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February 3, 2016

Many Americans — and journalists — were puzzled to learn that Iowa Democrats sometimes award presidential candidates county-level delegates based on a coin toss. The popular narrative that emerged from Monday's caucuses is that luck was with Hillary Clinton, and that her team's winning coin-flip picks swayed the election results. Take, for example, this caucus-night report from MSNBC:

Coin tosses aren't reported in the official tallies, so it's not clear how many county delegates were awarded by heads versus tails. But Iowa Democratic Party spokesman Sam Lau tells The Des Moines Register that seven coin flips were reported statewide, and that Bernie Sanders won six of them. The Register, looking at social media and one first-person report, also identified seven coin tosses at Democratic caucuses, with Clinton winning six. The newspaper has requested an official tally of precinct coin tosses and their outcomes to clear up the confusion.

But regardless, it's unlikely that the coin tosses affected the outcome — the official results are 700.59 state delegate equivalents for Clinton (49.8 percent), 696.82 SDEs for Sanders (49.6 percent). That's because, unlike MSNBC's report, the coin tosses don't decide statewide delegates but county delegates, of which there are about 11,000 across Iowa, versus 1,400 state delegate equivalents. The county-level delegates are used in a formula to determine the SDEs, but each one has only a tiny impact on the SDE count.

"The data we have suggest the game of chance was a rare occurrence and of the data we have, Sanders won the majority of those delegates that were chosen through the game of chance," former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, a Clinton supporter, tells The Des Moines Register. Coin tosses may seem like an arcane way to resolve ties or delegate disputes, he said, but the party has used them for a long time, including in the 2008 caucuses that propelled Barack Obama to victory. You can read more about the coin tosses, and the chaos at Monday's caucuses, at The Des Moines Register. Peter Weber

November 17, 2017
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The White House on Friday released an updated list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees. There is no current vacancy on the Supreme Court, but the announcement does come on the same day as the national convention for the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization whose members have made up a significant portion of President Trump's judicial picks.

The White House's statement specifically noted the president's commitment to "Make the Judiciary Great Again" and reaffirmed that his next Supreme Court nominee would be "in the mold of Justice [Neil] Gorsuch." Trump released his original list of potential Supreme Court nominees last May, before Gorsuch was eventually confirmed to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

In October, Axios reported that Trump thinks he'll get the opportunity to nominate three more justices to the Supreme Court during his first term. Trump apparently told an individual who spoke to Axios that he would end up replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose imminent retirement is a long-standing rumor on Capitol Hill; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because "what does she weigh? 60 pounds?"; and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is just 63 years old, because her health is "no good. Diabetes."

Neither the White House nor spokespeople for the Supreme Court justices in question commented on the Axios report. Kennedy has reportedly said that he plans to stay on the Supreme Court for at least another year, while Ginsburg has said that she wants to "do this job as long as I can do it full steam." Kelly O'Meara Morales

November 17, 2017
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Owning a dog may lower your risk of death, scientists declare in an incredibly validating study published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports. The benefits are "especially prominent" for people who live alone, wrote Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. candidate at Uppsala University in Sweden and the lead author of the study.

The Swedish team behind the positive findings tracked 3.4 million people over a dozen years. "Adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study," ABC News reported, compared to adults living by themselves who did not have a canine companion. The dog owners were also 36 percent less likely to succumb to cardiovascular disease.

The study does not claim that dogs have magical effects on the human heart, however. Instead, it may just come down to the fact that having a dog makes you do healthy things: "Dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk by providing a non-human form of social support and increasing physical activity," the researchers wrote. And while it may be miserable to walk your dog in the pouring rain, the report notes that "dog ownership also supports the maintenance of physical activity during poor weather."

While the health benefits of dog ownership were most prominent for those who lived alone, the study did find that adults in multi-person households also saw reduced rates of mortality, though those findings were not as statistically significant.

Read the whole study about the pros of pup ownership at Scientific Reports. Kelly O'Meara Morales

November 17, 2017

Following an outpouring of sexual harassment and assault allegations made across industries and professions over the past several weeks, many critics of President Trump have returned to accusations of misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women during his presidential campaign. On Friday, though, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a distinction between the commander in chief and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who was accused Thursday of kissing and groping a woman for the camera in 2006.

"I think specifically in one case, Sen. Al Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't," Sanders told the reporters. "I think that's a very clear distinction."

It isn't, strictly speaking, entirely true: Trump was caught on tape making vulgar comments about women and bragging about groping and kissing them without consent, telling Access Hollywood's Billy Bush in 2005: "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... grab them by the pussy." Watch Sanders' defense below. Jeva Lange

November 17, 2017
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A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that an overwhelming percentage of Americans do not consume enough fruits or vegetables, The Guardian reported Friday. The numbers are staggering: Only 1 in 10 Americans actually consumes the recommended amount of the good stuff, the CDC found.

Sarah Reinhardt, a nutritionist and food systems analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), told The Guardian that low fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. isn't a huge surprise. "The food industry is not exactly working with public health on this, there's a multimillion-dollar industry working to get people to eat [processed foods]," she said.

More and more Americans are seeking out plant-and fruit-based diets, but healthy food consumption is still frequently tied to income and education levels. The CDC study found that fruit and vegetable intake varied from state to state, but that "men, young adults, and people living in poverty all had especially low rates."

The CDC study is a sobering reminder that as food prices and the cost of living increase, it becomes harder to eat healthy. The Guardian noted that the challenge of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is not only financial — a 2013 UCS study, for example, found that only 2 percent of the farmland in the United States grew fruit and vegetable products while 59 percent was devoted to growing commodity crops. Kelly O'Meara Morales

November 17, 2017
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Stove Top, the turkey-­stuffing maker, sold ­elastic-waistband pants to make it more comfortable to overeat at Thanksgiving. The $19.98 pants feature a stuffing-motif cummerbund that will expand to twice its original size over the wearer's abdomen. They're already sold out, but those who were lucky enough to purchase the limited-edition pants will be able to "enjoy more of Thanksgiving in comfort and style," Stove Top said. The Week Staff

November 17, 2017
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Could a $9,000 Ball of Yarn be this year's ultimate status symbol? Just in time for the holidays, Tiffany & Co. has unveiled a new home-and-accessories collection, and it includes — apart from the expected finery — an array of items billed as "ordinary objects made extraordinary." So imagine a pair of paper cups, except that they cost $95 and are really made of bone china. Or a tin can that's actually made of sterling silver and costs $1,000. The ball of yarn shown is one of just five, each handspun from textured strands of silver. It's "absurd in the best possible way." The Week Staff

November 17, 2017

With half a decade of experience under his belt, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) shared his ideas Friday for making "the world's greatest deliberative body," the Senate, even better. "To ensure bills are vetted, [require] mandatory hearings on major legislation," he tweeted as one idea. "Sixty-seven vote threshold to waive the requirement."

Schatz also proposed "flesh[ing] out and [formalizing] advice and consent to expedite routine, necessary nominations," "[reasserting] constitution appropriations authority of legislative branch," and eliminating the speed-voting tradition of Vote-a-Rama "to reduce churn, partisan 'gotcha' votes and save time."

Here are a few more:

Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane noted that Schatz has been in both majority and minority parties during his time on the Hill. "These aren't partisan ideas," Kane said. "Worth a look." Jeva Lange

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