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Oct. 2 2015 5:18 PM

South Carolina to Get Three Months of Rainfall in Three Days This Weekend

Yes, Hurricane Joaquin is headed out to sea. But in addition to the widespread coastal flooding from Virginia to Massachusetts that’s already occurring and likely to intensify over the weekend, an even bigger threat is the truly tremendous amount of rainfall that’s on the way to the Carolinas.

Flooding across the Southeast, in particular, is likely to be historic. One analysis predicts that parts of the Carolinas are on pace for a “thousand-year rainstorm,” which isn’t exactly a rainfall bigger than any rainfall in a thousand years—we only have reliable weather records for 150 years or so, after all—but an estimate based on statistics. Whether it is truly such an event, the rainfall that's about to happen is exceedingly rare. And could be very dangerous.

For perspective: The National Weather Service expects more than 15 inches of rain to fall in South Carolina—three months of rainfall in three days—which threatens to break the state’s all-time monthly rainfall record in the span of a single weekend. A public statement from the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C. National Weather Service office, which also covers mountainous parts of western North Carolina, warned of resulting landslides and destructive mud flows and cautioned local residents to be prepared to leave their homes “as quickly as possible” should “moving earth” threaten their communities. The heaviest rain should occur during the day on Saturday, and likely won’t taper off until late Sunday.

The National Weather Service in Charleston issued a strongly-worded addition to this afternoon’s flood watch, in characteristic all-caps style:


Later on, the statement mentioned downtown Charleston would be especially at risk during times of high tide. The Charleston NWS office also provided some flood safety tips.

How can this happen, with the hurricane so far away? Think of Joaquin as a giant tropical fountain: It’s been spinning near the Bahamas for most of the last two days, with winds greater than 100 mph turning the ocean into a blanket of sea spray that’s being sucked upwards by intense thunderstorm updrafts. All that water is entering a low-level jet stream pointed squarely at the southeast U.S.—a weather pattern that’s being enhanced by strong Canadian high pressure. The result is an atmosphere over the Southeast that’s saturated all the way up to the stratosphere: A perfect recipe for historic rainfall and flooding.

The meteorological term for this is a “predecessor rain event,” which I discussed in a bit more detail earlier this week. Once you factor in the record-warm ocean temperatures boosting evaporation even further in the vicinity of Joaquin, the current weather setup is basically the atmosphere conspiring to produce truly extreme rainfall rates. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang noted, however, that these sorts of rainfall events are notoriously tricky to predict, so the heaviest rainfall could happen anywhere from northern Georgia through the Carolinas to southern Virginia.

Moisture from Hurricane Joaquin will be drawn northward toward the Carolinas this weekend by an extreme weather pattern.

NWS/Levi Cowan

Since warmer air can hold more water vapor than cooler air, this is exactly the sort of thing we can expect to see more of as climate change intensifies. It’s also a trend that’s been widely observed to be already occurring across the entire country. In 2013, a similar thousand-year rainstorm devastated parts of the Front Range of Colorado, though a different meteorological setup was to blame.

If you have friends or family in the Carolinas, please caution them to take this flooding event seriously. The damage it’s likely to produce will be Joaquin’s lasting legacy in the U.S.

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Oct. 2 2015 5:04 PM

The U.S. Is Far More Violent Than Other Rich Countries

Whatever you think of gun control in the wake of the shooting spree in Oregon, one thing is for sure: The U.S. really is far more violent than other advanced countries, and you need only to glance at the above chart to see it. The chart, created by Kieran Healy, a professor of sociology at Duke University and republished here with permission, shows the rate at which people die by assault in the U.S. and how that rate has changed over time in orange. In blue, it shows the rates of 23 other wealthy countries. The good news is that the U.S.’s rate has steadily declined since 1980. The bad news is that we’re still about three times as violent as any other country in the dataset.

The chart compares the U.S. with other advanced countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It shows estimates of the rate of death from any type of assault, including assaults in which no firearms were involved. In the U.S., about 70 percent of all homicides involve guns. Many if not most of the other countries in the chart—Australia, Germany, Japan, the U.K.—have stricter gun control laws than the U.S. What, then, explains the U.S.’s violence? Is it that we are crazier than Japan? Is it that we just like killing each other more than Australians? Could it possibly be that we have more guns per person than any of these countries?

Oct. 2 2015 5:01 PM

Donald Trump Finds One More Way to Alienate Hispanics

Welcome to the latest round of he-said, Trump-said: The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Friday accused Donald Trump of backing out of an upcoming event because he was afraid he’d face a hostile crowd and aggressive questioning about his anti-immigration views; the GOP front-runner says he never agreed to the event in the first place.

Trump’s decision to bail on next week’s event in Washington was “motivated by the concern of being ‘put on trial,’ ” the chamber said in a statement on Friday. “Withdrawing from the Q.-and-A. can only suggest that Trump himself believes his views are indefensible before a Hispanic audience.”

The Donald’s response: “This is the first time I'm hearing about this. I mean, I never agreed," he told CNN in a phone interview later in the day. "He wanted me to do an event because he probably can't sell tickets without me. Why would anybody do an event when he's a negative person?"

Trump, of course, has a long history of remembering things one way while the person he was talking to remembers them quite differently. You tell him you quit, he hears himself saying you’re fired; you tell him to tone it down, he hears you say keep it up. But in this case, if we go back to the game tape, it’s pretty clear that both Trump and the head of the Hispanic Chamber were on the same page last month after the two men met face to face in Trump’s Manhattan HQ.

“We still don't see eye to eye with him, but that's beside the point. Our job is to remain nonpartisan, to give candidates the forum so they can talk in greater detail about their policies," chamber president Javier Palomarez told NBC News after the meeting, explaining why he’d be willing to invite Trump to address his group, which represents more than 3 million Hispanic-owned businesses.

Trump, meanwhile, appeared to confirm his plans during a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera the following day. “I will be going down at some point in October or whatever. I will go to Washington,” he said in response to a question about his face to face with Palomarez. “That won’t be that easy a meeting because you’ll have hundreds of people and they will have constituents of his and they may disagree with me but ultimately we will all get along.”

So what changed between now and then? The Hispanic Chamber began to take a tougher line with Trump over his usually rambling and frequently xenophobic remarks about immigrants. “We’re not going to go easy on him. A lot of people think it’s just going to be this positive thing,” the group’s communications director, Ammar Campa-Najjar, told Politico on Thursday, before taking direct aim at Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border: “It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad that this man is leading in the polls and that this is his idea for a fiscally responsible, fair and feasible plan for dealing with immigrants.”

Trump’s change of heart, then, is actually a display of his political consistency—if there’s two things the GOP front-runner is afraid of it, after all, it’s tough questions and Hispanics.

Oct. 2 2015 4:21 PM

Jeb Bush on Oregon Massacre: “Stuff Happens”

As Slate's Josh Voorhees wrote today, Donald Trump responded to Thursday's mass shooting in Oregon by implying that such tragedies simply could not be prevented because crazy people will always be crazy. Trump's 2016 Republican nomination rival Jeb Bush has now gotten on board with a similar line of argument, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reports from a campaign event in South Carolina:

Here's video:

Coming from Bush, the line is reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld's dismissive take on chaos in Iraq in 2003, a breakdown of law and order that, in retrospect, portended years of bloodshed in the country. From a CNN article at the time about looting in Baghdad:

"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."
Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.

Bush later told Lizza he did not regret his choice of phrase:

President Obama was asked about Bush's remarks at a press conference. “I don't even think I have to react to that one,” he said.

Oct. 2 2015 3:35 PM

States With Tighter Gun Control Laws Have Fewer Gun Deaths

Since a 26-year-old shot and killed at least 9 people and injured several others at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on Thursday, the debate about gun control is back in the news.* In his speech after the shooting, President Obama reprimanded lawmakers for not tightening gun control laws. Do strong gun control laws prevent gun violence? The chart below, based on data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, offers some evidence.

Before you sound off in the comments section: Correlation does not mean causation, of course, but that’s not where the debate ends. We can’t start a society in a vacuum and tweak the gun control laws to see what happens; we can only rely on messy real-world data. Other studies have shown that states with more guns have more suicide and homicide; that suicides (which account for about three-fifths of gun deaths) decrease when gun control is tightened; and that countries with more guns have more homicide. Among advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership and the highest homicide rate. What explains all these patterns? So far, gun control critics have only provided weak theories about culture or mental illness. Maybe it’s the guns. 

*Correction, Oct. 2, 2015: This piece originally misstated that the shooter killed 10 people. The shooter, who also died in a gun battle with police, killed nine.

Oct. 2 2015 3:23 PM

The Friday Slatest: Oregon Sheriff Is Gun Control Opponent Who Posted Sandy Hook Truther Video

Hello, Slatest readers.

Details continued to emerge Friday about the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

  • Shooter Chris Harper Mercer reportedly targeted Christians during the shooting and had expressed a dislike of "organized religion" in an online profile.
  • Sheriff John Hanlin, who helped supervise the response to the killings, was reported to have sent a letter to Joe Biden asserting that gun control would not prevent mass murders and to have approvingly posted a Sandy Hook conspiracy video on Facebook.
  • Meanwhile, some argued dubiously that information about Mercer should not be disseminated so as to not encourage similar attackers.

In other news:

Have a good day out there.

Oct. 2 2015 3:09 PM

This Week’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings

Rectangles are sized by number of retweets. Click on a candidate to zoom in.
Interactive by Andrew Kahn

Hello and welcome to Week 6 of the Slatest’s 2016 Twitter Power Rankings. Above, you’ll find our handy interactive of the entire week’s worth of candidate tweets: how many each White House hopeful sent and how often they were retweeted and favorited, along with how each fared in the 140-character fight with their political rivals on both sides of the aisle. (Click to zoom in on a particular candidate, and click again to see the content of each tweet.)

Below, meanwhile, you’ll find our tried-and-true method of ranking each candidate’s single most successful tweet of the past seven days. Together, the two offer a helpful snapshot of which topics dominated the political conversation online and also give us some insight into which contenders are winning the campaign Twitter wars and why.

The ground rules again:

  • For the rankings below, we’re defining a candidate’s most successful tweet as the one that receives the most retweets.
  • Tweets that include a direct request for a retweet are ineligible for the traditional rankings because that’s cheating. RT if you agree! (Retweet-begging tweets, though, will still appear in the interactive at the top.)
  • Only tweets from the past seven days are eligible. Since we’ll publish the weekly rankings every Friday, that means any tweet sent in the seven days prior to when we hit the big red button at around 10 a.m. to cull all the data.

You’ll find this week’s takeaways at the bottom, but without any further ado:

1.) Bernie Sanders (Last week: 1)

2.) Donald Trump (2)

3.) Hillary Clinton (3)

4.) Ben Carson (4)

5.) Ted Cruz (6)

6.) Martin O'Malley (11)

7.) Mike Huckabee (8)

8.) Jeb Bush (7)

9.) Rick Santorum (14)

10.) Rand Paul (5)

11.) Marco Rubio (9)

12.) Carly Fiorina (10)

13.) George Pataki (17)

14.) Bobby Jindal (15)

15.) John Kasich (13)

16.) Chris Christie (16)

17.) Lawrence Lessig (20)

18.) Lindsey Graham (12)

19.) Lincoln Chafee (18)

20.) Jim Webb (19)

21.) Jim Gilmore (21)

Overall RT Winner: the Donald!

As has become painfully clear by now, Trump tweets like no one else in the field. What wasn’t clear until this week, though, was whom the GOP front-runner has to thank for his social media success: Justin McConney, the 29-year-old son of a Trump exec. According to Politico, McConney became Trump’s director of social media in 2011 after stints working on the billionaire’s beauty pageants and reality television shows. In the four-plus years since, Trump’s gone from 300,000 followers to more than 4.3 million. Among the stunts that McConney’s given credit for: His boss’s previous participation in the ice bucket challenge, which garnered more than 1.3 million YouTube views, and more recently, his brutal Instagram attacks on Jeb Bush.

Single Tweet Winner: Bernie!

For the second week running, Sanders managed to best Clinton (and Trump) in the single tweet RT wars. This time, though, it was on a topic one would think Hillary would have an advantage on as the only woman in the Democratic race: Planned Parenthood and women’s health. Still, Clinton was anything but silent on the issue: Two of her five most RT-ed tweets were #StandWithPP-related. Republicans, meanwhile, were also using the organization to rile up their base: Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum all found their own success on the #DefundPP side of the debate.

Responding to Roseburg: Prayers vs. calls for action.*

Clinton and Martin O'Malley both took to Twitter following Thursday’s mass shooting in Oregon to call for stricter gun laws—a sentiment they shared with President Obama, who told Americans that “our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Condolences, though, were the only thing the GOP field had to offer.

*Correction Oct. 2, 2015: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of the city where Thursday's mass shooting took place. It is Roseburg, not Roseberg.

Oct. 2 2015 2:40 PM

Oregon Sheriff Posted Sandy Hook Truther Video on Facebook

Update, 2:35 p.m.: Mother Jones reports that Douglas County sheriff John Hanlin, who helped supervise the response to yesterday's shooting and spoke to members of the press in Roseburg, once approvingly posted a conspiracy theory video on Facebook which asserted that public appearances by the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook were actually performances by actors.

Original post, 11:39 p.m.: Here's the latest on the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon in which 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer killed nine people before dying after a shootout with police.

We'll update this post as more information emerges.

Oct. 2 2015 2:29 PM

Bellowing Ted Cruz Is Absolutely Transfixing and Must Be Remixed

If absolutely nothing else, Ted Cruz is a dynamic and deeply unsettling public speaker. Imagine if Ned Flanders suddenly transformed into an apocalyptic televangelist with a burning hatred of Obamacare and a jones for all things Ronald Reagan. That's the Texas senator and GOP presidential hopeful on the stump. 

Anyway, I can't stop watching this supercut of Cruz at the Values Voter Summit in all of his bellowing, onstage weirdness, which comes to us from the Vine account of Actual GOP. It's a few days old, but it's also just ... transfixing .. .with shades of the old Howard Dean scream but more rhythm. The words "unleash booming Reagan" are shouted in sequence—which is just an amazing command that I plan to use at some point in my life. A little additional editing and I feel like this could be transformed into an "It's Gonna Rain" type piece of sound art. Please somebody do that? Anyway, turn up the volume. Immerse yourself. Unleash booming Reagan.

Via Andrew Kaczynski, @BuzzFeedAndrew.

Oct. 2 2015 2:20 PM

It Doesn’t Matter “What He Wanted.” Chris Harper Mercer Murdered 9 People and We Need to Name Him.

If the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon on Thursday seemed sadly familiar, then so did the world’s response. Journalists rushed to Roseburg, Oregon, and before the day was out, nonjournalists began arguing that it would be inappropriate to name the 26-year-old man who used several guns to murder nine people in cold blood.* “I will not name the shooter,” said Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin on Thursday, speaking for many ordinary people who have registered similar feelings on social media and have encouraged the media to follow suit. “I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act.”

The shooter’s name was Chris Harper Mercer. And he already got what he wanted.

Don’t name the shooter. In the aftermath of a mass shooting, some well-meaning person—maybe a cop, maybe a relative of one of the victims—will inevitably enjoin the media to withhold the attacker’s name, in order to prevent copycat killings and deny the shooter the notoriety that he so clearly craved. People said it this August, in Roanoke, Virginia, after television journalist Vester Lee Flanagan used a Glock 9mm pistol to murder two of his former colleagues. People said it this June, after Dylann Roof used another Glock to murder nine people at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. People say this after every single mass shooting. This censorial impulse is smarmy and wrong.

Journalists are not supposed to elide relevant facts when reporting a news story just because reporting those facts might strike some people as offensive or wrong. This is partially a matter of clarity—it would be tedious and confusing to have to write around Chris Harper Mercer’s name and just refer to him as “the shooter”—and partially because it is essential for journalists to report causation when causation is knowable. The Umpqua Community College massacre didn’t just happen. A ghost didn’t kill all those people. Chris Harper Mercer did it with guns he acquired easily, because we live in a country where it is very easy to acquire guns.

Journalists are not putting Mercer’s name, photo, and life story on television and on the front pages because they want to give him glory. They are doing so because he shot up a school, and we know that he did it, and his name, likeness, and biographical data are very, very newsworthy. This is what a mass murderer looks like. This is how he lived. These are the things he professed in public.

Hard-news reporters are supposed to go to news events and answer some very basic questions: what, where, when, and whom. With rare exceptions, if you know a fact, you should report it. Shootings like this latest rampage at Umpqua Community College are ghastly tragedies, but they are also news, and asking journalists to refrain from reporting the news is something that is ultimately much worse for society than giving a shooter “what he wanted.”

Chris Harper Mercer probably did want to be on the news, and, sure, by putting him on the news, journalists are giving him “what he wanted.” But it seems clear to me that what Chris Harper Mercer mostly wanted was guns he could use to execute lots of people. He got them. We already gave him what he wanted. Mass shootings in America will never slow or cease until journalists recognize and report on their cause. Because causation is knowable here. And it has nothing to do with a shooter’s vague desire to be on CNN.

*Correction, Oct. 2, 2015: Due to an editing error, this post originally misstated that Chris Harper Mercer murdered 10 people. He killed nine people and also died himself.