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May 24, 2017
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Earlier this month, people around the world gawked at viral photos of a massive sea monster that had washed up on an Indonesian beach. Aside from looking like a grotesque, melting, Dalí-worthy nightmare, part of what was so strange and horrifying about the carcass was the size — the beast from the deep stretched nearly 50 feet in length.

Unfortunately, reality is always a little disappointing: The remains belonged to a baleen whale. But there is certainly something rather mythical and monstrous about cetaceans, and how exactly they became so colossal compared to everything else on Earth. The blue whale, for example, can stretch over 80 feet and weigh 380,000 pounds.

A study published Tuesday might have the answers. Whales, as it turns out, only became enormous in the past 4.5 million years or so: "All of a sudden — 'boom' — we see them get very big, like blue whales," the author of the paper, Smithsonian Institution marine mammal fossil curator Nick Pyenson, told The New York Times. "It's like going from whales the size of minivans to longer than two school buses."

Around the time whales bloated up to the size of, uh, whales, large ice sheets were beginning to cover swaths of the Northern Hemisphere:

Runoff from the glaciers would have washed nutrients like iron into coastal waters and intense seasonal upwelling cycles would have caused cold water from deep below to rise, bringing organic material toward the surface. Together these ecological effects brought large amounts of nutrients into the water at specific times and places, which had a cascading effect on the ocean's food web. [The New York Times]

In other words, whales were able to gorge themselves on zooplankton and krill to their car-sized-heart's content. In order to migrate and follow the food sources with the seasons, too, larger aquatic mammals were also more likely to survive the transoceanic journeys.

"A blue whale is able to move so much further using so much less energy than a small-bodied whale," explained evolutionary biologist Dr. Graham Slater said. "It became really advantageous if you're going to move long distances if you're big." Jeva Lange

12:25 p.m. ET
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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen probably shouldn't have gone to a Mexican restaurant while the government was splitting mostly Latino migrant children from their parents at the southern border. But in all fairness, Stephen Miller did it first.

Two days before Nielsen was publicly shamed for the family separation policy, President Trump's senior policy adviser similarly didn't think twice about eating at a Mexican restaurant, the New York Post reports. While protesters didn't flood the restaurant as they did with Nielsen, one customer did jump in.

"Hey look guys, whoever thought we'd be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?” the customer said as Miller walked by, a witness told the Post. Miller didn't respond and stuck around to finish his meal.

After claiming for days that he was powerless to stop the separations, Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that seeks to amend a court ruling and thus allow migrant families to be detained together, rather than separate children from their parents at the border. Most of Trump's associates condemned the separation policy early on, but Miller was its fiercest champion and had a big role in crafting the so-called "zero tolerance" immigration policy. He even apparently enjoyed seeing photos of distraught kids torn from their parents, an outside White House adviser told Vanity Fair.

That'll be one order of enchiladas, smothered in irony, please. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:50 a.m. ET
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Anticipation on the Korean peninsula is building, and the real estate industry is benefiting.

Inventive entrepreneurs are flocking to the area along the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea, hoping to buy up land so that they have a prime location in the event of the country reunifying with their neighbors to the north, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

For years, people in South Korea have been eyeing the markets every time North Korea seems to ever-so-slightly crack open its door to the outside world. Of course, leader Kim Jong Un has continued to isolate the nation, but his historic summit with President Trump brought new optimism to the region. In March and April, real estate transactions in border city Paju skyrocketed to about three times the average level from the last decade, reports the Times, while other regions remained stagnant.

Real estate agents and developers say the building excitement is tangible, as industrious businesspeople and wealthy investors arrive near the DMZ by the dozens to look at properties, willing to spend millions to get on the ground floor of what they think is a forthcoming change. The area along the DMZ is "like land that's still in a mother's womb, not yet born to the world," said Kim Yoon-sik, a developer. "If it is born, it'll be huge." Summer Meza

11:22 a.m. ET
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NFL players have a problem with the criminal justice system, and a bunch of presidential pardons won't solve it.

Four current and former players representing the Players Coalition advocacy group challenged President Trump to go beyond pardoning unjustly jailed people in a New York Times op-ed Thursday. Instead, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Malcolm Jenkins, and Benjamin Watson are pushing for complete criminal justice reform.

After the Philadelphia Eagles were disinvited from a Super Bowl victory visit to the White House over the league's national anthem kneeling, Trump tried to make a concession. He asked players to send a list of people they thought were unjustly jailed, and he'd pardon them if he agreed.

Clemency can be valuable, like when Trump commuted Alice Johnson's life sentence for a nonviolent drug charge at Kim Kardashian West's behest, the players acknowledged in their op-ed. They suggested that blanket pardon for drug offenders who've already served long sentences could be a good first step.

But truly fixing the justice system means preventing nonviolent offenders from getting life sentences in the first place, and the players say Trump's executive power can make that happen. And if the president chooses not to wield it, then the players will keep using their power as Americans and professional athletes to insist on change. Read the whole op-ed at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:49 a.m. ET

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in South Dakota v. Wayfair that states can require online retailers to collect sales tax, even if the business has no physical presence in the purchaser's state. The decision was 5-4, with Justices John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan in dissent.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion, saying that "the internet's prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy." The court overruled the 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, which held that for a state to collect sales tax from an online retailer, the retailer would have to have a physical location of business in that state.

The decision is seen as a win for local businesses and governments. Read the decision here. Jeva Lange

10:33 a.m. ET
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Immigrant children being held in juvenile detention centers in Virginia say they were physically and verbally abused for years, an investigation by The Associated Press found Thursday.

Children as young as 14 have filed claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia, alleging that they were abused after being taken to the facility for crossing the border illegally as unaccompanied minors. Officials accused them of being involved in gangs like MS-13, but AP reports that the children were detained in high-security and often brutal conditions without ever being convicted of any crime. The center has held around 30 children at a time, between ages 12 and 17, since 2007.

The lawsuit alleges that the children were often beaten while handcuffed, left naked in concrete cells in solitary confinement for days, and were shackled to chairs with cloth bags over their heads. A child development specialist who worked in the facility said the kids would often be bruised and even suffer broken bones, and developed severe psychological problems as a result of the abuse. Shenandoah officials denied all allegations of abuse or misconduct.

A 15-year-old from Mexico said he was handcuffed and put in a chair for punishment. "They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair," he said. "They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night." He and other detainees recalled attempting suicide at several points during their time in Shenandoah. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

10:14 a.m. ET

In a deep-red congressional district like Texas' 31st, Democrats would need a miracle to beat longtime Republican incumbents. The first ad from Air Force veteran and Purple Heart recipient MJ Hegar seems up to the challenge.

Hegar is running as a Democrat against incumbent GOP Rep. John Carter this fall, and she uses her life story to break the mold of a traditional campaign ad. The video is deeply personal, chronicling Hegar's childhood dreams of being a pilot, her harrowing three tours in Afghanistan, her fight against discrimination once she left the military, and all the doors she had to break down on the way. She even name-checks Carter — who apparently turned down a meeting with her during her anti-discrimination fight because she wasn't a donor.

It's an inspiring story, and Hegar's qualifications likely have Democrats thrilled. But the district, which covers northern Austin and its suburbs, is strongly Republican; the GOP has a 10-point advantage there, per The Cook Political Report. Still, the day Hegar's ad dropped, Cook shifted Texas' 31st District from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican" — and cracked the door a little bit wider for Hegar. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m. ET

MSNBC's Chris Hayes insisted that Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) cite his sources on Thursday when the lawmaker doubled-down on his unproven allegation that terrorists and cartel members are "posing as families … trying to cross our borders."

The tense exchange began after Hayes told Marshall, "we've interviewed mothers from Guatemala and Honduras whose sons have been killed by drug cartels who have fled 1,000 miles north risking everything. Are they a national security threat?" Marshall replied by citing a statistic also used frequently by the administration: That immigrants falsely posing as family members have tripled at the border (Marshall claims it's "quadrupled" in speaking with Hayes).

The data being cited, though, "reflects a period of less than two years, making it difficult to draw a meaningful historical comparison," writes The New York Times. "And the instances of fraud make up less than 1 percent of families apprehended at the border." That's part of why Hayes later interrupts to say: "You keep using the word 'posing' … you keep implying that these people are making up stories, that 5-year-olds have been coached, that they've been taken by traffickers. What I'm asking you is to present evidence that that is happening in any systemic way."

Watch the entire exchange, and Marshall's response, below. Jeva Lange

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