For Michelle Obama, a Second-Term Agenda Focused on Children

CHICAGO – Announcing the name of the best picture via satellite for Oscars was an extension of Michelle Obama’s interest in promoting the arts among children, her principle constituency, and if people didn’t like it, that was unsurprising and not particularly bothersome, she said.

“My bangs set off a national conversation,” Mrs. Obama said during an interview here in which she reflected on the public’s fascination with her activities and her sense of what being the first African-American family in the White House has meant so far, and hinted at a more international second term agenda. “We’ve got a lot of talking going on,” she said. “Everybody’s kitchen table conversation is now accessible to everybody else. It’s absolutely not surprising.”

The interview came just before she announced a new initiative to promote physical education in schools, a pet initiative of her first term. Participating in the Oscars, remotely, was intended to “hold up the arts,” Mrs. Obama said. “We are going to approach those filmmakers to do things for kids in this country, and that’s going to be their hook. I want to connect with those people and then I want to pull them in.”

Criticism of her media appearances – which intensified in recent weeks – doesn’t bother her, she said, chalking it up to a modern media era. “I don’t think about that stuff,” she said.

“There’s no logic in that, she said, adding “It doesn’t have anything to do with me. Anyone in this position has a huge spotlight and in modern day media the spotlight just gets more intense. I don’t attribute this to me or Barack. The culture has ju! st shifted. “

Setting a second-term agenda under the klieg lights is a focus of Mrs. Obama and her staff right now, in which all seem to be mindful of both the scrutiny and power of the office of the first lady. While she declined to provide specifics, Mrs. Obama said that whatever work she would do in the second agenda would likely build on her efforts to help children, possibly internationally.

“I have a special affinity for kids,” she said. “We love our kids so much and it is very hard not to see our kids in every child we meet. I am powerfully moved by children. I need to have them in my life. They keep me focused, they keep me directed.”

For the 6,000 Chicago-area children who came to hear her speak about exercise along with famous athletes here, she said that “I’m not going to be in a room with 6,000 kids and not touch some of them. Kids need that attention, that physical connection to an adult they see or know.”

Mrs. Obama elaboratd on what being part of the first African-American couple – and one of the iPhone generation – had meant. “We’re a young couple, we have young kids, we grew up with limited means,’’ she said. “Our stories are the stories of so many faceless, voiceless people. She added, “My life isn’t new but it’s new to a lot of people who haven’t seen this up close and personal.”

While emphasizing that “whatever I do will involve kids,” Mrs. Obama declined to provide specific new agenda items. She was repeatedly asked if she would work to push President Obama’s gun agenda, for example and demurred.

“Our hope is that over the next weeks and months we will hone in” on her agenda, she said. “If I do anything internationally I want it to dovetail with the work I do domestically,” making certain that “my time outside of the country is linking back and being real to people here.”

Mrs. Obama has largely tried to stay out of hot-button issues like gun safety. “The q! uestion b! ecomes who defines what’s contentious and controversial,” she said. “I can’t think along those notions because everyone’s definition of what’s controversial is different.” She added, “What I don’t want is just to do something to satisfy someone’s idea of what’s controversial.”

Random note on Mrs. Obama’s many years going to a camp for low-income children in Chicago: one year she was not named best camper because she cursed too much. “I was like ‘Man, I am really getting out of hand.’ That left an impact in my mind.”

Don’t tell her mother.

For Michelle Obama, a Second-Term Agenda Focused on Kids

CHICAGO – Announcing the name of the best picture via satellite for Oscars was an extension of Michelle Obama’s interest in promoting the arts among children, her principle constituency, and if people didn’t like it, that was unsurprising and not particularly bothersome, she said.

“My bangs set off a national conversation,” said Mrs. Obama during an interview here in which she reflected on the public’s fascination with her activities, her sense of what being the first African American family in the White House has meant so far and hinted at a more international second term agenda. “We’ve got a lot of talking going on,” she said. “Everybody’s kitchen table conversation is now accessible to everybody else. It’s absolutely not surprising.”

The interview came just before she announced a new initiative to promote physical education in schools, a pet initiative of her first term. Participating in the Oscars, remotely, was intended to “ hold up the arts,” Mrs. Obama said.“We are going to approach those filmmakers to do things for kids in this country, and that’s going to be their hook. I want to connect with those people and then I want to pull them in.”

Criticism of her media appearances – which intensified in recent weeks – doesn’t bother her, she said, chalking it up to a modern media era. “I don’t think about that stuff,” she said.

“There’s no logic in that, she said, adding “It doesn’t have anything to do with me. Anyone in this position has a huge spotlight and in modern day media the spotlight just gets more intense. I don’t attribute this to me or Barack. The culture has just shifted. “

Setting a second-term agenda under the kleig lights is a focus of Mrs. Obama and her staff right now, in which all seem to be mindful of both the scrutiny and power of the office of the first lady. While she declined to provide specifics, Mrs. Obama said that whatever work she would do in the second ag! enda would likely build on her efforts to help children, possibly internationally.

“I have a special affinity for kids,” she said. “We love our kids so much and it is very hard not to see our kids in every child we meet. I am powerfully moved by children. I need to have them in my life. They keep me focused, they keep me directed.”

For the 6,000 Chicago-area children who came to hear her speak about exercise along with famous athletes here, she said that “I’m not going to be in a room with 6,000 kids and not touch some of them. Kids need that attention, that physical connection to an adult they see or know.”

Mrs. Obama elaborated on what being part of the first African-American couple – and one of the iPhone generation – had meant. “We’re a young couple, we have young kids, we grew up with limited means,’’ she said. “Our stories are the stories of so many faceless, voiceless people. She added, “My life isn’t new but it’s new to a lot of people who haven’t sen this up close and personal.”

While emphasizing that “whatever I do will involve kids,” Mrs. Obama declined to provide specific new agenda items. She was repeatedly asked if she would work to push President Obama’s gun agenda, for example and demurred.

“Our hope is that over the next weeks and months we will hone in” on her agenda, she said. “If I do anything internationally I want it to dovetail with the work I do domestically,” making certain that “my time outside of the country is linking back and being real to people here.”
Mrs. Obama has largely tried to stay out of controversial issues like gun safety. “The question becomes who defines what’s contentious and controversial,” she said. “I can’t think along those notions because everyone’s definition of what’s controversial is different. She added, “What I don’t want is just to do something to satisfy someone’s idea of what’s controversial.”

Random note on Mrs. Obama’s many yea! rs going ! to a camp for low-income kids in Chicago: one year she was not named best camper because she cursed too much. “I was like ‘Man, I am really getting out of hand.’ That left an impact in my mind.”

Don’t tell her mom.

A New Furby Toy

Furby has a new little sister — or maybe brother.

In stores this week, Furby Party Rockers from Hasbro, costing $23, are smaller and cheaper than the regular Furby, which are priced at $60. But they do less, too. There’s no animatronics and cheaper, backlighted lenticular eyes, designed to look like more expensive color eyes that move. They run on three AAA batteries and come in four varieties, complete with predetermined personalities and names like Loveby and Scoffby.

So what can they do

Because the base is rounded, you wake up these little Furbys with a rocking motion. These motions are captured and counted, along the sound of our voice. More sound and motion equals more Furbish-talk, and eventually a song. If another Furby is near, large or small, they will sing in harmony.

Kris Paulson, Hasbro’s design manager of integrated play, said Furbys communicate with high-frequency sounds, called audio watermarks. You probably can’t hear them, but a nearby Furby or your dog proably can. So can your phone if it’s running the free Furby App on Android or the iPhone operating systems.

These new Furbys are part of a growing Furby empire that includes dress-up items, furniture (furbiture) and social media hooks.

One feature that Party Rockers share with their larger counterpart is that there is no off switch. Your only option is to remove the batteries, or drop one into solitary confinement for a few minutes. Finding such a place when children are around just might count as a 21st-century parenting skill. There’s a video on how these work.

Tip of the Week: Clean Your Phone and Its Camera

Smartphones spend a lot of time in hand, where they can pick up germs and dirt. Wiping down the phone regularly with an antibacterial cloth intended for use with touch screens can help keep it clean. Many office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot carry disposable wipes for use on phone and tablet screens.

If your phone has a camera and your photos have been looking blurry, you can clean its lens with a microfiber cloth or other wipe for use with camera lenses; a cotton swab moistened with distilled water can also take off stubborn grime. Whatever you do, though, do not spray the phone with industrial cleansers or use cleaning wipes designed for household chores, because these can damage the screen and other parts of the handset.

The Early Word: Sequester Eve

In Today’s Times

  • As the Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the Voting Rights Act on Wednesday, some conservative justices appeared skeptical about whether a part of the law targeting discrimination practices in nine states should stand. Adam Liptak writes that the justices’ sharp questioning indicated that the provision might be in danger, especially after Congress did not act on the court’s earlier recommendation to update the formula for determining which states should be subject to that part of the act.
  • With $85 billion in federal spending cuts set to start kicking in on Friday, some Republicans and Democrats are seeing the silver lining of the so-called sequester. Jonathan Weisman explains that Democrats are hppy to cut Pentagon spending and postpone dealing with entitlement programs, while President Obama sees an opportunity to focus on gun control and immigration. Republicans are pleased just to see the government shrinking.
  • Anticipating bad news once the sequester reductions hit, President Obama and his aides have been trying to brace Americans for cutbacks and make sure that Republicans get the blame for them, Michael D. Shear reports.
  • The House is poised to pass the Senate’s version of a bill to reauthorize and expand the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday, after Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their party, Jonathan Weisman writes. The House is expected to reject its own version before considering the Senat! e legislation, which would broaden the domestic-violence law to address same-sex and tribal jurisdiction issues.
  • Jacob J. Lew is set to be sworn in as the 76th secretary of the Treasury after the Senate confirmed his nomination on Wednesday. Jeremy W. Peters writes that the 71-to-26 vote was notable in that it “meant that for the moment at least, the Senate returned to its traditional role of affording the president deference in selecting his cabinet.”
  • On a campaign for tougher gun laws, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York met Wednesday with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader; and a few Republican moderates. But Jackie Calmes and Jeremy W. Peters write that Mr. Bloomberg did not atted a Senate hearing where he would have seen the lawmakers’ resistance to stricter laws.
  • Michelle Obama kicked off the third year of her “Let’s Move” healthy eating campaign on Wednesday, starting a three-city tour in Mississippi, where obesity rates are the highest in the nation, with the food celebrity Rachael Ray, Jennifer Steinhauer reports. On Thursday, the first lady will make stops in Chicago and Missouri.

Happenings in Washington

  • At 9 a.m., a House Ways and Means! subcommi! ttee will hold a hearing on the proposed waiver of work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
  • At 9:30 a.m., Pfc. Bradley Manning is expected to take the stand at his hearing at Fort Meade, Md.
  • At 10 a.m., the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold its second hearing on the Federal Housing Administration’s financial condition and program challenges.

A Big Swig of Extra Battery Power

There is not a lot that sets auxiliary batteries apart. A few more amps here, a few more USB plugs there, and that’s about it.

Digital Treasures, though, has taken the trouble to gussy up the basic battery, putting 13,000 mAh of lithium-ion power into what appears to be a flask.

Called the Power Flask, the case has a flask’s distinctive curve, for discreet pocket storage, and leather trim with red stitching. The end caps are chromelike polished aluminum.

The Power Flask, which retails for $90, has two USB ports, one supporting 1 amp charging for phones, and a second supporting 2.5 amp charging for tablets.

You can charge more low-demand devices at a time, though; two phones can be put into the 2.5-amp slot using an included Y cable, and another can be charged from the 1-amp slot for a total of three devices at once. The flask also comes with two 30-pin adapters. If you’re using a Lightning connector, you will have to supply your own.

The flask has blue LEDs to indicate he charge level and twin white LEDs on the top that work as a flashlight.

Iowa Congressman Says He Won’t Run for Senate

Did the Republican Party’s quest to win control of the Senate just become more difficult

It is too early to draw a conclusion, given that the midterm elections are 21 months away. But the decision on Wednesday by Representative Tom Latham not to make a bid to fill the seat of Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is retiring, disappointed many Republicans.

The Senate race in Iowa, for the state’s first open seat since 1974, has gained considerable attention as Republicans aim to pick up six seats to win a majority next year. The contest has become an early proxy for whether Republican leaders will be successful in their efforts to instill a greater sense of discipline into primary races.

Mr. Latham, a close ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, said in a letter to supporters on Wednesday that he did not want to run for the Senate so quickly after winning re-election.

“I cannot in good conscience launch a two-year statewide campaign that will detract from the commitment I made to the peple who elected me,” Mr. Latham wrote, “at a time when our nation desperately needs less campaigning and more leadership.”

Representative Steve King of Iowa, who has made a series of incendiary statements during his time in Washington, even while earning strong praise from his constituents, is considering a bid, and Republican officials believe he is inclined to run. The decision by Mr. Latham only increases the likelihood that Mr. King will enter the race, two of his close supporters said.

His potential candidacy could be the first test of the Conservative Victory Project, a group founded by Karl Rove and the “super PAC” American Crossroads to take an aggressive role in Republican primaries next year.

The project is being waged with last year’s Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd A! kin’s comment that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy complicated Republican campaigns across the country.

Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, who is overseeing the Conservative Victory Project, cited Iowa as an example for why Republicans needed to intervene in primary fights.

“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said in an interview this month. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”

For his part, Mr. King said this month that he would not be bullied out of a Senate race. He asked his supporters to make contributions to his campaign account, saying, “Karl Rove and his army have launched a crusade against me.”

Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, a conservative group that hs taken an active role in Republican primaries, criticized the Conservative Victory Project on Wednesday. He said it was incorrect to assume that Mr. King could not run a viable candidacy and win the Senate seat.

“We don’t think King is like Akin,” Mr. Chocola said in an interview. “We don’t think he has an Akin problem.”

Still, the decision by Mr. Latham not to run for the Senate caused ripples from Iowa to Washington. Republican officials in both places said they were searching for other prospective candidates to enter the race.

Representative Bruce Braley is the only Democrat to enter the race. He has already locked up the support of several state Democratic leaders and is expected to avoid a contested primary campaign.

New Partnership Brings New Design for Sol Republic

Sol Republic's latest Tracks on-ear headphones, designed by tokidoki. Sol Republic’s latest Tracks on-ear headphones, designed by tokidoki.

Sol Republic knows a good partnership when it sees it. After Michael Phelps wore a pair of Sol Republic headphones during the Summer Olympics last year, the company quickly signed an endorsement deal with the swimmer.

Its latest collaboration is with Tokidoki, the Japanese-inspired lifestyle brand created by the Italian designer Simone Legno. Sol Republic, known for making headphones wth interchangeable components, released two new designs Tuesday that are infused with Tokidoki’s distinctive style.

The new designs are part of Sol Republic’s Tracks line of on-ear headphones that allow users to mix and match headbands and cables to create their own look. The line starts at $100 for Sol Republic’s V8 sound engines, a virtually indestructible headband and cable with an inline microphone. The headbands come in a rainbow of colors and slide into the ear cups, which hold the sound drivers. The cable connects to the bottom of the right and left ear cups, with an inline microphone and music controls that are set in a yoke at chest level. Each component is also sold separately at Sol Republic’s Web site.

For an extra $30, you can upgrade to the Tracks HD, which come with V10 sound engines. The sound of the Tracks HD headphones that I tested was clear with a deep bass, and it got even better at higher volumes, especially for electronic and rock music.

The Tokidoki h! eadphones, which cost $150, have the V10 sound engines, but also come with a custom Tokidoki bag. Sol Republic also offers a brightly hued design from deadmau5 and an U.S.A. theme inspired by Mr. Phelps, both for $150. The Tracks line also includes a pair of $180 headphones called Ultra that are geared toward audiophiles.

The interchangeability of the Tracks headphones is a clever idea, especially if you like to wear your headphones as a fashion statement, but it comes with a drawback: the fit. The ear cups don’t swivel, and although they were comfortable, I could not get them to sit on my ears properly. The fit wasn’t perfect, but at least they looked stylish.

Union Leaders Call for Repeal of Automatic Spending Cuts

ORLANDO, Fla. — With President Obama and Congressional Republicans making little progress toward reaching a budget deal, the nation’s union leaders on Wednesday began pushing a new proposal to prevent the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration: immediately repeal the law that put them in place.

At the annual winter meeting of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council, labor leaders – alarmed that large-scale cuts and layoffs would begin on Friday – abandoned their previous call for Congress to embrace a balanced approach toward rducing the deficit. Instead, the labor leaders said repealing the sequestration law was the best route to prevent what labor leaders fear will be disastrous cuts, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of layoffs, many of them unionized government workers at the federal, state and local levels.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., a federation of 57 labor unions, has strongly backed Mr. Obama in his standoff with the Republicans. The labor federation has taken an approach diametrically opposed to the Republicans – it has said the $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction should be done totally by increasing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. Having agreed to a tax increase on the wealthy in the last round of deficit talks, Republicans have said they want all deficit reduction now done through spending cuts.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. attacked the Republican approach, accusing Congressional Republicans of engaging in hostage-taking.

“Republicans in Congress once again are ! threatening to harm the economy unless Democrats agree to cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefits,” the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council said in a unanimously backed statement. “We urge President Obama and members of Congress of both parties to reject te Republican ransom demands and disarm the hostage takers instead. Only then can we focus on the urgent challenge of fixing the economy, raising wages, investing in our people and putting America back to work.

The federation’s executive council then added: “The solution is to disarm the hostage-takers so they no longer can hold the economy hostage to get their way. Disarming the hostage takers means repealing ‘sequestration’ — not replacing it. Across-the-board cuts would increase unemployment and harm the economy, but so would replacement cuts of the same size.”

Republican leaders say that budget cuts are needed to reduce a dangerously large deficit. They resist further tax increases on the grounds that they would slow economic growth and discourage job creation.