A priest expressed concern to President Barack Obama about an unemployed parishioner. A businessman criticized Obama’s tax policy. A woman said her son and his friends, once inspired by Obama, “are losing their hope.”
Obama addressed all those concerns, and more, during his two-day, four-state tour that ended Wednesday in Richmond. In the middle, he drew raucous cheers at a college rally in Wisconsin.
Despite all his mingling with middle class voters, however, Obama’s chief focus was on people who never showed up: congressional Republicans and their corporate allies who, the president said, are trying to thwart his administration’s progress and turn the clock back to the George W. Bush era.
With his party facing potentially mammoth congressional and gubernatorial losses on Nov. 2, Obama is pouring more time into campaigning. In his so-called backyard visits — a cramped recreation center room sufficed in rainy Richmond, Va. — he repeatedly pivoted from a voter’s question in order to fire criticisms at the GOP’s record on taxes, student aid, even home weatherization.
With time running short, Obama also showed a plaintive side. He poked fun at himself and practically begged those who voted for him in 2008 to turn out this fall for congressional and gubernatorial Democratic candidates.
“I know times are tough,” he told thousands of students at the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday. In 2008, he said, “the feeling was, well, this is just exciting. You got those nice ‘Hope’ posters.”
“Sometimes it feels a long way from the hope and excitement that we felt on Election Day,” he said, but young voters’ involvement “can’t end with the vote that you cast in 2008.”
Still, Obama acknowledged that his promises to change the culture in Washington have been harder to fulfill than many of his supporters expected. He placed the blame on Republican lawmakers, who he said made a political calculation to oppose nearly all of his policies.
It’s a strategy Obama said has been “pretty successful” given the sentiments of many voters heading into the midterm elections, including one woman in Des Moines who said her college-graduate son and his friends indeed “are losing their hope.”
Obama cited his administration’s steps to expand student loans, spur private job growth and promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
A man who described himself as a small-business owner manufacturing promotional items such as T-shirts and lawn signs criticized Obama’s plans for allowing tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year to expire.
“As the government gets more and more involved in business and more and more involved in taxes, what you’re finding is you’re strangling those job creation vehicles,” he said.
The president disputed that, saying he’s already signed eight pieces of legislation providing small business tax cuts.
Showing some frustration, Obama said: “Your taxes haven’t gone up in this administration. Your taxes have gone down in this administration. There’s a notion that, well, he’s a Democrat so your taxes must have gone up. That’s just not true.”
A priest told Obama of a parishioner who lost his job in manufacturing and can’t find a new one. The president said that some manufacturing jobs won’t come back and the parishioner might need to develop new skills to work in growth sectors like clean energy.
Even in an election season, the president said, he can’t always tell people what they want to hear. Moving forward will take “some tough but necessary adjustments,” he said.
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., essentially called the president’s efforts a sham. For the past 18 months, he said in the Senate, Americans have watched “a governing party that was more or less completely uninterested in what the governed had to say about the direction of our country.”
“It has to stop,” McConnell said.
The Nov. 2 election will pit Obama’s presumably reinspired supporters against McConnell’s angry voters.
DES MOINES, Iowa
Chances are slim to none that the U.S. will meet its public health goal of sharply reducing the number of obese adults by this year, according to federal health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
While just 13 percent of adults were obese in the early 1960s, more than 30 percent were by 1999. In Healthy People 2010, a series of health objectives published in 2000, the U.S. government set forth the goal of reducing the percentage of obese Americans to 15 percent by 2010.
To investigate trends over the past decade, and determine whether the U.S. had any chance of meeting this objective, Dr. Earl S. Ford and his colleagues from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion looked at data on nearly 23,000 people aged 20 and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 1999-2008.
In 1999-2000, the researchers found, 27 percent of men were obese and 39 had abdominal obesity. By 2007-2008, those percentages had risen to 32 percent and 44 percent, respectively. The number of obese women inched up from 33 percent to 35 percent over the same time period, while abdominal obesity prevalence rose from 56 percent to 62 percent.
Abdominal obesity, defined as having a waist size of about 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, has been tied to a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Average body mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight in relation to height used to gauge whether a person is at a healthy weight — also increased. Men’s average BMI increased from 27.8 to 28.5. For women, average BMI rose from 28.2 to 28.6.
“The prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity remains disturbingly high among adults in the United States, and our trend analysis shows that both may still be increasing among men,” Ford and his colleagues write in the International Journal of Obesity.
The rising tide of obesity “has all but ruled out” the chances that the U.S. will meet its Healthy People 2010 goals, they add, noting that public health officials are now at work on developing new goals for Healthy People 2020.
In order to whittle U.S. obesity rates down to 15 percent, Ford and his team say, the average American would either need to consume 500 fewer calories a day, walk for nearly two additional hours a day, or burn off the equivalent amount of calories doing some other type of physical activity.
“The path to achieving such changes in energy intake and physical activity is unlikely to be an easy one,” the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: http://link.reuters.com/buw74p, International Journal of Obesity, online September 7, 2010.
This picturesque southern Colorado town known for decades as the sex-change capital of the world — thousands of gender-reassignment operations have been performed here — is becoming a beacon for victims of female genital mutilation.
Dr. Marci Bowers has performed about two dozen reconstructive surgeries on mostly African born women victimized as children by the culturally driven practice of female circumcision. Bowers is believed to be one of the few U.S. doctors performing the operation.
Bowers, who underwent a gender reassignment operation in the 1990s at age 40, said she relates to what her mutilation patients describe as a loss of identity, of not feeling whole.
“It took me so long to get there in my own life. I know what the feeling is like, seeking my own identity,” she said.
Massah, a patient who grew up in a village in Sierra Leone and now lives in Australia, said the surgery “is like giving us a second life. Actually it’s starting to live.”
Wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, dark blue pants and sneakers to her pre-surgery exam, Massah asked that her full name not be used because she hasn’t told most friends and even family that she was having the surgery, or that she was circumcised as a girl in Africa.
She paid a $1,700 hospital fee, plus lodging and travel expenses for the surgery last month.
“I will spend my whole life savings,” she said, “even if it’s for one minute of feeling complete.”
The World Health Organization estimates 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised.
Cultural, religious and social factors have helped keep the practice alive among those who believe it will reduce promiscuity and take away sexual pleasure or desire. The World Health Assembly passed a resolution in 2008 urging an end to the custom.
The restorative surgery practice in this town of 9,500 people near the New Mexico border began in early 2009.
Last month, at a guest house a short drive from Bowers’ office, Massah and six other patients talked late into the night, sharing stories that they’d found difficult to voice even with best friends. All requested not to be identified.
One 37-year-old woman from Richmond, Va., was circumcised as an infant in Nigeria and realized in college during a biology class that she didn’t look like her textbook diagrams. She said she would still like to ask her mother why.
“Why did you allow it to happen? What were you trying to prevent?”
Massah said she was circumcised at age 11 by a village woman. She was with about a half dozen of her sisters and cousins.
She was placed before the woman and was held down before being cut with what she thinks was a razor. She still remembers her screams.
“Nightmarish,” she said.
She has felt ashamed, incomplete and apprehensive toward sex, she said.
“It’s embarrassing going for Pap smears,” Massah said haltingly, trying not to cry. “Just the look on people’s faces.”
She said she was hoping for “wholeness” from the surgery. A week into her recovery, she said she felt “ecstatic.”
“Some people get another chance in life through organ transplant, but for me, this is it,” she said.
Bowers learned her techniques for operating on FGM victims with Dr. Pierre Foldes, who performs the procedure in France.
Typically, patients have not had the entire clitoris removed, Bowers said, and the surgery exposes what remains, uses remaining tissue to reconstruct labia that may have been cut away, and clears scar tissue.
She said the surgery typically results in improvement in sensation as well as cosmetic benefits.
Bowers hopes to form a teaching program so other doctors can serve FGM victims.
“Somewhere, at some point, women have got to hold hands and say, ‘No, no more. We’re not going to do this anymore,’” she said.
Bowers’ patients pay their own hospital fees and travel and lodging expenses, unless an insurer agrees to cover the hospital fee. Bowers donates her services.
Just how long that will continue here is uncertain. Bowers has announced plans to move to California this fall, and Mt. San Rafael Hospital where she operates says it has no immediate plans to add a new gender reassignment surgeon. That would be a big change for Trinidad, where Bowers’ mentor, the late Dr. Stanley Biber, performed more than 5,000 sex change surgeries over more than 30 years.
Attitudes toward female circumcision are changing, the women patients said.
But, said Massah, “It’s changing, but too slow. It’s going to take a lot of generations.”
Iman, a mother from the Twin Cities area in Minnesota who was circumcised, is grateful for Bowers and the chance to talk with other patients who underwent FGM.
“I left all that baggage at the guest house, all the things that tormented me,” she said. “Imagine dealing with your worst demons and then meeting six other people who are dealing with the exact same issues you are. Then you get to leave all your baggage there, with no judgment.”
Unlike other women who were blindfolded and cut in village ceremonies, with drumming and singing in the background, Iman was excised at age 12 in Kenya, in a doctor’s office.
She had localized anesthesia. “I remember everything,” she said. “My mom was there. I don’t blame her because she did what was done for her. It was a rite of passage.”
Later, she was taken to her grandmother, who checked whether the doctor had done a good job, she said.
After her grandmother died, her mother didn’t take her three younger sisters to be circumcised. “I give her credit for that,” she said. “It stopped with me.”
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are twice as likely to have missing or extra chromosomes than other children — the first evidence that the disorder is genetic, a new study says.
British researchers compared the genomes of 366 white British children from 5 to 17 years old with attention deficit hyperactivity, or ADHD, to those of more than 1,000 similar children without the disorder. The scientists focused on a sequence of genes linked to brain development that has previously been connected to conditions like autism and schizophrenia.
In children without ADHD, about 7 percent of them had deleted or doubled chromosomes in the analyzed gene sequence. But among children with the disorder, researchers discovered about 14 percent had such genetic alterations. Scientists also found that 36 percent of children with learning disabilities in the study had the chromosomal abnormalities.
“This is the first time we’ve found that children with ADHD have chunks of DNA that are either duplicated or missing,” said Anita Thapar, a professor at the MRC Centre in Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University who was one of the study’s authors.
She said the findings are too early to affect diagnosis or treatment and are only applicable to people of European Caucasian descent because studies have not been done yet on other ethnicities.
The condition is estimated to affect millions of children around the world, and scientists have long thought the disorder has a genetic component.
U.S. experts estimate that ADHD affects from three to five percent of school-age children in the United States. There are no figures for developing nations.
The study was paid for by Action Research, Baily Thomas Charitable Trust, the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s Medical Research Council and the European Union. It was published online Wednesday in the medical journal Lancet.
Peter Burbach, a professor of molecular neuroscience at University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, was surprised some of the genetic defects found for ADHD were identical to ones for autism and schizophrenia. He was not connected to the Lancet research.
“There’s a great chance the environment is modifying these genes,” Burbach said, adding the genes could lead to several brain disorders, depending on things like the child’s upbringing and other genetic factors.
He also thought scientists might eventually be able to reverse ADHD.
“This is not a structural abnormality in the brain, it’s just the last phase of development that’s gone wrong,” he said. “It could be the brain just needs to be fine-tuned.”
Philip Asherson, a professor of molecular psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said the study only dealt with a subset of people with ADHD and said the environment should still be considered a cause. In the case of some Romanian orphans, Asherson said there was proof that severe deprivation at an early age can lead to ADHD or other neurological problems.
Asherson said the medical world was still years away from being able to correct ADHD.
“The study doesn’t tell us a lot about what’s going on in the brains of people with ADHD,” he said. “If we can find out more about these genes and how they affect brain development, that may give us inroads, but it’s hard to say when that will be.”
First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthier school lunches has stalled in Congress after anti-hunger groups and more than 100 Democrats protested the use of food stamp dollars to pay for it.
Passage of the child nutrition bill, which would improve lunches in schools and expand feeding programs for low-income students, has been a priority for Democrats and hunger groups for years. But the groups and many members of the House switched sides when leaders proposed a vote on a Senate-passed version of the legislation that uses future funding for food stamp programs to pay for part of the $4.5 billion cost.
One hundred and six Democrats wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in August calling the move egregious, saying it was not a vote they would take lightly. Labor unions, anti-poverty groups and even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also urged the speaker to reconsider using the food stamp money.
“It’s just plain wrong,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a longtime advocate for childhood nutrition programs. “The way you are going to pay for a child nutrition bill is by dipping into people’s food stamps? Give me a break.”
The first lady has lobbied aggressively for the legislation as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity. A spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama said Wednesday that she had “made extensive outreach” to Pelosi and other members of House leadership over the past several weeks.
To no avail. Democrats declined to take up the bill before the November elections, citing many of their members’ concerns about the food stamp dollars. Many Republicans opposed the bill as well, saying it was too expensive.
Supporters had hoped to pass the bill before Thursday, when many of the child nutrition programs in the bill are scheduled to expire. An extension of those programs was included in a stopgap bill that will keep the government operating for the next two months, and supporters will try again to pass the nutrition bill when Congress returns to Washington after the elections.
If passed, the new nutrition standards would not remove popular foods like hamburgers from schools completely, but would make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat buns, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.
Creation of new standards, which public health advocates have sought for a decade, has unprecedented support from many of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies. The two sides came together on the issue as public pressure to remove junk foods from schools increased.
Congressional passage of the bill would be only the first step. Decisions on what kinds of foods could be sold — and what ingredients may be limited — would be left up to the Agriculture Department.
Supporters said they were hopeful the bill could be passed after the elections. McGovern said he was working with the White House to find a new way to pay for it.
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said he doesn’t buy the argument that the House should use the food stamp money for child nutrition because it will just be used for something else. Lawmakers have been eyeing the dollars for other priorities if it isn’t used for the bill.
“If people fight back, it’s not inevitable,” Weill said.