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Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

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

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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.

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