Happening Today: Hyde-Smith, Manafort, Autism, ‘SpongeBob’

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What to Know

  • Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a divisive Mississippi runoff, surviving a video-recorded remark decried as racist[hhmc]

  • The U.S. government says the latest estimate of 1 in 40 kids having autism doesn't necessarily mean the numbers are rising[hhmc]

  • Stephen Hillenburg, who created SpongeBob SquarePants and the absurd undersea world he inhabited, has died at age 57, Nickelodeon announced[hhmc]

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Hyde-Smith Defeats Espy in US Senate Runoff in Mississippi

Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won a divisive Mississippi runoff, surviving a video-recorded remark decried as racist and defeating a former federal official who hoped to become the state's first African-American senator since Reconstruction. The runoff was rocked by the video, in which Hyde-Smith said of a supporter, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." A separate video showed her talking about "liberal folks" and making it "just a little more difficult" for them to vote. The comments by Hyde-Smith, who is white, made Mississippi's history of racist lynchings a theme of the runoff and spurred many black voters to return to the polls. In the aftermath of the video, Republicans worried they could face a repeat of last year's special election in Alabama, in which a flawed Republican candidate handed Democrats a reliable GOP Senate seat in the Deep South. The GOP pumped resources into Mississippi, and President Donald Trump made a strong effort on behalf of Hyde-Smith, holding last-minute rallies in Mississippi.

Manafort Allegations Throw New Uncertainty Into Russia Probe

The breakdown of a plea deal with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an explosive British news report about alleged contacts he may have had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threw a new element of uncertainty into the Trump-Russia investigation. A day after prosecutors accused Manafort of repeatedly lying to them, trashing his agreement to tell all in return for a lighter sentence, he adamantly denied a report in the Guardian that he had met secretly with Assange around March 2016. That's the same month Manafort joined the Trump campaign and Russian hackers began an effort to penetrate the email accounts of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The developments thrust Manafort back into the investigation spotlight, raising new questions about what he knows and what prosecutors say he might be attempting to conceal as they probe Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates in the campaign that sent the celebrity businessman to the White House.

How Many Kids Have Autism? US Government Measures 3 Ways

How many American children have autism? The U.S. government answers that question at least three different ways and says the latest estimate — 1 in 40 kids — doesn't necessarily mean the numbers are rising. The new number, published in Pediatrics, is from one of three periodic surveys the government uses to assess autism rates. It's higher than a different survey's estimate published earlier this year, but the surveys use different methods and measure different populations of kids so the results aren't really comparable. Because there's no medical test, "autism spectrum disorder is a particularly challenging condition to track," government researchers wrote in the Pediatrics report. The true occurrence of autism likely ranges from about 1 in 59 kids to 1 in 40 kids, researchers say, taking into account information from all three surveys.

Babies Dead at NJ Hospital Amid Infection Outbreak, Health Dept. Says

Two premature babies who contracted a bacterial infection at a New Jersey hospital in the throes of an outbreak, died last week, officials say. It is the third death of a premature baby in Newark's University Hospital after the Department of Health became aware that the hospital had an outbreak of the bacteria A. baumannii in its neonatal intensive care unit. The department says that, while the babies were infected with A. baumannii, it may not have been what killed them, as they also suffered from other medical conditions due to being born premature. Four babies have been infected in total at the hospital, officials say. No new infections have been confirmed since October.

'SpongeBob' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dies, Nickelodeon Says

Stephen Hillenburg, who created SpongeBob SquarePants and the absurd undersea world he inhabited, has died at age 57, Nickelodeon announced. Hillenburg died of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, the cable network said in a statement. Hillenburg had announced he had the disease in March 2017. His death comes just weeks after the passing of another cartoon hero in Marvel creator Stan Lee. An Oklahoma native with a love of both drawing and marine biology, Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and went on to spawn hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.

Amanda Bynes Breaks Her Silence on History of Drug Abuse

Amanda Bynes is clearing the air. And this time she's doing it in more than 140 characters. The 32-year-old actress is the cover subject of Paper magazine's annual "Break the Internet" issue. No topic is off limits as Bynes reflects on her drug-fueled past, sometimes in embarrassing detail. A former child star on Nickelodeon, Bynes went mainstream when she transitioned into movies, starring in hits like "Big Fat Liar" and "What a Girl Wants." But it was her role in 2006's "She's the Man," in which she dressed in drag, that led to an "interesting experience" after the shoot ended. Bynes became increasingly fixated on her appearance when she was cast in 2007's "Hairspray." Around that time, she recalls reading a magazine article that referred to Adderall as the "new skinny pill," as possible side effects of the stimulant include decreased appetite and weight loss.

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