Tuesday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

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Good Morning!!

 

Just because I feel like it, I’m going to avoid the depressing news today and give you a mixture of stories that interested me.

By now everyone knows about the 15- or 16-year-old boy who on Sunday flew from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 jet and survived.

It turns out he ran away from home after some kind of argument, climbed over a fence at San Jose Mineta International Airport, and hid in the wheel well of the first plane he saw. Authorities are trying to figure out how he evaded multiple layers of security and how he survived a trip that could have killed him.

From ABC News:

“He got very lucky that he got to go to Maui but he was not targeting Maui as a destination,” Simon said.

The boy is also lucky to be alive, given that wheel-well stowaways rarely surviving flight conditions. At 38,000 feet, the percentage of oxygen is a fraction of that at sea level, and the temperature ranges from minus-50 to minus-85 degrees….

The plane landed in Hawaii. About an hour later, at 10:20 a.m. Hawaii time, crews were startled by the teen coming out of the wheel well, Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said.

“He was weak. He hung from the wheel valve and then he fell to the ground and regained some strength,” Moniz said.

 The Daily Mail has more:

He passed out in the air and didn’t regain consciousness until an hour after the plane landed in Hawaii, Simon said. When he came to, he climbed out of the wheel well and was immediately seen by airport personnel who escorted him inside where he was interviewed by the FBI, Simon said.

It was not immediately clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some survive by going into a hibernation-like state.

According to Simon, the boy doesn’t have any memories of the flight. Some experts are questioning whether the story is even true.

News of the incident was met with suspicion and scrutiny. Most wheel-well stowaways don’t survive, falling victim to frigid temperatures and lack of oxygen. The chances of survival of a wheel-well stowaway on a commercial aircraft are about 24 percent, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

ABC News aviation consultant John Nance is skeptical that the teen could have survived the 2,300-mile flight in the wheel well without an oxygen source.

“I just don’t believe it,” Nance said.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, said in order to survive inside a wheel well during a flight, the body has to fall into a hibernation-like state, with the heart only beating a couple times a minute.

“It’s near impossible, almost miraculous, and maybe there’s more to the story,” Besser said.

Besides, how did this kid manage to evade security, including “multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers?” Back to the Daily Mail:

San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes says airport employees monitor security video feeds from throughout the 1,050-acre airport around the clock. However, she said no one noticed images of an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 in the dark until security agents reviewed the footage after the plane had landed in Hawaii and the boy had been found.

The airport, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is surrounded by fences, although some sections do not have barbed wire and could easily be scaled.

The boy found his way onto the tarmac during the night, ‘under the cover of darkness,’ Barnes said.

Hours later, surveillance video at Kahului Airport showed the boy getting out of the wheel well after landing, according to a statement from Hawaii’s Department of Transportation.

The boy isn’t being charged with a crime, and will be returned to his parents, where he’ll have a quite a story to tell. I guess we’ll learn more in the next few days.

Meb

Yesterday’s Boston Marathon came off without a hitch, and an American won the men’s race for the first time in more than 30 years. The New York Daily News reports: American Meb Keflezighi wins Boston Marathon a year after bombing.

With the names of the murdered written on his runner’s bib, American Meb Keflezighi raced to victory Monday in the Boston Marathon, becoming a living symbol of resilience from the dark days of terror.

Keflezighi, 38, a member of the New York Athletic Club, said his triumph was fueled by a city that refused to buckle in the face of hate.

“It was not about me. It was about Boston Strong,” said Keflezighi, who broke down in tears as he became the first American in 31 years to win the race. “When the bomb exploded, every day since I’ve wanted to come back and win it.”

The Eritrea-born Keflezighi, who became an American citizen in 1998, crossed the finish line to chants of “U-S-A!” a mere 11 seconds in front of Kenya’s Wilson Chebet. He won the elite men’s race with a time of 2:08:37, a personal best and the second-fastest for an American man at Boston.

“When the Red Sox won (the World Series) and put the trophy right there,” he said, pointing to the Boylston St. finish line, “I wanted to win it for the people of Boston.”

Keflezighi came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 12 years old. He attended public schools in San Diego, where he first started running. He graduated from UCLA, where he won multiple championships and awards. He won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, and in 2009 he became the first American man to win the New York City Marathon since 1982.

In the women’s race, 2013 winner Rita Jeptoo won again, setting a course record of 2:18:57–also a personal best. Jeptoo is from Kenya.

I guess this next story is a little bit depressing, but it’s mostly ridiculous. From UPI: Majority of Americans doubt the Big Bang theory.

In a new national poll on America’s scientific acumen, more than half of respondents said they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that “the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang.”

The poll was conducted by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications.

Scientists were apparently dismayed by this news, which arrives only a few weeks after astrophysicists located the first hard evidence of cosmic inflation.

But when compared to results from other science knowledge surveys, 51 percent isn’t too shameful — or surprising.

Other polls on America’s scientific beliefs have arrived at similar findings. The “Science and Engineering Indicators” survey – which the National Science Foundation has conducted every year since the early 1980s — has consistently found only about a third of Americans believe that “the universe began with a huge explosion.”

Okay, maybe the notion of a giant explosion setting the universe in motion is a little surprising. But it’s certainly more believable than the biblical explanation that a godly being created the universe in seven days by making pronouncements like “Let there be light!”

Now an example of what some people are willing to believe: Has the Loch Ness Monster been spotted on Apple Maps?

Members of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club claim they have studied an image seen on Apple’s global satellite map application that shows the allegedly 100-foot-long creature, CNet .com reports, citing London’s Daily Mail.  They say if you zoom in on Apple images from space you can even see the monster’s giant flippers.

News of the sighting has fans of Nessie — as she’s affectionately called — buzzing because there hasn’t been a Loch Ness sighting in 18 months.  Legend has it she’s been cruising the area of Loch, just south of Dores, Scotland, for some 90 years, but so far, there’s no definitive proof she exists.

Nessie’s fan club devotees say they have ruled out all other possibilities for the grainy image, including a floating log or a giant seal. But one skeptic, deep-sea biologist Andrew David Thaler, debunks the theory on his websiteSouthernFriedScience.com, saying that the image shows the wake of a boat.

I have a few more interesting science stories for you.

From National Geographic: The Tragic Story of How Einstein’s Brain Was Stolen and Wasn’t Even Special.

My headline may be a bit misleading. Albert Einstein, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who gave the world the theory of relativity, E = mc2, and the law of the photoelectric effect, obviously had a special brain. So special that when he died in Princeton Hospital, on April 17, 1955, the pathologist on call, Thomas Harvey, stole it.

Einstein didn’t want his brain or body to be studied; he didn’t want to be worshipped. “He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters,” writes Brian Burrell in his 2005 book, Postcards from the Brain Museum.

But Harvey took the brain anyway, without permission from Einstein or his family. “When the fact came to light a few days later, Harvey managed to solicit a reluctant and retroactive blessing from Einstein’s son, Hans Albert, with the now-familiar stipulation that any investigation would be conducted solely in the interest of science,” Burrell writes.

This story is so weird that there is no way I can do it justice with excerpts. You need to read the whole thing. Just to whet your appetite, I’ll tell you that Beat writer William Burroughs makes a cameo appearance. The comments are interesting too.

Part of a mastodon tooth

Part of a mastodon tooth

I just love this story; it’s the kind of thing I dreamed would happen to me when I was a kid: 9-year-old Michigan Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth near Home.

“I was walking down at the creek last summer. I felt something that I stepped on so I picked it up and everybody in the neighborhood thought it was pretty cool,” Philip Stoll told CNN on Friday….

“It felt weird,” he said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I had to see what it was. I pulled it out and brought it to my mom.”

Stoll…took the six-peaked, 8-inch foreign object to his Windsor Township house and washed it in his kitchen sink to get a better look. Mom Heidi Stoll was also brought in for consultation.

“I didn’t even think that it could have been a tooth until I started checking online for some kind of match,” she said. “We saw a picture of a Mastodon tooth and said ‘there it is.’”

The Stoll family eventually reached out to James Harding, a herpetologist – an expert on reptiles and amphibians, at nearby Michigan State, who confirmed their suspicions.

“This is indeed a mastodon tooth,” Professor Harding verified in an email, CNN reports. “Apparently (it is) the upper surface, broken off at the roots.”

Wow, that is one lucky kid! Philip told CNN he has dreamed of becoming a paleontologist when he grows up.

TRex

Did you hear about how the Smithsonian acquired a nearly-complete skeleton of a Tyranosaurus Rex and had it delivered from Montana by FedEx? From the Guardian: Rare T rex bones arrive at Smithsonian Museum after cross-country journey.

For the first time since its dinosaur hall opened in 1911, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will have a nearly complete T rex skeleton. FedEx delivered the dinosaur bones in a truck carrying 16 carefully packed crates.

The T rex, discovered in 1988 on federal land in Montana, is about 80-85% complete. It’s one of about half a dozen nearly complete T rex skeletons that have been uncovered. This specimen could become the most prominent with its new home in one of the world’s most-visited museums. About 7 million people visit the natural history museum each year, and it offers free admission.

Like the mastodon tooth that Philip Stoll found, this skeleton was discovered by amateurs.

Kathy Wankel, a Montana rancher who discovered the bones in 1998 during a camping trip, said she was proud to see the specimen in a national museum. Initially, Wankel spotted about 3 inches of bone sticking out of the ground, and she and her husband dug out a small arm bone.

“We were so thrilled we had found a bone; we called that a mega find,” she said at the museum. “But I think now this is a mega find.”

Paleontologists from the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., excavated the fossil, and it’s been housed there for the past 25 years. At the Smithsonian, the skeleton will be mounted upright for the first time.

Those are my offbeat offerings for today. What stories have you been following? Please feel free to post real news in the comments.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Friday Document Dump and Clinton Conspiracy Theories

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Happy Saturday!!

 

Some pretty big news broke late yesterday: President Obama has again delayed his final decision on whether to go ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline. Presumably the announcement was deliberately held until the Friday news dump to reduce public attention to the inevitable Republican screams of outrage. From Reuters: 

The Obama administration further delayed its decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project on Friday, with no conclusion now likely until after the U.S. mid-term elections in November.

President Barack Obama has said he will have the final say on whether to allow the pipeline connecting Canada’s oil sands region to Texas refiners, and several government agencies had been given until May to weigh in. This had raised expectations of a final decision by mid-year.

But the State Department said on Friday it was extending that agency comment period, citing a need to wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court settles a dispute over what path the $5.4 billion TransCanada Corp project should take.

“That pipeline route is central to the environmental analysis for the project and if there are changes to the route it could have implications,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

Mary Landrieu

Mary Landrieu

I have to admit I was surprised and pleased. I have long suspected that Obama really wanted the pipeline, but I think I was wrong. He seems to be trying his best to avoid it. Naturally Obama has already been accused of political calculation in pushing the decision past the midterm elections. Of course the decision won’t help Democrats from oil-producing states like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has already announced that “I plan to use my power as chair of the Senate Energy Committee to take decisive action to get this pipeline permit approved.”

The State Department told Buzzfeed that politics was not involved in the decision.

“I can’t render judgement on when the final decision could take place,” a senior State Department official said on a conference call Friday after the department announced another delay in the State Department process that could bring with it the approval or rejection of Keystone. “We want this to move as expeditiously as possible, we recognize that this is an issue of great concern to the American public, to American business and we take that extremely seriously.”

The State Department review — necessary because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border into the United States — is being held up by a state court ruling in Nebraska in favor of pipeline opponents, department officials said. That decision, which endangers the existing planned pipeline route, is under appeal andobservers say final judgement won’t come until 2015.

More reactions reported by Politico:

…the delay drew immediate scorn from pipeline supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Republicans derided it as a “shameful” concession to “radical activists,” while Democratic Senate energy Chairwoman Mary Landrieu called it “irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

Both of Alaska’s senators condemned the move. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice,” and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich said he was “frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration.” Begich, like Landrieu, faces a tough reelection fight this year.

Some environmentalists complained about the Friday news dump announcement

“It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now, but this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents,” said Jamie Henn, spokesman for the climate activist group 350.org, which staged mass sit-ins outside the White House to protest the project. “We’re going to keep up the pressure on the President to make the right call.”

Naturally Canadian politicians are “disappointed.” CBC News:

“We are disappointed that politics continue to delay a decision on Keystone XL,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. “This project will create tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border, will enhance the energy security of North America, has strong public support, and the U.S. State Department has, on multiple occasions, acknowledged it will be environmentally sound.”

Canadian politicians have grown increasingly irate over delays.

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock expressed frustration about “yet another delay” in the approval process of an issue he argued has been debated thoroughly enough.

“Keystone XL has been rigorously studied. We believe the project is in North America’s best interest as it provides energy security, jobs and a dependable energy source from an environmentally responsible and democratic friend and ally,” Hancock said in a statement.

TransCanada’s president and CEO Russ Girling called the delay “inexplicable” in an email to CBC News.

Lots more Canadian whining at the link.

Chelsea Clinton and husband Marc Mezvinsky

Chelsea Clinton and husband Marc Mezvinsky

The Keystone Pipeline is controversial, but apparently not as controversial as the daughter of a female potential presidential candidate getting pregnant. The bizarre conspiracy theories about Chelsea Clinton expecting a baby have already begun and they’ll probably never end.

From John Amato at Crooks and Liars: Will Chelsea Clinton’s Pregnancy Become Another Right Wing Conspiracy? Give me a break. Is the Pope Catholic? Amato knows it’s a silly question:

I’m forgetting myself because Hillary is not allowed to be a happy mother. We may see a normal life unfolding, but Teabirchers see coverups and conspiracies.

Limbaugh recently said he believes that Hillary Clinton staged the now famous shoe-throwing incident.

Maybe in my subconscious I think it was staged or set up. Lookit, I’m so, I know these people so well…I just do not attach much genuineness to them.

There were a host of others who were saying the same thing in Wingnuttia.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Hillary gets asked to comment on Chelsea’s pregnancy by the media, since that’s only natural, right? But after that happens more than once I really expect Limbaugh and all the wannabees to scream bloody murder that Chelsea’s announcement was staged, a set-up plot which is being aided by the librul media to cover up Benghazzzzzzzziiii!

And away we go! From Mediaite: Right-Wing Host Thinks Chelsea Clinton May Have ‘Staged’ Pregnancy to Help Hillary.

If you thought the Hillary Clinton “shoe truthers” were bad, wait until you meet the “baby truthers.” So far, conservative host Steve Malzberg is leading the charge with this video suggesting Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy is being effectively “staged” to help her mother win the 2016 presidential election.

And excited Malzberg announced the 34-year-old Clinton’s pregnancy, saying, “Lo and behold, Hillary was by her side” when she made the announcement. “Hillary Clinton is going to be a grandmother when she runs for president!” he exclaimed.

“Now, pardon the skeptic in me,” Malzberg continued, before predicting the oncoming criticism from Media Matters and other watchdog website. “Malzberg said this was a staged, planned pregnancy?” he imagined they would ask.

“Well, now I’m not saying, when I say staged I have to believe she’s pregnant, if she says she’s pregnant,” he said. “I don’t mean that they’re making up she’s pregnant. But what great timing! I mean purely accidental, purely an act of nature, purely just left up to God.”

“And God answered Hillary Clinton’s prayers and she’s going to have the prop of being a new grandma while she runs for president,” he continued. “It just warms the heart, it brings a tear to my eye. It really does.”

I have so many more examples that I’ll have to do a link dump without excerpts:

Vanity Fair: The Worst Reactions to Chelsea Clinton’s Pregnancy Announcement.

Slate: If It Happened There: America Awaits Royal Baby.

LA Times: Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy fuels presidential election speculation.

US News: Dumb Questions About a Grandmother-to-Be

Politico: What to expect when she’s expecting

Newsday: Bouie: Chelsea Clinton’s baby is already campaigning?

TPM: NYT Columnist Insists That Chelsea Clinton’s Baby Is A 2016 Game Changer 

ABC News: Will Clinton Baby Affect 2016, and Is It Sexist to Ask?

Honestly, can you imagine this happening to a man running for president? For example,

“How will his daughter’s pregnancy affect Rand Paul’s chances for the Republican nomination? Did he “stage” this to get positive media? Enquiring people want to know.”

Hillary beaming

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that a huge trove of papers from the Clinton administration was going to be released. Well they are out there now, and so the Clinton haters are really having a field day what with drooling over ancient history and inventing conspiracies about Chelsea’s baby.

There are tons of articles on the document dump too; I’ll give you a few examples.

ABC News: Monica Lewinsky E-Mail Omitted From Latest Batch of Clinton Documents

An email from Monica Lewinsky was omitted from the Clinton library’s latest document dump for privacy reasons….

Included in a list of withdrawn/redacted documents (commonly interspersed in the large .pdfs), midway through a batch of documents concerning Gen. Wesley Clark, is an email from Monica Lewinsky’s Pentagon email address.

Vaguely referenced as concerning a “medical record,” the omitted email is listed as four pages long.

The recipient, Ashley Raines, is identified as a Lewinsky friend and confidante in the infamous Starr Report, produced by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. The report would later disclose details of the Lewinsky affair and trigger a major scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Raines served as White House Director of Office of Policy Development Operations and Special Liaison to Management and Administration, according to the report, working in the Old Executive Office Building, next door to the White House.

In 1996, after an initial affair with the president had stopped according to the Starr report, Lewinsky described the relationship to Raines and showed her gifts allegedly given to her by Bill Clinton, including “a hat pin approximately eight inches long, an antique looking brooch the size of a half dollar, special edition copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’ by WALT WHITMAN, items from Martha’s Vineyard with ‘Black Dog’ logo, including a ball cap, and a short, baggy summer dress, and an autographed photo of the two of them wishing LEWINSKY ‘Happy Birthday,’” Raines told Starr’s investigators, with lawyers present. Lewinsky told Raines that she had confided in Linda Tripp about her relationship with Clinton.

Many more breathless details at the link.

LA Times: For Hillary Rodham Clinton, archives evoke fiery White House years.

…the latest batch of archived documents from the Clinton White House – while not particularly newsworthy — were a rather bracing reminder that the very mellow former first lady has emerged in her current happy state after many years in a White House that often took on the tone of war zone.

Mark that down as one reason why Clinton might not want to go racing back….

The documents once again underscored the combative fashion in which the Clinton White House drove its agenda, and its obsession with the administration’s adversaries.

One unsigned and undated document contained in the files of Jane Sherburne, a Special Counsel to the White House between 1994 and 1996, details theories about how the right wing, with the help of think tanks and conservative publications, was funneling “fringe” stories to the media. It also expounds on the financial powers and connections of billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who was referred to as “The Wizard of Oz.”

Part of the problem, the memo suggested, was the fact that the Internet “allows an extraordinary amount of unregulated data and information to be located in one area and available to all.”

“The right wing has seized upon the Internet as a means of communicating its ideas to people,” the unsigned memo continues. “Moreover evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the Internet interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information.”

If the LA Times thinks that is shocking, I don’t think they are following current events.

The WaPo: The most interesting tidbits from the Clinton document dump This one includes a list of 12 gossipy examples of supposed Clinton political machinations.

Here’s the best one I’ve seen yet from Buzzfeed: This Unsent Shade-Filled Letter From Clinton Staffers To A ’90s Radio Host [Don Imus] Is A Goddamn Masterpiece.

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I wish it had been sent!

I’m running out of space and time, but I do have a few more serious items I want to share. I’ll put them in the comments.

So . . . What stories are you following today? Please share your recommended links in the comment thread and have a fantastic weekend!!


Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope

 

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Good Morning!!

 

Yesterday Dakinikat quoted from a WaPo article by Larry Bartels on the Republican Party’s increasing identification as white and anti-every other ethnic group. (Of course he failed to mention that Republicans also focus almost exclusively on the needs of men who identify as Christians, but I’ll let that go for now.)

Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, is the author of  Unequal Democracy:The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. In the WaPo article, Bartels argues based on his research that, despite its seeming choice to ignore the needs of the majority of Americans and the growing ethnic diversity in the U.S. population, the demise of the GOP may not be immanent.  Bartels writes:

Even momentous demographic changes occur slowly; non-Hispanic whites will remain a majority of the U.S. population for the next 30 years, and (allowing for differences in age profiles, citizenship status and turnout) a majority of the electorate even longer. (According to Census Bureau tabulations, non-Hispanic whites were 65 percent of the U.S. population in 2012, but 74 percent of the electorate.) Thus, if white voters “continue to migrate toward the Republican Party” in response to demographic change, “it will be a long time before it finds itself unable to win elections.”

Just look at demographically diverse but stubbornly Republican Texas, always just about to turn blue. The changing American polity may come to look more like Texas than like the multicultural Democratic stronghold of California. In an increasingly diverse America, identity politics will continue to cut both ways.

oligarchy5

Take a look at the illustration at the top of this post and you’ll see why Bartels is probably right. According to a recently released study (pdf) by Martin Gilins and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities respectively, we are no longer living in a democracy. The U.S. has already become an oligarchy. Sure we knew that already, but now we have confirmation from a scientific study. From BBC News:

[T]he two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”

oligarchy4

On the other hand, Gilins and Page conclude:

because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

These study’s results reinforce Larry Bartels’ findings about the tendency of white Americans to support the goals of the super rich even when it is not in their own best interest. Another quote from the study via Gawker:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism…

Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.

Oligarchy2

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

The theory of Economic Elite Domination is fairly self-explanatory. The theory of Biased Pluralism holds that policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.” In essence, the researchers found that government policy changes are correlated with the wishes of the wealthy and with interest groups, but not with the wishes of the average American—even though the whole idea of “Democracy” is to ensure that the wishes of the majority tend to carry the day.

The study notes that the position of the median American and the position of the affluent American are often the same; therefore, regular people tend to think that their political interests are being represented when they see the triumph of some political position that they agree with. In fact, the researchers say, this is a mere coincidence. Yes, the average American will see their interests represented—as long as their interests align with the interests of the wealthy.

Yes, it’s extremely depressing, but we have long sensed this and now science has confirmed our intuitions. Now we have to figure out how to change it.

In other news . . .

Ferry sinking off South Korea with 450 people on board...epa0416

We haven’t talked much about the disastrous sinking of a ferry loaded with South Korean students and their families. So far 28 people are known to be dead and 268 are still missing–including 246 students. From the Wall Street Journal:

On Monday night, Kim Si-yeon and her family took her mother out for a late birthday dinner. Ms. Kim pushed for a cheap Korean barbecue restaurant and family members say they reluctantly obliged because the young musician and actress was leaving the next day for a four-day high school trip.

The next morning, the father of Cho Eun-jung, another student at the same school, didn’t want to wake his daughter before he left for work. So he cuddled her in his arms and kissed her forehead, he said in an interview.

Student Lee Hye-gyeong later that morning said a quick goodbye to her boyfriend as she left for the bus ride to the ferry port where the three students and more than 300 of their classmates would set sail for a 13-hour journey to Jeju Island, a popular South Korean vacation spot.

An annual trip for high-school juniors from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, the trip was designed as a break before the students began intense preparations for college entrance exams next year. Last year’s class was the first to take the boat; in the past, student groups had flown.

What happened next, not long after sunrise on Wednesday morning, has become a national tragedy in South Korea. The students had just finished a breakfast of bulgogi, a Korean beef dish, rice and kimchi when the ferry capsized and sank.

So heartbreaking. From NBC News: South Korea Ferry: 30-Minute Evacuation Delay Trapped Dozens.

A half-hour delay in evacuation orders may have trapped hundreds on board the doomed South Korea ferry, according to new details which emerged Friday about how the disaster unfolded.

A transcript of a ship-to-shore exchange, and interviews with surviving crew members, reveal that the vessel was listing too heavily for passengers to escape by the time the captain issued orders to abandon ship….

Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, told The Associated Press that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than five degrees, the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.

The first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were, Oh said. A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said.

 A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but fell because the vessel was tilting, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that he order an evacuation, Oh said.
About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn’t sure in the confusion and chaos on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers.

“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.

I guess the old saying that the captain must go down with the ship no longer holds true. There is an arrest warrant out for the captain though. From the WSJ again:

SEOUL—Arrest warrants were issued for the captain and two crew members of the sunken South Korean ferry on Friday, as a crew member confirmed accounts that the captain was among the first to abandon the sinking ship.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, crew member Oh Yong-seok, who isn’t a target of an arrest warrant, re-created the chaotic final moments before the ship capsized on Wednesday morning. He said that while members of the crew did abandon the boat, they did everything they could to first evacuate the vessel’s passengers.

The focus on the crew members’ final actions came during a third day of frustration, confusion and tragedy that offered no new breakthroughs in attempts to rescue the nearly 300 passengers who remain missing.

Investigators also didn’t appear to be any closer to understanding why the ship made what it called a “radical right turn” shortly before it began to sink.

In another tragedy, a vice principal who escaped the sinking ferry has committed suicide. First Coast News:

SEOUL – The vice principal rescued from the doomed South Korean ferry has been found hanged, Korean police said Friday.

Out of the ferry’s 475 passengers, 325 had been second year high school students from Danwon High School in Ansan, about 20 miles south of Seoul. They were on a four-day trip to the island of Jeju, a popular South Korean tourist destination.

The vice principal was identified only by his surname, Kang. He was on the island of Jindo, where rescued passengers had taken shelter. A police officer said he was hanging from a tree.

Read more details at the link.

Prepare yourself for another outbreak of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

Hillary orange

The New York Times reports: New Batch of Clinton Documents to Be Released.

The National Archives on Friday was preparing to release its largest batch yet of previously withheld documents from the Clinton administration, with topics to include the conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda, Middle East peace negotiations, the Oklahoma City bombing and public figures like Richard M. Nixon, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

The bundle that is likely to receive the most attention, though, is one that covers Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ill-fated attempt as first lady to overhaul the health care system. Mrs. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is considering a second attempt in 2016.

The roughly 7,500 documents — consisting of memos, transcripts, speeches and emails — were to be posted by the Clinton Presidential Library at 1 p.m.

Also from the NYT, the claim that Hillary Clinton Struggles to Define a Legacy in Progress.

It was a simple question to someone accustomed to much tougher ones: What was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? But for a moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing recently before a friendly audience at a women’s forum in Manhattan, seemed flustered.

Mrs. Clinton played an energetic role in virtually every foreign policy issue of President Obama’s first term, advocating generally hawkish views internally while using her celebrity to try to restore America’s global standing after the hit it took during the George W. Bush administration.

But her halting answer suggests a problem that Mrs. Clinton could confront as she recounts her record in Mr. Obama’s cabinet before a possible run for president in 2016: Much of what she labored over so conscientiously is either unfinished business or has gone awry in his second term.

From Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the grinding civil war in Syria to the latest impasse in the Middle East peace process, the turbulent world has frustrated Mr. Obama, and is now defying Mrs. Clinton’s attempts to articulate a tangible diplomatic legacy.

Horrors! I guess Hillary should just drop out then (“Why won’t that nasty bitch quit?”). And now that she’s going to be a grandma, she probably should give up all her ambitions and become a babysitter. From The Christian Science Monitor: Chelsea Clinton baby: Will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016? Would anyone ask that about a man running for president?

hrc-cover

There are tons of Hillary headlines today, so I’ll give you a sampling:

NPR: Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Chess Board.

WaPo: Poll: Hillary Clinton’s numbers worst since 2008, as GOP brand surges (Sigh . . . Whatever. 2016 is a long way down the road.)

WaPo: Hillary Clinton says she’s ‘a huge supporter’ of immigration reform.

Bloomberg: Hillary Clinton’s Diplomacy Memoir Will Be Called ‘Hard Choices’

Snarky commentary on the upcoming book by Joe Coscarelli at New York Magazine: Hillary Clinton Wants You to Know That She Faces Very ‘Hard Choices,’ Like, For Instance, Running for President in 2016

So . . . what else is happening out there in the world? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a fantastic Friday!!


Tuesday Reads: Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary, Tom Lehrer and NSA, and Other News

Good Morning!!

 

Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Copley Sq. Boston, April 12, 2014

Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Copley Sq. Boston, April 12, 2014

One year ago today, this was the scene at the Boston Marathon finish line.

 

boston_marathon_explosion_20

 

One year ago today, the finish line of the Boston Marathon was rocked by two explosions that left three young people dead and 260 people injured–many with with limbs blown off by the crude bombs.  A year later, the survivors–and the city are still recovering. Last year I was listening to the radio when suddenly I realized something terrible had happened. I rushed to turn on the TV and try to figure out what was going on. It was a disaster. People were lying in the street bleeding along with separated body parts. What could have happened?

Just watching it on TV, I was so shaken that for the next week or so I was in shock. My hands shook, I was easily startled, and I felt an inner tremor that wouldn’t go away. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to be on the scene or to be one of the injured. But that wasn’t the end of it. Late at night on April 18, word came that a campus police officer had been shot at killed at M.I.T. and an SUV had been hijacked, presumably by the shooter or shooters. I stayed up all night listening to police scanners on line a following reports on Twitter. I knew immediately this must have something to do with the suspected bombers, whose photos had been released to the public earlier that day.

The suspects had driven through Brighton, Watertown, Waltham, and back to Cambridge. They had driven through Watertown three times–who knows why. I suspect they thought there was someone there who would help them hide from the police. One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died that night after a dramatic firefight; but the other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev somehow escaped in the stolen SUV. He wasn’t caught until the next day.

At some point the Governor asked people to “shelter in place” in much of Boston as well as Watertown and nearby suburbs. There’s a misconception that this was “martial law,” but there was no “order” for people to stay indoors, and many went out and were not arrested or anything. Still it was shocking. Even more shocking were the massive numbers of law enforcement officers in the streets of a residential neighborhood–knocking on doors and asking to search houses. At one point, hundreds of rounds were fired at a boat in a backyard where the second suspect was believed to be hiding. It was clear that the response by law enforcement was not particularly well organized.

Now, a year later there are still many questions about what happened, about the suspects, and the response by federal, state, and local law enforcement.  I’ll spare you further details, but here are a couple of news links to anyone who cares to click on them.

Boston Globe: Marathon victims’ families, survivors gather in Boston

Jun Lu and Ling Meng felt they had to make the 7,000-mile trek from their home in China.

After losing their only child, Lingzi Lu, at last year’s Boston Marathon, they wanted to be at the race, cheering on runners.

“We cherish everything that Lingzi was a part of,” Jun Lu said through an interpreter. “Even though last year’s Marathon [was tragic], we want to be there to witness something good come out of it.”

Lu and Meng will be among the many family members of victims coming to Boston this week for official remembrances that are stirring up hope, but also pain.

Survivors, too, will make the trip for informal reunions with the EMTs and police officers who stanched their bleeding and the doctors and nurses who helped them heal.

On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the bombings, Vice President Joe Biden will lead a ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center, followed by a flag-raising and a moment of silence at the finish line.

“The last year has been very painful,” said Lu, whose daughter, a 23-year-old graduate student at Boston University, is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery. “But fortunately, we’ve received so much love from people all over the world. We’re humbled.”

Boston Globe: A year since Marathon attacks, many of wounded struggle

A year later, shattered bones have knitted back together, burned skin has regrown, and the survivors who lost legs are walking on prosthetic limbs. What remains for many are the relentless injuries nobody sees.

While there have been remarkable stories of recovery and perseverance among the 275 wounded in the twin explosions on Marathon Day 2013, many still battle hearing loss, ringing ears, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

One shakes so badly from anxiety that he has a hard time working as a carpenter. Another, college freshman Sydney Corcoran of Lowell, has developed an eating disorder. Corcoran has endured leg surgeries, complications, and more surgeries, but her emotional scars run deeper. She is often on edge, startles easily, and has trouble sleeping, symptoms of PTSD.

Her mother, Celeste Corcoran, was seriously injured in the blast, too, with legs so mangled both had to be amputated. “My legs were blown off and that’s huge,” she said. “But so many more people suffer in silence because everybody looks at them and sees this whole person.”

On a day for gauging how far they have come, many of the survivors are thankful for the progress they have made in the hands of skilled and caring doctors, nurses, and therapists. Still, some have nerve damage in their legs that has not healed, and the 16 people who lost legs have had to get their prosthetics adjusted repeatedly as their residual limbs shrink.

Vanity Fair: Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary Prompts Tributes—and Unanswered Questions

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing that left three dead, wounded 264 runners and revelers, and began a bizarre manhunt for the attack’s perpetrators that would end in a shootout four days later.

President Barack Obama and his senior advisers scheduled a moment of silence in the Oval Office at 2:40 P.M., according to Politico. The attacks took place at 2:49 P.M. local Boston time….

Mental-health experts also told the Globe that anxiety is likely to affect children and other victims of the attack as the anniversary approached, and that such concerns affect not only those who witnessed the actual bombing but also those who endured the ensuing lockdown of much of the city.

I can vouch for that. I’m feeling very shaky this morning and I have that familiar fluttering tremor in the center of my chest and an anxious knot in my stomach. As for the questions:

An investigation by Vocativ into the alleged national-security failures that left the Tsarnaevs—who the F.B.I. had been told to look out for by Russian authorities—unaccounted for in the days before the attack revealed that the F.B.I. had indeed lost track of the eventual bombers. In an unclassified report, agents admit a “huge lapse” could have “changed everything.” Meanwhile, the A.C.L.U. has sued the F.B.I. for more information in the death of Ibragim Todashev, an alleged Tsarnaev associate who an F.B.I. agent shot and killed while he was allegedly confessing to he and Tamerlan’s involvement in a 2011 triple murder. A year after the marathon bombing, it seems as though questions of justice surrounding those accused of perpetrating the attack are far from answered.

In other news . . . one silly story and a link dump:

Tom Lehrer performing

Tom Lehrer performing

Do you remember Tom Lehrer? Back in the ’50s he wrote a sang darkly humorous satirical songs. A few days ago, Ben Smith had an interesting article about him at Buzzfeed, Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius. Here a bit of it:

Lehrer had been a sensation in the late 1950s, the era’s musical nerd god: a wryly confident Harvard-educated math prodigy who turned his bone-dry wit to satirical musical comedy. His sound looked further back, to Broadway of the ‘20s and ‘30s — a man and a piano, crisp and clever — but his lyrics were funny and sharp to the point of drawing blood, and sometimes appalling. One famous ditty celebrates an afternoon spent “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”Another cheerful number, “So Long Mom,” dwells on the details of nuclear holocaust. “I Got It from Agnes” is an extended joke about sexually transmitted disease….

In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture — and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure. During his golden decade, he appeared on The Tonight Show twice,drew a denunciation in Time magazine, and by the early 1960s, seemed poised for a lasting place on an American cultural scene that itself was undergoing a radical upheaval.

Then Lehrer simply stopped performing. His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs. He bounced around Cambridge, never quite finishing his doctorate on the concept of the mode — the most common number in a set — in statistics. He kept the Sparks Street house but began spending most of his time in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he became a beloved instructor in math and musical theater for some 40 years.

“There’s never been anyone like him,” said Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the legendary Broadway producer who created Tom Foolery, a musical revue of Lehrer’s songs, in the ’70s. “Of all famous songwriters, he’s probably the only one that, in the great sense of the word, is an amateur in that he never wanted to be professional. And yet the work he did is of the highest quality of any great songwriter.”

It turns out Lehrer is still alive at the age of 86. Buried deep in Smith’s article is a brief, off-hand mention that Lehrer once worked for the National Security Agency (NSA). It was while he was in the army from 1955-57. Calling Greenwald and Snowden! Time to demolish Lehrer for his perfidy! Amazing, it’s even in his Wikipedia entry–who knew? And he worked at Los Alamos before that.

Tom Lehrer, then and now

Tom Lehrer, then and now

From an interview with Lehrer I found; I don’t know the date:

>GEO: I was surprised to learn that you enlisted in the Army back in 1955.

TOM LEHRER: That’s one way of putting it, but probably not the appropriate verb. The point is that they were drafting people up to the age of 35. So I dodged the draft for as long as anybody was shooting at anybody. And then when I realized that I would have to go — there was really no way out of it except getting an essential full time job, which I didn’t really want to do — I waited until everything was calm and then surrendered to the draft board. I wouldn’t call it “enlist”. “Enlist” means that you have to spend another year. I allowed myself to be drafted. I was 27 at the time and there were a lot of graduate students who were like me who had gotten deferred as graduate students and now had to pay up. So it was a kind of an odd group there, a lot of educated people in my “outfit”, I believe is the word. And we had a lot of fun. So I did that for two years in Washington DC and had a great time — especially since there was no war — though vice president Nixon was trying to get us into one in Indo-China even then. So there was that little threat. And there was Suez and a few other little things that looked a little tricky. But it didn’t look like there was going to be a real war. So it seemed to be safe to go in. And I’m sure that a lot of my cohort felt the same way.

>GEO: And what did you do?

TOM LEHRER: It was NSA. I think I’m allowed to say that now. I asked around before I surrender [sic] to be sure that I would not be in special services or something playing volleyball with the troops in Korea. I wanted to make sure that I got a nice cushy job. We were called “The Chair Borned”. And I found out that they were hiring mathematicians. So I arranged to be hired.

A few more interesting stories:

CNN: ‘Blood moon’ mesmerizes sky gazers.

NYT: Ukraine Falters in Drive to Curb Unrest in East.

Reuters: Russia says Ukraine close to civil war as Kiev begins offensive.

Politico: George Bush’s Paintings Aren’t Funny. But they are fascinating.

Fox News: Teen punished for recording alleged bullying to sue school district.

LA Times: Sex offenders charged with rape, murder of four Orange County women.

NY Daily News: Sex offender serial killers wore GPS trackers when raping, killing at least 4 women: police 

 

 So . . . What are you hearing and reading. Please share your recommended links in the comments.

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

cherry blossoms dc

Happy Saturday!!

The cherry blossoms have reached their peak in Washington DC, just in time for today’s Cherry Blossom Parade, scheduled for 10AM-12PM today. WaPo:

The blossoms reached peak Thursday and should still be putting on a good show this weekend. Because of the variability of weather, they aren’t always this near peak at parade time.

The parade proceeds west along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets.

Further south, in Augusta GA, the azaleas are in full bloom just in time for the Masters Tournament, which is going into its third day despite the loss of Tiger Woods to back surgery this year and Phil Mickelson’s failure to make the cut. Left-hander Bubba Watson was leading the pack by 3 strokes as of last night.

Masters azaleas

From the Augusta Chronicle: Bubba Watson storms to 3-stroke lead.

Bubba Watson never led during the first three rounds of the 2012 Masters Tournament but rallied on the final day and won in sudden death. The former Georgia Bulldog is on top now, halfway through the 78th Masters, with some breathing room.

Watson, 35, ripped apart the second nine at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday with five consecutive birdies en route to 4-under-par 68 – which included bogey on No. 18 – to build a three-shot lead over John Senden, of Australia. It matched the largest 36-hole lead since 2006.

Senden, who qualified for the Masters on March 16, when he won the Valspar Championship, also had a second-round 68 and is alone in second place.

Australian and defending champion Adam Scott made a spirited comeback to stay within shouting distance of Watson. Scott, who opened with 69, was 3-over after five holes Friday but played his final seven in 3-under, finishing with 72, tied for third place, four behind Watson.

Tiger’s absence has hit ESPN hard: ESPN’s Masters ratings plummet without Tiger Woods.

There was a feeling around the Masters that the absence of Tiger Woods might not hurt as much as expected. With Tiger having ceded some of the spotlight to younger golfers in recent years, the sport was healthy enough to survive without him in Augusta.

Television viewers apparently had a different opinion.

ESPN’s first-round telecast was down 800,000 viewers from last year to a record low of 2 million. That’s the lowest Thursday viewership in the seven years the network has been broadcasting the Masters.

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Okay, I know it’s unlikely that anyone else here cares about professional golf; I just wanted an excuse to post some pretty photos of spring flowers.

Up here in southern New England we’re just beginning to see a little yellow showing up on the forsythia bushes, but it’s going to be warm for the next few days, and soon Arnold Arboretum will showing off acres of yellow blossoms like those in the photo to the right. And it won’t be long before our cherry trees and azaleas are in bloom too!

Spring has sprung!

Can you tell I’m trying to avoid the news?

In a little over a week, Boston will host its big spring event, the Boston Marathon, and between now and then we’ll be hearing endless talk about what happened here last year.

I’d like to avoid all the coverage, but I’ve decided instead to try to pay close attention to the coverage in corporate and alternative media and notice how the powers that be attempt to shape the narrative of last year’s dramatic events as well as the public process of dealing with them.

Yesterday, Boston NPR station WBUR had a very good discussion of Unanswered Questions Around The Marathon Bombing on the local program Radio Boston. It’s worth a listen.

I was quite surprised that one of the participants, Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone Magazine brought up the fact that nearly every breaking story on the events of last year came from CBS’ John Miller, who was obviously the designated target for FBI leaks. And Reitman was actually permitted to discuss this issue at some length.

JohnMiller-300x225

Miller began working for CBS in 2011; before that he worked for the Federal Government as “Associate Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analytic Transformation and Technology”; and before that he was “Assistant Director for Public Affairs for the FBI.”

Currently he is working with his old friend Bill Bratton as “Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence” for the NYPD. Is this guy a journalist or is he a tool of law enforcement? He did work for ABC News in the 1990s. As such, he got an interview with Osama bin Laden in 1998. I wonder how that happened?

Here’s a piece about Miller in Men’s Journal from March 2013–shortly before last year’s Boston Marathon.

John Miller’s office at CBS News is filled with keepsakes from his two lives as top cop and leading reporter: badges from his tours with the New York and Los Angeles police departments; a photograph from his 1998 interview with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; his FBI badge and ID; even an LAPD Beach Patrol cap. (“The one job I never got,” Miller jokes.) “When I was covering the cops, I wasn’t one of those guys who showed up to work everyday saying ‘I’ve gotta find the scandal in the police department,’” says Miller. “And when I was with the police department, I didn’t hate the press for doing its job, either. Which I think has made it easier to toggle back and forth.”

But is avoiding anti-cop stories really the best attitude for a “journalist?” And how can such a journalist be expected to critically analyze leaks handed to him by law enforcement sources? I think the answers to those questions are obvious. And yet Miller basically shaped the news narrative on last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Last night NBC aired an hour-long program on the Boston attack: 108 Hours: Inside the Hunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers, hosted by Brian Williams. It was interesting for me to watch the video of the events that took place in Watertown as police hunted for the accused bombers; but of course no hard questions were asked. Everything law enforcement officials had to say was taken at face value.

One tidbit I learned was that President Obama had been on the phone with Governor Patrick during the lockdown of much of the city, and Obama had expressed concerns about the notion of government officials shutting down a major American city. I found that fascinating considering that critics on both the left and right have portrayed Obama as a tyrant who was probably in control of those kinds of decisions.

The news event that I’ve really been avoiding is the deadly bus accident in California.

I find it so painful to read or hear about children being hurt that I generally avoid such stories, but today I feel I have to cover the terrible bus crash in California. You may recall that we had a terrible bus accident in Boston just about a year ago. In fact there have been bus crashes all over the country. What’s going on?

Despite new regulations mandating seat belts on recently built tour buses, passengers are still losing their lives in crashes.

A crash Thursday in Northern California killed 10 people and injured 34 when a tour bus carrying Los Angeles-area students collided with a FedEx truck. Eerily, the crash occurred almost exactly one year from the date of a tour bus crash in Irving that killed three people and injured dozens of senior citizens.

The history of serious crashes involving tour buses or motor coaches stretches back into the 1950s and highlights a pattern of danger that federal regulations have just begun to attempt to mitigate.

Congress wrapped bus safety improvements, including a provision for seat belts in recently built tour buses, into a larger transportation bill which was signed into law in 2012. Those regulations, however, only apply to buses produced in 2007 or later. The regulations do not order buses built before 2007 to be retrofit with safety belts.

The industry opposes requiring that existing buses be retrofitted with seat belts saying the seats are not designed for them and may not be strong enough to withstand the repeated pulling of straps. Retrofitting is also more expensive than adding belts to new buses.

Read more at the link. The story references numerous other articles about bus accidents.

Reuters on the latest incident: Investigators focus on cause of deadly California crash

Investigators were focusing on Saturday on what caused a FedEx tractor-trailer to collide with a bus in a fiery crash in northern California that killed 10 people, five of them teenage students en route to a college recruitment event.

It remained unclear whether the FedEx driver was somehow distracted or lost consciousness, or whether a mechanical failure occurred when his truck swerved across the median of Interstate 5 and slammed head-on into the motor coach full of students from the Los Angeles area on Thursday.

The California Highway Patrol also raised the possibility that a separate collision on the truck’s side of the highway might have been a factor in Thursday evening’s fatal crash.

According to early highway patrol accounts of the accident, the truck side-swiped a car after crossing the center divider but before hitting the bus. Two witnesses, Bonnie and Joe Duran, who were reported to be in the clipped car, told California media outlets that the truck was on fire before the collision. “I was heading along in the outside lane and I looked over and saw the FedEx truck coming straight for me and he was in flames already,” Bonnie Duran told a local CBS-affiliate.

More at the link.

I have a few more interesting reads for you today that I’ll just list briefly.

I highly recommend reading this op-ed at the WaPo by former SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens: The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment. It’s an excerpt from his new book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. 

See also Scott Lemieux’s review of Stevens’ book at The American Prospect: How John Paul Stevens Would Amend the Constitution.

Here’s a brief but encouraging story by WBUR (NPR)  about the three women running for governor of three New England states: Women’s Groups Target New England Gubernatorial Races.

I really liked this thoughtful post about the internet, privacy, and the NSA leak story at Haft of the Spear blog: You Were Promised Neither Security Nor Privacy.

Don’t miss this troubling story at the WaPo: Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations. Can we all agree that the FBI (and CIA) are a lot scarier than NSA metadata storage?

Those are my offerings for today. What stories have you been following? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a nice Spring weekend!