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Famous Firsts
July 12, 2019

Before Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December, the Defense Department had been helmed by an acting secretary just twice, the longest and most recent stint lasting two months in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush, The Associated Press reports. Now, the Pentagon is preparing for its third acting secretary in seven months.

There is also no Senate-confirmed deputy defense secretary, a confirmed incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff member and top Navy admiral abruptly retired this week, and the nominee for Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, was just accused of sexual misconduct by a senior military officer, throwing his confirmation into doubt. "The causes are varied, but this leadership vacuum has nonetheless begun to make members of Congress and others uneasy, creating a sense that something is amiss in a critical arm of the government at a time of global uncertainty," AP reports.

No previous administration has had more that one acting defense secretary, though the resignation of President Trump's second consecutive acting secretary, Mark Esper — who took over from acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan when he abruptly resigned in June — is supposed to be temporary. Esper is legally required to step aside when he begins his Senate confirmation process next Tuesday, and in that period Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will fill in as acting Pentagon chief.

"Even our foes" expect more stability from the U.S. military, former Defense Secretary William Cohen told AP. "There will inevitably be increasing uncertainty regarding which officials have which authority, which undermines the very principle of civilian control of the military," and "other countries — both allies and adversaries — will have considerable doubt about the authority granted to an acting secretary of defense both because of the uncertainty of confirmation as well as the worry that even being a confirmed official does not seem to come with the needed sense of permanence or job security in this administration." Peter Weber

May 17, 2019

On Friday, Taiwan's legislature became the first in Asia to approve legal same-sex marriage. The country's Constitutional Court ruled in May 2017 that prohibiting same-sex marriage violated Taiwan's constitution, and lawmakers had until May 24 to fix the laws accordingly. The legislature considered three bills, and they approved the most progressive one, creating a new class of marriage that confers full legal rights in areas including taxes, insurance, and child custody. It also gives same-sex couples limited adoption rights.

After the 2017 court ruling, Taiwan held several referendums that showed a majority of Taiwanese voters wanted to keep the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The new law therefore leaves the old civil law regarding marriage untouched and creates a new law for same-sex couples. Conservative lawmakers had wanted to allow "same-sex unions" or "same-sex family relationships." Peter Weber

December 19, 2018

On Tuesday, Nevada boldly went where no man-minority state legislature has gone before. With Las Vegas county officials appointing two women to fill vacancies in the state Assembly — Rochelle Thuy Nguyen and Beatrice "Bea" Angela Duran, both Democrats — Nevada officially became the first state with an overall female majority in the state legislature. The Assembly will now be 55 percent female, with women holding 23 of 42 seats — enough to overcome the slight male majority in the state Senate, where women hold nine of 21 seats.

Nevada and Colorado both elected female-majority lower houses in November, following the lead of New Hampshire's 2009-10 state Senate. But "it is unprecedented at this point to see a majority female legislature overall," says Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor at Rutgers, whose Center for American Women and Politics tracks female political representation. When lawmakers are sworn in next year, women will hold 28.6 percent of state legislative seats in the U.S., up from 24.3 percent a decade ago.

Nevada will also be represented nationally in January by two female U.S. senators and a House delegation with two women and two men; voters elected three female Nevada Supreme Court justices as well, giving women a 4-3 majority on the court. According to the last census, Nevada is 49.8 percent female, the Los Angeles Times notes. Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak (D), whose final meeting as Clark County Commission chairman involved voting to appoint Duran and Nguyen, called the female-majority legislature "a great milestone!" Peter Weber

October 8, 2018

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees needed 201 passing yards to push past Brett Favre and Peyton Manning and set a new NFL all-time passing record, and he did that during the second quarter of Monday night's game in New Orleans against the Washington Redskins. And the pass that put him over the line was a 62-yard throw to Tre'Quan Smith, who ran it in for a touchdown. The celebration was pretty intense.

Brees finished the game with 363 yards, three touchdowns, and his new record, and the Saints trounced the Redskins 43-19. Manning, who'd held the record with 71,940 passing yards, responded in a video.

Brees, 39, could very well top 80,000 passing yards if he can keep up this pace through the 2019 season, when his current contract ends. Peter Weber

August 23, 2018

President Trump is officially a liar — according to The Washington Post's stickler-for-words Fact Checker team, headed by Glenn Kessler. Kessler's team has documented 4,229 false or misleading claims Trump has made as president — for an average of 7.6 a day — but despite pressure from Trump's critics, the team "has been hesitant" to accuse Trump of lying, "as it is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth," Kessler explained on Wednesday. But with Trump's firm denial of knowledge about his lawyer Michael Cohen's hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels, "it's now clear that the president's statement was a lie."

You can read Kessler's "definitive story of a Trump lie," including names, dates, and supporting video evidence, at The Washington Post. At CNN on Wednesday night, Chris Cuomo discussed Trump's lie about the Stormy Daniels payment, but he also spent a few minutes debunking Trump's new whopper, that former President Barack Obama "did the same thing." "In fact, he liked this excuse so much — so nice — he used it twice," Cuomo said, calling the charge Trump's "weakest" line of attack yet. But in the end, the main point is Trump's shifting story about paying off Daniels, he said, and "the real problem here is lying." Watch below. Peter Weber

May 10, 2018

A coalition of opposition parties won control of Malaysia's government on Wednesday, unseating scandal-tarred Prime Minister Najib Razak and ending 60 years of rule by the National Front party. According to official results, the opposition Alliance of Hope has more than the 112 parliamentary seats needed to form a new government, and Mahathir Mohamad — Najib's mentor and a former authoritarian prime minister — is expected to be sworn in as soon as Friday. At that point, Mahathir, 92, will be the oldest elected leader in the world.

Mahathir came out of retirement to join the opposition after Najib's government became embroiled in a massive corruption investigation involving a state investment fund, One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The U.S. Justice Department says Najib's associates stole $4.5 billion from the fund, and $700 million ended up in Najib's bank accounts while millions more was laundered in the U.S. through banks, a Picasso gifted to Leonardo DiCaprio, and expensive real estate, among other vehicles. Najib has denied wrongdoing.

Opposition parties, many of whose leaders were jailed by Mahathir during his 22-year rule, agreed that the former prime minister was their best hope for wresting control from Najib and the dominant National Front. The Alliance for Hope scored its landmark victory in state and national elections despite newly drawn gerrymandered districts, a recent "fake news" law critics said was a tool to silence dissent, and electoral laws that give outsize power to the National Front's base in rural areas. Critics also say Najib used all the tools at his disposal to quash investigations into the 1MDB scandal.

"We are not seeking revenge," Mahathir said Thursday morning, as Malaysians celebrated in the streets. "What we want to do is restore the rule of law." You can learn more about the 1MDB investigation — including cameos by President Trump and his D.C. hotel, DiCaprio, a flashy Malaysian playboy, and Paris Hilton — at the PRX show Reveal. Peter Weber

April 24, 2018

On Monday, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore announced that they successfully completed the first full penis and scrotum transplant. The patient, a U.S. service member whose lower legs and genitals were blown off by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, "is expected to be discharged from the hospital this week, and we are optimistic that he will regain near-normal urinary and sexual functions following full recovery," said Dr. Andrew Lee, chairman of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Johns Hopkins University.

A team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons preformed the surgery over 14 hours in March, after five years of preparatory research and practice. The unidentified patient said in a statement that losing your genitals is "a real mind-boggling injury to suffer; it is not an easy one to accept," and "when I first woke up, I felt finally more normal." The doctors said that the patient will likely be able to urinate by the times he leaves the hospital but it will take about six months for the nerves to regrow enough for sexual function and sensation. The medical team did not transplant the donor's testes, due to ethical concerns about the patient being able to father the late donor's children.

Johns Hopkins released a mildly graphic illustrated re-enactment of the surgery, if you are interested:

More than 1,300 male veterans sustained genital injuries in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2013, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of Urology. Lee said the "hidden" genital injuries have a "devastating impact" on the identity, self-esteem, and relationships of afflicted veterans. This wasn't the first penis transplant — there was an apparently successful one in South Africa in 2015 and an unsuccessful one in China, and a 2016 penis transplant at Massachusetts General Hospital has left the patient, Thomas Manning, doing fine but without full sexual function, USA Today reports. Peter Weber

December 26, 2017

Monday's Doctor Who Christmas special marked the end of Peter Capaldi's role as the 12th Doctor, as well as Steven Moffat's seven years as head writer and showrunner for the iconic BBC sci-fi franchise about a time-traveling Time Lord, and it briefly introduced the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, a star of Broadchurch and now the first woman to play the Doctor. Capaldi's regeneration into Whittaker, 35, occurs at the end of the episode, and it appears the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS, is not pleased with the change.

Whittaker will appear in her first full episode next year. Moffat's replacement is Chris Chibnall, the creator of Broadchurch — which, along with featuring the future 13th Doctor also starred the 10th Doctor, David Tennant. Peter Weber

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