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It Doesn't Matter Which Diet You Choose

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 12:17 PM EDT

In the category of "news you can use," Emily Oster summarizes a new study that compares weight loss on various diets. After cutting through all the muck, we get the chart on the right. The answer, it turns out, is that all of the diets are about equally effective.

So which one you choose is mostly a matter of preference. If you think you can stick to a low-carb diet, choose one of those. If you like vegetables, choose a veggie-based plan. If you think you can tolerate low fat, go for one of those. What matters isn't so much the mechanics of the diet, but whether you can stick with it over the long haul.

(If your doctor recommends a particular diet because you suffer from some particular condition, then of course this changes things. And remember, "don't be an idiot" is always an unvoiced component of all diet and health recommendations.)

As for me, I'm on the three-quarters diet. I do this about once a decade or so and then spend the succeeding decade gaining back the weight I lost. This is my third go-around. As you might guess, it's a pretty simple diet: eat less food. In particular, I try to eat about three quarters of my usual meals and snacks. I'm finding it much more annoying this time than in the past—partly because I'm working at home, where temptation is ever present, and partly because my motivation and self-discipline have deteriorated over the years. However, the precipitous collapse of my body over the past six months is providing at least some short-term motivation, and yesterday I learned that my sleep apnea is apparently much worse than it was a decade ago. Maybe weight loss will help with that. I hope so, since I had no luck with a CPAP machine back then, and I kind of doubt I'll have better luck this time around. But we'll see.

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Mark Zuckerberg Just Donated $25 Million to Fight Ebola

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have donated $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help combat the Ebola crisis, which has killed more than 4,400 people in West Africa. Zuckerberg announced the nice chunk of cash via his Facebook on Tuesday:

 

Scaremongers in Congress and the media have Americans in a tizzy about Ebola: Nearly two-third of Americans now fear the virus will soon infect them or or someone they know. Although Zuckerberg's donation won't do much to quell the the panic, it's certainly a nice response to recent criticism that Silicon Valley types have done little-to-nothing to combat the ongoing public health crisis.

Darrell Issa is Finally Going Off His Nut

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Darrell Issa's latest jihad is also one of his most peculiar: he's accusing the EPA of working too closely with environmental groups. Seriously. That's it. Here's a report from the New York Times about the "cozy" relationship between EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Republicans say the most vivid example of a cozy relationship is an email exchange [...] celebrating legal maneuvering that provided Mr. Obama with something both the E.P.A. and the environmental group wanted: a court-ordered deadline for release of a 2012 E.P.A. regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions on future power plants — a precursor to Mr. Obama’s announcement in June. (The environmental group had joined with others to sue the E.P.A. to force the regulation, and the E.P.A. quickly settled.)

On Dec. 23, 2010, the day the settlement was announced, Mr. Doniger emailed Ms. McCarthy, “Thank you for today’s announcement. I know how hard you and your team are working to move us forward and keep us on the rails. This announcement is a major achievement.” He added, “We’ll be with you at every step in the year ahead.”

Ms. McCarthy responded, “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience. Enjoy the holiday. The success is yours as much as mine.”

Reacting to the email exchange, Mr. Vitter said in a statement: “Who is working for whom? The key example in all of this is the settlement agreement on greenhouse gases when the N.R.D.C. sued the E.P.A., the E.P.A. settled, and the two celebrate the agreement. It doesn’t get any more blatantly obvious than that.”

Explosive! "Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience." Truly a smoking gun of improper influence. They used first names and everything!

Issa must really be getting desperate. I mean, normally I understand the supposed malfeasance in his investigations. I may think his charges are foolish, but at least I get it. But this time? Even in theory, what's supposed to be wrong here? An environmental group expressing pleasure at a court ruling? The EPA administrator sending back a polite note? Everybody knew all along that both sides wanted the same thing, so this is hardly a surprise. And certainly light years from scandalous.

Issa must be going off his nut because his investigations keep failing to excite anyone. Or maybe this is just designed to provide some fodder for fundraising emails for the upcoming election. It's hard to figure out what else could be going on.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 14, 2014

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

Marine Infantry Officer Course students stand by before a helicopter drill in Arizona. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Marchetti)

A Place With the Population of West Virginia Just Powered A Work Day Entirely on Clean Energy

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:39 AM EDT
Wind energy is booming in South Australia.

Here's one for the naysayers who insist renewable energy can't keep the lights on and power our cities. An entire state in Australia with a population of  around 1.7 million people just used renewable energy to meet 100 percent of its electricity needs throughout an entire working day. According to industry news site Energy Business News:

Between 9.30 and 6pm on Tuesday, September 30, a day not unlike most Tuesdays, with business and homes using electricity as usual, the state received the favourable weather conditions allowing solar and wind infrastructure to work side by side to achieve the impressive achievement.

The analysis comes from Pitt & Sherry, an Australian energy consultancy. As the wind picked up, all but two of the state's coal-fired power generators, and one gas-powered unit, were shut down; the excess power was exported to other regions, according to the report. There were a few moments during the previous days—on September 27 and 28—when the state actually produced more wind power than the state's total energy demand. Normally, nearly a third of the state's energy comes from renewable sources, according to figures from 2012 to 2013.

South Australia, home to the city of Adelaide, has almost half of the country's wind capacity; 25 percent of its households have rooftop solar installations, according to the report. The state is aggressively pursuing green energy goals, upping its 2025 renewable energy commitment from 33 percent to 50 percent, having met its previous goal six years ahead of schedule.

This is despite the conservative federal government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott threatening to gut a national renewable energy target, having already defunded several government agencies responsible for the country's climate change policies. In July, Australia became the world's first developed nation to repeal a carbon tax.

All of that policy uncertainty is having an impact on the renewable energy sector in Australia. Investment has virtually frozen in a land famous for being bathed in sun. Recent data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows Australia is on track to record its lowest level of financing for big renewable projects since 2002, dropping the country from the 11th largest investor to 31st in Bloomberg's rankings. In the third quarter of this year, investment was down 78 percent from the same time last year.

Krugman: Obama One of the Most Successful Presidents in American History

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 10:14 AM EDT

President Barack Obama may be facing some of his lowest approval ratings to date, but that isn't stopping Paul Krugman from defending the president's overall track record. In fact, the Nobel Prize-winning economist is arguing Obama is one of the most "successful presidents in American history."

Krugman, who was once among the president's more notable skeptics, made his case in a new feature for Rolling Stone aptly titled "In Defense of Obama," in which he dismissed persistent attacks from Republicans and mounting disappointment expressed by Democrats with an outline of the Obama administration's key achievements in several areas including healthcare, the environment, national security, and the economy.

It's a tough time to be making that case. Americans are increasingly frustrated by Obama's handling of ISIS and continued unrest in Iraq. As for the economy, even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently blamed Obama's economic advisers for repeatedly failing ordinary Americans in favor of Wall Street.

But in a follow-up interview with ABC News, Krugman told Jonathan Karl the recent onslaught of criticism is unwarranted, noting Americans have experienced more "consequential" changes under Obama's presidency than ever before.

"People who had this idea that Obama was going to bring a transformation of America, I thought were being naïve," Krugman said in the interview. "But, by God, we got health reform, and we got a significant financial reform. We are getting the environmental action … it’s not everything you would have wanted, but it’s more than anyone else has done for decades."

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is still out there claiming the president has accomplished nothing:

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McDonald's Had to Hire a Fact-Checker to Prove It Serves Real Food

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

For McDonald's, 2014 has been like a Happy Meal that's missing a trinket: a major bummer. Its China operations (along with those other US fast-food firms) got caught up in an expired-meat scandal that pushed down Asian sales. Its US sales are down too, and its share price has fallen about 8 percent over the past three months. Strife among workers over low wages has lingered, and took a nasty turn for the company when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that it's responsible for employment practices at its thousands of franchises, which it had been using as a shield to protect it from allegations of labor abuse. Insult to injury, a Consumer Reports survey named Mickey D's signature burgers the "worst-tasting of all the major US burger chains."

What's a beleaguered, ubiquitous burger giant to do? Apparently, take to Twitter with an ask-me-anything attitude and roll out a bunch of behind-the-scenes videos, hosted by Grant Imahara, a former star of TV's Mythbusters, all under a new program called "Your Questions. Our Food."

In this one, Imahara tours a plant owned by Cargill, a vast agribusiness conglomerate, that supplies McDonald's with preformed burger patties. Spoiler alert: Imahara finds everything hunky dory.

On the burger-factory floor, Imahara confronts the Cargill folks about whether they add "lean finely textured beef," a.k.a., pink slime, to the burgers. Pink slime, you might remember, is a slurry made of scraps of beef that have been pulverized, defatted, and subjected to ammonia steam to kill microbial pathogens. No, they assure him. (They neglect to add that McDonald's burgers did contain pink slime until 2012, when consumer outrage inspired them to stop the practice.)

Over at Time, Naomi Starkman has a rundown of some less-than-appetizing practices the fast-food giant has copped to on the campaign.

On beef hormones: "Most of the cattle we get our beef from are treated with added hormones, a common practice in the U.S. that ranchers use to promote growth." On feeding animals GMO feed: "Generally speaking, farmers feed their livestock a balanced diet that includes grains, like corn and soybeans. Over 90% of the U.S. corn and soybean crops are GMO, so cattle, chickens and pigs in our supply chain do eat some GMO crops."

And while it says it no longer uses so-called "pink slime" in its burgers, it does use an anti-foaming agent, dimethylpolysiloxane, in the oil it uses to cook Chicken McNuggets. It also uses azodicarbonamide, a.k.a. "the yoga mat ingredient," in its buns and sandwiches, saying it has many uses: "Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk." As for why its U.S. menu contains items that are banned in Europe? "Every country has different food safety and regulatory standards and, because of this, ingredients will vary in our restaurants around the world. But no matter where you’re dining with us—in the U.S. or abroad—you can be assured of the quality and safety of our food."

The company even answered one of my questions, about the precise composition of its McNuggets.

It's way too early to tell whether this corporate glasnost campaign will inspire consumers to stampede back through the Golden Arches. The stock market, though, shrugged Monday. McDonald's shares fell 1.7 percent, part of a broader sell-off.

Meanwhile, given recent controversies over wages, I just asked McDonald's a question it presumably isn't eager to answer. I'll update if I get a response.

 

Vatican to Cohabitators and Gays: You're Kind of Okay. (Update: Actually, Never Mind.)

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 7:04 PM EDT
Bishops at the synod on family issues at the Vatican.

Update, Saturday, October 18, 2014: Never mind: "A final statement agreed to on Saturday by a summit of Catholic Church leaders to discuss teachings on family retreated from groundbreaking language on “welcoming homosexual persons” included in an interim draft released on Monday."

A preliminary document released by the Vatican today suggests a possible easing of the Catholic Church's strict stances on premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, and divorce and remarriage. Summarizing the first week of discussion at a worldwide meeting of bishops, the document stresses the need for church leadership to listen "with respect and love" and "appreciate the positive values" of members "rather than their limitations and shortcomings."

The document is not an indication of change in doctrine, but more of a recap of what has been discussed so far at the two-week long synod on family issues, and what's on the agenda in the second week of meetings. The synod was both convened and attended by Pope Francis. Among the topics mentioned in the document are the "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation," and the importance of including Catholics who are divorced or remarried while "avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against."

The document also encourages churches to welcome and accept gay people, who "have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." This "welcoming" has its limitations: The document maintains that "unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman."

Overall, however, the document's tone contrasts with statements from Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who called gay marriage a "threat to world peace" and damaging to "the essence of the human creature." And not once does it refer those who are divorced or living together before marriage as sinners.

The document quotes previous writings by Pope Francis, stating: "The Church is called on to be 'the house of the Father, with doors always wide open…where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.'"

The Vatican's baby steps toward discussion and inclusion appear to reflect the frustration among many Catholics toward the church's traditional stances on family issues and gay rights. Last week, a poll of American Catholics found 40 percent believe the church should drop its opposition to premarital sex and cohabitation (33 percent say it should not), and 42 percent believe the Church should recognize same-sex marriage (40 percent disagree). The poll also found Pope Francis has an 85 percent favorability rating among American Catholics.

South Dakota Senate Candidate Boasted of "African American Friends," Mulled Run for DC Mayor

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 6:45 PM EDT
South Dakota Senate candidate Larry Pressler

Larry Pressler, who's running as an independent in South Dakota's three-way race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, has averaged around 23 percent of the vote in polls of the contest, which could determine control of the Senate in 2015. With Election Day less than a month away, former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland are both hoping to siphon off support from the third-party entry. And Pressler, who represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican from 1979 to 1997, is beginning to take his lumps. On Friday, Politico reported that he lists his primary residence in Washington, DC. But Pressler isn't just a casual DC resident—he's a self-described townie who briefly floated a run for mayor. Here's the Associated Press in 1998, on Pressler's bid to replace Democrat Marion Barry:

Pressler, now a lobbyist, was not immediately available for comment.

But he told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that he has written a three-point agenda, including a private-school voucher program and a "real tax cut" to stimulate economic development in Washington.

"I have lived in DC since 1971, longer than anyone else who's running," Pressler said.

Despite hailing from a state that has relatively few blacks, Pressler told the newspaper said he could connect with Washington's blacks. The district is 65 percent black.

"I have a lot of African American friends," he said.

That's sort of the Trinity of archival dirt—a lobbyist epithet, an affirmation of DC residency, and an awkward boast about black friends. You don't see it very often.

Pressler quickly gave up on the idea of running for mayor, but not before the Washington City Paper's Michael Schaffer dug up this exquisite anecdote about the former senator:

Marching out of a committee hearing a couple years ago, Pressler mistook a closet door for the exit. After initially trying to wait out his colleagues, he finally realized that the hearing wasn't going to end any time soon. He walked back out of the closet, waved as if he'd been talking to someone inside, and left the chamber.

h/t Daily Kos Elections

Duck Dynasty Congressional Candidate Says Godlessness Will Cause "Mass Carnage and Mass Death"

| Mon Oct. 13, 2014 4:49 PM EDT
Zach Dasher (left) and his cousin, Duck Dyansty's Willie Robertson

Godlessness is leading the United States down a path toward "tyranny and death," according to Louisiana Republican congressional candidate Zach Dasher. A nephew of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, Dasher is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Vance McAllister in the November election. He made the comments in a 2012 episode of his personal podcast, Willing to Think.

Teasing a discussion of political correctness, Dasher asked, "Am I going to talk about the entitlement mindset of nearly half of our country that is really going to end in utter despair if we don't do something about it? Am I going to talk about how this swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death? Well, I probably will talk about that today."

He returned to the subject at the end of the episode:

We will only regress if we shut our mouths. Tyranny will get its foothold—if it already doesn't have it—and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable. 'Oh, Zach, you are such an overreactor; you're like Alex Jones.' Look: I'm here with a philosophy. This is no conspiracy theory; this is a philosophy rooted in historical fact. Every society that has shut down people from discussing things about politics God, faith, when you silence people, every time that happens in a society, you know what happens? Tyranny and death. Every single time.

In another episode of the podcast, Dasher blamed rejection of God for a rise in anxiety disorders. "I know it's not politically correct, but there is a huge element of depression and anxiety disorders that is wrapped up in what I'm saying today," he said. In September, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported on comments Dasher made in other episodes of Willing to Think, in which the candidate blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on atheism. (He also argued that the popular millennial acronym "YOLO" is corrosive because it promotes an atheistic disregard for the afterlife.)

Dasher has put his faith front and center during the race. The campaign headquarters in West Monroe features an envelope taped to the outside of the glass door, instructing supporters to "leave your your prayers or scriptures." In an appearance on Fox News in June, he told Sean Hannity, "My platform begins with God."

Robertson, who supported McAllister during the special election for the seat in 2013, jumped ship after McAllister was caught on tape kissing a female staffer and now backs his kin. At a Lake Charles fundraiser, he referred to the first-time candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."