This rollback of one of former First Lady Michelle Obama's signature initiatives is not only putting Our Kids'™ health at risk. It's also damaging the public relations campaigns of tax-averse, rent-seeking transnational corporations and the titans of the global plutonomy.
Somebody has got to scold Donald Trump. scold him hard, and scold him often. Not impeach him, mind you, because he is a serious crisis just too good to let go to waste. We must keep him around awhile longer and give all the professional virtue-signalers a quick and easy target. Because this president is not just a fish in a barrel, he's a bloated barracuda in a blimp. A target this easy and this entertaining likely won't come our way again for a very long time.
So Mrs. Obama has been getting lots of praise this week for valiantly and sarcastically standing up to Trump at her annual Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) confab. While not directly naming him or any of his gang, she accused his regime, in no uncertain terms, of not caring whether Our Kids™ are eating "crap." It's a new edgy Michelle, going outside the former first lady box of politesse.
Bold, feisty, and unleashed are just some of the verbal accolades being showered upon Mrs. Obama by the media.
What she said was true and admirable as far as it went. But she would have been far bolder had she also mentioned the ongoing crisis of childhood hunger in America. She failed to mention that one out of every four school-aged kids in the United States is now considered "food insecure." Too many families simply cannot afford the fresh, healthy whole grains, lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables which Michelle Obama prescribes for them. The bottom 80 percent of income earners haven't gotten a raise in decades. The inequality gap is increasing all the time. The price of food continues to outpace parents' ability to adequately feed their children.
At no time during Michelle Obama's appearance at last week's culinary summit - or for that matter, at no time during her entire eight-year tenure as the self-proclaimed Mom in Chief™ -- did she ever call upon Congress to increase federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is not surprising, given that her economically conservative husband actually cut spending on food stamps in several of his austerity budget proposals. Even after the neoliberal austerity craze was soundly debunked as oligarchic flimflam, Obama still slashed an additional $8.7 billion from the program last year. In the first year of his administration, during the height of the financial crisis, he'd even re-allocated stimulus funds earmarked for extra SNAP benefits toward implementation of Michelle's "Let's Move" exercise campaign.
She soon expanded that White House initiative to a philanthro-capitalist franchise called the Partnership for a Healthier America, which she still chairs alongside former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and current New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Frist, a Republican who resigned in disgrace after the reactionary Terry Schiavo fiasco, is now a wealthy lobbyist who also sits on the boards of various charities and for-profit research facilities. Booker, considered a prime contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is a Wall Street-funded liberal whose most recent claim to fame was his vote to kill a measure allowing importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. As a participant in the so-called Food Stamp challenge a few years ago, he expressed shock that his $30 weekly stipend barely covered the cost of a small bottle of the imported olive oil he apparently cannot live without.
Donald Trump's value as the useful idiot in the Neoliberal Thought Collective is what actually helps keep the corporate wing of the Democratic Party going. Michelle Obama is not advocating for enhanced direct financial aid to struggling families for the very simple reason that the rich donors who fund her Partnership for a Healthier America initiative do not want "their" money spent directly on poor people via increased taxes.
They do, however, desperately need to be perceived as good corporate citizens who care about the ever-growing ranks of needy Americans. If they can increase their profits and improve their brands through their self-aggrandizing association with the popular Obamas, so much the better for their bottom lines.
The PHA mission statement says it all:
The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of our nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis.Although there is a correlation between poverty and obesity, nowhere on the PHA website are the words "poverty" or "income inequality" ever mentioned. Also missing in action are corporate greed, plutocracy and oligarchy. So let all good-thinking billionaires direct the public wrath directly at the decadent corpus of Dorito addict Donald J. Trump. Let us all accuse him of wanting to hook the youth of America on junk food. By channeling our hatred, let us all feel so good about ourselves as we continue paying slave wages to the workers of the world.
As an added incentive, potential donors are reminded on several Partnership web pages that "90% of consumers are more likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality."
So let's take a look at just who is benefiting from this neoliberal health initiative ostensibly aimed at preventing a country full of sick, fat, lazy kids.
Despite its anti-obesity pledge to Michelle Obama, the retail grocery behemoth is a huge source of diet-related health problems. Although Mrs. Obama successfully got them to agree - one day, in the future - to put nutrition information labels on their foodstuffs, people on limited incomes are still forced to opt for cheaper food high in salt and fat. So because of Walmart's meaningless promises, the onus is more than ever before on the poor for their "poor choices," and the Walton family can still pretend they care. No matter that they own as much wealth as the bottom 40% of American families, that they pay below-subsistence wages to their employees, and that they want to destroy public education as we know it. They're graciously allowing themselves to be touted by Partnership for a Healthier America as social service champions. Ka-ching!
This company is literally sucking drought-stricken California even drier so as to continue making obscene profits on its bottled water subsidiary. But who cares, because Michelle Obama is a huge fan of bottled water herself. Her own branded subsidiary, called "Drink Up!" puts its name right on the labels of most brands of bottled water you find in the grocery store. As an added attraction, the lead-poisoned residents of Flint, Michigan, are still being forced to use bottled water in lieu of getting their toxic pipes replaced.
This Fortune 500 multinational was the most recent recipient of the PHA's coveted Partner of the Year Award. To qualify for this honor, a company must have proven that it "is working to ensure the health of our nation’s youth, making healthier choices more affordable and accessible to families and children across the country. The partner must demonstrate how it is executing key strategies beyond the PHA commitment, including focusing on those populations disproportionately impacted by obesity; doing well while doing good; using an innovative approach to address childhood obesity; or creating a ripple effect within their industry."
Here's how Sodexo has been doing ripplingly well (profiting) these past few years. Among Sodexo's innovative impacts are wages so abysmally low that its workers have gone out on strike on several occasions. Students at nine American colleges and universities have boycotted the company in recent years to show worker solidarity and also to protest Sodexo's lucrative investment in private, for-profit prisons.
Sodexo once sued to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and accused it of racketeering for daring to organize its workers. And in 2012, right down the street from me at the State University of New York at New Paltz, a Sodexo regional manager personally disrupted a student demonstration by tearing up protest signs. The following year, Sodexo hamburger was outlawed in Great Britain after inspectors detected horse DNA in the beef patties. There have also been several reports of physical prisoner and military recruit abuse by Sodexo employees.
But look over there, Mrs. Obama -- it's the dastardly Donald, not caring one crap about all the crap Our Kids™ are eating. What's wrong with this guy, anyway, ignoring scores of corporate pledges to reduce sodium content by the year Zero at the very latest. Still, if all goes according to Neoliberal Thought Collective plan, the more frequently that he goes low, the better they will look as their profits soar as high as a gigantic snort of the highest grade capitalist cocaine.
They are in no great hurry to get rid of Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, besides the three corporate luminaries I listed above, there are plenty of other plutocratic do-gooders clamoring for their share of the greed-washing attention and a chance at winning this year's Key Strategizing Award. Many of them are start-ups specifically created to pad PHA's list of sponsors, while others are subsidiaries of the parent donors, and still others are public relations front groups simply posing as companies. (see my final entry for an example of the front group genre.)
Here's a sampling from the complete list:
A Chicago-based bottled water startup whose modest and circumspect mission is to "educate, satiate and innovate for the betterment of humanity..... We strive to fuse the service of free education into everyday consumer products to bolster, foster, and reinforce an academic learning experience. At AAGWATT™, we strive to make sure our products and brands speak to the 'student experience' and in turn to help students achieve their academic goals. Our first product, which is already on the market in select locations, is HYDROCATION® bottled water. HYDROCATION® is AAGWATT™’s flagship brand that places key educational concepts on product labels that are designed to help facilitate the student’s mission to obtain their degree. The HYDROCATION® educational labels are interactive; if you scan the image on the product label you can learn more information about that particular area of study and concept."
What the aagwatt! Michelle should immediately send Donald Trump a whole case of this educational water to counteract both his excessive salt-saturated Dorito thirst and his profound ignorance. This brilliant beverage seems guaranteed to correct his Tweeting grammar overnight as it stuffs his massive head chock-full of reality and other facts. Whoever said Trump has a monopoly on bullshit simply isn't drinking enough of the right stuff.
American Beverage Association
Donald should actually love this lobbying conglomerate, because its members' massively unhealthy drinks are made in America, sold in America, and massively, massively consumed in America. Their products are one of the leading causes of obesity and Type II Diabetes and hypertension in America. But to help deflect our attention from these facts, the ABA has partnered with Michelle Obama's health club to put their pricey bottled water on the shelves next to all their sugary sodas. Their official motto is actually very similar to that of the Democratic Party: "We Find Strength in Unity." You have to admit that this is the perfect snappy comeback to Trump's own "Ignorance Is Strength" shtick.
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
The least that this medical insurance behemoth could do was add its name to healthy greed-washing, given the record profits it has enjoyed under the Affordable Care Act. When Michelle Obama was so sarcastically dissing Donald at her health summit, she was also implicitly championing the rights of increasingly consolidated and rightly endangered private insurance. Anthem and other predators couldn't turn a profit without a constant supply of healthy young human bodies from which to suck monetary nourishment in the form of onerous co-pays and deductibles.
Blue Sea Development
Here's another corporation that should be right up Trump's alley. It's a New York-based real estate development company which, like Trump, receives generous corporate welfare assistance via tax credits. It inveigled its way into Michelle Obama's consortium by pledging to build playgrounds and hydroponic gardens, with 25 percent of its units designated as "affordable,' thereby more than qualifying it for the government subsidies not available to mere tenants. Among the investors is too big to fail/jail megabank JP Morgan Chase.
Hee hee. This is just one of the many private water product companies affiliated with the Drink Up! subsidiary of Michelle Obama's health partnership. For a limited time only, all orders will be accompanied by a free personal emergency eyewash bottle. Could there be any more perfect remedy for chronic Trump fatigue? The company also sells "Hydration Stations" for use in office settings, as well as socially responsible fancy hygiene faucets called EyePods.
This chain has pledged to serve guests' children poolside snacks containing 16% fewer calories and 25% less sodium than, say, a Trump-owned property with Doritos coming out the wazoo. It helps immensely that Hyatt is owned and run by Chicago's Pritzker family, early financial backers of Barack Obama, who duly appointed billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker as his second term commerce secretary, once she'd settled that nasty labor dispute with hotel workers. Serving healthy snacks will no doubt attract many more good-thinking guests to the pool.
KinderCare Learning Centers
This is a for-profit national chain of day care centers. Acquired by sometime Donald Trump advisor and convicted junk bond king Michael Milken for $1 billion in 2005, it's the largest chain of its kind in the United States. Although its teacher salaries and worker morale are reportedly far below national norms, management has nevertheless agreed to serve healthier snacks. Mothers will therefore flock to its doors knowing that both the chain and its chained providers are part of Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative. Donald Trump should really consider investing in this exploitative outfit, in case he hasn't already done so. Show us those tax returns, Donald, to prove that you care about Our Kids™!
Not to be confused with the Simpsons' Kwik-E Mart, nor with the store in the movie Clerks which sells cigarettes to four-year-olds. To help Kwik and similar overpriced convenience emporia salvage their horrendous reputations, Michelle Obama has convinced them to stock their shelves with a few fruit and veggie choices to make it appear as though they care about Our Kids™. There was no agreement, of course, to actually reduce the mainstay junk food selections, especially an in-store brand temptingly called Urge. Because, you know, investors can never quit the urge to extract every last crumb.
Owns and maintains 325,000 highway eyesores all across our dystopian American landscape. So keep your bottle of emergency designer eyewash handy! But seriously, Donald Trump should be interested, because this billboard company also doubles as a real estate investment trust fund. So when his administration flacks insist they still have utmost respect for Michelle Obama, I suspect that they sincerely mean every word of what they say.
In exchange for some great publicity and possible future awards, this candy manufacturing goliath has pledged to Michelle Obama that it will reduce the sodium content in its crap food products by "an average of 20%" by 2021! By making this promise, it purports to encourage healthy eating habits right now this very minute! Can you say awards gala? On the other hand, since Mars was also part of the corporate effort to prevent GMO labeling on its food products, Donald Trump is likely a huge fan in more ways than one. On the other, other hand, Trump is also apt to tetchily hate it, given that Obama's State Department had honored the company for promising, one of these days, to stop abusing its African cocoa bean pickers.
Mercedes Benz USA
It promised to make car buyers sign a pledge never, ever to let their kids eat crap food as they recline their sedentary selves in its luxurious, polluting gas guzzlers. Kidding! It actually "pledged $10.5 million to build a national, sports-based youth coaching force. That money is being distributed through grants to Laureus USA, which helps identify, train, place and support coaches and youth sporting organizations nationwide. Mercedes-Benz commits to training 1,000 coaches in after-school sporting programs in order to reach 150,000 children across the country."
Also too, it gives "capacity-building grants" to an outfit called Girls On the Run, which is not to be confused with actual human girls getting individual cash grants, or anything like that. Charities give to charities give to other charities. It's a nice legal way to launder whole carloads full of money.
Pledged to give a few more millions to the obesity charity in exchange for more free publicity. Michelle Obama famously joined its ad campaign in Chicago on the exact same day that Mayor Rahm Emanuel shut down 50 public schools and fired a bunch of teachers. Overpriced Nike sneakers made by Asian wage slaves will help Chicago kids run faster through the gunfire on their way to their schools in distant neighborhoods. Not to be outdone, President Obama also pimped for Nike in a speech touting his doomed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now it seems the company will just have to wait for its 40 cents-an-hour Vietnamese factory work detail until another centrist wins the White House. Meanwhile, Obama reportedly is still being allowed to keep his custom inauguration footwear. The spiffy shoes should make a great exhibit for the new library as well as perpetuating the cult of Nike.
In America the Good, there is no monopoly on cheap, overpriced athletic footwear manufactured by low wage foreign workers for import to America. Therefore, not to be outdone by Nike's ad campaign, the Reebok company has also pledged millions of dollars to help get those poor fat lazy American kids up and moving before they even start their sprint to school.
Ricker Oil Company
You'd think that this convenience store operator would consider changing its name to something more appetizing, wouldn't you? Then again, since the plastic containers used for bottled designer water are petroleum-based, we should probably commend this company for truth in advertising.
The Honest Company
Donald Trump wouldn't know the meaning of this company even if he drank a gallon of Hydrocation chained to a KinderCare chair eating an Urge snack in a Ricker Oil convenience store. But frankly, neither would I. From what I could gather from a quick read of the slick Honest web page, it's a consortium of 85 celebrities and athletes and other friends of Michelle Obama who have joined together in solidarity to promote the eating of fresh fruit and vegetables. They term their effort a "sexy marketing campaign." Because goodness knows, besides being tempted by benevolent overpriced sneakers, Our Kids™ must also be targeted with sexual come-ons in order to fool them into doing unpleasant things.
Once you get past all the linky layers on this PHA page, you finally do discover what the Honest Company honestly is: it's a billion-dollar emporium selling "affordable" baby and cosmetics products to the financially comfortable and the socially responsible. Another PHA link takes you to a site marketing resistance-oriented fashion in colors representing the whole fruit and vegetable spectrum. One bright orange tee shirt shows a guy covering his eyes and saying "I Can't Hear You, Haters!"
Who knew that eating healthy could also be so damned edgy and protest-y and anti-Trumpian!
Honestly, though, has the Honest Company ever considered renaming itself the Cynical Company? Has the Partnership for a Healthier America ever thought that Partnership for Healthy American Plutocrats might be a more apt moniker for what they actually do? Because for all the celebrity glitz, glamor and natural organic bling they use as cover, kids always know bullshit when they smell it.
On that note, Happy Mothers Day to Sardonickists everywhere. Don't forget to drink up after you wake up and smell the sneakers.