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July 4 2015 8:59 PM

Bernie Sanders Gains on Clinton in Early-State Polls, Hits Iowa Patriotic Parade Circuit

On Saturday night, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wrapped up a three-day charm offensive that took him through a half-dozen counties in Iowa. He brought standing-room crowds to small-town cafes and his Fourth of July schedule was packed with parades, with hours spent carrying banners with small armies in matching Bernie shirts and shaking hands in a state where his standing in the polls seems to be growing by the day.

Sanders didn't manage to replicate the astonishing turnout that packed his rally in a Madison, Wisconsin arena this week, if only because venues that size are harder to find down in Iowa, but his 2,500-strong crowd in Council Bluffs on Friday is reportedly the largest so far of any 2016 candidate who's visited the state.

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Conceding in their headline that "OK, now Hillary Clinton seems to have some problems in Iowa," the Fix laid out poll numbers showing that Sanders' impressive crowds seem to be driven by a trend upward in support, at least in Iowa. Clinton still has a 19-point lead over Sanders in the state, 52-33, in the latest Quinnipiac poll, but that's not great news for a candidate who was ahead by 45 in May.

Sanders is gaining Iowa's support largely at Clinton's expense, not only from voters who identify themselves as very liberal but also from women. Clinton is showing "a 12-point drop among women, in a poll with a margin of error of 3.6 points," Philip Bump writes for the Fix. "It's real." 

In Lebanon, New Hampshire on Friday, the Union Leader reports that Clinton tried gamely to treat the press corps to ice cream but was met instead with questions about the adoring fans following around her closest competitor, who's within single digits in some recent New Hampshire polling.

Clinton had just come from an event at Dartmouth College in Hanover at which 850 people turned out. The turnout was high for a Clinton campaign stop in New Hampshire this go round, but nothing compared to the reported 10,000 people who turned out to see Sanders at a campaign stop in Wisconsin on Wednesday.

When asked for her reaction to Sanders' big crowds and why she is not drawing the same numbers, she simply said, "We each run our own campaigns and I always knew it would be competitive. I want to have free debate in the primary and caucuses around the country."

Clinton booster Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri went on MSNBC's Morning Joe last week to downplay Bernie's large crowds, saying that "Well, you know, Rand Paul’s father got massive crowds, Ron Paul. He got the same size crowds. Pat Buchanan got massive crowds. It's not unusual for someone who has an extreme message to have a following."

Even if McCaskill is right about that, there's still a cautionary tale in the Ron Paul example: the participatory structure of the Iowa caucuses allowed Paul's noisy faction to effectively stage a coup on the leadership of the state Republican party in 2012.

With a chance that Sanders has both noise and numbers in his favor, and with seven months left for him to win over voters in Iowa, Hillary should resist the urge to be dismissive of his newest fans as extremists and fanatics and start plotting to win them back to her side.

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July 4 2015 1:28 PM

Tunisia Declares State of Emergency More Than A Week After Beach Attack (Update)

Update, 1:55 p.m.: Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi gave a televised address on Saturday, saying that "exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures" while reportedly avoiding constitutional questions raised by the declaration of the state of emergency:

Original post, 1:28 p.m.: The office of Tunisia's president, Beji Caid Essebsi, declared a state of emergency in the country on Saturday, eight days after a shocking attack on a beach and hotel in the resort town of Sousse that killed 38 people, most of them British tourists. Authorities also announced this week that eight people were arrested on suspicion of cooperating with the 28-year-old assailant, Seifeddine Rezgui, who was killed by police. 

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AFP reports that the conditions imposed by Saturday's action include a ban on most public assemblies and labor strikes and that security forces will be authorized to "carry out raids on homes at any time of the day and to keep tabs on the media":

Independent political analyst Selim Kharrat questioned the timing of Essebsi's announcement, eight days after the beach attack, and warned that a state of emergency "could become an excellent tool of repression."
Tunisia has faced a post-revolution surge in jihadist violence in which dozens of police and soldiers have been killed.
The June 26 beach shooting was the second such rampage in three months, after another jihadist attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18 that killed 21 tourists and a policeman.

The government response will reportedly include a crackdown on militant recruiters working through houses of worship, with authories vowing to close 80 mosques that are "operating illegally or preaching extremist messages," according to Reuters.

July 4 2015 11:33 AM

Uber Shuts Down Ridesharing in France After Protests From Taxi Drivers

Several days after sometimes-volatile protests by taxi drivers who say Uber's service is not competing on a level playing field, the Los Angeles Times reports that Uber suspended the use of its ridesharing app in France on Friday.

The executive in charge of the company's operations in France said the decision to shut down UberPop while it waits for a court ruling was made partly in "the spirit of peace" but added that Uber had been unable to protect some of its drivers from suffering injuries during the protests. From the Times:

The cheap ride-share business, called UberPop in France, connects passengers with unregistered drivers, a move that has been met with anger from taxi drivers who must buy an expensive license that can cost up to $270,000 and who say the competition is destroying their livelihood. Other Uber services using professional drivers were not affected by the decision, the company said.
Although ordered closed by French authorities, UberPop initially said it would not stop operating as it awaited a decision by the country's top court.
On Friday, [Uber France chief Thibaud] Simphal backtracked from that hard-line stance and suggested that the company would suspend its services until the court makes its ruling on the law that handles taxi competition, expected in September.
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Reuters notes that Uber has faced increasing scrutiny and restriction in recent months from authorities in European countries, including Italy and Germany, and that the company's flouting of the law in France had resulted in two of its executives being taken into custody.

The arrival of Uber in France has evidently brought political attention to one grievance that originates not with the people who drive taxis for a living, but from the people who pay to ride in them. Reuters adds that Prime Minister Manuel Valls, responding Friday to the announcement that UberPop was shutting down, admitted that France's licensed taxis often gave both locals and foreign visitors lousy service.

"Taxis need to reform too," Valls said, "to contribute to our country's attractiveness."

July 4 2015 9:17 AM

Mitt Romney Hosts Fourth of July Sleepover with Chris Christie, Marco Rubio

On Saturday morning, GOP primary rivals Chris Christie and Marco Rubio woke up under the same roof as they prepared to march in the same Fourth of July parade. And when they made their way downstairs for breakfast, they were likely greeted by a man who, in 2012, walked the same route in the final months of his own presidential campaign.

The Washington Post reports that Christie and Rubio joined Mitt Romney for a sleepover Friday night at Romney's Wolfeboro, New Hampshire vacation home. Both Christie and Rubio are set to appear Saturday in the local parade, one of the better-known Fourth of July celebrations in the early primary state and a perennial event for the Romneys.

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The Post's anonymous tipster, described as a Romney aide, said the former Massachusetts governor and his wife had "opened their home to their friends and look forward to celebrating America’s birthday." Just friends, mind you, not prospective endorsees: Time notes that Romney pledged at his "E2 Summit" in Utah last month, attended by Christie and Rubio, along with other would-be presidents, that he doesn't plan to pick sides in the 2016 GOP primary.

Gov. Christie told a New Jersey reporter Friday that he, his wife, and two of his four children would be crashing with the Romneys and predicted there would be "a little politics discussed tonight with Mitt and Ann." The Romneys, he said, had reached out to invite them after Christie signed on to march in the parade. 

Rubio's campaign declined to comment to the Associated Press about his Wolfeboro plans, but Rubio advisor Jim Merrill—also a veteran of Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns—tweeted a photo of the Florida senator and his wife with Mitt on Friday evening.

There's no word whether the candidates will declare the stay at the Romneys' six-bedroom lake house as an in-kind campaign donation on their next round of disclosure forms, or whether the extra guest house was used to put up Gov. Christie's protective detail, whose taxpayer-funded travel expenses have become a sore spot for voters back home. Eighty-two percent of New Jersey voters in a recent poll said Christie's campaign should be paying the extra costs of taking New Jersey state police officers and vehicles to his many out-of-state campaign events, which reportedly cost the state upwards of $185,000 in the first three months of 2015. Christie has so far refused, saying Wednesday that "we’re going to continue to conduct this in the same way I’ve always conducted it," with the state footing the bill.

July 3 2015 4:43 PM

Greek Expatriates Lobbying Friends Back Home, Flying In Ahead of Referendum Vote  

For some Greek expatriates, too invested in the country's upcoming referendum to just make phone calls and tweet to influence friends back home, this weekend will be taken up with travel. Reuters takes note of the subset of Greeks overseas making the journey to participate in the too-close-to-call election Sunday:

One airline put on extra flights and ticket prices have risen for expatriates who want to have a say in whether Greece accepts a cash-for-reform deal from international creditors or rejects it, potentially leading to a euro zone exit.
Konstantinos Dimitriou, a management consultant who lives in Singapore, is catching a plane early on Saturday and making the 19-hour journey back to Athens to vote 'Yes' to accept a deal.
"All the opportunities I got in my life to grow came in part from Greece's relationship with Europe, not just my Greek passport," he said.
He said the best man from his wedding was also flying back from New York to vote, as were two friends from Dublin and a former business partner from Sweden.
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The return of Greeks living abroad for the nationwide referendum might bring to mind the wave of Irish citizens that made it home to vote on their country's marriage equality referendum in May. While the result of the marriage vote might have been a source of pride for many Irish people, the Greeks are faced with a bleaker set of possible outcomes: securing continued international support under harsh austerity measures or a total default on debts and possibly a rocky exit from the euro zone.

On Friday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged citizens to choose an anti-austerity "No" vote as a way to "live in dignity in Europe" in the face of "those who terrorize you." The Greek media, meanwhile, could be attempting to boost public perception of growing support for the pro-Europe "Yes" side, according to the Los Angeles Times:

[N]early all the mainstream press and television stations in Greece have skewed their coverage or are openly in favor of the "yes" campaign, throwing in doubt just how fair Sunday's election will be. The snap referendum has already come under criticism for being called with too little notice by the left-wing Greek government—which is urging a "no" vote—to allow for proper campaigning and educating of voters.
"There is no doubt that the coverage is overwhelmingly biased," said Nikolas Leontopoulos, an independent journalist who has investigated Greece's power structure. The line between reporting and advocacy "has totally been blurred," he said.
On Thursday, for example, the privately owned Antenna network's evening newscast aired a montage of despairing retirees lining up at a bank to claim their pensions, which then cut to images of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his outspoken finance minister. Large red letters spelled out the word "shame" in Greek as ominous music played in the background.

The Times notes that one of the country's top broadcasters showed only "Yes" rallies in its news coverage, despite the fact that there were sizeable demonstrations on both sides, a bias likely attributable to the pro-bailout bent of the large business interests that control many Greek media outlets.

July 3 2015 1:33 PM

In Scott Walker's Wisconsin, Obama Urges Crowd to Flee to Democrat-Run Paradise In Minnesota

President Obama took advantage of a stop in La Crosse, Wisconsin on Thursday to get in on the fun of the 2016 presidential derby, telling an enthusiastic university crowd he's lost track of how many Republicans are running but that it's probably enough for "an actual Hunger Games. That is an interesting bunch."

Obama also stoked a regional rivalry while questioning the economic credentials and policy agenda of the "bus full" of contenders for the Republican presidential nominaton, particularly the state's conservative governor and as-yet undeclared candidate, Scott Walker.

We've seen what happens when top-down economics meets the real world. We've got proof right here in Wisconsin. There was a statewide fair-pay law that was repealed. The right to organize and bargain collectively was attacked. Per-student education funding was cut. Your minimum wage has been stuck in place. Meanwhile, corporations and the most fortunate few have been on the receiving end of hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax cuts over the past four years...
What happens when we try middle-class economics? Just across the river, it's a pretty interesting experiment. In Minnesota, they asked the top two percent to pay a little bit more. They invested in things that help everybody succeed, like all-day kindergarten and financial aid for college students. They took action to raise their minium wage and they passed an equal pay law. They protected workers' rights. They expanded Medicaid to cover more people.
Now, according to Republican theory, all those steps would've been bad for the economy, but Minnesota's unemployment rate is lower than Wisconsin's. Minnesota's median income is around $9,000 higher.
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Obama went on to quote an editorial in their hometown paper, the La Crosse Tribune, declaring that Minnesota "is winning this border battle." The divergence in economic fortunes of the two states has been noted for the past few years, as Democratic majorities in both chambers of Minnesota's legislature have steadily implemented progressive reforms in cooperation with a Democratic governor.

Republicans, Obama said, are like your "Uncle Harry" who says outlandish things at Thanksgiving. "You say, 'Uncle Harry, that makes no sense at all.' You still love him. He's still a member of your family, right? But you've got to correct him. You don't want to put him in charge of stuff."

The president hastily added that "if there's an Uncle Harry out here, I wasn't talking about you."

July 3 2015 9:16 AM

Boko Haram Raids Kill More Than 100 in "Reclaimed" Region of Nigeria

Terror group Boko Haram shot and killed more than 100 people this week in attacks on Nigerian towns that had been "recaptured this year from Boko Haram by a multinational army," the Associated Press reports. Some of the raids targeted mosques during services marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The attack Wednesday night on the town of Kukawa came the day after the Islamic extremist group attacked a village 35 kilometers (22 miles) away and killed another 48 men and boys, according to witnesses who counted the dead.
The people of Kukawa were in several mosques, praying ahead of breaking their daylong fast, when the extremists attacked. They killed 97 people, mainly men, said self-defense spokesman Abbas Gava and a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give information to reporters.
Gava said his group's fighters in Kukawa said some militants also broke into people's homes, killing women and children as they prepared the evening meal.
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The deadly attacks took place in the northeastern state of Borno, which was the site of Boko Haram's brazen kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a school in the town of Chibok in 2014. The incident focused attention on extremist violence in the region, with the hashtag #bringbackourgirls spreading around the world on Twitter and months of harrowing reports that the girls had been forced into "marriages" with members of Boko Haram, which opposes Western influence in Muslim countries and has aligned itself with ISIS.

A Nigerian military official told CNN that President Muhammadu Buhari's government had carried out airstrikes against Boko Haram after this week's attacks, and the defense ministry announced on Thursday that a businessman involved in the Chibok kidnapping had been arrested. Former president Goodluck Jonathan lost his re-election campaign this year amid accusations of a weak response to the Boko Haram threat. Shortly after his loss to Buhari, the Nigerian government announced that it had rescued the kidnapped girls

July 3 2015 3:43 AM

Study Finds Fourth of July Fireworks Are Breathtaking in More Ways Than One

Fourth of July is a boon for daredevils. Even ignoring the widespread drought in the West, it’s the No. 1 firefighting day of the year. Last year, more than 10,000 people were admitted to the hospital for fireworks-related injuries—with intoxicated underage boys a major accident-prone demographic.

Turns out, all those backyard pyromaniacs are contributing to a big health risk for those of us sitting back in the lawn chairs, too.

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A new study shows Fourth of July fireworks extravaganzas release huge amounts of pollution into the air. If the weather conditions are right, it’s enough to cause a health risk.

“I don’t think people in general see fireworks as a source of air pollution,” said the study’s lead author, Dian Seidel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. But think about it: “You’ve got these explosives going off in the atmosphere, which, essentially, I think is a source of emissions.”

Seidel and her colleagues at NOAA conducted a statistical evaluation of 315 air-quality-monitoring sites nationwide between 1999 and 2013, and they found a consistent spike in toxic levels of fine particulate matter to unhealthy levels at 10 sites, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Even nationally averaged, fine particulate matter pollution more than doubles on July 4th.

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There’s a big spike from fireworks-caused air pollution on July 4th, which leads to a doubling of fine particulate matter even when averaged over the entire country for multiple years.

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They aren’t the first researchers to link fireworks and pollution: In 2013, meteorologist Cliff Mass chronicled troubling fireworks-related pollution spikes in the Seattle area and noted that due to particularly stagnant atmospheric conditions, one monitoring station in Tacoma, Washington briefly rose “close to Beijing levels.”

Could one day actually make a difference in Fourth of July revelers’ health? Maybe. A 2011 study of fine particulate pollution spikes in Italy—exactly the kind studied by Seidel and Mass—was linked to an uptick in hospital admission for heart attacks. Exposure to high levels of fine particulate pollution can result in decreased lung function even in healthy people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Obama administration has proposed an updated rule on ground-level ozone, based on new science, that would clamp down on emissions from cars, power plants, and factories. Recently, there’s been pushback from the now billion-dollar-per-year pyrotechnics industry, which is likely overstating the proposed rule's potential impact on fireworks—which are typically not subject to Clean Air Act standards.

Current air pollution regulations typically allow for brief spikes like the ones Seidel’s team found, although a few state and local air quality agencies, like those in Las Vegas, Nevada and Lincoln, Nebraska, have issued pre-emptive advisories in the past warning of the dangers of breathing in too much fireworks smoke. Both cities did so again this year.

But most municipalities don’t officially consider fireworks an air pollution danger. A 2007 rule by the EPA classified fireworks displays into the category of “exceptional events,” one that is “not reasonably controllable or preventable.” Slate contacted the EPA for comment on the new study, and received the following statement:

Fireworks are sources of fine particle pollution, and past air quality monitoring has shown spikes of particle pollution levels in some communities as a result of large-scale fireworks displays. These spikes can be above the level of EPA's 24-hour health standard.

EPA recognizes the importance of fireworks on the Fourth of July and other significant holidays, and EPA's regulations allow states to request that related PM spikes not be counted in determining whether an area has violated the standard. Short-term exposure to fine particle pollution (hours to days) can pose health concerns, especially for groups of people more sensitive to PM2.5 pollution. So we caution those people to enjoy fireworks from a distance, and from upwind, to reduce their exposure. 

So basically, as long as you aren’t downwind of the fireworks on Saturday night, you should probably be OK?

July 2 2015 11:41 PM

More Than 70 Percent of Republicans Don’t Believe in Man-Made Global Warming

Is the sky blue? Is the Earth round? Is the world getting warmer because of people? Facts shouldn’t change based on what side of the political aisle you sit on, and yet … here’s some depressing news: Just 27 percent of Republicans believe the Earth is warming due to human activity compared to 71 percent of Democrats, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday.

Keep in mind that the majority of Americans agree that global warming is serious and real. The controversy hinges on who should take the blame—with many Republicans remaining skeptical that the answer is humans. Even the U.S. Senate, which voted this year that climate change was not a hoax (gold star for you, U.S. Senate!), can’t agree on the root cause of the phenomenon.

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The Pew report is just the latest piece of evidence reflecting the trend of political polarization in America: In the past two decades, we’ve drifted farther and farther apart based on political party. Though the science behind climate and energy issues hasn’t budged, our attitudes toward them continue to diverge.

For the report, Pew surveyed 2,002 adults in 2014 to determine the influence that key factors such as political ideology, age, race, and gender had on their political beliefs. Global warming proved one of the issues most sharply divided across party lines, along with other climate and energy issues including offshore drilling, fracking, and nuclear power. In fact, on these issues, party identification was more likely to determine a respondent’s stance than even their level of education or scientific knowledge.

Still, one would hope that more science education would coincide with greater support for science-based stances in general. And that was true to a point. Respondents with a greater understanding of science proved less afraid of scientific advancements and futuristic-sounding technologies: They were more likely to support using animals in scientific research, approve of expanding nuclear power, and consider genetically modified foods safe to eat. They were “especially likely” to approve using bioengineered organs for human transplant.

Fortunately, politics was not the only factor at play. When it came to other science-based issues—such as the safety of eating GMO foods, space travel, animal research, and biomedicine—respondents were far less likely to have their views determined solely by their political leanings. Unsurprisingly, in the case of evolution, religion played a central role in determining people’s stances. Interestingly, though, those same respondents didn’t necessarily use religion to determine their stances on other scientific topics.

The Pew report did reveal one surprising correlation between political parties about government spending and scientific research: The majority of both parties—83 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans—said government investment in scientific research paid off in the long run. Gold star for you, America!

July 2 2015 9:11 PM

Urbanization in Sardine-Packed Beijing Has Quadrupled the Size of Its Environmental Impact

With Beijing’s dense population and smoggy skies, it stands to reason that the Connecticut-sized city would be radiating an outsized environmental impact. But until now, we weren’t clear on just how bad it was.

Researchers from NASA and Stanford University recently estimated that the area directly affected by Beijing's urbanization has quadrupled in size from 2000 to 2009. So while the area we call Beijing has remained roughly the same size, its environmental influence has grown far larger. These findings, published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, draw on new computer models and data from NASA’s QuikScat satellite.

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From 2000 to 2014, Beijing’s population grew from around 11 million to 21 million—today packing as many people into one city as there are in all of Australia (or North Korea or Syria). Strangely, the study didn’t measure the effect of more greenhouse gas emissions released by these additional residents and their vehicles. Instead, it only measured the growth of physical infrastructure—for instance, new roads and buildings.

The changes in the city’s physical infrastructure had massive, compounding effects on its weather and climate. New roads, for instance, reduce the ground’s albedo, its ability to reflect light and heat away from the city, and buildings prevented air from circulating freely. Those effects have resulted in higher temperatures and lower wind speeds. Researchers found that winter temperatures had increased in the city by 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, while wind speeds were reduced by about 2 to 7 miles per hour, making the city air even more stagnant, according to the American Geophysical Union.

While Beijing is hardly the only major city dealing with these issues, the sardine-packed capital of China has become the poster child for out-of-control urbanization. Recently, its government has taken steps to curb its pollution and greenhouse gases, vowing to clean up more than 1,000 festering landfills and promote hybrid and electric vehicles. Unfortunately, neither will have much of an impact on the changes being wrought by the immense growth of its sheer physical infrastructure.

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