January 13, 2020

Major League Baseball brought the hammer down on the Houston Astros after an investigation into allegations about the team using technology to steal signs during the 2017 season, in which they won the World Series. The MLB's ruling led the team's owner Jim Crane to fire manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow.

Players are getting off free, despite the fact that many actively participated in the scheme. Sign-stealing has long been part of the game and is perfectly legal when players decipher their opponents' signals on the field of play, but the Astros took things too far for the league when they brought technology into it. Houston would reportedly rout the feed from their home park's center field camera to a screen in the clubhouse where opposing team's signs would be decoded. Someone would then bang on a trashcan to let hitters know what pitch was on its way.

But in a nine-page letter, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said it was too "difficult and impractical" to discipline every player who had a hand in the tactics. So, instead the team's higher-ups, manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow, took the fall. They each received one-year suspensions and were stunningly dismissed moments after Manfred's announcement by Crane, who Manfred said was not aware of the scheme. Houston was also hit with a $5 million fine, the maximum allowed by MLB, and the team will have to forfeit their first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

It's the last bit that could deter other franchises from following in the Astros' footsteps. Losing the draft picks could sting for a while, especially considering Houston's success was built off the ability to draft and develop youngsters. Tim O'Donnell

December 27, 2019

A New York appeals court ruled that rape is by nature a gender-motivated hate crime ahead of the trial for Paul Haggis, The Hollywood Reporter learned Friday. The Academy Award-winning screenwriter and producer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash, Haggis stands accused of raping publicist Haleigh Breest at his SoHo apartment in 2013 after the premiere of Side Effects.

The decision by the New York court is significant in part because of a similar case between Lukasz Gottwald, better known as "Dr. Luke," and the singer Kesha. At the time, Kesha had alleged that Dr. Luke raped her and that such an act qualified as gender-motivated violence under New York's Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law, which was enacted in 2000 after the Supreme Court struck down the Violence Against Women Act. During that trial in 2016, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich threw out Kesha's allegation, writing that "every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime."

But this week, New York Appellate Judge Peter Moulton appeared to disagree. "Rape and sexual assault are, by definition, actions taken against the victim without the victim's consent," reads the decision that ruled Haggis would have to face the hate crime claim. The judge added that "coerced sexual activity is dehumanizing and fear-inducing. Malice or ill will based on gender is apparent from the alleged commission of the act itself."

That wording is huge, because "legal precedent has been established that makes rape a gender-motivated hate crime under the Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law," tweeted Sil Lai Abrams, an author and anti-domestic violence activist. Read the full details of the decision and the case at The Hollywood Reporter. Jeva Lange

December 5, 2019

Uber released a startling 84-page review on Thursday outlining how many reports of sexual abuse the ride-hailing service received in 2018.

In the United States, there were 235 reports of rape, 280 reports of attempted rape, 1,560 reports of groping, and 970 reports of unwanted kissing. "Each of these incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma," Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, told NBC News.

Uber says the victims included both drivers and riders, with passengers accused of sexual assault in 45 percent of cases. "We do four million rides a day," West said. "And when you're operating at that kind of scale, thankfully, 99.9 percent of those rides end with absolutely no safety incident whatsoever." Uber said it has enacted stricter background checks for drivers and added more safety features in the app, including a button that lets users call 911. Catherine Garcia

December 2, 2019

Some of the most popular dating apps in the world are harboring sexual predators, and their leaders are fully aware.

When users sign up for's premium paid dating service, they're subjected to a background check that compares their name to state sex offender registries, BuzzFeed News, ProPublica, and Columbia Journalism Investigations report. But Match's parent company Match Group doesn't take those same steps on the free services it owns — OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Tinder — and admitted through a spokesperson that "there are definitely registered sex offenders on our free products."

Match Group has been well aware of this problem since at least 2011, when Carole Markin sued it for connecting her with a "six-time convicted rapist who, she told police, had raped her on their second date," BuzzFeed News writes. After a settlement, Match Group assured its site was "checking subscribers against state and national sex offender registries," and told then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris the next year it would implement "a rapid abuse reporting system."

Match, the group's flagship dating service, did follow up on the screening promise, at least for its paying users. But a Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis of more than 150 incidents of sexual assault involving dating apps found most victims were women, and most connected with their attackers via Match Group's entities. And while only a handful of those incidents involved registered sex offenders, none of the victims in those cases used Match's paid screening service.

Match Group declined to make any executives available for interviews, and said in a statement that "a relatively small amount of the tens of millions of people using one of our dating services have fallen victim to criminal activity by predators." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk

November 1, 2019

California's fire season has never seemed wilder.

Yet another massive wildfire broke out late Thursday night in southern California, burning more than 8,000 acres in the hours since and forcing 7,000 people to evacuate. It's burning outside Santa Paula, in Ventura County north of Los Angeles, and is completely uncontained as of Friday morning, per the California Department of Fire & Forestry Protection.

The Maria fire joins the Easy fire in the county, which is now 80 percent contained after burning 1,800 acres and threatening the Reagan Presidential Library on Thursday. Further south, just outside of Los Angeles, the Hillside fire has destroyed at least six homes, and another fire was sparked when suspected thieves drove a stolen car onto dry grass. Several other fires are also still raging up and down California, with dozens of homes destroyed and thousands of people displaced so far in this active fire season. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 30, 2019

During his testimony before House investigators on Tuesday, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, said President Trump was under the impression that a different person — a longtime staffer of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — actually held his position, people familiar with his testimony told Politico.

Vindman said that Kashyap Patel "misrepresented" himself, and despite having no experience or expertise on Ukraine, was part of the White House's Ukraine policy discussion, Politico reports. Vindman found this out after he attended Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration in May, and was preparing to give Trump a debriefing on the event and Zelensky's plans for the future, he reportedly testified. Vindman revealed that "at the last second," his boss at the time, Fiona Hill, told him not to attend the debriefing because it might confuse Trump, who thought Patel was the top Ukraine expert.

Patel, Nunes' top staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, was known for trying to discredit Justice Department and FBI officials who investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Politico reports. He joined the White House in February, and in July, was promoted to a senior counterterrorism role. Hill testified earlier this month that Trump thought Patel was in charge of the National Security Council's Ukraine policy, Politico says.

Vindman, who told investigators he's never had a conversation with Patel, also said he was told Patel ignored National Security Council procedures and put negative information about Ukraine in front of Trump, which reinforced his belief that the country was corrupt, Politico reports. It's unclear where he received this information. Read more at Politico. Catherine Garcia

October 29, 2019

The U.S. just got a taste of what life would be like under a total refugee ban.

In what's almost like a test run of what President Trump's administration has already teased, the U.S. hasn't settled a single refugee so far in the month of October. And with a moratorium on resettlement now extended into November, there's a very slim chance any refugees will make it to the country at all this month, CNN reports.

It's typical for refugee admissions to pause at the beginning of October as the new fiscal year begins. But then flights for refugees admitted to the U.S. were paused until Oct. 21, and then until Oct. 28, and now until Nov. 5. In all, 500 flights for incoming refugees were canceled so far, CNN says.

The delay suggests Trump hasn't signed the bill authorizing next year's refugee cap, which is historically low as it stands. After reportedly trying to knock the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. down to zero, the State Department allotted 18,000 spots for refugees in the current fiscal year. That's the lowest cap in the resettlement program's history, and it's clearly already off to an even lower start. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 17, 2019

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) always knew he'd have to make the most of his time in Congress.

Cummings, the leader of the House Oversight Committee, died Thursday at 68 due to "complications concerning longstanding health challenges." He'd represented Baltimore in Congress for the past 23 years, and from his first day on the job, used it to call for finding "common ground" between opposing parties in the chamber.

After he earned his seat in a special election to replace retiring Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Cummings made a short floor speech recalling his time in the Maryland House of Delegates. "Our world would be a much better world, a much better place, if we would only concentrate on the things we have in common," Cummings recalled "often" saying in his previous position. He then relayed how his time in Congress would be centered on "a mission and a vision to empower people," and read a poem by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays to explain how he'd spend the short "minute" of his life.

Watch the whole speech, along with Cummings' first C-SPAN interview, below. Kathryn Krawczyk

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