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Crowded field
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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich prefers American Idol to Dancing With the Stars, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty prefers Coke to Pepsi. These were some of the revelations from an otherwise staid first debate involving Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire on June 13. Less clear: How the GOP candidates differed from each other, and how they plan to set themselves apart in a field that's drawn a lackluster response from Republican voters. Seven Republicans declared presidential runs by mid-June: Gingrich, Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman planned to announce his bid for the White House on June 21. Romney, who lost a bid for the GOP nomination in 2008, snagged an early lead among Republican candidates, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin polling second place. Though Palin didn't participate in the debate, Pawlenty may have encouraged competition by declaring that Palin is qualified for the presidency.

Quits

Newt Gingrich's already flailing presidential campaign all but collapsed mid-June when his senior campaign staff resigned en masse. The 16 who quit included longtime staffers like spokesman Rick Tyler, who explained, "There was a path to victory. Newt had a different path." The senior staff had privately objected to Gingrich's decision to go on a cruise in the Greek isles with his wife Callista just as the campaign was starting-and speculation ran that some might be jumping ship to a possible presidential run by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Gingrich has vowed to continue his campaign and kept to plans to headline summer Republican gatherings.

Rising waters

A cool, wet spring has led to threats of flooding this summer in Mountain and Midwest states. In Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and other prairie states, memories of massive flooding in 1993 had residents of towns along the Missouri River rushing to strengthen levees and build sandbag barriers as waters rose in June. The problem is May rains-Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas had between 8 and 16 inches. But another problem is the massive snowpack that heavy snowfalls built in the Rocky Mountains over the winter. As it melts, runoff threatens to flood mountain states and states downstream along the Missouri. Cooler-than-normal temperatures have slowed the melt-so far. "But if at any point, we flip that summer switch [to 90-degree days], it could melt 3 to 4 inches a day," Scott Baird, flood engineer for Salt Lake County, Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "That's the equivalent of raining 3 to 4 inches a day for an extended period."

Blue dog blues

Since its founding in 1995, the so-called conservative wing of U.S. House Democrats, the Blue Dogs, has enjoyed growing influence on Capitol Hill with 54 members by 2008. But two years later the Blue Dog pack is down to less than two dozen after Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren announced June 7 that he would not seek a fifth term. He is the second departing Blue Dog this year, highlighting the difficulty moderate lawmakers face to survive in a Democratic Party that is increasingly liberal, particularly in its leadership ranks. Boren's retirement, at 37, will likely lead to a Republican pickup: Boren was the only Democrat in his state's congressional delegation. Others may fall victim to the ongoing redistricting process.

Opting out

Obamacare does not fully begin until 2014, but already there are signs that the law may turn employee-provided health insurance plans into an endangered species. A recent study reveals that 30 percent of employers say they are likely to quit offering health insurance to their workers once the new federal requirements kick in. The McKinsey & Co. findings confirm fears that nationalized healthcare will force many employees off of corporate insurance and onto government-sponsored plans, drastically altering the healthcare landscape. Currently more than 1,300 companies have been granted one-year exemptions from early elements of the federal law that forces companies to expand their benefits. But such waivers may end in 2014. So companies are hinting that they will choose to pay a federal fine for not offering insurance rather than try to comply with the more costly requirements under government-approved insurance plans. The study also concluded that the likelihood an employer will stop offering healthcare benefits increases the more that employer learns about details of the new law.

Out with the new

In its final report on the 2011 New International Version (NIV), the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) said it is not a "sufficiently reliable English translation." The CBMW noted its improvements over Today's New International Version (2002, 2005) and said the translation process showed "transparency and openness." But "the 2011 NIV retains 2,766 (or 75 percent) of the TNIV's problematic gender-related translations that led CBMW, and eventually the larger evangelical world, to reject the TNIV." The CBMW concluded, "Unless Zondervan changes its mind and keeps the current edition of the 1984 NIV in print, the 2011 NIV will soon be the only edition of the NIV that is available. Therefore, unless Zondervan changes its mind, we cannot recommend the NIV itself." Southern Baptists, meeting in Phoenix for their annual convention, also passed a resolution saying they could not recommend the 2011 NIV.

Most dangerous man

The Somali soldiers working a checkpoint in Mogadishu did not realize who they had killed. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and another man arrived at the checkpoint in a luxury car, and when one pulled a pistol the soldiers fired on them. Sophisticated weapons, maps, other materials, plus tens of thousands of dollars found in the car-along with later DNA testing-confirmed that one of the men killed was Mohammed, a lead al-Qaeda operative. The Somalian had topped the FBI's most-wanted list for 13 years and had a $5 million bounty on his head for planning the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings that killed 224 in Kenya and Tanzania. It was the third major strike in six weeks against al-Qaeda: Following Osama bin Laden's May killing, a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed Ilyas Kashmiri, wanted in connection with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Mohammed, according to Bill Roggio, managing editor of The Long War Journal, "is considered by U.S. intelligence officials to be al-Qaeda's most dangerous operative in Africa."

Interference

Ahead of elections in Zimbabwe-announced for this year but as yet unscheduled-President Robert Mugabe has launched a crackdown on political opponents, including churches. Four Anglican priests and 11 church wardens were arrested June 1 for interfering when a Mugabe ally tried to take over the home of the rector of St. Mary's Church in Harare. Mugabe has clashed with Anglican leaders in Africa since they excommunicated his longtime ally, Nolbert Kunonga, as bishop of Harare in 2008. In April a truckload of riot police fired tear gas and stormed a Nazarene church sanctuary in Harare where about 500 Christians from area churches had gathered for a prayer service on behalf of the country. One participant was shot dead by police and about 100 arrested.

Mugabe and his party's Zanu-PF forces have stepped up pressure against churches for their failure to support his regime-in a country where nearly 80 percent of the population are Christians-even as he seems unable to pull off elections slated for 2011. Some congregations report that church leaders have been pressed to sign petitions opposing international economic sanctions against Mugabe. And the 87-year-old president, who himself was Jesuit-educated, has turned from his own Catholic church and increasingly aligned himself with renegade figures like Kunonga or the growing vapostori, a cult-like movement.

Syria's crackdown

Thousands of pro-government demonstrators hoisted a mile-long Syrian flag in downtown Damascus on June 15 in a rare show of public support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. But elsewhere in the country anti-government protesters entered their third month of open agitation against Assad's regime, despite military crackdowns and a growing refugee crisis. Syrian security forces shot dead at least 34 demonstrators in the town of Hama on June 10, with snipers firing into crowds coming and going to Friday prayers. Elsewhere security forces have deployed tanks to surround towns and cut off internet and cell phone service. Human-rights groups say that Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since Syrians first began their own wave of "Arab spring" protests against Assad's longstanding, repressive regime. And across the border, Turkish authorities reported over 8,000 Syrians have turned up in camps as refugees.

Flood season

The first week of Atlantic hurricane season brought heavy rain, mudslides, flooding, and death to quake-ravaged Haiti. Officials reported at least 28 people died in storms that flooded towns and destroyed homes. Residents in Port-au-Prince reported floodwaters reaching 4 feet high in parts of the capital, and aid groups scrambled to evacuate vulnerable earthquake victims from low-lying tent cities.

Some 680,000 Haitians remain in tents more than 18 months after its devastating earthquake, and newly elected President Michel Martelly faces urgent pressure to form plans for long-term recovery, including sustainable housing. Aid groups reported also a spike in cholera. Officials from Doctors Without Borders said the group treated more than 2,500 cholera patients in Port-au-Prince during the first week of June-an increase from around 300 cases a week in April. Aid workers distributed hygiene kits, but more rain could worsen the spread of the waterborne disease that has killed more than 5,400 people-and sickened over 330,000-since October.

Fire and snow

An abandoned campfire may have started the largest wildfire in Arizona history. Flames have burned more than 747 square miles since Memorial Day weekend, destroying 32 homes and four rental cabins. As it spread across state lines to northwestern New Mexico, authorities evacuated 200 residents from the town of Luna. Scant winter precipitation in Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas, and southern Colorado is blamed on La Niña, a climate phenomenon where cooler waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean keep the jet stream from dipping down and bringing storms to the region. Instead, rain and snow further north have left record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range in California and in the Rockies.

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