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We Finally Have Something to Thank Michele Bachmann For: She Killed the Iowa Straw Poll

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 1:51 PM EDT

Some interesting news today out of the Hawkeye State:

The Iowa straw poll, a political jamboree that has been a fixture in the Republican presidential nominating process for nearly four decades but has come under criticism in recent years, was cancelled Friday by state GOP leaders in a unanimous vote.

The Republicans cited a lack of interest in the event from leading presidential candidates and they said their decision will help preserve the importance of the Iowa caucuses, which are slated to be held early next year before any other state gets to vote.

It's the end of an era. Or, at least, the end of the nation's most famous state party fundraising extravaganza.

Now, it's not true, as you might expect, that the straw poll has always been won by some lunatic conservative with an unusually fanatical following, thus doing nothing except embarrassing all the legitimate candidates. Still, last time around the winner was Michele Bachmann. Maybe that was the death knell. More and more, the rise of the tea party meant that mainstream candidates were progressively less enthused about participating in an event they were likely to lose to a slavering mob. And for what? To help fund the Iowa GOP? There are easier ways of doing that.

Anyway, Ed Kilgore is my go-to guy to explain The Meaning Of It All for this kind of thing, but he hasn't weighed in yet. But maybe he has since I began typing this. Hold on a sec....ah yes, he's totally on top of things. Basically, the straw poll died for the reason everyone thinks it did: Because all the candidates got tired of it and didn't want to risk participating. And yet:

You could make arguments, however, that Fox News did in the Straw Poll by making it a distraction from the national campaigning necessary to qualify for the first debate, or that Erick Erickson did it in by counter-scheduling a presidential cattle call for the same weekend, or that Jeb Bush did it in by announcing he wouldn't be there practically before anybody had time to ask. The point is there were a lot of knives out for this event, and not enough determination among Iowa Republicans to blackmail candidates into participating or else.

Rest in peace, Iowa straw poll. In the age of Facebook and micro-targeting, you were a dinosaur. You won't be missed.

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Dear Twitter: There's No Need to Piss Anyone Off. Why Not Give Us Two Kinds of Timelines?

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 12:57 PM EDT

Twitter is getting a new CEO, so it must be time for some bold new directions. But what should Twitter do? Here's a suggestion that I've read at least half a dozen times in the past couple of days:

Right now, Twitter displays tweets in strict reverse chronological order, but [Chris] Sacca encourages Twitter to relax this assumption. Instead, when a user logs in, the platform should show a selection of the most interesting and insightful tweets that would have appeared on the user's timeline since the last check-in.

The counterargument here is that a more accessible version of Twitter already exists. It's called Facebook, and it's wildly popular. The danger is that aping Facebook might alienate existing users more quickly than it attracts new ones.

I totally get this. I only follow 200 people on Twitter, and even at that it's like a firehose. All I can do is dip into it whenever it happens to cross my mind. This means that once an hour or so I see 10 or 20 random tweets, and then go back to whatever I was doing. I almost certainly miss lots of stuff I'd be interested in.

At the same time, chronological order is pretty handy if you're having a conversation, or some kind of news is breaking. I wouldn't want to give that up.

But why should I? Is there really any technological barrier to having both? I'd love to toggle back and forth. Maybe I'd take a look at the algorithmic feed once an hour to see if I've missed anything important, and then switch to the chronological feed if something was going on or if I just felt like randomly dipping in to the firehose. Sometimes random is good, after all. It keeps you out of a rut.

So....what's the deal here? Why can't we have both?

UPDATE: Atrios comments here. FWIW, I blame Apple.

The Iowa Straw Poll Is Dead. Good Riddance.

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 11:59 AM EDT

The Iowa Straw Poll, a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Iowa that advertised itself as a pivotal proving ground for the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, died on Friday. It was 36.

Per the Des Moines Register:

The governing board for the Republican Party of Iowa voted unanimously Friday to cancel the straw poll, a milestone on the path to the White House that had passed the strategic tipping point. It was no longer a political risk for presidential campaigns to walk away from the straw poll, and too many of the 2016 contenders had opted to skip it for it to survive.

It was a brilliant scheme while it lasted—at least for the state party. Candidates would shell out tens of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of admission for supporters (or people who claimed to be supporters). They'd even bus them in from distant corners of the state in the hopes that the free ticket, transportation, and food would buy them loyalty in the voting booth. If it happened on Election Day, it'd be a scandal. (This is a state that spent $250,000 to prevent people from voting.) But in August in Iowa, it was just folksy.

The straw poll was not a good predictor of who would win the GOP primary, though. Only one victor (Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999) ever went on to win the party's nomination. Maybe that's why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two of the GOP's leading candidates, decided not to participate. (Even Mike Huckabee, whose strong straw poll performance in 2007 presaged his victory in the caucuses, said he wouldn't spend resources to compete at the event.) The straw poll was a test, and the only way to pass was to recognize that you didn't have to take it.

But it was also a victim of its own success. Now conservatives don't have to wait until the straw poll to see their favorite candidates in one place, and interest groups within the party are getting into the business themselves. Weekend cattle calls are the new normal, whether it's a meet-and-greet with the Koch donor network, ribs at Sen. Joni Ernst's motorcycle barbecue, an appearance to Erick Erickson's RedState Gathering, or even a trip to Disney World.

TPP and Chemo Brain: My Story

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 11:51 AM EDT

You may be wondering what I think of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All the cool kids are talking about it these days. Unfortunately, I don't really have a position because I haven't studied it enough.

But perhaps that will change soon. You may not have noticed, but yesterday was a miniature milestone for me. My post about Paul Ryan and Obamacare was the first time in months that I wrote a fairly analytical piece based on actual research. It was hardly an academic white paper or anything, but it's the kind of post I haven't really trusted myself to write ever since chemo brain took over my life. However, this week seems to have been a bit of a turning point. I still expect ups and downs, but I feel a bit better and sharper and able to write more. My concentration is a little more acute and I have a bit more energy. Progress! (I hope.)

Anyway, that's a long way of saying that until now I just haven't been up to the task of seriously evaluating the TPP. So I'll say just this much: I am in favor of fast-track promotion. If it were up to me, I'd make it permanent, since it's obvious that no treaty can ever be negotiated without it. But am I in favor of actually passing TPP? I'm not sure.

Bottom line: yes to an up-or-down vote, because that's just common sense. But I'm unsure about how I'd like to see that vote go. Maybe I'll dig into it a bit over the weekend.

Local NAACP President Is Lying About Being Black, Parents Say

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 11:25 AM EDT

The president of a local NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, is currently under investigation after her parents, both of whom are white, publicly accused her of lying about being African American.

On Thursday, the city announced it was looking into the allegations of whether Rachel Dolezal, who also serves as the chair of Spokane's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission and is an adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, violated the city's code of ethics by falsely identifying herself as African-American in order to serve as chair.

The controversy erupted earlier this week, when Dolezal's parents, Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal, announced that their daughter was fabricating her ancestry. In fact, they say, she is part Swedish, Czech, and German with "traces" of Native American heritage. Her parents supported their claims with official documents including a birth certificate presented to CDA Press

"It is very disturbing that she has become so dishonest," Ruthanne said in a recent phone interview with CDA Press.

There are other problems as well. For example, a photo posted on the Spokane NAACP chapter's Twitter account earlier this year shows Dolezal with an African-American man identified in the caption as her father. When asked about the allegations and the photo by a KXLY reporter, Dolezal was evasive and then abruptly walked away.

The photo, which has since been removed, can be seen below:

In an interview published by the Seattle Times on Thursday, Dolezal called the allegations a "multi-layered" issue and again did not respond to any direct questions.

Instead she struck a more philosophical note, saying, "There's a lot of complexities and I don't know that everyone would understand that. We're all from the African continent."

Are Police in Baltimore Sulking Over Indictments in Freddie Gray Case?

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 11:16 AM EDT

Crime has increased significantly in Baltimore since the Freddie Gray funeral. Police say it's because of a spike in drug gang warfare. But it also appears to be a result of a deliberate pullback by police officers who are angry at seeing their own members indicted for Gray's death. Alex Tabarrok produces the chart on the right that illustrates the sudden drop in arrests right at the time of Gray's funeral and the indictments of the officers a few days later.

Is this drop legitimate, because it now takes more officers to handle a single incident? Or is it the drug war? Or is it a deliberate attempt by police to slow down, work to rule, and create a vivid demonstration of what happens when you mess with the thin blue line? I don't know, but when you look at the sharp line on that chart it's hard not to think the latter is part of it, just as we've seen before in Ferguson and New York City. And the more of these petulant outbreaks we see, the harder it gets to sympathize with the police. Much harder. Tabarrok also fears a possible long term problem:

With luck the crime wave will subside quickly but the longer-term fear is that the increase in crime could push arrest and clearance rates down so far that the increase in crime becomes self-fulfilling. The higher crime rate itself generates the lower punishment that supports the higher crime rate....Once the high-crime equilibrium is entered it may be very difficult to exit without a lot of resources that Baltimore doesn’t have. I have long argued that high-crime areas need more police but the tragedy is that they also need high-quality policing and that too is made more difficult to achieve by strained budgets and strained police.

Stay tuned. The police slowdown is a dangerous and juvenile tactic that could backfire very easily if it keeps up. That would be bad for Baltimore and bad for the Baltimore PD.

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Breaking: House Delivers Stunning Blow to Obama's Trade Deal

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 6:15 AM EDT
Demonstrators outside the Capitol.

Update (6/12/15): The House narrowly voted in favor of passing the TPA legislation, 219-211, but not before House Democrats voted against a bill originally part of TPA legislation in the Senate. By voting against the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, intended to compensate workers who are displaced by trade agreements, Democrats force the TPA legislation back to the Senate—where it likely will not pass.

The House is expected to vote today on the "fast track" trade authority bill that would allow the Obama administration to finish negotiating several major trade agreements now under discussion, including the divisive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

While every other president from Ford onward has been granted similar powers, today's vote has turned out to be anything but routine. Critics who oppose the TPP and other pending agreements are working to stop the bill—and thwart the anticipated trade deals.

The fast-track process was set out in 1974's Trade Act, which empowered Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority bills—like the one slated to be voted on today—that allow presidents to negotiate and sign trade deals with less involvement from the legislative branch. Congress still gets to vote yes or no on any final agreement, but amendments are generally prohibited. In exchange, TPA bills let legislators lay out trade priorities and negotiating objectives for the president, and set requirements on how and how often the administration must check in while negotiations are underway.

This TPA, if passed, will guide presidential trade negotiations through 2021. It builds upon a bill that expired in 2007, and is likely more complex than any other in history, expanding congressional oversight and consultation while including new provisions on intellectual property, cross-border data protection, and the environment and human rights. It also increases transparency, requiring presidential administrations to make agreements public 60 days before signing them.

Though it passed the Senate by a vote of 62 to 37 in May, today's House vote is expected to be much closer. Some Republicans have said they may vote against fast-track authority because they aren't eager to hand over more power to the Obama administration. Many Democrats are opposing the bill, citing concerns that it doesn't do enough to prevent overly secret deals and the expanded corporate power that could come with them.

If the House does vote to reestablish fast-track authority, it would likely ease the finalization of several notable trade agreements, including the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a new agreement with the European Union; the Trade in Services Agreement, an initiative being negotiated between 23 economies focused specifically on service industries like telecommunications and tech; and, of course, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretive trade agreement involving 12 countries that together account for 40 percent of global GDP.

Unions, environmentalists, digital rights advocates, and other advocacy groups have campaigned heavily against the Pacific deal—and the TPA that would allow negotiations to move forward. Critics have suggested the trade deal could bring environmental and labor abuses, reduce internet freedom, increase the cost of certain medications, and expand "investor-state-dispute settlements"—tribunals where companies can seek damages from taxpayers when US regulations interfere with their business. Backers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership insist that the agreement will be huge boon for the economy and increase the US national income by $77 billion annually.

Despite the opposition, House Republicans are confident the bill will pass. If it fails, its possible that negotiations on the TPP could continue—but not without major complications.

The Big Source of Pollution That No One Talks About

| Fri Jun. 12, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

When most of us think about air pollution, we imagine smog emanating from cars, trucks, and power plants. But oceangoing ships are also a major source of pollution around the world, and according to a new study, they're emitting toxic chemicals that can cause major health problems.

One study estimated that 60,000 deaths every year are related to particulate matter emissions from marine shipping.

A team of German researchers from the University of Rostock has found that emissions from ships can be even more dangerous than emissions from cars and trucks, causing damage to cells in our bodies that can lead to serious diseases like lung cancer, heart problems, and diabetes. In a study published by the Public Library of Science earlier this month, the researchers said ship engines that burn heavy fuel oil, the cheapest and most common kind of ship fuel, emit heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and carcinogenic fine particles.

These substances have been connected with inflammation, the body's natural response to pathogens that, over time, can lead to a wide range of chronic diseases. Exposure to pollution from heavy fuel oil can also encourage oxidative stress, a state in which the body is not able to fully counteract or detoxify the harmful presence of free radicals, and which can lead to everything from neurodegenerative diseases to cancer and gene mutations. Unfortunately, this cheap, dirty fuel is not the only culprit: The researchers also found that even the burning of diesel fuel, generally seen as a cleaner source of power, emits toxins that can change basic cellular functions in the body like energy and protein metabolism.

Exposure to shipping pollution takes a huge toll globally. In 2007, one study estimated that 60,000 deaths every year are related to particulate matter emissions from marine shipping, with most deaths occurring near coastlines in Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Still, the United States isn't exactly winning medals for clean ports, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. In a 2004 report, the environmental advocacy group lamented that marine ports were among the country's most poorly regulated sources of pollution, with the Port of Los Angeles emitting far more smog-forming pollutants than all the power plants in the Southern California region combined.

Since then, ports have taken some steps to curb emissions, in part by allowing ships to plug in to onshore power sources, rather than idling their engines. But overall, pollution regulations in the United States have focused more strongly on cleaning up our roads. The German researchers suggested that it may be time to re-evaluate our strategy. "Due to the substantial contribution of ship emissions to global pollution, ship emissions are the next logical target for improving air quality worldwide, particularly in coastal regions and harbour cities," they wrote.

Judge Finds Probable Cause to Charge Cleveland Cops With Tamir Rice's Death

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 5:21 PM EDT

A Cleveland judge said Thursday that he believes there is probable cause to charge the officers involved in Tamir Rice's death with homicide.

Judge Ron Adrine's "advisory" opinion follows a push by community members to bypass prosecutors by directly appealing to a judge.

Adrine found that probable cause existed to sustain charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against officer Timothy Loehmann and of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against officer Frank Gamback.

Though the decision whether to actually prosecute the officers remains up to prosecutors, Thursday's development was welcomed by Rice's family. "We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government," family attorney Walter Madison told the Guardian.

This is a developing story...

GOP Senator: Lindsey Graham Is a "Bro With No Ho"

| Thu Jun. 11, 2015 4:40 PM EDT

After announcing he'd have a "rotating first lady" if elected to the White House, forever bachelor Sen. Lindsey Graham is taking some heat from fellow Republicans. But not for the reasons you might think.

"Did you see that?" Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said on Thursday, caught forever by a hot mic. "He's going to have a rotating first lady. He's a bro with no ho."

Kirk's comments, recorded by Huff Post's Sam Stein, are relatively innocuous. What could possibly be wrong with two male Republican senators in their fifties using words like "rotating" and "ho" to describe their non-game. Compared to them, Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" looks positively respectful.

Meanwhile in the real world, Graham is "dying" for the debate on abortion rights with his push for a 20-week abortion ban. Slaying it with the ladies, Lindsey.