Mystery Men Aboard Missing Jetliner IDed as Iranians, No Terror Ties Suspected
The search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues, but meanwhile police appear as though they are nearly ready to close the book on the case of the two men who boarded the plane with stolen passports and tickets purchased through an Iranian middleman, via the New York Times:
The Malaysian police said on Tuesday that one of the two passengers known to have used stolen passports to board the missing Malaysian airliner was a 19-year-old Iranian who wanted to migrate to Germany and who appeared to have no connection to terrorist organizations.
The passenger, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was using a passport that had been stolen from an Austrian man, was traveling to Germany, where he was to meet his mother, said Khalid Abu Bakar, the inspector general of the Malaysian police. “We are in contact with his mother,” Mr. Khalid said at a news conference.
ABC News reports that Interpol later identified the second mystery passenger as Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29, who arrived in Malaysia on the same day as Mehrdad. While authorities are still digging into Reza's past, the early evidence likewise points to an immigration attempt. (The two men were ultimately booked through to Amsterdam, at which point their flight itineraries diverged to a pair of other European cities.) Both, according to authorities, were traveling on Iranian passports for the leg of their journey that took them to Malaysia, and then are believed to have switched to the stolen Austrian and Italian travel documents while there.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Ronald K. Noble, Interpol's secretary general, told reporters at a briefing at the agency's headquarters in Lyon, France.
Senate Passes Military Sexual Assault Bill, Ends "Good-Soldier" Defense
There are in fact some things that members of Congress can agree on. With a vote of 97-0, the Senate unanimously approved a set of changes to the military’s sexual assault policies late on Monday night. The bipartisan bill composed by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Deb Fischer (R-NE), ends the time-old practice of using a “good soldier defense” in cases of assault. Here’s the AP:
The new legislation would change the military rules of evidence to prohibit the accused from using good military character as an element of his defense in court-martial proceedings unless it was directly relevant to the alleged crime. The "good soldier defense" could encompass a defendant's military record of reliability, dependability, professionalism and reputation as an individual who could be counted on in war and peacetime.
McCaskill described it as "the ridiculous notion that how well one flies a plane should have anything to do with whether they committed a crime."
The full Senate backing comes in sharp contrast to a vote just last week on a measure proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would have stripped commanders of their ability to prosecute or prevent charges and placed that authority with military lawyers outside the unit in question. Military leaders staunchly opposed the bill, insisting they should have more responsibility for the men and women under their leadership, not less. The Senate came up five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster, 55-45, on that farther-reaching proposal.
“Although this bill does not create the critical fundamental change needed to improve the military justice system, [McCaskill’s legislaiton] builds on useful reforms already undertaken by Congress,” Greg Jacob, policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, told Politico.
The bill, which also provides legal counsel for alleged victims and criminalizes retaliation against those who report assault, will now move to the House where it is expected to receive a warm welcome.
Sbarro Files for Bankruptcy, Blames Declining American Malls
As mall rats move online and so-called anchor department stores like Macy’s, Sears, and J.C. Penney struggle to climb out of the recession, food court establishments are hanging on for dear life. The latest casualty? Sbarro. The pizza chain today filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in three years.
The New York-based company, which is set to close 155 of its 400 locations nationwide, says “an unprecedented decline” in traffic at America’s malls is hurting its business. Emptying malls have also put the squeeze on Hot Dog on a Stick, which filed for bankruptcy just last month, and retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal, and RadioShack.
According to real estate analytics firm Green Street Advisors, about 15 percent of U.S. malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space within the next 10 years. But for some, these companies are something other than victims of circumstance. Via Reuters:
"Sbarro has been stuck with an outdated business model," said Michael Whiteman, a restaurant consultant and president of Baum & Whiteman LLC in Brooklyn, New York. "Its biggest shortcoming is that it sells food that has been sitting out for a while.”
Previously in Slate: The State of Sbarro: America's Least Essential Restaurant.
Edward Snowden Speaks at South by Southwest, Says NSA "Set Fire" to the Internet
Despite the protestations of some in the government, Edward Snowden continues to get his message out. Today Snowden spoke from Russia via Google Hangout to a friendly crowd of South by Southwest techies about -- you guessed it -- surveillance, privacy, and data. Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the ACLU joined the former NSA contractor from the stage in Austin.
“The people who are in the room in Austin right now, they are the folks who can enforce our rights through technical standards even when Congress hasn’t yet gotten to the point of creating legislation to protect our rights in that same manner,” Snowden, set against a Constitution of the United States wallpaper, began. “It’s the makers, it’s the thinkers, it’s the developer community who can help make sure we're safe."
Here’s the video below along with a few highlights to help you through. Due to the connection and echoing in the room, Snowden’s portions are bit difficult to decipher.
5:05 Snowden: The NSA is “setting fire” to the Internet, techies are “the firefighters.”
25:00 Snowden: Monitoring everyone’s communications instead of suspects’ communications has caused the U.S. to miss leads, like Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the underwear bomber.
29:50 Snowden: We can’t have officials like National Intelligence Director James Clapper who "can lie to the country, lie to Congress and not face criticism."
41:10 Snowden: "Encryption does work." We need to think of encryption not as an "arcane, black art" but "as defense against the dark arts."
44:10 Snowden recommends steps to protect your privacy: Full disk encryption, network encryption, and anonymity software Tor.
56:20 Snowden answers, was it worth it? "I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I saw that the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale."
Watch Justin Bieber Confuse the Words Detrimental and Instrumental During a Deposition
Justin Bieber—he of the multi-platinum discography and entitled teenager's rap sheet—spent nearly 5 hours last Thursday being questioned about a lawsuit filed by paparazzo Jeffrey Binion, who claims he was assaulted by one of the 20-year-old pop star's bodyguard. I'm tempted to say the deposition went as well as you'd expect, but that wouldn't do justice to the comically snippy responses offered up by Bieber in the footage that was leaked online today.
The unquestionable highlight of the video comes after Bieber is asked by the plaintiff's lawyer whether it is true that "Usher was instrumental in starting your career." The Biebs then proceeds to unintentionally stumble headfirst into what otherwise would have been a rare moment of self-awareness: "I was found on YouTube and I think I was detrimental to my own career."
Slatest PM: Senate Dems Prep For All-Night Climate Talkathon
An All-Nighter: New York Times: "The Senate was headed into another all-nighter Monday evening as 26 Democrats who call themselves the 'climate caucus' planned to speak nonstop about climate change from about 6:30 p.m. until 9 a.m. Tuesday. The talkathon is the latest effort by the group, which is working in concert with a parallel House caucus, to elevate the issue of global warming. The members know that serious climate change legislation stands no chance of passage in the current divided Congress, where many lawmakers in the Republican-majority House deny the science of human-caused global warming. The members of the climate caucus say their objective is to raise the urgency of global warming and build toward a time in the coming years when the political landscape may have shifted enough that a bill could pass Congress. They argue that there are early signs that the political winds may already be changing."
A Strategy We've Seen Before: Washington Post: "It's a strategy used in the past year by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who led a filibuster last spring that lasted into the late-night hours as he raised concerns with the Obama administration's drone policy, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who steered a 21-hour filibuster-style exchange before the government shutdown last fall. Democrats have been plotting this all-nighter for several months, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who've been seeking to raise awareness about their concerns on and off the Senate floor. The format planned for Monday is an extension of floor speeches given regularly by Whitehouse that usually begin with him saying that 'it's time to wake up' to climate change. ... Notably absent from the list are Democrats facing difficult reelections this year in states that President Obama lost in his two elections. Only two Democrats who might face tricky reelections—Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.)—are among the expected speakers."
Search for Mystery Men Aboard Missing Jetliner Leads to Iranian Middleman
The ongoing search for the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing over the weekend has provided little to suggest officials are any closer to determining the exact whereabouts of the vanished airliner, but authorities and journalists appear to making progress on another front: That of two men who boarded the missing plane with the help of stolen passports. Here's the Financial Times with the latest:
Newtown Gunman's Father Speaks For First Time Since Shooting: "You Can’t Get Any More Evil"
The New Yorker has today's must-read story, which includes a long interview with Peter Lanza, his first since his 20-year-old son Adam shot and killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, a tragedy that began with Adam murdering his own mother at her home and ended with him taking his own life in the Newtown school. The pained interview covers a lot of ground but it's the final paragraph of Andrew Solomon's story that is probably the most harrowing:
Malaysia Plane Mystery Grows as Oil Slicks, Debris Found Not to Be From the Vanished Jetliner
Day three of the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing is going much like the previous two did—with new hopes of progress in determining what exactly happened to the Beijing-bound passenger plane coming up empty. Here's the latest from the Washington Post, which is calling the vanished craft "one of the most perplexing aviation disasters in history":
Hopes briefly centered on a rectangular orange object that authorities said might have been a lifejacket. But when a Vietnamese helicopter recovered the piece of flotsam, it was identified as “a moss-covered cap of a cable reel,” the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said on its website.
This was not the first time hopes have been dashed in the past two days. Late on Sunday afternoon, Vietnamese authorities said one of their aircraft had spotted a rectangular object that could have been an inner door from the missing plane, but it was too dark to be sure. By Monday, ships and planes had returned to the area, but could not locate the object. Meanwhile, sightings of what had resembled a piece of the plane’s tail turned out to be logs tied together to form a pontoon, Malaysian authorities said.
Two oil slicks, between six and nine miles long, consistent with fuel left by a downed jetliner, were located on Saturday in the region where the plane vanished. Samples were being sent for testing to see if the slicks contained jet fuel.
[Update 10:52 a.m.: Malaysian authorities now say that tests of the oil suggest that it did not come from the plane, a preliminary conclusion that will only add to the puzzle.]
The lack of debris or any other concrete sign of what ultimately happened to the plane have authorities scratching their heads. "This unprecedented missing aircraft mystery—as you can put it—it is mystifying," Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The search operation has involved 34 different aircraft and 40 ships from several countries that have offered their help. According to local police, much of the effort is now focused on a 50-nautical mile radius between Malaysia and Vietnam, centered at the point where the plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared from radar screens early Saturday local time. According to the Associated Press, aviation experts say what appears increasingly to have have been a crash could have been caused by any number of things, including: "an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide."
Investigators continue to look into the two stolen passports that were used by two passengers to board the plane, although so far officials and outside experts say that was most likely a coincidence.
Rand Paul: “Definitely Talking” About 2016 White House Run but Midterms Come First
One day after easily winning a straw poll of conservative activists, Sen. Rand Paul said he would wait until after the midterms to decide whether he’ll run for president in 2016. "We're definitely talking about it, my family's talking about it," Paul said on Fox News. “We do the things that would be necessary to make sure that it can happen and will work. But I truly haven't made my mind up and won't make my mind up until after the 2014 elections."
Paul talked about a potential presidential run a day after he won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference with 31 percent of the vote, more than double Sen. Ted Cruz’s 11 percent. And it marked his second win in a row at the annual conference.
For now, Paul says he’s focused on helping the GOP grow, noting his message that President Obama is threatening civil liberties resonates with younger voters. "The youth in particular have lost faith in this president, and so I think there's a real opportunity for Republicans who do believe in the Fourth Amendment to grow our party by attracting young people," Paul said. He also sharply contrasted himself with Cruz, noting that he is a divisive figure who could likely not help Republicans win new voters.
“My style is that I stand for things, people don’t question whether I stand for principle, but I don’t spend a lot of time trying to drag people down,” he said. “I don’t spend any time sort of trying to criticize others in the party because I realize the party has to be bigger, not smaller.”