These days, it’s hard to stop news from Washington, D.C., from flooding your news feed. We take a moment every week to bring you important stories beyond the White House and the Capitol. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. The impact of a $500 million settlement with victims of Dr. Larry Nassar
Michigan State University agreed to a $500 million settlement with more than 300 victims who say former sports doctor Larry Nassar assaulted them over his nearly two-decade career at the university and USA Gymnastics. Under the agreement, 332 victims will split $425 million while the school will get $75 million to settle possible future claims, the Lansing State Journal reported last week. The money is not expected to be divvied out to the victims equally, the Associated Press reported. It’s not clear how the school will pay for the settlement, either, the AP noted.
Part of the agreement also requires victims to withdraw their support for two bills included in a package of state legislation that would strengthen state laws on sexual misconduct, particularly cases that involve child victims. State lawmakers said they would continue to push for legislation to prevent future instances of child sexual abuse, but it’s not clear what impact the settlement will have on those efforts, Michigan Live reported.
Nassar pleaded guilty last year to molesting women and girls under his care. More than 250 victims came forward to testify during a series of sentencing hearings this year in Michigan. He is serving out three prison sentences that will likely keep him incarcerated for life. [Lansing State Journal]
Why it matters: In court, some of Nassar’s victims said the doctor’s abuse occurred while they were seeking medical care.
Writing for the Huffington Post earlier this year, women’s health physical therapist Lori Mize said she fears Nassar’s abuse will stigmatize pelvic physical therapy, a legitimate treatment for a variety of medical problems.
“For women with pelvic floor disorders, it is difficult enough to battle the stigma, shame and guilt often associated with these conditions,” Mize said. “Those of us who care for and care about the health of women and girls must not allow predators like Nassar to further victimize women by making them fear the very interventions that can improve and enrich their lives,” she added.
It’s an issue the Los Angeles Times pointed to last week when it broke a story about the yearslong sexual misconduct allegations against a University of Southern California gynecologist whose abuse of an unspecified number of victims occurred under the guise of medical treatment at the school’s student medical center. Tyndall was repeatedly accused of improper behavior during exams, including taking multiple photos of women’s genitals, inappropriate touching and making comments about their physical appearance. Colleagues also expressed concern that Tyndall was focusing his attention specifically on the university’s Chinese students, who were neither fluent in English nor accustomed to medical evaluations in the U.S.
The newspaper reported that the complaints started in the 1990s and that Tyndall was allowed to continue practicing on campus until the university suspended him over improper conduct in 2016. Tyndall was able to resign last summer and receive a financial payout, the Times reported.
“Several of the complaints were concerning enough that it is not clear today why the former health center director permitted Tyndall to remain in his position,” the university wrote in a recently disclosed summary of its investigation into Tyndall.
The university said in a statement to the LA Times that while it was not under any legal obligation to report Tyndall to the Medical Board of California, it should have “in hindsight.” Meanwhile, Tyndall insisted in interviews with the Times that he provided thorough and appropriate exams.
Six women filed lawsuits against USC on Monday, alleging that they were victimized by Tyndall. On Tuesday, 200 USC professors called on university President C. L. Max Nikias to resign in letter to the board of trustees, saying that “he has lost the moral authority to lead.”
2. The war in Yemen has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world
Yemen has been embroiled in war for nearly four years, causing what many people now call the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Nearly 10,000 people have died in the fighting between a Saudi-led government coalition and Shiite Houthi rebels. And 22 million people rely on humanitarian assistance every day, two million of them children “on the brink of starvation,” the PBS NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs reported last week in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. “In the past three months alone, we have seen more than a 100,000 people have to flee their homes,” one aid worker told Biggs.
“There is nothing very joyful or promising or optimistic in any way,” Mirella Hodeib, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the NewsHour. [The PBS NewsHour]
Why it matters: Concerns over security have gotten so bad that many humanitarian groups and international non-governmental organizations have had to pull workers from the country.
Those resources are needed more now than ever, the NewsHour’s Ryan Connolly Holmes notes: “The government has not paid public sector employees since August 2016, including medical workers like doctors and nurses in the health ministry, so many hospitals and clinics around the country sit closed without staff to operate them.” Less than half of Yemen’s health facilities are functional, Biggs adds, “amid a health crisis that has seen epidemics of preventable and largely eradicated diseases, like cholera and diphtheria.”
“I love my work. This hospital is in my village. If I don’t help my own people, who am I going to help?” one doctor told her.
The only solution, the doctor said: peace. And it’s not clear when, or how, that will come. In the meantime, here is a list of organizations who are still in the country to help.
3. Several women’s rights activists have been detained in Saudi Arabia amid pushes for social reform
Saudi Arabia has detained several women’s rights activists, weeks before its driving ban expires.
Among the 10 arrested is prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has campaigned for years against Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, which requires women to obtain permission from male relatives before doing things like traveling or marrying. In 2014, al-Hathloul was arrested and detained for more than 70 days after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from neighboring United Arab Emirates to protest Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers. The activists primarily focus on women’s rights, in particular dismantling the guardianship system, but they also comment on Saudi culture in general.
The Saudi government has not given an official reason for the arrests, and it’s not clear how long the women will be detained, or what charges they could be facing. [The Guardian]
Why it matters: The arrests are accompanied by what Amnesty International is calling a “smear campaign” to discredit six of the activists by describing them as “traitors” who have formed a “cell” to threaten national security and social norms. They also come weeks before the driving ban is set to expire on June 24. That reversal has been pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who experts say is trying to modernize Saudi culture and diversify the Saudi economy through plans like Vision 2030, which among other social reforms, also proposes reducing Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil production and privatizing some state sectors. While many Saudis, especially youth, support the changes, some activistssay the reforms are insufficient if the guardianship system continues. In an online statement, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment.”
4. It’s not just you: There are more mega rain events, researchers say
The Midwest is getting tons of rain, and many cities are unprepared for it.
Fivethirtyeight reports that across the Midwest, particularly in Minnesota, larger and more intense storms have led to increased and unpredictable flooding. One of the biggest causes for concern: mega rain events, defined as storms during which “at least 6 inches of rain falls over at least 1,000 square miles and the center of the storm drops more than 8 inches of rain.” Since 1973, Minnesota has had 11 mega rain events; eight of those have occurred since 2000. According to Fivethirtyeight, “experts suspect climate change is behind this and other shifts in precipitation patterns. But knowing what’s causing an increase in precipitation and knowing what to do about it are two different issues.” [Fivethirtyeight]
Why it matters: Weather and city planning experts are now confronting a much less predictable future. City planners have traditionally used prior years’ weather data to map floodplains and build infrastructure that complies with weather-appropriate regulations. But whereas researchers could predict prior major weather events based on how often they would have occurred in the past — like hundred year floods, which have a 1 percent chance of occurring every year — increased rain events have made those models less reliable.
Fivethirtyeight spoke to Minneapolis engineer Erin Wenz, who uses precipitation models to advise cities on how and where to build to best avoid flooding. She said old data was used until 2013, meaning cities were planning development based on outdated information. When Wenz plugged the new data into the models, she found “ flooding showing up as potential all across [a] built-out city,” she told Fivethirtyeight.
Since the climate is changing, more Midwestern cities are running into similar issues. They’re relying on incomplete predictions to estimate the future, one in which intense rain events and less predictable flooding are possible, and even likely.
5. Airlines are cracking down on emotional support animals
American Airlines is the latest airline to tighten its policies for passengers flying with emotional support animals in an effort to clamp down on fraud — something that appears to have been a growing problem over the years.
Specifically, the airline plans on enforcing its advanced notice requirement for emotional support animals, which requires pre-approval. The revised policies also cracks down on which animals it will allow — goats (and other horned animals), hedgehogs, spiders and sugar gliders (a type of small possums) are now off the list.
American said in a statement that the airline has seen a more than 40 percent increase in passengers flying with a service or support animal from 2016 to 2017. Among the concerns are the safety issues that stem from untrained animals defecating on board, or growling at or biting other passengers during a flight. [CBS 11]
Why it matters: Part of the problem these airlines are facing is a conflicting set of federal standards. The Americans With Disabilities Act defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse that can assist a person with a disability. However, a separate law — the Air Carrier Access Act, which airlines have looked to for guidance on the issue — does not match the ADA’s definition. Airline officials and advocates say this is where abuse can creep in.
The ACAA has a category for emotional support animals, which are defined more loosely than service animals. Airlines say this has led to a growing number of passengers who falsely claim an animal to be for emotional support to prevent it from being held in the cargo of the plane. What’s more, the documentation required for emotional support animals from a supposed mental health professional or doctor can be found easily online, some of them on fraudulent websites, the Washington Post reported.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina introduced legislation last month with the primary goal of firming up the ACAA’s definition of a service animal.
Burr also said the bill would also come with penalties who try to fraudulently claim a need for an emotional support animal. The Transportation Department is expected to address the issue alater this year. It’s not clear where Burr’s bill will go next — or to what extent mental health advocates think it’s a viable solution — but in the meantime, airlines are trying to assert control of the situation on their own.