5 important stories that have nothing to do with the White House
On Monday, just hours after President Donald Trump said there was “no chaos” in his closest circles, Anthony Scaramucci was unceremoniously edged out as communications director. He lasted less than two weeks on the job.
This sudden departure is the latest in a long line of staff shakeups in Trump’s nearly 200 days in office.
Three days before Scaramucci’s departure, Trump announced that former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly would become his chief of staff, replacing Reince Priebus. And a week before that, Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an exit, too.
As politicos monitor 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.’s ever-changing roster, here are five important stories that likely got lost in the White House shuffles.
1. National Park Service employees punished for involvement in sexual harassment scandal, as new cases emerge
At least 10 employees of Yellowstone National Park will be punished for perpetuating a culture of sexual abuse in the park’s maintenance division, along with other ethics violations, the National Park Service said last week.
Last year, an investigation by the Montana Pioneer detailed how the division at Yellowstone, a premiere destination within the national parks system, had become a “men’s club.” An employee said a pattern of “abuse, exploitation, predatory sexual behavior, and reprisals” had plagued the park from 2011 to 2015.
Four months ago, a report by the Inspector General confirmed that kind of mistreatment of female employees along with the misuse of government credit cards, the Associated Press reported last week; a NPS spokesman did not detail to the AP whether the punishments being handed down were for harassment or the mishandling of money.
The news comes on the heels of another report of sexual abuse at the De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida. A manager at the park is accused of inappropriately touching a female employee and abusing his power. The report, released thanks to a FOIA request by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has been sent to NPS, the AP reported.
Why it’s important
Last year, after interviews with 50 victims of harassment and abuse across the NPS system, The Atlantic declared “The National Park Service has a big sexual harassment problem.”
The report from Yellowstone’s maintenance division was one of dozens of similar reports across the country last year, from Yosemite and the Grand Canyon to lesser-known parks like De Soto in Florida.
There are several reasons for this, Lyndsey Gilpin writes in the Atlantic: “a murky internal process for reporting and investigating complaints; a longstanding culture of machismo that dates to the agency’s foundation; and a history of retaliation against those who speak out.”
Almost a year after complaints were first lodged about the maintenance division of Yellowstone, many are still wondering: What’s being done about it? And: Is it enough?
The punishments being handed out this week appear to be part of a policy overhaul the parks service highlighted at a Senate committee hearing last month.
Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds told lawmakers the system has created an ombudsman’s office to deal with employee complaints and also plans to hire a sexual harassment prevention and response coordinator. They’re creating a zero tolerance culture from the top down, he said, including by shortening the timeline in which employees must complete sexual harassment training.
They’re also carrying out a “comprehensive” employee survey to gauge workers’ experience and areas in which the system can improve. Results are expected by the end of the summer, Federal News Radio reported. (A separate survey of seasonal employees was also launched last month).
Sexual misconduct is being addressed elsewhere in the government, too. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has launched a listening tour to reassess Obama-era policies about sexual assault on campus, though, as Politico noted, “she offered few clues about what those changes would be, when they might happen or how she would balance the rights of victims against those of the accused.”
2. A South African child born with HIV has remained virus-free for nearly nine years
A South African child who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007 has spent roughly nine years in remission without the assistance of drugs, researchers announced last week.
Doctors first diagnosed the 9-year-old with HIV at one month old, CNN reported. The child went through 40 weeks of antiretroviral treatment, or ART, a combination of medicines that can’t eliminate the virus but can slow its growth, according to the National Institutes of Health. The child has been virus-free since, according to blood tests.
The South African child is among 143 infants who received the antiretroviral treatment, researchers reported at the 9th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science in Paris.
“To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of sustained control of HIV in a child enrolled in a randomized trial of ART interruption following treatment early in infancy,” one of the lead researchers, Avy Violari from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, told the NIH.
Scientists reported a similar case in 2015 in France, where an infant diagnosed with HIV in 1996 has continued to control the virus without drugs, TIME reported.
The reasons behind the child’s sustained control of the virus are still unclear, Violari told the BBC.
“We don’t really know what’s the reason why this child has achieved remission – we believe it’s either genetic or immune system-related,” she said.
Why it’s important
More than 1.8 million children were living with HIV in 2015, according to the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). Fewer than half of those children had access to life-saving medical care.
Researchers hope to use this particular case as a springboard for understanding how the immune system controls HIV as well as how to advance future antiretroviral therapy.
3. In an apparent mix-up, Mississippi police shoot and kill the wrong man while serving a warrant
Last week, authorities in Southaven, Mississippi, fatally shot Ismael Lopez after they attempted to serve a warrant at the wrong home address.
The family’s attorney, Murray Wells, said his firm comissioned an independent investigation into the shooting, announcing Friday that the 41-year-old mechanic was struck by a single bullet to the back of his head. A coroner’s report has yet to be released.
Makeshift memorial set up at home of Ismael Lopez Rodriguez, shot and killed by Southaven Police last night. pic.twitter.com/eGviVmDMAp
— Mary Jo Ola (@Local24MaryJo) July 24, 2017
DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion did not dispute the claim that Southaven officers raided the wrong house. Police had intended to arrest Samuel Pearman on an assault charge Sunday, after the Tate County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance in a domestic abuse dispute. Pearman lives across the street from the Lopez residence.
This is the house listed in the warrant. Lopez's house is across the street. pic.twitter.com/A0ixnIFFBs
— Mary Jo Ola (@Local24MaryJo) July 26, 2017
The City of Southaven has not provided further details on the circumstances of the fatal shooting, saying that the city was “diligently gathering details at this time” and wouldn’t provide further comment until the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has completed its investigation.
Making things more complicated, Champion’s account differs from that of the victim’s wife. Champion said Southaven police officers first knocked on door of the Lopez residence, looking to confirm the correct location.
Champion said two police officers fired their weapons when the Lopez’s dog charged out of the house, after Ismael Lopez pointed a gun at officers. According to Champion, Lopez failed to comply with orders to lower his weapon.
The Lopez family’s attorney, however, said police shot through the door, adding that bullet holes could be seen through the door of the home. Wells said two weapons were in the house, but that neither of them were near Lopez’s body.
Wells told reporters that it was “troubling to learn that not only this man died, but that this man died running away from people who were trespassing on his premises after he was in bed lawfully.”
Why it’s important
This Mississippi shooting is a reminder that the conversation over police use of force shouldn’t necessarily be seen through a black-and-white lens.
Blacks and Hispanics have police encounters at disproportionately higher rates than other groups, but, as Kenya Downs reported for the NewsHour last year, police killings within brown communities can go underreported.
“In American history, racial conflict has largely played out in black and white. But the history is much more complicated, [leaving] out Native Americans, as well as Asians and Hispanics,” Aaron Fountain, historian of youth activism at Indiana University, told the NewsHour last year. “Americans don’t see any kind of historical context when Latinos are victims of state violence, despite the fact that there is historical context there,” he said.
Still, though police shootings happen more often in communities of color, experts point to a substantial number of deadly police encounters with white people, too, such as the fatal shooting of an Australian woman in Minnesota last month.
4. Family of intersex child settles first major lawsuit over gender surgery
M.C. Crawford was born with both female and male genitalia. When he was 16 months old, still in the foster care system, the doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina performed genital surgery. He had not yet met his adopted parents. Though doctors said that “either sex of rearing” could be possible, they opted for an operation that would identify M.C. as female.
As he grew older, though, M.C. identified as a boy.
The Crawfords say that as a result of the surgery, M.C., now 12, has incurred pain, psychological damage and a mountain of medical bills. Last week, his family settled with the hospital that conducted genital surgery on their son, resolving the first major lawsuit on the controversial use of the procedure on intersex children. In a statement, the hospital “denied all claims of negligence.”
Why it’s important
Roughly 1 in every 2,000 babies is intersex, born with mixed sex characteristics. Intersex is a broad category that encompasses various conditions, including M.C.’s rare condition.
For decades, doctors have performed genital surgery on intersex infants to make their genitalia appear more typically male or female. But a growing number of intersex activists have protested the surgery, saying that they are medically unnecessary and psychologically damaging. The Associated Press reported last week that the American Medical Association is considering a proposal to discourage the procedure altogether.
— Ryan Thoreson (@ryanthoreson) August 1, 2017
When a motion to dismiss the Crawfords’ lawsuit was denied by U.S. District Judge David C. Norton in 2013, it was the first time that a federal court had concluded that a medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on an intersex child could be a violation of the Constitution. While the family recently settled out of court — $440,000 to be delivered over 16 years — intersex activists see the case as a promising step.
“It’s the only lawsuit we’re aware of that’s become public at all,” Bo Laurent, founder of the Intersex Society of North America, told BuzzFeed News. “More and more, surgeons are going to realize that they’re at risk of these suits. Nobody can say this was uncontroversial standard practice. It is controversial.”
Last week, Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, issued a report alongside intersex advocacy group interACT calling for Congress to ban medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. The report concluded that the results of genital surgery are “often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are generally no urgent health considerations at stake.”
5. The Vatican shuts off its fountains as Italy deals with a historic drought
Aside from the Pope and the Sistine Chapel and the early Raphael frescoes, visitors to the Vatican come for its hundred ancient fountains — especially those in St. Peter’s square, some of which are a half millennia old.
Last week, the Vatican turned them all off — the first time officials there recall doing so, CNN reported.
“The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water,” the Vatican wrote in a statement.
(For its part, the Vatican also reminded visitors to be responsible tourists).
Why it’s important
Dry fountains may be trivial to some, but outside of the Vatican, throughout the rest of Rome, tourists and locals rely on them as a water source, drinking from open-air spigots along the city’s narrow streets and some of its most popular tourist attractions.
Officials turned some of those off last week, too, as the capital and the region that surrounds it reels from two consecutive years of historically low rainfall, Reuters says.
Turning off fountains is one way city leaders, and those in the Vatican alongside it, have tried to fight the drought. Another may be rationing water in the city, which is home to 3 million residents.
Without water, regrettably, there’s no wine — nor much of the rich agriculture that Italy produces for its own country and the rest of the world.
CNN noted that two-thirds of the country’s farmland has been affected by the lack of rain and blazing heat, according to Coldiretti, an Italian farmers’ lobby. They expect to lose $2.3 billion because of it.
Like in California, the drought and heat are sparking wildfires to the north of Italy, too. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the French Riviera last week.
“We’re winning the fight” against fires along the Mediterranean coast, one firefighter told The Guardian. But the conditions make more fires possible at any moment, he said.