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Walmart Gave Workers a Raise—But It's Not Enough To Keep Them Off the Dole

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 6:20 AM EDT
A Black Friday protest at a Walmart store in Chicago

A typical Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers more than $900,000 a year in public assistance doled out to its low-wage workers. This fact, published in a federal study in 2013, galvanized labor protests at Walmart stores across the country last year, leading the the retail giant to announce in February that would give some 500,000 workers a raise. And that's something. But according to a report released today by Americans for Tax Fairness, Walmart's pay is still too far low to wean many "associates" from federal subsidies such as food stamps and Section 8 housing.

Under Walmart's new plan, full-time associates who've completed a six-month training program will earn at least $10 an hour next year. Many Walmart workers, however, are involuntary part-timers, and nearly half of the associates turn over each year. But workers who qualify for the $10 base wage by working at least 34 hours a week, which Walmart considers "full time," would still earn only $17,680 a year—well below the cutoff for many federal assistance programs, especially if a worker has children.

Americans for Tax Fairness

The four Walton heirs, who are collectively worth $144.7 billion, are Walmart's largest stockholders and constitute the nation's wealthiest family. If they wanted to stop enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers, they could pay their workers at least $15 an hour for a 40-hour workweek. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, this would have cost Walmart about $10.8 billion in 2014, or about half of the increase in the Waltons' net worth that year.

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Why Leftover Pasta Might Be Healthier Than Fresh

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Last week, lovers of rice rejoiced when The Washington Post reported on a simple trick to improve the nutritional value of the food. According to researchers in Sri Lanka, all you have to do is add a fat (they used coconut oil) to the cooking water, cool your rice over night, and voila!—up to to 50 percent of the calories (a cup of rice contains about 200 when cooked conventionally) are gone.

It works by converting the white rice—which made mostly of digestible starch—into one that is indigestible, or "resistant," meaning that it's eventually excreted instead of metabolized by our bodies. The researchers found that adding fat and then allowing the rice to cool changed the composition even after the rice was reheated.

With diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity rates rising around the world, this simple tweak to a dietary staple for billions could be a major boon to public health. And it's just one example of how chemistry can be put to work in the kitchen. Here are five more ways to improve foods' nutritional content through cooking:

The study participants who had the reheated pasta instead of fresh reduced spikes in blood sugar by 50 percent.

1. Use the heating/cooling method on other carbs too: The BBC reported last year that pasta might be healthier when eaten as leftovers. Researchers from the University of Surrey found that eating cold pasta resulted in smaller spikes in glucose than eating freshly cooked pasta. These results were even more pronounced when the pasta was reheated: The study participants who had the reheated pasta instead of fresh reduced spikes in blood sugar by 50 percent. A previous study in 2009 also showed that freshly cooked legumes, cereals, and tubers had significantly higher levels of resistant starch after multiple cycles of heating and cooling. The resistant starch in peas, which had the most dramatic change, increased by 115 percent. Resistant starch consumption has been linked to improvements in gut functioning, insulin sensitivity, increased satiety and even decrease in fat accumulation.

2. Turn down the heat: Chances are you are already well aware that fried foods aren't doing good things for your health. But according to the FDA the downsides of frying aren't just calories and fat—the high temperature is a problem, too. When certain foods are subjected to high temperatures (anything above 248 degrees Fahrenheit), one byproduct is a compound called acrylamide, a possible carcinogen that also has been linked to nerve damage at high levels. French fries and potato chips have high amounts of acrylamide, but the chemical is also produced in many home-cooked foods including toast, potatoes, and even coffee. To mitigate your exposure, soak potatoes in water for more than 30 minutes before cooking, don't over-brown your bread, and refrain from frying your food. Dark-roast coffee may have less acrylamide than light, an FDA report suggests.

3. Don't forgo frozen: Fruits and vegetables found in the freezer aisle can sometimes be more nutritious than fresh ones on the shelf. As my colleague Kiera Butler reported last year, before being frozen, produce undergoes a process called blanching that stops the enzymes that would otherwise cause the vegetables to lose color, texture, and nutrients. Because this process happens soon after harvest, frozen vegetables sometimes retain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than the fresh ones that have to travel to the grocery store. Blanching might also make certain vitamins more digestible.

4. Marinade Meats: Meat marinades do more than enhance flavor and texture—they prevent the formation of Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are dangerous chemicals created when meats are cooked at high temperatures. These compounds have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems. While there are noted benefits from marinades with lemon juice or vinegar, a study published last year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that when you marinade meat with beer, the carcinogenic potency is greatly reduced. Black beer had the best results, reducing PAHs found in pork by 53 percent.

5. Use your Microwave: Yes, that's right—the microwave has been redeemed. Because it cooks food quickly without exposing it to high levels of heat, the microwave can preserve nutrients when cooking vegetables. A 2003 study by Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University showed that, compared to boiling, microwaving retained more water-soluble vitamins in turnip greens, and another done in 2008 by the University of Tsukuba in Japand found that the microwave was one of the best cooking options for preserving antioxidants in peppers. Researchers also found that chemicals called glucosinolates—which may fight cancer—actually increased after red cabbages were microwaved. The American Institute for Cancer Research also recommends pre-cooking meat in the microwave before putting it on the grill to reduce the cancer-causing HCA's and PAHs mentioned above.

Quote of the Day: Republicans Hate Obamacare Except for the Parts They Don't

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 11:19 PM EDT

From Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who asked for horror stories about Obamacare and was instead deluged with stories from people who have been helped by it:

The stories are largely around pre-existing conditions and those that are getting health insurance up to age 26.

Well, sure. Everyone likes the idea of making sure that people with pre-existing conditions can get health insurance. Unfortunately, as Greg Sargent points out, Republicans can't just say they support Obamacare's pre-existing conditions provision but oppose the rest of it:

It’s true that Republicans tend to support provisions like the protections for preexisting conditions; after all, they are very popular. But they can’t be tidily untangled from the law. The ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions rely on the individual mandate, because without it, people would simply wait until they got sick to sign up for insurance, driving up premiums; instead, the mandate broadens the risk pool. And the mandate requires the subsidies, so that lower-income people who’d face a penalty for remaining uninsured can afford to buy coverage.

This is something that Republicans steadfastly refuse to admit, even though it's obvious to everyone with even a passing knowledge of how this stuff works. Sargent has more at the link about how this ties into the King v. Burwell lawsuit and Republican claims that they want to replace Obamacare with something better.

America Ranks in the Top 5 Globally—for Putting Its Citizens to Death

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 7:00 PM EDT

We're No. 5! We're No. 5!

America once again ranks among the top five nations in the world—in executions. Sigh. That's according to a new report from Amnesty International, which also notes that more and more nations have been opting not to kill their convicts.

Amnesty tallies at least 607 known executions in 22 countries in 2014. The good news? That's a 22 percent decline from 2013. Here at home, states dispatched 35 American citizens last year, a 20-year low—and four less than in 2013. But there's no accounting for China, which executes more people than all other countries combined but treats the data as a state secret. (Amnesty made its count by looking at a range of sources, including official figures, reports from civil society groups, media accounts, and information from death row convicts and their families.)

Amnesty also reports a drop in the number of countries that carried out executions, from 42 in 1995 to 22 last year, although many more still have the death penalty on the books. The United States is the last country in the Americas that still puts people to death, but US citizens appear to be increasingly opposed to the practice. Only seven states executed convicts in 2014, compared with nine states a year earlier. The overwhelming majority of those executions—nearly 90 percent—took place in four states: Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma. (Georgia had two, and Arizona and Ohio had one execution each.)

Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, but among those that have not, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming haven't put anyone to death in at least a decade, Amnesty noted. Oregon and Washington have moratoriums on executions, and federal authorities have not put anyone to death since 2003.

The bad news is, from 2013 to 2014, the number of death sentences jumped nearly 30 percent globally, to at least 2,466. Amnesty points in part to Nigeria, which imposed 659 death sentences last year as military courts punished numerous soldiers for mutiny and other offenses amid armed conflict with Boko Haram militants. Egypt was also to blame for the increase, Amnesty said, as Egyptian courts handed down death sentences against 210 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in April and June.

In all, 55 countries sentenced people to death last year. Here, according to Amnesty, are the most notable:

Arkansas Just Passed Its Own Indiana-Style 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act'

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 5:46 PM EDT

Despite national outcry over a similar bill in Indiana, the Arkansas state Legislature on Tuesday passed its own 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act' which critics warn would allow business owners to discriminate against gay, lesbian, and transgendered people on religious grounds. 

The bill now goes to Republican state Gov. Asa Hutchinson who vowed last week to sign it. Attempts by state lawmakers to add a provision that would prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians were blocked, according to the New York Times.

"The Arkansas and Indiana bills are virtually identical in terms of language and intent," Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow told the Huffington Post. "They place LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, women and many more people at risk of discrimination."

Like Indiana, Arkansas is already facing mounting criticism over the bill. Walmart, which is based in Bentonville, and data-services company Acxiom have openly criticized the bill. 

Backer of Indiana Law Says "It's Impossible to Satisfy the Homosexual Lobby"

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:16 PM EDT

Considering it seems like everyone from Tim Cook to the whole state of Connecticut is incensed by a new law that allows Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers based on "religious grounds," it seems crazy to think anyone is still out there actually defending it—at least openly. Alas, here's Bryan Fischer of "gay sex is terrorism" notoriety and head of the American Family Association, to prove otherwise:

 

Gov. Mike Pence may now be trying to play down criticism the law discriminates against gay people, support from people like Fischer make it difficult to make such an argument.
 

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If Hillary Clinton Testifies About Her Emails, She Should Do It In Public

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 4:12 PM EDT

Here's the latest on Hillary Clinton's emails:

The chairman of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday to appear for a private interview about her exclusive use of a personal email account when she was secretary of state.

....Mr. Gowdy said the committee believed that “a transcribed interview would best protect Secretary Clinton’s privacy, the security of the information queried, and the public’s interest in ensuring this committee has all information needed to accomplish the task set before it.”

Go ahead and call me paranoid, but this sure seems like the perfect setup to allow Gowdy—or someone on his staff—to leak just a few bits and pieces of Clinton's testimony that put her in the worst possible light. Darrell Issa did this so commonly that it was practically part of the rules of the game when he was investigating Benghazi and other Republican obsessions.

Who knows? Maybe Gowdy is a more honest guy. But since Clinton herself has offered to testify publicly, why would anyone not take her up on it? It's not as if any of this risks exposing classified information or anything.

James O'Keefe Loses Libel Suit Over Landrieu Incident

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 3:58 PM EDT

Conservative filmmaker and provocateur James O'Keefe has lost another legal battle: on Monday, a federal court in New Jersey dismissed a libel suit O'Keefe filed against legal news website MainJustice. In August 2013, MainJustice published an article referring to a 2010 incident in which O'Keefe and his associates posed as telephone technicians to gain access to the offices of then–Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). O'Keefe and three others ultimately pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses.

In its original article, MainJustice said that O'Keefe was "apparently trying to bug" Landrieu's offices. After O'Keefe complained, the website changed the sentence to read that O'Keefe and his associates "were trying to tamper with Landrieu's phones." Still, O'Keefe sued, alleging that both characterizations were defamatory because they implied he had committed a felony. MainJustice countered that the language wasn't defamatory because the substance of the article was true, and the site accurately described the legal proceedings triggered by the episode.

The court didn't find O'Keefe's case convincing. Judge Claire Cecchi wrote in her opinion:

Regardless of whether the article used the words "apparently trying to bug" or "trying to tamper," the few words challenged by the Plaintiff, taken in context, do not alter the fundamental gist of the paragraph… Therefore, the words "trying to tamper with," understood in the colloquial sense, convey the substantial truth of the Landrieu incident and do not alter the ultimate conclusion of the paragraph—that Plaintiff was guilty of a misdemeanor.

Mary Jacoby, editor-in-chief of MainJustice, writes in a statement:

This is an important First Amendment victory. It's a total, resounding defeat of O'Keefe's attempts to intimidate journalists into accepting his spin on the circumstances of his 2010 entry into Sen. Landrieu's offices under false pretenses.

In 2013, O'Keefe paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against him by a former employee of ACORN, a nonprofit the filmmaker had targeted. In a statement to Mother Jones, an O'Keefe spokesman said, "While we are disappointed in the Court's decision, it is one that we respect due to the complex and difficult nature of proving defamation. That being said, we think it is important to note that this decision in no way validates any of the false statements made against Project Veritas or James O'Keefe."

"The Americans" Is One Of The Best Shows On Television—And It Just Got Renewed For Another Season.

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

Do you watch The Americans? You should watch The Americans! Why don't you watch The Americans? Do you not watch it because it's about Soviet spies who love each other and also work together to bring down America by wearing wigs and having sexxxxxxx? Well, guess what? That's only sort of what it's about. It's really about a marriage. Are you married? If you're married, you'll relate to this show a lot.

You'll watch it and be like "God, my wife and I just had a very similar fight about how to raise our daughter." Just replace spying for the Soviets with whatever you do for a living. They're so cute together, The Americans! They love each other so much, but they're torn in different directions by competing loyalties, and they don't know what to do! Bonus: I recently found out that The Americans are dating in real life, which is so cute OMG.

I love The Americans. I'm not nuts about the dumb kids, and some of the storylines are dumb, but the show is really great. The one thing I don't like about the show is that The Americans are not actually Americans, they're Soviets and I don't like rooting for people who are trying to bring down America. I keep hoping they're going to defect.

But I think they probably won't. They seem to like communism a lot. But at the same time they also like living in America and enjoying the fruits of capitalism. Their minds are all messed up! You can see what a complicated situation they're in. A lot of D-R-A-M-A.

Anyway, it's maybe the second best show on television (after The Good Wife).

The problem is, not that many people watch it. :(((.

The ratings for season 3 are in the hole. A cloud of pessimism and fear has overshadowed the last few episodes; I figured it was unlikely to get renewed by FX for a fourth season. But, guess what? Good news! It's coming back!

So start watching it please oh dear god I beg you please watch it, please! We can be best friends if you watch it.

Cancel Your Meetings. You Can Now Play Pac-Man On Google Maps.

| Tue Mar. 31, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Just in time for April Fool's Day, Google has released a neat feature that allows users to play Pac-Man pretty much anywhere in the world right now. Simply load up Google Maps and click on the Pac-Man option patiently waiting for you at the bottom-left-hand corner of your computer screen:

The feature then transforms your set location into a virtual Pac-Man universe, where the classic arcade game's dotted streets and gobbling ghosts prepare to chase your every move. Want to mix it up? Click the "Return to Google Maps" icon on the left and edit your location to any other address and voila, your newly customized Pac-Man game awaits.

Prepare for a complete time-suck of your day.

(h/t Engadget)