Improving health through better nutrition? Fuggedaboudit says the GOP.

Putting the fat back into America’s food policy is a loud and clear priority for the new majority in Congress this year.  First Lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move” initiative in February 9, 2010.  A widely acclaimed first step to taking on childhood obesity, the First lady hasn’t been shy about wielding her considerable influence in order to make healthier kids, with healthier parents along with healthier seniors, a priority. The Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the guidance of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, has been a willing partner in Obama administration efforts to help create a healthier America. As recently as August 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new updates in labeling to make it easier for consumers to glean nutrition information about food items they purchase.

Rolling back healthier school menus are on the table. The new Republican Congress has been busy laying groundwork to push back on better nutrition standards in 2015. Don’t be surprised to see GOP lawmakers take on school nutrition from Day One. Provisions to allow states more flexibility to exempt schools from the Department of Agriculture’s whole-grain standards, and to halt future sodium restrictions are just the beginning. The battle over new reforms championed by Mrs. Obama is expected to escalate.

The guy in charge is U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. It’s interesting to note that Alabama has the nation’s highest rate of obesity among high school students. Still, Rep. Aderholt’s been leading the charge on school lunch backsliding nutrition standards.  Go figure.  And his cause is set to receive a boost from the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), and the Senate Agriculture Committee soon to be chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), as they begin the re-authorization process on the law governing school nutrition programs. Republicans openly voice dissatisfaction with the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a law with many of the reforms triggering complaints among school food service providers, and Republicans who argue the rules are too prescriptive and costly.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) seems a misnomer for a group that went to war with the White house over new regulations to limit sodium, fat and sugar as well as the mandate that grain products are whole grain-rich, and that kids take a serving of fruits or vegetables. SNA’s request to drop the half cup serving of fruits or vegetables is strongly opposed by nutrition advocates, the White House, and the produce industry which has seen sales gains in produce sales because of the program.  SNA claims the requirement has led to skyrocketing waste and costs, creating dire financial consequences for some school nutrition program providers. SNA will host a fly-in to Washington and Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers the first week of March. Close to 1,000 member lobbyists will be armed with talking points against the higher standards and stories arguing that having vending machines and a la carte lines with better nutrition requirements has led to lost revenue for schools — reducing sodium is emerging as a sore point, too. Never mind the high medical costs from our nation’s not so secret killer in the form of high blood pressure fueled by high salt intake.

As for consumer nutrition labeling advances, the FDA can expect to feel the heat on its rule requiring calorie labeling on menus at chain restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters nationwide. The grocery and convenience store industries are especially upset about being included in the rule, mandated by a provision in the Affordable Care Act. FDA included calorie counts for alcoholic beverages. That seems to have really stirred the pot (or should I say martini) for the new majority with GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says the FDA’s menu labeling rule is “suffocating America’s economy.” She countered with the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, HR 1249, a bill to roll back an assortment of the new requirements. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) expects to champion a Senate version this year.

“The Food and Drug Administration has acted recklessly, mandating regulations without considering the impact they will have on American employees, business owners, and our economy,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “Adhering to these burdensome requirements will be extremely costly — in both time and resources — for restaurants, grocery stores, delivery chains, and movie theaters across the country.”

She forgot the lost revenue at neighborhood bars where patrons will certainly be counting calories before ordering that beer after work.  There is no doubt the reasons for continuing healthier practices by the food industry in allowing consumers to make choices has broad implications on our nation’s future health, and the back end of those choices in the cost of health care delivery as we grow older. The notion that America’s families don’t want or need to know what’s in their food or drink products seems more like Big Brother legislation than increased awareness of the products we consume.

For the better part of the last year, RuralVotes and South Forward have been working together on voter protection and ballot access issues. Too many voters stayed home in 2014, many stating they don’t believe their vote matters. Many people also do not believe anything changes in their personal lives based on who gets elected.  But when things like limiting our right to know about what we eat and drink are on the legislative table, it’s as personal as it gets.

Why vote?

“As we move forward, let us also look back. So long as we remember those who died for our right to vote and those like John H. Johnson who built empires where there were none, we will walk into the future with unity and strength.”  – Dorothy Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) was an American civil rights and women’s rights activist.

The following informational ad is currently being aired in select North Carolina radio markets.  I like to think that Dorothy would have approved.


Brushes with Inequality: A Blog Action Day 2014 essay

by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The girl was eight, in third grade, when she was introduced to inequality. She didn’t know the word, but she had a strong feeling that could be summed up as “That isn’t fair.”

Her teacher was telling the class that since colonial times, America had led the world in treating all people as equals. To prove her point she read from the Declaration of Independence the immortal phrase, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Never shy in class, she raised her hand. “Why just men?” she asked. “What about women?”

“’Men’ means both men and women,” the teacher explained, with an air that invited no further discussion. Unconvinced, the girl burned to know why the person who wrote that couldn’t have written “all people” instead. She didn’t see how she could be considered a man.

Now that she knew men were all that mattered she began noticing little things that made her feel dismissed: only the boys got to roll the wind-up record player from the storage closet to the classroom. Only the boys got to wind it up and place the needle on the record.The girls got to listen to the music. Only the boys got to take mechanical drawing and wood shop. The girls had to take home economics and cooking, which she got enough of at home.

Gradually she started recognizing other things that determined a person’s status and degree of privilege: skin color, how rich one’s family was, even height and weight. She learned that inequality had many facets, and that being on the low side of the equality see-saw had implications more far-reaching than most people seemed to realize.

By the time she reached her teens she was a confirmed activist, determined to call to people’s attention every instance of inequality she discovered.

Now seventy years past her first brush with inequality, she is still noticing. In the recent past she has noticed:

  • A well-known TV sports reporter was arrested for arguing with his wife in public. Someone called the state police and said he was choking her. There were no marks or bruises on the woman’s neck, not when the man was arrested, not in the police report, and not in court the next day when the woman sat next to her husband. She did not file a complaint; the police, who had nothing to go on but the anonymous phone caller’s word, did. The rest of the story is here.
  • Three young black men, one holding a sandwich, one a bag of candy, and one a toy air rifle in the toy department of a large store, were shot dead by white police officers in the last few months.
  • Hundreds of armed men, all white, held off a team from the Bureau of Land Management in support of a Nevada rancher who grazes his cattle on land owned by the U.S. government for which he is supposed to be paying rent. What do you think would have happened if the armed men were all black?
  • Research done at the University of Massachusetts finds that disadvantaged populations suffer more from pollution inequality than from income inequality.
  • The disparity in treatment of a black man from Liberia who went to an ER in Dallas complaining of a fever and was sent home with an anti-biotic, later to die of Ebola, and the white people who contracted Ebola in Liberia and came home to the US to be treated with an experimental anti-Ebola drug, is emblematic of the disparity of care between black and white, and between the insured and uninsured.
  • A state representative described a woman running for Congress in his state as “ugly as sin…and I hope I haven’t offended sin.” The opposing candidate, a member of his political party, no surprise, he said was “one of the most attractive women on the political scene anywhere, not so attractive as to be intimidating, but truly attractive.” Inagine his saying the same thing about two male candidates.

This list could go on indefinitely. There is no end to the inequality of treatment between black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and even thin and fat.

In her 79th year, the woman’s activism has diminished some, partly because of age but also because she is acutely aware of how little effect her activism has had. She is also acutely aware of the injustice that inequality engenders, and believes that without justice there will be no peace.

She still believes in the words of Theodore Parker, the 19th Century abolitionist Unitarian minister: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” She doesn’t expect to see the arc and justice intersect in her lifetime, but she’ll die with hope in her heart.

With this essay she hands the baton to another generation.

#BAD2014 #Inequality #BlogAction2014 #BlogActionDay #Blogaction14, #Oct16

Voter ID education and outreach – it’s the right thing to do.

Rural Votes and South Forward have formed an alliance to help North Carolina voters understand and comply with new voter ID laws signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on August 12, 2013.  A little recent history about voter ID laws and the previous protections from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act may be helpful to explain why the new law in North Carolina requires action to help voters understand and comply.

Neighboring South Carolina passed its law in May 2011 that required voters to show a photo ID before they could vote. Republicans praised the law as protecting the integrity of elections. Democrats criticized the law as disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians – mostly minorities – who did not have a photo ID.  In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the bill from taking effect. You can read the entire letter from the DOJ rejecting the South Carolina law here. South Carolina sued and a federal three-judge panel then upheld the law as a result of the state deciding to agree to allow voters to opt out of the photo ID requirement if they had a “reasonable impediment” and signed an affidavit attesting to that.

That kind of check and balance fueled by Section 5 resulted in the South Carolina law being rendered largely toothless by the federal court, in essence, forcing South Carolina to adjust their requirements. The safety net of Section 5 was felled on June 25, 2013 by Shelby County V. Holder in a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

While the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Which means that while Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless, and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine what the coverage should be.

That’s right — Congress.

Now, let’s talk about NC. On July 25, 2013 – one month to the day of the decision by SCOTUS to make Section 5 gutless, the North Carolina legislature passed a new voter ID law. The law “limits the kind of identification that voters can use at the polls to a North Carolina driver’s license, a state-issued ID card, a military ID, or a U.S. passport.” According to the law, out of state licenses will only work for voters who have moved into the state within 60 days of the election. College IDs are not valid forms of identification. The approved bill also cut early voting. Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed the bill into law on August 12, 2013 Parts of the law are in effect now, although primary photo ID requirements are not taking effect until January, 2016.

Back to the fight. Just yesterday a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals met in Charlotte to hear arguments on an injunction to prevent elements in the law already implemented in the May primary from being used in the fall election.  It’s an appeal of a decision made little more than a month ago by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder to deny a preliminary injunction. According to Judge Schroeder, plaintiffs had not proven the premise that voters were being harmed by the law’s implementation.

Photo voter IDs were declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2008.  In a 6-to-3 ruling, the court rejected arguments that Indiana’s law imposes unjustified burdens on people who are old, poor or members of minority groups and less likely to have driver’s licenses or other acceptable forms of identification.

Notwithstanding the treat of a blistering dissent by the Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, photo voter ID laws are deemed constitutional.  Until very recently, 16 states had enforceable photo ID laws, 8 were considered strict. On Friday, September 12, 2014, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that Wisconsin can implement its photo voter ID law, while the appeals process continues. The law, enacted in 2011, has been blocked by court challenges up until this point.

Wisconsin is now the ninth state to have a strict photo ID law in place, a stunning and disconcerting comeback.

A number of states, including NC and NH will be in the strict column in the not so distant future. There are court challenges in 5 states with photo voter ID laws on the books. It’s worth watching state legislatures that have had ID laws blocked by litigation. We can expect new laws, written more thoughtfully, will rear their ugly heads where legislators and bound, and determined to pass new strict voter ID laws.

Photo voter ID laws are not going away. They may be tweaked by courts along the way, one or two maybe tossed out entirely because a judge determined a particularly egregious requirement was over the top.  In the meantime, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unenforceable and we’re waiting on Congress to reaffirm that section that protects voters in certain jurisdictions. With that in mind, RuralVotes and South Forward are already working hard to help make sure every vote is counted by reaching out to average voters to help them understand and comply with the new laws before they take full effect.

It’s the right thing to do.  You can help.

Who Gets To Vote?

Two hundred thirty-eight years ago today America was born. Under the shadow of the American Revolution a nation of promise and hope was created. Then it happened: the Second Continental Congress restricted the right to vote to white, free, male landowners, over the age of 21. That was the start of our nation’s still bumpy ride on the road to voting equality.

Every time there was a boost for democracy, there came an equal opposing force. In Florida, blacks composed almost half of Florida’s population at the end of the Civil War. Like in other Southern states, most blacks in Florida were slaves and none had the right to vote.

As a condition for rejoining the Union, Florida and the rest of the Confederate states had to draft new constitutions protecting the political rights of the newly freed slaves as directed in the 15th Amendment. Florida politicians then adopted other provisions to eliminate black voting.  The 1888 poll tax and literacy test reduced black voter turnout from 62% to 11%.

In 1907 US born women lost their citizenship if they married a non-citizen.

In 1917 interpreters for Mexican-Americans were banned at Texas polling places.

In 1928 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans living on reservations were wards of the state and could not vote.

In 1947 Caddo Parish, Louisiana, black voters were enrolled only if three white voters vouched for them.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed to shore up the 15th Amendment and fix all that. Has it?

In 2004 Arizona was the first state to require a government issued photo ID as a prerequisite for voting.

Thirty-four states have passed voter ID laws in the last ten years. According to Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “These laws represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades.”

Currently, the laws are being challenged in the courts by several advocacy groups, as well as the United States Department of Justice. However, court cases can take years and no matter the fate of this law in the courts, elections in the near future will be greatly impacted.

The North Carolina Center for Voter Education reported that 260 new voter IDs were issued in the first three months of 2014. Of that number 87% of the IDs were issued to new voters, leaving approximately 31 of the more than 300,000 already registered voters as having received an ID. It’s not all bad news though.

A recently released study, conducted by Jack Citrin, Donald P. Green, and Morris Levy, gives strong indicators there is opportunity in educating and assisting voters whose right to vote is at risk. The Citrin, Green and Levy study contends, “the Help message appears to raise turnout, with positive effects ranging from 0.66 to 2.03 percentage points.”

RuralVotes and South Forward have been hard at work on the North Carolina Voter Identification Assistance Project (NCVIP).  Our mission is to reach out to hundreds of thousands of affected North Carolina voters, explain the new laws and make sure they have access to the identification they need to continue to be able to vote.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal … the promise of July 4, 1776 has yet to be delivered. There is plenty of work to be done and you can help by visiting: to make a donation.

One judge issues death penalty to Arkansas Voter ID Law, Arkansas Supreme Court stays the execution…

This story says it all when it comes to relying on the courts to upend voter ID laws.

RuralVotes has teamed up with South Forward to launch a new Voter ID Project. First stop, North Carolina.

From the early suffragists, to the repeal of the Poll Tax and Jim Crow laws, it took generations of struggle for women and minorities to be granted the right to vote. With the final passage of the voting rights act in 1965, America was finally a land where every vote truly counted.

Less than one generation later, in 2012, with the stroke of a pen, North Carolina Governor McCrory disenfranchised over 300,000 North Carolinians – over half who vote regularly.

Currently, this law is being challenged in the courts by several advocacy groups, as well as the United States Department of Justice. However, as witnessed by recent events in Arkansas, court cases can take too long and and elections can be left impacted. The solution isn’t simple, it starts with hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Our mission is to reach out to affected voters in rural North Carolina counties. We will contact them, county by county, explain the new laws and make sure they have access to the identification they need to continue to be able to vote under the new laws. The most important weapon in our arsenal in defending democracy is our vigilance. Crossing our fingers is no substitute for action.

Just in from National Farmers Union

WASHINGTON (Jan. 28, 2014) – The National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson, under direction from the NFU Board of Directors, sent a letter today to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner calling for the 2014 Farm Bill to be called up and voted on this week.
Farm bill conference committee members have agreed to a compromise that will provide farmers, ranchers, rural residents and America’s consumers with policy certainty over the next five years,” said Johnson. “Thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Cochran, and Ranking Member Peterson, and, the farm bill is now at the final stage in the legislative process.”
The letter outlines several of NFU’s priorities that were included in the final report language.
“NFU is pleased with the conference report for a variety of reasons,” said Johnson. “The bill includes fixed reference prices to provide assistance to farmers only when truly necessary. It provides a strong crop insurance title and approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster assistance. The bill increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program and related initiatives. We are also encouraged by the inclusion of robust mandatory funding levels for renewable energy programs. We’re also very happy that the bill preserves the ability of American family farmers and ranchers to distinguish their products in the marketplace through the existing Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law.”
“On behalf of all family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural residents and consumers, I call on Congress to pass the bill this week,” continued Johnson. “It is time to move forward and pass the farm bill.”
Click here to view the letter.

Phillipines Relief Information

The ever widening devastation brought to the islands of the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan burst into our homes via images of survivors hanging on the thread of hope that the world cares.  Governments from every corner of the globe pledged aid to the victims in the forms emergency shelter, personal hygiene supplies, tons of food and most precious of all, water.

It’s almost too huge to comprehend as we sit comfortably in our living rooms and try to absorb the enormity of the suffering happening more than 8,000 miles away. We can help. Donating to help efforts to stave off hunger, illness and homelessness is as easy as a text from your cell phone. Please make a $10 contribution by texting the word AID to 80108 to the eGive Foundation or to 27722 for the World Food Program.

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Just in: President Obama says it’s time for a Farm Bill

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson agrees.

WASHINGTON (Oct. 17, 2013) – National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement today, after the end of the U.S. federal government shutdown:
“Last night’s action by Congress ended a shutdown of our government and will return agencies back to normal operating status. This is good news for family farmers, ranchers and rural residents who were left without critical services for far too long.
“It was promising to hear President Obama mention specifically the unfinished business that is the farm bill in his address to the nation last night. Now that conferees have been named, it is time for the committee to get down to business and take action to bring certainty to our family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural residents and hungry neighbors.
“We have already had discussions with some of the members of the conference committee, and will continue to do so in the coming days. NFU will continue to encourage the conferees to maintain permanent law, establish fixed reference prices for commodity programs, enact an inventory management tool as part of the dairy safety net, provide $900 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy efforts, oppose adverse amendments to Country-of-Origin Labeling, and include adequate funding levels for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program.
“With the support of the president, we have reached the critical time for Congress to make some real progress and pass a farm bill this year.”

Seems to Me I’ve Heard That Song Before

The title of this essay is that of a song I remember from bygone days. Frank Sinatra used to sing it. Listening to Barack Obama and John Kerry give their rationale for attacking Syria, gave me an ear worm – the song keeps running around in my brain and I’m sick of hearing it.

The US’s 43rd president, may his name be forgotten, justified attacking Iraq by saying Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was likely to give them to Al Qaeda to use on us Americans. His secretary of state carried the president’s water to the UN and around the world. England provided ammunition in the form of a memo on Saddam’s attempts to obtain yellow cake uranium from Niger. None of this was true.

Now we have the 44th president saying that the Assad administration in Syria used sarin gas (now described as nerve gas, while the UN inspectors do their thing) on civilians and must therefore be punished. His secretary of state warns that if Assad has nerve gas Al Qaeda can get it and use it to attack us Americans.

Seems to me I’ve heard that song before.

This president assures us he’s mindful of the lies that preceded the attack on Iraq, and I believe him, because instead of blaming Assad categorically, he avoids outright lies by saying, as he did today, “It’s quite likely….” and “We’re pretty certain.”


Since when does the US attack a sovereign nation that has neither harmed us nor threatened to do so on the basis of “quite likely” and “pretty certain?”

In what way is killing innocents with nerve gas any worse than killing them with bombs and drones?

What is the argument against waiting for the report of UN inspectors before deciding what to do?

What if we attack and then find out we were wrong when the UN reports?  That the Al Qaeda contingent within the Syrian rebels did it, as some claim? That we can’t even know for certain who did it?

In the aftermath of the 9/11/01 attacks we learned that the US “intelligence” community had warning a month earlier of a planned attack on US soil but failed to “connect the dots.”

In the aftermath of the 8/21/13 nerve gas attack in Syria we learn from the Associated Press that

One of the key pieces of intelligence that Secretary of State John Kerry later used to link the attack to the Syrian government — intercepts of communications telling Syrian military units to prepare for the strikes — was in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies but had not yet been “processed,” according to senior U.S. officials.

In other words, the US “intelligence” agencies failed to “connect the dots.”

Seems to me I’ve heard that song before.

In 2003 we were told that the attack on Iraq would evoke “shock and awe,” overthrow Saddam Hussein, and bring peace and democracy to the country in little time.

Now we’re told the purpose of a strike on unspecified targets in Syria is to punish the Assad regime, that it will all be over quickly, that no US forces will be deployed to fight in Syria, and that there will be no adverse affects resulting from the attack.

Seems to me I’ve heard that song before.


Who among us is sufficiently clairvoyant to be able to say such an attack will have no consequences — retaliation from Syria, Iran, or Russia, for example, on US installations abroad?

When this “limited” action metastasizes, as it surely will (see our history in Vietnam and Iraq) how will the US pay for it? Will we see more children deprived of Head Start? More families deprived of fuel assistance this winter? A successful effort on the part of the ultra right in Congress to end the SNAP program? Cuts in Medicare and Social Security?

If Congress votes not to intervene in Syria’s civil war, will the president go ahead anyway and authorize the attack? If he does, shall we establish once and for all, by considering impeachment, whether the Constitution reserves the right to declare war to the Congress, and whether an undeclared war is war nonetheless?

Had enough? Ready to do something to head off this blatant violation of international law?

The ABC news political unit has put together a “whip count” of Congress members showing how they intend to vote at present. The count will change in the next few days. ABC promises to update it. The vote won’t happen before Wednesday – the president plans a major speech on Tuesday – so there’s time to make your thoughts known.

Here’s where things stand at this writing, according to ABC:

  • Sure or likely to vote against attacking Syria: 217
  • Sure or likely to vote to attack Syria: 43
  • Undecided or unknown: 172

Needed to vote the resolution to attack up or down: 218

Your path is clear. If you want to prevent another Middle East war, look at ABC’s tally, find where your congress member stands and get in touch.

Don’t ignore those Democrats listed as being opposed. The pressure on them is likely to be horrendous. Make the case to those listed as likely to oppose, undecided, and unknown. Contact your own representative only. Contacts outside your congressional district are useless.

I don’t feel good about hoping the president will lose on this vote; I know that some who will vote against his proposal will do so only because they want him to fail in everything. But foreign policy should not be a partisan matter and I want him to lose by an impressive majority, not because he’s who he is, but because he’s wrong about this. And then I want him to obey the will of the people, as expressed by their representatives.

To find your congress member’s contact information, to phone or send email, go to

and enter your ZIP code. Then find your rep’s phone number or the “contact me” e-mail link. E-mail is probably best, especially over the weekend. I’m guessing voice mail boxes will be full by now.

You know you should let your voice be heard. Don’t put it off. Do it now.