February 19, 2016

Emma Watson is saying goodbye to acting — but don't worry, it's just for a year. Instead, the Harry Potter star will be focusing on personal development, feminism, and her work as a U.N. Ambassador for the gender equality campaign HeforShe.

"I almost thought about going and doing a year of gender studies, then I realized that I was learning so much by being on the ground and just speaking with people and doing my reading," Watson said in a recent interview with Paper Magazine. "I was learning so much on my own. I actually wanted to keep on the path that I'm on. I'm reading a lot this year, and I want to do a lot of listening."

Watson says she plans on reading a book a week and also a book a month with her feminist book club to continue exploring new ideas and formulating her own opinions. "It's a really cool period of time for me. My work that I do for the U.N. is all very clearly outlined, but my personal views and opinions are still being defined, really," Watson said. "So it'll be an interesting time." Becca Stanek

9:15 a.m. ET
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The Central Asian country of Tajikistan has voted to abolish presidential term limits solely for their authoritarian president, Emomali Rahmon. The decision will effectively allow him to rule until the end of his life.

An overwhelming 94.5 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment to the national constitution, which also lowered the minimum age for Tajik presidential candidates to 30, apparently so Rahmon's 29-year-old son can run in the 2020 election.

While human rights groups have criticized the former USSR nation for the lack of religious freedom for its predominantly Sunni Muslim population as well as its rejection of political pluralism, many voters were apparently enthusiastic about keeping Rahmon in power. "Rahmon brought us peace, he ended the war, and he should rule the country for as long as he has the strength to," one voter told AFP.

In 2015, democracy watchdog Freedom House rated Tajikistan with a Democracy Score of 6.39, with 7 being the worst. "Observers of the most recent parliamentary (2010) and presidential (2013) elections noted that both contests failed to meet basic democratic standards or offer a real choice among candidates," the organization said.

Rahmon, 63, has been in power since 1992. Jeva Lange

9:11 a.m. ET

Students at Oberlin College are asking the school to put academics on the back burner so they can better turn their attention to activism. More than 1,300 students at the Midwestern liberal arts college have now signed a petition asking that the college get rid of any grade below a C for the semester, and some students are requesting alternatives to the standard written midterm examination, such as a conversation with a professor in lieu of an essay.

The students say that between their activism work and their heavy course load, finding success within the usual grading parameters is increasingly difficult. "A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting," Megan Bautista, a co-liaison in Oberlin's student government, said, referring to the protests surrounding the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014. "But we needed to organize on campus as well — it wasn't sustainable to keep driving 40 minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically."

The student activists' request doesn't come without precedence: In the 1970s, Oberlin adjusted its grading to accommodate student activists protesting the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings, The New Yorker reports. But current students contend that same luxury was not granted to them even though the recent Rice protests were over a police shooting that took place just 30 miles east of campus.

"You know, we're paying for a service. We're paying for our attendance here. We need to be able to get what we need in a way that we can actually consume it," student Zakiya Acey told The New Yorker. "Because I'm dealing with having been arrested on campus, or having to deal with the things that my family are going through because of larger systems — having to deal with all of that, I can't produce the work that they want me to do. But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways."

Read the full story on the ongoing battle at Oberlin over at The New Yorker. Becca Stanek

8:57 a.m. ET

In California on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton hit Donald Trump over his newly surfaced 2006 and 2007 remarks that he was "excited" about the housing market to burst, because if it did, he would "would go in and buy like crazy” to make money. "He actually said he was hoping for the crash that caused hard-working families in California and across the country to lose their homes," Clinton said. Some 3,000 miles away, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was singing from the same hymnal.

"Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown — because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap," Warren said at a gala for the Center for Popular Democracy. “What kind of a man does that? Root for people to get thrown out on the street? Root for people to lose their jobs? Root for people to lose their pensions?" (She answered her own question: "A small, insecure moneygrubber who doesn't care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it.")

The similar messaging "was not entirely a coincidence," The Washington Post reports. Warren has deliberately not endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary, and Warren hitting Trump in concert with Clinton would allow the Democratic frontrunner to "begin the general-election battle against Trump, but also beginning the difficult task of unifying the fractured Democratic Party." Warren's Trump takedown, adds The Wall Street Journal, "suggested she may be willing to work with the Clinton campaign more directly to win the White House in November."

Trump jumped in the conversation at his rally in Albuquerque, calling Warren "Pocahontas" and Clinton a "low life" for playing his housing comments in a campaign ad. "I'm a businessman, that's what I'm supposed to do," Trump added. You can watch Warren's hit at Trump below. Peter Weber

8:00 a.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton is struggling to gain ground with Bernie Sanders' young, independent-leaning fans, and some experts are even beginning to wonder if the far-left supporters might actually vote for Donald Trump if forced to pick between the two candidates. While such a theory has been rebuffed — Politico Magazine's Bill Scher writes that the "areas of ideological overlap don't come close to outweighing the long list of issues where Sanders and Trump are practically opposites" — others say if Clinton doesn't convince Sanders' supporters soon, it could cost her the election:

History shows us that when disenchantment with establishment politics and institutions is high, as it is today, voters don't always vote along ideological lines.

In 1968 and 1980, insurgent liberal challengers — Eugene McCarthy and Edward Kennedy — captured a popular wave of anti-establishment sentiment but failed to win their party's nomination. In November, many of their supporters veered sharply to the right, voting for candidates who didn't necessarily share their political views but who served as a convenient outlet for the expression of their broader frustrations. In both cases, this block of Democratic defectors helped deliver the election to the Republican Party. [Politico]

Sanders supporters are also saying they are increasingly unsure if they would vote for Clinton over Trump. As The New York Times has pointed out, at least one poll, YouGov, has only 55 percent of Sanders supporters agreeing they would vote for Clinton rather than Trump in a general election. Similar polls by CBS/NYT and ABC/Washington Post had that number at just a blip over 70 percent.

There are more Democrats than Republicans in the U.S. according to most recent surveys — and yet a Clinton victory increasingly doesn't appear to be such a breeze. Jeva Lange

7:41 a.m. ET

"If Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are on a boat together — if they're on a boat together and it sinks, who survives? America!" local attorney David Chavez said during introductory remarks at a Donald Trump rally in New Mexico Tuesday evening, to uproarious applause.

His jokes didn't stop there. During his five-minute introduction at the rally, Chavez repeatedly hit on Trump's likely competition in the general election, urging voters to consider Bill Clinton's previous sexual misconduct in making the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton. "Even Bill Clinton chose other women, so you should, too," Chavez said.

And if anyone happened to be hung up on voting for Hillary Clinton to elect a woman and "to break the glass ceiling," Chavez had an answer for that too. "Voting for her just because she is a woman is like drinking bleach because it looks like water," he said.

Watch his full speech below. Becca Stanek

7:16 a.m. ET

Presidential candidates are just so much more fun after they've dropped out of the race. Take Marco Rubio as an example — the Florida senator has fully embraced his inner Twitter-ranter in recent weeks.

He has also, apparently, embraced his inner robot:

Open the pod bay doors, Rubio. Jeva Lange

6:58 a.m. ET
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The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating a Tennessee real estate company with personal and financial ties to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), The Wall Street Journal reports, and the federal investigators are separately looking into the relationship between Corker and the firm, CBL & Associates Properties Inc. Corker has made millions of dollars through trading CBL stock, some of that profit originally improperly undisclosed in congressional filings; authorities have reportedly found no evidence that Corker committed wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for Corker, Micah Johnson, blamed the "baseless charges against Senator Corker" on the nonpartisan group Campaign for Accountability, which told The Journal that unfortunately "we don’t have the ability to tell the FBI or SEC what to do." Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Banking Committee, has a long history with CBL and the Lebovitz family that owns it, and CBL insists that nobody at the firm passed Corker insider information. So long as his 70 trades of CBL stock — several trades worth more than $1 million — were not based on inside information, Corker's trading is allowed under congressional ethics rules. Peter Weber

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