2 GOP Candidates Have Reasonable Positions on Climate Change. They Won’t Be in Tonight’s Debate.

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 12:54 PM EST
Workers stand in at the candidates' podiums in preparation for Tuesday's Republican debate in Milwaukee.

If you were hoping for a reasonable discussion about science during Tuesday night's Republican presidential debates, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed. That's because the only two candidates with serious positions climate change have been excluded from the event.

Last month, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki made news when they called out their own party for rejecting the science behind climate change. "I've talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90 percent of them are telling me the greenhouse gas effect is real, that we're heating up the planet," said Graham during CNBC's Republican "undercard" debate—the early-evening consolation prize for candidates who aren't polling high enough to land a spot in prime time. "It's…not appropriate to think that human activity, putting CO2 into the atmosphere, doesn't make the Earth warmer," added Pataki. "It does. It's uncontroverted."

Out of all the candidates in the crowded GOP field, Graham and Pataki also have the strongest track records when it comes to actually fighting climate change. In the Senate, Graham once sponsored a cap-and-trade bill intended to reign-in greenhouse gas emissions. As governor, Pataki helped create a regional cap-and-trade program in the Northeast. So I was excited to hear what they would have say on the issue during the debates that will air Tuesday on the Fox Business Network. Like its sister network Fox News, Fox Business is a major epicenter of climate science denial.

Unfortunately for science, Graham and Pataki won't be on stage Tuesday. Neither of them are averaging anywhere close to 2.5 percent in the polls—the threshold Fox established for the main debate. They aren't even managing the 1 percent required to participate in the undercard debate.

Instead, viewers will hear from an array of global warming deniers. Ted Cruz believes that climate change is a "pseudoscientific theory"; Donald Trump calls it a "hoax"; and Ben Carson insists there's "no overwhelming science" that it's caused by humans. Viewers will also hear from candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who was recently demoted to the undercard stage). Christie acknowledges that climate change is real but seems to oppose any realistic plan to deal with it.

Then there are the folks who will be asking the questions. Last year, Fox Business managing editor Neil Cavuto—one of the moderators for Tuesday's main debate—explained how he first became a climate change "doubter":

Here's what Trish Regan, one of the moderators for Tuesday's undercard matchup, had to say when Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) called climate change the country's top national security threat during a Democratic debate earlier this year:

So since you're not likely to hear this tonight, here's Pataki explaining why you really should believe what climate scientists are saying—and why you should vaccinate your kids, too:

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PPP Uses the Power of Pyramids to Figure Out Which Republican Candidate Has the Weirdest Supporters

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 12:17 PM EST

One of the charming things about Public Policy Polling is that they have a habit of asking weird questions that no one else will. Today's example: What do you think the pyramids were built for? This is for South Carolina only, and sadly, they only asked Republicans. Still, the breakdown by candidate gives us a peek at which of them has the weirdest supporters. Results are on the right.

It's a close call, but Donald Trump's supporters seem to have the best handle on reality. Marco Rubio (!) runs away with the grain crowd, beating out even heavy favorite Ben Carson. And Jeb Bush ekes out a win from the aliens crowd. This is not, perhaps, what you would expect. I wonder why Rubio has so many supporters who believe the grain theory but none who believe the aliens theory? It is a mystery.

Tonight's GOP Debate Will Be All About Pressing Hard on Tax and Budget Proposals

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 11:46 AM EST

Tonight's Republican debate starts up at 9 pm Eastern.1 One of the moderators has some advice for the candidates:

Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo believes the Republicans are not helping themselves by whining about the moderators at the primary debates. “President Obama said it, and it was true,” she said during a conversation at the FBN offices in midtown Manhattan a few days before she takes the stage for the channel’s Nov. 10 primary debate in Milwaukee. “If these guys can’t deal with the moderators, how are you going to be able to deal with Russia and China?”

“I guess it’s become cool to slap around the moderator. That’s OK,” said Bartiromo....Her approach will include pressing the candidates for details on their tax and budget proposals. “I’m clear on where the holes may be in their plans so I can try to solicit information and help the viewer,” she said. “As far as worrying ‘what if he says this to me, what if he does that to me’ — I don’t have time for that.”

Amusingly, both of the moderators of tonight's debate used to work for CNBC, which got trashed by Republicans for its performance a couple of weeks ago. So they have an extra special incentive to show that they can do better.

Anyway, I'm eager to hear Bartiromo press the candidates on their phantasmic tax and budget proposals, and I'm especially eager to hear her ferociously attack the holes in their plans. I wonder how that's going to go?

1Of course I'll be liveblogging it. What else would I be doing with my evening? First, though, I need to figure out what channel my cable provider has consigned the Fox Business Network to. For those of you who don't get FBN, they will be livestreaming the debate on No cable subscription required.

I Can’t Stop Smiling Because of This Adorable Baby Goat Video

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 11:31 AM EST

So your morning train was packed with halitosis-breathing psychos. You stepped over (human?) poo on the way to work. The weather is bad: Winter Is Coming. Your boss—a prick at the best of times—is breathing down your neck about this or that and just won't shut up, even though you've already done the task and it's been sitting in his inbox for a week. That Tinder date you worked yourself up about last weekend won't text back. (He said he got a new phone? But it's been days!) And now you're refusing to "take a hint." But what if you run into him at that gig next week? Listen to me. Whatever's going on right now, screw it, because the video that just came up in my Facebook feed will make you laugh and forget all the jerks:

Can't stop watching this video looool

Posted by Jeremy de Koste on Wednesday, January 21, 2015

h/t "Little Things"/Huffington Post

Here's a List of 8 Discrepancies in Ben Carson's Yale Hoax Story

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 10:50 AM EST

A team of reporters from BuzzFeed has been busy calling everyone they could find who was associated with the Yale Record in 1970, when they hoaxed some students into retaking the final exam in a psychology class. Nobody could remember anything about it except for Curtis Bakal, who confirmed that the hoax had been carried out:

“We did a mock parody of the Yale Daily News during the exam period in January 1970, and in this parody we had a box that said: ‘So-and-so section of the exam has been lost in a fire. Professor so-and-so is going to give a makeup exam.’”

“We got a room to do the test in and one of us from the Record impersonated a proctor to give the test,” he said....Bakal, the Record editorial assistant at the time, remembered other details about the prank that are compatible with Carson’s account, such as the unusual difficulty of the test. “Several students showed up, and the fake exam, a parody of exam — in fact, it had real psych questions, because I had taken the class the year before, but it was a more difficult and probing personal exam,” he said.

....Bakal also backed up Carson’s claim that “at the end what few students remained — it may have just been one or two, I wasn’t there — received a small cash prize.”

Bakal also says he's "99% certain the way Carson remembers it is correct." But that's not so clear. Let's keep all the discrepancies front and center:

  1. Carson says the class was Perceptions 301. It was actually Psychology 10. (Carson now says that his ghostwriter might have made up a course name and number "just to give it more meat.")
  2. Carson says the professor handed out the exam papers and picked them up. Bakal says it was a fake proctor.
  3. Carson says there were 150 students in the retest. The writeup of the hoax the next day says "several" students showed up.
  4. Bakal says the remaining students received a "small cash prize" at the end. But ten dollars was a fair sum at the time, about equivalent to $60 today.
  5. Carson says the hoax happened during his junior year (1972). The Record hoax actually took place in 1970.
  6. Carson says a photographer took his picture at the end. Bakal doesn't mention this.
  7. Carson says the professor was a woman. That's unlikely since Yale had very few female instructors at the time, but it's possible. However, Bakal says "one of us" from the Record impersonated a proctor. Yale only began admitting women that year, and it's pretty unlikely that the Record would have sent over a freshman woman to impersonate a proctor.
  8. Finally, and most importantly, Carson says the professor/proctor told him he was the most honest person in the course because he had stuck it out to the end. This is absolutely central to Carson's story. But that never happened. The Record proctor might have told him he was the most gullible person in the course, but that's about it.

The likely response from the Carson camp is that I'm nitpicking. When Carson wrote about this, the hoax was 20 years in the past and he may have gotten a few details wrong. Fair enough for minor stuff. But a hoax like this would have been pretty memorable. He wouldn't misremember a female professor with a starring role. The fact that it took place in his junior year was a key part of the story, but it didn't happen then. The photographer seems entirely made up. And the business about getting an award for honesty, which is also central to his story, didn't happen.

At best, the hoax happened during Carson's freshman year in Psychology 10, and he then embellished it considerably in order to make it a proper testimonial to the power of God. At worst, he simply heard about the hoax and used it as the basis for a completely invented story in his book. I don't know which. But either way, the story in his book is substantially exaggerated in ways that really matter. This is not just nitpicking.

Senator Claire McCaskill Wants Her Male Colleagues to Learn to "Just Shut the Hell Up"

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 10:19 AM EST

Are you listening, male US Senators? Your colleague, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wants you to stop mansplaining and "just shut the hell up."

In a refreshing video prepared for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday, the first woman elected to the Missouri senate (and consummate badass) explains that while she values the importance of encouraging more women to run for office, it's equally important for men to stop inserting their opinions into every damn issue.

"It's not that women don't value your thoughts—it's just that we don't value all of them," McCaskill said. "The world doesn't need your opinion on everything."

The senator continued by enumerating a list of topics she'd love to see all men stop talking about. These include: what women do with their bodies, pantsuits, Star Wars (repeated twice), Shonda Rhimes, and #GamerGate.

"If you can control yourselves and hold back from further expressing your opinions on any of these topics, we'll let you keep weighing in on marijuana legalization," she said, offering a reward for their good behavior.

"But," she cautioned. "That's a huge, big 'if.'"

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How Honest Is Your State?

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 11:27 PM EST

This year, the Center for Public Integrity has once again ranked all 50 states for their transparency and accountability. A high score means your state is tolerably honest. A low score means corruption galore. AJ Vicens has the whole story here, along with plenty of detail.

But for those of you who just want the tl;dr version, I'm here to help. The chart below shows how all 50 states did. Congratulations, Michigan! You're our most corrupt state, edging out Wyoming by a few tenths of a point. In the "beats expectations" category, I think I'd give the award to Illinois, with New Jersey as runner-up. In the "most disappointing" category, I'd pick Oregon, which really brought down the otherwise impressive performance by the Western states.

Health Update

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 8:38 PM EST

I just got back from a visit with the oncologist, and she says all my test results are normal. My IgG levels are normal. My light kappa chains are normal. Hooray!

Except, of course, for the one test that really matters, the M protein marker (a proxy for the level of cancerous cells in my bone marrow). It's now gone down from 0.9 to 0.72 to 0.63 to 0.55. My own amateur analysis suggests that this means it will plateau at around 0.3 or 0.4, which is not great news since we want to get it to zero. My oncologist's professional analysis is that, hey, maybe the cancer is already gone and the protein markers are just hanging around for a while.

Do I sound a little annoyed at my inability to ever get anything but happy talk from these folks? Yeah, I guess so. I understand that there's not much point in getting bent out of shape about these results until I've been on the new meds long enough to get a truly reliable reading. I also understand that oncologists want to keep their patients from getting depressed. Still, I wish I had a little more visibility about what's likely to happen over the next year or so.

Oh well. At least the M protein marker level is going in the right direction. This means I'm basically in good shape for a while. And I feel pretty good, though I think the higher dose of the new med is making me a little bit more tired than usual. Nothing serious, though. For the time being, everything is in pretty good shape.

The Press Needs to Fight Back on Republican Tax Lunacy

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 5:46 PM EST

Steve Benen on the Rubio-Lee tax plan:

At first blush, it’s tempting to see Marco Rubio’s economic plan as a dog-bites-man story: Republican presidential campaign proposes massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, even while saying the opposite.

Benen goes on to manfully make the case that Rubio's tax crankery actually does deserve extra special attention, but I'm not sure he does the job. Sure, Rubio's deficit would be humongous, but so would everyone else's. And Rubio has a helluva mountain to climb to take the top spot in the tax craziness derby. Let's roll the tape:

  • The "sensible" candidate says his tax plan will boost growth to 4 percent a year. His advisors have basically admitted that this number was pulled out of thin air.
  • A second candidate, not to be outdone on the absurd growth front, says his plan will cause the economy to take off like a rocket, producing growth as high as 6 percent. How will he manage this? "I just will."
  • Another candidate suggests we adopt a tax plan based on the Biblical practice of tithing.
  • Yet another candidate, apparently thinking that tithing isn't quite crazy enough, proposes an even lower flat tax.

This is all fantasyland stuff. So why doesn't the media hammer them more on it? Why do debate moderators let them get away with such lunacy? Good question. John Harwood tried the only honest approach in the last debate, suggesting that Donald Trump was running a "comic book" campaign—and it was Harwood who got hammered. Harwood gamely tried a second time with Trump, telling him that "you have as much chance of cutting taxes that much without increasing the deficit as you would of flying away from that podium by flapping your arms." Trump brushed him off. Harwood tried yet again with Rubio, this time citing numbers from the Tax Foundation, and Rubio brushed him off. That's a couple of tries at mockery and one try at arithmetic, and they both had the same effect.

There's not much left to do. If candidates want to say that brass is gold, and people choose to believe them despite piles of evidence to the contrary, you're stuck. Eventually you feel like you have to move on to something else.

But maybe you don't. Maybe you just keep asking, over and over. Maybe you ask every candidate the same question. Republicans will scream about how the liberal media hates them, and then they'll trot out their pet economists to insist that tax cuts really do hypercharge the economy. The moderators will take a lot of heat over this. But it might actually turn supply-side nuttiness into a real topic that gets its 15 minutes of fame. That's better than nothing.

California Could Be the Next Saudi Arabia

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 4:44 PM EST
California's Imperial Valley: a desert in bloom.

In the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia embarked upon a bold project: It began to transform large swaths of desert landscape into wheat farms.

Now, "desert agriculture" isn't quite the oxymoron it might sound like. These arid zones offer ample sunlight and cool nights, and harbor few crop-chomping insects, fungal diseases, or weed species. As long as you can strategically add water and fertilizer, you'll generate bin-busting crops. And that's exactly what Saudi Arabia did. As this Bloomberg News piece shows, the oil-producing behemoth grew so much wheat for about two decades that "its exports could feed Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen."

To irrigate its wheat-growing binge, Saudi Arabia tapped aquifers that "haven't been filled since the last Ice Age."

But starting in the mid-2000s, Saudi wheat production began to taper off. Soon after, it plunged. This year and from now on, the country will produce virtually no wheat, and instead rely on global markets for the staple grain. What happened?

In short, to irrigate its wheat-growing binge, the nation tapped aquifers that "haven't been filled since the last Ice Age," Bloomberg reports. And in doing so, it essentially drained them dry in the span of two decades.

In an April 2015 piece, the Center for Investigative Reporting's Nathan Halverson brought more details. He writes that the first sign of Saudi agriculture's water crisis began in the early 2000s,when long-established desert springs—ones that had "bubbled up for thousands of years from a massive aquifer system that lay underneath Saudi Arabia"—began to dry up. It had been "one of the world's largest underground systems, holding as much groundwater as Lake Erie." Here's Halverson:

In the historic town of Tayma, which was built atop a desert oasis mentioned several times in the Old Testament, researchers in 2011 found "most wells exsiccated." That's academic speak for "bone dry." The once-verdant Tayma oasis that had sustained human life for millennia—archaeologists have found stone tablets there dating back 2,500 years—was drained in one generation.

In the meantime, farmers' wells, too, began to go dry, and they had to drill them ever-deeper to keep the water flowing. By 2012, fully four-fifths of the ancient aquifer had vanished; and the Saudi government had begun to reconsider its make-the-desert-bloom ambitions, which have now turned to dust.

It's impossible to know when California's aquifers will go dry, because no one has invested in the research required to gauge just how much water is left.

Here in the United States, we've followed a similar strategy for fruit, vegetable, and nut production, concentrating it in arid regions of California, irrigated by diverting river water over great distances, and, like the Saudis, tapping massive ancient aquifers. But climate change means less snow to feed rivers and thus to water farms—and more reliance on those underwater reserves. In California's vast Central Valley, a major site of US food production, fully half of wells are at or below historic lows, according to the US Geological Survey. It's impossible to know when the region's aquifers will go dry, because no one has invested in the research required to gauge just how much water is left. But the trend is clear. In large swaths of the region, the land is sinking at rates up to 11 inches per year as underground water vanishes, USGS reports. The raiding of the region's water reserve is part of a decades-long trend, USGS makes clear, made worse, but not caused, by the current drought.

Two other California regions are significant suppliers to the national food market: the Salinas Valley, known as the "salad bowl of the world"; and the Imperial Valley, which specializes in fresh winter produce. They, too, face severe long-term water trouble.

Unlike their Saudi peers, US policymakers don't have the luxury of waiting until the water runs out and then simply shifting to a reliance on imports—our population is more than ten times larger. One idea for what to do instead: Enact policies that boost vegetable production in other, more water-rich regions, including the Midwest and South—a process I have dubbed de-Californiacation. To bolster themselves, they may want to ponder what's scribbled on the ruins of a vanished desert kingdom, as imagined by the Romantic poet Shelley: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"