The government recommends everyone drink three cups of milk a day—but a new study suggests African Americans might not need any.
Josh HarkinsonAug. 3, 2016 6:00 AM
The federal government's dietary guidelines urge adults to consume at least three cups of milk a day to guard against osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become brittle and weak. People who are lactose intolerant—a group that includes 75 percent of African Americans—"can choose low-lactose and lactose-free dairy products," the guidelines say. But a new study has called into question this one-size-fits-all approach. It suggests that most African American adults might not need milk at all.
Scientists have known for some time that people who live in Africa have some of the world's lowest rates of osteoporosis. Researchers long assumed that the difference was due to Africans' lower life expectancy (since the condition usually shows up later in life), more active lifestyles, and a lack of doctors to diagnose and treat the condition. Yet a study published in June in BoneKEy, an offshoot of the journal Nature, offers a compelling alternative explanation: Many Africans are genetically adapted to low-calcium diets.
Study author Constance Hilliard, an evolutionary historian at the University of North Texas, examined osteoporosis rates in Nigeria and Cameroon, two African countries that fall within an area known as the tsetse belt. Dairy farming is impossible in this equatorial region because of the presence of the tsetse fly, a tropical pest that transmits parasites that kill cattle. Despite a nearly complete lack of dairy consumption in the two countries, their osteoporosis rates are among the lowest in the world—just two to three cases out of every 100,000 people.
In an effort to figure out why, Hilliard looked at Kenya, a country outside the tsetse belt where milk consumption is common yet life expectancies and socioeconomic conditions remain essentially the same. Kenya's rate of osteoporosis is dramatically higher—245 cases out of 100,000 people. That's also much closer to levels in the United States, where the rate is 595 per 100,000 people.
So what's going on here? One possibility is that milk consumption actually increases the risk for osteoporosis. As I mentioned in a magazine piece last year, a 2014 Swedish study found women who drank more than two and a half glasses of milk a day had a higher fracture risk than their counterparts who drank less than one glass a day. Though other studies have come to the opposite conclusion, researchers have found, on balance, that calcium intake does not significantly reduce the risk of hip fracture in women or men.
"The medical community has yet to frame its questions in ways that investigate whether foods that have been culturally labeled as 'good for you' have deleterious consequences for minorities."
Hilliard finds a more compelling explanation in genetics. The tsetse belt is largely inhabited by the Niger-Kordofanian ethnicity (also the predominant ethnicity among African Americans), which is known to be lactose intolerant. Niger-Kordofanians make up for the lack of milk in their diets by better absorbing calcium. In the United States, studies have shown that black children and adults excrete less calcium than whites on essentially the same diets, thereby retaining more calcium in their bones. "This is why certain populations can maintain strong bones and are at low risk of osteoporosis even though they consume 200 mg of calcium day"—a fifth of what the federal government recommends, Hilliard says. It could also be why the rate of osteoporosis and related fractures in African American women is half that of Caucasian women.
"This is a very interesting paper," says Connie Weaver, the director of the Women's Global Health Institute at Purdue University and an expert on osteoporosis. "We know that genetics determine 60 to 80 percent of bone mass and lifestyle choices the rest. This paper offers one genetic difference that is likely more controlling of bone mass than diet or other lifestyle choices."
Still, Weaver doesn't think African Americans should consume less dairy. Though they may have less of a genetic disposition for osteoporosis, she argues that "there still would be a range of risk within that genotype that would be improved by adequate dairy or the nutrients provided by dairy."
Hilliard makes no dietary recommendations—after all, she is a historian, not a nutritionist. Still, she points out that African Americans may be uniquely susceptible to some of milk's side effects. Multiple studies have correlated high levels of dairy consumption to prostate cancer; African Americans are 2.4 times as likely to die from the disease as the population at large. Though other genetic and socioeconomic factors may explain their higher risk, some studies have pointed to dairy. The California Collaborative Prostate Cancer Study, published in 2012, found that calcium consumption was closely related to an increased risk of prostate cancer, particularly in black men who carry a genotype common in populations of African origin.
Yet the federal government's dietary recommendations don't account for such distinctions. And that omission, she says, amounts to something like discrimination. "What has happened is the medical community has universalized the particular biology of [Caucasians]," Hilliard says. "And the medical community has yet to frame its questions in ways that investigate whether foods that have been culturally labeled as 'good for you' have deleterious consequences for minorities."
So says this advocacy group for actual small businesses.
Josh HarkinsonJul. 25, 2016 6:00 AM
Verizon Communications is the largest wireless provider in the United States, with 178,000 employees and $91.7 billion in sales last year, and yet it somehow managed to wrangle more than $107 million in federal "small-business contracts" last year through the US Small Business Administration.
Verizon isn't the only gargantuan company the SBA deems eligible for assistance. In 2015, according to a recent lawsuit by an advocacy group for actual small businesses, the SBA counted contracts with 150 other Fortune 500 companies in its fulfillment of the federal government's small-business contracting obligations.
"The Small Business Administration has become perverted. At some point their mission changed to helping government and contractors circumvent" the law.
"The Small Business Administration has become perverted," says Lloyd Chapman, founder of the American Small Business League, which filed the suit in May. "At some point their mission changed to helping the government and contractors circumvent the Small Business Act."
Congress created the SBA in 1953 with its passage of the Small Business Act, legislation designed to "maintain and strengthen the overall economy" by giving the small fry of the business world a leg up. The definition of "small" varies by industry, from a maximum of 100 to 1,500 employees and revenues of $750,000 to $38.5 million. (Chapman, noting that the average American business has just 17 employees, says these caps are too high.) In any case, federal research shows that such businesses are key to supporting the middle class: Although they employ less than half of all private sector workers, they create 64 percent of net new jobs. They also tend to buck the offshoring trend and are seen as a counterbalance to income inequality because they spread wealth around to millions of entrepreneurs. "The Small Business Act is the largest economic stimulus program for the middle class in US history," Chapman proclaims. "And we are its protectors."
Indeed, his and other watchdog groups have repeatedly accused the SBA of failing to fulfill its original mission. Under the law, the agency is required to ensure that at least 23 percent of federal contract money goes to small businesses. The actual figure, Chapman calculates, is about 4 percent, a difference of hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
"The United States government is anti-small-business," says Chapman, whose scrappy three-person outfit in Petaluma, California, has filed dozens of lawsuits against the SBA and other federal agencies over the past quarter-century, often compelling the agency to reveal more information about how it handles contracts. The latest suit seeks an injunction that would require the SBA to stop allegedly cooking its books when it reports on federal contracting.
SBA spokeswoman Tiffani Clements would not comment directly on the lawsuit, but argued in an email that actual misreporting of small-business contracts is rare, and not the fault of SBA employees. Corporate behemoths that acquire smaller firms may simply ignore a requirement to recertify the size of the firms they acquire (the Verizon contracts were awarded to a subsidiary, Terremark Federal Group, that Verizon purchased in 2011). Additionally, Clements said, "There is always the possibility of human error" when the government's contracting officers record a company’s data. (Chapman counters that if human errors were to blame, then the small firms would get misclassified as large ones, too—and nobody in his group has ever seen that happen.)
"The Small Business Act is the largest economic stimulus program for the middle class in US history...And we are its protectors."
Chapman is hardly alone in his criticisms. Every year since 2005, the SBA's Office of the Inspector General has ranked "small business contracting" as the agency's most serious management challenge. "As an advocate for small business, SBA should strive to ensure that only eligible small firms obtain and perform small business awards," the OIG wrote in an October report citing "widespread misreporting…since many contract awards that were reported as having gone to small firms have actually been substantially performed by larger companies." The report blamed reporting errors mainly on contracting officers and poor oversight of how companies calculate their size.
Perhaps the most significant way the SBA fudges the small-business contracting numbers is as follows: In arriving at its 23 percent figure, the agency does not include any contracts for work performed outside the United States or in service of dozens of different federal agencies, including the Postal Service, the federal courts, the National Security Agency, and the CIA. It also excludes a large amount of contract spending related to Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health. Finally, it doesn't count contracts commissioned by state and local agencies using federal grant money.
The SBA argues that these exclusions are legal because the small business requirements apply only to "contracts" (not grants) at "federal agencies"—which the SBA defines as excluding "non-executive branch federal government entities" such as the court system. It also excludes contracts that don't appear in the Federal Procurement Data System and those that may be deemed sensitive for "national security reasons."
In fact, the SBA's exclusions cover the majority of federal discretionary spending, according to an analysis by law professor Charles Tiefer, an expert on government contracts at the University of Baltimore. Tiefer calculates that, in 2011, the SBA excluded $677 billion worth of federal grants and contracts from $1.1 trillion in overall spending, which allowed the agency to claim that 22 percent of the contracting dollars went to small businesses that year.
Small businesses "are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our nation's promise." —Barack Obama
"The SBA has a lot of trouble getting agencies like the Department of Defense to give awards to small businesses instead of the Lockheeds and the Halliburtons," Tiefer explains, "so it wants formulas that establish the lowest possible total to lighten up its work for how much small-business contracting it has to round up."
Although genuflecting to the shrine of small business has become standard practice for politicians—President Barack Obama said in 2012 that small businesses "are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our nation's promise"—the SBA's flaws are largely ignored by the leaders of both parties. The watchdog group Public Citizen, which examined the issue last year, blames the inaction on the revolving door between government and major contractors, and on prodigious lobbying and political donations from Fortune 500 companies.
More surprisingly, the issue has received scant attention from the nation's best-known "small business" groups. The National Federation of Independent Business, which claims 325,000 members and chapters in 50 states, hasn't touched it. Chapman believes the NFIB is actually a shill operation for large corporations. In 2011, it received a $3.7 million donation from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, the dark-money arm of his conservative political fundraising juggernaut.
In Tiefer's view, the outrage of Chapman’s group is spot on. Redirecting hundreds of billions of dollars to small businesses each year would do a lot to address income inequality, he told me: "The difference is much smaller between the salaries of the people at the top of a small business and the worker bees…By and large, the people at the top of the big contractors like Lockheed are in the 1 percent, whereas the people in the top of small businesses are not."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described an SBA rule relating to small business acquisition
Peter Thiel at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
At least one person speaking at the Republican convention tonight might actually be a match for Donald Trump when it comes to taking things (ahem) over the top. Tech investor Peter Thiel used to be best known for his early bet on Facebook—"the most lucrative angel investment in history"—although recently he's garnered more attention for his controversial positions and personal vendettas. Here are the 12 things you should know about Silicon Valley's most eccentric, (now) openly gay, Trump-loving libertarian billionaire.
Thiel was accused of "demagoguery"—by Condi Rice: As a student at Stanford University, Thiel founded the Stanford Review, a highbrow version of the notoriously conservative Dartmouth Review. A few years later, he and another former Stanford Review editor wrote a book titled The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford, which criticized political correctness in higher education. Then-Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice (later George W. Bush's national security adviser) accused the pair of concocting "a cartoon, not a description of our freshman curriculum," and added that the book was "demagoguery, pure and simple."
Thiel is known around the Valley as "Don of the PayPal Mafia": In 1998, Thiel co-founded the online payments company that would later become PayPal. He hired many Stanford Review alums, who, in the company's early days, were known to keep Bibles in their cubes and hold workplace prayer sessions. Former PayPal counsel Rod Martin later tried to start a conservative version of MoveOn.org, and former VP Eric Jackson founded the book-publishing arm of the conservative WorldNetDaily, which famously released the children's tale Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed. (Two other members of the PayPal Mafia, Elon Musk and Keith Rabois, also went on to become billionaires.) Thiel later wrote that he'd wanted to create "a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution—the end of monetary sovereignty, as it were."
Thiel is a self-described "conservative libertarian." He supported the presidential bids of Ron Paul, donating more than $2.6 million to a Paul super-PAC in 2012. "I think we are just trying to build a libertarian base for the next cycle," Thiel said at the time. But that was before Trump arrived on the scene in a substantial way.
Thiel launched one company that is extremely non-libertarian. In 2004, he co-founded Palantir Technologies with a $30 million investment. The company's other major investor is In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA. The FBI and the NSA employ Palantir's data-mining and surveillance technology to monitor domestic and foreign terrorism suspects. Thiel has said civil liberties advocates should welcome Palantir. "We cannot afford to have another 9/11 event in the US or anything bigger than that," he told Bloomberg. "That day opened the doors to all sorts of crazy abuses and draconian policies."
Thiel blames women and welfare for destroying democracy. "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible," Thiel wrote in 2009 on the blog of the libertarian Cato Institute. "The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron."
Thiel was the inspiration for Peter Gregory, the Aspergers-y billionaire venture capitalist on HBO's Silicon Valley. In the following clip, Mike Judge's arch comedy lampoons the Thiel Fellowship, which each year offers 20 "uniquely talented" teenagers $100,000 scholarships to forego college and pursue "radical innovation that will benefit society."
Thiel is a climate skeptic. The idea that human activity alters the climate is "more pseudoscience" than science, he told Glenn Beck in 2014. Thiel is also somewhat uncertain about the veracity of Darwinian evolution.
Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker. He spent $10 million on the Hogan lawsuit to get back at Gawker for outing him as gay (an open secret at the time) in 2007, and for writing negative articles about his friends. "It's less about revenge and more about specific deterrence," he told the New York Times.
Thiel recently invested in a marijuana company. His Founders Fund last year sank an undisclosed sum into Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based company that, among other things, grows pot in Canada and owns "the official Bob Marley cannabis brand."
Thiel wants to create sovereign micronations on the high seas. He is a major funder of the Seasteading Institute, a think tank that envisions floating city-states as incubators for alternative models of governance. (On Silicon Valley, the Peter Gregory character has an offshore haven populated by autonomous machines.)
Thiel wants to cheat death. He has signed up with a cryogenics company to be deep-frozen upon his death in the hope that he will later be revived by future medical advances. And his foundation has supported anti-aging research.
Thiel's support for Trump is an oddity in Silicon Valley. Trump's stance on everything from immigration to mass surveillance is anathema to Valley techies. "In the Obama years, much of Silicon Valley has become very close to Democrats," notes the New York Times' Farhad Manjoo. "This year there was an opportunity for a Republican to make overtures to tech—but with Mr. Trump, that chance seems to have passed."
The Vermont senator is trying to lay the groundwork for an enduring movement.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 16, 2016 10:40 PM
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday night shifted the focus of his presidential campaign, re-framing it as a long-term movement and pledging to fight for change at the Democratic National Convention and beyond.
"Defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal," Sanders said in an online address watched by some 100,000 people. "We must continue our grassroots effort to create the America that we know we can become. And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention."
Noting that he had recently met with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Sanders made clear that he would not drop out of the presidential race anytime soon. "I look forward in coming weeks to continued discussion between the two campaigns," he said, adding that he wanted to make certain that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and becomes "a party of working people and young people and not just wealthy campaign contributors."
Sanders did not indicate which of his campaign's core issues might be priorities in his negotiations with Clinton; instead, he rattled off more than a dozen talking points, from raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and winning pay equity for women to implementing a carbon tax and ending "perpetual wars."
The speech seemed aimed at shifting the focus of Berners from the presidential election to longer-term progressive goals, while still maintaining their interest and enthusiasm. The campaign's latest slogan—"the political revolution continues"—repeatedly surfaced as a theme.
"We have begun the long and arduous process of transforming America, a fight that will continue tomorrow, next week, next year, and into the future," Sanders said. He urged his young supporters—"the people who are determining the shape and future of our country"— to run for state and local office. "We need new blood in the political process, and you are that blood," he said.
Aside from referring interested candidates to his website, Sanders did not say how he might support their efforts. Still, the focus on movement-building appeared to resonate with many of his supporters on Twitter:
@JoshHarkinson I was apprehensive that it'd be a closure, but was an opening: to local and grassroots participation. Democracy at its best.
Attempting to capitalize on the early idealism of his campaign, Sanders stressed that his race could still turn out to be an historic turning point for progressives—if his supporters carry out his vision. "My hope is that when future historians look back and describe how our country moved forward into reversing the drift toward oligarchy," he said, "...that they will note that to a significant degree that effort began with the political revolution of 2016."
The company behind the "Black Mamba" rifle used in the massacre has been a backdrop for Trump's campaign.
Josh HarkinsonJun. 15, 2016 11:30 AM
Donald Trump Jr. holding a Sig Sauer MCX at the company's New Hampshire factory. (His brother, Eric, is second from right.)
In his many public remarks since a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in US history, Donald Trump has not specifically mentioned the weapon used in Orlando: a military-style "Black Mamba" MCX. But Trump is quite familiar with the manufacturer of the rifle, Sig Sauer—he and his sons have used the gunmaker as a backdrop for Trump's presidential campaign.
Last May, as Trump was poised to launch his presidential bid, he personally toured the Sig Sauer factory in New Hampshire, where the company makes most of its 74,000 semi-automatic rifles sold in the US market. This February, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric toured the factory, posing for a photo with MCX rifles. And early this year Trump addressed a crowd at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's annual trade show in Las Vegas, where his sons also posed for photos with Sig Sauer representatives.
Why the relationship with Sig Sauer? As the fifth largest supplier of firearms in America, Sig Sauer employs roughly 900 people in New Hampshire, a crucial early primary state. Visiting a gun factory, especially in a state known for its libertarian streak, is an easy way for politicians to demonstrate to voters that they're not soft on guns. Such optics may have been important in the early going for Trump, who back in 2000 said he supported a longer waiting period for gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.
In a statement to Mother Jones, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks said: "Hillary Clinton has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from gun and ammo manufacturers, including the maker of the assault rifle. What's worse: knowing the manufacturer, or taking money from them?"
Hicks did not provide any evidence supporting her claims, and she did not respond to specific questions about Trump's relationship with Sig Sauer. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
"We have not taken any donations from gun manufacturers," said Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin. "The latest false accusation from the Trump campaign is just another in a long line of outlandish claims from a campaign that has a well-documented aversion to the truth. This is just another attempt to distract from Trump's dangerous and divisive agenda and his complete rejection of common sense gun reforms supported by the vast majority of Americans."
A search of campaign records by the watchdog group Open Secrets did not turn up any donations from gun manufacturers to Clinton or her super PAC.* Clinton has received $34,913 from "gun control interests" and Trump has received $10,036 from "gun rights interests," according to the group.
Trump isn't the only candidate who has forged ties with Sig Sauer. Last December, then GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz joined Sig Sauer representatives for a shooting demonstration at an Iowa gun range. The company has donated up to $50,000 to the National Rifle Association and sponsors the NRA News series "Defending Our America." For more on Sig Sauer, read Mother Jones' investigation into America's 10 biggest gunmakers.
Correction: Citing a report from Open Secrets, this story originally stated that Hillary Clinton had received $10,100 from "gun rights interests." But an Open Secrets spokesman says the figure was "an error on our part" resulting from "poorly identified individual matches."