisters and brothers.

Those feelings are enough to change an individual’s course in life. Witness Ted Olson, a conservative lawyer, represented George W in beating back appeals of the 2000 election — and later led the fight to overturn California’s Prop 8 ban on gay marriage. And even if they don’t change their ways – they are part of the lives of those we battle every waking day.

Perhaps, someday, we’d see George W publicly recant the official Republican line on the lies used to invade Iraq, condemn the scumbags [yes] like Dick Cheney who deserves most of the credit for misleading a whole nation as much as he misled his boss in the Oval Office. Perhaps not.

The photo comes from an important day in American history. Recognize it with as much emotion and feeling as George W Bush and Michelle Obama.

The right food fight

To what extent should governments regulate or tax addictive behavior? This question has long framed public debate about alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and other goods and services in many countries worldwide. And now, in the United States – arguably the mother of global consumer culture – the debate has turned toward the fight against the epidemic of childhood obesity.

It is ironic that in a world where childhood malnutrition plagues many developing countries, childhood obesity has become one of the leading health scourges in advanced economies. The World Bank estimates that over a third of all children in Indonesia, for example, suffer from stunted growth, confronting them with the risk of lifetime effects on fitness and cognitive development. Yet, the plight of malnourished children in the developing world does not make obesity in the advanced countries any less of a problem.

Indeed, though perhaps not on a par with global warming and looming water shortages, obesity – and especially childhood obesity – nonetheless is on the short list of major public-health challenges facing advanced countries in the twenty-first century, and it is rapidly affecting many emerging-market economies as well. Yet solving it poses much more difficult challenges than the kind of successful public-health interventions of the last century, including near-universal vaccination, fluoridation of drinking water, and motor-vehicle safety rules.

The question is whether it is realistic to hope for success unless the government resorts to far more blunt instruments than it currently seems prepared to wield. Given the huge impact of obesity on health-care costs, life expectancy, and quality of life, it is a topic that merits urgent attention…

The causes of obesity are complex, and the science of understanding human behavior is embryonic; but it is not hyperbole to call the problem an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 18% of children aged 6-11 in the US are not just overweight, but obese.

The risks posed by this epidemic are manifold, but the main one is that childhood obesity begets adult obesity, with significantly increased risks of diabetes and heart disease. Indeed, experts estimate that more than 18% of all adults in the advanced economies are obese. Even more stunning are estimates that roughly 9% of all Americans – and a similar percentage of adults worldwide – have diabetes.

RTFA to grasp the range of opposition to this task. It ain’t just the sugar profiteers. Our nation is sufficiently distracted by ignorance and myth to provide legions of foot-soldiers ready to fight to the death [literally] to protect Slushies and Trans-fats.

Michelle Obama moves into activist role on higher education

Michelle Obama, after nearly five years of evangelizing exercise and good eating habits, will begin a new initiative on Tuesday that seeks to increase the number of low-income students who pursue a college degree. The goals of the program reflect the first lady’s own life and will immerse her more directly in her husband’s policies.

“I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” Mrs. Obama is to tell students at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington on Tuesday, according to an advance text of her remarks. “The details might be a little different, but so many of the challenges and triumphs will be just the same.”

The first lady will add that whether students want to be doctors, teachers, mechanics or software designers, “you have got to do whatever it takes to continue your education after high school — whether that’s going to a community college, or getting a technical certificate, or completing a training opportunity, or heading off to a four-year college…”

Aides in Mrs. Obama’s office said she would visit other schools around the country and use social media to appeal to students, conveying the message that higher education is a door to a wider world. Mrs. Obama, the daughter of a pump worker at the City of Chicago Waterworks, graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School…

In her new project, Mrs. Obama will work with the Education Department to help further President Obama’s initiative to vault the United States from 12th to first in the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020…

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 percent of 2011 high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college immediately after high school, a figure 30 percentage points lower than the rate for students from high-income families…

“I think this will have tremendous dividends around the country,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. “She has a personal passion and authority on this because this is her story. This is her life. This is who she is.”

Bravo! Keep on keepin’ on, Michelle.

Probably the only topic which could get me out of my hermit-role here on Lot 4. From the most subjective side, education starting at the earliest level formed my life. My parents teaching me to read before I even entered kindergarten, weekly walks to the Carnegie library in our end of town, summer reading programs away from school – brought a culture of learning and even self-guided education into the backbone of my life.

There is nothing more critical if we’re ever to reform this nation – or any other for that matter – and move into a positive, progressive future for this silly planet.

Dumb crook of the day


Texas police said they were holding a suspect who allegedly tried to withdraw money from a bank in Bryan while claiming to be Michelle Obama’s adopted son.

Johnnie Gooden, 29, College Station, told a bank teller he had been adopted recently by the first lady, whom he claimed he had met on Facebook and had asked him to take some money out of her account at the Chase Bank branch.

Bank employees said Gooden refused to leave after being told the first lady did not have an account at the bank, so they contacted the authorities.

The Houston Chronicle said police found a bag of marijuana in Gooden’s pocket and learned he had a rap sheet and outstanding warrants for resisting arrest and assaulting a public servant. He was taken away on the warrants and a new arrest for pot possession.

Dude has got to quit smoking the seeds.

Disney to ban junk food advertising on its TV channels

The Walt Disney Co. has become the first major media company to ban junk-food advertising on programming that targets children.

Building on a healthy-foods initiative in its theme parks, Disney imposed new standards for food and beverages advertised on Disney XD and during the Saturday morning programs on Disney-owned ABC television stations. Disney Channel and Disney Junior, which are not ad-supported but receive brand sponsorships, would also be covered under the nutrition guidelines…

Kanter Media, a research firm specializing in advertising, estimated the total amount of ad spending for this kind of advertising on Disney-owned channels and Saturday morning children’s programming on ABC totaled $7.2 million in 2011.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made fighting the childhood obesity epidemic and promoting healthy eating a hallmark of her time in the White House, praised Disney’s initiative at a Tuesday morning news conference at the Newseum in Washington.

This new initiative is truly a game-changer for the health of our children,” Obama said. “So, for years, people told us that no matter what we did to get our kids to eat well and exercise, we would never solve our childhood obesity crisis until companies changed the way that they sell food to our children. We all know the conventional wisdom about that. … Today, Disney has turned that conventional wisdom on its head.”

Six years ago, Disney instituted healthier food options at its theme parks in Anaheim and Orlando, Fla., automatically including carrots and low-fat milk in children’s meals unless parents requested otherwise. Its consumer products division changed its licensed food program so that 85% of its offerings comply with the company’s nutrition guidelines. It even chose to stop licensing its characters for McDonald’s “Happy Meals,” citing the links between fast food and childhood obesity…

“We’ve taken steps across our company to support better choices for families,” Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert A. Iger said in a statement. “And now, we’re taking the next important step forward by setting new food advertising standards for kids.”

Bravo! Michelle Obama’s campaign is worth supporting. Disney’s decision is an example of an American corporation ready to demonstrate leadership instead of focusing solely on short-term profits.

Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama mark International Women’s Day

Michelle Obama, Maj. Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo of Brazil, Hillary Clinton
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady-turned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the 2012 Women of Courage awards to 10 women from around the world who have worked to improve the lives of women and girls despite obstacles and dangers that included imprisonment, torture and rape.

The awards, presented at a ceremony at the State Department today, which is International Women’s Day, went to women from countries such as Afghanistan, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, Libya, Myanmar, Sudan, Colombia and Brazil, among others.

“They are all here today because somewhere along the line, they decided they could no longer accept the world as it is, and they committed themselves to fighting for the world as they know it should be,” Obama said…

She also praised Clinton, who ran a strong race for the Democratic presidential nomination that Barack Obama won in 2008, as an “inspiration” and “role model” for herself and women around the world. “So with all the respect and admiration that I can give to her, I will be wherever she needs me to be, whenever she needs me to be there,” Obama promised…

The women they were there to honor had brave, inspiring and terrible stories. Jineth Bedoya Lima, an investigative journalist from Colombia, has continued to write about women’s issues despite having been kidnapped, gang-raped and tortured for uncovering an arms smuggling network. Zin Mar Aung of Myanmar (Burma, as the British called it) spent years as a political prisoner. Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, of the Rio de Janeiro military police, worked to shut down drug-dealing operations and arrest gang members.

The awards, aimed at honoring women and girls who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness and willingness to sacrifice for others for women’s rights, have been presented every year since 2007; so far, 46 women from 34 countries have been honored. The awards were established by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration.

And, today, Condi would probably be welcomed by a minority of the party she belongs to. That’s the saddest part of being bright enough to recognize a need for collaborative effort against repression – but, for some so-called conservatives in 2012, repression is a higher priority than cooperation.

Any Republican-sponsored celebrations of International Women’s Day in your neck of the prairie?

Michelle Obama at introduction of new guidance for school meals

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Hoping to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, the Obama administration on Wednesday announced its long-awaited changes to government-subsidized school meals, a final round of rules that adds more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches and reduces the amount of salt and fat…

The rules were announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Michelle Obama at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat and ensure that they have a reasonable balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement. “And when we are putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria…”

The rules are the first changes in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program. They will double the amount of fruits and vegetables children are served in school and will require that all grains served are whole grains.

All milk served must be low fat, and for the first time the rules set limits on levels of salt and trans fats. They also set a minimum and maximum calorie intake per day based on student age…

Nutrition experts praised the new standards…

Representatives of the food industry generally also approved. Which only leaves Republicans and members of the Kool Aid Party to protest.

Continue reading

Chain stores join with Michelle Obama to green the food deserts

Some of the largest U.S. grocers announced that they would join forces with First Lady Michelle Obama to bring healthy food to parts of the country, urban and rural, where access to fresh groceries is poor.

Walmart, the largest food retailer in the United States, took part in an announcement with the first lady at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Supervalu and Walgreens are also participating.

All three chains announced plans to open stores in so-called “food desert” parts of the country, where people lack access to grocery stores and their fresh produce and meats. According to data provided by Supervalu, there are more than 23 million people, including more than 6 million children, live in U.S. food deserts…

Such efforts could help Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, to win favor with city councils and other leaders who object to its efforts to open stores in New York City and other parts of the country…

The first lady’s efforts in these areas have helped focus our real estate process, to take a particular look at these areas as we build out our real estate plans,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart.

Supervalu already operates about 400 stores in areas some may consider food deserts, including five recently opened units on the Chicago’s South Side, Chief Executive Craig Herkert told Reuters.

“What’s new for us is committing very publicly with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the first lady to 250” new stores in food deserts, he said.

Walgreen Co, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, committed to convert or open at least 1,000 “food oasis” stores over the next five years stocked with fruits, vegetables and other healthy fare.

More than 45 percent of Walgreen’s existing stores are in areas that do not have easy access to fresh food, CEO Greg Wasson said in a statement.

Every little bit helps.

Convincing urban poor folks that better food, better nutrition is a benefit will be as big a problem as access to healthier food in the first place. Not just my humble opinion – but, my experience dealing with 2nd or 3rd generation urban poor. That’s a very different culture from poor rural folks moving into cities.

Michelle Obama writing garden book – proceeds go to charity

Michelle Obama is to follow in her husband’s footsteps by writing a book about the organic garden she started at the White House and her efforts to promote healthy eating.

The as yet untitled book will be published in April 2012, and will see the US First Lady describing how she was inspired to plant the first edible garden on the White House’s South Lawn since Eleanor Roosevelt’s World War Two era “victory garden”.

She will also share some of her family’s favourite healthy recipes, said Crown, an imprint of Random House publishers. Mrs Obama received no advance and would donate the proceeds to a charity to be determined later.

Explaining her reasons for writing the book, she said: “We’ve gotten food out of the garden, and we can eat it and it’s good. So we wanted to share the story with the rest of the nation and perhaps with the rest of the world, because we get so many questions about the garden: how did we do it? Why did we do it? How do I do this in my own home or community?” The book will include photos of Mrs Obama’s White House garden as well as other community, urban and school gardens around the United States.

The first lady has been a strong advocate of healthy eating and exercise and in February 2010 launched her “Let’s Move!” initiative aimed at beating child obesity and improving the quality of food in US schools.

Now, how many ways do you think the reactionaries of America will hate this book?

Republicans can whine about an attack on the profits of agribusiness, the subversive nature of organic gardening. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman will try to outdo each other in ignorance, assuming advice on diet and nutrition is something Americans need never consider.

The leading populists of our time, the KoolAid Party only needs to remind their obedient followers that Michelle Obama is well-educated – and Black.