Morning News Brief

Sep 11, 2018
Originally published on September 11, 2018 9:21 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We know that forecasters, they do the best they can. But it is an imprecise science. Their predictions may turn out differently. Having said that, the latest forecast for Hurricane Florence is pretty bad.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It has reached sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. The hurricane is heading for the Carolinas at the moment. And one possibility is a storm like Hurricane Harvey, which moved so slowly over Texas that it caused severe flooding. Here's climate scientist James Kossin.

JAMES KOSSIN: This is a incredibly dangerous storm. The storm could be over North Carolina and traveling incredibly slowly on the order of, you know, just a few miles per hour even.

MARTIN: So this is a pretty good moment to pose a question - what makes a hurricane especially strong? NPR's Rebecca Hersher is here to answer that and more.

Good morning, Rebecca.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What makes a strong hurricane?

HERSHER: Heat, especially hot oceans.

MARTIN: Heat, yeah.

HERSHER: So when the water in the oceans gets hotter, which is happening because of global warming - which is happening because us, worth noting - it's like fuel for a hurricane's engine that's spinning up, gaining strength. So you can think of it as a hot bath. The evaporating moisture feeds the storm. So here's the really bad news when it comes to that. The oceans are warmer now than they've ever been. And although - so this seems like a silver lining - although parts of the Atlantic had been sort of blessedly cool this year, actually in part because of last year's crazy season perhaps, the water that's feeding Florence right now is slightly warmer than normal.

MARTIN: Wow. So normal's bad. And now Florence is even warmer than normal.

It's not just the strength of the storms, though. They're also getting wetter. I mean, I've read that some areas ended up with more than 60 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey, which is a ton of water. So why is that happening?

HERSHER: Yeah, it's just out of control. Like, when that amount of water falls on you, there's nothing you can do. So this one has to do with speed. And we're not talking about the wind speed that you feel when a hurricane is on you. We're talking about the speed when the entire storm is moving forward...

MARTIN: OK.

HERSHER: ...So how fast is the whole storm moving? So what happened with Harvey is that the storm was moving slowly, and then it stalled and basically stopped over Houston. That's why it was raining for so long. It just kept raining. And there's this study from earlier this year that shows that was actually part of a trend of tropical cyclones all over the world. So all over the world over the last 70 years, hurricanes, typhoons, other cyclones have been slowing down. And one reason for that may be, actually, a slowing of wind due, again, to climate change. So if that happens with Florence, it will be the latest in that trend.

MARTIN: Which is crazy because you think, slower hurricane - that seems good and less dangerous. But slower is bad. It makes...

HERSHER: Yeah...

MARTIN: ...It worse.

HERSHER: ...Really bad.

MARTIN: And all this, you know, on top of the more traditional risks posed by these storms. I mean, wind, storm surges - we go through this every time there's a hurricane - people, you know, battening down the hatches. You have to really take these storms seriously.

HERSHER: Absolutely. Rain is super dangerous. So Harvey - it's worth remembering - it was responsible for at least 93 deaths. There is some evidence that freshwater flooding can be even more dangerous than storm surge because people don't take it seriously. And then there's storm surge and wind, which are obviously no joke. So it's really important to take evacuation orders seriously. Make sure you're ready if you're in the path.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Rebecca Hersher.

Thanks so much, Rebecca.

HERSHER: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SZA SONG, "20 SOMETHING")

MARTIN: All right. This morning, we're going to try to figure out who exactly should get credit for a U.S. economy that's looking pretty good right now.

INSKEEP: Pop quiz - is it President Obama, or does President Trump's election have something to do with it? Yesterday in the White House briefing room, the head of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, had his answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN HASSETT: I can promise you that economic historians will a hundred percent accept the fact that there was an inflection at the election of Donald Trump and that a whole bunch of data items started heading north.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is here to sort fact from fiction.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. Let's start with what the administration is claiming - 100 percent that things are getting better because of Donald Trump, apparently.

HORSLEY: Yeah. In many ways, what we are seeing in the U.S. economy is a continuation of trends that began under former President Obama. We've seen a steady decline in the unemployment rate. We've seen steady growth in the overall number of jobs. Workforce participation has been basically flat. But what Kevin Hassett, the White House economist, was highlighting yesterday were some economic yardsticks where it is not a straight line, where there was a turnaround beginning on or around November 2016 - tied into the election. And he's trying to make the point that not only is the U.S. economy doing well but it is doing well because of Donald Trump.

MARTIN: So Obama may have laid the groundwork, but there are some things that are exclusive to the Trump administration. Hassett, in particular, said the economy had improved for blue-collar workers under the Trump administration. Is that right?

HORSLEY: It is. You know, if you look at overall job growth, it's been very consistent - 3.6 million jobs added in the first 19 months of the Trump administration, very close to the 3.9 million jobs added during the last 19 months of the Obama administration. But the makeup of those jobs has shifted. We're now seeing faster growth in what the Labor Department calls the goods-producing part of the economy - that is things like manufacturing, construction, oil-drilling - and slower growth in services, which is everything else.

Now, services is a much bigger part of the overall U.S. economy. But the geography here is significant because goods-producing jobs tend to be concentrated in more rural or suburban areas, which are also often strongholds for Republicans. So this could be a lifeline for the GOP in the midterm elections of November if the people who feel like they've seen the biggest improvement under President Trump...

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Are precisely those who might have felt left behind in the previous administration.

MARTIN: We should point out, though - so there are good things happening in the economy, which makes you wonder why the president feels like it's necessary to gild the lily, which he did by making a false statement on Twitter that his economic adviser had to correct.

HORSLEY: That's right. He said yesterday that GDP is above the unemployment rate for the first time in something like a hundred years. In fact, it's something like 10 years. But you're right. You know, in business and in the White House, Trump seems to operate under the principle that there is no sales pitch that can't be improved with exaggeration. At some point, though, you might pay a price in credibility, which can come back to bite you, even if you actually have a pretty good story to tell.

MARTIN: Right. So speaking of that, two polls came out yesterday showing President Trump's approval rating dropping below 40 percent even though in one, the Quinnipiac poll, 70 percent surveyed rate the economy as good or excellent. So how do you make sense of that - people are feeling good, but they're not given him credit?

HORSLEY: Yeah. It could be that they are decoupling their views on the economy from President Trump, not giving him credit. Or it could be that they think he's doing a good job on the economy, but his approval rating is taking a hit for other reasons. It has been a difficult couple of weeks for the president.

MARTIN: Right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF STING SONG, "SHAPE OF MY HEART")

MARTIN: A bombing campaign in the northern part of Syria continues. Pro-government forces are targeting the province of Idlib, which is the last major rebel-held area there.

INSKEEP: Now, there were negotiations last week to try to slow or prevent this assault. The talks failed, and millions of civilians could be in the path of the offensive now.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock joins us now, where she is following all this from Beirut.

Hey, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Just give us the lay of the land. What can you discern is happening there in the last couple of days?

SHERLOCK: Well, there's been shelling and airstrikes that have really intensified in the last week. So some people fear this is a prelude to a major ground offensive. Lots of these shells and airstrikes have hit towns and villages on the southern fringes of Idlib. And local medical workers say a hospital was among the sites that have been bombed. Medical points have been hit frequently throughout the war, and so now some aid groups are resorting to setting up medical clinics in caves, hoping that rocks will protect them better.

We reached Karima Hamida (ph), who's an older woman - an elderly lady who's in Kafr Zita, one of the towns that's been targeted in recent days.

KARIMA HAMIDA: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: So here she says the bombs are falling on civilians. She and others are trying to cram into underground shelters or flee the town. But one of the major problems here is, you know, where can they go?

MARTIN: I mean Steve, in the intro, said millions of civilians are going to be in the path of this assault.

SHERLOCK: Well, that's right. The U.N. says that there's now about 3 million people living in this area. About half of those are people who fled fighting in other parts of the country. And the Syrian government, as it tried to take other parts of the country, made these sort of forced surrender deals with rebels and their families whereby it agreed to let them go from these areas and sent them to the north. The problem now is that these people have nowhere to go. This area is on the border with Turkey, but Turkey is already hosting some 3 1/2 million refugees. And it says it can't open its borders anymore. So they're effectively trapped.

MARTIN: So what does this - I mean, there were all these talks to try to prevent this from happening. Those fell through. So what's the recourse here to prevent this?

SHERLOCK: Well, that's right. I mean, there's so much at stake here. Turkey's continuing to talk to Russia and Iran. As you say, they tried to secure a cease-fire deal, but that hasn't succeeded yet. In the meantime, Turkey's beefed up its presence in northern Syria with some of its troops. And it's also supporting the kind of non-extremist rebel groups there. There's so much at stake for Turkey here. They essentially, you know, have this conflict that may be about to unspool right on their border.

There are different ways this could play out instead of being a full-scale offensive. There's mounting international pressure to avert this. Donald Trump has warned that the Assad regime shouldn't recklessly attack Idlib? And some - you know, the U.S. has made a deal with Britain and France to punish any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. There have been chemical attacks in this area before. But you know, the majority of civilians have died here in conventional bombing. So that's not really the main issue. And the focus really rests on what agreements, if any, can be struck between Turkey and Assad's ally Russia.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock, following the latest on the pending attack in Idlib province in Syria. Ruth's been following all this from her base in Beirut.

Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOGS' "5/4") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.