Keeping up with the news is hard. So hard, in fact, that we’ve decided to save you the hassle by rounding up the most significant, unusual, or just plain old mind-blowing stories each week.
While last week, we were taken in by a complete solar eclipse, this week’s news was dominated by quite a different and less welcome natural occurrence. There were also major items from the worlds of business and health care, plus the mother of all news dumps.
10 First Category 4 Storm To Hit The US Since 2004 Makes Landfall . . . Twice
We knew it was coming, we braced for it, but Hurricane Harvey left thousands of Texas and Louisiana residents underwater and scrambling for help this week. Harvey made landfall last Friday night as a Category 4 storm, the most powerful hurricane to hit the United States since Charley in 2004. (Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 when it made landfall in 2005.)
Harvey’s destructive path through Texas took a huge toll in both life and property, dumping up to 132 centimeters (52 in) of rain in some areas and destroying 30,000 to 40,000 homes in Houston alone. It has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, but this is little comfort to the residents of Louisiana, where Harvey made its second landfall early Wednesday morning. They’re currently hunkering down as the storm moves across their state, with forecasts calling for up to 25 centimeters (10 in) of rain and sustained winds up to 48 kilometers per hour (30 mph).
The storm is expected to continue losing strength as it moves into parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri, having dispensed most of its wrath on Texas. At the moment, at least 32,000 Texans are in shelters, and the death toll in that state stands at 35 and is expected to rise.
9 Mayweather And McGregor Finally Fight
After months of very public trash-talking and anticipation, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor finally got down to business last Friday night in Las Vegas. Nobody gave MMA fighter McGregor, forced for the first time to fight according to the rules of boxing, much of a chance. But the Irishman put on an impressive display, hanging in with Mayweather, who has never lost a professional bout, for ten rounds before losing by technical knockout.
Mayweather, who returned from a two-year retirement to take on McGregor, improved his perfect record to 50–0, eclipsing the 49–0 record of all-time great Rocky Marciano. He admitted after the bout that he had underestimated McGregor, calling him “a lot better than I thought he was [ . . . ] a tough competitor.” For his part, McGregor was unsatisfied only with the TKO, saying he would have preferred to lose by knockout: “I thought it was close. Let me go down, let the man put me down. Wobbly and fatigued? I’m clear-headed. [ . . . ] You’ve got to put me out.” UFC president Dana White has stated, albeit unofficially, that the bout drew 6.5 million pay-per-view purchases, which would make it the highest-grossing PPV event of all time.
8 Trump Announces Long-Delayed Tax Reform
President Trump’s first seven months in office have been marred by the ever-deepening Russia investigation and a marked inability to get any major legislation passed, but on Wednesday, the president fired off an opening salvo in his effort to generate support for tax reform. In front of a receptive crowd in Springfield, Missouri, the president promised to “bring back Main Street by reducing the crumbling burden on our companies and on our workers. The foundation of our job creation agenda is to fundamentally reform our tax code for the first time in more than 30 years.”
The president offered few specifics beyond dropping the business tax rate to 15 percent, a number that has received pushback from congressional leaders for being too low. But he did suggest that a simplified and “more competitive” tax code was in order and insisted that the plan put forth by Republican leaders will benefit the middle class. Congressional Democrats, of course, tend to disagree. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez responded to the president’s remarks by saying that any Republican-backed plan “would overwhelmingly benefit the super-rich and corporations over hardworking Americans.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has stated that he hopes to have a plan in place and on the president’s desk by the end of this year.
7Game Of Thrones Wraps Up Seventh Season
For seven seasons, HBO’s Game of Thrones has enthralled us with its magical fantasy world full of crazy sex, even crazier violence, and surprisingly few dragons. The series wrapped up its seventh outing with its longest episode ever, bringing a close to an emotional roller coaster of a season and teasing at major developments for season eight.
The series is known for pulling no punches when it comes to the wanton murder of fan-favorite characters, but if the numbers for the season finale are any indication, GoT ‘s fans are gluttons for this and any other type of punishment their show wants to dish out. The finale obliterated viewership records for the series with a staggering 16.5 million viewers, a 36-percent increase over the season six finale. True to form, the season ended with several major plotlines up in the air, but they’ll all have to be put to rest in season eight, which will be the last. No airdate has been confirmed or even suggested, and it’s been rumored that agonized fans may have to wait until 2019 to see the final episodes.
6 Amazon Takes Over Whole Foods, Slashes Prices
Whole Foods customers who don’t regularly follow business news may have gotten a bit of a surprise when visiting their local stores this past week. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, completed their acquisition of the grocery giant last week, and they started making changes almost immediately.
Amazon purchased Whole Foods for a whopping $ 13.7 billion last month, with the stated purpose of fusing their high-tech, rapid-distribution aesthetic with the grocery chain’s successful brick-and-mortar outlets. Signs of change began appearing this past Monday, with Amazon’s Echo and Dot smart speakers available for purchase at Whole Foods and a variety of grocery items showing up on Amazon’s website. But it wasn’t all jarring juxtapositions between high technology and organic vegetables: Customers were pleased to find that thanks to Amazon, prices on many staple items at the notoriously overpriced grocery chain had been slashed by up to 43 percent, with Amazon Prime members receiving even deeper discounts.
If successful, Amazon’s acquisition could spell big trouble for competitors like Google and Walmart—which is probably why last week, those two companies announced a similar partnership, with Google offering Walmart products on its Google Express shopping platform. Whether these tech-style takeovers of entrenched retail companies will ultimately benefit consumers remains to be seen.
5 North Korea Launches Missile Over Japan, Guam Next
The saber-rattling between the United States and North Korea has grown considerably in volume in recent weeks, and de-escalation doesn’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon. Since February, the rogue nation has conducted 14 tests, in which 21 nuclear-capable missiles have been fired, mostly of the short- to intermediate-range variety—although at least one intercontinental ballistic missile has been tested, on July 4.
This last week, another test sent an intermediate-range missile soaring over Japan, whose prime minister was understandably not pleased. But North Korean officials, who were “very satisfied” with the missile’s performance, stated that this test was only the first phase in an operation intended to contain Guam, a United States territory which hosts two active military installations. Guam is geographically close to North Korea and has been the subject of Pyongyang’s ire for years. This latest test has drawn the standard round of international rebukes and pleas for North Korea to open a dialogue with neighboring countries, but as usual, they don’t appear to be listening.
4 New Cancer Treatment Gets FDA Approval
There have been depressingly few breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer since the advent of chemotherapy, but this week saw a potentially major one. In a decision it called “historic,” the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to a completely new form of cancer treatment—one which works by genetically reprogramming the patient’s own white blood cells.
The treatment in its current form works against acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer. It must be custom-made for each individual patient, and it’s pricey—$ 475,000 for a round of treatment. But 83 percent of those who have received it are now cancer-free, and the “living drug” may open up the floodgates to a whole new generation of drugs that work in the same way. Dr. Scott Gottlieb of the FDA called the development “a new frontier in medical innovation” and added, “New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine and create an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses.”
3 Late Novelist Crushes Fans’ Hopes, Literally
Beloved English novelist Terry Pratchett, best known for his long-running Discworld series of satirical fantasy novels, broke fans’ hearts when he passed away in 2015. It has been speculated since that the prolific author might have left behind a few posthumous works to console them, but that speculation was unceremoniously ended last Friday via vintage steamroller.
In accordance with Pratchett’s characteristically unusual wishes, his hard drive was sacrificed to the hulking Industrial Revolution–era behemoth known as “Lord Jericho” at the Great Dorset Steam Fair. The operation was carried out by Rob Wilkins, the manager of Pratchett’s estate, who on Friday morning, Tweeted out to fans, “About to fulfill my obligation to Terry” along with an ominous picture of the hard drive and steamroller. He followed up with a photo of the crushed device.
Although disappointed fans will never know what Pratchett was working on when he died, they will get to take a gander at this rather severely fragmented hard drive in person. It goes on display at the Salisbury Museum as part of a Pratchett exhibit in September.
2 President Trump’s Big Friday
President Trump is never not in the news, and as much as many of his supporters are inclined to dismiss the bulk of it as fake, it’s often tough to spin the president’s words and actions in any positive light. This week was no exception, except all of the bad news came all at once—in an epic Friday evening news dump that took place just as Harvey was ramping up to drown Texas.
First came the announcement that Trump would indeed, as he had indicated for weeks, pardon Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, who operated work camps that he publicly referred to as “concentration camps” and was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop violating the rights of suspected illegal immigrants, was pardoned even before his sentencing, a move that polls show most Americans disagreeing with. Next came news of the departure of Seb Gorka, a national security aide with ties to recently departed chief strategist Steve Bannon. Finally, it was announced that the White House would be going forward with its ban on transgender individuals in the military.
The news dump drew waves of criticism from Democrat and Republican legislators alike. Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, implied that the president’s pardoning of Arpaio was indicative of a lack of respect for the law, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused the president of using “the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny.”
For the president’s part, he conceded that he absolutely did coordinate the news dump with Harvey, but not for the reasons he was being accused of. At a Monday news conference, he explained: “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” apparently referring to television ratings. As it turned out, residents in affected areas were too preoccupied with several feet of water to be glued to the tube.
1 Military Transgender Ban ‘Frozen’ By Defense Secretary
The Tuesday evening following the news dump, USA Today reported that the announced transgender ban had been “frozen” by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who stated that transgender troops would be able to continue to serve pending the results of a study. While the details of the report were technically accurate, there is some significant context that was missing.
The study is actually taking place at the president’s direction, as the Pentagon had basically refused to enforce any ban without one. In a subsequent memo to the Pentagon, President Trump directed the secretaries of defense and homeland security to undertake the study to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.” While its results will be used to advise him on how to proceed, they will carry no legal weight. The “freeze” really just constitutes Mattis following directions, and there is still nothing to keep the ban from taking full effect early next year.