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John Hickenlooper Mulling Ending Presidential Bid to Run for Senate



CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado is in discussions about ending his presidential bid and entering the race for his state’s Republican-held Senate seat, potentially giving Democrats a strong candidate in a race they must win to have hopes of retaking the chamber in 2021, according to four Democrats familiar with his thinking.

Mr. Hickenlooper, who is mired at the bottom of public polling of the presidential race, hopped into Senator Michael Bennet’s car on Friday night in this Northern Iowa town to discuss his impending decision, said Democrats familiar with the discussion, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe confidential talks.

The two drove around Clear Lake for about 20 minutes ahead of the Wing Ding dinner, a Democratic fund-raiser that drew 21 presidential candidates. Aides and advisers to the two men, who have been both allies and rivals over their careers in Colorado politics, declined to reveal what was discussed.

[Who’s in? Who’s out? Keep up with the 2020 field with our candidate tracker.]

Officials who have been in discussions with the Hickenlooper campaign said Tuesday that the former two-term governor is giving serious consideration to switching to the Senate race but stressed that a final decision has not yet been made. Short of a massive change in political momentum, Mr. Hickenlooper is certain to fail to qualify for the next round of presidential debates in September, an additional blow to a campaign struggling to attract attention and financial contributions.

A spokesman for Mr. Hickenlooper, Peter Cunningham, declined to comment on the former governor’s plans or what was discussed during his Friday night drive with Mr. Bennet, who is also running for president. A Bennet aide also declined to comment on their discussion.

Recent days have brought unsubtle messages that high-ranking Democratic officials in Colorado and Washington believe Mr. Hickenlooper is in the wrong race.

The Denver Post on Sunday published polling done on behalf of “a national Democratic group involved in Senate races” that showed Mr. Hickenlooper holding a 51-point lead over two other Democrats in the state’s 2020 Senate race.

On Monday, the 314 Action Fund, a super PAC that backs candidates who are scientists, announced a “Draft Hick for Senate” campaign along with a poll it commissioned showing Mr. Hickenlooper leading Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican seeking re-election, by 13 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup.

[We asked Mr. Hickenlooper and other Democratic presidential hopefuls the same set of 18 questions. Watch them answer.]

Colorado is key to Democratic hopes of retaking a Senate majority in the 2020 election. Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, has spent months trying to recruit Mr. Hickenlooper to enter the contest to face Mr. Gardner. Mr. Hickenlooper would join a Democratic primary that already has 11 declared candidates, including Mike Johnston, a former state senator who placed third in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor; Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker; John Walsh, a former United States attorney for Colorado; and Dan Baer, a former Obama administration official.

Mr. Hickenlooper has pooh-poohed his interest in running for the Senate. In February he told reporters in Iowa that he is “not cut out to be a senator.”

Mr. Gardner is seeking a second term in office but faces headwinds in a state where President Trump is highly unpopular. In 2016 Mr. Trump lost Colorado to Hillary Clinton by five points. A July poll of likely Colorado voters from a Republican-aligned firm found Mr. Trump with a 39 percent approval rating in the state and concluded he trails a generic Democratic general election opponent by 12 percentage points.

Democrats must win a net of three Republican-held Senate seats and win the White House to take control of the Senate.

Mr. Hickenlooper in recent weeks has seen an exodus of senior campaign aides, who advised him in the spring to end his presidential bid if his fund-raising and polling status did not improve by the end of July. He qualified and participated in the first two televised debates in June and July, but his performances were not memorable and there has been little improvement in his fund-raising, according to people familiar with his campaign’s finances.

During the three-month fund-raising period that ended June 30, Mr. Hickenlooper raised $1.1 million and spent $1.7 million, an unsustainable pattern for a candidate who has not caught fire with voters. He had $800,000 in his campaign account at the end of June, according to his Federal Election Commission report.

Mr. Johnston and Mr. Baer each raised more campaign funds for their Senate campaigns in the second quarter than Mr. Hickenlooper did for his presidential bid.

Yet when he appeared before Democratic activists in Clear Lake Friday night, Mr. Hickenlooper appeared unbowed. Amid the sounds of people chattering and eating their baked beans and pulled pork, he said his case for the presidency relies on his stature as a chief executive untarred by Washington politics.

“My plan to beat Donald Trump is to start by looking at our history,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “No sitting senator has ever beaten an incumbent president. Go backwards with Clinton to Reagan to Carter to Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson, all former governors who defeated incumbent presidents. Just want to make that clear — governors are closer to the people.”

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The Right Answer? 8,186,699,633,530,061 (An Abacus Makes It Look Almost Easy)




KYOTO, Japan — The caller read out the numbers at a speed evoking an auctioneer on fast-forward, each multi-digit figure blurring into the next.

Within seconds, Daiki Kamino’s right arm shot up in the air, triumphant. Not only had he heard every number, he had tabulated them and arrived at the correct, 16-digit sum: 8,186,699,633,530,061.

He did it all on an abacus.

For this bit of mathematical virtuosity, Daiki, 16, a high school student from Hiroshima, was crowned champion in the dictation event at an annual tournament in Kyoto, where competitors pull off dazzling arithmetic feats simply by sliding tiny beads along rods set within modest wood frames.

Daiki is rangy and slightly awkward in that teenage boy kind of way. He loves Japanese comics known as manga, along with fantasy role-playing video games. But for the last eight years, he has spent up to three hours a day practicing on the abacus, or “soroban” in Japanese.

“There are times when I’m not in the mood,” he said. “But I start enjoying it once I start getting the right answers.”

“I listen and move my fingers and repeat the numbers in my head,” he added, trying to explain how he could possibly do what he does. “As soon I hear the unit like trillion or billion, I start to move my fingers.”

About 43,000 students take advanced soroban lessons at private schools in Japan, according to government estimates, although soroban associations say the number is higher. Many practitioners sit for exams to attain advanced qualifications known as kyu or dan, which are akin to belts in martial arts. Those who excel compete in national tournaments.

Showing the discipline of elite athletes, more than 800 contestants from across Japan, and a few from South Korea, gathered in an auditorium in Kyoto earlier this month to put their skills to the test.

The youngest competitor was 8, the oldest 69. Multiplying and dividing numbers with as many as 16 digits, their rapid clickety-clacks rippled across the room like a summer downpour.

For some events, the contestants dispensed with the physical soroban and mentally pictured the beads as they completed long pages of calculations.

One of the winners, a 20-year-old college student, broke his own Guinness World Record by adding in his head 15 three-digit numbers that flashed on a large screen at the front of the auditorium — all in 1.64 seconds.

Up until the early 1970s, elementary school children across Japan were taught proficiency on the soroban, which was adapted from versions brought from China in the 15th century. It was once a common tool among shop owners, bank tellers and company accountants, and proved resilient well after electronic calculators were introduced.

Some older shopkeepers who learned to use the soroban as children still rely on them. At Daigen, a sushi restaurant in Kyoto, Yuriko Kawahara, 69, added up the cost of several meals on an old wooden abacus. “It keeps her from going senile,” joked her husband and sushi chef, Tsumoru Kawahara, 69.

In the late 1970s, education officials, eager to bolster the population’s scientific and technological skills, significantly cut back on soroban instruction.

Today, textbooks mandated by the education ministry include only a couple of pages on the soroban. Students receive basic lessons for just two hours a year in third and fourth grade.

But advocates for soroban instruction are pushing the ministry to introduce the old-school devices earlier.

“For little kids it’s so easy to visualize numbers on the soroban,” said Yasuo Okahisa, deputy director of the League for Soroban Education in Japan, host of the Kyoto tournament.

“Unlike the computer or calculator, you have to watch the movement of the beads with your eyes, and then think with your brain and make a move with your fingers,” said Mr. Okahisa, as he slid the beads on an oversized abacus in the league’s office in Kyoto. “It’s a very foundational learning process.”

The soroban is made up of columns of beads, with each column standing for a place value like ones, hundreds, thousands and so on. One bead on the top of each column is worth five, while four on the bottom of each column are worth one each. Students add, subtract, multiply and divide by sliding the beads up and down.

Some educators say the main reason for teaching soroban is to preserve traditional Japanese culture.

But Yukako Kawaguchi, 44, who runs one of the approximately 6,500 private soroban schools nationwide with her husband, Yoshiharu Kawaguchi, 47, said those who study the soroban intensively develop a sense of achievement.

“They will be viewed as a smart kid in class, and that will give them confidence,” said Ms. Kawaguchi, a two-time national soroban champion who won her first competition when she was 14.

She admitted, though, that her soroban prowess did not help much in higher-level math like calculus. Today, aside from teaching, she mainly uses her mental soroban skills to add up grocery bills before she gets to the cashier.

On a recent afternoon during the first week of summer vacation for Japanese schoolchildren, about 30 students showed up at the school in east Tokyo.

A group of 5- to 9-year-olds crammed into a compact room, pinching beads between their thumbs and index fingers, their heads bent over work sheets filled with calculations of escalating difficulty.

Ms. Kawaguchi sat at a small desk at the front of the room. Students lined up in front of her for help.

Upstairs, Mr. Kawaguchi worked with the school’s most advanced students, two elementary-age girls who were preparing for the Kyoto competition.

For two and a half hours, he set them on timed drills. Their foreheads damp with sweat, they ran through long pages of multiplication and division, adding columns of figures and finding the square and cube roots of numbers with decimals out to the trillionth place, clicking their soroban beads at astonishing speeds.

Niko Shibayama, 11, who has been studying soroban since kindergarten, used both her thumbs to click the beads, rat-a-tat. When she put the abacus aside to work on mental math, she swirled her pencil in the air and bobbed her head as if she were listening to music.

“It’s fun,” said Niko, who spends two afternoons and all morning on Saturday at the Kawaguchis’ school. “I am pretty competitive. So I never want to lose to anyone else.” On long car rides, she likes to add up license plate numbers in her head.

At the Kyoto competition, Niko was committed but calm. During the dictation events, she tried to keep up with the caller, but quickly lost track. “I could not even understand what they were saying,” she said. “It all just sounded like ‘wah wah wah wah wah.’”

After the tournament, Niko and two classmates from soroban school paged through the competition program. Niko put a check mark by the name of a 10-year-old who had been a finalist in the dictation event, a girl with ribbons in her hair and lace cuffed socks whose feet did not even touch the floor at the table where she sat.

“I want to know what was going on in her head!” Niko said.

She said she planned to return next year. When she gets older, Niko said she thought it would be fun to become a judge for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Her mother, Rutsuko Shibayama, 44, thought Niko’s ease with competition might help her take strenuous school entrance exams in stride. But she was more happy her daughter had found an extracurricular activity she loved.

“I learned through Niko that the more you like something, the better you will get,” she said. “I am really grateful that she found something that she’s passionate about.”

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Why New York Just Banned Floating Billboards




Weather: Watch out in the afternoon for severe thunderstorms, which could bring heavy rain and strong wind. High in the upper 80s, and it will seem hotter than that.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Labor Day (Sept. 2).

Yes, the Grinch was blocking your view of the Statue of Liberty.

Governor Cuomo signed a bill on Monday to ban billboards like the one above from floating in New York’s waters.

On its website, Ballyhoo says its billboards “cover new locations and events that were previously untouchable.”

The reaction

People who hate the billboards have been vocal.

After all, a view of the Statue of Liberty could be interrupted by an ad for a “Grinch” movie. A photograph of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park could be marred by “Walking Dead” signage.

There is also a high-rise boom reshaping New York’s skyline. And people paying top dollar for pristine sightlines are not likely to enjoy seeing the floating ads.

Of course, some people don’t mind advertising. What would Times Square be without it? But it seems few are openly calling for more advertising, particularly on the water.

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement that the ads were “a nuisance that blight our shores and distract from the great natural beauty of our waterways.”

Banning the floating billboards, he said, would “make our waters more enjoyable and safer for everyone.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman, the Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill in Albany’s upper chamber, said, “We don’t need Times Square floating past us as we relax or play.”

Dear Diary:

At around noon on a hot August day in 2008, I changed from the 6 to the R at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue.

The train was fairly crowded when I got on. I stood near the door. All of a sudden, three people decided they wanted to get off the train. I got off to let them. As I did, the pink flip-flop on my right foot fell off inside and the subway door closed.

“My shoe, my shoe,” I screamed.

A small group of people gathered around me. My flip-flop was now probably on its way to Coney Island, the last stop, I said.

I didn’t know what to do. I was standing there on the platform on one foot.

Two women approached me and offered to help. One gave me a small plastic bag, and the other gave me a rubber band. I created a makeshift shoe.

After thanking them, I got on another R and went on to my destination. Nobody seemed to notice my odd shoe as I got on the train. I was even able to get a seat.

Three summers ago, I was in a coffee shop uptown. A man approached me and said he knew me. I did not recognize him. He introduced himself and said he had been at the subway station that day. He asked about my flip-flop and whether I had gotten it back.

“No,” I said. “It probably ended up in Coney Island, at the last stop.” And it probably had a good trip, I added. We both laughed.

— Marilyn Susan Siegel

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