September 27, 2017

Paul Horner, a self-proclaimed satirist who said that his fake news articles probably unwittingly helped elect President Trump, was found dead at his mother's house outside Phoenix on Sept. 18, the Maricopa County Sheriff's department said Tuesday. Horner, 38, was discovered dead in his bed, sheriff's department spokesman Mark Casey said, but an autopsy found no signs of foul play and "evidence at the scene suggested this could be an accidental overdose." The case will remain open until toxicology reports come back.

Horner's brother, J.J. Horner, told The Associated Press that his brother was always interested in the news, drawing editorial cartoons while still in grade school in Minnesota. "I think he just wanted people to just think for themselves and be credible for their actions," he said. "Read more; get more involved instead of just blindly sharing things." In a November interview with The Washington Post, Paul Horner made clear that he wasn't a Trump supporter and he'd hoped his fake articles would make Trump fans "look like idiots" when they discovered they were taken in. But "they never fact-check anything!" he said. "Now he's in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it."

PolitiFact remembered Horner with a list of some of his fake news stories they debunked, including one cited by Trump and shared by campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski about protesters being paid $3,500 to disrupt Trump rallies, posted to the real-sounding site abcnews.com.co. He earned thousands of dollars a month from his articles. In December 2016, Horner tried to explain why he wrote what he called "satire" to CNN's Anderson Cooper. You can watch that below. Peter Weber

11:56 a.m.

Across 20 major U.S. cities, The New York Times reports, the murder rate was on average 37 percent higher at the end of June than it was at the end of May. While an uptick in violent crime is generally associated with warmer months, the increase is generally more subtle. For instance, the murder rate in those cities a year ago was just 6 percent over that span, per the Times.

The Times notes the change is especially pronounced in Kansas City, which has already seen 122 people killed this year, compared to 90 through the same period last year. The city has also already matched the number of nonfatal shootings — 490 — that occurred in 2019.

Experts are mostly stumped as to what the main cause is. At first glance, coronavirus lockdowns would seem to be a catalyst, especially considering many of the incidents involved random violence, perhaps a sign of frustration or the "destabilization of community institutions." They very well may have played a role, but the Times notes the murder rate was on the rise in many cities before the pandemic, and overall crime is still down in most places, including all types of major crimes aside from murder, aggravated assault, and, occasionally, car theft. "I'm sure there will be academic studies for years to come as to what caused the spike of 2020," said Tim Garrison, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

11:27 a.m.

Negotiations for the next coronavirus relief bill have not been going well, to say the least, and each side is eager to blame the other for the breakdown.

But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has been representing the Trump administration alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is emerging as a particularly thorny player in the saga, as The Washington Post reports Meadows is the one drawing a "hard line" as negotiations continue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is also leading talks, even reportedly calls Meadows "The Enforcer." Publicly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Meadows' views "are quite hardened and non-compromising, more so than Mnuchin."

The good cop / bad cop dynamic is apparently starting to wear on Democrats. But Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who presumably worked with Meadows back when he was a representative for North Carolina, seemed to think his stubbornness came as no surprise. Meadows was "well known on Capitol Hill for sabotaging negotiations," wrote Beyer on Twitter.

The stalled negotiations have led to a lapse in unemployment aid for millions of Americans who were previously receiving $600 per week as the pandemic keeps many out of work. While Mnuchin has seemingly been optimistic the two sides can make a deal, Meadows hasn't budged on insisting Democrats lower their demands and "come back with a counterproposal." Talks could be further delayed, in part because Meadows is reportedly "out for the week." Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

10:53 a.m.

Madeleine Westerhout, the former director of Oval Office operations in the Trump administration, has a new book coming out on Tuesday in which she reveals she didn't vote for her old boss in 2016 because his "values didn't seem to align with my own."

But that anecdote apparently didn't bother President Trump, who has a history of rebelling against the books his former aides have written about their time in the White House. Instead, he called the publication a "great new book" and "an honest depiction" of the Trump White House. That's probably because despite her initial skepticism about the president, Westerhout said she soon realized she was wrong and now considers herself a big supporter of the president, even though she lost her job last year.

It's not the first time Trump has brushed off comments from Westerhout. The reason she was fired was because she once boasted to reporters that she believed she had a better relationship with Trump than his own daughters, but Trump called Westerhout a "very good person" and forgave her — though not enough to save her job. Tim O'Donnell

9:42 a.m.

It's time for a geography lesson with President Trump.

During an interview with Fox Sports on Tuesday, the president was asked about the situation in Hong Kong, where in recent months China has cracked down with a new national security law that threatens the city's autonomy, and where Hong Kong authorities arrested media tycoon Jimmy Lai earlier this week. Trump didn't exactly echo his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, who previously said the U.S. is "deeply troubled" by Lai's arrest. He instead complained Hong Kong had made "a lot of money" the U.S. could have made because of "tremendous incentives."

But he did briefly wade into the political situation, simply to say that it's "a little bit tough from certain standpoints" because, when looking at a map, Hong Kong is "attached to" mainland China. And, well, there's no arguing with that. Tim O'Donnell

9:19 a.m.

Democrats announced the lineup of speakers at next week's Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, and all the usual suspects are included — former President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and several ex-presidential candidates, like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

But there's one name missing from the list that has pundits in a tizzy: Susan Rice, the Obama-era diplomat who is reportedly a top pick for vice president.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hasn't announced his runningmate yet, and as he continues to punt the announcement, speculation has been escalating. He's already committed to selecting a woman, and is under some pressure to select a Black woman. But while another top contender, Harris, is listed as a speaker at the DNC, Rice is nowhere to be seen, despite her prominence and renewed spotlight as a VP possibility. Could she be the unnamed "Vice Presidential Nominee" slotted to speak on Wednesday?

It's far from hard evidence, but with analysts hungry for an update in the veepstakes, it's hard to ignore. The DNC is set to begin on Monday, and will largely consist of pre-recorded videos and virtual appearances, to avoid the originally-planned gathering in Milwaukee. Delegates have been asked to stay home, and Biden is expected to accept the nomination from Delaware. Summer Meza

Editor's note: This story has been updated to note Biden's plan to attend the DNC virtually.

9:04 a.m.

President Trump's reasoning for why college football should happen this fall probably wouldn't satisfy a lot of folks in the medical and infectious disease research communities.

The president in an interview with Fox Sports on Tuesday said the season, which is in jeopardy because of the coronavirus pandemic, should be played because COVID-19 'just attacks old people,' especially those with other issues.

It is true that the coronavirus is much more deadly for older people with underlying issues, but young people, even athletes, could get quite sick from the pathogen. Indeed, one of the main reasons the NCAA's so-called 'Power 5 conferences' are contemplating postponing play until, they hope, the spring is because of a rare heart condition called myocarditis that's been linked to COVID-19. Boston Red Sox Eduardo Rodriguez, who contracted the virus, has been sidelined for the entire 2020 Major League Baseball season with the condition, for example. In other words, death is not the only risk. Tim O'Donnell

8:21 a.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a new chemical Monday for use in repelling mosquitos, ticks, and other disease-bearing insects. The newly approved chemical, nootkatone, is a nontoxic oil found in Alaskan yellow cedars (Cupressus nootkatensis) and grapefruits, and it is so aromatic and safe for humans it is used in foods and perfumes. "If you drink Fresca or Squirt, you've drunk nootkatone," Ben Beard, deputy director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells The New York Times.

The CDC discovered that nootkatone repels mosquitos, ticks, bedbugs, and fleas, and might also work against lice, sandflies, and other pests, 25 years ago. In high enough concentrations, the oil can kill bugs resistant to synthetic insecticides like DDT and pyrethroids. And it last as long as the synthetic chemicals, unlike other plant-based oils, like citronella and peppermint oil, whose effects wear off after about an hour, says Iowa State University inset toxicology expert Joel Coats. Still, Coats said, his lab has found nootkatone to be "an impressive repellent but a weak insecticide."

The after Oregon State University and CDC scientists discovered the repellant properties of nootkatone, the CDC licensed its patent to a Swiss company, Evolva, the Times reports. Getting EPA approval to use the oil as an active ingredient in insect repellants or insecticides was too expensive a process until the Zika epidemic hit in 2015 and Congress set aside money for mosquito control. That funding "was the key to moving the boulder up the hill," Beard told the Times. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads