Sunday, February 28, 2010

Playing Politics With Childhood Obesity?

[Cartoon courtesy of John Cole @ MSNBC Political Cartoonists Index]

A personal fitness trainer’s (conservative) take on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign: facts, praise, advice, sarcasm, and satire included.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign –– taking on the childhood obesity epidemic –– is an ambitious movement that was launched early February. The goal: “to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.” Mrs. Obama was armed with a "task force" by her husband, President Barack Obama, via a Memorandum on Childhood Obesity, whose mission includes the following objectives: “ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; increasing physical activity in schools and communities; providing healthier food in schools; and empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.”

Sounds like a noble cause, one that happens to be related to my passion and expertise. Despite Mrs. Obama's media rounds — she even appeared on FOX News and in an interview with Mike Huckabee said this is not government intervention — critics have arrived on the playground, including Glenn Beck and others. Concerns range from government’s involvement in our diet to the cost of such a large undertaking as well as which special interest groups will climb into the "obesity backpack." Erupting outside the White House is an angry mob, aka the Tea Party, protesting. Is the government trying to takeover our children's bodies? Are they going to socialize our Cheerios?

What is disturbing is that SEIU has their hands in the “obesity cookie jar." Yeah, the powerful labor organization, which received the back room special deal (Cadillac Tax exemption until 2018) in the Senate's version of the Democrats’ health care bill. The union that is led by the die-hard progressive Andy Stern, the White House's most frequent visitor who was just appointed to the deficit commission.

SEIU launched their own major ad campaign “demanding reauthorization and funding increases" in the Child Nutrition Act. In a January press release, SEIU Executive Vice President Mitch Ackerman had this to say: "A more robust expansion of school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding, child care and WIC is critical to reducing hunger, ending childhood obesity, and providing fair wages and health care for front line food service workers."

In reality, it is much safer to pack your child’s lunch, yet many parents don't have that luxury. So, first and foremost, we need to clean up the school meals, especially the cooked ones. I am sure that the school food servers are nice enough, however, most are not "poster children" for fitness, and do any of them bring to the cafeteria credentials that will help with the childhood obesity problem? Ironically, foods best for health, wellness, and fitness, even when it comes to school meals, require little preparation — like fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. How difficult is it to cut up some fresh fruit, make a tossed green salad, prepare oatmeal, steam brown rice or veggies, bake a yam, or toast a whole wheat bagel?

While it is admirable to feed and provide nutrition for our children, it is quite another to add your self-serving, power hungry agenda to a decent and pure cause. This reminds me of what the food industry has done to our wholesome foods by adding sugar, salt, trans fats, and other harmful additives and preservatives, thus marketing and selling a product that tastes good, yet fails the health test.

Julie Gunlock of the National Review, who is skeptical of “federalizing fat,” noted that Mrs. Obama was “was murky on the details” of her Let’s Move campaign and that “federally funded child-nutrition programs, along with the WIC program, cost American taxpayers $19 billion in 2007.” Mrs. Obama has called for overhauling many federal laws and guidelines, including adding $10 billion over the next decade to “update” the Childhood Nutrition Act, which feeds 31 million children at school and would add funding to feed more children. Again, admirable, but all large campaigns come with a price tag and generate that "downer" question: how much will Let’s Move cost and who is going to pay?

In a recent article by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, soda may be considered the new "sin." Bittman wrote that the “Obama administration announced a plan to ban candy and sweetened beverages from schools” and that many are pushing for stronger measures to discourage consumption, “urging that soda be treated like tobacco” (i.e.: taxes, warning labels, and a massive public health marketing campaign). Interestingly a tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform, an idea that President Obama entertained last fall.

Soda and other sugary drinks are bad news for a variety of reasons and I do believe it is prudent to ban certain foods and beverages from our school campuses, while encouraging healthier foods and more water consumption. However, though I am no fan of the food industry, is it fair to single out soda when sugar is a staple in many man-made food products like cookies, pastries, ice cream, cereal, and even in chocolate milk, applesauce, peanut butter, crackers, bread, sauces, and condiments –– the list is endless? Just take a look at any packaged, canned, or bottled food item and you will find sugar in many forms (high fructose corn syrup for one), and unfortunately at the top of the ingredient list.

So, what’s next? Is the government going to brand every fattening and unhealthy food a "sin” and tax it to support more entitlement programs? We don't need "fat police," we need a "truth squad" –– one that will unveil the realities of consuming certain foods and liquids in excess, contributing to weight gain and health issues. For example are the “three evil whites”: sugar, salt, and white flour, as well as America's enormous appetite for the three "F's": fat, fried food, and fast food. Since Mrs. Obama has plans to push for manufacturers to make their labels more “family friendly," many of them should include a warning sticker: "In Excess this Product Can be Hazardous to Your Health and Fattening to Your Body." And instead of a tax on consumers, Mrs. Obama should enlist the food industry (one of the villains in this crisis), including McDonalds and all the rest, to pay for her ambitious and seemingly costly undertaking –– giving them a way to redeem themselves.

When Mrs. Obama, a woman who works out and appears to have a good sense about this issue, broadcast her Let's Move kick-off at the White House, she also announced the creation of a “new, independent foundation," Partnership for a Healthier America, and laid out her plan while noting, “We are going to need to make modest but critical investments in the short run, but we know that that they’re going to pay for themselves likely many times over in the long run.” Mrs. Obama concluded by articulating that "this problem can be solved” and that it “isn't like a disease where we're still waiting for the cure to be discovered, we know the cure for this.” Mrs. Obama is on target because we know that the key to reducing childhood obesity is to get our kids to eat better and exercise more –– something most health professionals and fitness experts have been heralding for decades.

There are so many health risks associated with obesity, like heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis, gout, and breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma. Is this the future we want for our children? Well, the future is here.

Childhood obesity is real and unfortunately on the rise. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, "childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years." What is even more alarming are the health consequences: "Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure." They are also at greater risk of developing Type-2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, and other health issues. Let’s not kid ourselves; other areas are affected when children are overweight or obese; energy levels, mood, and yes, self esteem. Sadly, "obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults."

The good news is that we do have the cure (better yet, the prevention) to obesity; it lies in proper diet and exercise; however, the real task at hand is education, motivation, and discipline, of which the latter is much more difficult to cultivate and should never be forced by the government. We don’t need government intervention; we need education and incentives, not mandates and regulations. I just hope they don't mandate tofu on the "anti-obesity menu" and ban my monthly Snickers. If Let’s Move does involve higher taxes and takes away any of our "diet freedoms (and indulgences)," John Cole's cartoon, which I found hilarious, may not be that far-fetched.

Obesity is not partisan –– it strikes both Republicans and Democrats alike –– therefore, we should not play politics in our fight against it. In fact, it is not a political issue at all; it’s a cultural problem that we all can help eradicate, or at least lessen. Moms, dads, uncles, aunts, teachers and all the rest of us can educate ourselves about proper diet and begin an exercise regimen, and then we can lead by example and become a guide and motivator and move our children toward a healthier lifestyle. Our children will reap the rewards of better health and wellness and our country, as a whole, will become more fit –– something we can all agree is a good thing!

What started in the garden at the White House has now become a worthy crusade. Let's hope that the First Lady will ensure Let’s Move truly caters to the health and wellness of our children, and at the end of a decade, and along the way, manifests a concrete and huge difference.

Playing Politics With Childhood Obesity?
Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Mar 02, 2010 at 6:22 pm
Author of MY DIVIA DIET Fitness Book Series

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Game Change

Oh my, Game Change, though somewhat “tabloidish” is a fascinating read and quite the political ride. If the information gathered by authors, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (both veteran political reporters), is accurate, not only does it confirm the head games, spin, smear tactics, rumor mills, and the wasted multimillions of dollars that has become commonplace in political campaigns, it exhibits more of what really happens –– the good, the bad and the in between –– inside a presidential campaign; a game where stakes are high and boundaries are low.

The uniqueness of Game Change is that in a novel-like style it brings back memories of the historical 2008 presidential race and takes you deeper into the main teams and the players in this match: Obama, the Clintons, McCain and Palin. A presidential race, which actually began with Barack Obama’s (then a candidate for Senator) keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention –– a speech I personally remember saying, “that guy is gonna go far!” How far, we all now know!

Game Change quickly became a media sensation –– the media, another key factor in the 2008 presidential race –– and a bestseller even before it was released in January 2010. This was partly due to the Harry Reid “light-skinned, no Negro dialect” comment. However, what didn’t make the headlines were more prickly pieces of the campaign that are found in this book. The most telling were the disloyal and spineless Democratic Senators, Chuck Schumer, along with Ben Nelson, Barbara Boxer, and others, who were "nudging" Obama to run for president, yet, they would only "bless him secretly."

While in 2006 Obama’s staffers gave Obama the nickname “Black Jesus,” Hillary Clinton had another name for Obama; in reaction to the presidential debate at Drexel University in October 2007, “What an asshole,” Clinton grumbled to her aids. “Am I the only one who sees the arrogance? Does that not bother people?” Then there was Joe Biden's "run-away-mouth," which continued even after he became the vice-presidential pick. Seemingly, Biden shared with others that "he was more qualified to be president than Obama." This statement and other "public gaffes" frustrated and angered the Obama Team and caused major tension between Biden and Obama. Game Change also explores why McCain chose an unknown to be his vice-president running mate –– Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin –– an announcement that shocked the nation, the media, and even Obama.

Heilemann and Halperin also bring to the forefront the personalities and temperaments of the 2008 presidential candidates as well as their staff — some public knowledge and some not. They shed light on Obama’s arrogance and elitist mentality and John Edwards' infidelity and desperation. Game Change provides other tidbits of data like McCain’s fondness for the “F” word, a hilarious account of McCain's media guy who thought Palin's hair was on fire, plus much more.

While it is not fair to judge one’s entire character derived from the accounts of a book which is based on facts mixed in with hearsay, my own personal opinions arose from reading Game Change: Obama arrogant, absolutely, but he scores high points on the family front. It left me with the sense that John Edwards is a weasel, McCain a grump, and Rudy Giuliani’s third wife pathetic. However, I did gain a new found respect and admiration for Hillary Clinton and found Bill Clinton to be somewhat amusing. Joe Lieberman shines as a loyal McCain ally and friend. Sarah Palin on the other hand comes across as confident with rock star qualities, yet, ill-equipped to handle the task at hand. And what made Palin "go rogue"? Maybe it was because she was on the Atkins diet. Eat some carbs, woman, you'll feel better!

Additionally, about a third of the way through Game Change, it dawned on me –– not that I hadn’t had these thoughts before –– these people (politicians) don’t give a rat's ass about us (citizens). In fact we are not human beings to them; we are just polls and votes that feed their huge egos and catapult them into their ultimate goal of power and in this case the presidency of the United States. The true “game change” will be when we Americans wake up, take a long look at all of our politicians, and make more educated and enlightened choices.

As many of us watched the unraveling of the 2008 presidential race –– a game that changed often and at times seemed chaotic –– the end game is no mystery and boiled down to Hope and Change vs. Country First. Presidential political campaigns are an arena where perception and truth are intertwined and this time brought us a mirage of "hope and change." Game Change covers the final weeks concluding with Obama's sweeping victory, but the book doesn't end there; Heilemann and Halperin, reveal one more interesting piece of the "game change" puzzle. This piece, like so many others mentioned and left out of my review, is best to unveil when the book is read in its entirety.

Game Change, a present I got for my birthday last week, although a lengthy book, is definitely worth reading — especially if you enjoy politics. After all, politics is a contact sport and no better place to view the brutality and pleasure of it all than from the inside, even if it is already in the past.

Book Review: Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Feb 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm
Check out other book reviews on BlogCritics

Monday, February 8, 2010

Women Activists Still Attacking the Tebow Family Ad

Abortion advocates switch their tactics: now asserting that the Tebow Family Ad promotes domestic violence.

Even though many women's groups supporting abortion rights condemned CBS and wanted the Tebow Family Ad pulled from the Super Bowl commercial line-up, claiming that somehow it would undermine a women's right to choose, millions of Americans viewed it yesterday. Not knowing what to expect and most holding on to a tight opinion either for or against, the Tebow Family ad didn't quite measure up to the hype; however, Tim Tebow tackled his mom!

Reactions to the commercial were swift and mixed. According to today’s Los Angeles Times, Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, had this to say, "Focus on the Family has really been strategic. They went with the old adage 'less is more', and they put a positive message out there." Likewise, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports candidates who oppose abortion, was pleased. "Wow, this is so benign," she said. "It's a story of a mother's strength. That is the message that I saw." Still, the attacks against the Tebow Family Ad rage on; Terry O'Neill, president of NOW, stated, "I am blown away at the celebration of the violence against women in it." "That's what comes across to me even more strongly than the anti-abortion message. I myself am a survivor of domestic violence, and I don't find it charming. I think CBS should be ashamed of itself," O'Neill added. Abortion advocate, Amanda Marcotte, shortly following the premier of the ad, posted this "tweet" on her Twitter page: "Hey Mom! Tried to kill you from the womb and failed. How about a blind side tackle? Violence against Moms."

Cries from the depths of activism are now asserting that the Tebow Family Ad promotes domestic violence; yet, not a peep on how 88-year-old Betty White was tackled into the mud in a TV Super Bowl Ad? Maybe they are coming to rescue Betty, soon! And what about Abe?

Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Feb 08, 2010 at 10:31 pm
BlogCritics News Flash in Politics

Friday, February 5, 2010

The 2010 Census and Its $340 Million Campaign

What does our government, the Super Bowl, ACORN, Jesus, Sesame Street, and billions of taxpayer dollars have in common?

As you probably know, the Constitution mandates a complete population count every 10 years, which helps redraw political boundaries and determine states' representation in Congress and the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds to state and local governments every year. In March of this year, Americans will be receiving what is considered the shortest Census form in U.S. history and the 2010 Census will be advertised by what many are calling the government's "unprecedented promotional blitz," costing taxpayers $340 million.

The Census campaign includes $140 million on TV, radio, print and outdoor advertising and roughly $80 million spent on ads that will target racial and ethnic groups and non-English speakers in 28 languages. They will be accompanied by a road tour called “The 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour” — stopping and exhibiting at more than 800 events nationwide, of which “13 road tour vehicles will provide the public with an educational, engaging and interactive experience that brings the 2010 Census to life.” The Census Road Tour will be stopping at the Super Bowl in Miami this Sunday, February 7th.

Speaking of the Super Bowl and all of its advertising glory: Hold on to your football jerseys because this season you won’t see Pepsi, yet, Dr. Pepper will be making an appearance during the game ads. Also, it turns out that the “Man Crunch Ad” was rejected by CBS; however, you will be able to catch the “Tebow Family Ad” and plenty of beer and Doritos commercials. Just in case you can't afford to go to the Super Bowl this weekend, it is nice to know that your taxpayer dollars will be there and we have our government to thank. Not only will the Census Road Tour be in attendance, but "Uncle Sam has purchased a 30-second, $2.5-million reminder," so that you will stand up and be counted! Apparently, Christopher Guest has directed quite a few of these Census ads under a project called "Snapshot of America," starring actor, activist Ed Begley Jr. and others. [It is not quite clear which ad will be airing during the Super Bowl – here is a preview of what I could find]

Due to concerns over ACORN’s shady reputation and accusations and convictions of voter-registration fraud, last September the Census Bureau severed its ties with ACORN, noting that they will not be involved with the 2010 head count. However, as many of us were focused on the health care debate and other issues of the day this past December, Jose Cruz, Senior Director of Civic Engagement for the National Association of the Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) enlisted Jesus to get the Census “word” out and designed a poster that included the over 2000-year-old biblical account when Mary (with child) and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem after Caesar Augustus called for "all the world to be counted," so that they could be taxed.

While the government did not pay or play a role in creating the posters, this type of propaganda did cause quite a stir amongst the faithful. Still, Cruz defended his decision in using this tactic as a means to get "full Latino count," and stated, “For people who fear government — especially those here illegally — the plea to fill out the Census has to come from someone they trust – there is no more trusted voice in our community than faith-based leaders."

Our government is also taking Census education and advertising to our children. The Census Bureau and the US Department of Education have launched the "2010 Census in Schools" program. If you have children in school be prepared for a week of Census education, which is scheduled to occur anywhere between January and March. Since the Census Bureau partnered with Sesame Street to extend the 2010 Census message, The Count and Rosita have already been spotted on American school campuses and it's possible we will find Big Bird, Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Street crew on our TV screen, marketing the 2010 Census. Maybe our government will employ Elmo to be a census taker, the Cookie Monster to hand out free refreshments, and The Count to add up all the taxpayer money our government is spending on the 2010 Census?

As it turns out, "the 10-year life-cycle costs of Census 2010" are estimated at $14 billion, of which the $340 million allotted for paid advertising to "urge participation in Census 2010," are in full force. Will you be counted?

Author: Christine Lakatos — Published: Feb 06, 2010 at 3:21 pm
BlogCritics in Politics (2010 Census) and National Broadside Mag