Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A First Lady Who Demands Substance

Michelle Obama Wants to Be Part of Events That Have Purpose And a Message -- and That Parallel the President's Agenda.

By Lois Romano Washington Post

For weeks, Michelle Obama had been telling her staff and closest confidantes that she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief. The West Wing of the White House -- the fulcrum of power and policy -- had not fully integrated her into its agenda. She wanted more.

So, earlier this month, she changed her chief of staff, and now she's changing her role.

Her new chief of staff, Susan Sher, 61, is a close friend and former boss who the first lady thinks will be more forceful about getting her and her team on the West Wing's radar screen. The first thing Sher said she told senior adviser David Axelrod, whom she has known for years: When I call, "you need to get back to me right away."

The former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, 37, was "not on the first lady's wavelength," said one source, echoing others, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. "Susan is more of a peer," a senior White House official said. "I think that's probably a better model."

Although Obama's job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady -- a Harvard-educated lawyer -- wasn't satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think "strategically" so that every event has a purpose and a message. She doesn't want to simply go to events and hug struggling military families, she said; she wants to show progress. "Her desire is to step out more and have deliverables," said communications chief Camille Johnston. "It's about things that are coming up that we want to be a part of: child nutrition reauthorization act, prevention and wellness for health-care reform."

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president's health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration's United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.

Obama has also taken stock of her family life, which she has found to be more constrained than she expected. She has concluded that there's really only one road toward some semblance of a private life for them -- and it leads away from the White House.

Laying Out Her Strategy

On Jan. 14, days before the inauguration, Obama assembled her new staff in a conference room at transition headquarters for a two-hour lunch meeting. In the room was a mix of loyal campaign aides, good friends she had persuaded to leave high-paying corporate jobs, and political professionals who were virtual strangers to her. It was the first time many of the 20 or so aides had met, and the incoming first lady said she expected them to operate "at 120 percent." All eyes were on them, she cautioned, and there was little room for error.

She emphasized that they must work on a parallel track with the president's office to avoid the historical East Wing-West Wing tensions that have plagued most administrations. "Seamless" was the word she used to describe the partnership she expected with her husband's staff.

Last, she exhorted her staff to find a personal balance. For her part, Obama informed them that she would practice what she preached: She did not intend to work more than 2 1/2 days a week. She was also planning to take off the month of August.

Unspoken but well known to some in the room was how unhappy Obama had been with the lack of campaign support she received during the presidential primaries. The president's advisers acknowledge that Michelle Obama was ill-served in the early days of the 2008 campaign, when opponents were able to portray her as unpatriotic, haughty and a caricature of an angry black woman. She was horrified to learn that she had become a liability to the candidate for saying that for the first time in her life, she was proud of her country.

"Obviously, given how fundamentally distorted the public lens was on her, I think we could have done a much better job for her. . . . I don't think there's any question about that," Axelrod concedes. "It took her a while to dig out of that."

It was against this background that the first lady and her staff were determined to create in the White House a culture that was, as Norris put it, "authentic" to the first lady. Since the election, her disciplined (journalists might say controlling) staff has carefully managed her media exposure and methodically laid the groundwork for her issues, a "soft launch," as one aide said. And the first lady's approval ratings flew into the 80s, exceeding her husband's, and higher than any other first lady's at a comparable time.

Norris had been Obama's Iowa state coordinator and had become close to Michelle Obama during the campaign. But Norris said in an interview that she came to agree that she wasn't a good fit for this job -- which requires not only management and policy skills but also inevitably touches on the first lady's personal and family life.

One early miscalculation on Norris's part was that she tried to take on Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the first lady, insisting that the social secretary report to her. The disagreement culminated in what one White House aide described as a "blowup." Valerie Jarrett, aide to the president and a friend of both women, had to step in and smooth over a conflict that many thought should never have been engaged. "We brought in people with strong personalities and passions," Norris said. "Disagreements are inevitable."

Jarrett -- a Chicago friend who is helping develop the first lady's official role -- said Michelle Obama's immense popularity has forced a rethinking of how she fits into the policy calculus. "We spend time thinking that through and where is she going to have the biggest impact," Jarrett said.

Axelrod said that initially "we were throwing her out there in the kinds of events that were probably not press-worthy. . . . There was a push for quantity and not quality."

But he added that the plan had always been to enhance her role around this time, after she had a chance to settle her family. "We are focused now on quality events that are related to her passions," he said. "We don't want to use her as a utility player for political chores."

Sher noted: "The key is you can get schedule-driven as opposed to being strategy-driven. You could spend all your time yes-no, yes-no as opposed to [deciding] what are the things that we really should be working on."

Sher, a lawyer and manager, has already begun stepping up interaction with the West Wing -- particularly with Anita Dunn, the communications director, who had advised Michelle Obama during the campaign. "Anita is paying attention to us over here," Sher said.

Elements of Chicago

In naming Sher, Obama took another step toward re-creating her Chicago life on a world stage. She has surrounded herself with familiar faces, starting with her mother, who lives in the White House and takes Malia and Sasha to school every day in an unmarked SUV. Obama begins her day at 5:30 a.m. with another Chicago transplant, Cornell McClellan, who has been her and her husband's personal trainer for 12 years. The family's meals are largely prepared by Chicagoan Sam Kass, a White House assistant chef, who also oversees the organic garden.

After the move to Washington, Obama sat down with her staff and two calendars: one from the office, one from Sidwell Friends, her daughters' new school. No events would be scheduled that presented a potential conflict with the girls. But she quickly discovered that her days off don't allow her any real freedom. When she wore shorts to walk the dog last week in a sheltered spot on the White House lawn, photos showed up on the Internet within hours.

So now, with school over for the year, Obama has developed a plan that takes her and the girls out of Washington, where she thinks they can have more fun and independence. Sasha and Malia accompanied the first lady to San Francisco on Monday, and next month, they will join their parents on an official presidential trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana. The family is expected to spend more time at Camp David, where they can entertain close friends in privacy.

At work, Obama runs her office like a business in which she is chief executive. She doesn't want to micromanage, she has made clear; she wants to delegate. Up and down the hall are professional women with whom she has a longtime connection and whom she trusts to execute her vision. Rogers, another friend from Chicago, has an office just a few feet away. Also nearby is Jocelyn Frye, whom Obama met at Harvard Law School and who is the first lady's policy director. A family law advocate and expert on equal opportunity employment law, Frye is also a link to the D.C. community. She grew up in Washington and still lives a few blocks from her parents' house in the Michigan Park area of Northeast. She has pointed the first lady to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and schools.

Sher, who worked with Michelle Obama in the Chicago mayor's office and later hired her at the University of Chicago Medical Center, was a reluctant recruit, leaving her husband behind in Chicago.

Sher, Rogers and Jarrett are so close that they have rented apartments in the same Georgetown building, near the waterfront, with Jarrett and Sher directly across the hall from each other. "We'll even do errands together on the weekend," Sher said. The first lady attended a small birthday celebration for Rogers last week and has had "girls' nights" with the women.

They all know that Obama wants to continue to offer opportunities to people like herself. She grew up in working-class South Chicago, in the shadow of one of the most elite private colleges in the country, the University of Chicago. Yet Obama recalls vividly that when she was a high school student hoping to rise above her circumstances, the university seemed far beyond her reach. She was determined this would not happen at the White House on her watch.

"No one there had ever reached out to say, 'Hey, maybe there's a place for you here,' " Johnston said. Obama has either visited or invited to the White House students from 30 Washington schools, and she was instrumental in developing the first White House summer internship program specifically for D.C. high school students. She brought high school girls to the White House to rub elbows with such female icons as singer Alicia Keys and astronaut Mae Jemison. Some of the girls were so nervous, they were sobbing before they went inside. "Michelle hugged each and every girl before they left," Jarrett said. "We talked about that night a lot, and she was really quite struck by her ability to really leave a lasting, positive impression as a role model."

Social as Political

Though Obama doesn't have much freedom outside the White House, she has already shaken up the status quo in her new home, including turning the White House fountains green on St. Patrick's Day and holding the first Seder hosted by a president. She also intentionally served a formal dinner to the nation's governors on mismatched china -- 28 years after Nancy Reagan famously complained because nothing matched and proceeded to spend $200,000 on a new set of Lenox.

One of the first people let in on Obama's vision was the woman charged with executing the cultural and social message for the White House: Rogers, 50, the first African American social secretary. The stuffy world of protocol has never seen the likes of Rogers, a glamorous Harvard MBA and former corporate executive, who unabashedly posed in $100,000 earrings for a magazine photo shoot -- much to the amusement of her boosters in the East Wing, and the anxiety of the president's advisers. Axelrod, a longtime friend, let it be known that he was agitated by the WSJ magazine profile in which she wore the earrings and talked about the "Obama brand."

Obama tasked Rogers with ensuring that every social event has a populist component, as she did last week when Duke Ellington High School students attended workshops with jazz greats. Rogers said that the Obamas want to convey that coming to the White House is "just a home visit." That's why, she said, the first lady hugs so many people who walk through the doors. "You try to take the fear out of just the mere awe of walking through the gates."

The Obamas are in no rush to schedule a state dinner for a foreign head of state, Rogers said. At the president's request, the first lady is planning a series of intimate "salon dinners." Rogers said she had provided the Obamas with a list of about 1,000 arts, business and science names and several suggested guest lists. "The opportunity to have 10 people that you're interested in and hear what they have to say about something," she said. "How fabulous!"

Every morning, Rogers and Sher attend White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's 8:15 staff meeting. Johnston, a newcomer to Obama's circle but a White House veteran, and Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady's press secretary, sit in on White House press secretary Robert Gibbs's daily message meeting. As part of the president's domestic policy team, Frye meets with its staff weekly. Senior aides David Medina and Trooper Sanders work on national service and international issues, and Norris remains close to the office in her new job at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

They're all focused on raising the stakes. "It isn't just about hugging," Sher said. "Whatever she talks about will bring press and interest, but it's important that she's not just talking [but] actually moving forward on those issues."

Teaching D.C. How to Take A Breather

By Rachel Saslow Washington Post

About 200 people are sitting on yoga mats in a Washington hotel ballroom trying to learn how to do something they already do about 21,600 times a day: breathe.

This "automatic breathing" they've been doing all their lives? No good. So they're learning to breathe deeply from their diaphragms and hoping that benefits -- such as stress reduction, better sleep and increased mental focus -- will follow.

"If you're angry and you want to be calm, what do you do? Breathe how?" asks senior teacher Rajshree Patel from a stage at the front of the room, a white orchid at her side. "The breath of rest and relaxation. And you will see the mind will shift. If you switch the rhythm of breath, it will switch the emotion."

"Take a Breath DC" ran from Wednesday to Saturday and culminated in a group meditation for about 600 in Lafayette Park. The course was organized by the Art of Living Foundation, a nonprofit group that has its national headquarters on 15th Street NW. The cornerstone of Art of Living is a rhythmic breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya. About 30 years ago, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not the sitarist who knew the Beatles; different guy) discovered that this type of breathing, combined with yoga and meditation, can bring inner peace; he and his followers have taught the art of better breathing to millions since then.

The D.C. students paid $250 for the course, which ran for 22 hours over four days. (Art of Living also teaches prisoners, high-schoolers and natural-disaster survivors how to breathe, for either a reduced rate or for free.) The organization will host two more breathing courses in the District this month: One starts today, the other on Friday.

The students must agree to these rules:

1. Be on time.

2. Finish the course.

3. Eat a vegetarian diet. (One muscular young man seems concerned he won't get enough protein. "I'll let you eat eggs," Patel says. "Because they're not chickens yet.")

4. No alcohol. ("You're going to do a lot of cleansing of the system, and you'll find that if you've had alcohol the night before -- or the morning or the afternoon -- what happens is, in the evening, the first thing you'll cleanse is the alcohol, and I'd like to go to deeper layers of cleansing with you.")

5. Refrain from tobacco.

6. No recreational drugs.

Students get extra credit for avoiding caffeine.

Vincent Ko, a Georgetown University student, heard about the course when a young woman from the Art of Living chatted him up at the Iceberry frozen yogurt shop on M Street NW. His "party animal" friends, he said, were skeptical of all the yoga and meditation talk, but Ko was intrigued.

"I'm at that point where I'm going to be a senior, and I'm really stressed out about what I'm going to do for the rest of my life," Ko says. "I'm trying to start this business, I want to be an entrepreneur, but then, like, should I do an investment banker type of deal? So I'm just freaking out. . . . I'm at a crossroads."

During the first session, Patel leads the participants in a variety of games and exercises that all end with a life lesson. For example, Patel tells a math riddle about a shop owner and a counterfeit $100 bill. The students must try to solve it themselves, then break into groups of two, then four, then eight to come to a consensus on the answer.

She makes an example of a group that cannot agree on a solution.

"You are so convinced that you are right, that instead of listening, you're giving an argument in your head long before you speak," she says. "Then we wonder why relationships don't work."

"I've been married three times; don't ask me!" quips one man.

During a break for granola, fruit and energy bars, Ko gives a "so-so" verdict on the seminar so far: "They've been talking a lot about the past, and it's mostly about the future for me."

After the break, the students learn the first breathing technique aimed at bringing the mind into the present moment: "ujjayi," sometimes called "ocean breath" because it makes the sound of the sea. The 14 Art of Living instructors and 46 teachers-in-training (most whom wear flowing white pants) scatter throughout the room and show the students how to breathe in and out through their noses while constricting the backs of their throats. When everyone has it down, Patel instructs them to sit cross-legged, close their eyes and practice ujjayi breath. After a few minutes, participants say they feel peaceful and relaxed.

One even says, "The colors are brighter."

By the end of the four days, Ko is a believer: He plans to meditate 30 minutes a day and take refresher classes at the Art of Living headquarters on Wednesday evenings.

"It was really powerful," Ko says of the course. "While we were doing meditation, I could visualize all my stress, and it stopped bothering me."

A Compromise Sustains the Voting Rights Act

Courtly Politics By E.J. Dionne Jr. WPost

The Supreme Court claims to be above politics, and it sometimes even achieves that aspiration.

The court has occasionally solved problems that the more conventionally political branches of government have allowed to fester, and oppressed minorities have periodically been able to use the court to vindicate their rights.

But far more than we want to admit, the justices of the Supreme Court reflect the country's competing political tendencies and often reach their decisions not through the exercise of Platonic reason rooted in a careful analysis of the Constitution but by way of raw political bargaining.

The court's ruling this week on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act will go down as a classic in the history of judicial logrolling. The court avoided catastrophe through a second-best decision that leaves the core issues raised by the case undecided.

The catastrophe would have been a ruling that invalidated Section 5 of the act requiring eight states (six of them in the South), most of Virginia and dozens of jurisdictions elsewhere to obtain Justice Department approval ("preclearance") before changing their voting laws.

The act, first passed in 1965 and renewed since, has been a magnificent success. It ended what were once routine overt and covert efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, particularly in the segregated South, and thereby transformed American society.

Civil rights advocates feared that a 5-to-4 conservative majority on the court was ready to strike down the heart of the act, so there was elation this week when by a vote of 8 to 1 the court allowed that section to stand.

The bad news is that the decision left open the possibility that the section would someday be overturned. That is as clear a reminder as anyone should need that the political and philosophical proclivities of future court appointees truly matter.

Chief Justice John Roberts has gotten credit for living up to a principle he said he would espouse regularly but has often ignored: that the court should be minimalist, making its decisions on the narrowest possible grounds. And, as he wrote in the Voting Rights Act decision, "avoid the unnecessary resolution of constitutional questions." Roberts deserves one cheer, but no more. In a case brought by a Texas municipal utility district with an elected board that thought it should be allowed to escape Section 5 restrictions, the chief justice let the utility district bail out without raising large legal questions. But his ruling strongly hinted that he would have preferred to overturn the section altogether.

While acknowledging the past achievements of the Voting Rights Act, Roberts asserted that "past success alone . . . is not adequate justification to retain the preclearance requirements." He also claimed that "considerable evidence" suggested that the statute "fails to account for current political conditions."

Reading between the lines, Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor and one of the country's leading voting rights experts, concluded that Roberts tried and failed to put together a majority for gutting Section 5.

"What the decision indicates is that the conservative wing of the court didn't have five votes," she said in an interview. "I don't think this was a minimalist decision. I think it's a compromise decision because there are five justices who didn't want to strike down the act."

What's likely is that one or two conservative justices (probably Anthony Kennedy and possibly Samuel Alito) realized that overturning an act of Congress simply because a narrow court majority decided it was outdated would rightly be seen as an outrageous form of judicial activism.

Moreover, as Karlan notes, the Voting Rights Act has earned iconic status in American law as "one of the few acts in American history that was the product of a truly mass mobilization." Ripping out the statute's heart would have imposed "a clear political cost to the court." Yes, you can bet the court pays attention to politics. Roberts's opinion has been widely interpreted as an invitation to Congress to rewrite the Voting Rights Act, though he gave few hints as to what changes in the law would assuage his doubts. In fact, it's quite common for the court to push Congress to alter legislation -- which further underscores the profoundly political nature of the one branch of government supposedly immune from politics.

To use a hallowed line now freighted with sexism, we remain a government of laws, not men. But men and women have political views and philosophical orientations that do not evaporate on the day they become Supreme Court justices. Pretending otherwise will do nothing to preserve our liberties.

Obama Condemns Iran’s Iron Fist Against Protests


WASHINGTON — President Obama hardened his tone toward Iran on Tuesday, condemning the government for its crackdown against election protesters and accusing Iran’s leaders of fabricating charges against the United States.

In his strongest comments since the crisis erupted 10 days ago, Mr. Obama used unambiguous language to assail the Iranian government during a news conference at the White House, calling himself “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the past few days.”

He praised what he called the courage and dignity of the demonstrators, especially the women who have been marching, and said that he had watched the “heartbreaking” video of a 26-year-old Iranian woman whose last seconds of life were captured by video camera after she was shot on a Tehran street.

“While this loss is raw and extraordinarily painful,” he said, “we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”

Yet beyond muscular words, Mr. Obama has limited tools for bringing pressure to bear on the Iranian government, which for years has been brushing off international calls for it to curb its nuclear program.

After the news conference, administration officials said there was little they could do to influence the outcome of the confrontation between the government and the protesters. And more so now than even a few days ago, they said, the prospects for any dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program appear all but dead for the immediate future, though they held out hope that Iran, assuming it has a stable government, could respond to Mr. Obama’s overtures later in the year.

At home, Mr. Obama has been under intense pressure, especially from conservatives, to align the United States more forcefully with the protesters. On Tuesday, he dismissed suggestions that he had changed his tone toward Iran in response to critical comments from Senator John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans.

In sometimes testy exchanges with reporters at the news conference, Mr. Obama defended himself, contending that even the moderate tone he had struck previously had been twisted by Iran’s government to suggest that the protests had been engineered by the United States.

“They’ve got some of the comments that I’ve made being mistranslated in Iran, suggesting that I’m telling rioters to go out and riot some more,” Mr. Obama said, referring to accounts that the White House said surfaced late last week and over the weekend. “There are reports suggesting that the C.I.A. is behind all this. All of which is patently false. But it gives you a sense of the narrative that the Iranian government would love to play into.”

But after the crackdown over the weekend that left an untold number of protesters dead — and after the wide dissemination of the video of the last moments of Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian woman who appeared to lock eyes with the camera as she died after being shot — White House officials decided that Mr. Obama had to take a tougher stand.

“The situation looked very different on Saturday than it did when he first spoke in the Oval Office a week ago,” one of Mr. Obama’s media advisers said.

“It was the bloodshed” that led to the change in tone, he said.

While Mr. Obama did not rule out the possibility of engaging with Iran over the nuclear issue, administration officials and European diplomats say that the door to talks has all but closed, at least for now.

“I think that under these circumstances, no one is going to be able to pursue anything because there is nothing to pursue,” said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, who has been consulting with White House officials “on a daily basis,” he said, about the unfolding situation in Iran.

Mr. Parsi said that all past assumptions about where Iran was headed had been cast aside by the disputed election results and the response of the protesters.

Administration officials acknowledged that after reading reams of intelligence reports, watching videos of the street demonstrations and absorbing the trickle of intelligence from Iran, they were unable to predict how the protests might turn out.

During the news conference, Mr. Obama maintained that he had been consistent in his tone toward Iran all along. “As soon as violence broke out — in fact, in anticipation of potential violence — we were very clear in saying that violence was unacceptable, that that was not how governments operate with respect to their people,” Mr. Obama said.

But the language Mr. Obama used on Tuesday was more forceful and less ambiguous than his previous statements. In an interview with CNBC and The New York Times last week, he said that as far as America’s national interests were concerned, there was not much difference between Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

In his first public comment on the situation on June 15, Mr. Obama said he was troubled by the postelection violence and called on Iran’s leaders to respect free speech and the democratic process. The next day, on June 16, he said he had “deep concerns” about the elections but also said that it would be counterproductive for the United States “to be seen as meddling.”

In the internal discussions at the White House about how to handle Iran, Mr. Obama’s aides are clearly struggling with how to reconcile two different goals: supporting a nascent, unpredicted movement in the streets that could weaken the country’s top clerics, and following the diplomatic mixture of pressure and diplomacy that Mr. Obama settled on months ago as a strategy to halt Iran’s nuclear work.

The protests, administration officials said, create the first possibility in 30 years that the mullahs’ grip on Iran might be loosened. Even if the street protests are put down, one official said, “a fissure has opened up that cannot be completely closed.”

Clearly those events took the administration by surprise: none of the possibilities for the election that were laid out for Mr. Obama a month ago, one official said, included the possibility of a violently disputed election.

Yet in the long run, Mr. Obama’s aides say, they are not certain that the protests will change the fundamental calculus about the risks Iran poses to its neighbors or the United States. One of Mr. Obama’s strategists noted that “one has to be concerned that while all this is happening the centrifuges are still spinning,” a reference to the machines used to enrich uranium.

How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains


As head of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. David A. Kessler served two presidents and battled Congress and Big Tobacco. But the Harvard-educated pediatrician discovered he was helpless against the forces of a chocolate chip cookie.

In an experiment of one, Dr. Kessler tested his willpower by buying two gooey chocolate chip cookies that he didn’t plan to eat. At home, he found himself staring at the cookies, and even distracted by memories of the chocolate chunks and doughy peaks as he left the room. He left the house, and the cookies remained uneaten. Feeling triumphant, he stopped for coffee, saw cookies on the counter and gobbled one down.

“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me?” Dr. Kessler asked in an interview. “Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”

The result of Dr. Kessler’s quest is a fascinating new book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” (Rodale).

During his time at the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Kessler maintained a high profile, streamlining the agency, pushing for faster approval of drugs and overseeing the creation of the standardized nutrition label on food packaging. But Dr. Kessler is perhaps best known for his efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers intentionally manipulated nicotine content to make their products more addictive.

In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.

Dr. Kessler isn’t convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named “bliss point.” Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt.

The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies “design food for irresistibility,” Dr. Kessler noted. “It’s been part of their business plans.”

But this book is less an exposé about the food industry and more an exploration of us. “My real goal is, How do you explain to people what’s going on with them?” Dr. Kessler said. “Nobody has ever explained to people how their brains have been captured.”

The book, a New York Times best seller, includes Dr. Kessler’s own candid admission that he struggles with overeating.

“I wouldn’t have been as interested in the question of why we can’t resist food if I didn’t have it myself,” he said. “I gained and lost my body weight several times over. I have suits in every size.”

This is not a diet book, but Dr. Kessler devotes a sizable section to “food rehab,” offering practical advice for using the science of overeating to our advantage, so that we begin to think differently about food and take back control of our eating habits.

One of his main messages is that overeating is not due to an absence of willpower, but a biological challenge made more difficult by the overstimulating food environment that surrounds us. “Conditioned hypereating” is a chronic problem that is made worse by dieting and needs to be managed rather than cured, he said. And while lapses are inevitable, Dr. Kessler outlines several strategies that address the behavioral, cognitive and nutritional factors that fuel overeating.

Planned and structured eating and understanding your personal food triggers are essential. In addition, educating yourself about food can help alter your perceptions about what types of food are desirable. Just as many of us now find cigarettes repulsive, Dr. Kessler argues that we can also undergo similar “perceptual shifts” about large portion sizes and processed foods. For instance, he notes that when people who once loved to eat steak become vegetarians, they typically begin to view animal protein as disgusting.

The advice is certainly not a quick fix or a guarantee, but Dr. Kessler said that educating himself in the course of writing the book had helped him gain control over his eating.

“For the first time in my life, I can keep my weight relatively stable,” he said. “Now, if you stress me and fatigue me and put me in an airport and the plane is seven hours late — I’m still going to grab those chocolate-covered pretzels. The old circuitry will still show its head.”

Gov. Sanford Admits Affair

Gov. Sanford Admits Affair and Explains Disappearance

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina said Wednesday that he had been having an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina for the last year, ending the mystery surrounding his disappearance over Father’s Day weekend and considerably dampening his prospects for a national political career.

But his confession and apology, in a rambling, nationally televised news conference, left other mysteries unsolved, like whether he had lied to his staff members as late as Monday about his whereabouts, whether the affair had definitively ended, whether he would resign from the governorship and whether he would even have acknowledged the affair had he not been met at the airport in Atlanta by a reporter upon his return.

Mr. Sanford, 49, admitted that he had been in Buenos Aires since Thursday, not hiking on the Appalachian Trail, as his staff members had said.

Standing in the rotunda of the South Carolina Statehouse, the governor, a Republican who had been considered a possible presidential candidate in 2012, teared up as he spoke, taking more than seven minutes to apologize before getting to the crux of the matter.

“The bottom line is this,” he said. “I have been unfaithful to my wife.”

The governor’s wife, Jenny, 46, who did not attend the news conference, issued a statement later in the day saying that while she loves her husband, she asked him to leave the family two weeks ago in a trial separation, though she still believes the marriage can be repaired. The couple have four sons, the youngest 10.

“We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong,” she said. Because of the separation, she said, she did not know where he was in the last week.

The governor, who raised his national profile by opposing the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan, said he would resign from his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He will be succeeded by Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi. A reporter tried to ask Mr. Sanford if he would resign from the governor’s office, but he did not answer.

Coming a week after the admission of an extramarital affair by Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican who had also begun exploring a presidential run in 2012, the governor’s acknowledgment was yet another blow to Republican hopes for a strong field of challengers to President Obama.

“Personal circumstances over the course of the last week have managed to shrink the front line of the 2012 possible contender list by 30 percent,” said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

Mr. Sanford is regarded as a political lone wolf and has made numerous enemies even within his own party, which controls both houses of the state legislature. Scott H. Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., said it was unclear whether there would be pressure on the governor to resign. “His opponents,” Dr. Huffmon said, “are sitting back trying to figure out if they’d be better off with a completely emasculated governor to deal with or if they’d be better off with André Bauer,” the lieutenant governor, who would take office if Mr. Sanford resigned.

Mr. Sanford made at least one state-sponsored trip to Argentina during the period of his relationship. In an interview late Wednesday, Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires Province, said he met with Mr. Sanford on June 26, 2008, in La Plata, a town outside Buenos Aires. Mr. Scioli said the request for the meeting had come from Mr. Sanford’s office via the United States Embassy.

The governor was not known as a moralist but has frowned on infidelity and as a congressman voted to impeach President Bill Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky affair. “He lied under a different oath, and that’s the oath to his wife,” Mr. Sanford said at the time on CNN. “So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.”

Mr. Sanford and his wife had joined an intensive Bible study group for couples in the last few months, according to William H. Jones, president of Columbia International University, a conservative evangelical college. Dr. Jones said the governor and his wife had been encouraged to join the Bible study by a longtime friend, Cubby Culbertson, a businessman in Columbia who teaches the Bible and who was thanked by the governor in his news conference.

At the news conference, Mr. Sanford said his friendship with the unnamed woman began eight years ago and became a romance about a year ago. He said he had seen her three times since then. The relationship was “discovered” five months ago, he said, and he had been trying to reconcile with his wife.

Mr. Sanford strongly implied that he had ended the affair. “The one thing that you really find is that you absolutely want resolution,” he said. “And so oddly enough, I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina.”

On Wednesday afternoon, The State, the leading newspaper in Columbia, published on its Web site several e-mail messages it said it obtained in December between Mr. Sanford and a Buenos Aires woman the newspaper identified only as Maria.

In one of the messages, the governor describes himself as being in a “hopelessly impossible situation of love” and stops just short of going into what he describes as sexual details of their encounters.

After a barrage of news media requests about the missing governor began Monday, the governor’s spokesman, Joel Sawyer, released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that the governor was taking some time to recharge after the stimulus battle and to work on “a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside.” Ms. Sanford told The Associated Press that her husband had gone somewhere over the Father’s Day weekend to write, but that she did not know where.

Mr. Sawyer played down the controversy as a creation of Mr. Sanford’s political enemies.

Then, around 10 p.m. Monday, Mr. Sawyer sent a “high priority” e-mail alert to reporters that Mr. Sanford was hiking on the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. Mr. Sawyer flatly denied a television news report that the governor had been seen boarding a plane at the airport in Atlanta.

At the news conference, the governor said his staff members had based their statements on tentative scheduling information he had given before he left.

Mr. Sanford’s rivals immediately pounced on the apparent confusion in the governor’s office.

“The people of this state deserve complete honesty from Governor Sanford,” said State Senator John C. Land III, the Senate Democratic leader, in a statement issued Wednesday morning before the news conference. “Never in my 32 years as a state senator have I witnessed a governor and his staff act in a more dishonest, secretive and bizarre manner.”

But Mr. Land said that he doubted there would be pressure for Mr. Sanford to go because a resignation would mean that State Senator Glenn McConnell, the powerful president pro tem, would have to become the lieutenant governor, a relatively powerless position.

Mr. Sanford recently lost a high-profile battle to divert $700 million in federal stimulus money toward reducing the state deficit, challenging the Obama administration on the issue.

Critics said he was simply seeking to raise his national profile, but the governor maintained that his primary goal was to strengthen the executive office in South Carolina, where the governor has few powers.

Mr. Sanford has long been known as an iconoclast. As a congressman, he slept on a futon in his office. To showcase his opposition to pork-barrel spending, he once brought two live piglets onto the floor of the legislature.

Still, many were shocked by his announcement. “I never figured Sanford for anything like this, said Neal D. Thigpen, a political science professor at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

Reporting was contributed by Alexei Barrionuevo in Buenos Aires; Laurie Goodstein and Liz Robbins in New York; and Jim Rutenberg in Washington.

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN The Green Revolution(s)

There has been a lot of worthless chatter about what President Barack Obama should say about Iran’s incipient “Green Revolution.” Sorry, but Iranian reformers don’t need our praise. They need the one thing we could do, without firing a shot, that would truly weaken the Iranian theocrats and force them to unshackle their people. What’s that? End our addiction to the oil that funds Iran’s Islamic dictatorship. Launching a real Green Revolution in America would be the best way to support the “Green Revolution” in Iran.

Oil is the magic potion that enables Iran’s turbaned shahs — “Shah Khamenei” and “Shah Ahmadinejad” — to snub their noses at the world and at many of their own people as well. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaves like someone who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. By coincidence, he’s been president of Iran during a period of record high oil prices. So, although he presides over an economy that makes nothing the world wants, he can lecture us about how the West is in decline and the Holocaust was a “myth.” Trust me, at $25 a barrel, he won’t be declaring that the Holocaust was a myth anymore.

The Obama team wants to pursue talks with Iran over its nuclear program, no matter who wins there. Fine. But the issue is not talk or no talk. The issue is leverage or no leverage. I love talking to people — especially in the Middle East — on one condition: that we have the leverage. As long as oil prices are high, Iran will have too much leverage and will be able to resist concessions on its nuclear program. With oil at $70 a barrel, our economic sanctions on Iran are an annoyance; at $25, they really hurt.

“People do not change when you tell them they should; they change when they tell themselves they must,” observed Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy specialist. And nothing would tell Iran’s leaders that they must change more than collapsing oil prices.

Mr. Obama has already started some excellent energy-saving initiatives. But we need more. Imposing an immediate “Freedom Tax” of $1 a gallon on gasoline — with rebates to the poor and elderly — would be a triple positive: It would stimulate more investment in renewable energy now; it would stimulate more consumer demand for the energy-efficient vehicles that the reborn General Motors and Chrysler are supposed to make; and, it would reduce our oil imports in a way that would surely affect the global price and weaken every petro-dictator.

That is how — as Bill Maher likes to say — we make the bad guys “fight all of us.”

Sure, it would take time to influence the regime, but, unlike words alone, it will have an impact. I believe in “The First Law of Petro-Politics,” which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states — states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies — operate in an inverse correlation. As the price of oil goes down, the pace of freedom goes up because leaders have to educate and unleash their people to innovate and trade. As the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down because leaders just have to stick a pipe in the ground to stay in power.

Exhibit A: the Soviet Union. High oil prices in the 1970s suckered the Kremlin into propping up inefficient industries, overextending subsidies, postponing real economic reforms and invading Afghanistan. When oil prices collapsed to $15 a barrel in the late 1980s, the overextended, petrified Soviet Empire went bust.

In a 2006 speech entitled “The Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia,” Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister of Russia in the early 1990s, noted that “the timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to Sept. 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market.

“During the next six months,” added Gaidar, “oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms. As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive.”

If we could bring down the price of oil, the Islamic Republic — which has been buying off its people with subsidies and jobs for years — would face the same pressures. The ayatollahs would either have to start taking subsidies away from Iranians, which would only make the turbaned shahs more unpopular, or empower Iran’s human talent — men and women — and give them free access to the learning, science, trade and collaboration with the rest of the world that would enable this once great Persian civilization to thrive without oil.

Let’s get serious: An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction — to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy — helps us, helps them and raises the odds that whoever wins the contest for power, there will have to be a reformer. What are we waiting for?

GOP sex hounds! I LOVE IT.

I'm assuming Republicans want to monopolize all sex activity!
Who would thought that from the family values crowd.
They endorse monopolize like health care.
I thought GOP were conservatives. Even about sex.
But I was wrong!!
Keep on going for it but don't be so hipocritical and greedy if liberals love sex too!
If you hate hypocritical - the only thing better in this political tragedy would have been for Sanford to engaged in a HOMOSEXUAL romance and paid for it with tax payers money!
One can hope for a stake to be driven through this sanctimonious crap.

What could Sanford find a domestic piece? Why Argentina?
I do love the Latinas but GOPs?


Sanford Admits Affair With Woman From Argentina

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford says he's been having an affair with a woman from Argentina and will resign as head of the Republican Governors' Association.

The married father of four emotionally apologized to his wife, staff and others at a news conference after returning Wednesday from a trip to Argentina that followed a dayslong absence. His staff had said the Republican was hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Michelle Obama gets involved.

Hart --

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Sign up now to participate in a National Health Care Day of Service event this Saturday, June 27th.