US Gymnasts Tell AP Sport Rife With Verbal, Emotional Abuse

They were little girls with dreams of Olympic gold when they started in gymnastics. Now they’re women with lifelong injuries, suffocating anxiety and debilitating eating disorders. 

They are the other victims of USA Gymnastics. 

Thirteen former U.S. gymnasts and three coaches interviewed by The Associated Press described a win-at-all-cost culture rife with verbal and emotional abuse in which girls were forced to train on broken bones and other injuries. That culture was tacitly endorsed by the sport’s governing body and institutionalized by Bela and Martha Karolyi, the husband-and-wife duo who coached America’s top female gymnasts for three decades.

The gymnasts agreed to speak to AP, some for the first time, after the recent courtroom revelations about USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who recently was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting young athletes for years under the guise of medical treatment.

The Karolyis’ oppressive style created a toxic environment in which a predator like Nassar was able to thrive, according to witness statements in Nassar’s criminal case and a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics, the Karolyis and others. Girls were afraid to challenge authority, Nassar was able to prey on vulnerable girls and, at the same time, he didn’t challenge the couple’s harsh training methods.

“He was their little puppet,” Jeanette Antolin, a former member of the U.S. national team who trained with the Karolyis, said. “He let us train on injuries. They got what they wanted. He got what he wanted.”

Young girls were virtually starved, constantly body shamed and forced to train with broken bones or other injuries, according to interviews and the lawsuit. Their meager diets and extreme training often delayed puberty, which some coaches believed was such a detriment that they ridiculed girls who started their menstrual cycles.

USA Gymnastics declined to answer questions for this story, and the Karolyis didn’t reply to requests for comment. The Karolyis’ Houston attorney, Gary Jewell, said the Karolyis didn’t abuse anyone.

Some female gymnasts in the U.S. were subjected to abusive training methods before the Karolyis defected from their native Romania in 1981. But other coaches and former gymnasts say the Karolyis’ early successes — starting with Romania’s Nadia Comaneci becoming the first woman gymnast awarded a perfect score in competition — validated the cutthroat attitudes that fostered widespread mistreatment of American athletes at the highest levels of women’s gymnastics.

The Karolyis, who helped USA Gymnastics win 41 Olympic medals, including 13 gold over three decades, trained hundreds of gymnasts at their complex in rural Huntsville, Texas, known as “the ranch.” They selected gymnasts for the national team and earned millions from USA Gymnastics. 

A congressional committee investigating the gymnastics scandal said in Feb. 8 letters to the Karolyis, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee that they were all “at the center of many of these failures” that allowed Nassar’s sexual abuse to persist for more than two decades.

It’s unclear what the Karolyis knew about Nassar’s sexual abuse and whether they took any action to stop it.

Martha Karolyi, in a deposition given last year as part of the lawsuit against the Karolyis and numerous others, acknowledged that “in or around June 2015” she received a phone call from the then-head of the national gymnastics organization, Steve Penny, informing her that the organization had received a complaint that Nassar had “molested a national team gymnast at the ranch.”

The deposition was included in a Feb. 14 letter to two U.S. senators from John Manly, an attorney representing Nassar victims in a lawsuit that seeks monetary damages and court oversight of USA Gymnastics.

Manly cited the deposition in accusing the sport’s governing body of lying to Congress. 

In a timeline submitted to a congressional committee investigating the scandal, the organization said it was told in mid-June of an athlete “uncomfortable” with Nassar’s treatment, but that it was not until late July 2015 that it decided to notify law enforcement “with concerns of potential sexual misconduct.”

Penny, the former USA Gymnastics chief, said in a statement that Martha Karolyi was mistaken about the timing of his call.

Texas has one of the strongest child abuse reporting laws in the nation, requiring anyone who has reason to believe abuse has occurred to immediately alert authorities. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine.

In the deposition, Martha Karolyi said she did not discuss what she learned about Nassar with anyone but her husband, her lawyers and the USA Gymnastics official who called her. 

Jewell, the Karolyis’ attorney, said the couple didn’t know about any sexual assault complaints involving Nassar until Martha Karolyi was contacted by a USA Gymnastics official in the summer of 2015.

From: MeNeedIt

With Rates Still Low, Fed Officials Fret Over Next US Recession

Federal Reserve policymakers fretted on Friday that they could face the next U.S. recession with virtually the same arsenal of policies used in the last downturn and, with interest rates still relatively low, those will not pack the same punch.

In the midst of an unprecedented leadership transition, Fed officials are publicly debating whether to scrap their approach to inflation targeting, how much of its bond portfolio to retain, and how much longer they can raise interest rates in the face of an unexpectedly large boost from tax cuts and government spending.

After years of near-zero rates and $3.5 trillion in bond purchases all meant to stimulate the economy in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, the Fed has gradually tightened policy since late 2015. Its key rate is now in the range of 1.25 to 1.5 percent, and while the Fed plans to hike three more times this

year it has also forecast that it is about halfway to its goal.

That could leave little room to provide stimulus when the world’s largest economy, which is heating up, eventually turns around.

“We would be better off, rather than thinking about what we would do next time when we hit zero, making sure that we don’t get back there. We just don’t want to be there,” Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren told a conference of economists and the majority of his colleagues at the central bank.

Rosengren, one of only a few sitting policymakers who also served during the last downturn, said the expanding U.S. deficits could further erode the government’s ability to help curb any future recession. “With the deficits we are running up, it’s not likely [fiscal policy] will be helpful in the next

recession either,” he said.

Since mid-December, the Republican-controlled Congress and U.S. President Donald Trump aggressively cut taxes and boosted spending limits, two fiscal moves that are expected to push the annual budget deficit above $1 trillion next year and expand the $20 trillion national debt.

Overheating

That stimulus, combined with synchronized global growth, signs of U.S. inflation perking up, and unemployment near a 17-year low could set the stage for overheating that ends one of the longest economic expansions ever.

“We want more shock absorbers out there and really … the main shock absorber is the ability to reduce the fed funds rate, which means that you want to get to a higher inflation rate so that the pre-shock fed funds rate is 4 and not 2,” said Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and professor at City University of New York.

In a speech to the conference hosted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Krugman said every recession since 1982 has been caused by “private sector over-reach” and not Fed tightening, as in decades past.

The conference’s main research paper argued the central bank should focus on cutting rates in the next recession and avoid relying on asset purchases that are less effective in stimulating investment and growth than previously thought.

In October the Fed began trimming some of its assets and it has yet to decide how far it will go. William Dudley, president of the New York Fed, told the conference that, to be sure, the ability to again purchase bonds if and when rates hit zero “seems like a good tool to have.”

The Fed’s approach to any economic slowdown would likely be to cut rates, pledge further stimulus, and only then buy bonds.

Rosengren and others dismissed the possibility of adopting negative interest rates, as some other central banks have done.

Yet five years of below-target inflation, combined with an aging population and slowdown in labor force growth, has sparked a debate over ditching a long-standing 2 percent price target.

Some see this month’s succession of Fed Chair Janet Yellen by Jerome Powell as ideal timing to consider new frameworks that could help drive inflation, and rates, higher. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, whom the White House is considering for Fed vice chair, told the conference the central bank could begin to reassess the framework later this year, though she added that the threshold for change should be high.

From: MeNeedIt

EU Leaders Draw Up Battle Lines for Post-Brexit Budget

European Union leaders staked out opening positions Friday for a battle over EU budgets that many conceded they are unlikely to resolve before Britain leaves next year, blowing a hole in Brussels’ finances.

At a summit to launch discussion on the size and shape of a seven-year budget package to run from 2021, ex-communist states urged wealthier neighbors to plug a nearly 10 percent annual revenue gap being left by Britain, while the Dutch led a group of small, rich countries refusing to chip in any more to the EU.

Germany and France, the biggest economies and the bloc’s driving duo as Britain prepares to leave in March 2019, renewed offers to increase their own contributions, though both set out conditions for that, including new priorities and less waste.

Underlining that a divide between east and west runs deeper than money, French President Emmanuel Macron criticized what he said were poor countries abusing EU funds designed to narrow the gap in living standards after the Cold War to shore up their own popularity while ignoring EU values on civil rights or to undercut Western economies by slashing tax and labor rules.

Noting the history of EU “cohesion” and other funding for poor regions as a tool of economic “convergence,” Macron told reporters: “I will reject a European budget which is used to finance divergence, on tax, on labor or on values.”

Poland and Hungary, heavyweights among the ex-communist states which joined the EU this century, are run by right-wing governments at daggers drawn with Brussels over their efforts to influence courts, media and other independent institutions.

The European Commission, the executive which will propose a detailed budget in May, has said it will aim to satisfy calls for “conditionality” that will link getting some EU funding to meeting treaty commitments on democratic standards such as properly functioning courts able to settle economic disputes.

But its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned on Friday against deepening “the rift between east and west” and some in the poorer nations see complaints about authoritarian tendencies as a convenient excuse to avoid paying in more to Brussels.

At around 140 billion euros ($170 billion) a year, the EU budget represents about 1 percent of economic output in the bloc or some 2 percent of public spending, but for all that it remains one of the bloodiest subjects of debate for members.

Focus on payments

The Commission has suggested that the next package should be increased by about 10 percent, but there was little sign Friday that the governments with cash are willing to pay that.

“When the UK leaves the EU, then that part of the budget should drop out,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who leads a group of hawks including Sweden, Denmark and Austria.

“In any case, we do not want our contribution to rise and we want modernization,” he added, saying that meant reconsidering the EU’s major spending on agriculture and regional cohesion in order to do more in defense, research and controlling migration.

On the other side, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said his priorities were “sufficient financing of cohesion policy” a good deal for businesses from the EU’s agricultural subsidies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there had been broad agreement that new priorities such as in defense, migration and research should get new funding and she called for a “debureaucratization” of traditional EU spending programs.

Summit chair Donald Tusk praised the 27 leaders — Prime Minister Theresa May was not invited as Britain will have left before the new budget round starts — for approaching the issue “with open minds, rather than red lines.” But despite them all wanting to speed up the process, a deal this year was unlikely.

Quick deal unlikely

Although all agree it would be good to avoid a repeat of the 11th-hour wrangling ahead of the 2014-20 package, many sounded doubtful of a quick deal even early next year.

“It could go on for ages,” Rutte said. He added that it would be “nice” to finish by the May 2019 EU election: “But that’s very tight.”

Among the touchiest subjects will be accounting for the mass arrival of asylum-seekers in recent years. Aggrieved that some eastern states refuse to take in mainly Muslim migrants, some in the west have suggested penalizing them via the EU budget.

Merkel has proposed that regions which are taking in and trying to integrate refugees should have that rewarded in the allocation of EU funding — a less obviously penal approach but one which she had to defend on Friday against criticism in the east. It was not meant as a threat, the chancellor insisted.

In other business at a summit which reached no formal legal conclusions, leaders broadly agreed on some issues relating to next year’s elections to the European Parliament and to the accompanying appointment of a new Commission for five years.

They pushed back against efforts, notably from lawmakers, to limit their choice of nominee to succeed Juncker to a candidate who leads one of the pan-EU parties in the May 2019 vote. They approved Parliament’s plan to reallocate some British seats and to cut others altogether and also, barring Hungary, agreed to a Macron proposal to launch “consultations” with their citizens this year on what they want from the EU.

From: MeNeedIt

Stocks Rally as Fed Eases Rate Worry, Tech Climbs

U.S. stocks rallied on Friday, lifted by gains in technology stocks and a retreat in Treasury yields as the Federal Reserve eased concerns about the path of interest rate hikes this year.

The U.S. central bank, looking past the recent stock market sell-off and inflation concerns, said it expected economic growth to remain steady and saw no serious risks on the horizon that might pause its planned pace of rate hikes.

Investors largely expect the Fed to raise rates three times this year, beginning with its next meeting in March, the first under new Chair Jerome Powell. Traders currently see a 95.5 percent chance of a quarter-percentage-point hike next month, according to Thomson Reuters data.

“Certainly bond yields pulling back today is helpful for stocks, at least for the short term, that has been the narrative that is out there — that higher bond yields are weighing on stocks and this preoccupation with three percent,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird in Milwaukee. “So moving away from that, for today at least, provides a bid for equities.”

Powell’s first public outing will be on Tuesday, when he will testify separately before the House and Senate committees.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 347.51 points, or 1.39 percent, to 25,309.99, the S&P 500 gained 43.34 points, or 1.60 percent, to 2,747.30 and the Nasdaq Composite added 127.30 points, or 1.77 percent, to 7,337.39.

Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes last rose 13/32 in price to yield 2.8714 percent, from 2.917 percent late on Thursday.

The dip in yields helped boost bond proxy sectors such as utilities, up 2.66 percent, and real estate, up 1.72 percent. The sectors have been among the worst performers so far this year on expectations of climbing rates.

Tech shares climbed 2.17 percent led by gains in Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which rose 10.5 percent and HP Inc, up 3.5 percent.

The two companies created from the split of Hewlett Packard Co in 2015, reported strong results and HPE also announced a plan to return $7 billion to shareholders.

For the week, the Dow rose 0.37 percent, the S&P advanced 0.56 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.35 percent.

Blue Buffalo Pet Products jumped 17.23 percent after General Mills said it would buy the natural pet food maker for $8 billion. General Mills was the biggest percentage decline on S&P 500, falling 3.59 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 4.54-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.82-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 64 new highs and 57 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 6.05 billion shares, well below the 8.38 billion average over the last 20 trading days.

Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak.

From: MeNeedIt

Top 5 Songs for Week Ending Feb. 24

We’re lifting off with the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending Feb. 24, 2018.

Does our top song change this week? No. Do any songs change this week? No. So if you liked last week’s chart, you’ll love this one as well.

Number 5: Post Malone Featuring 21 Savage “Rockstar” 

Post Malone and 21 Savage hold in fifth place with their former champ “Rockstar.”

It seems to be the new trend: When two artists have a hit song, they take it on the road. Post and 21 Savage will tour together beginning on April 26 in Portland, Oregon. Twenty-eight dates later, it all ends on June 24 in San Francisco.

Number 4: Camila Cabello Featuring Young Thug “Havana”

Our fourth-place hit is “Havana” from Camila Cabello and Young Thug. Or should I say Camila Cabello and SEX. That’s right: This week, Young Thug took to Twitter to announce that he was changing his name to SEX — in capital letters. This may be a case of history repeating itself: Two years ago, he supposedly changed his name to “Jefferey,” which turned out to be the title of a mix tape.

Number 3: Bruno Mars & Cardi B. “Finesse”

Bruno Mars and Cardi B remain themselves this week, as “Finesse” stays put at No. 3.

Rumors have been swirling around a possible Cardi B pregnancy, but Offset of Migos just shut them down. Cardi B’s fiance tells TMZ that he already has three kids, and that Cardi is not expecting.

Number 2: Ed Sheeran “Perfect”

We all thought Ed Sheeran was Cherry Seaborn’s fiance — but is he much more?

Last month, Ed announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend Seaborn, but now fans think they may already be married. On February 19, Ed performed at the O2 in London, where he sparked marriage rumors by wearing a gold band on his ring finger. So far, the singer has made no comment.

Number 1: Drake “God’s Plan”

Up at No. 1, Drake rules the roost for a third week with “God’s Plan.” The video features Drake making nearly $1 million in charitable donations in the Miami area. Drake calls it the most important thing he’s done in his career — and it also earned high praise from fellow chart star Justin Bieber. On February 19, Justin took to Instagram to hail it as the best video he’s ever seen.

Can Drake last an even month at the top? We’ll find out next week.

From: MeNeedIt

Capturing Baltimore’s Violence

American cities are becoming safer as violent crime decreases nationwide. But the city of Baltimore is an exception. Amy Berbert, a local artist whose photography project “Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk” aims to bring awareness and compassion to the frequently forgotten victims of Baltimore’s homicides. Gabrielle Weiss reports.

From: MeNeedIt

Report: Trump, Officials to Discuss Changes to Biofuels Policy

U.S. President Donald Trump has called a meeting early next week with key senators and Cabinet officials to discuss potential changes to biofuels policy, which is coming under increasing pressure after a Pennsylvania refiner blamed the regulation for its bankruptcy, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

The meeting comes as the oil industry and corn lobby clash over the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a decade-old regulation that requires refiners to cover the cost of mixing biofuels such as corn-based ethanol into their fuel.

Trump’s engagement reflects the high political stakes of protecting jobs in a key electoral state. Oil refiner Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), which employs more than 1,000 people in Philadelphia, declared bankruptcy last month and blamed the regulation for its demise.

Oil, farm state senators

The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, will include Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, along with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and potentially Energy Secretary Rick Perry, according to the four sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

One source said the meeting would focus on short-term solutions to help PES continue operating. PES is asking a bankruptcy judge to shed roughly $350 million of its current RFS compliance costs, owed to the EPA which administers the program, as part of its restructuring package.

The other sources said the meeting will consider whether to cap prices for biofuel credits, let higher-ethanol blends be sold all year, and efforts to get speculators out of the market.

Officials at the EPA, Agriculture Department, and Energy Department declined to comment. A White House official, Kelly Love, said she had no announcement on the matter at this time.

The offices of Cruz, Ernst and Grassley did not immediately return requests for comment.

The sources said the options moving forward would be constrained by political and legal realities that have derailed previous efforts at reform.

The Trump administration has considered changes to the RFS sought by refiners this year, including reducing the amount of biofuels required to be blended annually under the regulation or shifting the responsibility for blending to supply terminals, only to retreat in the face of opposition from corn-state lawmakers.

​Narrow options, broad resistance

The EPA is expected to weigh in officially in the coming weeks on request by PES to the bankruptcy judge to be released from its compliance obligations. But any such move would likely draw a backlash from other U.S. refiners, who have no hope of receiving a waiver.

Under the RFS, refiners must earn or purchase blending credits called RINs to prove they are complying with the regulation. As biofuels volume quotas have increased, so have prices for the credits, meaning refiners that invested in blending facilities have benefited while those that have not, such as PES, have had to pay up.

PES said its RFS compliance costs exceeded its payroll last year, and ranked only behind the cost of purchasing crude oil.

Other issues may have contributed to PES’ financial difficulties. Reuters reported that PES’ investor backers withdrew from the company more than $594 million in a series of dividend-style distributions since 2012, even as regional refining economics slumped.

Regulators and lawmakers have been considering how to cut the cost of the RFS to the oil industry.

In recent months, for example, the EPA has contemplated expanding its use of an exemption available to small refineries, a move that would likely push down RIN prices, but which both the oil and corn industries have said would be unfair.

Cruz last year proposed limiting the price of RINs to 10 cents, a fraction of their current value — an idea that was roundly rejected by the ethanol industry as a disincentive for new ethanol blending infrastructure investment.

Senator John Cornyn, also a Texas Republican, is preparing draft legislation to overhaul the RFS in Congress that would include the creation of a new specialized RIN credit intended to push down prices, but it too faces resistance from both the corn and oil lobbies.

From: MeNeedIt

Defense Officials Support Targeted Steel Tariffs

The U.S. Defense Department supports moves by the Commerce Department to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, although it would prefer a system of targeted tariffs rather than a global quota or a global tariff.

The Commerce Department on Feb. 16 recommended that President Donald Trump impose steep curbs on steel imports from China and other countries and offered the three options to the president, who has yet to make a decision.

The Defense Department said in a statement issued Thursday that it was concerned about the potential impact on U.S. allies of the proposed measures and said that was the reason it preferred targeted tariffs.

It recommended that while the tariffs on steel should proceed, the administration should wait before pressing ahead with the measures on aluminum.

“The prospect of trade action on aluminum may be sufficient to coerce improved behavior of bad actors,” the department said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that Trump would have the final say on what measures to adopt.

From: MeNeedIt

Malaysian Rapper’s Dog Video Sparks Claim of Insulting Islam

Malaysian police said a popular ethnic Chinese rapper has been detained over complaints that his latest music video featuring dancers wearing dog masks and performing “obscene” moves insulted Islam and could hurt racial harmony.

It was the second time in two years that Wee Meng Chee, popularly known as Namewee, has been investigated over his music videos.

Police said in a statement that Wee was detained Thursday after they received four public complaints that his video marking the Chinese year of the dog had “insulted Islam and could negatively impact racial unity and harmony.”

In the video entitled “Like a Dog,” Wee sits on a chair in a public square in the government administrative capital of Putrajaya with dancers wearing dog masks around him. Several of them mimic the “doggy-style” sex move. A green domed building in the background led some people to speculate it was filmed in front of a mosque, leading to criticism, but Wee later said it was the prime minister’s office.

The song includes the sounds of dog barks from various countries. In an apparent reference to government corruption, Wee sings that dogs in Malaysia go “mari mari, wang wang,” which in the Malay language means “come come, money money.”

Dogs are considered unclean by Muslims, who account for 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people.

Several ministers have called for Wee to be arrested. He has defended the video as a form of entertainment and said he has no intention of disrespecting any race or religion.

Earlier Thursday, Wee posted a picture on Facebook of himself at the federal police headquarters as he was wanted by police for questioning.

“I am not afraid because I believe Malaysia has justice,” he said.

Previous controversies

In 2016, he was detained after enraged Malay Islamic activists lodged complaints that a video titled “Oh My God,” which was filmed in front of various places of worship and used the word “Allah,” which means God in the Malay language, was rude and disrespectful to Islam. He was not charged.

In one of his earliest videos, he mocked the national anthem and was criticized for racial slurs. He also produced a movie that was banned by the government in 2014 for portraying national agencies in a negative way.

Race and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where the ethnic Malay majority has generally lived peacefully with large Chinese and Indian minorities since racial riots in 1969 left at least 200 people dead.

From: MeNeedIt