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October 18, 2017

Gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, 21, joined the #MeToo movement on Wednesday to allege that she had been molested by the team doctor for the U.S. Women's National Gymnastics Team and Olympic Team beginning when she was 13 years old. "It didn't end until I left the sport," she wrote in a letter about the "unnecessary" and "disgusting" abuse she allegedly endured.

Dr. Larry Nassar, named by Maroney in her letter, pleaded guilty to child pornography charges earlier this year, The Washington Post reports. He has been accused of assaulting more than 100 women and girls during his time with the U.S. gymnastics team.

From Maroney's letter:

It seemed whenever and wherever this man could find the chance, I was "treated." It happened in London before my team and I won the gold medal, and it happened before I won my silver. For me, the scariest night of my life happened when I was 15 years old. I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. He'd given me a sleeping pill for the flight and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a "treatment." I thought I was going to die that night. [McKayla Maroney via Twitter]

Maroney emphasized that while the #MeToo movement grew out of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, "people should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood."

"Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it's time to take our power back," Maroney wrote. "And remember, it's never too late to speak up." Read her full letter below. Jeva Lange

October 12, 2017

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, issued a scathing statement against President Trump on Thursday and begged for international aid for the U.S. territory. "I ask every American ... to stand with Puerto Rico and let this president know WE WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE," Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz wrote. "I ask the United Nations and UNICEF and the world to stand with the people of Puerto Rico and stop the genocide that will result from the lack of appropriate action of a president that just does not get it because he has been incapable of looking in our eyes and seeing the pride that burns fiercely in our hearts and souls."

Earlier Thursday, Trump appeared to tell Puerto Rico that its federal relief effort has a pending expiration date. "Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes," Trump tweeted. "Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the military, [and] the first responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

Thirty-five percent of Puerto Rico residents still don't have drinking water, and just 10 percent have electricity. "Your tweets and comments just show desperation and underscore the inadequacy of your government's response to this humanitarian crisis," Cruz wrote. "It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done."

She added: "Condemn us to a slow death of non-drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us since they face the impediment of the Jones Act … Simply put: HELP US. WITHOUT ROBUST and CONSISTENT HELP, WE WILL DIE." Read the full letter below. Jeva Lange

October 2, 2017

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) returned to Capitol Hill last week for the first time since being shot in the hip at a Republican congressional baseball team practice in June. On the occasion of his return, Scalise recalled to Politico Magazine the harrowing moments after getting hit by the bullet: "I felt it … and I just went to the ground," he said. "I still had enough energy to start crawling — I'm crawling just to get away. And then my arms just gave out. And at that point, I'm just lying on the ground and I'm hearing gunfire. And so I just started praying. I mean, literally, just started praying. It was weird: I got almost an ease over me, because I felt like, you know what, there's nothing I can — I can't move. So I'm just going to pray to God and put in his hands."

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) tied a tourniquet for Scalise, and his quick work is credited in part for saving Scalise's life. "That night, it could have gone the other way a few times," Scalise explained. "When I got to the hospital, they said I was within a minute of death if they didn't get some blood back into my system."

But speaking to Politico's Tim Alberta, Scalise credits more than just doctors for his life:

I got to know [Scalise] well [...] and learned about his various Sicilian superstitions. My favorite: Scalise always carried a fava bean in his pocket for good luck. On learning that he'd survived the shooting, it was the first thing that came to my mind — did he have a fava bean in his pocket?

"No, I didn't, because it was my baseball pants," he says, shaking his head and smiling. "They don't have pockets!" He assures me, however, there are some upstairs in his hospital room.

Doesn't this prove that he has good luck regardless, since he wasn't carrying a bean that day? "I had miracles," he replies. "I had angels." [Politico Magazine]

Read the full story of Scalise's incredible survival at Politico Magazine. Jeva Lange

September 28, 2017

At least 289 invasive species surfed on debris from the Japanese tsunami in 2011 to the shores of the West Coast of America, a study released Thursday has found. The incredible transpacific crossings were made possible by the proliferation of non-biodegradable materials like plastics and fiberglass, which were capable of drifting for a year and a half or more as the ocean currents buoyed them — and their tiny living cargo — west.

[Marine sciences professor James T.] Carlton called it remarkable that such a wide range of species — which also included barnacles, worms, and tiny filter-feeders called bryozoans — could survive the journey across the northern Pacific. In many cases, these passages took years, longer than the life spans of the individual organisms. The authors [of the study] concluded that not only did these creatures adapt to an open ocean where food was scarcer than in rich coastal waters, they were also able to reproduce, in some cases for at least three generations, before reaching the North American coast.

"We found that hundreds of species could survive for multiple generations at sea," said Dr. Carlton, who is a former director of William's Maritime Studies Program in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. "They could do this so long as their rafts did not dissolve or sink." [The New York Times]

Biology professor Steven L. Chown told The New York Times that what scientists are witnessing is an entirely new, man-made form of animal travel. "We have created a new ecological process, the process of mega-rafting," he said.

It remains to be seen if any of the invasive Japanese sea creatures get a foothold on the West Coast, a potentially calamitous possibility for the region's native species. Read the full report here. Jeva Lange

September 6, 2017

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett described disturbing mistreatment at the hands of the Las Vegas police in an open letter to the "world" that he posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

The incident reportedly occurred after the fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather last month. After hearing "what sounded like gun shots" on his way back to his hotel, Bennett claims he was targeted by officers "for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time." Bennett wrote that he was ordered to the ground, while one officer "placed his gun near by head and warned me that if I moved he would 'blow my f---ing head off."

The officers' excessive use of force was unbearable. I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground, handcuffed, facing the real-life threat of being killed. All I could think of was 'I'm going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat.' My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls. Would I ever play with them again? Or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her? [Michael Bennett, via Twitter]

Eventually the police identified Bennett as "a famous professional football player," he said, and let him go. "This fact is unequivocally, without question, why before every game, I sit during the national anthem — because equality doesn't live in this country," Bennett wrote.

Read Bennett's full letter below. Jeva Lange

September 5, 2017

Former President Barack Obama responded at length to President Trump's decision Tuesday to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, writing on Facebook that "these DREAMers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said DACA, which protects individuals known as DREAMers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, was "unconstitutional" when it was implemented by Obama in 2012 via executive action. Sessions also said DACA had "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans" by granting work authorization. Obama responded in his statement, writing that "because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country."

Obama went on:

Let's be clear: The action taken today [by Trump] isn't required legally. It's a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn't threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid's softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won't lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone's taxes, or raise anybody's wages. [Barack Obama, via Facebook]

"Ultimately, this is about basic decency," Obama concluded. "This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we'd want our own kids to be treated. It's about who we are as a people — and who we want to be." Read Obama's full statement here. Jeva Lange

August 25, 2017

Scientists have been sounding the alarm since Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008 that "Houston's perfect storm is coming — and it's not a matter of if, but when," ProPublica and The Texas Tribune wrote in a joint investigation last year. With Hurricane Harvey now brewing off the Texas coast, strengthening into the strongest storm to approach the U.S. mainland in a decade, the serious danger facing Texas' coastal communities — as well as how little has been done to prepare for it — is suddenly much more grave:

If a storm hits the region in the right spot, "it's going to kill America's economy," said Pete Olson, a Republican congressman from Sugar Land, a Houston suburb.

Such a storm would devastate the Houston Ship Channel, shuttering one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Flanked by 10 major refineries — including the nation's largest — and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods — everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills.

"It would affect supply chains across the U.S., it would probably affect factories and plants in every major metropolitan area in the U.S.," said Patrick Jankowski, vice president for research at the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston's chamber of commerce. [ProPublica/The Texas Tribune]

There are only a "few hours" left for Houston to prepare for Harvey. "Hopefully this is a wake-up call, but this could become an absolute horror," Rice University environmental engineer Jim Blackburn told CBS News. "If we reach those levels, we could see the worst environmental disaster in United States history. And we'd probably shut down and cause a major gap in gasoline and jet fuel and other types of critical products' availability." As ProPublica and the Tribune wrote: "If Houston's refineries closed, some experts envision something like $7­ per­ gallon gasoline across the country for an indefinite period of time."

Another Rice University engineering professor, Phil Bedient, warned in 2016: "We're sitting ducks. We've done nothing … We've done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency … to do anything." Read the full chilling investigation at ProPublica. Jeva Lange

August 23, 2017

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson likely broke a federal law Tuesday night when he was introduced by his government title before President Trump's rally in Phoenix, Arizona, The Washington Post reports.

The rally was, technically speaking, part of Trump's 2020 bid. Carson ran into trouble because of an odd little rule in the 1939 Hatch Act, "a measure meant to preserve the impartiality of public servants," the Post's Philip Bump writes.

Among the prohibitions included in the Hatch Act is one prohibiting Cabinet secretaries from leveraging their positions for a political cause. That means that the head of, say, the Department of Housing and Urban Development can't appear at a campaign rally in a way that implies he's doing so in an official capacity. Say, by being introduced with his official title. [The Washington Post]

"[Carson] should have told them in advance that they cannot use his title," said the senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, Larry Noble. “Once hearing the introduction, he should have made clear he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as secretary."

Read more about how Carson possibly broke the law at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

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