The very first magazine article I ever wrote was on the topic of October Surprises. "The political chattering class and official Washington alike seem unable to resist speculating about October Surprises every four years," I wrote. Sadly, you never read those words because the article ended up getting spiked.

Still, ever since then I've looked forward to the beginning of October Surprise season, which usually kicks off in August. And right on schedule, Politico obliges me:

Get Ready for Obama’s ‘October Surprise’ in Iraq

The American public could be treated to a major U.S.-led military victory in Iraq this fall, just as voters are deciding who will be the nation’s next president—but U.S. military officials insist the timing of the operation has nothing to do with politics.

Iraqi and Kurdish military and paramilitary units are preparing for a push on Mosul, the Islamic State-held city that is now in the cross hairs of the U.S.-led coalition battling the terrorist group across the Middle East. “The idea is to isolate Mosul, cut it off, kill it,” a senior U.S. Central Command officer told me.

....The ambitious plans for Mosul and Raqqa reflect a shift in tactics and deeper U.S. involvement that has not been fully reported in the U.S. media—or talked about in the presidential campaign. Most recently, Centcom has gained White House permission to deploy U.S. advisers with Iraqi units at the battalion level....The U.S. has been quick to flow advisers (an initial tranche of some 200 in all) into al-Qayyarah air base....Washington has also boldly stepped up its support of the Peshmerga, the veteran military units of the Kurdistan Regional Government who will lead the assault on Mosul from the north, despite the risk of upsetting the delicate regional politics.

A big victory over ISIS would indeed be a nice bump for Hillary Clinton, showing that the administration's slow-but-steady approach to destroying ISIS is bearing fruit. Of course, if it works, Donald Trump will no doubt take credit.

In any case, the rest of the Politico piece is actually kind of interesting, so it's worth reading. The big problem in Iraq has always been (a) the weakness of government forces and (b) the endless distrust between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. For now, it looks like the US has brokered a fragile detente that will allow all three to work together to retake Mosul and Raqqa. But how long will this hold together? Maybe we'll find out in October.

Oh my:

Obama is playing Trump's game: getting free media exposure by saying something outrageous. I doubt that any sitting president has ever said something even remotely similar about an opposing party's presidential candidate.

Here's the question: Is Obama doing this just to hit Trump hard? Or is he doing it in the very deliberate hopes of baiting Trump into going completely ballistic? Hmmm.

No More Colonoscopies!

News you can use!

Among those who are screened [for colorectal cancer], colonoscopy is by far the most popular method in the U.S. But there is a menu of options beyond colonoscopies — and they’re not necessarily any better or worse....Included on the list are two cheap, at-home poop tests intended to be done annually: the guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) and a more sensitive test called the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT. Both look for tiny amounts of blood in the stool that might be shed by cancer or polyps. You get one from your doctor, take a poop sample at home, and then return the sample to the doctor. Only if you get a positive result do you need to have a colonoscopy.

....No one is arguing colonoscopy is a bad test. It just hasn’t been shown to be better than an annual FIT, said James Allison, a clinical professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California-San Francisco. He said the public health message is slowly changing to reflect that.

Well, this answers a question for me. I've never had a colonoscopy, and I've always wondered why my doctor has never insisted on one. Now I know. Just yesterday, I did my annual poop test. I've been doing them for years without really knowing why. Kaiser sends me a little kit every year, I do my business, and send it back. I guess Kaiser has decided to use FIT as their default colorectal cancer screening method, and that's why no one has ever asked me to schedule a colonoscopy.

Given my personal experience, I should mention that the poop test is, excuse the pun, a little more of a pain in the butt than this article suggests. I'll spare you the details, but it turns out to be a little tricky from a pure manual dexterity standpoint. And of course it's a wee bit disgusting. Still, if you've ever cleaned out a cat box or picked up after a dog, it's not any big deal.

UPDATE: As long as we're on the subject of routine health procedures, there's also this:

The federal government has recommended flossing since 1979....The guidelines must be based on scientific evidence, under the law. Last year, the Associated Press asked the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for their evidence, and followed up with written requests under the Freedom of Information Act....The AP looked at the most rigorous research conducted over the past decade, focusing on 25 studies that generally compared the use of a toothbrush with the combination of toothbrushes and floss. The findings? The evidence for flossing is "weak, very unreliable," of "very low" quality, and carries "a moderate to large potential for bias."

Apparently the government agrees: In its latest dietary guidelines, the recommendation to floss every day was quietly removed.

Donald Trump Roundup For Monday Evening

Donald Trump has been falling in the polls since last Friday. How has he responded to this pressure? Let us count the ways:

Have I missed anything? Keep in mind that this is just over the past couple of days. Is it any wonder that Republicans are starting to wonder if Trump is suffering from some kind of genuine mental derangement?

Hillary Clinton Pulls Away From Donald Trump

I know, I know. I said we should wait until the middle of the week for more reliable post-convention polls. But you know you want them, and you want them now. Fine. Here's the latest from Pollster:

I don't want to make a big point about this, but I want to write it down in order to get comments. Here is my understanding of the results of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails:

  • 3 were marked classified. Two of these were classified in error. The third was classified correctly but was marked improperly (and was pretty trivial anyway).
  • 110 contained information that wasn't marked classified, but which Hillary and her aides "should have known" was sensitive. That's according to FBI Director James Comey. Based on previous reporting, virtually all of these probably related to the drone program in Pakistan, which was classified but had been extensively reported in the press.
  • About 2,000 emails were retroactively classified as part of the FOIA process.

Is this correct? Or is there some part of this that I continue not to understand?

Jim Geraghty says that Hillary Clinton is a serial liar:

We know she lies when she’s cornered. Running from snipers in the Balkans, being “dead broke” upon leaving the White House, “all my grandparents” immigrated to America, her tale of trying to join the Marines, her claim she never received or sent any material that was classified on her private e-mail system, her claim to have started criticizing the Iraq War before Barack Obama did… she lies, and she lies, and she lies.

Seriously, Jim? I'll give you the Balkans thing. That was a lie. But the others aren't. The Clintons were in debt when they left the White House. Hillary's great-grandparents were immigrants—she was off by a generation. Nobody knows if she ever tried to join the Marines, but there's no evidence she didn't. She didn't knowingly send classified material on her private email system, and it's hardly fair to judge her by the fact that some of her emails were retroactively classified. And her statement about the Iraq War was strained (she was talking about criticism after Obama joined the Senate), but it's typical political exaggeration, not a lie.

Look: all politicians lie sometimes. That includes Hillary Clinton. But as the chart on the right shows, Hillary is one of the most honest politicians on the national stage. Here's a similar conclusion from the New York Times.

I know it's in their partisan self interest for conservatives to insist that Hillary is the world's biggest liar. But she isn't. Not by a long, long way. Republicans need to get the beam out of their own eye before they keep banging on about the mote in Hillary's.

I don't have any special news hook for this chart, but it's been in the back of my mind for a while. Roughly speaking, it's an answer to why white men are so angry about the economy even though they generally earn more than any other gender or ethnic group.

It's all about progress. Women may earn 79 percent of what men earn, but over the past 40 years their incomes have increased rapidly. Black and Hispanic men haven't done quite as well, but they've still made progress—and most people are relatively happy as long as things are getting better over time. The only group that has stagnated for four straight decades is white men. That's plenty all by itself to make them angry, but it's even worse when they watch literally everyone else doing better at the same time.

Don't get me wrong: the "angry white guy" syndrome has plenty of sexist and racist overtones too. After all, white men used to be at the top of the gender/race heap, and now they aren't. They don't get to feel superior to women or blacks or Hispanics anymore, and their incomes have gone nowhere for four decades. Rightly or wrongly, you'd be mad too if this described you.

POSTSCRIPT: One reason I haven't posted this before is because the data is hard to get. It's easy for most groups—the Census data works fine—but for Hispanics the Census data is heavily skewed by the very low incomes of illegal immigrants, who have increased over time. As a proxy for income gains among Hispanic men who were born in America (to match the demographics of the other groups) I've used Pew's estimate of the income difference between 1st and 2nd generation Hispanics. Obviously this is far from ideal, but I'm not aware of a clean source of comparable data for all this.

ALSO: Asian men and women have also seen substantial income gains over the past 40 years, but the Census figures for Asians don't go back that far. That's why they aren't included in the chart.

It's been a while since I posted a chart showing the latest global temperatures, so let's do one today. This is based on NOAA data for the first half of the year. As you can see, average global temperatures have risen about 1.3°C over the past century.

For years, climate denialists published charts starting in 1998 to show that warming had "paused" and might never increase again. Needless to say, an anomaly of +0.7°C looks kind of quaint these days as we blew right past +1.0°C during this year's El Nino. Those old charts have, of course, now disappeared. But no worries. They'll be replaced by something else, I'm sure.

I wrote my post yesterday about the North Carolina voting law before I had a chance to read the 4th Circuit Court opinion that struck it down. It turns out to be even more amazing than I thought. The court wrote that various provisions of North Carolina's law "target African Americans with almost surgical precision," and they weren't kidding:

The [original] version of SL 2013-381 provided that all government-issued IDs, even many that had been expired, would satisfy the requirement as an alternative to DMV-issued photo IDs....With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans. As amended, the bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.

....Legislators also requested data as to the racial breakdown of early voting usage....The racial data provided to the legislators revealed that African Americans disproportionately used early voting in both 2008 and 2012....After receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting.

....Legislators similarly requested data as to the racial makeup of same-day registrants....SL 2013-381 eliminated same-day registration....Legislators additionally requested a racial breakdown of provisional voting....With SL 2013-381, the General Assembly altogether eliminated out-of-precinct voting....African Americans also disproportionately used preregistration.... Although preregistration increased turnout among young adult voters, SL 2013-381 eliminated it.

....As “evidence of justifications” for the changes to early voting, the State offered purported inconsistencies in voting hours across counties, including the fact that only some counties had decided to offer Sunday voting. The State then elaborated on its justification, explaining that “[c]ounties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic.

It's not just that every provision coincidentally happens to affect blacks disproportionately. In at least a couple of cases, provisions were added only after the legislature had racial breakdowns in hand so they could make sure they weren't accidentally targeting whites too.

Remarkably, even with this evidence before it, the district court upheld the law. This prompts a longtime question of mine: how far do courts have to go in believing the justification that a legislature provides for its actions? Obviously you want to be careful with this, but there's a point at which, literally, everyone knows what's really going on. And yet courts have to pretend to believe something else. This sure seems like a destruction test of this concept.