Activists Protest USDA Changes That Threaten Free School Lunch

Justin Ruben of ParentsTogether speaks on Thursday at a press conference organized to deliver 1.5 million petitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The petitions are protesting proposed changes to the food stamps program that would also affect the free school lunch program.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Parents Together

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Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Parents Together

When Elle Simone Scott was a young girl, her family relied on food stamps and her school’s free lunch program to get by.

“At several points in my life, receiving free lunch when I needed it the most, it was so beneficial for me,” she says. “You know, it was sometimes the most complete meal that I and some of my friends would have in a day.”

Now Scott, a chef and TV host of America’s Test Kitchen, is part of a coalition fighting to save the program from a proposed rule change by the Trump administration.

Scott was among a few dozen people – including anti-hunger groups, parents, students and local activists – who staged a “lunch in” outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday. They were there to deliver petitions with 1.5 million signatures urging the agency not to adopt the proposed rule change.

The change, first announced over the summer, would eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, as the food stamps program is now known, for more than 3 million people by eliminating something called broad-based categorical eligibility, a policy that gives states the flexibility to waive some asset and income limits for households that receive both SNAP and other welfare benefits.

As NPR’s Pam Fessler has reported, “most states take advantage of these waivers, in part because it makes it easier to administer safety-net programs, which often have different eligibility requirements.”

Last month, the USDA released an analysis showing that the change would also result in nearly a million children losing automatic access to free school lunch.

The agency estimates that even with the change, about half of the affected children would still be eligible for free lunch if they applied to the program separately. Even so, the additional paperwork required could be burdensome for families that are already struggling to make ends meet, says Dionna Howard, a D.C. parent and local activist with PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education), who spoke at Thursday’s event.

“It’s a lot that they take you through for the little bit that they give you,” says Howard, who told the crowd gathered for the event that she had first-hand experience with the SNAP program. Her mother, she said, still relies on the benefits.

The USDA analysis suggests 51% of affected kids would likely be eligible for reduced-price school meals, instead of free ones; another 4 percent, or 40,000 children, would lose free lunches altogether, because their family incomes exceed eligibility limits.

In announcing the rule change over the summer, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue noted that it would save $2.5 billion a year from SNAP. But Mike Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen, an anti-hunger nonprofit, argued that SNAP is “one of the most efficient, least abused, most successful governments support programs that was ever been invented.” He said leaders should be looking for ways to expand access to the program, not limit it.

“We often in this country talk about the kids … and the kids are the future,” he says. “Well, if we want to give our kids a future, the first thing we need to do is give them lunch.”

The public comment period on the proposed change to SNAP closed on Nov. 1. But Bethany Robertson co-founder of ParentsTogether, which helped organize the petition, hopes it will galvanize lawmakers to block the change from taking effect.

“We expect that the additional petitions will hopefully motivate some lawmakers and also other officials to just say, ‘hey, wait a minute, we need to take a second look at this,'” Robertson says.

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In A Rote, Rebooted ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ Only Kristen Stewart Earns Her Wings

Elizabeth Banks directs the reboot of Charlie’s Angel featuring Ella Balinska (from left), Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott — and a whole bunch of wigs.

Merie Weismiller Wallace/Columbia Pictures

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Merie Weismiller Wallace/Columbia Pictures

Farrah Fawcett (or Cheryl Ladd), Kate Jackson, Jacklyn Smith and a speaker box. Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and a speaker box. Whatever its merits as a television show or an early aughts movie franchise, Charlie’s Angels has been more or less a democracy, with an emphasis on crime-fighting teamwork and an equal distribution of “Jiggle TV” lasciviousness. Fawcett and Barrymore may have been the tip of the spear, but the formula calls for a balanced trio, spurred into adventure by a disembodied male boss and their put-upon handler.

That dynamic ends in the new Charlie’s Angels, which stars Kristen Stewart and two actresses of limited renown — one who played Jasmine in the live-action Aladdin and another whose credits are too short and obscure to mention. Stewart is both the unquestioned lead and a chaos agent, freelancing around the action and dialogue scenes like a cartoon troublemaker and extending herself as a style icon, a sex symbol and a genuine oddball. Where past “angels” have been cast like bedroom-poster options for heterosexual men, Stewart plays up and down the Kinsey scale like the piano in “Great Balls of Fire,” inviting long gazes from the camera and from the widest possible cross section of the audience.

Beyond Stewart, there’s not much else to respond to about this rote updating of a piece of intellectual property that shouldn’t have survived past a season or two in the mid-to-late 1970s. Where the two Barrymore/Diaz/Liu movies were a pulsing Cuisinart of pop culture references — the signature scene in the first set a Hong Kong-inspired fight scene against Crispin Glover to The Prodigy’s rave hit “Smack My B**** Up” — writer-director Elizabeth Banks’ is more like a campy, underbudgeted Mission: Impossible, full of globetrotting action that is never as lively as it needs to be. It’s like an understudy’s imitation of how an entertaining action movie might behave.

In this high-tech Charlie’s Angels, the Charles Townsend Agency has more in common with the covert spy networks of Alias and Mission: Impossible than private detective business of the TV show. It also has multiple Bosleys to handle angels in each city, including one played by ex-NFL and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan, in case that’s exciting to anyone. After a retirement party for the original Bosley (Patrick Stewart), another Bosley (Banks) assembles a team to contain a powerful, portable energy source before it can be weaponized and sold to the black market.

With the rebellious Sabina (Stewart) and ex-MI-6 agent Jane (Ella Balinska) already in place, Bosley and her team monitor Elena (Naomi Scott), a scientist-turned-whistleblower who developed an alternative energy system that could, in the wrong hands, be used as a handheld, untraceable “assassination machine.” Once nefarious forces catch wind of Elena’s activities, Bosley and the angels swoop in to protect her while working to contain the threat posed by her invention. Her technical know-how makes her useful for various silly undercover operations, and a quality candidate to fill out the trio permanently.

As an actress in films like Wet Hot American Summer and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Banks cut her teeth in the Judd Apatow/David Wain schools of improvisational comedies, and there’s a looseness to Charlie’s Angels that allows for some scribbling in the margins. The main problem is that Stewart is the only person in the cast who takes advantage, leaving scene after scene to fall flat and joke-less whenever her mischievousness trails off. Some of Banks’ odder touches pay off, like Stewart and Balinska breaking out in a choreographed dance number midmission, but others are inexplicable, like a random montage of active women that serves as a transition from one sequence to the next.

Mostly, Charlie’s Angels misses the opportunity to be truly eccentric by having its trio chase a MacGuffin around in stylish clothes and conspicuous costume get-ups, not unlike the TV show in double time. While distracting enough at times, the film feels more like a steppingstone in Stewart’s career than a proper destination in its own right, adding a note of comic versatility to a on-screen repertoire that will be better exploited elsewhere. Her fellow angels may be seen as young stars on the rise, but the film is a custom-made catapult for her career.

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Yovanovitch, Ex-Ambassador To Ukraine, Will Testify In Trump Impeachment Hearing

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives on Capitol Hill to appear before lawmakers in closed-door questioning for the House Intelligence Committee, relating to the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

When the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine was abruptly removed from her post earlier this year, some Democratic lawmakers called it “a political hit job.” Now the congressman in charge of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is making the case that Marie Yovanovitch’s ouster is part of the story of a president abusing his power in relations with Ukraine.

Yovanovitch will be the sole witness Friday, the second day of the inquiry’s public hearings over whether Trump used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigations that would benefit him politically.

Marie Yovanovitch was the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv from August 2016 to May of this year, when she was removed and ordered to return to Washington. State Department colleagues say she was withdrawn following a campaign of slander led by Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer for President Trump.

In the transcript of her private testimony in the impeachment inquiry last month, Yovanovitch says she was informed of her removal by the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

“He said that the president had lost confidence in me, and no longer wished me to serve as an ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018,” Yovanovitch told lawmakers. “He also said that I had done nothing wrong, and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.”

In those many hours of testimony, Yovanovitch offered a dramatic picture of her ouster.

She said she first learned that Giuliani was campaigning against her from a Ukrainian official who told her to “watch her back.”

In late April, a colleague also warned her that she was at risk.

“She said that there was a lot of concern for me, that I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington,” Yovanovitch said.

Diplomats were accustomed to criticism from Ukrainians or Russians who didn’t like their messages, said George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. But Giuliani’s campaign against Yovanovitch was different, said Kent, who was the ambassador’s deputy in Ukraine.

“It was unexpected and most unfortunate to watch some Americans — including those who allied themselves with corrupt Ukrainians in pursuit of private agendas — launch attacks on dedicated public servants advancing U.S. interests in Ukraine,” Kent told lawmakers Wednesday in the first day of public testimony.

Kent said he tried to get the State Department to push back against what he has called a “disinformation operation.” Instead, the State Department brought Yovanovitch home, claiming it was timed to coincide with the inauguration of a new president in Ukraine.

Kent testified that corrupt Ukrainian prosecutors who had their own axe to grind were feeding bad information to Giuliani.

“They were now peddling false information in order to exact revenge against those who had exposed their misconduct, including U.S. diplomats, Ukrainian anti-corruption officials and reform minded civil society groups in Ukraine,” he said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the impeachment inquiry, said sidelining Yovanovitch set the stage for Giuliani to advance the president’s personal and political interests.

Republicans dismiss that argument, saying the president has the authority to recall any ambassador for any reason.

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, took Kent to task on this point during Wednesday’s hearing.

“So you agree with me that we shouldn’t impeach a president for exercising his constitutional authority,” Ratcliffe said.

“I’m here as a fact witness to answer your questions,” said Kent. “Your constitutional obligation is to consider the evidence before you.”

Former U.S. diplomats have been outraged by the treatment of Yovanovitch, who is still a State Department employee.

Tom Countryman, who spent 35 years in the foreign service, said ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, but the president’s rights are not unlimited.

“He’s got the authority to do it,” Countryman said of Trump’s removal of Yovanovitch. “But if he exercises the authority for the purpose of extorting something from the government of Ukraine, I would certainly call that an abuse. But that’s the judgment that the Congress has to make,” he said in an interview.

Another former career diplomat, Nancy McEldowney, was furious that Mike Pompeo’s State Department has not supported Yovanovitch, even after a rough call log of a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s new president, in which Trump said the ambassador would be “going through some things.”

“Ambassador Yovanovitch was told to watch her back by the interior minister in Ukraine, who’s responsible for the intelligence and law enforcement services. All of this considerable intimidation that has been imposed on these people. And yet they come forward because they feel duty bound and honor bound to tell the truth,” said McEldowney, who now is at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

She said public servants are putting their careers, privacy and personal safety at risk.

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are warning the administration not to punish State Department officials who testify.

State Department leadership “has focused on preventing and dissuading its personnel from providing information and testimony to Congress. Many have decided, boldly, courageously, to stand up and testify nonetheless — at great personal, financial, and reputational expense,” 10 senators wrote in a letter on Tuesday to the deputy secretary of state and undersecretary of state for management.

The senators noted they were addressing the letter to two of Pompeo’s top aides rather than to the secretary of state himself because, they said, Pompeo’s “silence to date speaks volumes. He has failed to stand up for his Department’s own people.”

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At Michigan State, Students Protect Their Mascot From Mischievous Rivals

Legend has it that some University of Michigan fans defaced the statue sometime in the 1960s, and that led to members of the Michigan State University band and other students, sitting vigil.

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Alec Gerstenberger/WKAR

Members of the Michigan State University marching band are braving below freezing temperatures to take part in “Sparty Watch” — a more than 50-year-old protection scheme devised to fend off attacks on MSU’s beloved mascot, The Spartan, in advance of their rivalry football game on Saturday.

It’s 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and 22 degrees. Twenty members of the MSU marching band and color guard are huddled outside in the snow flanking the 9-foot bronze statue.

Students are dressed in calf-length parkas, puffy jackets and stocking caps. Some wear three pairs of socks just to stay warm. They’re standing guard so that Sparty isn’t defaced by any University of Michigan football fans before the Wolverines and Spartans face off for the 112th time this Saturday.

The tradition is inspired by equal parts of pride and folklore. As legend has it, some mischievous University of Michigan fans defaced The Spartan sometime in the 1960s, painting the statue blue and maize.

Over the years, the attacks have differed. Some involved paint hurled from water balloons; others involved spray paint on the sidewalk. According to The Athletic, there have been six successful paint attacks during “Michigan week,” the week leading up to the game.

The block “M” on the University of Michigan’s campus has also occasionally been vandalized by rival Spartans.

Members of the MSU band began sitting vigil in the 1960s to keep Sparty untarnished. Now, the nightly watch is run by Kappa Kappa Psi, the co-ed service fraternity affiliated with the MSU marching band.

On any given night, a handful or dozens of marching band members guard the statue. Freshman Gigi Dauphinee plays the mellophone in the band. She grew up hearing tales of Sparty Watch from her Mom, an alumna of MSU.

The Sparty Statue must be protected at all costs. @DantonioMark brought rations to the troops to keep morale high. #RivalryWeek 💚🍕

— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) October 17, 2018

“When she was here, some Michigan fans came with water balloons full of yellow and blue paint and tried to paint Sparty, but instead turned him green. That’s the story that I grew up with and so we’re here to protect against that. And I just think that’s really cool,” Dauphinee said.

She, like most bandmembers gathered around Sparty, was first exposed to the MSU, UofM rivalry when she was a kid.

“Ever since I was in elementary school it was kids on the playground being like, ‘Are you a Michigan State fan or a Michigan fan?’ And it was always a huge divide,” she said. “So, I just think it’s so cool being in one of those schools now, growing up in Michigan and being a part of that rivalry.”

Ryan Malburg is the president of Kappa Kappa Psi and a baritone section leader.

“Most people think we’re crazy. It’s definitely bragging rights if anything. We try to stay out. Only a few people end up staying each night. But, you know, it’s a great experience. You get to know a lot of people in the band,” Malburg said.

Most students leave around midnight but a few stay all night. Lauren Cichocki plays alto saxophone for the band. She’s a senior and a seasoned veteran of Sparty Watch.

“My freshman year I found myself out here until six o’ clock in the morning. From Thursday night into Friday morning and then I went to class at 8 a.m. And it was just fun. It was just an adventure to say that I did it,” Cichocki said.

She heckled bandmate Charles Tucker to stand watch overnight. Before long Tucker caved to the pressure. He wanted the bragging rights.

“So, you know, it’d be nice to say ‘Oh, I stayed out ’til midnight,’ to all my Michigan friends back at home,” he said.

Around midnight, the cluster starts to buzz with excitement before launching into MSU Shadows, harmonies hanging in the cold air.

“MSU, we love thy shadows,” the group sings. “When twilight silence falls, Flushing deep and softly paling. O’er Ivy covered halls; Beneath the pines we’ll gather. To give our faith so true, Sing our love for Alma Mater. And thy praises, MSU.”

For the band mascot guards, the watch is nearly over. Members of ROTC will protect Sparty starting Friday, so band members can rest before the big game.

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