Iceland’s Sportacus to the Rescue


Learn to do the signature move of Sportacus!

Sometimes your children are the bringers of new things into your life, and this is the case with Sportacus. He is the action hero of Lazy Town, a show on Nick Jr. which debuted in August of 2004, and now has about 7 million viewers. The show’s creator and lead actor, Magnús Scheving, is a whirlwind of talent and energy, and a sly communicator of important nutritional information to children. His signature arm-swishing take-off move, which my daughter has learned from a step-by-step video on Nick Jr, makes me laugh every time I see it.

From an article in Fast Company:

Shot in Gardabaer, Iceland, using advanced HDTV cinematography, each $600,000 LazyTown episode is a hypervivid assault on the senses. “The pacing is incredibly fast, and we were mesmerized by it,” says Michael Carrington, who bought LazyTown for the BBC. “It’s as innovative and genre changing as Teletubbies. And like Teletubbies, you either hate LazyTown or you love it.”

There’s a lot to love. While the incidence of childhood obesity in the United States has nearly quadrupled in the past three decades, the trend in Iceland has been halted–due in no small part, the Icelandic surgeon general has determined, to LazyTown. During a LazyTown book promotion in Norway, consumption of fruits and vegetables increased 12.5% and soft drinks fell 16%.

“People ask me how we make exercise cool, but it’s like trying to explain the secret of making people laugh,” says Magnús Scheving, the show’s creator (and the buff guy in the unitard). His campaign for kids’ health began in 1991 with a book, Go! Go! LazyTown!, followed by live theatrical performances and a 24-hour radio station. Now he sells everything from LazyTown-branded bottled water, cookbooks, shoes, and kids’ airline meals to Fisher-Price toys, T-shirts, cod-liver oil, and toothpaste. (Scheving’s LazyTown Entertainment won’t reveal financial data, but he says its value has doubled in each of the past five years.)

It’s a financial performance nearly as frenetic as Scheving’s show. Just watching one episode, wherein Sportacus overcomes Rotten’s soccer robot, is enough to leave one (and one’s 3-year-old) exhausted. The big question (yet unanswered): Is it also enough to get the kid to eat carrots?

Let’s hope so. I have noticed that my daughter has begun asking me regularly before we eat something: is this good for you? These are the questions we hope Sportacus is encouraging her to ask, as he rescues the children of our world from obesity and other food-related health problems.

The Case for Impeachment — It’s Becoming Mainstream

Carl Sheeler, Candidate for US Senate in RI, paid for this billboard.

This billboard is from the Carl Sheeler campaign for US Senate in Rhode Island. Carl Sheeler is running as a Democrat. Right now in the polls he is showing about 3-5% support. So he will most likely not win the primary. But he is the “Impeach Bush” candidate, and there’s something to be said for that. Perhaps, with his presence, one of our other senate candidates will clue into the American public’s sentiment and similarly call for impeachment.

And on that topic, Lewis Lapham is making the case for impeachment in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s, soon to be online. Here is a short excerpt.

Before reading the [Conyers] report, I wouldn’t have expected to find myself thinking that [impeachment] was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don’t know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man. We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country’s good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world’s evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation’s wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies. In a word, a criminal — known to be armed and shown to be dangerous. . . .

Harpers is also sponsoring a forum on impeaching Bush. Speakers at the forum include Lewis Lapham, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Michael Ratner, Elizabeth Holtzman, and John Dean. Here are the details.

THU MAR 2, 2006 8:00PM

Tickets are $10 and are available here.

The Plane Truth

I keep having the same disturbing dream. I am on a crowded airplane flying through clouds thick with moisture. George W. Bush is piloting the plane. Riding shotgun as co-pilot is Dick Cheney. Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are flight attendants, but they are dressed as cheerleaders. The service is poor to non-existent, except for those select few sitting in First Class. I am carefully apportioning my stale peanuts when Captain Bush makes an announcement: Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent. Please fascinate your seatbelts, and put your seatbacks in their uprightable position. At this moment, I happen to glance out the window and, through a hole in the clouds, notice to my horror that the plane is flying too low. In a flash, I realize that the aircraft is well past due for an inspection (thanks to FAA budget cuts), the altimeter must be malfunctioning, and we are going to crash. I try to scream to alert the crew or the passengers, but a gag is covering my mouth (and the USA Patriot Act forbids me from disclosing such information anyway). I try to rouse myself from this nightmare, only to realize that I am wide awake!

On September 11, 2001, passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93, aware that their plane had been seized by dangerous men with the deadliest of intentions, fought valiantly to regain control of the aircraft. In so doing, they all perished but managed to prevent an even greater tragedy. The courage of these individuals is worth remembering at this time, because we, the citizens of this great nation, are now passengers on a similar plane with a similar destination. Though I may joke at times, the steady erosion of our civil liberties, our economy, and our environment is no joking matter. The flag-draped coffins of our children who have sacrificed everything for the most specious of causes are no joking matter. Our democracy is in grave peril. Unless we wrest control of this republic from the likes of Bush and Cheney and those who would blindly follow them, we will all perish. It is very simple. We must choose between descent or dissent. Which will it be? Let’s roll.

Land Mismanagement 101

Okay, boys and girls, get out your #2 pencils. (Just out of curiosity, has anyone ever seen a #1 pencil?) Here is your Civics quiz question of the day:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is…

a. an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
b. the caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency.
c. responsible for sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
d. currently being criticized for restricting the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land.
e. all of the above.

If you answered “e,� then congratulations! You win my enduring admiration. (Don’t look so disappointed. Second prize was a quail hunting trip with Dick Cheney. Kevlar vest not included.) In case you were unaware, the BLM has apparently been shirking its official mission (see “c� above) and spending considerably more time on reviewing and granting drilling permits than on protecting the wildlife that increasingly appears to be adversely impacted by such activity. Blaine Harden reported on this trend in yesterday’s Washington Post, in an article entitled “Federal Wildlife Monitors Oversee a Boom in Drilling�:

PINEDALE, Wyo. — The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands.

Here on the high sage plains of western Wyoming, often called the Serengeti of the West because of large migratory herds of deer and antelope, the Pinedale region has become one of the most productive and profitable natural gas fields on federal land in the Rockies. With the aggressive backing of the Bush administration, many members of Congress and the energy industry, at least a sixfold expansion in drilling is likely here in the coming decade.

Recent studies of mule deer and sage grouse, however, show steep declines in their numbers since the gas boom began here about five years ago: a 46 percent decline for mule deer and a 51 percent decline for breeding male sage grouse. Early results from a study of pronghorn antelope show that they, too, avoid the gas fields.

Yet as these findings have come in, the wildlife biologists in the Pinedale office of the BLM have rarely gone into the field to monitor harm to wildlife. more…

Yet again we are presented with evidence of the Bush Administration’s general disregard for the welfare of the environment and wildlife and greater concern for fattening the wallets of its corpulent corporate cronies. That such short-sightedness and greed has come to dominate the political landscape and devastate the natural landscape is a true tragedy and will no doubt endure as one of the many horrible legacies of the Bush era.

BONUS question: What are you going to do about it?

The Crime Of Denial

Apparently, in Austria, publicly denying reality in the face of overwhelming evidence is a criminal offense. As has been widely reported, British historian David Irving was recently sentenced in a Viennese courtroom to three years in prison for having refuted the occurrence of the Holocaust. Regardless of how one feels about Irving or the crime, such as it is, for which he has been punished, the whole matter sets an interesting precedent. Were it similarly illegal in this country to deny the existence of a major global calamity, then President Bush would be under indictment for denying the reality of global warming. (Given the President’s many offenses during his tenure in the White House, not the least of which is misleading the country into war, charging him with a crime for failing to give credence to global warming is admittedly akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion. But, hey, whatever gets the job done.) As anyone who has even mildly been paying attention the last 5 years knows, Mr. Bush is about as much a devotee of science as Mr. Irving is of the Torah. In an article published in the Miami Herald last year, entitled “Under President Bush, Science Takes Back Seat,� Fred Grimm reflected on the Bush administration’s troubling aversion to science:

Good science hasn’t exactly been a presidential priority. Federal research budgets have been cut. Scientific findings at odds with political ideology have been altered or killed by political hacks. Politicos have overruled scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries.

Some 6,000 American scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences, have signed a petition complaining about the Bush administration’s dismissive view of science. The administration’s political appointees have denied findings by the government’s own scientists on industrial mercury pollution, arsenic levels in drinking water, emergency birth control, AIDS prevention, endangered species, abstinence-only education and, most famously, global warming.

It is also worth noting that the President appears to seriously question the theory of evolution, given his suggestion last year that intelligent design be given equal footing in America’s science classrooms. (I half expect him to deny the laws of gravity next.) On the surface, Mr. Bush’s views, like those of Mr. Irving, appear laughable and ludicrous. But, unlike the Nazi apologist’s, the President’s views are truly dangerous, for they shape public policy—one that ignores, distorts, or suppresses the scientific facts to the detriment of us all. And that, in my mind, is criminal.

Interview With Elizabeth Roberts

On healthcare, education, economic development, ethics in government, and environmental issues, Elizabeth Roberts provides answers on how she would lead Rhode Island to a better future as our first female Lieutenant Governor.

On the Job

What is your vision for the state of Rhode Island? How does this contrast with what your opponent, Kernan King, would bring to the job?

I have lived in Rhode Island for over thirty years and I know how wonderful our state is. I am also convinced we can be better. As a parent, businesswoman, community leader and for the past 10 years as a state senator I know the problems we face: Less access to affordable and good-quality healthcare, soaring energy costs and a high-tax burden on working Rhode Islanders. This all contributes to slow economic growth for our state. We can do something about it.

My opponent and I have had very different life experiences. I have made my home in Rhode Island. I have raised my children here. He has lived in Massachusetts and Florida and just recently moved back to our state in November. Our philosophies are different. We need to be responsible to our citizens and hold the line on taxes, but I don’t believe that the only way to spur our economy is tax breaks only for the wealthy.

We need to make healthcare a priority to create jobs. The number one obstacle for businesses wanting to expand is the cost of providing healthcare for new employees. I am sponsoring a bill that will create a public/private partnership to reduce the burden of healthcare costs on small businesses.

I also believe that the lieutenant governor needs to be an effective advocate for Rhode Islanders — not just the governor — no matter what party you are in.

Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, who reportedly demurred at national Republicans recommending that he run for lieutenant governor, described the position as such: “In Rhode Island, the job of lieutenant governor is to ride a bicycle around the state and wait for the governor to die.” Would you offer an alternative characterization of the job?

The lieutenant governor is not just an executive in-waiting. If you have a parent or grandparent in a nursing home, you know how fortunate we are to have a lieutenant governor that serves as an advocate for long-term care. If you have started a business with a grant from the Small Business Administration, you understand the importance of this office as an advocate for small businesses. And if you believe a horrible tragedy like Hurricane Katrina should never happen in Rhode Island, then you know how important the lieutenant governor is to emergency preparedness in this state.

The lieutenant governor’s clear role in succession is very important for stability in state government and for our economy. New Jersey doesn’t have a lieutenant governor and in a one-year period (2002) the state had 6 governors, with one serving for only 90 minutes. The people of New Jersey thought the position was so important, that they amended their constitution last year and created the position.

On Education

I note on your site you mention how you enjoyed walking your children to your community school in Cranston, Norwood Avenue School. As you know, that school has been closed in Cranston, and another community school, Horton, is now being slated for closing. This seems to be one way some school departments are dealing with their budget crises. What could we be doing to save small community schools?

My children received a wonderful education at Norwood Elementary and we are fortunate to have had that experience. Smaller schools and smaller class sizes result in a better education for our students. But we also need to reform our educational system to make sure children are learning and not just memorizing for tests. Standards are important and we need make sure students and teachers are meeting them. We also need to hold school boards and elected officials accountable to make sure we are using our educational dollars in the most responsible way. We can keep community schools open if we spend our money wisely and work hard to find creative solutions to our budget problems.

Two Democrats in Rhode Island, Peter Kilmartin and James Doyle, are proposing legislation to regionalize the administrative functions of school departments, reducing our systems from 36 to 5. Do you see potential for this legislation? Do you have concerns about it?

Reducing our system from 36 school departments to 5 may be severe at this point. There is a definite need to be more resourceful in a state as small as ours, but we need to find other creative solutions to maintain the strength of our neighborhood schools.

On Health Care

Some conservative critics in Rhode Island have charged that our healthcare for low income families is too generous. I wonder if you could respond to this criticism.

Annual doctor visits and asthma medication are cheap compared to what we would spend on a sick child in an emergency room. Preventative medicine saves money and puts less of a burden on our healthcare system.

The cuts to health care in the governor’s budget represent a drastic step that is unhealthy for families and children, detrimental to the health care services we depend on and harmful to businesses in the state. The cuts would increase the pool of the uninsured by at least 10,000 and increase premiums for all Rhode Islanders.

These cuts will drive low-income families off our programs and into the emergency rooms where costs are higher. This will affect the health of our state and end up costing us all money. More importantly, children and families are going to get sick and we will turn our backs on them.

On the national level, the President is calling for healthcare savings accounts and increasing the ability for people to “shop around” when consuming healthcare. One problem with this idea is that information about the quality of providers (their work history, complaints, special licenses, patient feedback) is not readily available. Nor is any information available about the costs which doctors charge. Do you think Rhode Island should take steps to provide more information to healthcare consumers, such as setting up a state-run database to provide information on the quality of individual providers and the prices they charge?

Government has a role in helping consumers make good decision about their healthcare needs. In Rhode Island, we are fortunate to have one of the best reporting systems in the country for healthcare quality. I help build the Performance Measurement reporting that is available online with the Department of Health. The report measures patient satisfaction and clinical performance, two very important criteria for evaluating healthcare facilities.

I also helped create the Office of Health Insurance Commissioner to oversee insurance companies and health care costs last year. The new commissioner, Christopher Koller, is a watchdog for consumers and the position is the first step towards better consumer education in healthcare.

On Gambling and Economic Development

There is just about nowhere in the state where you can be more than 20 minutes away from a gambling establishment. Yet more gambling places are constantly being proposed. Where do you stand on gambling?

I am opposed to a casino in Rhode Island because gambling is not an economic engine. We need a more broad-based economy based on sectors like biomedical research. Gambling is a too simple and narrow-minded solution and its implications are too complex and problematic for our state.

Do you have any other ideas to spur economic development in the state?

Biotechnology is a growing sector of our economy and we should continue to foster cooperation with the field. We need to build on the strengths of our local universities so we can be a national leader in research and development.

On the Environment

Are you in support of enlarging and further developing TF Green Airport?

We need to make sure we protect the quality of life for residents in Warwick and Cranston and maintain the economic interests of our state. Appropriate growth should be a priority as long as environmental and neighborhood concerns can be addressed. Residents of the towns directly impacted by plans should have some local input to mitigate issues with the state and the federal government.

Are you in support of plans to further develop a Liquid Nitrogen Gas terminal in Rhode Island or Fall River, MA?

I do not support an LNG terminal in Narragansett Bay. I do believe we need to focus on a comprehensive energy strategy that includes renewable resources.

On Corruption/Cronyism in Rhode Island

Should we be doing more in Rhode Island to combat corruption like the situation with Roger Williams Medical Center? If so, what?

As a public servant, I have devoted myself to the highest ethical standards and I believe all elected officials should be held to those standards. Public service must be built on trust whether you are serving constituents from Warwick and Cranston, or you are running an important public facility like Roger Williams hospital that serves all Rhode Islanders.

As co-chair of the legislative committee charged with healthcare oversight, I worked hard to reform the state’s largest healthcare insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield when they were losing the public’s trust. Our efforts helped refocus the non-profit’s mission to provide affordable healthcare and increased accountability to the public that Blue Cross serves. We will be holding hearings in the coming months to make sure hospital administrators conduct themselves ethically and have the public’s best interest in mind.

Do you think the separation of powers legislation passed in 2004 has impacted problems of cronyism and conflict of interest in Rhode Island politics?

Separation of Powers has greatly reduced the conflicts of interest in our state and I am happy to have played a role with this legislation. Government needs to be for all people, not just the powerful or well-connected. Part of creating a healthy and strong Rhode Island has to be eliminating corruption from our public bodies. I know strong ethics and a dedication to doing what’s right can make a difference for Rhode Islanders.

Finally, is there anything else you want to say? What message do you want to get to the people of Rhode Island?

I’ve dedicated my career to tackling the toughest issues facing Rhode Islanders and finding creative solutions that help people. My hard work and persistence has gotten results for my constituents. Now I am ready to put my experience and commitment to work on behalf of all Rhode Islanders.

I also want to become the first female lieutenant governor because I believe young women, like my two daughters Kathleen and Nora, deserve female role models in leadership positions.

I would love to hear from Kmareka readers and I would be honored to ask for their support.

Thanks, Senator Roberts. I have two daughters as well, ages six years and six months. My hope is that by the time they are old enough to vote, strong female leaders like yourself will be the rule rather than the exception in Rhode Island politics.

Kevin Drum’s Review of “Impostor” by Bruce Bartlett

The review is called George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan and I’d like to add that in my favorite passage in the review, Drum points out that Ronald Reagan was no Ronald Reagan either. In other words, Reagan’s actual behavior, and many of the things that happened during his administration, were not nearly as small government and “traditionally conservative” as conservatives like to believe. From the article:

What’s more, as Bartlett tacitly acknowledges, Reagan in practice wasn’t as conservative as his supporters remember him being. Sure, he famously cut taxes in 1981, but he raised taxes in nearly every year after that—including corporate taxes. He took a stab at cutting Social Security, but backed off after losing seats in the 1982 election and ended up endorsing a conventional liberal solution that increased payroll taxes and created a massive trust fund. He reduced the growth of domestic spending, but he never eliminated the cabinet departments he had promised to eliminate. In fact, he even added a new one. And he supported expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, an important anti-poverty measure. The reason that even liberals look back on Reagan a little more fondly today than they did at the time is that, in the end, he turned out to be a fairly pragmatic guy. (For more on this, see “Reagan’s Liberal Legacy,” by Joshua Green, January/February 2003.)

This is the reality that true-believer conservatives—Bartlett among them—don’t want to believe. For all the trash talking from right-wing leaders like Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay, the fact is that America is only a moderately conservative country. And despite the electoral success of conservatives over the past decade, that hasn’t changed much. Although party affiliations have shifted as Southern conservatives have migrated to the GOP, Harris polls since the early 1970s show that Americans self-identify as about 20 percent liberal, 35 percent conservative, and the rest in between, and those numbers have been rock-steady for decades. So where’s the conservative revolution?

Well, that’s kind of reassuring. If Kevin Drum is right, we’re still winning, and even with the flop that is Bush, there is hope. Now if we could just get back some of the billions he gave away in tax cuts and restore them for social security….