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October 17, 2015

In the middle of a two-year renovation to the University of Virginia's Rotunda building, workers recently found something unexpected — a chemistry lab designed by Thomas Jefferson, the school announced in a news release.

Jefferson, who founded the university, designed the building in the 1820s. The chemical hearth, meant to be used with a nearby classroom, had been sealed in a wall since the 1850s. That's how it survived an 1985 fire that apparently didn't spare much else in the building's interior.

The founding father likely collaborated with the university's first natural history professor, John Emmet, to create the space for conducting experiments.

"This may be the oldest intact example of early chemical education in this country," Brian Hogg, a senior historic preservation planner for the university, said in the release. Julie Kliegman

11:52 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The tech world is just as white as ever, 2016 industry data obtained by Reveal and published Monday shows. And while Facebook has claimed it just can't find qualified minority employees to disrupt its overwhelming masculinity, it also can't cover up the fact that it's whiter than the majority of Silicon Valley's 177 largest companies.

Facebook isn't even the worst offender in the Bay Area. Ten companies didn't have a single black female employee in 2016, and three didn't have a black employee whatsoever, per the newly compiled data. The median of black executives across all 177 companies was zero percent.

And Facebook is one of only 26 companies that will own up to its dismal diversity data. All the others refused to publicly unveil their numbers, so Reveal could only access anonymous versions of their federal race and gender reports.

Still, the news wasn't all bad. Women comprised the majority of employees at two anonymous companies, and women of color made up one-third of executives in another.

The other 174 have a lot of work to do. Read more about the findings at Reveal. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:47 a.m. ET
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Cigarettes sold in the U.S. and Europe are made using tobacco that is increasingly produced via child labor in poorer nations, an investigation by The Guardian published Monday found.

In places like Malawi, Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, Zimbabwe, and India, rising numbers of children work in harsh conditions on tobacco fields instead of attending school. Because families working on tobacco plots are often indebted to landowners, they are forced to bring their children into the fields as unpaid labor, continuing the cycle of generational poverty, reports The Guardian.

About 1.3 million children were working in tobacco fields in 2011, the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control said. Child labor has decreased in many places, but the U.N.'s International Labor Organization says wealthier nations have shrugged the practice off onto poorer countries. "Although there are no estimates of the number of child laborers in tobacco globally," an ILO report read, "surveys indicate that in impoverished tobacco growing communities, child labor is rampant."

Major tobacco companies told The Guardian that they are doing everything they can to combat the use of child labor. Company officials say they tell suppliers not to employ children and work with outside organizations to keep children in school and away from tobacco fields. Despite the commitment and efforts, WHO expert Vera Da Costa e Silva said the circumstances that lead to child labor continue to cycle. "No effective actions have been taken to reverse this scenario," said Silva. Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

11:07 a.m. ET

Former President Barack Obama has mostly confined himself to private life since leaving office last year, declining to comment with any regularity on the choices of his successor. That silence is intentional and strategic, a lengthy New York magazine profile published Sunday night reveals.

Per New York, Obama has at least three significant reasons to keep quiet. First, he's following institutional tradition at a time when many institutions seem to be in flux:

Modeling his political engagement out of office after George W. Bush's, of all people — privileging the customs and traditions of our democracy rather than upending some in order to fight for others — may be among the most optimistic choices Obama has ever made. [New York]

Second, he doesn't want to crowd out new voices:

"He's recognizing that the party and our country will benefit from other voices having an opportunity to weigh in, and that opportunity would be all but completely obscured if he were regularly sharing his opinion on these issues," says [former White House Press Secretary] Josh Earnest. [New York]

And third, Obama is hyper-aware that inserting himself into the news cycle could help, rather than hinder, President Trump's agenda:

Obama believes more than ever in his capacity to spark an immediate backlash among Trump fans and to make any policy matter far more partisan. ... "It's pretty clear what President Trump's political strategy always is, which is to find a foil," says Earnest. "And with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton, his most prominent foil has been Barack Obama. That's been a very effective strategy for President Trump to galvanize his base and effectively put Republicans on Capitol Hill in the fetal position." [New York]

Read the full report on Obama's post-presidency life here. Bonnie Kristian

10:41 a.m. ET
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Pope Francis decried suppression of press freedom in "so-called democratic" countries in a Monday Reuters interview.

"The right to information is a right that must always be protected," he said. "States that have something they don't want to be seen always stop the media and freedom of the press, and we must fight for freedom of the press. We must fight."

The pope specifically addressed the plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim-majority minority in Myanmar whose violent persecution by government troops as well as Buddhist mobs and militias has been labeled by the United Nations a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." Two Reuters reporters covering the Rohingya crisis have been jailed by Myanmar since December.

"I would like that the reason why they are in prison be clarified. If they have committed a crime or not. But it is important that the situation be clarified," Pope Francis said. "In some countries maybe things are going well, but there are many ways to silence the media." Bonnie Kristian

10:27 a.m. ET
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President Trump's brief tenure in office has been marked by a record-setting rate of Cabinet dismissals and other high-profile staff resignations. Defense Secretary James Mattis has hung on longer than many, but a Monday NBC News report citing unnamed current and former administration officials says he is increasingly marginalized by the president.

Last month, for example, Mattis learned second-hand that Trump had decided to exit the Iran nuclear deal, and NBC reports he had to rush to get in touch with Trump to discuss the news before it was made public. Likewise, Trump told Mattis about his plan to suspend Korean "war games" after he'd promised the change to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Trump "blindsided and overruled his defense secretary by publicly directing the Pentagon to create a sixth military branch overseeing operations in space."

Mattis and Trump "don't really see eye to eye," one source told NBC, while another said the defense secretary, though garnering Trump's respect, has "never been one of the go-tos in the gang that's very close to the president." On foreign policy questions, Trump is more likely to seek the advice of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or National Security Adviser John Bolton, both of whom take a more hawkish approach. Bonnie Kristian

10:21 a.m. ET
KRIT PROMSAKLA NA SAKOLNAKORN/AFP/Getty Images

A team of teenage soccer players and their coach still appear to be trapped in a flooded Thailand cave nearly two days after they first went missing.

One player's mother reported him missing after he didn't return from Saturday practice, and police found the team's bikes outside a cave that night, The Associated Press reports. Divers have been searching for the 12 boys and their coach as rain continues to pour, and Thailand's Navy recently joined the search, per The Nation.

Thailand's rainy season is in full swing, so the cave was closed off from visitors. But the team apparently entered the cave after its regular Saturday practice anyway, ducking inside before the 5-mile-long cave started to flood, says the Bangkok Post. Divers went about 2 miles into the tunnel, which contains water as deep as 20 feet in some spots, before it got too unsafe to continue. The team is thought to be in a dry area a little farther inside the cave, says The Nation, so Navy SEALs are blasting sand out of a blocked passageway to get there from another direction.

There's still no sign of the team, which was likely trapped by a flash flood. Rescuers thought about pumping the cave dry, but will likely wait for water levels to drop naturally, per The Nation. They've sent enough food and water down the tunnel to last the team a week. Read more about the rescue efforts at the Bangkok Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:17 a.m. ET
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The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the appeal of Brendan Dassey, whose murder conviction gained widespread attention due to the 2015 Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer, Wisconsin's Post-Crescent reports. Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, were sentenced to life over the 2005 rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach in eastern Wisconsin; Dassey's lawyers argue that the then-16-year-old was led into a false confession by police who "exploited his youth and borderline intellectual disability," NBC News writes.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice believes Dassey's confession was voluntary and valid, with the state solicitor general saying: "The only plausible source for his admissions was his guilty conscience." The Supreme Court did not give a reason for declining Dassey's appeal, although four of the nine justices would have had to agree to accept the case for it to be heard.

"Juveniles and those with intellectual deficits are at particular risk of confessing involuntarily — and often falsely — under the strain of coercive police tactics," argued former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who had pushed for Dassey's case to be heard by the country's highest court. Jeva Lange

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