Archive

February 6th, 2016

Iowa narrows the presidential field

    Iowa doesn't pick nominees. It eliminates candidates.

    Sometimes that happens quickly: On Monday night, Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican Mike Huckabee announced immediately that they were out.

    Sometimes it happens more slowly. Iowa Republicans just sent a strong signal to New Hampshire and national Republicans that only two candidates remain viable: Ted Cruz, who finished first with 28 percent of the vote, and Marco Rubio, who as of this writing is in third place with 23 percent, just barely behind Donald Trump.

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Paul: Not the 'most interesting man in politics'

    American presidential politics will not be having a libertarian moment after all. Sixteen months after Time magazine branded Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) "The Most Interesting Man in Politics," Paul has suspended his campaign for the White House - due to lack of interest.

    Paul got a mere 4.5 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses, underperforming his dad Ron Paul's 2012 result by 17 points. At the time he quit, Rand Paul was polling at about 2 percent in New Hampshire, the "Live Free or Die" state that was once thought to be receptive to his message.

    What went wrong? The Paul phenomenon was always overblown. The theory, believed or at least entertained by a surprisingly large number of people, was that young voters and minorities could be attracted to the GOP by Paul's heterodox policy mix - free-market economics, drug-war relaxation, defense budget shrinkage and international nonintervention.

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In an Iowa high school, a lesson in democracy

    On Monday night, the Stilwell Junior High School in West Des Moines, a suburb of Iowa's state capital, was repurposed as the 114th precinct for Democrats and Republicans to caucus for the first-in-the-nation presidential nomination contest. The Democrats' chaotic gathering was in the cafeteria, the more sedate Republicans were in the auditorium. Both spaces were chock-full: The 2016 election left few Iowans indifferent.

    Scott Hale, the chairman of the Democratic caucus who has been running such proceedings since 1992, said he'd never seen so many new voters. Despite his preparations, he even seemed at risk of running out of registration forms at one point.

    Pollsters and commentators had predicted that the enthusiasm of the previously politically inactive would benefit Bernie Sanders, and many of the 111 new voters made their way to the corner of the room designated for the Vermont senator (at Democratic caucuses, each candidate's supporters stand in their own corner of the room). "I like socialism," said Emma Griffiths, 21, a community college student. "I like what Bernie says about banks and about the minimum wage."

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Let’s End Torture in U.S. Prisons

    Solitary confinement is exactly what it sounds like.

    A prisoner is kept in a small cell — usually 6 feet by 10 — alone, for 23 hours a day.

    For one hour a day, he or she may be taken into a small cage outside, with the opportunity to walk in circles before being taken back in. Even the outdoor cage can usually be opened and closed remotely.

    The idea is to keep the prisoner from having any human interaction. Those who’ve been through it call it a “living death.” The United Nations calls it torture.

    The practice is widespread in the United States. And until recently, it was applied even to juveniles in the federal prison.

    In January, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for federal inmates under the age of 18. He also ordered new limits on the amount of time prisoners of any age can be caged up alone.

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How FBI blocks whistleblower fighting dismissal; new bill could help others

    Sometimes Uncle Sam's rules and regulations just don't make sense.

    Take the case of Darin Jones, a former FBI employee who said he was fired after making whistleblower disclosures about a $234,000 awards ceremony, improper procurement spending and a conflict of interest involving a former assistant director and computer help desk contract among other complaints.

    "I was wrongfully terminated from my GS-15 Supervisory Contract Specialist in retaliation for whistleblowing on August 24, 2012, the last day of my one year probationary period," Jones said.

    This story isn't about whether his allegations are right or wrong, but how the FBI and the Justice Department treats employees who, in good faith, make allegations about waste, fraud and abuse.

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It’s Not All in Your Head

    We often hear about public health crises related to poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. But what about chronic stress?

    Canadian physician Gabor Maté studies the mind-body connection. He argues that chronic stress plays a big role in the development of disease.

    It should come as no surprise that that emotions can impact physical health. When we’re sad, we cry. When we’re embarrassed, we blush. When we’re nervous, we might have lumps in our throats or butterflies in our stomachs.

    Clearly, our feelings aren’t just experienced in our heads.

    When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones impact our entire bodies. They stop digestion, suppress our immune systems, and mobilize energy to gear up for fight or flight.

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Hillary Clinton’s Dutiful Slog

    Late Monday, as the unfinished vote count suggested the slimmest of victories for Hillary Clinton, she stepped to a microphone, flashed an Oscar-worthy smile of triumph and told supporters that she was “breathing a big sigh of relief.”

    She wasn’t. She isn’t. And she definitely shouldn’t be.

    That’s not because what happened in Iowa — almost a tie between her and Bernie Sanders — substantially loosens her grip on the Democratic presidential nomination. Iowa was better terrain for Sanders than much of what lies ahead, and the dynamics that made her a heavy favorite to be the nominee before the state’s caucuses make her a heavy favorite still.

    But Iowa demonstrated, yet again, what a flawed and tarnished candidate she is. And on the Republican side, the caucuses augured the possibility of a retreat from the party’s craziness and the rise of an adversary, Marco Rubio, who could give her trouble in a general-election matchup.

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Government Keeps Rural West Going

    The 187,000 acres on which sits the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge never belonged to the state of Oregon, much less the band of cowboy exhibitionists who'd taken it over. This and other federal lands were acquired through conquest over, purchases from or treaties with Mexico, Russia, Spain, England, France and Native Americans.

    The federal government lets loggers, ranchers and other businesses make a subsidized living off public land, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The fees ranchers pay for grazing on federal land are considerably below those charged by private landowners. The government loses money on nearly all timber sales on public land.

    Now that we've gotten this off our chests, let's sympathize with the hardworking people of the rural West, losing a beautiful way of life to harsh economic realities. The growing poverty in the sparsely populated high desert of south central Oregon is shared by communities far from the region's booming cities.

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Drowning the Oil Industry

    With oil cheaper than bottled water, the average American driver saved $540 at the pump last year.

    But oil prices are also battering Alaska’s economy, rattling the stock market, and leaving thousands of workers in states like North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas jobless.

    Can things get any worse for the oil industry and the folks who rely on it? Sure.

    The biggest short-term reason is Iran. Having honored the terms of its landmark nuclear deal, the Middle Eastern nation is now at liberty to export more oil after years of sanctions. That’s why the commodity has slid as low as $26.55 a barrel — about half of what it fetched a year ago. And that was following a steep slide from the summer of 2014.

    Iran has oodles of oil ready to ship at a time when global producers are already pumping 2 million more barrels daily than consumers need. The market is also bracing for a long-term gusher. Iran, with the world’s fourth-largest reserves, could eventually ramp up its exports by another million barrels a day.

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From steadfast Iowa to contrarian New Hampshire

    Strong showings in the Iowa caucuses by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sent them roaring into next week's Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire with a head of steam at the expense of a deflated Donald Trump.

    On the Democratic side, the virtual tie between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders puts intense pressure on Clinton to rebound in New Hampshire and foreshadows a protracted struggle in a race she expected to dominate.

    New Hampshire is renowned for its independence and contrarian voting habits and anything can happen there. Trump and Sanders enjoy big polling leads that they now need to turn into New Hampshire victories. That will be a test of whether Sanders can retain the enthusiasm of his youthful supporters, and whether Trump fans still consider him a winner after losing the first contest of the 2016 campaign.

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