Flash Back: Little Boy Obama

"He was a plump kid with big ears and very friendly," Kay Ikranagara recalls of the young Barack Obama.

Mrs. Ikranagara and Mr. Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham Sutoro, became lifelong friends when their children began attending school together in Jakarta.

"Like me, Ann was a child of the ’60s who ended up in Indonesia, ready to take up challenges," she tells USAID Frontlines editorial director Ben Barber.

Mr. Obama’s mother, who died of cancer in 1995 at age 52, spent more than 20 years in Indonesia working for USAID, the Ford Foundation, the World Bank and other organizations. She worked especially hard to bring education to poor children and adults, and saw to the preservation of ancient village crafts, particularly textiles, which "was her love."

"If she were still alive, she would decorate the White House with Indonesian textiles," Mrs. Ikranagara says.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Americans awakened in recent days to a new warning (rehashed and reissued every few years, actually) that eating cheeseburgers will send them to the grave sooner rather than later.

Hours before, yours truly wolfed down not one, but two cheeseburgers at the dinner table of my almost 92-year-old father, "Bob," a retired FBI agent who I’ve watched consume every cut of meat (is cow’s tongue a meat?) in the same home for more than 50 years.

Dad for dinner ate two cheeseburgers and a hot dog (and more than his share of curly fries, I observed), and he was still eying the serving tray. Step into his smoky kitchen any morning of the week and you’ll find him grilling bologna in the iron skillet alongside his runny eggs.

But I digress. The American Meat Institute (AMI) was quick to respond to this newest red-meat study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, saying it "tries to predict the future risk of death by relying on notoriously unreliable self-reporting about what was eaten in the preceding five years.

"This imprecise approach is like relying on consumers’ personal characterization of their driving habits in prior years in determining their likelihood of having an accident in the future," says the AMI, which insists meat products are part of a healthy, balanced diet that actually can help control a person’s weight.

Indeed, U.S. dietary guidelines encourage Americans to eat a balanced diet that includes lean meat (the key word being "lean," or else risk living to my father’s ripe old age). Consider these recent studies:

• A paper published in the March 11 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found vegetarians had higher risk of colon cancer than meat-eaters.

• A study in this month’s peer-reviewed Journal of Nutrition by the University of Illinois and Pennsylvania State University finds a moderate-protein diet can have a significant positive effect on body composition as well as on cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as cholesterol.

• People on moderate-protein diets reported they weren’t as interested in snacks or desserts, and did not have food cravings.

Still confused? Consider one of the more popular books of 2007, authored by David Harsanyi, the title of which speaks for itself: Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.

PIANO LESSON

President Obama is doing everything in his power to save a dying U.S. auto industry, providing a combined $17.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler since January, with another cash infusion on the way.

Perhaps it’s time for Mr. Obama to sit down for a piano lesson.

As pointed out by Jeffrey Tucker, editor of the Free Market, the highest priced goods that people buy today besides houses are cars. Thus, the argument: How can we, powerful nation that we are, let our beloved car industry die?

Maybe, one might argue, the same way past U.S. presidents allowed our once-unmatched piano industry to wither when outplayed by other piano-producing nations. As surprising as it may sound, before the car – from 1870 to 1930 – the biggest-ticket item on every household budget, besides the house, was the piano.

“Everyone had to have one,” Mr. Tucker recalled. “Those who didn’t have one aspired to have one. It was a prize, an essential part of life, and they sold by the millions and millions.”

To satisfy the demand, a “gigantic U.S. piano industry” blossomed, and by 1890, U.S. workers and their companies were feeding half the world market for pianos.

“It was a case of relentless and astounding growth,” wrote Mr. Tucker, citing such American giants as Steinway, Kimball, Chickering, Wurlitzer and Baldwin. “The American piano industry was the greatest in the world.”

But then came 1930 – “the last great year of the American piano. Sales fell and continued to fall when times were tough. The companies that were beloved by all Americans … began to go belly-up one by one.”

In 1960, Japan was manufacturing half as many pianos as the United States. Yet by 1970, its production outstripped the United States; and by 1980, the Japanese were making twice as many pianos as Americans. Then the production shifted to Korea, whereas today, China is at the center of world piano production.

”Does anyone care that much?” Mr. Tucker asked in the Ludwig von Mises Institute publication. “Not too many. Have we been devastated as a nation and a people because of it? Not at all. It was just a matter of the economic facts.”

GO FIGURE

Days before he left the position of homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff appointed Earl Agron, vice president of security for global container shipping line APL, to become the only shipping line executive on the department’s eight-member National Maritime Security Advisory Committee.

The committee counsels the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Coast Guard on matters surrounding security threats and strategy.

Mr. Agron’s credentials aren’t to be questioned: He’s a former U.S. Naval Reserve officer and Coast Guard-licensed marine engineer, holding a degree from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

His affiliation with APL, on the other hand, now raises eyebrows. The California-based shipping company recently agreed to pay a monstrous $26.3 million fine after a Justice Department investigation found APL submitted false claims to Uncle Sam for contracts to transport cargo to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The APL, charged Justice, knowingly double-billed the Pentagon while transporting thousands of containers to U.S. war zones.

POOR SOULS?

We were a bit amused that President Obama recently sought to console the wealthy attendees of a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington, telling them to hang in there until the economy improves: "There will be days when the markets go up; there will be days when the markets go down."

"We know that the road to our future is going to be long," he said. "We’re going to hit our share of bumps and setbacks before it ends."

Each couple in attendance paid $30,400 to hear Mr. Obama’s 13-minute address.

HERE AND MISSING

Former White House senior adviser Karl Rove certainly has found ways to remain in the spotlight – by his own choosing and otherwise.

Now a regular fixture on the Fox News Channel, the former top aide to President George W. Bush made headlines last week by calling President Obama arrogant.

"If Karl Rove wants to call someone arrogant, perhaps he and Dick Cheney should look in the mirror," reacted Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse, who blasted Mr. Rove and Co. for driving the American economy into the ground.

Now comes word from former Federal Election Commission staffer Kent Cooper, who with fellow one-time FECer Tony Raymond launched the popular Web site Capitol Hill Access, that the Republican National Committee recently reported to the FEC that it paid computer forensics firm Stroz Friedberg another $25,960 on Jan. 29.

"This is the forensics firm that has been looking for ‘lost’ electronic data, mainly e-mails of Rove," Mr. Cooper noted. "This brings the total paid to Stroz up to $367,575, and that does not include the Covington Burling [legal] payments."

The costly search for the electronic mailings began after the RNC informed Congress that it was missing several years’ worth of Mr. Rove’s e-mails that are sought as part of a wider congressional investigation into the Bush administration.

HANGERS ON

Like Karl Rove, James Carville never leaves: "I’ve always said politics is like the circus: The worst job is cleaning up after the elephants. We’re just beginning to find out how true that is," the former Clinton aide said Thursday while fundraising for the Democratic Party.

Mr. Carville argues that President Obama "has done more good in just eight weeks than George Bush did in his entire eight years."

YOUR CHOICE

Conservative stalwart Pat Buchanan wonders whether this country’s vital interests are more threatened by what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan or by the war raging along the 2,000-mile-long U.S. border with Mexico?

"For this is where the fate of our republic will be decided," predicts Mr. Buchanan, pointing out that 6,000 Mexicans died last year in the often-ignored war where, like in the Middle East, "the tactics are massacre, murder, kidnapping and beheading."

"Beheadings in and around Acapulco have not helped," he adds. Even worse, the blood-letting recently moved into the resort town of Cancun, where in February a retired Army general sent to create an elite anti-crime unit was kidnapped, tortured and shot. Mexican troops, he recalls, raided Cancun’s police headquarters and arrested the chief and dozens of his officers in connection with the murder.

Mr. Buchanan offers two sure ways to swiftly end the war, which is now spreading into the United States: Milton Friedman‘s way of decriminalizing drugs, or Mao Zedong‘s way of killing the suppliers and users. But Americans, he points out, would never adopt the Maoist solution, given this country’s users are our "classmates, colleagues, friends, even family.

"Indeed, our last three presidents did not deny using drugs."

GOOD GRIEF

Number of leads and tips about suspected Ponzi schemes and other fraudulent or manipulative activity that U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chief Troy A. Paredes says come into the SEC’s Division of Enforcement every year: "700,000 or more."

"Just keeping on top of tips and referrals can be daunting," says Mr. Paredes, who counts an 1,100-member enforcement staff.


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