Shane Savitsky
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China's first space lab will fall to Earth in next six months

A man looks at a display model of a Shenzhou 8 spacecraft docked with Tiangong 1. Photo: Alexander F. Yuan / AP

Tiangong 1, China's first space lab, will make an uncontrolled descent to Earth sometime before April after the country lost control of the craft due to its rapidly decaying orbit, per The Guardian. The reentry into Earth's atmosphere should burn up most of the craft, but 220-pound pieces of debris could reach Earth's surface. China has told the United Nations the chances of the lab wreaking any havoc on the ground are "very low," but that it would closely monitor the craft's reentry.

Think back: It's not the first uncontrolled reentry of a large spacecraft, as Skylab broke up over Australia in 1979. And no word if Taco Bell will set up a target for Tiangong 1 to offer free tacos to every American — like it did with Mir's descent in 2001.

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Trump: Marino is out of the running to become drug czar

President Trump announced via Twitter this morning that Rep. Tom Marino removed his name from consideration to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This follows reports emerged that Marino steered a bill through Congress that significantly weakened the government's ability to crack down against the opioid epidemic.

Go deeper: The Washington Post/60 Minutes report that started it all.

Think back: Trump touched on the topic of Marino's nomination during his impromptu press conference in the White House Rose Garden with Mitch McConnell yesterday afternoon:

  • "We are going to look into the report... We are going to be looking into Tom... We are going to take it very seriously."
  • Trump also said he'll declare the opioid crisis a national emergency "next week"
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Shorter antibiotic regime appears effective for drug-resistant TB

An Indian doctor examines a X-ray picture of a tuberculosis patient. Photo: Channi Anand / AP

A shorter nine-month course of antibiotics might be just as effective in fighting multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) as the current two-year standard, according to early results from an international clinical trial, per the New York Times. The trial saw a 78% success rate, compared with 81% for the two-year treatment.

Why it matters: Each year, nearly 500,000 people become sick with MDR TB, leading to about 200,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A shorter medication regime would benefit the infected populace, which is centered in the developing world.

Current treatments: "Patients with even uncomplicated tuberculosis must take four drugs a day for six months. Treating drug-resistant tuberculosis can require in-hospital intravenous infusions and toxic second-line antibiotics that may cause nausea, deafness, liver damage and other side effects that lead patients to drop out of treatment," the NYT piece stated.

Limitations: Trials tend to show a higher rate of success than real-life scenarios, likely due to the increased scrutiny given during the trials, the researchers said.

"Unlike drug-sensitive TB, which can be treated effectively and cured with the current standard of care, treatment outcomes for MDR-TB are poor, with less than half of cases having successful outcomes with no more than one in 10 MDR-TB patients being effectively identified and treated," according to the study, conducted by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and UCL.

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Dollar stores thrive in rural America

A Dollar Tree in California. Photo: Lenny Ignelzi / AP

Bloomberg looked at the rise of dollar stores across rural America, which are replacing the mom-and-pop grocery stores of old and entering communities where big-box retailers like Walmart don't see an opportunity for profit.

Why it matters: The biggest dollar store chains like Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar all tend to operate in poorer, older, less-educated towns where residents are more likely to receive some sort of federal assistance. Their stores often are one of the only food options for rural residents who would otherwise have to travel miles to a supermarket.

Dollar General is implementing a $22 billion plan to open 1,000 new stores in poor, rural communities, across the U.S., calling the firm's yellow-and-black logo "the small-town corollary to Starbucks' two-tailed green mermaid."

  • Why it matters: Dollar General and Dollar Tree have more than 27,000 locations between the two of them, more than all the locations of CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid combined, and nearly three times the number of such stores open in 2007. Dollar General's success is attributable in part to its focus on towns too small for Walmart, where it sells staple items, in small quantities, at rock-bottom prices.
  • The dollar model's dark side: It's no coincidence that dollar stores have thrived in the wake of the recession, as income inequality has soared. As one analyst told Bloomberg, ""Essentially what the dollar stores are betting on in a large way is that we are going to have a permanent underclass in America. It's based on the concept that the jobs went away, and the jobs are never coming back, and that things aren't going to get better in any of these places."
  • What's next: The Internet might be the next big hope for rural food deserts as there's currently a federal pilot program to allow food assistance recipients to order their groceries online. Companies like Amazon and Walmart have signed up as suppliers, allowing them to avoid the overhead to setting up shop in a rural town.
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EPA won't settle lawsuits from environmental groups

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at the White House. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a memorandum Monday to officially end a practice called "sue-and-settle," where the agency issues rules in response to lawsuits from environmental groups, per Bloomberg. The practice, which led to the Clean Power Plan during the Obama administration, was blasted by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as "regulation through litigation" that bypassed federal rule making processes.

Why it matters: Environmentalists are set to ramp up their lawsuits against President Trump's EPA as it unwinds the numerous regulations his predecessor issued. This change could increase the agency's litigation costs if it chooses to fight protracted court battles with environmental groups.

Why it won't matter forever: This memorandum has no legally binding impact, so the next president and his or her EPA administrator can choose to not follow it if they so chose.

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Sen. Cochran postpones his return to Washington

Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014. Photo: Rogelio V. Solis / AP

Sen. Thad Cochran's office announced this morning that a urinary tract infection would postpone his planned returned to Washington after a period of illness at home in Mississippi. Cochran's office said he'd be back in the Senate "when his health permits."

Why it matters: The Senate GOP wants to pass a budget resolution this week that would allow its tax plan to pass the chamber with a simple majority. However, not all Senate Republicans are publicly on board with the budget resolution yet, so Cochran's absence will make the expected vote even tighter given the GOP's slim 52-vote majority.

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Why George Soros is a favorite target of the right

Republican Rep. Paul Gosar told Vice News this week that he thinks "it would be interesting to find out" if billionaire progressive activist George Soros worked with "the left" to facilitate August's Charlottesville violence, returning to an oft-parroted far-right conspiracy theory.

Data: Google Trends; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why Soros? He's a figure often seen as a bogeyman by conservative pundits, who have latched onto both his Hungarian roots and massive success in the financial sector — such as betting against the British pound in the 1990s — to create shadowy associations with his extensive support of progressive causes and social justice. And his Jewish faith, which Gosar made the point of mentioning during his Vice interview, is frequently used as a dog whistle by the far right.

The trend: Spikes in media attention for Soros tend to crop up in two scenarios — a genuine political splash by Soros or a right-wing conspiracy theory brought about by a controversial and divisive event in the United States.

Soros' time in the spotlight over the past two years:

March 15, 2016

Trump's rise causes Soros to dump more cash into 2016 race: Soros viewed Trump's status as frontrunner in 2016 as particularly threatening to the liberal causes he supports, pushing Soros to dump tens of millions in additional cash to back Hillary Clinton. Soros similarly sunk huge amounts of cash into the 2004 presidential race behind John Kerry to oust President George W. Bush.

August 15, 2016

Docs from Soros group released by Russian hackers: Soros' Open Society Foundations was on the receiving end of a Russian cyberattack that led to the release of thousands of documents detailing his support for social justice projects as well as his opposition to far-right ideologies. The attack can now be viewed as a sort of preview to the larger incursions by Russia to influence the 2016 election.

October 24, 2016

Conspiracy theories that Soros owns voting machines: Far-right blogs kicked off a conspiracy theory that Soros owned Smartmatic, a company that controlled voting machines in 16 states, and planned to rig the 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton. Soros did not own any stake in Smartmatic or any other companies connected with voting machines.

November 14, 2016

Soros meets with liberal donors to resist Trump: Soros organized a summit in Washington the week after the election to rally together key Democrats to formulate a plan of action to oppose the Trump administration.

January 23, 2017

Rumblings that Soros funded women's march: Breitbart picked up an op-ed from pro-Trump journalist Asra Q. Nomani alleging that Soros funded the Women's March on Washington, one of the largest protests ever to descend on the nation's capital. Many of the partner organizations of the march did receive contributions from Soros' Open Society Foundations.

August 12, 2017

Far-right conspiracy theories regarding Charlottesville: Infowars falsely alleged that emails showed that the violence in Charlottesville instigated by white supremacist and anti-Semitic demonstrators was in fact orchestrated by Soros in an attempt to bring about "civil unrest" in order to facilitate martial law and ban all conservative voices from protesting.

September 26, 2017

Far-right conspiracy theories surrounding the NFL anthem protests: Alex Jones and Jack Posobiec alleged on Infowars that Soros funded the NFL anthem protests to incite a race war in the United States. For good measure, their report involved plenty of talk about the protests being designed to allow the rise of a "shadow government" planning a coup against President Trump.

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This week's investigative stories worth reading

As President Trump continued his war against fake news this week, reporters around the country produced groundbreaking investigative reporting from the halls of nursing homes to the halls of power. Three longform reads that you should spend some time with this weekend:

  • The New Yorker's Rachel Aviv exposed the world of elder abuse via guardianships in Clark County, Nevada, detailing how seniors can lose control of their homes, assets, and livelihoods — all by a very legal process. It's commonly practiced in areas known for their extensive retirement communities, allowing lightly-trained legal guardians to sell off seniors' estates for extensive profit while providing them with a minimum of care.
  • BuzzFeed News' Joseph Bernstein obtained emails and documents from Breitbart News and examined how the right-wing news site's most popular personality interacted and worked to bring alt-right ideas into the public sphere. Come for Steve Bannon texting Milo Yiannopoulos "Dude!!! LMAO!" but stay for the revelation of Yiannopoulos' passwords, which are riddled with anti-Semitic and Nazi references.
  • The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan produced a harrowing account of the hazing death of Tim Piazza, a fraternity pledge at Penn State University, all while systemically exposing the procedures in place to shield the larger fraternity industry from similar incidents. While the minute-by-minute account of Piazza's abuse compiled via a grand jury presentment is terrifying enough, it's Flanagan's interview with his parents that might linger the longest.
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Real media strikes back

A pro-media demonstration in front of The New York Times in February. Photo: Kathy Willens / AP

President Trump lashed out at the news media this morning on Twitter, calling "so much of our news" in the United States "just made up-FAKE!" But here are 3 stories that prove real news still matters:

  • The New York Times in a bombshell report exposed decades of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood's most powerful producers. Eight women spoke on the record , including actress Ashley Judd. Weinstein issued an apology to the Times, promising "to do right by all of [the women he's hurt]" before later promising to sue the paper.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published text messages between Rep. Tim Murphy and his mistress, in which he pushed her to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare despite his public pro-life stance. Murphy announced yesterday that he wouldn't be seeking reelection in 2018 before changing his mind today and abruptly resigning, effective later this month.
  • Politico tracked the taxpayer-funded private jet travel of HHS Secretary Tom Price, forcing his resignation. Yesterday, the two reporters behind the Price stories published details of the airport stakeouts and meticulous reporting that underpinned their stories.
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Rep. Tim Murphy resigns following abortion scandal

Rep. Tim Murphy on Capitol Hill last year. Photo: Cliff Owen / AP

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy is resigning from the House of Representatives, effective October 21, per Speaker Paul Ryan's office. Murphy announced yesterday that he wouldn't be seeking reelection in 2018 after news broke that he'd pushed his mistress to have an abortion.

Political bottom line: The seat is safely Republican.