We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Devastating Explosion in Lebanon Exposes Governmental Mismanagement
On Tuesday, a devastating explosion in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut killed more than 135 people, injured 5,000 more, decimated parts of the city, and enraged citizens sick of the governmental corruption and mismanagement that most likely caused the blast.
Investigators examining the cause of the explosion uncovered strong evidence that local officials indirectly enabled it by ignoring warnings about the flammability of the ammonium nitrate, a highly flammable chemical used in fertilizer, stored in a warehouse near the port.
Lebanon’s Director of Customs reportedly sent letters to port authorities for six years, pleading with local officials to remove the ammonium nitrate from the warehouse where it had been stored after the Russian vessel carrying it was docked and abandoned at the Beirut port in 2013.
The Beirut governor told media outlets on Wednesday that financial losses due to the blast are close to $15 billion. What’s more, 300,000 people, already suffering economically due to COVID-19 quarantine, are now homeless as well. The President of Lebanon spoke before the cabinet and vowed that those responsible would be punished. —Mariel Lindsay
Surrogacy Industry in Russia Hit With Arrests
Eight Russians involved in commercial surrogacy have been arrested after one baby was found dead and others were discovered warehoused in various apartments.
The suspects include doctors, the head of a surrogacy company, and even a surrogate mother, herself. She is under house arrest, while the others are jailed awaiting trial.
Authorities began investigating in January after one baby born under a surrogacy contract was found dead in an apartment with three other living children. In June, five more babies were discovered in a different apartment and placed into state care. The children were reportedly being cared for by a pair of Chinese nannies.
Commercial surrogacy is legal in Russia and has been a lucrative industry for companies who often serve families from nations where surrogacy is outlawed, particularly China. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, Russia is not currently issuing visas to Chinese nationals. Hundreds of babies are thus stranded with no parents and are being cared for by a patchwork of nannies, relatives, and company employees.
Similar problems have arisen in other countries that allow commercial surrogacy, including the Ukraine and the United States. Some of the children are now six months old and have never met the parents who commissioned their birth. —Margaret Brady
Space X Mission Safely Splashes Down
A historic moment occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday: the first joint Space X/NASA mission to the International Space Station ended successfully, with the first water landing of a crewed U.S. spaceship since 1975.
Astronauts had blasted off two months ago for the mission, and waited about an hour longer before finally climbing out of the capsule—a leak of rocket fuel vapor caused the delay. As they cooled their heels waiting for a recovery boat to pick them up, the pair, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, took the opportunity to make some prank phone calls to loved ones and NASA officials. “Hi, it’s Doug and Bob and we’re in the ocean,” was the line they used.
The mission marks a new chapter in America’s return to manned space flight. Since 2011, when the space shuttle program was discontinued, the U.S. has relied on Russia to provide rides to and from the International Space Station.
It’s a big win for Space X founder Elon Musk, also known for his Tesla electric automobile company. In this venture, NASA is the customer and Space X is the owner and builder of the spacecraft. “We are going to be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight to low Earth orbit,” the New York Times quoted NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Space X had been in competition with Boeing to be the first private company to get astronauts into space. —MB
Unsealed Epstein Documents Reveal Connections with Bill Clinton and Other Public Figures
Last week thousands of Epstein-related court documents were released, thanks to the work of political activist Mike Cernovich, who sued and engaged in a three-year legal battle to expose the extent of the depravity of which global leadership is guilty.
The horrifying content in the files is causing a growing uproar of shock and anger as admired celebrities and political figures are named as having engaged in, or witnessed, the sexual trafficking of girls as young as 12. In one especially chilling excerpt, sex trafficking survivor Virginia Guiffre describes how Epstein had 12-year-old triplets gifted to him as a birthday present by model recruiter Jean-Luc Brunel. Guiffre says Epstein described sexually abusing them to her multiple times over the following weeks.
Some other public figures named in the partially unsealed files as having spent time on the island or on Epstein’s private plane are Vice President Al Gore, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum, Prince Andrew, and attorney Alan Dershowitz. Additionally, the documents reveal British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s extensive sexual abuse of the girls, allegedly forcing them to engage in repeated orgies with her and others, both on the plane and on the island.
Among the most powerful figures named in the files is none other than President Bill Clinton. Guiffre describes having seen him on the island with “young girls.” When she asked Epstein what the President was doing on ‘Orgy Island,’ Epstein reportedly told her that Clinton “owes him favors.”
When news broke, shocked and enraged readers flocked to Twitter to spread awareness with hashtag gone viral #BillClintonisaPedo.” A Clinton spokesperson responded to the Twitter storm with a single tweet: “The story keeps changing, the facts don’t. President Clinton has never been to the island.” —Mariel Lindsay
Trump Grants $35 Million to Victims of Sex Trafficking
On Tuesday the Trump administration awarded more than $35 million in aid to survivors of human trafficking in the United States, making it the largest ever federal investment in the ongoing national trafficking crisis. Various grants to different organizations were announced by presidential adviser Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr, who called human trafficking an “evil scourge.”
According to the White House, the Housing Assistance Grants for Victims of Human Trafficking will be shared by 73 organizations in 33 states, primarily to provide up to two years of transitional housing assistance in the form of rental payments, utilities and other expenses like security deposits. Additionally, the money may also be used to aid in finding permanent housing, jobs and occupational training and counseling.
Ivanka Trump emphasized the need of these services for those who have survived trafficking, calling what happened to them “the gravest of human rights violations.” Indeed, the numbers are chilling: studies estimate that about 50,000 people are annually trafficked into the United States, and somewhere between 100-300,000 American youths are lured into the sex trade. What’s more, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. —ML
COVID-19 Pandemic Claims Iconic Retailers
As the economy continues to stagger in the age of the coronavirus, multiple famous brands have failed to absorb the blow, including department store Lord & Taylor and the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank.
Lord & Taylor led the way with a bankruptcy filing on Sunday. After being in business since 1826, the company was already on thin ice last year when it was acquired by the start-up clothing rental company Le Tote. The company’s century-old, iconic flagship location on 5th Avenue, which at one time included a pipe organ and dining rooms, had already been sold.
Tailored Brands, which owns menswear names like Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse among others, also declared bankruptcy on Sunday. At risk are 1,400 stores and 18,000 employees. With more office employees working remotely and weddings and other events canceled or scaled down, the market for tuxedos, suits and business casual outfits has plummeted. Before the filing, Tailored Brands had already announced plans to lay off twenty percent of its corporate employees and slash 500 stores.
Both companies filed under Chapter 11 for bankruptcy protection, which means they hope to negotiate with their creditors, reorganize their businesses and eventually emerge as viable entities again. Le Tote was reportedly seeking a suitor to buy some of the more valuable Lord & Taylor locations, but meanwhile, liquidation sales have begun. —MB
Twitter Faces $250 Million Fine from FTC
On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed that it is investigating Twitter, Inc. for linking a database of its users’ personal information with a system used by advertising partners. The action, which Twitter has called “inadvertent,” violates an agreement the company signed with the FTC over consumer privacy in 2011. As a result, Twitter could face a fine of up to $250 million from the FTC for claiming asking users to provide their phone numbers and email addresses as part of a two-factor authentication system meant for “security purposes.”
Twitter made the FTC’s investigation, which began last October, public in its latest earnings report, in which the company reported earnings of $683 million. The investigation started last fall when Twitter admitted it had “inadvertently” targeted ads at users between 2013 through 2019 by using their personal contact information. —Melanie Wilcox
Former MSU Gymnastics Coach Gets 90-Day Sentence for Lying About Nassar Crimes
Kathie Klages, the Michigan State University gymnastics coach received a 90-day sentence this week for the charge of lying to a peace officer. Klages alleged that she had not heard of any sexual assault accusations against Larry Nassar prior to 2016, despite a number of former gymnasts saying she dismissed their reports.
While Klages said, Nassar “had me completely fooled," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said “the evidence clearly points to the fact that Ms. Klages was aware — for decades — of Larry Nassar’s actions [and] did nothing to protect the young women who were counting on her to stand up for them. Ms. Klages chose to remain silent at a time when doing the right thing should’ve motivated her to do the very opposite and speak up on behalf of the victims.”
One victim known as RF stated, “(It) caused devastation on my entire life, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. . . . The first and only adult I had ever told just canceled all of my intuitions, that sexual abuse is real and painful and wrong. She silenced me not only when I was 14 years old, but for another 20 years.”
Here’s hoping Klages’ sentence sets a precedent that will encourage further accountability and less enabling of sexual predators. —Mary Rose Somarriba
Trump Signs Law to Bolster Conservation
On Tuesday, President Trump signed a bill that guarantees investment—up to $9.5 billion—to the National Park Service, a move that, until now, has had only limited success under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Starting in fiscal year 2021, the Great American Outdoors Act will put as much as $9.5 billion toward the National Park System, an agency of the federal government that has grown to $12 billion in funding over the past three decades. The funds from the GAOA will go toward maintenance, including new water systems for restaurants, expanded parking, revamped campgrounds and other improvement purposes, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. —Melanie Wilcox
Good News of the Week
College student Lia Rubel, 18, had her summer internship plans ruined by COVID-19. But the Barre, Vermont native decided to use her newfound time to make a difference for the vulnerable. Rubel joined the mission of Telehealth Access for Seniors, a group founded in March to connect vulnerable older adults with a smartphone or tablet and telehealth capabilities. “It’s more than just a device. It’s a vital connectivity tool and it could save someone’s life,” says Rubel, 18, who joined the initiative in March as the lead for Vermont. “It just hurt my heart that they don’t have that privilege and they can’t connect to friends and families. They can’t even connect to their doctors.”
Rubel notes, “If they’re still self-quarantining, it’s really important for mental health,” says Rubel. “We include with the devices some suggestions to download wellness apps. And they [patients] use the devices to FaceTime family to stay connected.”
Good News Network reports “Since March, Telehealth Access for Seniors has expanded to over 50 volunteers in 26 states and they’ve raised an estimated $38,000 and donated 825 devices, Rubel says. In Vermont alone, Rubel has helped collect about 50 devices and $800.” —MRS
Watch of the Week
A bride who was having wedding photos taken at the time of the Beirut explosion shared her thoughts in a brief interview.
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