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Dianne Feinstein Town Hall Shows Why She’s a Conservative by San Francisco Standards

Mother Jones

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Before they could enter the San Francisco Scottish Rite Masonic Center, the roughly 1,200 people who showed up for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s town hall meeting yesterday morning had their bags searched and their bodies scanned for metal objects. As they filed into the thickly carpeted auditorium, attendees passed several tables covered with literature laid out by Indivisible, the liberal grassroots group that had helped organize this rare public meeting with the senator. The leaflets included a list of recommended questions for a senator who doesn’t often field questions from constituents, even here in her liberal hometown.

When the 83-year-old Democrat walked onto the stage in a jet black suit, the crowd, largely women, awarded the four-term senator a warm round of applause. But the mood quickly soured and tension between the famously moderate Feinstein and the highly charged, anti-Trump audience was a motif of the 70-minute event. A man interrupted Feinstein’s opening remarks to loudly ask his fellow audience members to “wake up,” before they shushed him and audibly told him “shut up.” Feinstein waved it off and plowed forward with a metered explanation of the need to reform Social Security and Medicare before indicating she was ready to take questions.

Questioners were selected at random by raffle. Once called, they made their way to the front of the auditorium where stood just a few yards from Feinstein. The first was a woman who was worried that “trigger happy” President Donald Trump might deploy her son to Syria, and wanted to know what Feinstein would do to ensure peace in the Middle East. “The world is not an easy place, and it is not a stable place,” Feinstein replied. She continued, somewhat confusingly, with an explanation of how North Korea presents an “existential” threat and an “acute danger” to the United States. After speaking for some time about the “ruthless” Kim Jong-un’s attempts to build a nuclear tipped missile capable of striking “anywhere in the United States,” Feinstein pivoted back to the Middle East. When she mentioned, without reservation, Trump’s recent missile attack on a Syrian air base, the crowd erupted with a cacophony of boos.

A few minutes later, a man asked the senator if she would support a single-payer health care system. “If single payer healthcare is going to mean a complete government takeover over of the healthcare system, I am not for it,” Feinstein replied, again to boos.

After Feinstein was asked to eschew “business as usual” politics and to vocally resist Trump, the senator tried to explain her model of politics. “I would be surprised if you found too many senators, if any, that have gotten more done,” she said, visibly frustrated by the crowd’s repeated interruptions. “I don’t get there by making statements I can’t deliver. I get there through some caution, some discussion, some smart help, our lawyers—and we generally get where we need to go.”

Feinstein found some common ground with her constituents, however. In her response to a question about Trump’s laundry list of ethical conflicts, she hinted at both impending legislation and litigation targeting the president’s conflicts of interest, which elicited broad agreement from the crowd.

Monday’s town hall was the product of more than two months of work by several dozen Indivisible activists. Several Bay Area Indivisible chapters had expressed interest in holding a town hall with the senator in January. Feinstein didn’t show at a meeting at an Oakland high school in late February. The event was branded as an “Empty Chair Town Hall where attendees presented questions to caricature of the senator.

In February, Indivisible members confronted Feinstein at a tony lunch event at the Public Policy Institute of California. Feinstein politely expressed interest in attending a town hall but didn’t commit to a time. After two months of calls and meetings between Indivisible members and Feinstein staffers, two town hall events were announced—this one in San Francisco, and another on Thursday in Los Angeles.

Amelia Cass, one of the leaders of Indivisible East Bay, said the need for a town hall was born out of the senator’s notorious inaccessibility. “It’s our government, and they’ll listen to us if we speak up. There’s a quote I saw in a newspaper that said ‘It’s not that Senator Feinstein doesn’t want to have town halls, it’s that nobody’s ever asked before.’ She has many opportunities to speak her mind. But her constituents don’t have very many opportunities to speak directly to the senator.”

Many who attended the town hall said they were grateful that the senator took the time to listen to their queries. Yet many left the meeting feeling less than confident that Feinstein is really representing their interests on Capitol Hill. “What we’re saying is that we have an existential threat from our own president, not North Korea,” said Steve Rapport of Indivisible San Francisco. “We want to hear some fighting talk and feel like our representatives have our back.”

That sentiment was echoed by Linh Nguyen, an organizer with Indivisible East Bay. “If Feinstein has this coalition that she’s built over the decades that she’s served in the senate working across party lines, I want to see evidence of it,” Nguyen said. “Where is your coalition from the middle and right to push against this? If she does have this large coalition, let us use it to our advantage.”

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Dianne Feinstein Town Hall Shows Why She’s a Conservative by San Francisco Standards

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The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

Mother Jones

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At the beginning of 2017, reproductive rights advocates feared that the election of President Donald Trump and the Republican sweep in many statehouses would embolden anti-abortion legislators at the state level. By mid-January, four states had already introduced late-term abortion bans, while others—Missouri, for instance—had filed a significant number of anti-abortion-related legislation ahead of this year’s legislative session. As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, a new report released this week by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy think tank, finds that the policies introduced so far this year paint a more complicated picture.

The institute’s report finds that state legislatures across the country have introduced some 1,053 reproductive-health-related provisions since January, and that of those proposed measures, 431 would restrict access to abortion services, while 405 would expand access to reproductive health services—the report does not categorize the remaining measures.

Five states—Kentucky, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah—have already passed at least one abortion restriction this year—with a total of 10 new restrictions becoming laws. In Kentucky, a ban on abortions 20 weeks post-fertilization was signed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin after a sprint through the state Legislature. Utah now requires doctors to tell women that medication abortions can be “reversed” after the first dose in the two-dose protocol, a claim that, as with many abortion counseling requirements in other states, is not supported by evidence. Arizona became one of the first states in the country to detail specific requirements for how doctors must work to preserve the life of the fetus after an abortion procedure, a law that some critics have challenged for possibly prolonging the pain of nonviable fetuses.

“There is this competition to the bottom that has been happening with state legislatures and abortion over the past six years,” says Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute and the lead author on the report. But in 2017, she adds “the scale has changed.” She explained that compared with the same period from 2011 to 2016, “we haven’t been seeing as much activity on abortion as we have seen.” Rather than suggesting a diminished interest in abortion restrictions, Nash explains that given the onslaught of new abortion restrictions in the past six years, some states might simply be running out of measures to introduce. But beyond that, health care reform, state budgets, and the opioid crisis might have caused conservative state legislatures to focus their attention elsewhere at the beginning of their legislative sessions, suggesting that anti-abortion activity might pick up later in the year.

As a result of this reduced activity, Nash says, “we have been seeing less in the way of trends” when looking at the types of abortion restrictions introduced in 2017. There are still some commonalities among the various restrictions introduced in the states, particularly concerning “abortion bans” that prohibit abortions being sought for certain reasons—such as a genetic anomaly or the sex of the fetus—or after a specific point in the pregnancy.

In 28 states, legislators have introduced some 88 measures that would either ban abortion completely or prohibit it in specific circumstances. In Arkansas, for example, a law was recently passed that bars doctors from using a common second trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.” Similar restrictions have passed at least one chamber in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. The “20-week abortion ban” was passed in Kentucky and has cleared at least one legislative chamber in Iowa, Montana, and Pennsylvania. Six-week abortion bans, also known as “heartbeat bills,” are also being introduced in several states, possibly in response to Ohio legislators successfully presenting a version to Gov. John Kasich last year; he vetoed the bill but signed a 20-week abortion ban into law.

Nash notes that some of the legislative support of abortion bans may be motivated by an interest in getting a case before the Supreme Court in the next few years. “They are thinking about being the state that overturns Roe v. Wade and the way to do that is to adopt something like a 6-week abortion ban or a 20-week abortion ban and then send that up through the courts,” she says.

The Guttmacher report notes that abortion restrictions continue to be introduced at a relatively steady, if somewhat lessened, rate, but proactive reproductive health legislation has seen an increase, with 21 states and the District of Columbia considering measures that would expand reproductive health services. “The number of proactive measures grew from 221 in 2015 and 353 in 2016” to 405 in 2017, the report notes. The report suggests that this development is likely “in anticipation of the possible dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and loss of its contraceptive coverage guarantee.” So far Virginia is the only state to enact a proactive measure; the state will now require that insurance plans covering contraceptives allow enrollees to receive a year’s supply at once.

Proactive legislation on the state level is likely to become increasingly important as the Republican-controlled Congress and other conservative-led legislatures continue to use funding to target reproductive services providers such as Planned Parenthood. Last week, Trump signed into law a measure allowing states to withhold public funds used for family planning—also known as Title X funding—marked for contraception and other nonabortion services from groups that also provide abortions. The move nullifies an Obama-era rule protecting Planned Parenthood and other groups from losing federal family-planning funds.

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The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

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California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

Mother Jones

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After California’s wetter-than-normal winter—and the official end to its drought—you’re probably not thinking much about water scarcity and the food supply. But our food-and-water woes go well beyond the Sunshine State’s latest precipitation patterns, as this new Nature study from a global team of researchers—including two from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies—shows.

The paper notes that the globe’s stores of underground water, known as groundwater—the stuff that accumulates over millennia in aquifers—is vanishing at an “alarming” rate, driven mainly by demand for irrigation to grow crops. You can think of such reserves as “fossil” water, since it takes thousands of years to replenish once it’s pumped out. Once it’s gone, some of the globe’s key growing regions—the breadbaskets for much of Asia and the Middle East—will no longer be viable. Here in the United States, we rely heavily on California’s Central Valley for fruit, vegetables, and nuts—which in turn relies on some of the globe’s most stressed aquifers for irrigation. Tapped-out aquifers point to a future marked by high food prices and geopolitical strife.

The Nature researchers found that the most severe depletion is concentrated “in a few regions that rely significantly on overexploited aquifers to grow crops, mainly the USA, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Pakistan and China, including almost all the major breadbaskets and population centres of the planet.”

The group mapped global food trade flows from these areas with the most-stressed aquifers—places like the California Central Valley, the Midwest’s High Plains (where farmers have for years been draining the Ogallala aquifer to grow corn and cotton), India’s breadbasket, the Punjab, and China’s main growing region, the North Plain. That these crucial resources are being rapidly used up is well established—for example, see the 2014 Nature paper, using satellite data by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, which I discussed here.

What the new paper adds to that chilling assessment isn’t comforting to US eaters, or people who look at long-term geopolitical trends. They name the seven countries where farmers are drawing the most from overstressed aquifers: India, Iran, Pakistan, China, the United States, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Together, agriculture within these countries is responsible for more than 90 percent of the globe’s irrigation water taken from overdrawn aquifers

Such withdrawals rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2010, they found. Three countries drove most of that gain: India, where unsustainable groundwater withdrawals for irrigation jumped 23 percent; China, where such water use doubled; and the United States, where it grew by nearly a third. These rates are higher than global population growth, which was about 13 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Note that the group was looking at data from a period just before the onset of California’s recent drought (2011-2016), which triggered a massive frenzy of water-pump drilling and an epic drawdown of aquifers. The new study underlines a point I’ve made before: Water reserves in California’s Central Valley are in a long-term state of decline—aquifer recharge during wet years never fully replaces all that was taken away during dry times.

The Nature team took withdrawal data and overlaid them with food-trade data. Of those seven countries that use massive amounts of water from dwindling aquifers to grow crops, just three are major exporters of those crops: the United States, Mexico, and Pakistan. Here in the United States, the two farming regions that lean heavily on unsustainable water, California and the Plains, are also major crop exporters. So it’s no surprise that 42.6 percent of US food grown with fossil water is sold abroad. China, a massive buyer of US soybeans and other crops, was the No. 1 destination of such US exports in 2010, the study found.

They also looked at countries that rely most on imported food grown with fossil water. The researchers found that a “vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security.” The countries with the biggest fossil-water footprints for imported food were, in order, China, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The No. 1 source for US imports of aquifer-draining food, which nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, was Mexico, a major supplier of our fruits and vegetables.

Along with Mexico, Iran, and China, the researchers placed the United States among a handful of countries that are “particularly exposed” to the risks of groundwater scarcity “because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers.”

The paper isn’t trying to make the point that food trade is somehow bad. Rather, it’s that global food trade hinges increasingly on a vanishing resource, and that the water footprint of our food supply is largely invisible to both end consumers and policymakers. As NASA’s Famiglietti put it in his 2014 Nature paper, “groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.” As for regulation, a “veritable groundwater ‘free for all'” holds sway globally, and “property owners who can afford to drill wells generally have unlimited access to groundwater,” Famiglietti notes.

And trade means we’re all in this together. Food choices made by consumers in Qatar can have an outsize impact on aquifers in geopolitical hot spots like Pakistan, while decisions made by those who control China’s food system can tax aquifers under Kansas and Fresno County, California. Like climate change and antibiotic resistance, water scarcity is a global problem that requires global solutions.

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California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

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Here’s What Happened When a Trump Admin Hopeful Tried to Delete His Pro-Hillary Columns

Mother Jones

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According to Arab News, columnist Andrew J. Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is currently in the process of landing a job with the Trump administration. But in order to clear the final hurdles of the hiring process, Bowen has allegedly tried to convince the news outlet to delete some of his previous writings, mainly ones that were critical of Trump and praised his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Examples include posts describing Trump as “boorish and predatory” and charging the then-Republican candidate with “whipping xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments” unlike any other presidential hopeful in US history.

Those attempts to strong-arm Arab News have apparently backfired. A statement from the editors on Tuesday:

Arab News regrettably announces that it will discontinue publishing articles by US columnist Andrew Bowen.

The reason behind this decision is the columnist insisting that this newspaper deletes previous articles dating back prior to the recent US election where he was in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has repeatedly requested the removal of these articles stating that this is needed for him “to be cleared” for what he claims to be a possible job with the new Donald Trump administration’s State Department.

Mr. Bowen also insinuated — verbally and in writing — that he will seek the support of influential friends and contacts to help remove the articles.

Arab News possesses all correspondence relating to this matter and its position is that such a request is unprofessional journalistically, particularly given that there were no factual errors or libelous comments that require a redaction or correction.

We wish Mr. Bowen the best of luck in his job application.

The statement ends with a link to Bowen’s archival history writing for the site.

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Here’s What Happened When a Trump Admin Hopeful Tried to Delete His Pro-Hillary Columns

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Why Is Trump Ignoring These Good Heartland Jobs?

Mother Jones

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For half a century, Tim Hemphill grew corn and soybeans on his 720-acre farm in northern Iowa. Then five years ago, as he readied his son to take over the business so he could retire, catastrophe struck: Local corn prices plummeted. “It was about the worst thing that ever happened to farmers,” he says. And it’s happening all over the country: Slumps in commodity prices, paired with rising costs of pesticides and seeds, have driven many small farms out of business, and caught on throughout Iowa, not only bringing a much-needed boost to farmers, but also generating county tax revenue to fund school and road improvements and adding new jobs. Iowa now gets 36 percent of its electricity from wind, a higher percentage than any other state, even California. While coal is still Iowa’s main source of electricity, one of the state’s largest utilities, MidAmerican Energy, has set ambitious reap at least $10 million a year leasing their land to turbines. Nationwide, they may earn as much as $900 million a year by 2030, according to analyst Alex Morgan of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Farmers cannot farm anything legally on that small amount of land and get that kind of return,” says Chris Kunkle, a Western policy manager at industry advocacy group Wind on the Wires. Iowa’s Gov. Terry Branstad credits wind energy with drawing $12 billion worth of investments to his state. It also added 11 manufacturing facilities and thousands of jobs, including for wind turbine technicians, the country’s fastest-growing profession. In 2016, some 9,000 Iowans worked in the wind industry, about a fifth of the number operating farms. Both Facebook and Google have set up data centers in the Hawkeye State, taking advantage of how clean energy can help them meet their goals for renewables. And more than two-thirds of Iowa’s installed wind power is in poor communities: Kunkle says he’s visited small rural counties that get about a tenth of their total budget from wind farms.

Iowa isn’t the only state benefiting from the breeze. Wind farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest, where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished. (Despite what President Donald Trump will tell you, coal jobs started to disappear back in the 1980s, when the steel industry began to sink and utilities stopped building new coal-fired power plants.) In the “wind belt” between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association. A federal tax credit—which gives producers 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity for 10 years—is set to expire at the end of 2019, but analysts with financial firm Lazard say that even without federal subsidies, the price of wind energy is finally on par with that of traditional energy sources.

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Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios. According to Michael Webber, deputy director of the University of Texas’ Energy Institute, the next few years will see a showdown between “rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost wind offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don’t like renewables because they like fossil fuels”—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.

So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind, which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, “offers the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation.” In his energy plan, Trump speaks of reviving the country’s “hurting” coal industry and argues that “sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.” We do—and those reserves could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coming years, and very few carbon emissions. And if Trump weren’t so fixated on the sputtering coal industry, he might actually see them.

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Why Is Trump Ignoring These Good Heartland Jobs?

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