“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine,” President Trump said at an emotional roller coaster of a news conference last week.
The Washington establishment reeled at that metaphor. Trump lost his national security advisor, Mike Flynn, to a scandal involving Russia, while his immigration ban stood frozen by the judiciary. But Trump’s supporters saw a different picture.
“He doesn’t need the media to chide him to make the right decisions,” Kevin Felty told the Associated Press. “It’s something he’s been doing well for decades.”
While the country may not be able to agree on what happened last week, and the Russia questions still linger, here are five stories everyone can agree were overlooked.
1. Six months later, Rio’s fate after the Olympic Games doesn’t look golden.
Prior to the Rio Olympic Games last year, organizers repeated the assurance that there would be “no white elephants.”
Officials signaled there would be careful financial steps to prevent all the infrastructure constructed for the event from falling into disrepair. Granted, several past host cities have seen these Olympics projects, like the ski jumps from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games, are easily forgotten and difficult to translate into useful infrastructure.
Several international cities dropped out of the bidding to host the 2020 Olympics because the Games looked more and more like an expensive investment not worth the risk.
“Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge,” Stockholm officials in 2014 said of its decision to drop its bid. “There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.”
There were hopes in Rio that the projected heavy tourism would help Brazil climb out of its debilitating recession.
So, six months after the Rio Olympic Games, how did the city fare in the aftermath?
Presumably, not great.
Why it’s important
Before the scheduled Games in August, the list of woes for Rio included: concerns over the city’s security forces following budget cuts, the Zika virus, contaminated waters and other pollution problems, displacement of “favelas” — and, at one point, parts of a mutilated corpse that had washed ashore on the Copacabana Beach.
These concerns were largely muted as the sporting event got underway as the feats of Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, among others, grabbed headlines.
However, a check-in from The New York Times concludes that Rio “has quickly become the latest, and perhaps the most striking, case of unfulfilled promises and abandonment.”
Olympic Park failed to attract any investors, meaning the city will now have to foot the bill to maintain it. Currently, the Times reported, the park is in shambles, as are many other structures built for the Games. And although city officials said there were plans to re-purpose some of the structures for public use, no time frames were given.
Camila Felix Muguet, who partially lost her home to construction for the Olympics, said her community of Deodoro, one of most affected by the projects, will be “forgotten.”
“The government, business people — they tricked us,” she told the Times. “They came, they robbed, and they said goodbye. Now they’re gone, and where are our upgrades?”
2. The number of hate groups rise, new report says
The number of operating hate groups in the U.S. rose from 892 to 917 in 2016, according to an annual census from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The group, which monitors extremism in the U.S., also found a spike in anti-Muslim and white nationalist groups, which it says was fueled in part by rhetoric in the presidential campaign.
“2016 was an unprecedented year for hate,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow and editor of the center’s “Intelligence Report.” “The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists.”
The report also said the number of Muslim hate groups in particular nearly tripled, jumping from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.
Why it’s important
The SPLC said it has documented more than 860 bias-related incidents in the first 10 days after President Donald Trump was elected to the highest office in the country. More than 300 of those targeted immigrants or Muslims.
Since then, there have been more bias-related incidents. A fire that destroyed a Texas mosque was ruled an arson, although authorities are still investigating whether it was a hate crime.
Jewish Community Centers across the nation reported receiving nearly 60 bomb threats in January.
And days before the inauguration, Asian American Advocating Justice launched a website that tracks hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The civil rights group cited a rise in crimes against this community as the catalyst for the website.
“When you have moments of crisis, communities often consolidate themselves by scapegoating others,” Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department for African-American Studies at Princeton University, told the NewsHour in November. “And, usually, that scapegoating, at least in the context of the United States, has taken violent form.”
When asked last week at a press conference about the rise in attacks on JCCs, Trump said “some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?”
The response to this level of hate will be “messy,” Glaude said, adding that the efforts would include civil disobedience and voting, offering one solution to the crisis.
“What we need to do is kind of organize ourselves to put forward a vision of America that runs counter to what we’re seeing now. And that’s going to be hard … But we have to do it,” he said.
3. The long road to recovery for giant tortoises in the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are known for their biodiversity and being home to species not found anywhere else on the planet. The island was named after its most famous inhabitants: giant tortoises, which can live past 100 years old.
Since the 1880s, however, the several species of giant tortoises on the island drastically declined, to extinction, in some cases. Initially, hunters were blamed for the dwindling numbers, while invasive species, like the non-native black rat, also threatened the tortoises and their habitats.
Writing for The Conversation, conservationist James P. Gibbs noted several ways decades-long efforts to protect these vulnerable tortoises have walked them back from the brink of extinction.
Most recently, giant tortoises on the Pinzon Island of the Galapagos successfully bred in the wild, a first in a century.
That moment was made possible by conservationists in the 1970s who insulated the remaining tortoises from threats like the rats that feasted on their eggs and hatchlings. There was also a large-scale effort to eradicate the rats from the archipelago that began in 2011.
Why it’s important
One of the most famous inhabitants of the Galapagos — and cautionary tale for conservationists — was Lonesome George.
The Pinta Island giant tortoise, the last known of his subspecies Geochelone abingdoni, died in 2012 after decades of failed attempts to continue his lineage. George didn’t fertilize any eggs when in close proximity with different females.
Researchers thought his subspecies was extinct until he was found on the Pinta Island in the 1970s.
After he died, conservationists decided to preserve the tortoise through taxidermy.
Video by American Museum of Natural History
Rick Schwartz of the San Diego Zoo told National Geographic that Lonesome George could act as a reminder of the human impact on the future, while the tortoise’s own history is “an opportunity to educate about other species and conservation efforts as a whole.”
Three aspiring Olympic taekwondo athletes told the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2014 that they had been sexually abused by their coach. But the USOC never intervened, according to an investigation published last week by The Washington Post.
In a document addressed to the USA Taekwondo Ethics Committee and published by The Washington Post, athlete Yasmin Brown described how her coach, Marc Gitelman, or “Master G,” repeatedly abused her over the course of three years as she competed in tournaments across the country. Brown writes that she was first abused by Gitelman, then 44, in May 2010 while in a hotel room. She says Gitelman gave her alcohol and she quickly became intoxicated. She “did not have the motor control” to get him off of her when he started making sexual advances.
Two other athletes described similar accounts in letters to USA Taekwondo, alleging abuse by Gitelman and urging the committee to open an investigation.
USA Taekwondo, which acts as the Olympic national governing body for the sport, never launched an investigation, prompting Brown to seek help from the United States Olympic Committee. When they did not intercede, as the Post reports, the three athletes took their case to court.
In late October 2015, the three athletes filed suit against Gitelman in Los Angeles County Superior Court, as reported by The Orange County Register. The judge involved in the case, Bruce Marrs, ordered Gitelman be registered as a lifetime sex offender and sentenced him in September 2016 to more than four years in state prison for sexually abusing children, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Why it’s important
This case is years old. But despite calls for more awareness and oversight, allegations of sexual abuse — specifically within America’s most prominent Olympic organizations — continue.
Multiple instances of abuse within USA Gymnastics — which includes 148,000 athletes and more than 25,000 professional, instructor and club members — were uncovered last year by an IndyStar investigation, including a case in Georgia in which a coach reportedly preyed upon athletes for seven years after USA Gymnastics dismissed the first of four warnings against him. Other national governing bodies, including USA Swimming and U.S. Speedskating, have faced allegations as well.
Part of the problem: “To the best of my knowledge, there’s no duty to report … if you are a third party to some allegation,” USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said in a 2015 deposition.
Though USA Gymnastics would not disclose the total number of sexual misconduct allegations it received each year, IndyStar independently reported USA Gymnastics collected complaints of improper conduct by more than 50 coaches between 1996 and 2006 and consistently declined to forward them to authorities. The paper documented abuse of at least 14 underage gymnasts even after warnings were issued.
But steps to combat sexual abuse are underway. In 2010, after allegations of abuse in USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee organized the creation of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a non-profit that responds to abuse claims from the national sports organizations that fall under USOC’s umbrella according to USA TODAY.
The center requires national governing bodies of Olympic sports to forward all sexual misconduct complaints to the organization immediately, without any sort of screening process.
The center was expected to open in 2015, but was delayed because of difficulty raising the additional $16.7 million the organization needed to operate, the Post reports. It’s now slated to open in April of this year.
“Sexual abuse is obviously a societal issue, not just something happening in the world of youth sports,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said during the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly. “But as leaders in the world of sport, we have to do everything in our power to keep athletes safe.”
5. Fly me to the moon … again
In late 2018, NASA is planning its first launch of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, equipped with an Orion capsule that will orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
Now, that mission, known as EM-1, could include astronauts.
In a letter to NASA employees last week, acting agency director Robert Lightfoot asked that human spaceflight be included in EM-1, Buzzfeed reported.
EM-1 was intended as a test of only the SLS/Orion system, according to Wired; humans weren’t included on the timeline until several years after the initial launch. This letter could change that.
Why it’s important
In 1968, Apollo 8 made history as the first manned spacecraft to leave the Earth’s orbit, circling the moon 10 times before it splashed into the Northern Pacific ocean. It paved the way for Apollo 11 to bring Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in July 1969 — “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Those were the glory days.
Many people believe that America’s role in global space research has dimmed over the past few decades. Some of that has to do with mixed messages from U.S. presidents and Congress.
A Pew Research study in late 2015 showed that 48 percent of U.S. adults believed the federal government should “play a minor or no role in advancing space exploration.” But 47 percent said the federal government should have a major role.
Plenty have wondered: what’s next for America’s space travel?
The Washington Post speculated on a return to the moon after Trump won the presidential election in November.
Why? It sends a message that America is still serious about space. China, Japan and Russia, among other countries, have all said they want to send humans on a lunar mission. Articulating a similar priority could be a tool for diplomacy, experts say.
Still, NASA tends to take its time, spending years to create plans and specific timelines for its missions. Comparatively, this would be a rushed addition to a long-planned orbit around the moon, experts told the Post.
Experts at a House Committee Hearing on NASA last week showed enthusiasm for the project. But NASA itself is at a crossroads, as The Atlantic wrote last week. “NASA’s Apollo-era budget accounted for 4.5 percent of the federal budget,” it said. “Today’s budget is less than half a percent.”
Many experts don’t think NASA has the resources to achieve those goals, according to ArsTechnica. Congress is re-evaluating the agency’s budget and priorities — and Politico has reported Trump also wants to explore the privitization of some space stations and “the large-scale economic development of space.”
Not to mention NASA is currently without a permanent chief.
The bottom line: Keep an eye on the sky — this story is far from over.
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