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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he would not run for president in 2016, ending months of indecision and removing one of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton's biggest potential obstacles to the party's nomination.

Biden, 72, appeared in the White House Rose Garden with his wife Jill and President Barack Obama to say the window for mounting a successful campaign had closed.

Biden's announcement ended a highly public "will he or won't he?" political guessing game about his intentions that had shadowed Clinton's campaign and frozen the support of some Democratic activists and donors.

"While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent," Biden said. "I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation."

Biden had been wrestling with doubts about whether he and his family were ready for a grueling campaign while still mourning his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in May. His son had urged him to run.

Making good on his promise to speak out, Biden took a veiled jab at Clinton, chiding Democrats who referred to Republicans as their enemies and saying Democrats would be making a "tragic mistake" if they walked away from Obama's record.

Clinton had listed Republicans among her enemies during last week's presidential debate and had broken with Obama by moving to the left on such issues as the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition, they’re not our enemies," Biden said.

Speculation about a Biden candidacy had grown as Clinton slumped in polls and questions grew about her honesty and trustworthiness amid the controversy over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

But what was widely hailed as a command performance by Clinton in the Oct. 13 Democratic debate turned the tide back in her favor and quieted talk that she was vulnerable in her quest for her party's nomination for the November 2016 election.

A Clinton spokesman said she called Biden after he announced his decision. In a statement, she called him "a good man and a great vice president" and said she was confident he would continue to be on the political front lines.


Ben Carson has pushed past rival Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump among party voters in the key early voting state of Iowa, a Quinnipiac University opinion poll released on Thursday showed.

In the survey of 574 likely Iowa Republican caucus participants, 28 percent said they would support Carson, a former physician, compared with 20 percent who said they backed Trump, a wealthy businessman and television personality.

Carson's lead, stemming in part from a big boost among women, falls within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. Trump had led Carson in the Midwestern state last month, 27 percent to 21 percent.

"It's Ben Carson's turn in the spotlight," Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac University's polling unit, said in a statement.

Iowa's caucus, scheduled for February, is a key barometer in the race for both Republicans and Democrats seeking their party's nomination for the November 2016 presidential election. Still, a win there is no guarantee and past winners have fizzled, but it can influence fundraising, political momentum and media coverage.

Republican voters have been drawn to Carson and Trump, both political neophytes who have pledged to upend business as usual in Washington.

Trump has been leading most national public opinion polls in recent weeks, with Carson steadily gaining. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Trump with nearly 33 percent support among self-declared Republicans as of Oct. 20, and Carson with about 16 percent. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came in third with 10 percent.

In Quinnipiac's Iowa survey taken Oct. 14 to Oct. 20, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida came in third with 13 percent and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas fourth with 10 percent. Bush came in tied for sixth place with former business executive Carly Fiorina with 5 percent, trailing Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Among women who were likely to participate in the caucus, 33 percent backed Carson while just 13 percent supported Trump, who has come under fire for some of his comments toward women, including digs at Fiorina and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

Carson also earned twice as much support as Trump from Iowa's white, evangelical Christian community, the poll showed.


(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

More than 3.9 million people visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer, just shy of last summer’s pace.

The park says 3,958,131 people visited during June, July and August this year, down from 3,963,131 in 2014, pushing the park to its highest visitation since 2000.

Visitors increased at the main entrances at Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina, but dropped off in the outlying areas of the park during 2015.

The greatest increase was at the Cherokee entrance, where 749,131 visited in 2014 and 804,611 in 2015, a 7.4 percent increase.

Park visitation for the year is up nearly 5 percent.

(From Christianity Today)

Christianity is far from extinct in Britain and nearly six out of ten people still say they are Christian, according to a new report.

Most people like the Christians they know. Even those who say they are not Christian are open to finding out more about the faith. 

The survey of 3,000 people was carried out by ComRes and Barna Group on behalf of a coalition of church groups made up of the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and HOPE. The study, carried out mainly in England, is particularly significant in light of the changing face of faith in Britain because, unusually, researchers will track the data over the next 30 years. 

Many non-Christians in England are open to hearing more about Jesus

According to the study, most non-Christians know a Christian and think well of them. They are most likely to describe them as friendly, caring, good-humoured, generous and helpful. One in five non-Christians is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith.

However, just nine per cent of Christians can be described as practising in terms of praying regularly, reading the Bible and attending church at least monthly.

The study, Perceptions of Jesus, Christians and Evangelism, also showed a lack of religious literacy. Two in five people did not know that Jesus was a real person, with those aged under 35 most likely to believe Jesus was fictional.

Dr Rachel Jordan, mission and evangelism adviser for the Church of England, said: "The survey shows that the Church is well-connected throughout society. This connection is through the myriad of relationships that Christians have with the majority of the population in normal, everyday ways. What is more, people like their Christian friends and family members and they enjoy being with them."

She added: "Followers of Jesus are good friends and they are fun. It is here in these relationships that we have conversations about faith, in a place of trust and friendship, and 20 per cent of our friends and family members want to know more about our faith in Jesus."

Roy Crowne, executive director of HOPE, an organisation that brings churches together in mission, said: "Church leaders can often get discouraged by reports of declining numbers. But these results show that Christianity in Britain is diverse, full of life, and many people are passionate about sharing their faith. The research also shows there are some big challenges for churches to face if we are to see loads more people becoming Christians and joining the Church."

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "There is overwhelming evidence in the New Testament and independent, non-biblical sources indicating Jesus was a historical figure and any historian worth their weight will agree with this. That nearly 40 per cent of people in this country are unsure of this or think Jesus was a mythical character paints a worrying picture of our education system. While it's great to see that non-Christians think positively of Jesus, it would be even better if they realised the significance of his life, death and resurrection for their own lives today."

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Knox County Sheriff’s Office raided three children’s consignment stores in the Knoxville area for selling baby formula was shoplifted from stores.

As part of an undercover investigation, deputies went to Wee Care Shoppe and Rugrats Resale Shop on Chapman Highway and Penny’s New and Used Baby Stuff on Broadway. Captain George Edlund said in a press conference at Wee Care Shoppe on Thursday afternoon, five individuals were targeted.

Informants went to the consignment stores with baby formula to sell, notifying the owners that the formula was stolen, and it was still bought for cash, according to investigation. “As far as the danger to the public, I don’t know that there is one,” said Edlund. “The issue is that it is being sold on the black market.”

Store owners will be charged with attempted theft and forfeiture, according to Edlund. He believes the black market of baby formula at these stores has been going on since December or January. “I understand that baby formula is very expensive to buy, but it is apart of child care,” he said.

President Barack Obama's quest for "fast-track" negotiating authority on a Pacific Rim trade deal passed its first test in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, with another day of voting to come on a contentious package of bills.

By a vote of 397-32, the House approved a measure authorizing funds to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals, without cutting Medicare health benefits for the elderly to pay for it, as the Senate had proposed.

The vote moved lawmakers closer to dealing with the core issue before them, the fast-track bill expected to come to a vote on Friday. Already approved by the Senate, fast-track is needed, Obama says, to help him promptly conclude a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.


In an unusual coalition, the Democratic president and House Republican leaders are allied in supporting fast-track. Most Democrats and some Republicans oppose it. The authority would strip Congress of the ability to make changes to a trade deal, but allow it to hold a yes-or-no vote on one.

If fast-track is approved, it would go to Obama's desk to be signed into law, giving him more sway in negotiating the TPP and reassuring Japan, the second-largest economyinvolved. Japanese officials have said fast-track approval is needed for the pact, which would encompass 40 percent of the global economy.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner declined to guarantee victory on fast-track.

“We’re working hard to get there,” he told reporters at a press conference.

He said he had worked to address concerns of lawmakers from both parties. He said if the TPP founders, leaving the United States on the trade sidelines, "our allies will gravitate back towards China, away from us and away from our workers.”

In a sign of the importance of the issue to Obama, the White House dispatched Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to the Capitol to advocate for fast-track with House Democrats.

After administration officials left a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation and an opponent of fast-track, then spoke.

Labor organizations oppose fast-track, saying it does not give Congress adequate oversight of trade deals that they fear will result in American job losses.

Failure to pass fast-track would seriously hamper Obama's drive to finish the TPP, a centerpiece of his goal to improve U.S. ties with Asia, this year.

The House was expected to debate later on Thursday the procedures it will use for considering fast-track and a related customs enforcement bill on Friday.

On the funding authorization for worker assistance just approved by the House, the Senate was also expected to promptly approve it, sending it to Obama for enacting into law.

The worker aid is important to Democrats, some of whom will be needed in voting on Friday on the fast-track legislation itself.

Also on Friday, the House will take another vote on trade adjustment assistance, which, like fast-track, could be much closer than Thursday's vote.

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