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Carly Fiorina Plans to Run America Via Smartphone

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 10:50 PM EDT

Soon we will all be Trumpists. Trumpets? Trumpettes? Trumpies?

Ahem. Anyway, at a town hall today a veteran told Carly Fiorina that he was having trouble getting a doctor’s appointment through Veterans Affairs:

“Listen to that story,” Fiorina said. “How long has [VA] been a problem? Decades. How long have politicians been talking about it? Decades.”

Fiorina said she would gather 10 or 12 veterans in a room, including the gentleman from the third row, and ask what they want. Fiorina would then vet this plan via telephone poll, asking Americans to “press one for yes on your smartphone, two for no.”

“You know how to solve these problems,” she said, “so I’m going to ask you.”

Until now, I had been willing cut Fiorina a little bit of slack over running HP into the ground. I figured other people shared some of the blame too.

Now I'm not so sure. Is this the razor-sharp leadership savvy she's been bragging about? Just ask a bunch of vets what they want? Press one for yes and two for no? That's how she's going to whip the VA into shape? Somebody just shoot me now.

POSTSCRIPT: Do you think that Fiorina (a) thought this up on the spur of the moment, or (b) gamed this out with her consultants and was just waiting for the right time to use it? And which is scarier?

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Have We Reached Peak Internet Annoyance Yet?

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 9:14 PM EDT

I have some horrible news about the search for ALS cures:

The breakthrough research unravels the mystery about a protein called TDP-43....In a study of the protein in mice cells....Johns Hopkins scientists detail how TDP-43 — which is supposed to decode DNA — breaks down and become "sticky."...When the researchers inserted a special protein designed to mimic TDP-43 into the neurons, the cells came back to life and returned to normal. That's sparked fervent interest that the treatment could possibly be used to slow down or even halt the disease.

It's a big step for the 15,000 Americans living with ALS, which currently has no cure, usually ends up killing people two to five years after they are diagnosed.

Oh wait. That's great news. Here's the horrible news:

One year ago....the Ice Bucket Challenge had become the viral campaign everyone was talking about — an online effort to raise awareness and funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease....More than $220 million in donations later, scientists at Johns Hopkins are claiming a major breakthrough in ALS research and are partly crediting the success to the massive influx of public interest.

"Without it, we wouldn't have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did," said Philip Wong, a professor at Johns Hopkins who led the research team...."The money came at a critical time when we needed it," Wong said.

Crap. I guess this means we can no longer mock annoying internet memes that claim to be for a good cause. Or worse: annoying internet memes will become a staple of charitable fundraising.

But maybe it's not really so bad. After all, there has to be some kind of limit to annoying internet memes. There are just so many people in the world and so many hours in the day. And if we have indeed reached peak annoyance, the ALS meme added nothing to the total. It merely sucked it away from some other potential annoyance that never took off. It's sort of like an energy conservation law, except for annoying internet memes.

But....what if we haven't reached peak annoyance yet? And how would we know? As a wise man once told me, no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.

The Drought Is Making California Sink—And Climate Change Makes the Drought Worse

So say two new studies.

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 6:04 PM EDT
Between May 2014 and January 2015, parts of the Central Valley sank by as much as 13 inches.

The policymakers tasked with overseeing California's ever-stressed water supply got two pieces of rough news this week.

• The Central Valley is sinking—really fast. A new satellite analysis from NASA found that vast swaths of the state's most important growing region—a massive national supplier of vegetables, fruit, and nuts nationwide—is dropping as farmers tap underground aquifers to compensate for lack of water from the state's irrigation projects. Subsidence, as the phenomenon is known, damages crucial infrastructure like aqueducts, train tracks, bridges, roads, and flood-control structures. As a June 2015 Center for Investigate Reporting article showed, no state agency keeps track of the financial cost exacted by repairing the ravages of subsidence, but the price tag is likely already in the tens of millions of dollars. Some of the most severe subsidence, NASA found, occurred along the California Aqueduct, damaging a network of canals, pipelines, and tunnels that carries water collected from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the southern Central Valley's farms. Subsidence also permanently reduces the underground aquifers' water storage capacity, NASA adds.

• Climate change is making the whole situation worse. In addition to an epochal drought—driven mainly by lack of winter snows in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the engine of California's water system—the state is also experiencing historically warm temperatures. And while climate change  isn't likely the main factor behind the precipitation drop, it does likely drive the current heat wave. This year, California and much of the western US have endured record-high temperatures, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.

NOAA

Hot weather, of course, compounds the impact of droughts: It accelerates the loss of water stored in soil, vegetation, aqueducts, and reservoirs, a process known as evapotranspiration. In a just-published paper, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Idaho looked at temperature and precipitation data gathered between 1901 and 2014 and compared them to climate change models. They concluded that California's recent dearth of precipitation can be explained mainly by natural variability, but that that climate change-induced evapotranspiration has contributed dramatically to the drought's severity. Think of it like this: Lack of precipitation has severely limited new water coming into California, and climate change has hindered the landscape's ability to hold onto what little water is available. Over all, increased evapotranspiration is responsible for as much as 27 percent of the state's current water shortage, they calculated. Worse, going forward, "anthropogenic warming has substantially increased the overall likelihood of extreme California droughts," they concluded.

2 Brothers Inspired by Donald Trump Allegedly Attack Homeless Hispanic Man

“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported."

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 3:18 PM EDT

Boston police believe two brothers are responsible for a brutal attack Wednesday evening that left a homeless Hispanic man with a broken nose and covered in urine. One of the men, 38-year-old Scott Leader, told police he was inspired by presidential candidate Donald Trump's message on immigration. 

"Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," Leader allegedly told cops when he was arrested with his brother, 30-year-old Steve Leader.

The Boston Globe reported that a witness saw the brothers beating the 58-year-old victim with a pole three or four times as he attempted to defend himself.

This isn't the first time the Leader brothers have been charged with a crime. After the attacks on September 11, Scott Leader was convicted with a hate crime after he assaulted a Muslim man and called him a "terrorist."

When Trump heard about the assault, he told the Globe, "It would be a shame…I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate."

Trump, who is currently leading the GOP presidential field, set the tone for his campaign in June when he said that Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists. 

Since launching his bid, Trump has continued to issue offensive comments about Latin American immigrants. Earlier this week, he offered a glimpse at his immigration plan, which promotes mass deportations and an end to birthright citizenship.

Donald Trump's Top 10 Liberal Heresies

For starters, he thinks affirmative action is okay

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 3:04 PM EDT

Right now, Donald Trump appeals primarily to voters who are just plain angry and want a president who's willing to call a spade a spade. Still, these voters are also conservatives. They like Trump's stand on immigration and political correctness and taking away all the oil from ISIS. But what are they going to do when they find out that Trump has an awful lot of liberal views? I'm not talking about stuff he said years ago and has since changed his mind about. I'm talking about views he's advocated in the past couple of months. Off the top of my head, here are Trump's top 10 liberal heresies:

  1. He thinks affirmative action is okay.
  2. He would fund Planned Parenthood except for abortion. (This is current federal policy, though Trump doesn't seem to know it.)
  3. He supports a progressive income tax. He does not favor a flat tax.
  4. He doesn't believe you should be able to fire someone just for being gay.
  5. He doesn't want to cut Social Security or Medicare.
  6. He's in favor of a ban on assault weapons.
  7. He invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to his wedding.
  8. He doesn't "fully" believe in supply-side economics.
  9. He wants to "lead from behind" on Ukraine. Trump believes that Germany should take the lead on Ukraine.
  10. He hates the Iran deal, but he wouldn't abrogate it after taking office.

Even one or two of these would sink any other Republican candidate. But 10? Even if Trump's appeal is mostly based on bluster and affinity politics, how long can he last before his fans begin to wonder just how conservative he really is?

Sorry, Donald, You Can't Count Retirees As "Unemployed"

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 1:44 PM EDT

In his interview with Sean Hannity last week, Donald Trump said the unemployment rate wasn't 5.3 percent, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. "That's phony math," he told Hannity. "If you add it up, it's probably 40 percent, if you really think about it."

Was this just a one-off comment because he was trying to bond with Hannity? Or was it another budding Trump meme? Today, in an interview with Time, Trump doubled down:

Don’t forget in the meantime we have a real unemployment rate that’s probably 21%. It’s not 6. It’s not 5.2 and 5.5. Our real unemployment rate—in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment—because you have ninety million people that aren’t working. Ninety-three million to be exact.

If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%.

Trump saw a chart! Here it is, if you're interested. I like charts too, so I guess that's OK. And Trump is right about one thing: roughly 93 million people (42 percent of the adult population) aren't employed. But why aren't they employed? Let's check out another chart for the answer. I don't think I've ever created a pie chart before, but that seems appropriate for a Donald Trump post, don't you think? In fact, let's make it a 3-D pie chart.

As you can see, there are indeed about 93 million people who aren't working. The vast majority of them, however, are retirees, the disabled, full-time students, and folks who have no interest in working (stay-at-home parents, etc.). There are about 8 million unemployed, and about 8 million more who are underemployed or would like to work but have given up trying to find a job. If you add up those two categories you get the U6 unemployment rate, currently at 10.7 percent.

You can make a case for using U6 as your preferred metric of unemployment. But counting retirees? Or students? Or the disabled? Or parents taking care of children? Sorry, but no.

POSTSCRIPT: I threw together the numbers in the chart pretty quickly. They're all in the ballpark of being accurate, but could be off by a little bit. Frankly, a more detailed dive just didn't seem worth it.

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Jimmy Carter: Cancer Has Spread to My Brain

The former president announces he'll start radiation treatment for the melanoma detected on his brain.

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

On Thursday morning, former President Jimmy Carter revealed he will begin radiation treatment for four spots of melanoma that were detected on his brain. He will start the first round of four radiation treatments this afternoon. 

Carter made the announcement at a scheduled news conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Speaking to reporters, he said that even though he initially thought he only had a few weeks left to live, he was "surprisingly at ease" with his diagnosis.

"I've had a wonderful life," Carter added. "I've had a wonderful life, thousands of friends. I've had an exciting and adventurous and gratifying existence. But now I feel that it's in the hands of the God, whom I worship."

Carter said doctors first discovered the lesions when he underwent surgery to remove a small mass in his liver earlier this month.

When asked if there was anything in his life he wish he could have done differently, Carter expressed regret over the Iran hostage crisis.

"I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages and we would have rescued them," he said. Then in a lighthearted joke, Carter added, "Maybe I would have been reelected."

The 90-year-old former president first revealed he had cancer last Wednesday.

New Study Finds That Humans Should Kill Smaller, Younger Animals

Hunting too many adult animals has turned us into "super-predators," researchers say.

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 11:00 AM EDT
Don't worry, some small animals should be kept around as clickbait.

When it comes to food, humans gravitate to the biggest item on the menu: overstuffed turkeys, 1,000-pound sturgeons, the fattest burger. But a new study in Science shows how our obsession with taking down the biggest prey is damaging the world's wildlife.

Looking at 282 marine species and 117 terrestrial mammals, researchers at the University of Victoria found that human hunters and fishers overwhelmingly target adult animals over juveniles. Driven by the prestige and financial payoff of a trophy kill or gargantuan catch—and an aversion to killing young animals that might be seen as cute—humans consume up to 14 times the amount of adult animal biomass as other predators. And that's contributing to the swift decline of populations of large fish and land carnivores, the researchers say.

Thanks to advanced hunting tactics and tools that allow us to kill without getting too close, humans have long been able to take down massive prey (e.g., the Ice Age mammoths). But with modern advancements such as guns and the automated dragnets of industrial-scale fishing, we've turned into "super-predators," the researchers write. That's just one reason, along with the ravages of climate change and habitat destruction, we're currently in the process of losing one in six species on Earth.

These findings go against the assumption that it's better to target mature animals and spare younger ones. "Harvesters typically are required by law to release so-called under-sized salmon, trout, or crabs, or to set their rifle scopes on the 6-point elk and not the calves," explained Chris Darimont, one of the study's authors, in a call with reporters. Those regulations are in line with the paradigm of "sustainable exploitation," the idea that killing off big adult animals that dominate a habitat will allow the young to flourish and reproduce.

Humans exploit large prey at far higher rates than other predators. P. Huey/ Science

The authors argue that this approach causes undesirable reverberations in the food web and, eventually, the gene pool. While the loss of the largest predators may be a boon to their prey in the short-term, ballooning populations of herbivores can devastate vegetation and have been linked to festering illnesses. While humans may raise increasingly large domesticated animals—whether by pumping cows with steroids or breeding only the fattest hogs—exploiting the largest animals in the wild can lead to tinier animals. For example, as bigger, stronger fish are plucked from the oceans, survival of the fittest undergoes a strange inversion: Smaller fish are more likely to reproduce in their absence, producing fewer, smaller offspring that are less resistant to further threats.

The authors suggest that human hunters start thinking small. In the case of fisheries, they suggest focusing on smaller catches—a process of narrowing entrances into traps and nets and using hooks to allow larger fish to evade capture. To preserve top carnivores on land, Darimont and coauthor Tom Reimchen say that tolerance—and a decreased emphasis on prized trophy kills—is the best way to bolster dwindling populations.

Obamacare Is Facing Yet Another Legal Challenge

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 10:47 AM EDT

Do you remember John Boehner's House lawsuit against President Obama over some details of Obamacare? When it was finally unveiled, it turned out it had two parts. The first challenged a delay in implementing the employer mandate. That was a big meh. Even if the suit prevailed, it would be meaningless by the time it finished its trip through the court system.

But the second part was a surprise. It challenged the outlay of $175 billion as part of the Cost Sharing Reduction program, which pays out money to insurance companies and lowers premiums, primarily for the poor. Obama claims that CSR is like Medicare or Social Security: a mandatory payment that doesn't require yearly authorizations. Congress claims it does, and went to court to fight its case. So how is that going? David Savage of the LA Times gives us an update:

In May, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer voiced exasperation when a Justice Department lawyer tried to explain why the Obama administration was entitled to spend the money without the approval of Congress. Why is that "not an insult to the Constitution?" Collyer asked.

But the more formidable barrier now facing the lawsuit is a procedural rule. Judges have repeatedly said lawmakers do not have standing to re-fight political battles in court....But in late June, the high court gave the House lawsuit an apparent boost when it ruled the Arizona Legislature had standing to sue in federal court to defend its power to draw election districts....Ginsburg in a footnote said the court was not deciding "the question of whether Congress has standing to bring a suit against the president." But administration supporters acknowledge the high court's opinion in the Arizona case increases the odds the suit will survive.

....Washington attorney Walter Dellinger, a former Clinton administration lawyer, believes the courts will not finally rule on the House lawsuit. "There has never been a lawsuit by a president against Congress or by Congress against the president over how to interpret a statute," he said.

If the courts open the door to such claims, lawmakers in the future will opt to sue whenever they lose a political battle, Dellinger said. "You'd see immediate litigation every time a law was passed," he said.

In other words, this is starting to look an awful lot like King v. Burwell: a case that initially seemed like an absurd Hail Mary by conservatives, but that eventually started to look more formidable. In the end, King still lost, but not before plenty of liberals lost a lot of sleep over it.

I think that's still the most likely outcome here. Allowing Congress to sue the president would be a huge reversal for the Supreme Court, and it's not clear that even the conservatives on the court want to open up that can of worms.

But there's more to this. If the Supreme Court rules that Congress has no standing to sue, but it looks like they might treat the case sympathetically on the merits, conservatives merely have to find someone who does have standing to sue. That probably won't be too hard. It may take years, but one way or another, this might end up being yet another legal thorn in the side of Obamacare.

Trumpmentum Has Been Losing Steam Ever Since the Debate

| Thu Aug. 20, 2015 10:04 AM EDT

I hopped over to RealClear Politics this morning to take a look at their latest poll averages, and it shows something interesting: Donald Trump may have hit his ceiling. On August 5, he hit a peak at 24.3 percent. He then plateaued for a few days and has been falling ever since. He now stands at 22.0 percent.

Not all poll averages show the same thing. I also took a look at Pollster, and they show Trump's climb starting to slow down, but not quite peaking yet. Even there, though, it looks like Trump is going to hit a ceiling soon.

At the risk of making a hard prediction that will soon look foolish, it looks to me like Trump has peaked at about 25 percent. Even among the Republican base, his blustery showmanship only gets him so far.