Crime and punishment

SVU's Mariska Hargitay helps catch actual rapists

March 11, 2014

It's one thing for Mariska Hargitay to catch fictional rapists in her role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU. But Hargitay is taking things a step further with her work to help law enforcement catch real-life rapists.

At a press conference in Detroit today, Hargitay spoke on the problem of untested rape kits, an issue about which she is also producing a documentary. During the conference, Hargitay voiced her support for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's push for legislation to clear Detroit's backlog of untested rape kits.

"To me, this is the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes," Hargitay said. "One would assume that if someone endures a four- to six-hour invasive examination, that that evidence would be handled with care."

In 2004, Hargitay also founded the Joyful Heart Foundation, which provides support to victims of sexual crimes. Here's to hoping her star power will help Worthy's office gain the resources it needs to test the backlogged kits.

Watch Hargitay's moving, tear-filled speech below. --Meghan DeMaria

Ebola

Oxfam urges wealthy countries to support Ebola recovery

2:05pm ET

International development agency Oxfam warned that without the help of rich countries, Ebola recovery in the three countries hit hardest could lead to a "double disaster."

Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the West Africa countries worst-hit in the Ebola outbreak, are among the world's poorest countries. Oxfam encouraged donor countries to adopt a multi-million dollar "Marshall Plan" to help these countries access social services, including health, education, and water and sanitation.

"The world cannot walk away now that, thankfully, cases of this deadly disease are dropping," said Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring. "Failure to help these countries after surviving Ebola will condemn them to a double-disaster." Oxfam noted that 60 percent of people in Liberia, the country with the most Ebola deaths, haven't had enough food in the past week.

More than 8,600 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. The World Bank estimates that since the outbreak, almost 180,000 people in Sierra Leone have lost their jobs, and the countries directly affected will lose more than 12 percent of their combined GDPs this year.

This just in

Obama proposes opening Atlantic coast to offshore drilling

1:39pm ET

The White House on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to permit offshore drilling in waters stretching from Georgia to Virginia while banning drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, in Alaska.

The administration first proposed an oil lease off the Virginia coast in 2010, but scrapped the plan after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The latest proposal — which is separate from the administration's call for Congress to protect 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from energy exploration— will be finalized later this year after a public comment period.

This just in

Mormon leaders call for LGBT protections

1:25pm ET

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday that it is shifting its attitude toward gay people.

The Mormon church will now support anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT people in housing and employment. However, the church also seeks legal protections for "believers who object to the behavior of others," The Associated Press reports. An example of these protections includes doctors who refuse artificial insemination for lesbian couples.

"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values," church leaders said at a news conference on Tuesday. The church emphasized, though, that its doctrine still believes it is "against the law of God to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman," AP notes.

The announcement comes at Utah's legislature considers two bills, once of which would prohibit housing and employment discrimination against LGBT people, and one of which would protect individuals' rights to deny services based on religious beliefs.

War on terror

Marco Rubio: Obama's war on terror is failing

1:14pm ET

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the latest Congressman to join in the criticism against President Obama's defense strategy.

In an op-ed he penned for Fox News, the likely GOP 2016 presidential candidate alleges that "the U.S. war against Islamic extremism has been put on hold by President Obama and his national security team."

Obama, Rubio points out, did not even make mention of al Qaeda during his State of the Union address. The recent terror attacks in Paris, he adds, "gave us a glimpse of what the future of terrorism looks like, and what the civilized world will have to defend against."

He concludes:

Lofty speeches and half measures do not defeat terrorist groups. They also do not keep Americans safe in the long term. The threat from Islamic extremism is only growing and without greater leadership from the United States, I fear that it will only be a matter of time before innocent Americans pay the ultimate price if we continue to underestimate our enemies and not develop a strategy that is commensurate to the threat. [Fox News]

2016 Watch

Scott Walker inches closer to 2016 bid with launch of new political committee

1:09pm ET
Scott Olson, Copyright 2015 Tribune Content Agency

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday announced the formation of a new political organization, a likely sign that he is moving closer toward a 2016 White House run.

Called "Our American Revival," the organization's aim is to "communicate a vision and work to enact policies that will lead to a more free and prosperous America by restoring power to the states," Walker said in a statement announcing the launch. Notably, the organization differs from those of other potential 2016 candidates in that it's a so-called "527" — named for a snippet of tax code — and not a leadership PAC; a Walker adviser told The Washington Post they opted against a PAC because those are best suited for fundraising, not messaging.

Walker earned high praise from conservatives after his appearance at last weekend's Freedom Summit in Iowa, but he remains largely unknown outside the beltway and polls near the bottom of early 2016 surveys.

Crying wolf

Meteorologist apologizes as storm predictions didn't deliver

12:46pm ET
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

The old saying goes that it's better to be safe than sorry, but meteorologists in the Northeast who erred on the side of caution are now apologizing for overestimating the effects of latest blizzard.

Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, apologized on Twitter for the over-hyped predictions:

While Massachusetts and some New England coastal towns experienced hazardous conditions with heavy snows and violent winds, cities like Philadelphia and New York have lifted their travel bans after the big storm failed to deliver.

This doesn't look good

Nonprofit report calls U.S. child protection laws a 'national disgrace'

12:31pm ET
(iStock)

The Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, in conjunction with the nonprofit group First Star, published Tuesday a three-year study about the U.S. government's enforcement of child protection laws.

The 110-page report, titled "Shame on U.S.," claims that the government's failure to enforce these laws is a "national disgrace" and "leaves abused children vulnerable to future harm," The Associated Press reports. A similar AP investigation published in December found "weak federal oversight" and at least 786 child deaths over a six-year period, thanks to abuse and neglect.

"Our laws are weak. We don't invest in solutions. Federal laws aren't enforced. And courts are turning their backs. This creates a trifecta of inertia and neglect," Amy Harfeld, policy director at the Children's Advocacy Institute, told AP.

The report blames all three federal government branches for not protecting the nation's children. The government estimates that about 1,650 children die annually as the result of abuse or neglect. The report called for Congress to mandate that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issue fines when states fail to follow federal regulations.

snowpocalypse

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio on blizzard: 'We got lucky'

12:17pm ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York City "dodged a bullet," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a Tuesday press conference after a massive blizzard dropped less than a foot of snow on the city

"The bottom line is: We got lucky," he said.

Forecasts predicted New York City and its suburbs could see around two feet of snow from Monday into Tuesday. Meanwhile, as of early Tuesday afternoon the storm was still projected to blanket parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts in up to 30 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Weights and Measures

Ditching SkyMall catalogues will save American Airlines $350,000 in fuel

11:26am ET
Facebook.com/SkyMall

SkyMall's bankruptcy isn't just putting the kibosh on your in-flight perusal of the latest high heel-shaped wine racks and pierogi-shaped Christmas ornaments — it's saving airlines some big bucks.

Wired did some back-of-the-envelope calculations on the fuel savings removing 150 catalogs from each of American Airlines' fleet of planes.  Based on a typical weight of 4 ounces per magazine, each aircraft will weigh about 37.5 pounds less than it does now.  Of course, a lighter plane requires less fuel to fly — about 223,000 gallons less per year for American Airlines alone, Wired estimates.  At $1.58 per gallon for jet fuel, that's more than $352,000 in savings.

Now imagine how much airlines could save if every passenger lost just a single pound...

Drones

Obama calls for drone regulation after Monday's incident at the White House

11:25am ET
Kristoffer Tripplaar - Pool/Getty Images

In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Tuesday, President Obama emphasized the importance of regulating unmanned aircraft.

Obama said that the remote-controlled quadcopter found on the White House lawn Monday was the kind "you buy in Radio Shack." He said that U.S. drone regulations need to "get the good and minimize the bad."

"There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife," Obama said. "But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it."

The Federal Aviation Administration is drafting drone regulations that will allow for wider drone use, but the process has been "fraught with delays," according to CNN.

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