5 important stories you may have missed during last week’s news deluge

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Children, who were recently evacuated from their residencies due to shelling, laugh while sitting in front of a wall painting commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two at a dormitory in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Feb. 2. Photo by Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Children, who were recently evacuated from their residencies due to shelling, laugh while sitting in front of a wall painting commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two at a dormitory in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Feb. 2. Photo by Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, coming back from a record deficit to send the game into overtime for the first time in the sport’s history. Before half time, the Atlanta Falcons were favored to win. With that kind of whiplash, the world turned upside down.

Then again, the Kremlin is demanding that Fox News apologize for describing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” during Sunday’s interview with President Donald Trump.

So, in honor of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s five Super Bowl wins, here are five stories that ought to get more attention than any awkward interaction between Brady and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

1. Worst fighting in years flares up in Ukraine

Tanks are seen in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 1. Photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Tanks are seen in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine, on Feb. 1. Photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Both Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels said they suffered fatalities this weekend, capping a week-long renewal of fighting in the country that began last Sunday.

The pro-Russia rebels blamed government forces for a car bombing that killed two people in their ranks, including a top rebel commander, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said three of its soldiers were killed in shelling over the weekend.

These latest fatalities came after the worst violence in eastern Ukraine since 2015. In the past week, at least 33 people, including civilians, have been killed and dozens of others wounded, with much of the mounting hostilities centering around the Ukraine-controlled town of Avdiivka.

According to U.N. figures, almost 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2014, after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and backed the separatists in the region.

Why it’s important

A woman inspects a hole in a damaged building, which was caused by shelling, in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Feb. 3. Photo by Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

A woman inspects a hole in a damaged building, which was caused by shelling, in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine, on Feb. 3. Photo by Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

In a letter to Trump, Sen. John McCain, a vocal opponent of Russia, said that “Vladimir Putin is moving quickly to test you as commander-in-chief,” adding that the country’s response “will have lasting consequences.”

The Republican senator also referenced Trump’s call last weekend with Putin, which coincided with the surge in violence in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin said in a statement that the call focused on joint efforts of the U.S. and Russia to fight international terrorism — “a top priority” — and improving economic ties between the two countries.

The Kremlin also said Putin and Trump discussed the “main aspects of the Ukrainian crisis,” but an anonymous U.S. official told The New York Times that Ukraine was briefly mentioning in passing.

On President Donald Trump’s call list Saturday was Ukraine President Poroshenko. The conversation comes after a week of some of the worst fighting in the last two year between Ukrainian and pro-Russia separatist fighters killed 30 people. Alison Stewart is joined by Professor Timothy Frye, chair of the political science department at Columbia University, to talk about international relations.

In her first address to the UN Security Council, Nikki Haley, UN ambassador, condemned and called for an end to Russian occupation of Crimea, adding that sanctions against Russia would remain in place until it relinquished control of the region.

As Politico once pointed out, days after the start of the conflict, Trump had appeared on the March 13 taping of NBC’s “Today” show, saying Russia’s aggression in the region “should never have happened,” adding that, “We should definitely do sanctions.”

But when Trump sat down for a recent interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, the president said he admired the Russian leader, something’s he’s said since the 2016 election. The conciliatory sentiment didn’t quell fears that the administration would ease sanctions against Russia.

When O’Reilly pressed the president, saying that Putin was a “killer,” Trump said, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

Video by Fox News

Some Republicans disagreed with the president’s response, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he didn’t “see this issue the same way he does.”

“I obviously don’t see this issue the same way he does,” McConnell said.

“I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.”

With Republican leadership not aligning with the president’s own words, it’s unclear what is Trump’s exact position on Russia.

After a Saturday call between Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the White House released a statement saying, “We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border.”

2. An inquiry into child abuse allegations in Australia’s Catholic Church leads to “tragic” statistics

Photo by St. Mary's cathedral in Sydney in 2008. Photo by Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Photo by St. Mary’s cathedral in Sydney in 2008. Photo by Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Afters years of investigations, the royal commission in Australia released its findings into the widespread allegations of sexual and physical abuse against Catholic priests and figures across the continent.

Between 1950 and 2010, 7 percent of priests belonging to 75 Catholic Church authorities were alleged perpetrators, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse found.

In the same time frame, there were 4,444 victims of child sexual abuse, the commission said. The average age of victims at the time of the abuse, for both boys and girls, was around 11.

In a hearing Monday, Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said the statistics were “shocking.”

“They are tragic, and they are indefensible,” he said almost in tears.

ABC News Australia

“Each entry in this data, for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for, and protected them,” he added in his opening statement.

Why it’s important

The commission’s years-long look into the sexual abuse allegations follow other high-profile efforts to document the church’s abuse globally, including in the U.S.

Bernard Barrett of Broken Rites, a website that monitors abuse within the Catholic Church said the statistics are “very seductive.”

“People think that it’s an exact figure when, in reality, it’s indicative,” Barrett told Guardian Australia. “The church has covered up a lot of the abuse, as they have done for 2,000 years.”

The commission said at least 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified in claims. Also, there was, on average, a 33-year gap between the time of abuse and when it was reported.

Paul Levely, a child sex abuse victim, wears a t-shirt that says "no more silence" and shows a tattoo on his arm as he stands in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, in 2016. Then, Australian Cardinal George Pell became the highest-ranking Vatican official to testify on sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Paul Levely, a child sex abuse victim, wears a t-shirt that says “no more silence” and shows a tattoo on his arm as he stands in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, in 2016. Then, Australian Cardinal George Pell became the highest-ranking Vatican official to testify on sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

In an interview with CNN, Sullivan said it was not about the statistics. “We’re talking children,” he said. The scope of the abuse problem in the church’s institutions are because of a culture that give priests “extraordinary power over the lay people.” The church culture holds them in high regard, but “were never questioned. They were never in any way accountable.”

And “people in positions of privilege covered it up,” Sullivan said. “They were more interested in protecting the image of the Catholic Church than they were in protecting children and believing victims,” he said.

Sullivan said going forward, the Catholic Church cannot investigate itself, adding that an independent unit needs to be created to evaluate to resolve claims.

A three-week hearing will be held to hear testimony from six archbishops.

3. The world’s most endangered marine mammal is going extinct

Photo by Paula Olson/NOAA via Wikimedia Commons"

Photo by Paula Olson/NOAA via Wikimedia Commons”

You’ve probably never heard of the vaquita, a small porpoise that lives almost exclusively in the northern part of the Gulf of California in Mexico. They’re easily spooked by humans and boats, so it can be hard to spot the stocky dolphin-like mammals, with small skulls and tall, sickle-shaped fins.

Vaquitas weren’t even discovered by scientists until 1958. Now, a half a century later, the animals known as the “pandas of the sea,” for rings around their eyes, are close to disappearing forever.

In 1997,conservationists estimated there were 567 vaquitas living along the shallow coastlines of the gulf coast. Last week, a new report estimated just 30 vaquitas are still alive, half the number still living in 2015.

Why it’s important

Scientists have been trying to slow down the rate of dying vaquitas for the last decade, without success.

What makes vaquitas so special? The animals, whose name means ‘little cow’ in Spanish, share some genetics with ancient species, which helps scientists better understand evolutionary history. The vaquita plays an important role in the northern Gulf’s marine ecosystem: Their disappearance could affect the region’s sharks, who feed on the porpoises. The vaquitas themselves feed largely on fish, crustaceans and squid, so their disappearance could lead to overpopulation of those species, too.

And the rapidly disappearing vaquitas illustrate a problem that has worried conservationists across the globe for decades: over-fishing. Since vaquitas have few predators, the rapid decline in population is almost entirely due to illegal fishing. International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a group founded by Mexico to try to save the mammals, estimates that gillnets, walls of netting used to capture fish and shrimp, kill between 39 and 84 vaquitas a year.

Most fisherman aren’t actually after the vaquita. They’re after totoabas, another endangered fish. Gangs pay fisherman to catch totoabas so they can harvest their bladders, which have become a Chinese delicacy. The bladders — which some believe also have medicinal powers — go for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. Vaquitas ensnared in fishing nets are often just a casualty of that market.

The Mexican government has spent millions of dollars on trying to solve this problem. They’ve incentivized fisherman to use alternatives to gillnets, though there aren’t many options available, and to avoid fishing in the areas frequented by vaquitas altogether. In 2015, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced an emergency gillnet ban for 5,000 square miles along the coast, enlisting the Navy to help enforce it. And in 2016, Former President Barack Obama signed on to help with the effort, too. But scientists say local fishermen still haven’t changed their behavior.

Scientists have one last rescue effort ahead, New Scientist reports: A short-term sanctuary that would protect the animals while researchers figure out how to save them. The only problem: Vaquitas are skittish, which means gathering them by boat may not be possible. Researchers will try to use dolphins to steer vaquitas toward safety. Even then, they aren’t sure whether the vaquita will be able to reproduce, and survive, in a confined environment.

4. Taiwan one step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage

Supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan, in December. Photo by Fabian Hamacher/Reuters

Supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan, in December. Photo by Fabian Hamacher/Reuters

Same-sex marriage may soon become a reality in Taiwan under a new piece of legislation introduced by a politician in parliament.

In December, a legislative committee in the Taiwan Parliament approved an amendment to its civil code. Lawyer and writer M. Bob Kao, who is based out of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, said the code’s language is now indiscriminate. Essentially, all clauses with heteronormative language such as “husband and wife, now apply equally to same-sex couples.

The bill’s trajectory is anticipated to be discussed further beginning in April or May, in light of the legislature’s current recess, Focus Taiwan reported. And although an attempt to pass the bill fell flat in 2013, Taiwan’s political climate has since changed.

Why it’s important

Thousand of supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, in November. Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Thousand of supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, in November. Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters

With this new bill, Taiwan may become the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage.

However, overall opinion concerning the bill is still divided, where in Taipei, demonstrations and protests occur in favor and against the new legislation.

Galvanization for the bill partially came after the death of National Taiwan University professor Jacques Camille Picoux committed suicide in 2016, after losing his partner to cancer.

In a way, his death created a rallying cry to bolster same-sex legalization, Jay Lin, 43, of Kaohsiung, South Taiwan told the NewsHour. Furthermore, Picoux’s suicide highlighted the injustice some same-sex couples experience when attempting to care for loved ones medically or financially, he said.

“Asia is the only continent in the world that doesn’t have a country with marriage equality,” Lin said. “But it has almost three-fifths of the world population and so this would be a big step for Asia as a whole, and provide inspiration for other countries around Asia to consider amending laws to be more accommodating to their diverse citizens.”

5. FCC’s latest move complicates efforts to lessen the digital divide

Then-FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (L) testifies at a House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2015. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Then-FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (L) testifies at a House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2015. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Shortly after becoming the new chairman for the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, a Republican, said he’d work with the American public “to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

However, one of Pai’s decisions as the new FCC chairman appears to contradict that beginning statement.

Late last week, he reversed the approvals of nine companies to participate in Lifeline, a federal program designed to subsidize internet access for low-income consumers. A $9.25 credit would have been given to qualifying households every month, which could be used for cheap internet access.

Citing “program integrity,” the FCC wrote that the decision would provide agency with “additional time to consider measures that might be necessary to prevent further waste, fraud and abuse in the Lifeline program.”

Why it’s important

The Lifeline program, approved in 2015, aimed to lessen the digital divide for Americans who are unable to have access to broadband service at home.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, 69 percent of U.S. adults — up from 56 percent in 2010 — said the lack of access to high-speed internet at home can be a major inhibitor to job searches and looking up other important information.

Also, 33 percent of Americans, in the same Pew report, said the cost of having broadband at home was the main reason why they didn’t have it.

That lack of access can also affect children at low-income households. According to Pew, as many as 5 million households with children in school do not have internet at home, complicating tasks such as doing their homework.

One of the planned participants in the in Lifeline program was Kajeet, a broadband company that partners with school districts in 41 states and the District to provide internet to children from low-income homes.

READ MORE: 5 important stories that aren’t getting much attention this week

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