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CNN Plans to Feature Peanut Gallery Debate as Warmup for Main Event

| Thu May 21, 2015 11:29 AM EDT

CNN will be hosting the second Republican debate, and they've come up with a....unique way of dealing with the fact that there are just too damn many candidates. To handle the crowd, they're going to have two separate debates:

"The first 10 candidates — ranked from highest to lowest in polling order from an average of all qualifying polls released between July 16 and September 10 who satisfy the criteria requirements ... will be invited to participate in 'Segment B' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate," the network states in its candidate criteria. "Candidates who satisfy the criteria and achieve an average of at least 1 percent in three national polls, but are not ranked in the top 10 of polling order will be invited to participate in 'Segment A' of the September 16, 2015 Republican Presidential Primary Debate."

Did you get that? All the yokels—Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, etc.—will go on first. They'll be sort of the warm-up act. Then they'll get shuffled off the stage and the big guns will have prime time all to themselves. This is pretty humiliating for the also-rans, but presumably if they play by the rules they'll have a chance to move up, just like in English Premier League soccer. Perhaps Rick Perry will stumble and get relegated to the minor leagues for the next debate, while Jindal will knock everyone's socks off and get promoted to the show. I don't know if I'd quite call this "fun," but it would certainly make for some interesting office pools.

The first debate, which is hosted by Fox, will feature none of this nonsense. The top ten candidates will be invited to the debate, and that's that. If you're outside the top ten, you can watch the debate on your big-screen TV at home. Or, if Fox is feeling generous, perhaps the sad sacks polling at the 1% level will be allowed to while away their time in the spin room, where they can try to buttonhole reporters and explain why they really should have been up on the stage. Maybe the saddest story will win a prize.

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Job-Seeker Hillary Clinton Posts Resume on LinkedIn

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

Have you heard the news? Hillary Clinton is on the hunt for a new gig.

And in an effort to attract prospective employers, the former secretary of state just joined LinkedIn with her very own profile. She even dressed up her page with an article on how to "jump-start small business." 

Enjoy the imminent deluge of spammy messages, Hillary! Everyone deserves a distraction from "sensitive but unclassified" emails.

By About 2020, We'll Probably Finally Know Whether a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Good Idea

| Thu May 21, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

So my near neighbor of Los Angeles is poised to raise the minimum wage to $15. How should we think of that?

Personally, I'm thrilled. Not because I think it's a slam-dunk good idea, but because along with Seattle and San Francisco it will give us a great set of natural experiments to figure out what happens when you raise the minimum wage a lot. We can argue all we want; we can extrapolate from other countries; and we can create complex Greek-letter models to predict the effects—but we can't know until someone actually does it.

So what do I think will happen? Several things:

In the tradeable sector, such as clothing piece work and agriculture, the results are very likely to be devastating. Luckily, LA doesn't have much agriculture left, but it does have a lot of apparel manufacture. That could evaporate completely (worst case) or perhaps migrate just across the borders into Ventura, San Bernardino, and other nearby counties. Heavier manufacturing will likely be unaffected since most workers already make more than $15.

In the food sector, people still need to eat, and they need to eat in Los Angeles. So there will probably be little damage there from outside competition. However, the higher minimum wage will almost certainly increase the incentive for fast food places to try to automate further and cut back on jobs. How many jobs this will affect is entirely speculative at this point.

Other service industries, including everything from nail salons to education to health care will probably not be affected much. They pretty much have to stay in place in order to serve their local clientele, so they'll just raise wages and pass the higher prices on to customers.

Likewise, retail, real estate, the arts, and professional services probably won't be affected too much. Retail has no place to go (though they might be able to automate some jobs away) while the others mostly pay more than $15 already. The hotel industry, by contrast, could easily become less competitive for convention business and end up shedding jobs.

On the bright side, of course, a large number of low-income workers will see their wages rise. On the less bright side, the experience of Puerto Rico suggests that (a) employment losses could be as high as 9 percent, and (b) lots of low-wage workers will flee to other places.

So if I had to guess, I'd say that Los Angeles will see (a) less poverty for low-wage workers who keep their jobs, and (b) higher prices for middle-class consumers, who will end up paying for the minimum wage hike. Since the poor spend more than the middle-class, this could be a net stimulus for the LA economy. On the downside, we're also pretty likely to see significant job losses. In other words, I agree with Adam Ozimek that we should not treat this as terra incognita just because it's never been done before:

It’s true that the farther we go out of the historical sample, the more uncertain we are about the magnitude of the impact. But I think minimum wage advocates are taking the wrong message from this. After all, a $100 minimum wage would also be out of sample and subject to the same “we have no clue” and “can’t be on solid ground” statements from Dube and Neumark. But this uncertainty is all in the direction of more job losses. When you enter unprecedented minimum wage hike territory your uncertainty goes up, but so undeniably does your risk of job losses. The idea that a minimum wage hike being of an unprecedented magnitude creates neutral uncertainty is like someone drinking more beer than they ever have just being uncertain about what it will do to their driving ability.

So we'll see. My own guess is that $15 is too high. I would have supported something in the $10-12 range for a city as large and basically prosperous as Los Angeles. But $15? There's just too much uncertainty in a number that big, and the uncertainty almost all points in the direction of significant job losses.

But I could be wrong! We now have three cities that are jumping into the deep end of the minimum wage debate, and that will eventually tell us more than all the speculation in the world combined. Fasten your seat belts.

School Lunches Just Got Way Better in These 6 Cities (and It's Not the Food)

| Thu May 21, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A school lunch served on a foam polystyrene tray.

School lunches may be healthier than when you were a kid, but the wasteful and polluting materials that cafeterias serve them on have actually gotten worse. In an effort to save on labor and equipment costs, many schools switched from washable trays to disposable foam ones over the past couple of decades. But this trend is now beginning to change.

The school districts of six major cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, and Orlando— announced today that they will stop using polystyrene foam trays, and begin serving lunch on compostable plates.

The Urban School Food Alliance, which counts the country's largest school districts among its members, coordinated the change after developing an affordable compostable plate made from recycled newspaper that costs just a penny more than its foam counterpart.

"Shifting from polystyrene trays to compostable plates will allow these cities to dramatically slash waste sent to landfills, reduce plastics pollution in our communities and oceans, and create valuable compost that can be re-used on our farms," said Mark Izeman, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which partners with the Alliance.

This shift to compostable plates by more than 4,000 schools will save an estimated 225 million petroleum-based plastic trays from going into landfill each year.

What's next? The Alliance hopes to introduce compostable cutlery by next school year.

 

This New Study Shows Sexual Assault on College Campuses Has Reached "Epidemic" Levels

| Wed May 20, 2015 4:19 PM EDT

A new study published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests college sexual assault may be far more prevalent than previously believed. The study, titled "Incapacitated and Forcible Rape of College Women: Prevalence Across the First Year," which focused on first-year female students at one New York college, attempted to measure how frequently rape or attempted rape occurred by having female students fill out surveys throughout their freshman year.

Of the 483 women who completed the questionnaires, 18.6 percent reported instances of attempted rape. Incidences of rape were significantly higher when alcohol or drugs were involved.

"Sexual violence on campus has reached epidemic levels," the study's authors wrote. "During their first year in college, one in seven women will have experienced incapacitated assault or rape and nearly one in 10 will have experienced forcible assault or rape. Interventions to reduce sexual violence on campus are urgently needed."

Past studies have posted similar rates. One study reported one in five women suffering from some form of sexual violence during their college careers.  What is striking about these new findings is that they indicate high levels of such sexual assault in just a single year and early on in a woman's college experience.

As Jesse Singal at the Science of Us blog notes, scientifically measuring the frequency of sexual violence is a complex and difficult task: What one person considers to be sexual assault someone else might not.  In addition, this latest study only focused on one campus—making it impossible to generalize on a national scale.

But as recent events have shown, sexual violence on college campuses is a persistent problem. For decades, conservatives have resisted calls for campuses to better protect women by dismissing the issue. With the fallout over Rolling Stone's botched campus rape investigation only fueling detractors, it's especially important for studies like the one published by the Journal of Adolescent Health to provide solid data to legitimize the problem so that potential assaults might be avoided.

Rand Paul's Latest Fundraiser Now Underway

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

I see from the intertubes that Sen. Rand Paul has begun another talking filibuster. This time it's to protest any legislation that extends the NSA's ability to access metadata from phone calls, even if the data is held by the phone companies and available only by court order. Paul's filibuster will annoy a lot of people, but in the end I think I agree, for once, with John McCain: "He'll get his headline and then we'll move on."

That's pretty much the lay of the land. Paul will chew up some floor time, which might end up eating into Memorial Day weekend for the Senate, but since virtually no one agrees with his position, it's simply not going to accomplish anything. I'm even a little skeptical about the headlines. Frankly, once you've done the Jimmy Stewart bit once, its entertainment value starts to plummet.

On the other hand, Paul seems to be mostly treating this as another great fundraising opportunity, and it might very well be. But that's probably all it will be.

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The Science of Why New York's Bagels Taste So Damn Good

| Wed May 20, 2015 3:11 PM EDT

MANHATTAN—New York City has the best bagels in America. This is a truth handed down from generation to generation. Why are the bagels here better than the bagels in Boston, Boise, Birmingham, or even cities that begin with letters other than B? Legend has it that it has something to do with the water that's piped down here from upstate. That's never really felt right. I'm not a water scientist but it just seems like some nonsense that sounds like it could be true so what the hell, sure, it's true! Doctor Oz probably credits NY bagels to the water.

So, anyway, some cats from the American Chemical Society got together and ran some tests and spoke to some chefs and concluded that indeed it's not the magical properties of the Empire State's water supply that makes NYC bagels unique, but rather the unique competence of NYC bakers. Yes, the softness of the water plays a role but not an integral one. The baking method used in New York is just better than the baking method bakers in other cities use—but there is no reason why those bakers couldn't start using the NYC method (with some slight modifications), or so sayeth the video.

Is this video accurate? I have no idea. I am not a professor of baked goods. It sounds maybe reasonable to me. It sort of makes sense, right? Because, yeah, New York has the best bagels but I've certainly had good bagels other places. But those bagels are normally the exception to the bagel culture of the area. I've definitely had one or two okay bagels in LA. Maybe those bakers are using the NY method? I don't know. What do you think?

Eight Good Lessons About Health Care — Plus a Ninth

| Wed May 20, 2015 1:20 PM EDT

Over at Vox today, Sarah Kliff and Julia Belluz have a list of eight things they now do differently after reporting on health care for a combined decade between them. It's a great list, and unless I missed something I think I agree with every word on it. Even item #3, which has been, um, a bit of a challenge for me over the past six months.

Of course, as with all collections of advice, even good ones, this one has an underlying ninth item: don't be an idiot. Sometimes guidelines need to be broken. But they're still good to keep in mind.

This Is What Osama bin Laden Liked to Read

| Wed May 20, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

Today, the Director of National Intelligence released a bunch of the documents US forces recovered from Osama bin Laden's compound during the  raid in Abbottabad. The inventory of the declassified materials provides a glimpse into what were OBL's reading habits. Were there novels of Nick Hornby and Ian McEwan? Maybe a dog-eared copy of Donna Tartt's The Secret History? Or a marked up first edition of Julia Phillip's infamous Hollywood tell-all You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again?

No, you will be unsurprised to learn, there were not.

SPOILER ALERT: Bin Laden liked to read things about al-Qaeda. Things with such sexy sundry titles as “Prospects for al-Qaeda” and "Al-Qaeda and the Internet: The Dangers of ‘Cyberplanning’."

Two fun ones though: Popular Science's "Best Innovations of the Year" and an article in TIME about AOL's troubles, both of which sort of seem like the reading materials one might find in the waiting room to hell.

In the section titled "Documents probably used by other compound residents" we find some of the bin Laden children's periodicals: art stuff, Guinness Book of World Records, video game instruction manuals, a sports nutrition guide, and a suicide prevention manual entitled "Is It the Heart You Are Asking? by Dr. Islam Sobhi al-Mazeny.

Pretty bleak!

Here's the full list of "media articles" from Bin Laden's bookshelf, courtesy of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. You should probably commit the names of some of them to memory so you'll have something interesting to talk about at parties.

Business Week (19 Feb 2007 issue)

Doctrine: Journal of General Military Review, Issue 3

Foreign Policy in Focus, “Prospects for al-Qaeda” (24 Jan 2003)

Foreign Policy (Jan-Feb 2008)

Foreign Policy (March-Apr 2008)

Foreign Policy (May-June 2008)

Foreign Policy (Nov-Dec 2008)

Foreign Policy (Sept-Oct 2008)

Heft, “The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Determination of Illegal Combatants,” Issue 4 (2002)

“The Impact of the War in Iraq on Islamist Groups and the Culture of Global Jihad,” by Reuven Paz, Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (2004)

International News, “Governments’ Successful Measures against Terrorism” (21 Aug 2009)

Journal of International Security Affairs, “Future Terrorism, Mutant Jihads” by Walid Phares

Los Angeles Times, “Is al-Qaeda Just Bush’s Boogeyman? (11 Jan 2005)

Middle East Policy, “Terrorist Recruitment and Radicalization in Saudi Arabia” (Winter 2006)

Military Review, “Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations” (Nov-Dec 2005)

Newsweek, part of an article on an attack within Israel

Newsweek, part of an article on President Bush’s business practices prior to his terms as President

Newsweek, part of an article on hawks and doves on Iraq within the Bush Administration

Newsweek, quotes column (unknown issue, but apparently from the years of the Bush Administration)

Osprey corporate advertisement featuring U.S. military troops rappelling from a helicopter

Parameters, “Al-Qaeda and the Internet: The Dangers of ‘Cyberplanning’,” Timothy L. Thomas (Spring 2003)

Parameters, “The Origins of al-Qaeda’s Ideology and Implications for U.S. Strategy,” by Christopher Henzel (Spring 2005)

Popular Science, “Best Innovations of the Year Issue” (Dec 2010)

“Pushing the Prize Up , A Few Notes on Al-Qaeda’s Reward Structure and the Choice of Casualties,” by Raul Caruso and Andrea Locatelli

“Studi Politico-Strategici: An Introduction to Unconventional Warfare,” by Joseph Gagliano

Time, part of an article on a dive of America Online’s stock

Tulsa World article on criminal charges against David Coleman Headley

U.S. News and World Report (fragment, issue unknown)

Washington Quarterly, “Counterterrorism after al-Qaeda” by Paul Pillar (Summer 2004)

Washington Quarterly, “The Post-Madrid Face of al-Qaeda,” by Rohan Gunaratna (Summer 2004)

Washingtonian Magazine profile of John Esposito (Jan 2005)

"Documents probably used by other compound residents":

Art Education: The Journal of National Art Education Association, “Islamic Art as an Educational Tool about the Teaching of Islam” by Fayeq S. Oweiss (March 2002)

Arabic Calligraphy Workshop by Fayeq S. Oweiss

Published Work Sample from Fayeq S. Oweiss (2004)

Resume for Fayeq S. Oweiss, Ph.D. (2006)

Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide

Game Spot Videogame Guide

Grappler’s Guide to Sports Nutrition by John Berardi and Michael Fry

Guinness Book of World Records Children’s Edition 2008 (scans of several pages from)

Is It the Heart You Are Asking? by Dr. Islam Sobhi al-Mazeny (suicide prevention guide)

Silkscreening Instructions

Here's What Osama bin Laden Wrote About Climate Change

| Wed May 20, 2015 12:59 PM EDT

On Wednesday morning, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a trove of newly declassified documents discovered during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. Among the many letters, videos, and audio recordings is an undated document apparently written by bin Laden discussing the "massive consequences" of climate change, a phenomenon he describes as having more victims than wars.

The newly released document is very similar in content and language to a recording released in 2010, in which the Al Qaeda leader expounded on climate change and criticized the international community's lackluster relief efforts in response to flooding in Pakistan. The speech, about 11 minutes in length, was accompanied by a video compilation that included images of natural disasters and Bin Laden.

In the document, Bin Laden calls attention to the fate of Pakistani children, who, he says, had been "left in the open, without a suitable living environment, including good drinking water, which has exposed them to dehydration, dangerous diseases and higher death rates." He also laments that "countries are annually spending 100 thousand million euros on their armies" while failing to address the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.

This was not the only time Bin Laden spoke about climate change. In a different letter between Bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leaders—also seized during the 2011 raid and written about by Foreign Affairs in March—Bin Laden remarked on a study about climate change and asked his associates to send it Al Jazeera. In 2010, Al Jazeera obtained an audio recording of Bin Laden criticizing the "industrial states," the United States among them, for contributing to climate change.

Read the full text of the undated letter below: