Media Ethics Lesson: Idris Elba and Essence Magazine

The man I love dearly - Idris Elba - is on the August cover of Essence magazine!

(Can you believe I pulled a media ethics lesson out of this!)

Last week while having lunch with my journalist-friend Stacey, we read the accompanying profile piece of the British actor with high anticipation. But you know that feeling you get when you look forward to reading a particular magazine article or new book, only to be disappointed and even cheated out of the money wasted to purchase the magazine or book.

That is how we both felt after reading the profile. Why you ask? Well, lets just say we were not too fond of all the "cake eating" going on in the article.

The article was written by acclaimed journalist Jeannine Amber and was based on her recent lunch date/interview with Elba. While the article is mainly about the actor's recent career moves since leaving The Wire, readers will get distracted by the writer's constant fantasizing of the different sexual positions she would like to do with him.

Oh my!!!

Now, mind you, I'm not an old prude. I love "String" as much as the next woman (or man), but there was something really sleazy and even creepy about the writer's interpretation of the meeting. I have never met the man in person before, although I got to do an email interview with him for a story about a PBS program he hosted last year. Nonetheless, based on other interviews he has done, he doesn't strike Stacey and I as the type of bloke who would want to partake in such an article.

Or maybe I am getting more prude as I get older. Luckily, based on some of the comments on Essence's website for this article, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

But even as a journalist, I couldn't imagine myself writing such an sexually charged article like this, even if I did get a chance to meet Elba. I would be too worried about being taken seriously by editors I would want to work with in the future. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, Elba has a lot more going on for him, which Amber could have delved into more with him, such as his acting career before his stint as Stringer Bell, or what he likes about being DJ Big Driis. But that's just me thinking out loud.

Stacey had a nuanced view on the article in question; if a similar article about an actress was written by a male journalist, wouldn't people be calling it sexist?


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Youth fight for food justice online

Photo by Umoja Community Builders

Last month the US Department of Agriculture released a report on food deserts - areas in the United States where communities lack access to supermarkets and other outlets selling foods necessary for a healthy diet. According to the report, 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. The report goes on to say that the "urban core areas with limited food access are characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater income inequality." In short, this problem largely affects low income communities and people of color. In recent years, there have been efforts by food justice activists around the country to bridge the food gap. One group in Chicago is taking back the food system online.

The Umoja Student Development Corporation is a Chicago-based, youth development organization which runs a six-week summer program in partnership with youth media group Free Spirit to film a short documentary about food deserts in the predominately African American community of North Lawndale.

"In my neighborhood, there are no grocery stores," said Porsha Treadwell, a student intern in Umoja's community builders program. "It is unfair that my community doesn't have the same access to healthy foods as other communities. It's just not right."

In addition to learning how to grow organic foods in community gardens and polling residents about their food shopping habits, the student interns have also kept a blog for the duration of the program about their own eating habits and the various social and environmental injustices that block access to food equity.

Also on the blog, the youth have created a slide show, displaying photos of themselves learning how to use cameras for their documentary.

Treadwell said this program has been a rewarding experience. She noted that she has had informative conversations with other residents about the food problem in the community, and how they now feel empowered to do something about it.

"When a community comes together, we can do powerful things," she said.

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Media Ethics Lesson: Michael Jackson

I have really tried to avoid talking about Michael Jackson for the last three weeks, mostly because I am just sick of Joe Jackson's smugness, LaToya Jackson's conspiracy theories, Debbie Rowe swearing and fighting to get custody of "her" kids. Up until this point, I just wanted to ignore the madness and remember MJ for all the good he did bring to the world.

But then this Pepsi commercial came out of nowhere.

So after 25 years, someone just decided to release the never-before-seen footage of Michael's hair being set ablaze in the now infamous pyrotechnic accident on the set for the commercial. The accident caused him second and third degree burns, as well as an entry path to his painkiller addition.

My first question: why show this now? Okay, maybe Pepsi and Michael had an agreement to not ever show the footage while he was still alive to protect his image. But what is the point of putting it out immediately after his death? I mean, really.

Second question: why does the media insist on showing the images of MJ dancing down the stairs with his head burning from the back angle over and over again? I got on the train this morning and picked up the newspaper with pictures of his burnt scalp on the front page. To top off this madness, Larry King has shown the video multiple times in the last couple of days on his show.

Pepsi released a statement today, claiming they had nothing to do with the footage release.

Pepsi spokeswoman Nicole Bradley spoke with Entertainment Weekly earlier on Thursday, July 17th, and gave them what Pepsi has to say about this. "We don't know how the footage became available. Twenty-five years later, we'd question why anyone would want to share such frightening images. It was a terrifying event that we'll never forget."

My point exactly...

So, I ask you. Is it appropriate to make this video available now, and is it right for the media to excessively show the video?


NAACP gets digital to curb police abuse

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States. During its centennial convention in New York this week, it was announced that the venerable organization will be moving into the new digital frontier with the use of video and mobile technology. After much complaining from African American bloggers about the organization's lack of online media use and relevance to engage constituents with its advocacy agenda, it looks like the NAACP is making strides to close its digital gap.

The organization launched its new Rapid Response System though its website last week, which will be "a quick, effective way for citizens to report instances of police misconduct, and to help public safety officials move beyond the “tough on crime” policies that have lost their effectiveness."

Users can send text messages, emails, or video reports of police abuse to the organization either by mobile phone or a web form that can found its website.

"Nationwide, more than 26,000 citizen complaints of police officer use of force were filed with state and local law enforcement agencies in 2002," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous in a statement. "However, because many incidents are not reported, this number does not capture the full magnitude of the problem...[P]ublic safety is a civil and a human right; and so we want a more accurate count of these incidents.”

In an interview yesterday, Monique Morris, NAACP's vice president of advocacy and research, noted that with the recent proliferation of digital activism, such as the videos that appeared online following the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by Oakland police officers (Viewer Discretion is Advised) earlier this year, there is a need to create a uniform space where information about police brutality can be collect and action can be taken to deal with the problem.

"There are so many videos on YouTube that show varying levels of injustices, but we want people to send their videos to us, so we can take the necessary legal and advocacy steps to address the problem in an organized fashion," Morris said. "This idea will help drive our advocacy agenda."

When contacting the NAACP using the forms, users have the option of saying what type of incident occurred (i.e. sexual harassment, false arrest), what type of law enforcement agency was involved (i.e. state, federal) and what was the believed primary reason behind the incident (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia). If this is used the way it is being proposed, along with the organization's long established reputation, it could make an impact in the long term, which can both address injustices still occurring among vulnerable communities while maintaining its reputation with the next generation of social activists.

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Better Trade, Not Aid

President Barack Obama is in Ghana right now, and sustainable food security for the African continent is one of his top issues. Obama was able (I think) to get the other G8 leaders to fork over $20 billion to deal with world hunger.

From New York Times:

The food security initiative is designed to transform traditional aid to poorer countries beyond simply donated produce, grains and meats to assistance building infrastructure and training farmers to grow their own food and get it to market more efficiently.

The $20 billion amounts to a substantial commitment if carried out, but it remains unclear how much is actually additional money. The American share of $3.5 billion over three years represents a doubling of previous spending levels.

“The sums just aren’t adding up,” said Otive Igbuaor, head of ActionAid’s hunger campaign. “Is this all really new money? Given the Group of 8’s record on delivery, this is still very much a work in progress. So far they have been counting not just apples and oranges but more like apples, oranges, cauliflowers and beets.”

Well, good on Obama for taking on the mantra of "why give them fish when you can teach them how to fish." I have been saying this for years.

However, in order to do this, there is serious need for Washington to overhaul its trade policies towards developing countries. We can't begin to have a discussion about food security without talking about the business of food.

Africa is the most resourceful place in the world. So, one would believe that the continent should be in better shape economically and be able to feed itself. However, because of disasterous trade agreements the developing world has with many Western powers and the "good" folks over at the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund, poverty in the most vulnerable countries have only gotten worst over the last 40 years.

From Christian Science Monitor:

Although American and European chicken farmers do not receive direct subsidies, the grains used to feed their birds do qualify for state aid, and this indirect assistance puts the African farmers at a disadvantage. "Even after shipping it over and the retail markup, the imported chicken can sometimes be 40 percent cheaper than birds reared here in Ghana," explained Mr. Quartey, who has had to lay off 50 workers this year alone.

Global imports of chicken into Ghana are ten times what they were a decade ago. After much lobbying from the industry, which directly employs an estimated 10,000 people, Ghana's government agreed to double tariffs on imported chicken to 40 percent.

However, in March this year, using emergency legislation, parliament overturned the hikes in a move government officials, trade campaigners, and poultry farmers alike attribute to pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which sits atop a pyramid of donors on whom Ghana relies for 45 percent of its money.

So what's a West African poultry farmer to do? Quartey believes the key to pressuring the World Trade Organization into cutting them some slack is banding together and speaking out.

Here are some current stats on US-Ghana trade relations:

Total two-way trade between Ghana and the United States was valued at $840 million in 2008. Ghana is the fifth largest sub-Saharan African market for U.S. goods.

The leading U.S. exports to Ghana were motor vehicles, machinery, and mineral fuel. U.S. imports from Ghana are primarily oil, cocoa, and timber.

The Obama administration has not spent much time discussing trade since coming to the White House, as health reform has been prioritized. Nonetheless, based on some of the language I have seen come from his people, there may be hope for a better, fair trade world.

From 2009 Trade Policy Agenda Report:
Expanded trade can make an important contribution to boosting growth in developing countries and lift their national income levels. Economic growth in these countries benefits the American economy by expanding markets for American exporters. We shall promote trade policies, including technical assistance for capacity building, that will help these countries engage successfully with the world economy.

Trade preference programs help entrepreneurs in developing countries compete effectively in the world trading system. Many of our nation's trade preference programs are coming due for legislative review. We will work with the Congress and public stakeholders on their renewal and reform. We will give careful consideration to proposals to concentrate benefits.

I guess we have to wait and see how sincere Obama is on this issue.

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Hondurans get online despite gov't ban

Last week's coup in Honduras is the latest incident where a government shut down radio and television stations during a political crisis, which has yet again outraged the international community. Just in the last month, China and Iran have made all efforts to create media blackouts in their respective countries. Digital activism has now made its way to the Central American country and making an impact in citizen journalism.

Discussions and protests about the coup lit up the Internet over the last week. People from around the world have been debating each other on Twitter at #Honduras and #crisisHN in both English and Spanish. There have been many videos shared also shared on Twitter relating to the coup, including this one. Since Honduras is not usually a country that makes international headlines, some folks are taking over the role of traditional media and have started up their own blogs with the sole purpose of educating the world about the issues that led up to the crisis. One blog compared the ousting of President Manual Zelaya to the 1974 pending impeachment and resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. Another blog was started up by a group of academics and writers to address "the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras."

The Latin Americanist hosted spirited discussions on its blog on the mixed Honduran reaction to the overthrow. Many anonymous comments left on the blog posts relating to the topic have been deemed suspicious by others, like this blogger.

These comments are typical. Clearly from right-wing Hondurans, probably in
the United States - as Tegucigalpa has no internet with the military blocking

I posted on my blog a short update immediately as I heard of it. Just to
update readers. Within hours I got two posts (similar, huh?), and have seen this
elsewhere, of what appears to be trollers commenting:

"we hondurans are proud of this day in which we defended our constitutional
system viva honduras!"



The top above me are more wordy but express the same sentiments. Curfews, murder, running over protesters are freedom-loving expressions. The military is
"defending" the constitution - which these people have not yet read.

It is still too early to determine the impact of social media used during this crisis, as Zelaya is now demanding his rivals to give up power, and met with U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton yesterday in Washington. However, whatever happens, Hondurans are determined to make sure their voices are hear.
"The silent majority of Honduras offers you our support and personal testimonies," said one blogger. "We are here to defend our democracy and constitution, and will help the international community in anything that may be needed to provide them with authentic facts and eventualities. We will be silent no more."

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In Defense of Black Foodies: Michelle Obama

Black food justice activists have come under attack lately

The first lady is taking hits for her kitchen garden these days. Andrew Kimbell, Center for Food Safety executive director, argued recently that the garden has high levels of lead, due to some "nastiness issues."

From Huffington Post:

Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the realization of the First Lady's good intentions. Recently the National Park Service discovered that the White House lawn, where the garden was planted, contains highly elevated levels of lead -- 93 parts per million. It's enough lead for anyone planning to have children pick vegetables in that garden or eat produce from it to reconsider their plans: lead is highly toxic to children's developing organs and brain functions -- however, it's below the 400 ppm the EPA suggests is a threat to human health.

What caused this alarming contamination of the White House lawn? Some news outlets speculated that residue from lead paint might have caused the toxicity. However an article running on Mother Jones online has a more probable explanation. During the 1990s, the Clintons agreed to have the South Lawn of the White House "fertilized" with ComPRO, a commercially available "compost made from a nearby wastewater plant's solid effluent, a.k.a. sewage sludge."

Thanks Bill and Hill!

Then, Obama Foodorama's Eddie Gerham Kohan slammed him back with possibly not the best defense of the garden.
And Kimbell came back with the quickness.

What do I think? I think it's great that Mrs. Obama wants to teach Americans about sustainable gardening; however, she must also include dialogue on this most pressing issue on sludge fertilizer, which can be a teachable moment for all Americans about these hazards of gardening.

Will the Obama administration take on the sludge industry about this matter? Maybe Mrs. Obama will use her newly-found influence to take on Big Ag? Don't hold your breath, but for now, I want to keep an open mind about the garden.

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"Organic" Food is Questionable

Surprise, surprise (I guess ???) - "organic" doesn't really mean organic, or at least according to the USDA. Leave it up to the DC food lobbies to continue to f*ck up the food system.

From Washington Post:

...Grated organic cheese, for example, contains wood starch to prevent clumping. Organic beer can be made from non-organic hops. Organic mock duck contains a synthetic ingredient that gives it an authentic, stringy texture.

Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country's adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.

But the USDA program's shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to protect the label, even as he acknowledged the pressure to lower standards to let more products in...

...Under the original organics law, 5 percent of a USDA-certified organic product can consist of non-organic substances, provided they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. That list has grown from 77 to 245 substances since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far...

But wait, here's the best part.

The agency has not acted, for example, on a 2002 board recommendation that would answer a critical question for organic dairy farmers: how to interpret the law requiring that their cows have "access to pasture," rather than be crowded onto feedlots. The result has been that some dairy farms have been selling milk as organic from cows that spend little if any time grazing in open spaces.

"This is really a case of 'justice delayed is justice denied,' " said Alexis Baden-Mayer, national political director for the Organic Consumers Association. "The truly organic dairy farmers, who have their cows out in the pasture all year round, are at a huge competitive disadvantage compared to the big confinement dairies."

[Barbara] Robinson [who runs USDA's organics program] has blamed the delays on the program's small staff, saying that "we have to prioritize."

It's good to know Ms Robinson and the other "good" folks at USDA are looking out for America's food system. Too bad they don't have time to prioritize making sure our food is safe, healthy and sustainable.

Note to self: Start your own garden; food purchased anywhere can no longer be trusted.

Fend for yourselves...

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Phil Wilson on black homophobia, HIV/AIDS

Black AIDS Institute CEO Phil Wilson recently attended the annual convention for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the largest organization for black newspapers in the United States. For many years, there has been a reluctance to discuss HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia in the black community. Wilson, who is openly gay and HIV positive, tells it like it is.

From Seattle Medium:

“We started in a bad place,” Wilson said in an interview before addressing the annual convention of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA). “We started with the conventional wisdom that AIDS was about White gay men. So we got a free get out of jail card – it was about White people. If I am honest, I was included in that group.

“Secondly, it was about gay people and for most African-Americans, that means that it was not about us. Thirdly, we already had a full plate. AIDS really hit in 1980 to 1982 and we were dealing with unemployment, we were dealing with poverty, we were about to deal with welfare reform. There were all these issues that we were busy with. So this was an issue that we didn’t want to be a part of and we could make the excuse that all these other issues were more important.”

In the early 1980s, there were no Hollywood celebrities adopting HIV/AIDS as their pet project. For Blacks, confronting the issue of HIV/AIDS, there were also other considerations.

“There is an increased reluctance to take on any other possibility to be further stigmatized,” Wilson explained. “So, ‘I’m not willing to take on the banner of homosexuality and I’m not willing to take on the banner of drug use and I’m not willing to take on the banner of having a deadly disease.’”

Wilson began taking up those banners when he helped organize a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims in Los Angeles during the early stages of the epidemic. The issue became personal when Wilson, who is openly gay, learned in 1980 that he was HIV positive. His partner died of AIDS nine years later.

Unlike many Blacks, Wilson does not believe that homophia is any worse among African-Americans than Whites. However, he says, the rejection is much more painful.

“For Black and gay lesbians, we need our community to protect us against the bias of racism. Where do I go when I am called a nigger? I go to our church. I go to my mama and pappa – that’s where I go.

“But when I’m called a faggot, I don’t got anywhere else to go,” Wilson said, intentionally selecting his words for impact. “And particularly if the people who are calling me a faggot are my mommy, my daddy and my church.”

Wilson said White gay men have a different reality.

“When you are a White gay man, you’re still a White man and all of the privileges that go with being a White man are delivered to you,” he explained. “When I am a Black gay man, at the end of the day, I still have to be a Black man in America.”

As you all know, I have worked in the black press for a while now, and I have written articles here and there about these issues. Much of this discussion of battling stigma needs to be taking place in the black media, and I hope Wilson's attendence at the convention is a step forward.

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Summer Book Reading List 2009

This is a long weekend for many of us, and there is no better time to enhance your intellectual curiosity than to take a good book with you on your summer vacations. Independence Day is also a celebration of our freedoms, including freedom of speech and press.

So, here are some books I hope to read in the next two months:

Of course, I have to read a book on food politics.

The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food--Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation's Food Was Seasonal

I'm attending the Harlem Book Fair in a couple of weeks, and what better way to celebrate black literature than a book about a Harlem legend.

Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism 1883-1918

I minored in Cold War and post colonial studies in college, and I always wanted to read a book on Krushchev. Before there was Kim Jong-Il, Krushchev was the resident nut of world politics, threathening America will missiles.

K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist

Any other recommendations? What are you reading?

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In other news...

Yes, believe it or not, there is actually other stuff going on in the world besides the media circus better known as Michael Jackson's death and the quest to find out who inherits what in the will he left behind. Quite frankly, I'm ready to move on from this story, which seems to be get more bizarre by the minute.

Diana Ross???


It's funny how in the middle of Iran imploding and North Korea planning to send missiles to US shores, the media has lost all of its senses and done wall-to-wall coverage of MJ. I just about had it last night when I was watching Entertainment Tonight, and the reporter actually asked Ola Ray (MJ's love interest in the Thriller video) if she had sex with him. Talk about low road journalism...but I digress.

So, here is some other news that has been going on:

Iraq (and its discontents)
American troops pulled out of major cities in Iraq this week. But we all know this don't really mean anything to anyone, right? Aren't the Iraqis free now?

From NY Times:

In BASRA, the mood was generally skeptical.

Haider Muhammed Ali, 31, a communications engineer:
“The withdrawal doesn’t represent national sovereignty because the troops will remain at the airport base and will stay inside Iraq.”

Samir Alwan, 28 years, owner of a mini market:

“They will not withdraw to their homes in their country. They will stay here and in emergency cases they would enter the city. So it is not national sovereignty according to my point of view, and I think the Iraqi Army is only able to control the southern areas. They are unable to make Baghdad and Mosul safe.”

Najim Salim, 40 years, a teacher.

“There is no doubt it is not national sovereignty because they will stay inside Iraq in military bases. The Government wants to convince the citizens that there is a withdrawal of foreign troops, although the Government could not protect citizens in some cities in Iraq even with the presence of U.S. forces. So the Government will fail to protect citizens after the withdrawal, and then the Government will ask the foreign troops to come back.”

Ayman Jasim, 37 years, a photographer .

“ I am happy for the withdraw of Americans it is national day and national sovereignty come back again to Iraq. I believe Iraqi troops will control the city and nothing will happen after their withdrawal.”

The gays vs Obama administration
Meanwhile, President Obama is seemingly throwing the gays under the bus with recent decisions on same sex marriage and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Now I know realistic Obama can't come out supporting gay marriage, as most of the country is still against it. However, most Americans are ready to get rid of the military ban on gays.

I have been thinking about this issue for a while. Do you think the hesitation for Obama to support pro-gay initiatives has anything to do with sustaining the black vote in 2012? This might seem silly, but hang on with me here. With such large opposition of same sex marriage in the black community, do you think the first black president fears losing some of his support from his own race if he is seen as being to willing to give in to gay rights? I actually know a few black folks who have said to me recently that Obama is getting "too soft" on supporting gay people.

Vibe magazine is dead
Vibe, the "venerable" hip-hop magazine, shut down yesterday, due to being "the latest victim of the media recession." But other folks are saying that the mostly white management ran it into the ground (thanks for sending that link, Marcy). I say it died because it simply sucked and wasn't relevant anymore. It's funny, I didn't even know it was still in publication...

Cynthia McKinney is out to save the children
And finally news that can by filed under "Embarrassing Black People"

From Washington Post:
The former controversial congresswoman from Georgia has resurfaced - on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea trying to deliver supplies to Gaza.

Israeli forces arrested McKinney and other passengers on board the ship, according to a group called Free Gaza, which said on its Web site that McKinney and the others "have been illegally incarcerated for their solidarity work with Palestine."

The Israeli Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta, however, accused McKinney and her fellow travelers of waging a "reckless political stunt."

McKinney, who ran for president in 2008 as a Green Party candidate, was defeated in 2006, not long after she was accused of punching a Capitol Police officer who mistook her for a tourist. She had made a brief comeback after being defeated in 2002, at which time her father said he blamed the "J-E-W-S" for his daughter's defeat

The "Free Gaza" website, freegaza.org, quotes McKinney as saying that she and her group .

This is an outrageous violation of international law against us," she was quoted as saying. "Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that's exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.

She's right about Gaza, but must she be the spokesperson on this?

Okay, now you can get back to the real news: Now who gets Michael's kids? Katherine Jackson? Debbie Rowe? Diana Ross? Madonna? (she'a adopting these days...)

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