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  • California Lawmakers Vote to Expand Overtime Pay for Farmworkers

    For the last 80 years, farm workers have toiled for long hours in grueling conditions with little or no overtime pay. On Monday, California lawmakers passed a bill that would change that. If signed by the governor, the law would make the Golden State the first to require the agricultural industry to meet the federal labor standards applied to most other industries.

    "The whole world eats the food provided by California farmworkers," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill, "yet we don't guarantee fair overtime pay for the backbreaking manual labor they put in to keep us fed...We're now one step closer to finally providing our hard-working farmworkers the dignity they deserve." Supporters of the bill, which include Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, argued that farm workers should be granted the same protections as millions of other Californians.

    Starting in 2019, the new law would gradually expand overtime pay for California's estimated 825,000 farm workers. Currently, farmworkers who put in more than 10 hours a day receive overtime. (California is one of the few states that require overtime pay for farmworkers.) By 2022, anyone who works more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week would be eligible for overtime pay, bringing the agricultural industry in line with national standards.

    California's economy is fueled in large part by its agricultural output. More than a third of all vegetables and two-thirds of all fruit and nuts sold in the United States come from the state. Its agricultural industry raked in more than $50 billion in 2014. Nationally, farm workers earn an average of less than $18,000 a year, according to Farm Worker Justice. Numerous studies have found that many California farmworkers struggle to afford food for their families.

    Industry representatives and their allies in the legislature argued that the added protections could backfire, saddling employers with added costs at a time when they are struggling with the state's water crisis. Ultimately, they said, employers would simply hire more workers and cut their hours in order to avoid paying overtime. "Agriculture needs greater flexibility in scheduling work than do other industries," argued Beatris Espericueta Sanders, executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau, in the Bakersfield Californian. "Supporters of the legislation claim this is about 'equality,' but AB 1066 would actually hurt the employees it's meant to help."

    According to the United Farm Workers, the largest union for farm workers and a key sponsor of the bill, the lack of overtime protection for agricultural laborers has its roots in the Jim Crow era, when most farmworkers were African-American. In 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which laid out wage protections and overtime compensation requirements for employees across the nation. However, to appease white Southern lawmakers, an exemption was added for agricultural employers. "Today, 78 years later, when farm workers are mainly Latino, this shameful legacy of racism and discrimination still infects our society," UFW said in a statement. "Excluding farm workers from overtime after eight hours was wrong in 1938. It's wrong now."

    As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the 44-32 vote in favor of the overtime bill led to an outbreak of applause among farmworkers who took time off of work to witness its passage.

  • Aliens Are (Maybe) Finally Knocking. The Pentagon's Plan Is Underwhelming.

    On Saturday, Paul Gilster, who blogs about deep space exploration and other interstellar issues, broke the news on his blog that in May 2015, a team of Russian scientists had detected an interesting signal coming from a star system about 95 light-years from Earth. Gilster was very measured in his report, noting that "no one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study." The researchers involved believe the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, a nonprofit organization that's looking for life in the universe and has the equipment to scan the skies for signals from deep space, might follow up on the lead.

    But that didn't stop others from going wild, most notably the New York Observer, which published an attention-grabbing story Monday titled "Not a Drill: SETI Is Investigating a Possible Extraterrestrial Signal From Deep Space."

    SETI is, in fact, scanning for the signal, according to Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the organization, who discussed the matter in a blog post available on the group's website. "Could it be another society sending a signal our way?" he wrote. "Of course, that's possible. However, there are many other plausible explanations for this claimed transmission—including terrestrial interference. Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it's 'interesting.'"

    UFOs, extraterrestrials, and life in outer space has gained new currency over the last year or so. Last fall, a team from Yale University announced they had found a star that gave off such unique light patterns that some speculated it was being orbited by an alien megastructure. Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta, have both repeatedly discussed the need for the release of information about US government research into extraterrestrials. (You can read more about Clinton's history with the UFO issue that goes back more than 20 years here.) A week ago, scientists announced they had found a potentially life-supporting, Earthlike planet just 4.5 light-years away, within Earth's closest celestial star system neighbor.

    This whole thing got us thinking: What would happen if extraterrestrials not only reached out to communicate, but showed up on our doorstep? Is there a plan?

    I put this question to the Department of Defense last fall when I profiled Stephen Bassett, the only registered lobbyist in Washington whose major focus is to force the US government to reveal what it knows about extraterrestrials contact with the human race. To people like Bassett, the question of what to do when they show up is moot because it has already happened; the people who need to deal with it already are.

    The Department of Defense does not agree. Here's the answer I got from them: "The [Department of Defense] does not maintain plans for hypothetical dangers for which we have absolutely no information—either to the likelihood of the danger, or to what form the danger would take." For what it's worth, the DoD spokesman also said the department doesn't have an office or organization that handles "issues related to UFOs and/or extraterrestrials," and the DoD has never interacted with or recovered any kind of material related to extraterrestrials.

    Do we really not have any plans in place should we be contacted by an alien race? I checked the DoD's answer with Christopher Mellon. A former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence and staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, among other roles, he said, "I think you got an honest answer from DoD. How would you plan for the arrival of an advanced civilization without any understanding whatsoever of their capabilities, technology or intentions?" He added that his sense was that the government had "little if any idea" of what we'd be up against and "whatever it is would be so far beyond us it would look and appear magical or spiritual, totally beyond our ability to cope with or resist if hostile. If such an event occurred we'd simply have to muddle through as best we could." 

    "Meanwhile," he says, "DoD has an overflowing plate already and I suspect the Joint Staff has little patience for such seemingly unlikely, open-ended and ill-defined scenarios."

    Nick Pope, a former official with the British Ministry of Defense whose job it was to investigate UFO sightings, doesn't think powerful governments should get off that easy. He told me Tuesday he's long advocated some sort of contingency plan but never saw any evidence that the British or US governments had one. When he asked colleagues in the intelligence and military world about plans, "there was no real enthusiasm for it. It was a combination of skepticism and almost this feeling that this was the ultimate taboo, that something like this could just not be put down on paper."

    Pope said news about a potential signal from another civilization should trigger a whole series of thorny questions: Is this just a signal letting us know they're there, or is there information encoded within it? If there is information in it, can we decode it? Should we? If we could, should that information be disclosed? Who should control the information in the signal, if there's anything there?

    That's a far cry from a scenario that finds us dealing with an extraterrestrial craft in orbit around Earth or actually landing. "The No. 1 priority would obviously be avoiding getting in a fight with these people," he said. But what do we do then? Who's in charge? Who speaks for planet Earth? What is the message?

    Pope admits that the possibility of this scenario playing out is miniscule, describing it as "the ultimate low probability, high impact scenario." But, he said, "We don't need to go into Star Trek territory to say it's possible we could be visited. That being the case, it just seems prudent to have a plan."

  • This Ohio Abortion Law Was Supposed to Protect Women. A New Study Says It Caused Physical Harm.

    Under the guise of protecting women, anti-abortion legislation in six states required physicians to administer medication abortion—mifepristone—using outdated dosage recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration. The sad irony is that the laws have actually harmed women who were forced to comply.

    Researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California-San Francisco examined Ohio, where the medication abortion regulation requiring the higher dosage was passed in 2011, and found that women who had medication abortions after the law was passed were three times more likely to require at least one additional medical treatment related to the procedure than women who had medication abortions before the law passed.

    Arizona, Arkansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas all previously passed legislation requiring abortion providers to adhere to the outdated dosage when administering medication abortion. (Only three of those laws in Ohio, North Dakota, and Texas remain. The rest have been struck down by court order.) Typically, doctors prescribe 200 milligrams of Mifeprex (or mifepristone) and 800 micrograms of misoprostol for a medication abortion. That's different from the amounts the FDA originally approved when RU-486 first appeared on the market in 2000. It's important to note that adjustments are common in medicine as clinical trials progress that tell physicians more about how a drug interacts with the human body. These laws left no room for such tweaking.

    "As clinical research and clinical trials continue, women in Ohio and Texas and North Dakota won't be able to avail of the latest research," said lead study author Ushma D. Upadhyay, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at UCSF and ANSIRH. "I'm really excited about the future of medication abortion, and it worries me that women in these states will be left behind."

    In March, as Mother Jones previously reported, the FDA approved updated information for mifepristone that changed the dosage from 600 milligrams to 200 milligrams. The lower dosage is less expensive for patients and comes with fewer side effects. The FDA also adjusted its requirements for when the pill can be taken—up to 70 days after a woman's last period, as opposed to the original 49 days.

    The ANSIRH researchers analyzed charts from four different Ohio abortion clinics for eight months to see if the state's law had affected the number of women receiving medication abortion and whether the outdated dosage caused negative health effects. It did: Ohio saw an 80 percent decline in medication abortion between 2010 and 2014, and the overall proportion of medication abortion compared with other methods also fell from 22 percent before the law to 5 percent in 2014. In comparison, most states that did not have such legislation saw a rise in medication abortion. 

    Ohio women also were more likely to have to revisit their physician after the restrictions were in place: After a patient took the post-law dosage, she required additional treatment, either another dose of mifepristone or an aspiration abortion. The percentage of women who received a medication abortion and needed an extra dose or an aspiration rose from 4.9 percent to 14.3 percent after the law went into effect. The rate of incomplete or possibly incomplete abortions also increased from 1.1 percent before the law to 3.2 percent after it. After the law, there was also a 48 percent increase in women who also required two or more follow-up visits after taking the pill.

    "Laws like Ohio's limit physicians from practicing medicine based on the latest evidence and providing the highest quality of reproductive health care to women," said study co-author Lisa Keder, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University.

    The new FDA regulations may help Ohio women because the law allows practitioners to use the new, updated FDA regulations, but it prohibits them from making adjustments based on new clinical research. Medication must be dispensed according to FDA recommendation, period, so should additional research about medication abortion come to light, Ohio doctors will not be able to change their practices. Ohio does currently follow the updated dispensing recommendations from the FDA, but with more clinical trials, doctors tend to learn more about what dosage is most effective. The FDA can't move fast enough to keep up with that research, so it's common for doctors to administer medication based on more current research.

    "This is a perfect example that shows what can happen when legislation is not based in evidence, when scientific data aren't used to inform health care policy," said Upadhyay. "When that happens, there's a potential for outcomes to be worse for women's health."

  • Former Models for Donald Trump's Agency Say They Violated Immigration Rules and Worked Illegally

    Republican nominee Donald Trump has placed immigration at the core of his presidential campaign. He has claimed that undocumented immigrants are "taking our jobs" and "taking our money," pledged to deport them en masse, and vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border. At one point he demanded a ban on Muslims entering the country. Speaking to supporters in Iowa on Saturday, Trump said he would crack down on visitors to the United States who overstay their visas and declared that when any American citizen "loses their job to an illegal immigrant, the rights of that American citizen have been violated." And he is scheduled to give a major address on immigration in Arizona on Wednesday night.

    But the mogul's New York modeling agency, Trump Model Management, has profited from using foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not permit them to work here, according to three former Trump models, all noncitizens, who shared their stories with Mother Jones. Financial and immigration records included in a recent lawsuit filed by a fourth former Trump model show that she, too, worked for Trump's agency in the United States without a proper visa.

    Foreigners who visit the United States as tourists are generally not permitted to engage in any sort of employment unless they obtain a special visa, a process that typically entails an employer applying for approval on behalf of a prospective employee. Employers risk fines and possible criminal charges for using undocumented labor.

    Founded in 1999, Trump Model Management "has risen to the top of the fashion market," boasts the Trump Organization's website, and has a name "that symbolizes success." According to a financial disclosure filed by his campaign in May, Donald Trump earned nearly $2 million from the company, in which he holds an 85 percent stake. Meanwhile, some former Trump models say they barely made any money working for the agency because of the high fees for rent and other expenses that were charged by the company.  

    Canadian-born Rachel Blais spent nearly three years working for Trump Model Management. After first signing with the agency in March 2004, she said, she performed a series of modeling gigs for Trump's company in the United States without a work visa. At Mother Jones' request, Blais provided a detailed financial statement from Trump Model Management and a letter from an immigration lawyer who, in the fall of 2004, eventually secured a visa that would permit her to work legally in the United States. These records show a six-month gap between when she began working in the United States and when she was granted a work visa. During that time, Blais appeared on Trump's hit reality TV show, The Apprentice, modeling outfits designed by his business protégés. As Blais walked the runway, Donald Trump looked on from the front row.

    Former Trump model Rachel Blais appeared in a 2004 episode of Donald Trump's hit NBC reality show, The Apprentice. Trump Model Management had yet to secure her work visa. NBC

    Two other former Trump models—who requested anonymity to speak freely about their experiences, and who we are giving the pseudonyms Anna and Kate—said the agency never obtained work visas on their behalf, even as they performed modeling assignments in the United States. (They provided photographs from some of these jobs, and Mother Jones confirmed with the photographers or stylists that these shoots occurred in the United States.)

    Each of the three former Trump models said she arrived in New York with dreams of making it big in one of the world's most competitive fashion markets. But without work visas, they lived in constant fear of getting caught. "I was pretty on edge most of the time I was there," Anna said of the three months in 2009 she spent in New York working for Trump's agency.

    "I was there illegally," she said. "A sitting duck."

    According to three immigration lawyers consulted by Mother Jones, even unpaid employment is against the law for foreign nationals who do not have a work visa. "If the US company is benefiting from that person, that's work," explained Anastasia Tonello, global head of the US immigration team at Laura Devine Attorneys in New York. These rules for immigrants are in place to "protect them from being exploited," she said. "That US company shouldn't be making money off you."

    Two of the former Trump models said Trump's agency encouraged them to deceive customs officials about why they were visiting the United States and told them to lie on customs forms about where they intended to live. Anna said she received a specific instruction from a Trump agency representative: "If they ask you any questions, you're just here for meetings."

    Trump's campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, declined to answer questions about Trump Model Management's use of foreign labor. "That has nothing to do with me or the campaign," she said, adding that she had referred Mother Jones' queries to Trump's modeling agency. Mother Jones also sent detailed questions to Trump Model Management. The company did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting comment.

    Fashion industry sources say that skirting immigration law in the manner that the three former Trump models described was once commonplace in the modeling world. In fact, Politico recently raised questions about the immigration status of Donald Trump's current wife, Melania, during her days as a young model in New York in the 1990s. (In response to the Politico story, Melania Trump said she has "at all times been in compliance with the immigration laws of this country.")

    Kate, who worked for Trump Model Management in 2004, marveled at how her former boss has recently branded himself as an anti-illegal-immigration crusader on the campaign trail. "He doesn't want to let anyone into the US anymore," she said. "Meanwhile, behind everyone's back, he's bringing in all of these girls from all over the world and they're working illegally."

    Now 31 years old and out of the modeling business, Blais once appeared in various publications, including Vogue, Elle, and Harpers Bazaar, and she posed wearing the designs of such fashion luminaries as Gianfranco Ferré, Dolce & Gabbana, and Jean Paul Gaultier. Her modeling career began when she was 16 and spanned numerous top-name agencies across four continents. She became a vocal advocate for models and appeared in a 2011 documentary, Girl Model, that explored the darker side of the industry. In a recent interview, she said her experience with Trump's firm stood out: "Honestly, they are the most crooked agency I've ever worked for, and I've worked for quite a few."

    Rachel Blais appeared in this Elle fashion spread, published in September 2004, while working for Trump's agency without a proper visa. Elle

    Freshly signed to Trump Model Management, the Montreal native traveled to New York City by bus in April 2004. Just like "the majority of models who are young, [have] never been to NYC, and don't have papers, I was just put in Trump's models' apartment," she said. Kate and Anna also said they had lived in this apartment.

    Models' apartments, as they're known in the industry, are dormitory-style quarters where agencies pack their talent into bunks, in some cases charging the models sky-high rent and pocketing a profit. According to the three former models, Trump Model Management housed its models in a two-floor, three-bedroom apartment in the East Village, near Tompkins Square Park. Mother Jones is withholding the address of the building, which is known in the neighborhood for its model tenants, to protect the privacy of the current residents.

    When Blais lived in the apartment, she recalled, a Trump agency representative who served as a chaperone had a bedroom to herself on the ground floor of the building. A narrow flight of stairs led down to the basement, where the models lived in two small bedrooms that were crammed with bunk beds—two in one room, three in the other. An additional mattress was located in a common area near the stairs. At times, the apartment could be occupied by 11 or more people.

    "We're herded into these small spaces," Kate said. "The apartment was like a sweatshop."

    Trump Model Management recruited models as young as 14. "I was by far the oldest in the house at the ripe old age of 18," Anna said. "The bathroom always smelled like burned hair. I will never forget the place!" She added, "I taught myself how to write, 'Please clean up after yourself' in Russian."

    Living in the apartment during a sweltering New York summer, Kate picked a top bunk near a street-level window in the hopes of getting a little fresh air. She awoke one morning to something splashing her face. "Oh, maybe it's raining today," she recalled thinking. But when she peered out the window, "I saw the one-eyed monster pissing on me," she said. "There was a bum pissing on my window, splashing me in my Trump Model bed."

    "Such a glamorous industry," she said.

    Blais, who previously discussed some of her experiences in an interview with Public Radio International, said the models weren't in a position to complain about their living arrangements. "You're young," she remarked, "and you know that if you ask too many questions, you're not going to get the work."

    A detailed financial statement provided by Blais shows that Trump's agency charged her as much as $1,600 a month for a bunk in a room she shared with five others. Kate said she paid about $1,200 a month—"highway robbery," she called it. For comparison, in the summer of 2004, an entire studio apartment nearby was advertised at $1,375 a month.

    From April to October 2004, Blais traveled between the United States and Europe, picking up a string of high-profile fashion assignments for Trump Model Management and making a name for herself in the modeling world. During the months she spent living and working in New York, Blais said, she only had a tourist visa. "Most of the girls in the apartment that were not American didn't have a work visa," she recalled.

    Anna and Kate also said they each worked for Trump's agency while holding tourist visas. "I started out doing test-shoots but ended up doing a couple of lookbooks," Anna said. (A lookbook is a modeling portfolio.) "Nothing huge, but definitely shoots that classified as 'work.'"

    Employers caught hiring noncitizens without proper visas can be fined up to $16,000 per employee and, in some cases, face up to six months in prison.

    The three former Trump models said Trump's agency was aware of the complications posed by their foreign status. Anna and Kate said the company coached them on how to circumvent immigration laws. Kate recalled being told, "When you're stuck at immigration, say that you're coming as a tourist. If they go through your luggage and they find your portfolio, tell them that you're going there to look for an agent."

    Anna recalled that prior to her arrival, Trump agency staffers were "dodging around" her questions about her immigration status and how she could work legally in the United States. "Until finally," she said, "it came to two days before I left, and they told me my only option was to get a tourist visa and we could work the rest out when I got there. We never sorted the rest out."

    Arriving in the United States, Anna grew terrified. "Going through customs for this trip was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life," she added. "It's hard enough when you're there perfectly innocently, but when you know you've lied on what is essentially a federal document, it's a whole new world."

    "Am I sweaty? Am I red? Am I giving this away?" Anna remembered thinking as she finally faced a customs officer. After making it through immigration, she burst into tears.

    Industry experts say that violating immigration rules has been the status quo in the fashion world for years. "It's been common, almost standard, for modeling agencies to encourage girls to come into the country illegally," said Sara Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, an advocacy group that claimed a major success in 2014 after lobbying the New York State legislature to pass a bill increasing protections for child models.

    Bringing models into the United States on tourist visas was "very common," said Susan Scafidi, the director of Fordham University's Fashion Law Institute. "I've had tons of agencies tell me this, that this used to happen all the time, and that the cover story might be something like 'I'm coming in for a friend's birthday,' or 'I'm coming in to visit my aunt,' that sort of thing."

    For their part, modeling agencies have complained about the time and resources required to bring a foreign model into the country and have insisted that US immigration laws are out of step with their fast-paced industry. "If there are girls that we can't get into the United States, the client is going to take that business elsewhere," Corinne Nicolas, the president of Trump Model Management, told the New York Daily News in 2008. "The market is calling for foreign girls."

    In 2007, a few years before his career imploded in a sexting scandal, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sponsored a bill that would give models the same kind of work visas that international entertainers and athletes receive. The tabloids had a field day­—"Give me your torrid, your pure, your totally smokin' foreign babes," screamed a Daily News headline—and the effort ultimately failed.

    Trump Model Management sponsored only its most successful models for work visas, the three former models said. Those who didn't cut it were sent home, as was the case, Blais noted, with many of her roommates.

    "It was very much the case of you earn your visa," Anna said. "Essentially, if you got enough work and they liked you enough, they'd pay for a visa, but you weren't about to see a dime before you could prove your worth."

    The company eventually secured an H-1B visa for Blais. Such visas allow US companies to employ workers in specialized fields. According to financial records provided by Blais, the company deducted the costs of obtaining a work visa from her earnings. (The agency did not obtain work visas for Anna and Kate, who each left the United States after their stints with Trump Model Management.)

    H-1B visas have been increasingly popular in the high-tech field, and Trump's companies, including Trump Model Management, have used this program extensively in the past. But on the campaign trail, Trump has railed against the H-1B program and those who he says abuse it. "I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program," Trump said in March. "No exceptions."

    Nearly three years after signing with Trump's agency, Blais had little to show for it—and it wasn't for lack of modeling jobs. Under the contracts that she and other Trump models had signed, the company advanced money for rent and various other expenses (such as trainers, beauty treatments, travel, and administrative costs), deducting these charges from its clients' modeling fees. But these charges—including the pricey rent that Blais and her roommates paid—consumed nearly all her modeling earnings. "I only got one check from Trump Models, and that's when I left them," she said. "I got $8,000 at most after having worked there for three years and having made tens of thousands of dollars." (The check Blais received was for $8,427.35.)

    "This is a system where they actually end up making money on the back of these foreign workers," Blais added. She noted that models can end up in debt to their agencies, once rent and numerous other fees are extracted.

    This is known in the industry as "agency debt." Kate said her bookings never covered the cost of living in New York. After two months, she returned home. "I left indebted to them," she said, "and I never went back, and I never paid them back."

    The experiences the former Trump models related to Mother Jones echo allegations in an ongoing class-action lawsuit against six major modeling agencies by nine former models who have claimed their agencies charged them exorbitant fees for rent and other expenses. One plaintiff, Marcelle Almonte, has alleged that her agency charged her $1,850 per month to live in a two-bedroom Miami Beach apartment with eight other models. The market rate for apartments in the same building ran no more than $3,300 per month, according to the complaint. (Trump Model Management, which was initially named in an earlier version of this lawsuit, was dropped from the case in 2013, after the judge narrowed the number of defendants.) Models "were largely trapped by these circumstances if they wanted to continue to pursue a career in modeling," the complaint alleges.

    "It is like modern-day slavery" Blais said of working for Trump Model Management—and she is not alone in describing her time with Trump's company in those terms. Former Trump model Alexia Palmer, who filed a lawsuit against Trump Model Management for fraud and wage theft in 2014, has said she "felt like a slave."

    Palmer has alleged that she was forced to pay hefty—sometimes mysterious—fees to Trump's agency. These were fees on top of the 20 percent commission she paid for each job the company booked. Palmer charged that during three years of modeling for Trump's company, she earned only $3,880.75. A New York judge dismissed Palmer's claim in March because, among other reasons, she had not taken her case first to the Department of Labor. Lawyers for Trump Model Management called Palmer's lawsuit "frivolous" and "without merit."

    Palmer filed a complaint with the Department of Labor this spring, and in August the agency dismissed the case. Palmer's lawyer, Naresh Gehi, said he is appealing the decision. Since he began representing Palmer, he said, fashion models who worked for other agencies have approached him with similar stories. "These are people that are coming out of the closet and explaining to the world how they are being exploited," he said. "They are the most vulnerable."

    Documents filed in Palmer's case indicate that she worked in the United States without a work visa after being recruited by Trump's agency from her native Jamaica. Gehi declined to discuss his client's immigration status.

    Former Trump model Alexia Palmer posed for this Teen Vogue shoot in January 2011. She secured a work visa in October 2011. Teen Vogue

    A Caribbean model contest launched Palmer's career in 2010, and at age 17 she signed an exclusive contract with Trump Model Management in January 2011. Department of Labor records show she received approval to work in the United States beginning in October 2011. Yet according to a financial statement filed as evidence in her case, Palmer started working in the United States nine months before this authorization was granted. Her financial records list a January 22, 2011, job for Condé Nast, when she posed for a Teen Vogue spread featuring the cast of Glee. (The shoot took place at Milk Studios in Los Angeles.)

    "That whole period, from January to September, was not authorized," said Pankaj Malik, a partner at New York-based Ballon, Stoll, Bader & Nadler who has worked on immigration issues for over two decades and who reviewed Palmer's case for Mother Jones. "You can't do any of that. It's so not allowed."

    Trump has taken an active role at Trump Model Management from its founding. He has personally signed models who have participated in his Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions, where his agency staff appeared as judges. Melania Trump was a Trump model for a brief period after meeting her future husband in the late 1990s.

    The agency is a particular point of pride for Trump, who has built his brand around glitz and glamour. "True Trumpologists know the model agency is only a tiny part of Trumpland financially," the New York Sun wrote in 2004. "But his agency best evokes a big Trump theme—sex sells." Trump has often cross-pollinated his other business ventures with fashion models and has used them as veritable set pieces when he rolls out new products. Trump models, including Blais, appeared on The Apprentice—and they flanked him at the 2004 launch of his Parker Brothers board game, TRUMP.

    Part of Blais' job, she said, was to serve as eye candy at Trump-branded events. Recalling the first time she met the mogul, she said, "I had to go to the Trump Vodka opening." It was a glitzy 2006 gala at Trump Tower where Busta Rhymes performed, and Trump unveiled his (soon-to-be-defunct) line of vodka. "It was part of my duty to go and be seen and to be photographed and meet Donald Trump and shake his hand," she remembered.

    Trump made a strong impression on her that night. "I knew that I was a model and there was objectification in the job, but this was another level," she said. Blais left Trump Model Management the year after the Trump Vodka gala, feeling that she had been exploited and shortchanged by the agency.

    Kate, who went on to have a successful career with another agency, also parted ways with Trump's company in disgust. "My overall experience was not a very good one," she said. "I left with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn't like the agency. I didn't like where they had us living. Honestly, I felt ripped off."

    These days, Kate said, she believes that Trump has been fooling American voters with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, given that his own agency had engaged in the practices he has denounced. "He doesn't like the face of a Mexican or a Muslim," she said, "but because these [models] are beautiful girls, it's okay? He's such a hypocrite."

  • Maine Governor Paul LePage Is Consdering Resignation

    A day after Maine's Republican leadership ordered a meeting with Paul LePage, the state's embattled governor who recently ignited yet another wave of controversy with a series of racially charged remarks, the two-term governor revealed Tuesday that he is considering resigning from office.

    "I think some things I've been asked to do are beyond my ability,"  LePage told radio station WVOM. "I'm not going to say I'm not going to finish it; I'm not going to say I am going to finish it." He suggested "there is going to be a significant change in leadership" because of the "very difficult environment" created by an ongoing feud with the state's House Speaker Mark Eves, who is a Democrat.

    Throughout the interview, he expressed regret over leaving an expletive-laden voicemail directed at one of his Democratic critics, Rep. Drew Gattine, last week. In the message, LePage threatened the state representative and called him a "socialist cocksucker." LePage believed Gattine had called him a racist after he publicly claimed 90 percent of the state's drug traffickers are either black or Latino.

    "Deep down in my heart I know I'm not a racist," Lepage said in Tuesday's interview. "I am a lot of different things, and I have faults like everybody else, but a racist is like a word that I just can't explain—it's like calling a black man the 'N word' or a woman the 'C word.' It just absolutely knocked me off of my feet."

    On Monday, a previously scheduled town hall meeting with LePage was canceled. Instead, Republican leaders in the state's Legislature met with him and demanded "corrective action."

    "I think there is a lot more to be done and move the state forward," LePage said. "I just need to see whether I'm the man to do it."

  • Will Florida Voters Go Big for Solar?

    Most influential ballot initiatives won't be decided until November, but Florida has an important vote on solar power just this week.

    On Tuesday, Sunshine State voters will head to the polls for the state's primaries, and to vote on Amendment 4, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. If approved, it would make solar and renewable energy equipment on commercial buildings exempt from property taxes. It would also get rid of certain personal property taxes on solar equipment.

    Residential properties are already exempt from similar solar taxes thanks to a 2008 voter-approved amendment. The new tax breaks would go into effect for 20 years starting in 2018, and advocates hope it could push big-box stores like Walmart to cover their buildings with panels.

    "This is huge, this amendment on Tuesday," says Jim Fenton, director of the Florida Energy Center at the University of Central Florida. "You may see the floodgates going up."

    According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida has the third-highest solar power potential but is only 14th in actual production—New Jersey and Massachusetts produce more. High costs and utility-friendly policies have prevented the Sunshine State from living up to its nickname and becoming a solar haven.

    But with equipment prices plummeting, Amendment 4 aims to revamp several polices that discourage solar deployment. While Florida does allow net metering, where homes with solar panels can sell the energy they make back to utilities, the state is one of just four to ban third-party sales. That system, where solar companies install panels and sell that electricity to buildings or homes directly, has helped put panels where owners might not be able to afford them. Leasing, another arrangement used in nearly half the country, is legal in Florida but less popular than it is in other states because Florida law requires the company that owns the panels to still pay taxes on the value of that equipment.

    "If you make solar more affordable, customers will respond," said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at SEIA. "Residential customers want solar and commercial customers have sustainability directors who are saying, 'We need solar to meet our sustainability goals.'"

    Florida's Legislature put Amendment 4 on the ballot in March, and the latest polls show about 56 percent support. The measure needs support from 60 percent of voters. It would then be sent back to the Legislature for final approval.

    A large, diverse group of organizations support the amendment, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Floridians for Solar Energy, and many others. The amendment has also earned the support of editorial boards across the state.

    "It quite literally has no opposition," wrote the Tampa Bay Times in late July. While that was correct at the time, a campaign called Stop Playing Favorites registered in opposition of the amendment at the beginning of August, arguing the state Legislature is using the amendment to cozy up to big solar companies. About a week later, the Reverend Al Sharpton gave a speech arguing the amendment would harm minority communities by diverting tax money to big business.

    But one major struggle for Stephen Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a backer of Amendment 4, is clearing voters' confusion between this vote and Amendment 1, a separate and far more controversial measure that won't appear on the ballot until November.

    Though packaged as a pro-solar amendment, that measure is backed by utilities, and opponents say it will do little to improve solar. In fact, some argue that if Amendment 1 passes it could help utilities get rid of net metering in Florida, and even further discourage the deployment of solar power.

    Smith pointed out it's tough to get 60 percent support, which makes Tuesday's outcome uncertain—but also gives him hope they can beat Amendment 1 in November.

    "Does it pass Tuesday? I don't know," Smith said. "We're hopeful, we're cautiously optimistic."

  • Screen Time Works as Well as Sedatives in Calming Kids Down

    Have you ever witnessed that wide-eyed, slack-jawed look that comes over children's faces when they're given a tablet computer to play with? Child psychologists have long warned that relying too much on "screen time" to appease kids could stunt their emotional development.

    But what about kids who need to be calmed down for the sake of their health, like children who are about to go into surgery? Doctors often dose children with sedatives before they receive anesthesia. But new research shows that screen time may actually be a better option.

    A new study by Dr. Dominique Chassard and colleagues at the Hôpital Mère-Enfant, part of the Hospices Civils de Lyon in France, concludes that iPads are just as effective at distracting kids from an upcoming surgery as conventional sedatives. Researchers looked at pediatric surgical patients between the ages of 4 and 10. Twenty minutes before they were given anesthesia, one group of kids was given a sedative called midazolam while the other group was given an iPad with age-appropriate games.

    Two independent psychologists measured the patients' anxiety at various stages before and after the surgery using a standard behavioral checklist. In the end, the levels of anxiety among both kids and their parents were similar in both groups, meaning electronic games were just as effective as the drugs. Parents and nurses were also more satisfied with the anesthesia procedure when the kids were given an iPad beforehand.

    "Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anesthesia are equally blunted by midazolam or use of the iPad," Dr. Chassard said. "However, the quality of induction of anesthesia, as well as parental satisfaction, were judged better in the iPad group."

    For parents who use screen time as leverage to get their grumpy kids to do just about anything, these results may come as no surprise.

  • The Trump Files: Donald Perfectly Explains Why He Doesn't Have a Presidential Temperament

    Until the election, we're bringing you "The Trump Files," a daily dose of telling episodes, strange-but-true stories, or curious scenes from the life of GOP nominee Donald Trump.

    "I think I have the best temperament or certainly one of the best temperaments of anybody that's ever run for the office of president. Ever," said Donald Trump in July. "Because I have a winning temperament. I know how to win."

    But in Trump's second book, Surviving at the Top (released as Trump's empire was crumbling under massive debt in 1990), he described his temperament in ways that wouldn't seem to bode well for a leader of the free world. "I get bored too easily," he wrote. "My attention span is short and probably my least favorite thing to do is to maintain the status quo. Instead of being content when everything is going fine, I start getting impatient and irritable."

    He also explained how he enjoyed the thrill of the chase more than anything else. "For me, you see, the important thing is the getting...not the having," he explained.

    It was a rare moment of introspection from the billionaire, but he clearly wasn't the only one who noticed his blow-it-up streak. Trump also described a conversation he had with his friend Alan Greenberg, then the head of Bear Stearns, when Trump was pondering selling his over-the-top yacht to finance the construction of an even bigger one. "For you, getting these isn't half the fun, it's almost all the fun," Greenberg replied, according to Trump. "You set out to achieve something, you get what you are after, and then you immediately start singing that old Peggy Lee song 'Is That All There Is?'"

    In Donald's mind, Greenberg had nailed him. "Alan was right about that," he wrote. "If you have a striving personality, the challenge matters most, not the reward."

    Read the rest of "The Trump Files":

  • Your Dog Really Does Understand You

    You know when you say something and your pooch cocks his head in that skeptical way, and you swear he's mocking you? Turns out he very well could be, according to new research about how well canines comprehend human communication.

    People understand language in two main ways: through words and intonation. When a team of scientists in Hungary ran a series of tests on dogs, they discovered that the animals also used those same two mechanisms to understand language. The dogs even use the same regions of the brain for language processing as we do, according to the researchers' new study, published in Science.

    The researchers had the mutts listen to their trainers saying a combination of words using different intonations, such as praising ("Well done!") or neutral ("well done"). The trainers also used what they called "neutral words," words that were commonly not used with dogs and were supposedly meaningless to them, such as "even" and "if." As the dogs were listening, scientists tracked their brain activity using a neuroimaging processor. They found that the canines could process some distinct words, regardless of intonation; that they processed intonation separately from vocabulary; and that a dog's "reward center" was activated only when the praising words and intonations matched.

    "It shows that for dogs, a nice praise can work very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match," Attila Andics, the lead researcher, said in a news release accompanying the study. "So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant. This is very similar to what human brains do."

    That means dogs understand, to some extent, what we say AND what we mean. Bask in that while also reveling in another discovery: that dogs remain adorable while being tested for language processing. See a video summarizing some of the research (featuring: dogs!) here:

  • The US Just Met Its Goal of Admitting 10,000 Syrian Refugees

    It's been one year since President Barack Obama announced that the United States would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by this September. After much criticism from Republican politicians and a slow start, the administration picked up the pace of resettlement and met its goal a month ahead of schedule. Today, the United States is resettling its 10,000th Syrian refugee.

    In a statement, National Security Advisor Susan Rice welcomed the newcomers. "On behalf of the President and his Administration, I extend the warmest of welcomes to each and every one of our Syrian arrivals," Rice said.

    The newest group of Syrian refugees are arriving in California and Virginia from Jordan. Among them is Nadim Fawzi Jouriyeh, a 49-year old former construction worker from Homs. He, his wife Rajaa, and their four children are being resettled in San Diego. Jouriyeh told the Associated Press that in anticipation of his journey, he feels "fear of the unknown and our new lives, but great joy for our children's lives and future."

    Most of the 10,000 Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States look a lot like the Jouriyeh family. According to the State Department, approximately 80 percent are women and children. Roughly 60 percent are under the age of 18. The vast majority of male refugees are fathers, grandchildren, or older siblings. Only 0.5 percent are adult men unattached to families.

    In the last year, Syrian refugees have been placed in 39 different states, with California and Michigan hosting the largest numbers. More than half of have been resettled in eight states—California, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, and New York.

    Although the goal of admitting 10,000 Syrians in this fiscal year marked a six-fold increase over last year, the number of refugees resettled this year only accounts for about two percent of the total number of Syrian refugees the United Nations says are in need of resettlement. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a target of admitting 65,000. Donald Trump has ridiculed that proposal. In April, he told supporters in Rhode Island to "lock your doors" to stay safe from Syrian refugees. "We don't know who these people are. We don't know where they're from," he warned. In December 2015, Trump tweeted that a Syrian family who crossed the US-Mexico border were "ISIS maybe?"

    Last month, the Department of Homeland Security told Mother Jones that the Syrian refugees it is currently vetting are subject to the same stringent security and medical requirements as other asylum-seekers. Those applying for refugee status must go through a 21-step vetting process that includes security screenings by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama plans to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States by "a few thousand more" next year. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to put the administration's proposal before Congress in the coming weeks. Any increase is likely face opposition from Republican lawmakers who have resisted the introduction of more Syrian refugees to the United States. "The president would like to see a ramping-up of these efforts but he's realistic," said Earnest.