Tales from the Trail

from Environment Forum:

Is Michelle Obama strumming along with Gibson Guitar?

It's not often that a U.S. first lady's gift makes news -- years after the fact -- but Michelle Obama's 2009 present to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has sparked some comment among free trade boosters and guitar pickers. The gift in question: a Gibson Hummingbird guitar.

Gibson Guitar Corp. has been making some news of its own this week, which is why those in Washington with long memories recalled the gift to the music-loving French first lady. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was in town to raise awareness about a problem he has with a long-standing U.S. law aimed at curbing illegal trafficking in tropical hardwoods, among other materials. Federal agents raided two of his Tennessee factories and confiscated more than $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony and finished guitars. No charges have been filed but Gibson's chief says he is being investigated for possible violation of the Lacey Act of 1900. Read more about that here.

At a lunch with reporters and others, Juszkiewicz said he favors using sustainably harvested wood for Gibson instruments, and because guitars need such a small amount of tropical hardwoods for their fingerboards -- the wooden top of the guitar's neck -- that's well within the realm of possibility. But he says a 2008 amendment to the act is more protectionist than environmentally friendly. And he says the seizure of the materials his company needs to make the instruments makes it harder for Gibson's hundreds of U.S. employees. The Justice Department has refused to comment on the ongoing litigation.

The 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act passed during the Bush administration with bipartisan support, but still hackles were raised soon after the latest raids at the end of August.

About Michelle Obama's gift to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy: the Hummingbird model features a rosewood fingerboard "with rolled edges for an extremely comfortable in-the-hand feel," according to the company's website. And as the site says, "It all starts with the wood."

Safari time in Africa for first lady, family

After nearly a week of public diplomacy and outreach in Africa, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and her family went on safari on Saturday and had an encounter with an elephant.

Obama, who is traveling on her second official solo trip abroad, went to see wildlife at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, roughly an hour away from Gaborone, Botswana, where she spent the previous night.

Together with her daughters, niece, nephew and mother, the first lady roamed the game park in an open-air vehicle, spending her final full day on the African continent engaging in a little touristic fun.

Washington Extra – Women of power

Were the cosmic pranksters having a laugh when the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day happened to fall on the same date as Fat Tuesday?

Washington showed off its woman power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed their delight at meeting on such an auspicious day. USA/

Britain’s former first lady Cherie Blair was also at the State Department for the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards ceremony.

Washington Extra – Royal news

bahraintowerCalling Bahrain.

As is increasingly the case, the United States is finding that talking pro-democracy is one thing. Dealing with the aftermath of uprisings another.

U.S. officials have been on the telephone with officials in Bahrain urging restraint after police attacked anti-government protesters.

The tiny Gulf kingdom that is home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet becomes another U.S. ally in the Middle East seeing unrest with protesters wanting their leaders gone.

Charlotte’s web catches Democratic convention

It’s Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic national political convention.

Democrats picked the banking center and Republicans chose Tampa, Florida, for their convention — highlighting the importance of the South to winning the White House next year. ROUTE-RECOVERY/

In the 2008 election, Obama became the first Democrat to win North Carolina — by about 14,000 votes over Republican candidate John McCain –  since President Jimmy Carter in 1976.

First lady Michelle Obama, in a letter to Democrats, described Charlotte as a city “marked by its southern charm, warm hospitality, and an ‘up by the bootstraps’ mentality that has propelled the city forward as one of the fastest-growing in the South. Vibrant, diverse, and full of opportunity, the Queen City is home to innovative, hardworking folks with big hearts and open minds. And of course, great barbecue.”

Obamas volunteer at school to celebrate King holiday

President Barack Obama volunteered at a local school on Monday to mark the Martin Luther King Day holiday, testing his talents as a painter while emphasizing the importance of community service in America.

Obama, who was joined by his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, helped out at a middle school, where volunteers were painting dancing fruit on the cafeteria walls to encourage healthy eating habits. The first lady has made fighting childhood obesity one of her signature issues since coming to the White House.

Obama painted an apple that looked like a cartoon character flexing its muscles.

Obama spared bedroom banishment by signing hungry kids law

President Barack Obama escaped banishment from the marital bedroom by signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 on Monday, and delivering on an issue that his wife has fought hard to advance.

“Not only am I very proud of the bill, but had I not been able to get this passed, I would be sleeping on the couch,” Obama joked at the signing ceremony at the Harriet Tubman Elementary School, offering a rare, if humorously intended, glimpse of the presidential marriage.OBAMA/

The first lady, who has led a White House push to get American children eating better and exercising more, played along with the joke, but said, “all kidding aside, my husband worked very hard to make sure that this bill was a priority in this session.  And I am grateful to you.”

Recycled newspapers, “Bo-Zilla” deck the White House halls

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The White House sometimes may not know what to do with reporters’ questions, but it appears to have made good use of their work this holiday season - using old magazines and newspapers to help deck the halls. The recycled publications were used to make sparkling golden wreaths and trees adorning the “Green Room,” which is decorated with the theme of recycling and reusing ordinary materials.

This year’s decorations at the executive mansion – with an overarching theme of “Simple Gifts” — include 19 trees. One  is covered with red, white and blue ornaments commemorating the branches of the U.S. military, and topped with a hand-made dove, symbolizing peace. Beside the tree is a basket filled with cards on which visitors can write messages, and a mailbox to send the messages to troops serving overseas.

A large figure of Bo, the Obama family dog, wearing a picture of himself on a red collar, is the focal point of an area decorated to depict “A Child’s Joy.”   A tree showcases gingerbread ornaments decorated by 300 children of members of all branches of the U.S. military. Nearby is the figure of the shaggy family pet, made of 40,000 black and white pipe cleaners.  “It’s pretty, pretty shocking,” first lady Michelle Obama told children attending a preview of the decorations. “But it’s very cool and he’s very soft.”

Political Surrogate Smackdown!

USA/You can tell it’s autumn in Washington: the leaves are changing color, Congress has flown away and the political surrogates are in full cry. For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, the full cry of the surrogate can often be heard from coast to coast — or at least from Broadway to Reno, Nevada.

Surrogates can do things the candidates can’t, sparring with words most candidates don’t use in places some candidates wouldn’t go. That’s why they’re fun to watch when they figuratively put up their dukes in the struggle before the November 2 vote.

At a Broadway theater on Monday night, Michelle Obama got a glitzy introduction from Sarah Jessica Parker of “Sex and the City” fame, who called the first lady “a role model, an inspiration” and a woman who “doesn’t need a pair of heels to stand tall.”

Michelle Obama joins stump on behalf of Democratic hopefuls

michelle_2010First Lady Michelle Obama shook off the rust and hit the campaign trail – at least the campaign fundraising circuit – ahead of the November midterm elections.

Praising her husband’s accomplishments in just a year-and-a-half in office, she urged supporters to “have his back” by getting out the vote for fellow Democrats so he can pursue promised change with a friendly Congress.

Republicans are expected to make inroads in the November mid-term election.

“This is my first day out on the campaign trail. In fact, I haven’t been on the trail since a little campaign a couple of years ago,” Obama told a well-heeled crowd attending a $750-a-plate fundraiser for U.S. Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias.