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Vox Sentences: The West is on fire

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Wildfires are reducing millions of acres of the Western United States to ash; Betsy DeVos says she wants to change federal guidelines on campus sexual assault; Pope Francis urges continued peace in Colombia.

Cinder and smoke

David McNew/Getty Images
  • This summer has been a record-setter for floods in the Southern US, but out West, it’s also been an intense year for wildfires.
  • More than 80 wildfires are burning across swaths of land in Montana, California, and even states in the Pacific Northwest that tend to be rainy, like Oregon and Washington. [Washington Post / John Hopewell]
  • All of this fire and smoke is being fueled by record-setting heat; California just had its hottest summer ever, and temperatures have also been scorching in cities like Portland and Seattle. [Inside Climate News / Georgina Gustin]
  • Right now, there’s a huge cloud of smoke hanging over Washington that nearly covers the entire state. People in Seattle and surrounding areas have been getting ash falling on their cars; the smoke is supposed to clear up late this week, but some longtime Seattle residents told reporters they can’t remember this much smoke being in the city. [The Evergrey / Sara Gentzler]
  • All of this smoke carries potentially dangerous health risks as people inhale tiny smoke particles. It can also worsen pollution and smog in cities. [Vox / Brian Resnick]
  • In Montana, a wildfire that’s been burning in Glacier National Park since early August recently destroyed a historic chalet that hikers and visitors have stayed in for more than 100 years. [Outside Magazine / Wes Siler]
  • One fire has burned 30,000 acres in Portland, but firefighters battling blazes around well-known Multnomah Falls have so far managed to keep it safe, and some officials say the fire could actually be beneficial in helping new plant growth. [Willamette Week / Katie Shepherd]

Betsy DeVos sets a new tone on campus sexual assault

Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced today she’s undertaking the first steps to change Obama-era guidelines for how colleges and universities should deal with sexual assault. [NPR / Anya Kamenetz]
  • Many people expected that DeVos would rescind the Obama rules altogether today. Instead, she proposed a public comment period to get feedback on how federal guidelines should change. [Inside Higher Ed / Andrew Kreighbaum]
  • However, DeVos was not shy about criticizing the Obama administration’s approach, which she characterized as “intimidation and coercion” of universities. [Vox / Ella Nilsen]
  • The Obama administration issued guidance on how schools should handle sexual assault investigations in 2011, as part of a larger campaign to raise awareness around on-campus rape. The guidance was controversial because it threatened that schools could lose their federal funding if they didn’t comply. [US Department of Education]
  • The Obama-era guidelines won praise from sexual assault survivors and advocates, who said they felt like their concerns were being taken seriously. [Teen Vogue / Vera Papisova]
  • But it also got pushback from members of the academic and legal community, including 28 Harvard Law professors who said the guidance was too vague, heavy-handed and relied on a lower standard of proof than is normally used in criminal cases. [The Boston Globe]
  • It also led to a dramatic increase in the number of colleges the department is investigating for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases; 435 cases have been opened since 2011, and the vast majority are still open. [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
  • DeVos will open up the guidelines to public comment from universities, students and other stakeholders. Her speech today signaled she especially wants to narrow the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment. [Vox / Ella Nilsen]

Colombia calls a Hail Mary (well, Francis) for its peace process

Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images
  • Pope Francis visited to the Latin American country of Colombia today, urging them to commit to a peace agreement signed last year between the government and Marxist rebels. [CBS News / Anna Matranga]
  • The peace process was signed a year ago after decades of bitter conflict. Government forces had been battling the Marxist group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, otherwise known as FARC, since 1964. [Vox / Jennifer Williams]
  • The FARC had a stronghold in rural areas for many years, and got rich because they taxed coca plants with which drug traffickers made cocaine. But an aggressive military operation by the government in the early- to mid-2000s reduced the group’s numbers significantly. [Vox / Amanda Taub]
  • Even though the fighting is over, the peace deal itself has proved to be contentious. The fighting with the FARC was bloody, and many saw the ceasefire agreement as being too generous to rebels. [Associated Press / Nicole Winfield and Joshua Goodman]
  • Under the deal, about 7,000 rebels who conceded and gave up their weapons were allowed to return to civilian life. Public opinion in the country is split on whether that was fair to the 220,000 people who lost their lives in the fighting. [NYT / Nicholas Casey and Julie Goodman]
  • Pope Francis’s visit to Colombia is the first time a pope has visited the country since 1986. Francis has been a strong supporter of the peace process throughout, but has stayed neutral on the details of the deal. [LA Times / Chris Kraul]


  • The incredibly speedy pilots on Delta Flight 431 managed to fly from New York to Puerto Rico and back again without running into the massive Hurricane Irma [Washington Post / Luz Lazo]
  • Someone apparently managed to drill a hole to add a working headphone jack to the headphone jack-less iPhone 7, without destroying the entire thing. [Motherboard / Jason Koebler]
  • “Taxonomic vandals” are people who name scores of new animal species without backing up their findings. Just a few bad apples in the system are creating major havoc for scientists, and the problem is getting worse in the digital age. [Smithsonian Magazine / Benjamin Jones]
  • The stomach parasite hookworm is having a resurgence in impoverished areas in the American South, in places that don’t have the proper sanitation systems to keep sewage out of their yards. [The Guardian / Ed Pilkington]
  • Startup companies have flooded China with bike-sharing programs (and by extension, bikes). There are now so many bicycles and not enough places to dock them that bikes are getting abandoned, stolen, and confiscated by police. [NYT / Javier Hernandez]


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