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The "Oprah" Tape That May Have Sunk Andrew Puzder’s Nomination

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Update, 2/15/17, 3:24 pm: The White House is expected to withdraw Puzder’s nomination as labor secretary. Politico’s story featuring the “The Oprah Winfrey” footage reportedly played a significant role in the decision.

At the request of senators reviewing the nomination of Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Oprah Winfrey on Tuesday handed over a 1990 recording featuring Puzder’s former wife, Lisa Fierstein, in which she details allegations of spousal abuse against the embattled fast-food CEO.

The footage, which Politico obtained and released on Wednesday, shows Fierstein dressed in a disguise and using a pseudonym to conceal her identity alongside other women who experienced spousal abuse. In the episode entitled “High-Class Battered Women,” she claimed Puzder once threatened revenge after she first made the allegations public two years before “The Oprah Winfrey Show” appearance.

“‘I will see you in the gutter,” Fierstein claimed he told her. “This will never be over. You will pay for this.”

“I wound up losing everything, everything,” she continued. “I have nothing. He has a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz. He has the home. He has everything. He was an attorney, and he knew how to play the system.”

In 1988, Fierstein filed a petition accusing Puzder of physically assaulting her on the face, chest, and back, leaving her with “severe and permanent injuries.” The couple divorced in 1987. She has since said that she regretted her decision to appear on the show.

The tape’s review comes amid sinking support for Puzder’s nomination as further questions arise about his labor practices. Employees from his fast-food empire have also come forward complaining about his vehement opposition to raising the minimum wage and protecting workers. His hearing was repeatedly delayed after he failed to properly file the ethics and financial paperwork required of all Cabinet picks.

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The "Oprah" Tape That May Have Sunk Andrew Puzder’s Nomination

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The Most Popular Theory About What Causes Obesity May Be Very Wrong

Mother Jones

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You’ve heard it over and over again: The obesity crisis, which affects more than a third of US adults and costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars every year, is due to the fact that people eat more calories than they expend. In other words, one of the leading causes of preventable deaths is rooted in gluttony and sloth. If people jogged more and ate fewer Big Macs, they wouldn’t get obese.

What if that idea is just wrong? Gary Taubes thinks it is. Taubes joined us on the most recent episode of Bite to talk about the flaws in this popular idea of how we get fat.

As a journalist and author, Taubes has devoted his career to understanding how what we eat affects our weight. Taubes sees serious flaws in the “energy-balance theory”—that you just have to eat less and move more to stave off the pounds—and thinks that the idea is seriously undermining the fight against obesity. The more nutritionists and doctors promote that theory, he argues, the more they avoid talking about what Taubes sees as a more convincing cause of our public health woes: sugar.

Taubes traces the roots of the energy-balance theory in his new book, The Case Against Sugar. In the 1860s, German scientists invented a calorimeter which measured how many calories a person consumed and then used up. This innovation helped inform the “new” nutrition science of the early 1900s: “You could measure the energy in, you could measure the energy out,” Taubes explains. “Clearly if someone was getting fatter, they were taking in more energy than they expended. From this came this theory that obesity was an energy-balance disorder.”

But in the 1960s, researchers developed radioimmunoassay, allowing them to measure the circulation of hormones in the blood. Scientists could soon establish how hormones regulate the fat we accumulate, and how the food we eat influences those hormones. But at that point, notes Taubes: “The obesity and nutrition community continues to say, ‘look, we know why people get fat: It’s because they take in more calories than they expend.'”

That stubborn theory—Taubes sarcastically deems it “the gift that keeps on giving”—prevails even today. As my colleague Julia Lurie pointed out in this story, junk food companies use this idea in order to peddle sugary foods to kids. In one lesson of Energy Balance 101, a curriculum backed by companies like Hershey and PepsiCo and taught to 28 million students and counting, students learn that going for a bike ride can balance out munching on a chocolate bar.

The problem with this mentality, Taubes and numerous doctors and scientists argue, is that it ignores the way certain ingredients play a unique role in the way our bodies develop fat. Sugar is metabolized differently, and it doesn’t trigger the hormone that tells us when we’re full. Doctor Robert Lustig argues that too much sugar causes metabolic syndrome, a condition linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

So if obesity isn’t an energy-balance disorder, but is rather a metabolic defect, says Taubes, “you have to fix the hormonal thing.” And “the way you start fixing it is you get rid of all the sugar in your diet.”

Taubes realizes all of this is such a bummer to swallow. He’s written a book that’s “the nutritional equivalent of stealing Christmas,” he writes. So I wanted to know, if not sugar, what’s his vice? You’ll have to listen to the episode to find out.

Bite is Mother Jones‘ podcast for people who think hard about their food. Listen to all our episodes here, or subscribe in iTunes, Stitcher, or via RSS.

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The Most Popular Theory About What Causes Obesity May Be Very Wrong

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The Podcast Where Icons Like Iggy Pop, U2, Björk, and Wilco Get to Totally Geek Out

Mother Jones

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The seeds of the popular podcast Song Exploder were sown in the mid-2000s, when Los Angeles musician Hrishikesh Hirway first sat down to remix other people’s songs and found himself spellbound by the nuances and complexities of the individual tracks within. “It felt like such a privileged listening experience,” he recalls.

About a decade later, in January 2014, Hirway launched the podcast—which, over two-plus years and 68 episodes, has earned him a devoted fan base and interviews with superstars such as U2, Björk, and the National. Each episode deconstructs a single song, mashing up musical elements with audio snippets of the creators geeking out on gear or talking about what drives them to make music. It’s an experience dense with sounds, ideas, and narrative momentum that culminates in the fully assembled song. But Song Exploder transcends mere music. “It’s about how you take an idea from nothing to something fully realized,” the host explains.

Hirway is familiar enough with the process. He began recording as a college junior, calling himself “The One AM Radio.” Since relocating from his Peabody, Massachusetts, hometown to LA in 2006, he’s written scores for several films. And in 2013, he co-founded the hip-hop group Moors with rapper-actor Keith Stanfield of Straight Outta Compton fame.

Hirway at home in Los Angeles. Courtesy Song Exploder

At first, Hirway recruited musician friends as his podcast subjects, but he soon began reaching outside his social circles: an email to an address he found online led to an interview with composer Jeff Beal, known for his work on House of Cards. Persistence and luck—and help from fans of the podcast—have kept the big names rolling in. Last fall, while struggling to reach Wilco, Hirway remembered that the son of bandleader Jeff Tweedy had recently followed the podcast on Twitter; the episode came together within days.

Much of the podcast’s appeal lies in Hirway’s uncanny ability to bypass journalistic awkwardness in favor of honest and intimate conversations about music and life. A single episode will introduce you to an artist, but listening religiously offers something more: a glimpse into the nature of creativity and the eccentric ways musicians cultivate it. In one arresting episode, multi-instrumentalist Nick Zammuto of the experimental duo the Books tells Hirway how he plucked the lyrics of “Smells Like Content” from educational TV shows and the facade of the Brooklyn Public Library. “People labor over lyrics a lot, but really they’re kind of all around us all the time,” Zammuto says.

In another episode, members of the noise band Health explain how a programming error—”the whole song glitches, basically”—ended up in the chorus of “Stonefist.” Again and again, Hirway’s listeners encounter artists who are learning to embrace accidents, imperfections, and curveballs that collaborators throw their way. Shared, too, is the artists’ palpable thrill in describing how some songs emerge seemingly of their own accord. “You sit back and go, ‘How did I do that?'” says Wilco’s Tweedy.

Ultimately, Hirway aims to provide an experience that even someone without a note of musical training can relate to. After all, “Creativity is not this opaque box, this laboratory that is only accessible to a chosen few…All you really need is an idea and the will to see it through.”

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy talks music with Hirway during a taping. Courtesy of Song Exploder

Explain That Tune

Being asked to choose your favorite Song Exploder episode is like being asked to name your favorite child. But these five selections offer a good taste of what Hirway’s podcast has to offer:

The Books’ Nick Zammuto, “Smells Like Content“: If you thought there were limits to what constitutes music, Zammuto will prove you wrong. He describes his use of such humble materials as PVP pipe and vinyl records—not the music on the records, but the records themselves—in this seminal early episode.

Courtney Barnett, “Depreston“: Barnett had a big 2015. The Australian rocker’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, received rave reviews, and Barnett was nominated for the “best new artist” Grammy. In this episode, Barnett breaks down the track “Depreston” with characteristic wit and insight.

MGMT, “Time to Pretend“: If you’ve left your fortress in the last eight years, you’ve undoubtedly heard this song. Written when the band members were still in college, “Time to Pretend,” an anthem to imaginary stardom, had the surprise effect of making its creators famous. In this episode, MGMT recounts the song’s evolution—and how it felt to perform in druid capes on David Letterman.

Natalia Lafourcade, “Hasta la Raíz“: While Song Exploder has featured plenty of famous artists, Hirway also sees it as a vehicle for introducing accomplished musicians to a broader public. Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade was the perfect candidate: She won four Latin Grammys last year and an American Grammy in February, but is still little-known north of the border.

Ramin Djawadi, Game of Thrones theme: If you could somehow conjure up the musical equivalent to the word “epic,” it might sound like this. Composer Ramin Djawadi describes how he crafted the signature theme to the hit HBO show Game of Thrones, and what it was like to see the melody become an internet phenomenon, interpreted by fans and musicians around the world.

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The Podcast Where Icons Like Iggy Pop, U2, Björk, and Wilco Get to Totally Geek Out

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It Turns Out That Those "Full and Unedited" Planned Parenthood Videos…. Aren’t

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I gave up on the Planned Parenthood sting videos a long time ago. It’s pretty obvious there was no criminal behavior unmasked, or even any unethical behavior.1 The claims of the producers never matched the reality of the videos, so I stopped watching when new ones came out.

But Sarah Kliff soldiered on! She not only watched them all, she watched the full, unedited versions. And she discovered something after reading a forensic analysis of the videos from Planned Parenthood: they aren’t actually full and unedited. The folks who ran the sting claim that they did nothing more than edit out bathroom breaks, but Kliff isn’t buying it:

Take the first example I wrote about here, the meeting with the Texas Planned Parenthood clinic where the tape appears to jump forward a half-hour. In that case, nobody suggests a bathroom break. There’s no change in meeting; when the video jumps forward, they’re still sitting in the exact same seats.

Meanwhile, the longer videos show lots of small-talk footage that isn’t especially relevant to the argument over fetal body parts. I know because I watched all of it. There are moments in a car, where directions are being given and all the camera footage is totally blurry, where people stand around in hallways, where they talk about the relationship between caffeine and headaches. Those moments weren’t cut from the tape — and it’s hard to know what would make those different from the bathroom breaks and other moments deemed irrelevant to the audience.

I guess we need a chant for this. Release the video! We demand to see the bathroom breaks! Explain the timestamps! Or something. As far as I’m concerned, Planned Parenthood has long since been exonerated in this episode, so I don’t really need to see anything. But I am curious about just what they decided to leave out.

1Standard caveat: If you think abortion is murder, then everything on the video is unethical and immoral.

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It Turns Out That Those "Full and Unedited" Planned Parenthood Videos…. Aren’t

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Jon Stewart Signs Off from the "Daily Show" with the Perfect Advice for Us All

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After 16 years of engaging audiences with his political satire and no bullshit media criticism, Jon Stewart bid a final farewell as host of the Daily Show on Thursday night. The episode, filled with cameos from the likes of Steve Carell and Kristen Schaal, was very much a tribute to the longtime host as it was to his impressive roster of correspondents from over the years.

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During one moment, Stephen Colbert, whose tenure at the Daily Show launched his own career as the bloviating pundit of the Colbert Report, broke character to thank an emotional Stewart for his work.

“We are better people for having known you,” Colbert said. “You are a great artist and a good man.”

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Before officially signing off, Stewart left his audience with the advice to keep vigilant of all the bullshit out there.

“Bullshit is everywhere,” he said. “If you smell something, say something.”

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Jon Stewart Signs Off from the "Daily Show" with the Perfect Advice for Us All

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Watch Siskel and Ebert Defend the Original Star Wars Films

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The latest trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakening was released Thursday. It is good. It is reallllllllllyyyyyy good. There may have been audible yelps of excitement in the Mother Jones office upon first, second, and third viewings.

There are people living and breathing in this world who are Star Wars haters. They dismiss Star Wars as drivel intended for children, meaningless entertainment that should be discarded in favor of Intellectual Foreign Language Films. These people are wrong, cold-hearted individuals who should be shunned from civil society. “But but but,” one might argue, “Episodes I, II, and III were utter garbage, truly horrible, horrible films.” This is true. Just erase them from your memory, as I have done. The original three films (Ewoks and all) are masterpieces that should be enjoyed by those of all ages.

Need further proof? Watch Ted Koppel interview Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in 1983. The pair eviscerate a snooty film critic who thinks the movies make children stupid.

You are missed, Siskel and Ebert. You are missed.

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Watch Siskel and Ebert Defend the Original Star Wars Films

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Watch John Oliver Travel to Moscow to Ask Edward Snowden About Your Dick Pics and the NSA

Mother Jones

In the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver traveled to Moscow for an in-depth interview with Edward Snowden, or as Oliver introduced on his show as “the most famous hero and/or traitor in recent American history.”

The segment, which started out measuring how much the NSA whistleblower missed Hot Pockets, quickly delved into surprisingly tough questions aimed at Snowden and the arguable value over his massive surveillance leak. At one point, Oliver even challenged Snowden by asking how many of the leaked NSA documents he actually took the time to read.

“I do understand what I turned over,” Snowden responded.

“There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents, because when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you want to do is read them,” Oliver shot back.

Throughout the rest of the episode, which was pegged to the upcoming June 1st deadline for Congress to reauthorize or end the controversial Patriot Act, Oliver repeatedly reminds Snowden that Americans don’t seem to care very much about government surveillance. But when it comes to more intimate matters, that’s a different story.

“This is the most visible line in the sand for people: Can they see my dick?” Oliver said.

“Well, the good news is there’s no program named the ‘Dick Pic’ program,” Snowden explained. “The bad news is that they are still collecting everybody’s information—including your dick pics.”

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Watch John Oliver Travel to Moscow to Ask Edward Snowden About Your Dick Pics and the NSA

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James O’Keefe Loses Libel Suit Over Landrieu Incident

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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.”

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James O’Keefe Loses Libel Suit Over Landrieu Incident

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Over Easy: An Egg King Gets Dethroned

Mother Jones

Remember the salmonella outbreak of 2010, the one that that sickened 2,000 people and led to the recall of more than a half-billion eggs?

A federal investigation has pulled the curtain back on the way the man at the center of the outbreak, Jack DeCoster, ran his massive egg empire. He and his son Peter DeCoster have pleaded guilty to the “distribution of adulterated eggs in interstate commerce, resulting in the 2010 outbreak, the US Department of Justice reports.

And that’s not all. One of DeCoster’s companies, Quality Egg, also copped to attempting to bribe a USDA inspector, not once but twice in 2010, to allow it to send out eggs that didn’t meet the agency’s quality standards; and also to falsifying expiration dates on egg cartons “with the intent to mislead state regulators and retail egg customers regarding the true age of the eggs,” between 2006 and 2010.

Even before these revelations, the episode had revealed gaps in how the US regulatory system handles massive livestock operations. DeCoster’s own company-run tests had found salmonella in its facilities before the outbreak, but it continued churning out eggs. Shortly before the outbreak, US Department of Agriculture inspectors had noted filthy conditions but didn’t act to halt them—they were there to inspect egg size, not cleanliness. The Food and Drug Administration, which does regulate food safety in large egg operations, filed a damning report on DeCoster’s facilities—but only after those half billion suspect eggs had been trucked out to supermarkets nationwide.

And though DeCoster ran no corporate empire along the lines of Tyson or Smithfield Foods, his egg fiefdom was quite large. My reporting at the time established that the companies he controlled accounted for more then 10 percent of US laying hens—more than any other egg producer.

DeCoster pere et fils face prison sentences of up to one year; fines of $100,000 each; and a “term of supervised release after any imprisonment for up to one year,” the DOJ reports.

Thus, presumably, ends an illustrious career at the heights of industrial-scale agriculture. Previous highlights include:

• In 2002, one of DeCoster’s companies paid a $1.5 million settlement after women at one of his Iowa plants “alleged they were subjected to sexual harassment (including rape), abuse, and retaliation” by supervisory workers.

• In 2000 he got himself declared a “habitual offender” of Iowa’s manure management laws by the state’s attorney general.

• In 1996, Robert Reich, then the US labor secretary, slapped a $3.6 million fine on DeCoster’s Maine egg operation for labor violations. Reich denounced the company as ”an agricultural sweatshop” where the workers are treated like ”animals.”

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Over Easy: An Egg King Gets Dethroned

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New Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson Destroys Climate Deniers

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For 11 episodes now, the groundbreaking Fox and National Geographic Channel series Cosmos has been exploring the universe, outraging creationists, and giving science teachers across the nation something to show in class every Monday. In the process, the show has been drawing more than 3 million viewers every Sunday night, a respectable number for a science-focused show that is, after all, a major departure from what primetime audiences are used to.

Cosmos certainly hasn’t shied from controversy; it has taken on evolution and industry-funded science denial, and it has been devoting an increasing amount of attention to the subject of climate change. And apparently that was just the beginning. This coming Sunday, Cosmos will devote an entire episode to the topic. Here’s the episode description from National Geographic:

Our journey begins with a trip to another world and time, an idyllic beach during the last perfect day on the planet Venus, right before a runaway greenhouse effect wreaks havoc on the planet, boiling the oceans and turning the skies a sickening yellow. We then trace the surprisingly lengthy history of our awareness of global warming and alternative energy sources, taking the Ship of the Imagination to intervene at some critical points in time.

Courtesy of National Geographic, above is a clip from the new episode, which should have climate deniers fulminating. In it, host Neil deGrasse Tyson uses the analogy of walking a dog on the beach to helpfully explain the difference between climate and weather (pay attention, Donald Trump) and to outline why, no matter how cold you were in January, that’s no argument against global warming.

We’ve seen the rest of the episode already, and won’t spill the beans. But suffice it to say that it contains some powerful refutations of a number of other global warming denier talking points, as well as some ingenious sequences that explain the planetary-scale significance of climate change. It also contains some in situ reporting on the impacts of climate change, straight from the imperiled Arctic.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson travels to the Arctic to explain global warming, and its effect on thawing permafrost, in this Sunday’s Cosmos episode. Fox/National Geographic

Back in November, I observed that if Carl Sagan, the creator and host of the original Cosmos series, were alive today, he would have been a leader in the charge to address global warming. After all, Sagan, who made his scientific mark studying the greenhouse effect of Venus, was deeply concerned about the mega-forces that determine planetary fates.

In covering climate change so extensively then, the new Cosmos is living up to the legacy of its original creator.

Note: For those who miss it on Sunday, Cosmos also airs Monday, June 2nd at 9 pm on National Geographic Channel with additional footage.


New Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson Destroys Climate Deniers

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