We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Economic collapse leaves Lebanon in historic crisis
This week marks the first anniversary of the port explosion in Beirut, Lebanon that devastated thousands of homes and businesses and killed hundreds. The explosion, coupled with a rapidly disintegrating economy, has highlighted the ineptitude and corruption of the Lebanese government, as warring bureaucrats locked in a power struggle fail to enact any meaningful measures to combat the country’s downward slide.
A year later there are no answers, and no justice served, in regards to what caused the explosion. What’s more, the country’s currency has suffered a debilitating crash, driving over half the population below the poverty line and wiping out citizens’ entire life savings in bank accounts. The World Bank has chimed in, calling the spiraling financial crisis “one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years.”
This week, special correspondent Leila Molana-Allen in Lebanon spoke with a reporter at PBS News Hour to paint a picture of what daily life there is like. A can of corn now costs about two hours of labor. Diesel fuel is virtually unobtainable, with most of the nation’s petroleum stations now shut down. Medicines are also nearly impossible to find, with the shelves of most pharmacies now empty. Many people no longer even have reliable electricity, with the nationalized government electricity program only functioning a couple hours a day despite the sweltering summer heat. As one desperate mother in Beirut told Molana-Allen, “People are walking around like zombies. Their eyes are so desperate… We have reached a hopeless end. And it’s so hard for me to say hopeless, but it is hopeless.” —Mariel Lindsay
Biden calls for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign amid sexual harassment allegations
In February, a former aide accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of harassment, sparking an investigation into the allegations. This week, the state attorney general released a disturbing report detailing not only the claims of Lindsey Boylan, the former aide, but also 10 other victims. The complaints ranged from inappropriate comments to unwanted touching and kissing.
According to the New York Times, “The report described in stunning detail how Mr. Cuomo’s behavior and actions by his top officials violated both state and federal law, offering a look at the inner workings of the governor’s office and how it failed to properly handle some of the women’s allegations.”
The governor, never one to admit fault, makes the incredibly feeble argument that he’s physically affectionate because he’s Italian and that he would never harass a woman because he has a family member who was a victim of sexual assault.
The state Assembly has launched an impeachment investigation, focusing not just on the sexual harassment claims but also on whether Cuomo hid data on nursing home deaths during the pandemic and other accusations.
Meanwhile, prominent Democrats (including both U.S. senators from New York) have called for Cuomo to resign, as has President Joe Biden. “What I said was if the investigation by the attorney general concluded that the allegations were correct, back in March, I would recommend he resign,” Biden said. “That is what I’m doing today.” —Madeline Fry Schultz
Simone Biles wins bronze, tying record for most decorated U.S. gymnast
After dramatically removing herself from some Olympic competitions in Tokyo, Simone Biles returned to compete in the balance beam final and win a bronze medal. “Just to have one more opportunity to compete at the Olympics meant the world to me,” she told reporters. With the bronze, Biles now has seven Olympic medals, tying her with 1990s champion Shannon Miller for most medals for a U.S. gymnast.
Near the beginning of the Olympic games, Biles cited mental health issues for pulling out of the events she was slated to compete in, saying it was best for her and her teammates. Biles said she had the “twisties,” a term for when gymnasts experience a mind-body disconnect mid-air, which could lead to serious injury. Not only that, but she later revealed that her aunt died unexpectedly during the Olympics. None of this stopped online critics from offering their unsolicited opinions and cruel comments, but Biles rode out the drama like a true champion.
As Maggie Brady wrote for Verily: “Indeed, athletes like Biles . . . have nothing to prove, and they don’t owe the world more than they’ve already given us: outstanding discipline, commitment, and achievement at the highest level. We can be proud of their confidence and their willingness to lead, even though this time that leadership looks different and comes from a different place than their usual position at the top of the podium, draped in gold.” —MFS
Scarlett Johansson sues Disney over Marvel streaming release
Actress Scarlett Johannson filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday alleging Disney breached her contract by releasing Black Widow on its streaming service, Disney+, the Wall Street Journal reports. The film was released simultaneously on both Disney+ and in theaters. Johannson said her salary for the film would depend on the box office results.
“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a 'theatrical release,’' the suit says. “As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a 'theatrical release' is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”
Disney responded by saying there is “no merit” to her filing and called it “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” asserting that they fully complied with her contract and publicly revealing her salary amount of $20 million.
Johansson’s supporters dismiss the “callous” accusation as an attack on her character to deflect from their breach of contract, noting the theatrical release she agreed to would have earned her $50 million. “It's no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company's stock price—and that it's hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so,” John Berlinski, an attorney for Johansson, told CNN Business. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court.” —Melanie Wilcox
Belarusian Olympic Sprinter receives Political Asylum in Poland
An Olympic star has been removed from competition, with her nation’s officials conveniently blaming her “emotional, psychological state.” Belarusian sprinter Kryscina Tsimanouskaya was granted political asylum by Poland this week after complaining on social media about being overworked by her coaches.
According to Tsimanouskaya, shortly after she criticized the coaches on Instagram, Belarusian officials showed up to her room and escorted her to the airport, where they intended to forcibly board her on a plane to Minsk. However, she refused to board, telling reporters that she feared for her life. She also alleged that the order “from above” to forcibly repatriate her signified retaliation on the part of the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, popularly known as “the last dictator in Europe.” The 24-year-old athlete instead sought refuge at the Polish embassy in Tokyo where she was granted a humanitarian visa by the Polish government. She has since arrived safely in Warsaw, telling reporters that she “will not return to Belarus.”
Tsimanouskaya’s harrowing ordeal highlights the iron rule of Lukashenko’s authoritarian government, which is clamping down on widespread claims of election fraud with increasing censorship and arrests. One popular activist and political dissident died by a suspicious suicide the day before Tsimanouskaya arrived safely in her new homeland. —Mariel Lindsay
Former president of Planned Parenthood says she was ordered to mention abortion in every interview
Dr. Leana Wen’s new book, Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health was released July 27. In it, Wen reveals that she was told by Planned Parenthood board members to make abortion a major talking point and position it as “a positive moral good.”
Wen’s stormy time at the helm of Planned Parenthood ended in July 2019, a mere eight months after she became president of the organization. Trouble started on day one, Wen says: After a seemingly successful appearance on ABC’s The View, she started getting text messages complaining that she hadn’t mentioned the word abortion. "You need to talk about abortion at every media interview. You're the president of Planned Parenthood. People expect that from you,” one staffer told her. “Not saying 'abortion' sounds as if you're ashamed of it," scolded another.
Wen also writes that her colleagues didn’t want to acknowledge that many women have mixed feelings about ending their pregnancies, labeling their pain “dramatic.” She wanted to reposition Planned Parenthood as a nonpartisan authority on women’s general health. But, contrary to the discredited argument that abortion is “only three percent” of Planned Parenthood’s activities, Wen discovered the procedure was central to the organization’s identity. Her lawyers were in the midst of negotiating her departure when Planned Parenthood’s board voted her out—which she learned about via a news alert on her smart phone. —Margaret Brady
Meghan Markle launches mentorship program for women re-entering the workforce
On her 40th birthday August 4, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, asked activists, athletes, and celebrities around the world to spend 40 minutes mentoring women who are re-entering the workforce.
She was joined in the announcement Wednesday by actress Melissa McCarthy. It was Markle’s first public appearance since giving birth to her daughter, Lilibet, in June.
Markle said the mentorship, called “40X40” encourages women to “regain confidence and build their economic strength.” “Because I'm turning 40, I'm asking 40 friends to donate 40 minutes of their time to help mentor a woman who is mobilizing back into the workforce,” Markle said. “And I think if we all do it, and all commit 40 minutes to some act of service, we can create a ripple effect.”
Adele, poet Amanda Gorman, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, and feminist activist Gloria Steinem pledged to give 40 minutes of their time. Markle said that she was inspired to create the program because of the millions of women who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. —MW
German child protection authorities prepare to block Pornhub
German officials are about to take action against four of the world’s biggest pornography websites, including Pornhub, after they failed to implement age-verification checks to keep kids off the sites.
The Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Media is reportedly preparing an order to Germany’s internet service providers to block access to the sites at the Domain Name System level. With a DNS block, anyone who types a blocked web address into their browser would see a blank page. It’s all part of a two-year campaign to keep adult material, including violent and abusive pornography, out of the hands of kids.
According to Wired, German internet companies will likely resist complying with the order, resulting in a lengthy legal battle. Age verification requirements have a choppy history worldwide, with a similar U.K. effort petering out a couple of years ago amid concerns about censorship and online privacy. But in May, at least one big German porn site did roll out age verification software, proving it can be done.
Meanwhile, Paulita Pappel, who is a figure in German’s porn industry, claims without much evidence that “queer performers of color” would “suffer the most” if child welfare authorities take this step to protect kids. —MB
Good News of the Week
Disney princess culture isn’t toxic, research shows
Most little girls love Disney royalty. But are the traditional fairy tale princesses, who mostly get rescued by others instead of saving themselves, bad role models? New research says it’s not so.
According to Fox News, the study from Brigham Young University shows girls who embrace “princess culture” actually tend to have more progressive views about gender roles. The princesses can even counteract what’s popularly called “toxic masculinity.”
“Princess culture gives women key storylines where they’re the protagonist,” explains Sarah Coyne, the professor who led the study. The research showed girls who participated in princess entertainment even had better body images. Boys also benefited from their sisters’ princess fandoms; the more they were exposed to Disney royalty, the better they were able to express emotions.
Coyne credits Disney’s attempts to create more modern, empowered princesses, like Anna in Frozen or Merida in Brave as helping princess culture make a positive impact on child development. Both movies’ plot lines reject the stereotypical themes of earlier princesses’ stories. —MB
Watch of the Week
Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands shockingly tripped and fell three minutes into her 1500 meter qualifying heat in Tokyo. She got right back up off the track and ran so fast that she won the preliminary race anyway! Later that same evening, Hassan had enough energy left to take home a gold medal in the 5,000 meter race. Watch her fall—and spectacular recovery.