MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Here's How Fact Checking Exits the Real World and Enters Wonderland <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>So here's the big controversy of the day out in our nation's heartland. Joni Ernst, running for a Senate seat in Iowa, is one of 21 Republicans who voted in favor of a "personhood" amendment to the state constitution. It says that "the inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected."</p> <p>That seems clear enough. It means life begins at conception, and that embryos will have the same legal protections as you and me. Ernst's opponent, Bruce Braley, concludes, logically enough, that this would ban certain forms of contraception, prevent people from getting in vitro fertilization, and lead to the prosecution of doctors who perform those procedures.</p> <p>Ernst says this is nonsense. "That amendment is simply a statement that I support life," she says. Why, it's just a nothingburger! Sort of like a resolution endorsing apple pie or Mother's Day.</p> <p>Today, Glenn Kessler wades into this dispute. He dings Ernst for "straining credulity" about the intent of the amendment, <a href="" target="_blank">but he also has harsh words for Braley:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Braley goes too far with his scary scenarios, especially because he repeatedly said the amendment &ldquo;would&rdquo; have the impact he described. Ernst is on record of not opposing contraception&mdash;though she also favors punishing doctors who perform abortions. We concede <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_braley_ernst_debate.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">that the legal terrain in murky, and the impact uncertain. But that&rsquo;s all the more reason not to speak with such certainty. <strong>Braley thus earns Two Pinocchios.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Ed Kilgore is dumbfounded by this kind of treatment,</a> and so am I. I just don't get it. Kessler is not some babe in the woulds. He knows perfectly well exactly what the goal of this amendment is. It's possible, of course, that Democrats in Iowa will prevent Republicans from enacting enabling legislation. Or that the US Supreme Court will stand in the way. But why does that matter when the intent is so clear? Ernst may say that "I will always stand with our women on affordable access to contraception," but that's plain and simple weaseling. And it doesn't even matter. Republicans in the legislature can keep their hands completely clean and simply let activists take things to court. With an amendment like that in place, no judge could turn away a suit that asked for a ban on abortions or in-vitro fertilization or certain forms of contraception.</p> <p>As Kilgore says, "Encouraging this lack of accountability, and engaging in the worst form of false equivalency, is just a sin." All Braley is doing is calling out Ernst for the obvious implications of an amendment she supports. It's not merely a "statement" and she knows it. But in our topsy-turvy world of fact checking, Braley's plain description of the obvious real-world impact of Ernst's amendment is somehow deemed more of a lie than Ernst's slippery prevarications in the first place.</p> <p>I don't understand this. This isn't a debating society. It's not la-la land. It's the real world, and it's not partisan sniping to say that we all know what this stuff means in the real world. Shouldn't that be the domain of a fact checker?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Elections Reproductive Rights Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:36:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 261476 at Social Conservatives To GOP: Don't Let The Gays Into Our Grand Old Party <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Republican Party is slowly beginning to accept the existence of gay people among their ranks. As I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote last month</a>, there are two openly gay GOP candidates running for the US House this year&mdash;both with the support and financial backing of the national party (a third prominent openly gay candidate lost in a primary). But the social conservative groups that have long held sway over the party aren't taking the change in tone lightly.</p> <p>Late last week, three anti-gay rights groups&mdash;the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Family Research Council (FRC) and CitizenLink&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">sent a letter</a> to national Republican leaders declaring their intention to actively oppose openly gay Republican House candidates Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei, as well as Oregon Senate candidate <a href="" target="_blank">Monica Wehby</a>, who has endorsed gay marriage. "This decision was reached," the groups wrote, "only after having exhausted all attempts to convince the Republican leadership of the grave error it was making in advancing candidates who do not hold core Republican beliefs and, in fact, are working to actively alienate the Republican base."</p> <p>The groups sent the <a href="" target="_blank">letter</a> to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the leaders of the Senate and House election committees, claiming DeMaio, Tisei, and Wehby are "terrible role models for young people." The organizations not only criticized the official Republican apparatus from supporting such candidates, but also vowed to launch a "concerted effort" to encourage people to vote against them.</p> <p>Tisei is firing back. "I think that the majority of people at this point look at organizations like that as going backwards rather than forwards," he said in an interview with <em>Mother Jones</em>. "I think [DeMaio] and myself represent the threat that we're people who will be able to move the debate forward and help change the Republican Party. That scares a lot of those groups that are in existence primarily to hold people back."</p> <p>Tisei says that he hasn't heard anything from the national groups regarding the letter from NOM and FRC, but isn't concerned that the party would retract its support just because social conservative groups are in a tizzy. "I think most party leaders recognize that the majority of younger Republicans have a different opinion and eventually the party needs to move in the right direction," he says.</p> <p>The Republican Party is still walking a narrow line when it comes to <a href="" target="_blank">LGBT</a> issues. The leaders of the party recognize that opposition to same-sex marriage is often a nonstarter among the young voters they need to win back, but the party still needs the religiously conservative voters that haven't come around on marriage equality. Party leaders seem perfectly willing to accept a few gay candidates. But they <a href="" target="_blank">won't allow</a> any meaningful consideration of ways the law could change to improve life for LGBT folks.</p> <p>For a Republican running in a blue state like Tisei in Massachusetts, critiques from the far-right may prove more useful than detrimental; it gives him an opportunity to present himself as a middle of the road, moderate candidate, attacked from all sides. "As a gay Republican, you're under siege from both the left and the right, cause you're a threat to both," he says. "The left wants to keep things exactly the way they are for political reasons&mdash;they want their voting bloc to not be dissipating, they don't want to have two parties who are good on the issue. Those on the far right don't want to see the Republican Party change at all."</p></body></html> Politics Civil Liberties Elections Gay Rights Sex and Gender The Right Top Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 14:33:22 +0000 Patrick Caldwell 261226 at Tom Steyer's Green Super-PAC Has Spent a LOT of Money on This Election <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>This <a href=";ir=Green" target="_blank">story</a> originally appeared in </em><a href="" target="_blank">Huffington Post</a> <em>and is republished here as part of the <a href="" target="_blank">Climate Desk</a> collaboration.</em></p> <p>First there was a pickup truck. Then there was an ark.</p> <p>The vehicle of choice for drawing attention to the NextGen Climate Action Committee has been, well, vehicles. The climate change super-PAC, funded by billionaire investor Tom Steyer, recently <a href="" target="_hplink">rolled a truck</a> filled with fake oil barrels into New Hampshire to chide Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. A few days later, the group began <a href="" target="_hplink">touring Florida with an ark</a> to taunt climate change hedging by Gov. Rick Scott (R).</p> <p>The ark campaign was meant to draw attention to Florida's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, like rising sea levels, but also to highlight Scott's <a href="" target="_hplink">unwillingness to talk about</a> the causes of climate change. At its launch, organizers accused Scott of letting only "special interest campaign contributors'' buy a "ticket on Scott's Ark."</p> <p>The truck and the ark, said NextGen chief strategist Chris Lehane, are part of the group's "disruptive" approach to advocacy. "We want to be on the offensive as much as possible, force the other side to respond," said Lehane, a Clinton administration veteran known for, <a href="" target="_hplink">as the <em>New York Times</em> put it</a>, "his own extreme brand of performance politics."</p> <p>"Any day that the other side is reacting, playing defense, we're winning," said Lehane.</p> <p>NextGen Climate Action first emerged as a significant electoral player in the 2013 Virginia governor's race, <a href="" target="_hplink">spending $8 million</a> to keep Republican Ken Cuccinelli out of the state's top office. The group also <a href="" target="_hplink">spent more than $1 million</a> last year to elect Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey to the US Senate. This year the super-PAC is going bigger&mdash;much bigger.</p> <p>NextGen is backing up its sometimes zany stunts with a whole lot of cash, setting its efforts apart from the environmental campaigns of yesteryear. As of its last filing with the Federal Election Commission, the group <a href=";cycle=2014" target="_hplink">had spent $30.5 million</a> in the 2014 electoral cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $11.5 million has gone to independent expenditures, almost all of that for attacks on Republican candidates. (NextGen Climate Action has an affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit, but the group says all its 2014 electoral work has been done through the super-PAC.)</p> <p>The group's efforts heading into November's elections are focused on six races&mdash;the Senate contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and Colorado, and the governor's races in Maine and Florida. (The group made some initial plays in the Pennsylvania governor's race, but the Democratic challenger there has <a href="" target="_hplink">built a significant lead</a>, making the state less of a priority.) All six races are close contests in which the candidates have offered very different views on whether man-made emissions are causing the planet to warm. The Senate races are also crucial to maintaining Democratic control of the Senate.</p> <p>Steyer has <a href="" target="_hplink">pledged to spend</a> $50 million of his own money, earned as a hedge-fund manager, to defeat candidates who are not adequately addressing the problem of climate change. While his group had initially sought to raise up to $50 million from other sources, so far it has brought in just $3.6 million in outside funds.</p> <p>But the cash flow from Steyer to the group has not slowed down. NextGen spokesman Bobby Whithorne said Steyer signed over another $15 million in September, which will show up in the group's next FEC filing. Whithorne, who came to NextGen from the White House press shop, said the group "will continue to invest significant resources in these states" through the election.</p> <p>The super-PAC's electoral efforts fall into three categories: the public displays like the truck and the ark, television and digital advertising, and direct outreach to voters. The group has 20 offices across the country and 700 people working as staff and volunteers. It has set a goal of knocking on 1 million doors; so far, the group reports it's 75 percent of the way there.</p> <p>"Everybody is buying TV ads. Everybody is in the papers," said Paul Neaville, an adviser to NextGen. The group's goal, he said, is to "hit every medium with the same message and go deeper."</p> <p>"What we're trying to do is to use creative images and vehicles&mdash;real vehicles, in some cases&mdash;to punch through that clutter," said Lehane.</p> <p>As many other campaigns do, NextGen is going after the "drop-off" voters&mdash;those who vote in presidential races, but often don&rsquo;t show up in midterm years. The group takes two tacks on this front, seeking both to excite voters who care about climate change enough to make them go vote and to turn voters against Republican candidates by highlighting their views on climate change or the times they have sided with polluter interests. On the latter, Lehane said the goal is to "degrade enthusiasm" for Republican candidates among marginally conservative voters&mdash;the folks who "might not be pleased with the president, but they also blame Republicans for why the system is rigged against them."</p> <p>NextGen is still spending plenty of money on ads&mdash;$5.5 million on digital and $14 million on television to date, according to the group. The big spending on digital, Whithorne said, allows the group to target key voting sectors with "extreme precision." "Not only are we reaching the electorate on mediums on which they are spending increasingly more time than TV; the valuable data we glean from those campaigns is fuel for the success of our turnout operation," said Whithorne.</p> <p>The NextGen spokesmen say their early numbers show the strategy working. Their <a href="" target="_hplink">own polling in Florida</a> finds Scott's approval ratings down in recent months.</p> <p>Brian Brox, an associate political science professor at Tulane University, said NextGen's effort was unusual in that it was pouring high-dollar outside spending into left-leaning campaigns. "The Democratic side has been lacking in the extensive ramping up of these outside operations, when compared to the Republican side," said Brox. "It's taken a while."</p> <p>Environmental PACs are emerging as major funders in 2014, however. Between Steyer's pledged $50 million and another $25 million that the League of Conservation Voters plans to spend this year, green PACs are on pace to spend as much or more than the largest independent groups spent in 2010. While many outside groups are increasing spending this year, the growth moves enviros into the <a href=";chrt=V&amp;disp=O&amp;type=P" target="_hplink">heavy-hitters category</a>, with groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads.</p> <p>Jeff Gohringer, press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, said his group is "working closely with them [NextGen] and our teams are talking constantly."</p> <p>One challenge for both groups is that they have spent a lot of time decrying the outsized influence of big spenders in elections&mdash;particularly fossil fuel interests&mdash;but are trying to combat that with their own big spending.</p> <p>"In an ideal world, you wouldn't have outside money at all," said Lehane. "But you have Citizens United and other rulings that have allowed some of the richest companies in the world to disproportionately impact our political process, to the detriment of everyday people. What we're doing is a drop in the big oil bucket compared to what the fossil fuel interests are doing."</p> <p>"The bottom line is that we need more environmental money in politics," said Gohringer. "We&rsquo;re never going to outspend the other side, but more resources means our message is being heard by more voters across the country."</p> <p>And Lehane thinks voters will side with their cause. "They like David, hate Goliath," he said. "They like that we have a slingshot that fires fast, fires accurate."</p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Congress Elections Energy Money in Politics Top Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:45:06 +0000 Kate Sheppard 261341 at Kenya Plans to Hang a Nurse for Botching an Illegal Abortion <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Abortion is prohibited in Kenya except under certain circumstances, forcing hundreds of thousands of women underground every year to receive treatment. But it's not just these women who are putting their lives in danger: Late last week, the Kenyan high court gave a nurse <a href="" target="_blank">the death penalty</a> after a patient and her fetus died during an illegal abortion.</p> <p>The nurse, Jackson Namunya Tali, saw a teenage girl who'd recently come to the Nairobi area for a job as a domestic worker, <a href="" target="_blank">according</a> to the <em>Daily Nation</em>, Kenya's largest newspaper. Having had one child already, she decided to get an abortion upon getting pregnant a second time. The teen went to Tali for help after being turned down elsewhere.</p> <p>Tali took the patient to an office&mdash;widely assumed by neighbors to be a dental clinic&mdash;and performed the abortion. Yet something went wrong and the woman started to bleed out. Tali wrapped her in sheets and drove her to a hospital, but it was too late. She died in the car.</p> <p>Despite some loosening of the rules in recent years, the right to an abortion is still extremely limited in Kenya. Women are only allowed to receive one when necessary "for emergency treatment" in the eyes of a "trained health professional," or when the woman's life is in danger.</p> <p>Tali was a licensed registered nurse, and when the girl came to his home seeking help, she was allegedly in severe pain, but it's unclear if her condition was a medical emergency under Kenyan law.</p> <p>Tali's wife <a href="" target="_blank">told the <em>Daily Nation</em></a><em> </em>that he only wanted to help the woman. The judge presiding over the case, however, didn't think his good intentions mattered. "The only question is, who interfered with the fetus?" he asked in his ruling. "It is only the accused who can answer since he attempted to secure the abortion&hellip;He has killed two people; a fetus and a mother. The only sentence available in law is the death penalty."</p> <p>For most of Kenya's history, abortion was outlawed entirely. In 2004, the high court <a href="" target="_blank">sentenced</a> a gynecologist and two nurses who'd performed abortions to die for the murder of several fetuses. (All three were eventually <a href="" target="_blank">acquitted</a> for lack of evidence.)</p> <p>In 2010, the country revisited the issue, and <a href="" target="_blank">American-backed</a> anti-abortion activists fought to keep the prohibition on the books, promising to spend "tens of thousands of dollars" to defeat a proposed <a href="" target="_blank">constitution</a> with a provision allowing for abortions in the case of an emergency. That campaign failed, and the constitution passed. But legal abortions are still largely out of reach.</p> <p><a href="http://as%20we%20reported" target="_blank">As we reported</a><strong>&nbsp;</strong>last year, Kenya's own health ministry issued a <a href="http://study" target="_blank">study</a> arguing that greater access to abortions would not only save the lives of countless women but also save the entire health care system money by reducing the instance of abortion-related complications. In 2012, an estimated 465,000 women underwent an abortion in Kenya. Of these, more than a third were treated for complications. Seventy-seven percent of those women endured complications that were "moderately severe" or "severe." Worse still, 266 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions in Kenya. "Improved access to high-quality comprehensive abortion care&hellip;will not only save lives, but also reduce costs to the health system," the report said.</p> <p>Kenya's legislature did not adopt that recommendation. And following Thursday's judgment, underground abortions are now all the more risky for both women and the people who operate on them.</p></body></html> Politics Health International Reproductive Rights Top Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:30:07 +0000 Alex Park 261216 at Did Federal Budget Cuts Make Ebola Worse? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Tuesday, the CDC <a href="" target="_blank">confirmed</a> the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States&mdash;the infected patient was a man who traveled from Liberia to visit family in Texas. It's the latest development in the ever-worsening outbreak of the virus, which so far has sickened more than 6,500 people and killed more than 3,000. The United States government has pledged to send help to West Africa to help stop Ebola from spreading&mdash;but the main agencies tasked with this aid work say they're hamstrung by budget cuts from the 2013 <a href="" target="_blank">sequester.</a></p> <p>On September 16, the Senate Committees on Appropriations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a <a href="" target="_blank">hearing</a> to discuss the resources needed to address the outbreak. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) asked NIH representative Anthony Fauci about the sequester's effect on the efforts.</p> <p>"I have to tell you honestly it&rsquo;s been a significant impact on us," said Fauci. "It has both in an acute and a chronic, insidious way eroded our ability to respond in the way that I and my colleagues would like to see us be able to respond to these emerging threats. And in my institute particularly, that's responsible for responding on the dime to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging." The sequester required the NIH to cut its budget by 5 percent, a total of $1.55 billion in 2013. Cuts were applied across all of its programs, affecting <a href="" target="_blank">every area of medical research.</a></p> <p>Dr. Beth Bell, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, testified before the Committee, making a case for increased funding. Her department, which has led the US intervention in West Africa, was hit with a <a href="" target="_blank">$13 million budget cut</a> as a result of the cuts in 2013. Though appropriations increased in 2014 and are projected to rise further in 2015, the agency hasn't yet made up for the deficit&mdash;according to Bell, $100 million has already gone toward stopping the Ebola epidemic, and much more is needed. The UN estimates it will take over $600 million just to get the crisis under control.</p> <div class="mininav-float-left"><div id="mininav" class="inline-subnav"> <!-- header content --> <div id="mininav-header-content"> <div id="mininav-header-image"> <img src="/files/images/motherjones_mininav/ebola-mini.jpg" width="220" border="0"></div> <div id="mininav-header-text"> <p class="mininav-header-text" style="margin: 0; padding: 0.75em; font-size: 11px; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.2em; background-color: rgb(221, 221, 221);"> More <em>MoJo</em> coverage of the Ebola crisis. </p> </div> </div> <!-- linked stories --> <div id="mininav-linked-stories"> <ul><span id="linked-story-260876"> <li><a href="/politics/2014/09/ebola-crisis-liberia-way-worse-you-think"> Liberians Explain Why the Ebola Crisis Is Way Worse Than You Think</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-260861"> <li><a href="/mojo/2014/09/these-maps-show-ebolas-spread-in-around-liberias-capital"> These Maps Show How Ebola Spread In Liberia</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-259686"> <li><a href="/politics/2014/09/ebola-world-health-organization-budget"> Why the World Health Organization Doesn't Have Enough Funds to Fight Ebola</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-258436"> <li><a href="/politics/2014/08/new-drugs-and-vaccines-cant-stop-ebola-outbreak"> New Drugs and Vaccines Can't Stop This Ebola Outbreak</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-255436"> <li><a href="/environment/2014/07/we-are-making-ebola-worse"> We Are Making Ebola Outbreaks Worse by Cutting Down Forests</a></li> </span> </ul></div> <!-- footer content --> </div> </div> <p class="ember-view">Bell also argued that the epidemic could have been stopped if more had been done sooner to build global health security. International aid budgets were <a href="" target="_blank">hit hard</a> by the sequester, reducing global health programs by $411 million and USAID by $289 million. "If even modest investments had been made to build a public health infrastructure in West Africa previously, the current Ebola epidemic could have been detected earlier, and it could have been identified and contained," she said during her testimony. "This Ebola epidemic shows that any vulnerability could have widespread impact if not stopped at the source."</p> <p>Still, CDC officials have pledged to do everything in their power to stop Ebola in its tracks. "The sooner the world comes together to help West Africa, the safer we all will be," CDC Director Tom Frieden says in a <a href="" target="_blank">statement</a> released in early September. "We know how to stop this outbreak. There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down&mdash;the challenge is to scale up the massive response needed."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Health Top Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:24 +0000 Gabrielle Canon 261466 at America Spends $68 Billion a Year on 17 Major Intelligence Agencies. So Why Do We Keep Getting Caught Off-Guard? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>This <a href="" target="_blank">story</a> first appeared on the </em><a href="" target="_blank">TomDispatch</a><em> website.</em></p> <p>What are the odds? You put about <a href="" target="_blank">$68 billion</a> annually into a maze of <a href="" target="_blank">17</a> major intelligence outfits. You build them <a href="" target="_blank">glorious headquarters</a>. You create a global surveillance state <a href=",_you_are_our_secret/" target="_blank">for the ages</a>. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even <a href="" target="_blank">morph</a> into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on <a href="" target="_blank">visits</a> to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around <a href="" target="_blank">naked photos</a> of them just for... well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you've created to <a href="" target="_blank">stalk</a> former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><span class="inline inline-left"><img alt="" class="image image-preview" height="33" src="" title="" width="100"></span></a></p> <p>You <a href="" target="_blank">listen in</a> on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board <a href="" target="_blank">hundreds of thousands</a> of crony corporate employees, creating the <a href="" target="_blank">sinews</a> of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You <a href="" target="_blank">break into</a> the "backdoors" of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create <a href=",_the_jason_bourne_strategy/" target="_blank">new outfits</a> within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew <a href="" target="_blank">embedded</a> inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders <a href="" target="_blank">lie</a> to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to <a href="" target="_blank">secret courts</a>, which only hear your versions of events and regularly <a href="" target="_blank">rubberstamp</a> them&mdash;and whose judgments and <a href="" target="_blank">substantial body</a> of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2014/09/america-intelligence-off-guard-isis-arab-spring"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Civil Liberties Military Tom Dispatch NSA Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:23 +0000 Tom Engelhardt 261316 at It Takes HOW Much Water To Grow an Avocado?! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We've heard a lot about how the boom in almond and other nut production is<a href="" target="_blank"> straining California's dwindling water supplies amid the state's worst-ever drought</a>. But what about the avocado, another trendy commodity that grows on trees and delivers all-the-rage healthy fats?</p> <p>US consumers certainly love this unctuous tropical fruit. According to the <a href="">US Department of Agriculture</a>, per capita avocado production jumped from 1.1 pounds annually in 1999 to 4.5 pounds in 2011.</p> <p>Avocados don't require nearly as much water per pound as almonds. But they do require significantly more than other kinds of produce, as my colleague Julia Lurie shows in this chart:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="260" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>(Note that the figures in this chart, and the one later in this post, include only blue water&mdash;which comes from rivers, lakes, streams, and aquifers&mdash;and not rainfall or recycled water.)</p> <p>And as in the case of almonds and so many other crops, California dominates US production, accounting for about 90 percent of the US avocado harvest. Nearly all of it takes place in southern California, in a <a href="">five-county region</a> that straddles the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.</p> <p>Like the rest of the state, the southern coastal region is locked in a drought, and largely cut off from the flow of surface water from the state's big irrigation projects. The result has been strife in the avocado groves&mdash;<a href="">sky-high water costs</a> and a <a href="">reliance on water pumped</a> from underground aquifers.</p> <p>But overall, California's avocado farms have a relatively light water impact. Unlike almonds and pistachios, whose acreage has expanded dramatically in recent years, land devoted to avocados <a href="">has actually shrunk</a>, from a high of 76,000 acres in 1987 to less than 60,000 acres in 2012 (although production has held steady, because yield increases have offset the loss of acres). Also unlike the state's nut growers, California's avocado farmers aren't taking advantage of a boom in demand from Asia. According to the <a href="">USDA</a>, US avocado exports are so small they're "negligible."</p> <p>Also, avocados are a perishable, seasonal product, and the <a href="">California season peaks from May through August</a>&mdash;meaning that for the rest of the year, we rely on Mexico, Chile, and Peru to satisfy our guacamole habit. All told, the USDA <a href="">reports</a>, about 70 percent of the avocados we consume are imported.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="250" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="600"></iframe></p> <p>And so most of the water impact from our growing appetite for avocados lands on other places. And as Eilis O&rsquo;Neill recently <a href="">reported</a> in<em> Civil Eats</em>, satisfying our demand for off-season avocados is causing trouble in another drought-stricken region, Chile's Central Valley&mdash;which, like California's, lies between a snowcapped interior mountain range and a coastal mountain range.</p> <p>This valley is the epicenter of Chile's fruit-and-veg export behemoth that began in the 1980s. As this US Department of Agriculture report <a href="">states</a>, Chile's southern-hemisphere location gives it a "counter-seasonal production schedule with the United States"&mdash;that is, Chile's summer starts around the time that ours ends. The rapid rise of Chilean produce into the US market is a big reason US consumers can expect bountiful produce aisles year-round&mdash;it "extended the availability of certain fruits in the market without direct competition with domestic production, and gave US consumers fruit choices beyond the traditional domestic winter fruits of citrus, apples, and pears," the USDA notes. Chile now supplies a fifth of US fruit, the USDA adds.</p> <p>Avocados <a href="">were part of that boom</a>. As O'Neill notes, land devoted to avocados has expanded rapidly&mdash;from about 6,180 hectares (15,270 acres) in 1980 to 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres) in 2006, all the way to 36,000 hectares (88,960 acres) in 2014, according to the <a href="">USDA.</a></p> <p>And just as in California, climate change and drought have meant less surface water flowing from mountain ranges to irrigate crops&mdash;and a shift to pumping water from underground aquifers. As a result, producers have "used so much of the region's waters that small farmers with shallow wells&mdash;and some nearby towns&mdash;are left with no water," O'Neill writes, echoing <a href="">reports of waterless towns</a> in California's Central Valley.</p> <p>Like our Sunshine State, Chile takes a laissez-faire approach to groundwater regulation, O&rsquo;Neill reports&mdash;a legacy of the reign of General Augusto Pinochet, a free-market zealot who came to power in a US-backed coup in 1973 and remained dictator until 1990.</p> <p>And large, export-minded farm operations have the wherewithal to drill larger and deeper wells, squeezing out small farms and nearby communities, O'Neill reports. Meanwhile, the profits from Chile's farm-export boom <a href="" target="_blank">remains pretty concentrated in the hands of large landowners</a>.</p> <p>Chile's avocado harvest starts in <a href="">runs from August to March</a>&mdash;making it a prime supplier during the football-season guacamole blitz.</p> <p>O'Neill's piece gives us something to think about as we plunge chips into that delicious dip. "When you eat an avocado that comes from [a large producer in] Chile, think about the fact that the water used to produce it is water that homes in the country's most humble communities now lack," water activist Rodrigo Mundaca tells her.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Climate Change Food and Ag Top Stories Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:22 +0000 Tom Philpott 261311 at The Stunning Success of the Wilderness Act <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>This <a href="" target="_blank">story</a> first appeared on the </em><a href="" target="_blank">TomDispatch</a><em> website.</em></p> <p>Let us now praise famous laws and the year that begat them: 1964.</p> <p>The first thing to know about 1964 was that, although it occurred in the 1960s, it wasn't part of "the Sixties." The bellbottoms, flower power, LSD, and craziness came later, beginning about 1967 and extending into the early 1970s. Trust me: I was there, and I don't remember much; so by the <a href="" target="_blank">dictum</a> variously attributed to Grace Slick, Dennis Hopper, and others (that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't part of them), I must <em>really</em> have been there.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank"><span class="inline inline-left"><img alt="" class="image image-preview" height="33" src="" title="" width="100"></span></a></p> <p>1964 was a revolutionary year. It was a time when Congress actually addressed the people's business, and it gave us at least three great laws.</p> <p>One was the monumental <a href=";doc=97&amp;page=transcript" target="_blank">Civil Rights Act</a>, which aspired to complete the tragic and sanguinary work of the Civil War and achieve the promise of the Thirteenth Amendment.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/09/wilderness-act-most-underrated-law-1964"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment The Right Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:21 +0000 William deBuys 261206 at Chart: As Top Tax Rates Dropped, Top Incomes Soared <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/survival630x120.jpg"></div> <p>We're still posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day over the next week. <a href="" target="_blank">Yesterday's</a> looked at how the top 1 percent of Americans have captured half of all income.</p> <p>Today, let's talk taxes. In the past few years, we've heard a lot about overtaxed "job creators" and freeloading "takers." But consider this: As the income rates for the wealthiest have plunged, their incomes have shot up.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/happy-returns-630.jpg"></div> <p><iframe frameborder="0" height="198" scrolling="no" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><em>Source: Tax rates: <a href="" target="_blank">The Tax Foundation</a>; top incomes: <a href="" target="_blank">Emmanuel Saez</a> and Thomas Piketty (<a href="" target="_blank">Excel</a>)&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>Illustrations and infographic design by </em>Mattias Mackler&acirc;&#128;&#139;</p></body></html> MoJo Charts Income Inequality Wed, 01 Oct 2014 10:00:21 +0000 Dave Gilson 261241 at You Insult Henry Kissinger At Your Peril <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Newly declassified documents show that Fidel Castro pissed off Henry Kissinger so badly that he drew up plans to <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">"clobber the pipsqueak":</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.</p> <p>That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.</p> <p>&ldquo;Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro&rsquo;s head,&rdquo; Mr. Kornbluh said.</p> <p>&ldquo;You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,&rdquo; Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used &ldquo;language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Yep, that's everyone's favorite geopolitical strategic master at work. Kissinger considered Castro's actions to be a personal insult, so he began drawing up plans for the US military to blockade Cuba, mine its harbors, and potentially touch off a war with the Soviet Union. Because that's what you do when a small country irritates Henry Kissinger. Amirite?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Foreign Policy International Wed, 01 Oct 2014 04:41:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 261471 at