In a little-noticed 2012 interview, Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the front-runner in Montana's open 2014 Senate race, expressed support for teaching creationism in public schools.
In an interview that aired on November 2, 2012, Sally Mauk, news director for Montana Public Radio, asked Daines, who was then running for Montana's lone House seat, whether public schools should teach creationism. Daines responded, "What the schools should teach is, as it relates to biology and science is that they have, um, there's evolution theory, there's creation theory, and so forth. I think we should teach students to think critically, and teach students that there are evolutionary theories, there's intelligent-design theories, and allow the students to make up their minds. But I think those kinds of decisions should be decided at the local school board level." He added, "Personally I'd like to teach my kids both sides of the equation there and let them come up to their own conclusion on it." Here's a recording of the exchange:
Daines did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for Democratic Sen. John Walsh—who was appointed in February by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to replace longtime Democratic Sen. Max Baucus and could potentially face Daines in the general election—says, "Sen. Walsh respects everyone's right to practice their faith but believes public school is a place for science, not religion."
The radio interview wasn't the first time Daines dabbled in creationism. On July 31, 2012, Don Pogreba, a Montana high school teacher who blogs about politics, reported that Daines was scheduled to attend a breakfast fundraiser for his campaign at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky—an establishment that says it "brings the pages of the Bible to life." Visitors to the Kentucky museum learn about what the world looked like "6,000 years into the past"—at "the dawn of history"—and can see "children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden's Rivers." A notice for the event was reportedly posted on Daines' campaign website. A few days later, Alex Sakariassen, a reporter for the Missoula Independent, asked Daines' campaign why the congressman was holding a campaign event at the controversial museum. Zach Lahn, Daines' campaign manager at the time, replied that "all location details and speaker invitations have been made by [Daines] supporters," not the campaign itself. After the Independent published a story about the event, the announcement for the fundraiser disappeared from the Daines campaign's website. And a spokeswoman for the Kentucky museum says the fundraiser never took place there.
On the campaign trail, Daines points to his executive experience at a Bozeman-based tech firm, RightNow Technologies, as evidence he's a pragmatic businessman focused on economic issues. Greg Gianforte, a longtime Daines ally and donor who founded RightNow and sold it in 2012 for more than $1.8 billion, also has a history of supporting creationism. In 2009, his charity, the Gianforte Family Foundation, helped fund the $1.5 million creationist dinosaur museum in Glendive, Montana. According to the Billings Gazette, Gianforte's foundation made "the largest donation for a specific exhibit," funding a display featuring Tyranosaurus rex and Acrocanthosaurus. In the years since that museum opened, Gianforte has become one of Daines' campaign backers; he sued the Montana Democratic Party in 2012 for allegedly making false claims about Daines and RightNow, he contributed the maximum $5,200 to Daines' campaign in 2013, and the two men appeared together publicly as recently as March 2014, at a Yellowstone County Republicans dinner. (Gianforte did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
The Glendive museum's website contends that "the wonders of God's creation are prostituted for evolutionism." The museum promises to tell visitors whether "the dinosaurs die[d] out 65 million years ago" or "co-exist[ed] with man and diminish[ed] within the last five thousand years." (Spoiler alert: The museum sides with the latter.) Otis Kline, president of the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth, which runs the museum, says that he knows Daines, but hadn't "seen him for quite some time." Kline would not say whether Daines had donated to or supported the Glendive museum.
Although it may give pause to some scientists and educators, Daines' advocacy for "teaching the controversy" won't necessarily hurt him in the polls. A Pew Research Center poll conducted last year found that 33 percent of US adults say they do not believe in evolution. Of the 60 percent who indicated that "humans have evolved over time," a little less than half said that a "supreme being guided evolution."
When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to eat cookies for breakfast. So instead, I became a granola junkie, eating bowls of the stuff topped with honey and yogurt. As it turns out, I might have been better off eating cookies—granolas have more sugar than any other kind of cereal, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group, a health research and advocacy organization.
EWG analyzed more than 1,500 cereals, including 181 brands marketed to children, and determined that "most pack in so much sugar that someone eating an average serving of a typical children's cereal would consume more than 10 pounds of sugar a year from that source alone." Excess sugar intake has been linked to obesity and diabetes, as well as numerous other health problems.
Using the report, we compared Chips Ahoy cookies—which clock in at about 11 grams of sugar per three cookies—against a single serving of certain cereal brands. These servings aren't large, often hovering around a cup, which for me, a smallish lady, is a very puny breakfast indeed. Here's what we found:
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear filed an appeal last week in federal court defending his state's ban on same-sex marriage, after a federal judge invalidated a portion of the law earlier this year. In the appeal, the state argues that legalizing interracial marriage in 1967 made sense because those unions made babies, but gay couples should not be allowed those same rights. Why? Because that would harm Kentucky's birth rate.
"Kentucky's marriage laws are rationally related to the state's interest of preserving the traditional man-woman marriage model," the appeal reads. According to the state, the case for legalizing same-sex marriage in Kentucky is different from Loving v. Virginia—the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case that invalidated state laws banning interracial marriage—because "man-man and woman-woman couples cannot procreate" and Kentucky has an interest in encouraging procreation in the name of promoting "long-term economic stability through stable birth rates."
The state claims that marriage benefits cost the state money, and stable birth rates offset that cost. However, the appeal does not cite any research supporting this, nor does it provide any evidence that legalizing same-sex marriage decreases the birth rate. The appeal does not mention the economic impact of same-sex couples having children through alternative means, such as artificial insemination, nor does it address the costs to the state of allowing infertile heterosexual men or women to get married, allowing straight couples who don't want children to get married, or housing foster children. (In 2012, Kentucky had almost 7,000 children in foster care, according to the latest government data.)
"The argument is ridiculous," says Greg Bourke, one of the plaintiffs in the case, who has been with his husband for 32 years (they married in Canada a decade ago) and has two adopted children. "This argument is not only offensive to same-sex couples, but is equally insulting to opposite-sex couples who are unable to have children, choose not to have children, or are beyond childbearing years." James Trussell, a Princeton University economics and public affairs professor who has co-authored more than 350 scientific publications, primarily in the areas of reproductive health and demographic methodology, says that the state's argument "sounds like nonsense." (Beshear's office declined to comment on the case.)
This is hardly the first time that states have tried to cite procreation as a reason that same-sex marriage shouldn't be legalized. Earlier this year, after Utah's ban was knocked down in federal court, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert's appeal also cited birth rates as a reason to defend the state's ban, arguing that states that have legalized same-sex marriage, like Massachusetts, have low birth rates. The Utah appeal conceded, however, that those statistics "do not prove a causal link between same-sex marriage and declining birthrates, [but] they do create cause for concern."
In February, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize legal same-sex marriages performed outside of the state. Gov. Beshear, a Democrat, was forced to hire outside counsel to defend the state's ban after state Attorney General Jack Conway, a fellow Democrat, refused to defend the ban, calling it discrimination. (Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder said that state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws they believe to be discriminatory.) After the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act last year, state laws banning same-sex marriage began falling like dominoes. Camilla Taylor, marriage project director at Lambda Legal, which advocates on behalf of LGBT clients, says that since that decision, every judge that has considered the constitutionality of marriage bans—14 in all—has rejected procreation-related arguments.
"Kentucky already has a problem with perception throughout the country of being backward and ultra-conservative," notes Bourke, the plaintiff in the case. "Here was an opportunity for a Democratic governor to make a progressive move, and he chose to bow to political pressure instead."
As Republicans stonewall President Obama's initiative to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016, some state lawmakers have taken the matter into their own hands, passing legislation that increases the salaries for America's most vulnerable workers. But there's one group that is still largely left out of the minimum wage battle: people who work for tips.
As it stands, only seven states require employers to pay tipped workers the same minimum wage as nontipped workers. The federal minimum wage for the latter is $7.25, but the federal minimum wage for tipped workers has remained stagnate at $2.13 since 1991, with no adjustment for inflation. Employers are supposed to make up the difference if tipped workers aren't earning the regular minimum wage through their tips, but it doesn't always happen. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, found in 2011 that tipped workers are more than twice as likely as other workers to fall under the federal poverty line.
The Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which Obama endorsed, would have gradually raised tipped workers' minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. But the bill has faced steep opposition from Republicans and the restaurant lobby. According to Open Secrets, the National Restaurant Association, which opposed the minimum-wage hike, spent more than $2.2 million on lobbying last year.
Like millions of Americans across the United States, 23-year-old Anna Hovland worked a waitressing job earlier this year to make ends meet. Her restaurant in Washington, DC, paid her the local minimum wage for tipped workers, $2.77 an hour, which meant that after taxes, her paycheck was usually zero. Her tips, never dependable, ranged from $20 to $200 a shift. "In a city as expensive as DC, I've been able to make ends meet by the skin of my teeth," Hovland says. "Sometimes it will only be in the last week or two of a month that I'll realize I've made enough to pay all my bills."
In December, Washington's city council voted to raise the city's minimum wage from $8.50 to $11.50 an hour by 2016. But the bill didn't raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, like Hovland, on the basis that restaurants in Washington are supposed to make up the difference if tips don't meet the equivalent of $11.50 an hour. That's how the federal law works, as well. US companies are allowed to pay tipped employees pittance because customers are expected to tip well enough to surpass at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and, if they don't, companies have to chip in the rest.
But that's not how things always work in the real world. "The servers who make 'good money' are in the minority," says Maria Myotte, a spokesperson for Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which aims to improve conditions for workers in the industry. She notes that tipped workers are hit especially hard by "wage theft," whereby restaurants don't make up the difference when the tips aren't rolling in. Between 2010 and 2012, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor conducted nearly 9,000 investigations in the restaurant industry, and discovered that 83.8 percent had some kind of wage and hour violation.
Hovland tells Mother Jones that before she got in touch with the Restaurant Opportunities Center last fall—to find out why she was getting zero-dollar paychecks—she had no idea that her employer was supposed to make up the difference in tips. "We never logged our tips or reported them to our employers," she says, unless they were on credit cards. She adds, "Even after I shared information about the minimum wage difference with coworkers, nobody felt comfortable asking employers about it."
On Thursday, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) introduced a bill that would require a federally appointed commission to study the use of solitary confinement in US and state prisons and juvenile detention facilities and recommend national standards to reform the practice and ensure it is only "used infrequently and only under extreme circumstances." The attorney general would be tasked with implementing these standards. The legislation has six cosponsors, all Democrats, and comes on the heels of a number of states, including Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas passing their own bills to study the practice.
Tens of thousands of Americans are held in solitary confinement each year. Some have been in solitary for decades. "Our approach to solitary confinement in this country needs immediate reform," Richmond said in a statement Thursday. "Do we feel comfortable putting a man or woman in a dark hole for decades on end with no additional due process? Is this practice consistent with our values? I don’t think so. I know we are better than that."
Richmond's bill says that the federal commission must recommend standards so that the use of solitary confinement is limited to fewer than 30 days in any 45-day period, unless the head of a corrections facility determines that prolonged solitary confinement is necessary for the security of the institution, or if the prisoner requests it. The proposal would require that prisoners receive "a meaningful hearing" with access to legal counsel before being placed in long-term solitary confinement, and entitle them to have their cases reviewed every 30 days.
The national standards required by the bill would include a number of other reforms, including limiting the use of involuntary solitary confinement to "protect" vulnerable individuals—for example, prisoners who are transgender—and improving access to mental health treatment for prisoners placed in solitary. The legislation also mandates that correction officials avoid placing juveniles in solitary for any duration, "except under extreme emergency circumstances." (Between April and September of last year, four juvenile correctional facilities in Ohio imposed almost 60,000 hours of solitary confinement on 229 boys with mental-health needs.) The bill requires the attorney general to publish a final rule adopting the national standards, and would reduce federal grant funds given to states for their prison programs by 15 percent each year until the states comply with the new standards.
A United Nations torture expert said in 2011 that solitary confinement should not be used for more than 15 days. Richmond's bill does not embrace that recommendation. But human rights groups say the bill is a great first step, and recommend its passage. "The introduction of this legislation will help us take a step toward more humane prison practices and shine a light on the tens of thousands of human beings condemned to suffer in prolonged solitary confinement," said Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA, in a statement.