September 30, 2014

Images from NASA's Terra satellite have revealed some alarming results. The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, which once was the fourth-largest lake in the world, is almost completely dry, The Independent reports.

The lake was once fed by two major rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, which flowed through the Kyzylkum Desert, meeting at the basin's end. Scientists attribute the Aral Sea's decline to an irrigation project by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, which took water from the rivers to turn the desert into a farmland for cotton. The desert thrived, but the Aral Sea didn't fare as well.

The images, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on the Terra satellite, reveal that the Aral Sea's eastern lobe has completely dried up. NASA began collecting the images in 2000, when the effects of the '60s-era project were already evident. The photos show that the Northern Aral Sea separated from the Southern Aral Sea, and the lake has become "a fraction of what it had been before the irrigation project started," according to The Independent.

After the north and south parts of the lake became divided, the lake's eastern lobe completely dried up in 2014, NASA found. The lake's retreat has caused trouble for the local communities, too — the water that's still in the Aral Sea has been polluted with fertilizer and pesticides, causing a public health hazard, according to the NASA Earth Observatory. And "to compound matters, more water has been taken from the rivers to flush out the cropland affected by the contaminated dust that had blown up from the lakebed," The Independent notes, leading to colder winters and warmer summers.

"This is the first time the eastern basin has completely dried in modern times," Philip Micklin, an Aral Sea expert at Western Michigan University, said in a statement for NASA's Earth Observatory. "And it is likely the first time it has completely dried in 600 years."

Take a look at the Aral Sea's retreat in the images below. --Meghan DeMaria

1:15 p.m.

Rudy Giuliani's unflinching love for President Trump didn't come out of nowhere.

Sure, Trump and his lawyer have a lot of shared history thanks to their reputations as some of most well-known and New Yorkiest New Yorkers of all time. But Giuliani's staunchest affinity for Trump comes from how the president brings Giuliani and his son Andrew Giuliani together, Giuliani tells The Atlantic.

The 31-year-old Andrew Giuliani has a White House job as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison, with current and former White House officials telling The Atlantic he coordinates events with athletes. Yet "sports-team visits are more special-occasion than scheduling staple in the business of government," especially with teams often rejecting meetings with Trump, The Atlantic writes. That's led White House officials to say it's clear Andrew Giuliani got a "nepotism job" thanks to his father's name, with one saying "he's just having a nice time" and not exactly working hard.

But Rudy Giuliani says that's just not the case. This "wasn't the usual 'hire my kid' situation," Giuliani said, because even though his son has "known the president since he was a baby ... they also had a relationship independent of me." That relationship came into play when Andrew Giuliani was a teenager and Rudy Giuliani was going through a divorce with Andrew's mother Donna. Andrew Giuliani "credits Trump with helping him navigate" his father's divorce and "particularly with helping him repair his relationship with Rudy," two former White House officials tell The Atlantic — and Rudy Giuliani said he agrees.

Andrew Giuliani didn't return a request for comment. Read more at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:51 p.m.

The House of Representatives is examining whether President Trump lied in his written answers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, CNN reports.

Douglas Letter, the House's general counsel, on Monday cited questions over whether Trump lied to Mueller in explaining to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit why the House needs grand jury material from the special counsel probe, asking, "Did the President lie? Was the President not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?"

Previously, House lawyers while seeking grand jury information had said the materials "could reveal that Trump was aware of his campaign's contacts with WikiLeaks," Politico reported. In the recent trial of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, former Trump campaign official Rick Gates testified that Trump spoke with Stone over the phone in July, after WikiLeaks had started releasing hacked Democratic National Committee emails, and said after the call ended that "more information would be coming." In his written answers to Mueller, Trump said, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Roger Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign."

CNN's Manu Raju notes that "whether Trump lied to Mueller is something Dems have raised in past legal filings," but "it was given new emphasis today in the aftermath of evidence that emerged from the Roger Stone trial." Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told The Daily Beast following Monday's news, "Read the answers to [the] questions. They speak for themselves." Brendan Morrow

12:45 p.m.

Social media company TikTok has made waves in the United States, but some employees and investors are worried that its ties to China will hinder its growth stateside going forward, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Investors in TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, which was founded and is based in China, believe that success in the U.S. is crucial if the company wants to achieve their goal of an initial public offering next year (a spokesman for ByteDance said an IPO isn't the company's focus), people familiar with the matter told the Journal.

But despite the app's growing popularity, U.S. lawmakers have scrutinized China's influence on TikTok, accusing ByteDance of censoring content to appease Beijing and storing American user data in China. So there's some real fear among investors that the U.S. could force ByteDance to divest TikTok or cease U.S. operations, potentially bringing other countries like Japan or India along for the ride, sources familiar with the matter said.

Some employees and advisers reportedly brought some ideas before senior executives that would serve to create some distance from China for TikTok. These included suggesting expanding operations to Singapore or rebranding in the U.S. But, per the Journal, it all looks like a long shot right now. And the company has reportedly already reduced the amount of content from China on the app. "We're a Chinese company," said a former employee in TikTok's Los Angeles office. "We answer to China." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

11:57 a.m.

John Legere is hanging up on T-Mobile.

Legere, who has been T-Mobile's CEO since 2012, will leave his position when his contract expires in April, he announced on a Monday conference call. Operating chief Mike Sievert will take the top spot, but Legere will remain on the board of directors at T-Mobile and help see the company through its acquisition of Sprint, the company said.

Since taking over the then-struggling mobile service provider seven years ago, Legere has led it to overtake Sprint as the third-largest cell service provider in the U.S. T-Mobile later bought Sprint for $26 billion, but still faces legal challenges as the merger takes shape. Beyond his business-leading prowess, Leger is also known for his colorful personality and Slow Cooker Sundays.

Legere's announcement comes after he was reported last week to be in talks to take over WeWork. The co-working space company had pushed out its eccentric CEO Adam Neumann with a multimillion-dollar exit deal, and were seemingly look to put another out-of-the-box leader in his spot. But Legere denied that, saying in the Monday call that he was "never having discussions to run WeWork" but still hinting he was looking to move to another company "that could use cultural transformation, leadership, and things similar to what we've demonstrated" at T-Mobile. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:45 a.m.

Billionaire activist and Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer unveiled a health care plan Monday that would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade — and the early analysis is that it's mostly in line with the plans offered by other moderate Democratic candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden.

Steyer, like Biden, is aiming to strengthen the Affordable Health Care Act which was achieved under the Obama-Biden administration. He's proposing a public option for the uninsured (who would be automatically enrolled when they engage with public assistance programs) and for people who aren't satisfied with their private insurance. So, Medicare-for-all isn't on the table for Steyer.

Another major aspect of the program is Steyer's proposal to lower prescription drug costs. He says he'd do so by having Medicare and the public option negotiate drug prices directly with manufacturers and extend those prices to private insurers, as well, which his campaign predicts will save more than $50 billion per year. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

10:23 a.m.

There's apparently a right way and a wrong way to get an ambassadorship out of a Trump campaign donation.

Doug Manchester, who spent two and a half years waiting for a confirmation hearing after President Trump nominated him to be the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, was recently pulled from the running for the role. But before that happened, it seems Manchester told the Republican National Committee he'd send over a hefty donation if it got his confirmation process moving, CBS News reports.

Manchester, like impeachment-embroiled U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, is a Trump supporter who donated $1 million to the president's inauguration fund. But unlike Sondland, Manchester's nomination never came to the Senate floor. He seemed to try and scoot it along by bringing a private jet full of supplies to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian hit the islands where he has a house — something that earned tweeted praised from Trump. And three days later, the RNC asked him for another donation.

In an email, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel asked Manchester if he would "consider putting together $500,000 ... from your family," CBS News reports. Manchester wrote back saying "As you know I am not supposed to do any, but my wife is sending a contribution for $100,000." He then acknowledged that he'd passed a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote and said "we need you to have the majority leader bring it to a majority vote." "Once confirmed," his "family will respond" to the donation request, Manchester continued.

An RNC spokesperson said the committee wasn't suggesting a donation would speed Manchester's confirmation and called his suggestion otherwise "totally inappropriate." Manchester also told CBS News that wasn't his or his wife's intentions with the donation. Read more at CBS News. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:43 a.m.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) had an up-and-down weekend.

Her Democratic presidential campaign received a helpful endorsement, but reports of internal strife led to questions about the future of her White House bid. And while she reportedly received some hearty support during her speech at the California Democratic convention on Saturday, some strategists in her home state think the clock is ticking for the senator, who was once considered a serious contender for the nomination, Politico reports.

"Of course she should get out," said one leading Democratic strategist who declined to speak on the record. "But who's gonna tell her?"

Harris is struggling in the polls, but has reportedly told California insiders that she's not planning on dropping out of the race at least until after the Iowa caucus. But there are fears that even that could be too late and harm her reputation in the long run. "It's not happening," a leading grassroots organizer told Politico on the condition of anonymity. "She has her chance [to leave the race] ... she should take it."

One person who isn't buying the rumors of Harris' demise is California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who felt no need to speak anonymously and said he thinks there's still time and space for the senator to get back in the race. "She's too talented to be dismissed — she's too capable," he said. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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