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April 27 2015 12:02 PM

At Least 44,000 Cars Were Stolen Last Year Because Doofus Drivers Left the Keys in Them

Bloomberg reports that the number of car thefts in the United States has declined in recent years, perhaps because of security devices such as smart keys. But while keys may be getting smarter, it appears that Americans in general are getting dumber, as evidenced by an increase in the number of vehicles that are being stolen after drivers simply leave their keys inside their cars and walk away:

U.S. car thefts with keys left inside jumped 14 percent from 2012 to 2014, reaching 44,828 last year, according to a study issued Monday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The actual number is probably higher because some people don’t admit their carelessness to police or their insurer, the NICB said.

What are you doing, you dummies? Put your keys in your pocket!

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April 27 2015 10:21 AM

New Policy Will Reportedly Allow Families of U.S. Hostages to Pay Ransom

A White House-ordered review of United States policy toward foreign kidnappings will recommend that the families of victims be allowed to negotiate with and pay ransom to kidnappers, ABC reports:

"There will be absolutely zero chance of any family member of an American held hostage overseas ever facing jail themselves, or even the threat of prosecution, for trying to free their loved ones," said one of three senior officials familiar with the hostage policy team's ongoing review.
The study undertaken by the National Counterterrorism Center on orders from the Obama White House has involved interviewing many of those with tragic experience such as the parents of journalist James Foley, who were among several families alleging they were repeatedly threatened by administration officials with prosecution last summer for moving to raise millions in ransom demanded by ISIS and other groups in Syria.

The family of al-Qaida hostage Warren Weinstein, who is thought to have been accidentally killed by a January drone attack in Pakistan, criticized the U.S.’s handling of his case as “inconsistent and disappointing” after news of Weinstein's death was reported on April 23.

Four Americans who were taken hostage by ISIS forces in Syria have died since August 2014; another, held by al-Qaida, was killed during an unsuccessful rescue attempt in Yemen last December. An American named Caitlan Coleman was abducted in Afghanistan in 2012 and is possibly currently being held by the Taliban; there may be other hostage situations involving Americans that are ongoing but have been kept secret.

April 27 2015 9:32 AM

James Holmes Trial Begins Today in Colorado

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in the Denver-area trial of Aurora, Colorado, mass shooter James Holmes, whose defense attorneys admit that he killed 12 people and injured 70 more at a movie theater in July 2012 but argue that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes faces 166 criminal counts related to the attack and could be sentenced to death; his 2013 offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison was rejected by prosecutors.

The trial will reveal the case's most closely guarded details — information withheld so as to ensure that jurors would hear about it for the first time in court:
• What did Holmes say to multiple doctors who have examined his mental health since the shooting, and what did the doctors decide about his sanity?
• What did University of Colorado officials know about Holmes before the attack, and what could they have done to prevent it?
• What did Holmes write in a notebook that he mailed to his former psychiatrist at CU the day before the shooting?

The courthouse where Holmes is being tried is in Centennial, Colorado, not far from the site of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre; at least two individuals called as potential jurors in the Holmes case had personal connections to the Columbine killings. The trial is expected to last several months.

April 27 2015 1:44 AM

Watch: Terrifying Moment When Avalanche Hits Everest Base Camp Caught on Video

Jost Kobusch seems calm when the video begins, if a bit worried: “The ground is shaking.” Soon though, fuck becomes the German climber’s most frequent word as a wall of snow comes down on him. Kobusch and another climber manage to duck behind a tent. “The ground was shaking from the earthquake and as soon as we saw people running we were running ourselves to save our lives,” notes the description of the YouTube video.

April 26 2015 7:53 PM

Poor Countries Like Nepal Are Falling Behind in Preventing Disasters

The disaster in Nepal is heartbreakingly close to the worst-case scenario for any region in the world vulnerable to earthquakes—a “nightmare waiting to happen,” in the words of one seismologist. As of Sunday afternoon, more than 2,500 people had died across the country—placing the earthquake among the two-dozen or so deadliest quakes worldwide over the past 40 years. The tragedy is only compounded when we consider how badly prepared the nation was for such an event, a fact that is sadly still common among developing nations in earthquake zones. In a world that’s getting better at preventing disasters, Nepal and other poor countries continue to bear the brunt of tragedy.

As aid begins to arrive, so are estimates of the quake’s ultimate impact on Nepal. The U.S. Geological Survey’s PAGER model gives a 52 percent chance of more than 10,000 deaths and also projects that the total economic losses “may exceed the GDP of Nepal.” The country’s economy is strongly tourism-dependent, and the sheer destruction to the country’s infrastructure may depress the economy for years.

What’s more, it was not far from the strongest earthquake scientists believe is possible in the Himalaya region, and it hit at about the worst time in the calendar year—just before the start of monsoon season. According to the United Nations, local hospitals are overloaded and “post-earthquake diseases are a concern,” especially as thousands of survivors will now be exposed to the elements. Io9 reports that in many ways this earthquake is fated to be a lingering disaster, and landslides will likely be more common this year as the ground slowly settles.

The tragic situation in Nepal is one that developing nations are especially vulnerable to. As a whole, the world is getting much better at preventing large earthquakes from causing deaths in great numbers, but poorer countries like Nepal are getting left behind. The nonprofit GeoHazards International says that over the past few decades, rich countries have reduced mortality from earthquakes at a rate 10 times faster than poor countries.

Comparison of casualties caused by large earthquakes in rich and poor countries, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.


Looking at just the biggest earthquakes, rich and middle-income countries (those with a per capita GDP above $10,000 USD) have reduced their risk of mass casualties by nearly fourfold since 2001, when compared with the period from 1976 to 2000. While the poorest countries have also improved, they’ve cut down their risk by less than 40 percent, a much slower rate.

According to my analysis of U.S. Geological Survey data, since 1976 there have been 99 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater that caused significant shaking on land (the others either happened at sea or were too deep underground). Twenty-six of them caused more than 1,000 deaths, including Saturday’s quake in Nepal. But only five of these disasters occurred in rich or middle-income countries—including the 2011 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami centered in Sendai, Japan. In fact, just Japan, the U.S., and Chile—all relatively wealthy nations—have combined for nearly a quarter of those 99 earthquakes, with Sendai’s being the only major tragedy.

The track record in poor countries is a different story. Over one-third of the earthquakes to cause severe shaking over the last four decades (21 of 57) have resulted in mass casualties. The disparity between rich and poor has been worse since 2001: While just 19 percent of violent earthquakes worldwide have resulted in more than 1,000 deaths, nearly 90 percent of them have been in poor countries.

So what makes places like Nepal and Haiti so vulnerable to earthquakes? Poverty is a big factor, but so is politics. Preparedness funding routinely returns five dollars for every dollar spent. But governments with low resources find it difficult to justify extra spending to mitigate even likely disasters. Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, ranks near the bottom in a list of countries working to reduce their risk. Even in the United States, spending on disaster relief routinely outstrips investment in disaster preparedness by at least a factor of 10.

Just last month, representatives from world governments agreed to a 15-year plan to reduce global disaster risk, especially in the poorest countries. The previous agreement—the first-ever global agreement on disaster reduction—was reached in 2005, in the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami. However, disaster experts warned that the new goals come without much additional funding from rich countries (only Japan committed significant money). And without more money devoted to preparedness, the world will be severely limited in its ability to prevent tragedies like Nepal’s.

Read more about the Nepal earthquake in Slate:

April 26 2015 3:07 PM

Baltimore Police Beat Up City Paper Photographer at Freddie Gray Protest

Baltimore police in full riot gear tackled and beat Baltimore City Paper photo editor J.M. Giordano at the Freddie Gray protest. The paper published video shot by its managing editor, Baynard Woods, in which Giordano is being beaten as Woods yells: “He's a photographer! He's press!”

It all apparently began when someone threw a rock that hit the shield of one of the police officers. The City Paper reports:

“They mobilized,” [Giordano] says. The police line moved forward and Giordano did not move fast enough for them. “I always move at the last second,” he says. Five or six police officers in riot gear hit Giordano and the other protester with their shields, knocking them to the ground.
“They just swarmed over me,” he says. “I got hit. My head hit the ground. They were hitting me, then someone pulled me out.”
“I kept shooting it,” he says. “As soon as I got up I started taking pictures.” He says the guy who was next to him (who did not throw anything, he is sure) got arrested and was loaded into a van. Joe was not. He thinks it is because police recognized him as a local reporter and figured arresting him would cause a backlash.

On Sunday, Woods took to Twitter to deny reports that police tackled Giordano to protect him from an attempted robbery.

April 26 2015 1:21 PM

Clinton Foundation Acknowledges Mistakes in Tax Forms Amid Calls for an Investigation

The Clinton Foundation acknowledged on Sunday that it had made a few “mistakes” in how it filed its taxes but said it is “acting quickly to remedy them.” In a statement posted on the Clinton Foundation’s website, acting CEO Maura Pally, denied the group had failed to accurately report its total revenue. Instead, she specified that the reason why the foundation would likely refile some tax forms has to do with how it reported donations from foreign governments.

“Our total revenue was accurately reported on each year's form—our error was that government grants were mistakenly combined with other donations,” she wrote. “Those same grants have always been properly listed and broken out and available for anyone to see on our audited financial statements, posted on our website.”

Despite the mistakes, Pally insisted that the foundation has been committed to transparency from the beginning, noting that the group has gone beyond what is required by law. And it is going even further now that Hillary Clinton is running for president. “Today, our donor disclosure and foreign government contributor policy is stronger than ever,” Pally writes. “Since Secretary Clinton decided to run for President, we have committed to disclosing all of our donors on a quarterly basis.” The foundation has also decided to only accept funding “from a handful of governments” that are helping to pay for continuing programs.

The statement was released as Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash, has been publicly calling for an investigation, saying he has uncovered a pattern in which foreign governments gave cash to the foundation and then the State Department made decisions that favored those countries. In several interviews on Sunday though Schweizer made it clear he did not have “direct evidence” of any wrongdoing, emphasizing it was more about a “pattern of behavior.”

"The smoking gun is in the pattern of behavior," Schweizer said on ABC News when George Stephanopoulos challenged him on his evidence. Even Fox News challenged Schweizer and at one point Chris Wallace even told him he did not “have a single piece of evidence” that Clinton herself was involved in a particular deal. Still, Schweizer insisted, it was all about the patterns. “It’s a very extensive pattern,” Schweizer told Fox News. “There are 11 instances. And I think, when you have one or two examples, it’s coincidence. When you have this many, to me it’s a trend. … I think this warrants an investigation.”

April 26 2015 11:40 AM

Aftershocks Rattle Nepal as Death Toll Passes 2,500 and Aid Begins to Arrive

Read more about the Nepal earthquake in Slate:

It’s impossible to walk through some streets of Kathmandu on Sunday. And it isn’t just because of the rubble, but rather because it’s where tens of thousands of people have decided to stay, terrified of the multitude of aftershocks that have been hitting the capital a day after a massive quake killed more than 2,500 people and injured around 5,800. At least 2,430 people died in Nepal, with 61 reported deaths in India, 17 in Tibet and four in Bangladesh, according to the latest Associated Press count. Terrifying screams engulfed the capital again on Sunday as a magnitude 6.7 aftershock hit the region, one in a seemingly endless stream of tremors that have made people fearful of going back indoors, reports the New York Times.

A member of police forces walks down a street covered in debris after buildings collapsed on April 26, 2015, in Bhaktapur, Nepal.

Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images

“There were at least three big quakes at night and early morning. How can we feel safe? This is never-ending and everyone is scared and worried,” a Kathmandu resident tells the Associated Press. “I hardly got much sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive.” Nepal has been hit by at least 34 aftershocks since Saturday’s massive quake, the India Meteorological Department reported on Sunday, according to the Hindu.

Nepalese residents carry belongings following fresh tremors in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.

Photo by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

The strong aftershock, which struck between Kathmandu and Everest, led to even more avalanches in the Himalayas, reports Reuters. “Another one, we have an aftershock right now. Oh shit!” said Indian climber Arjun Vajpai over the phone from a base camp near Everest. “Avalanche!” A total of 22 climbers have been confirmed dead in what is Everest’s worst disaster, the Press Trust of India reported. Those who witnessed the scene are convinced the toll will keep rising. “There is a lot of confusion on the mountain. The toll will rise,” said Gelu Sherpa, a wounded climber who was flown to Kathmandu.  

A rescue helicopter comes in for a landing to pick up the injured from Everest Base Camp on April 26, 2015, a day after an avalanche triggered by an earthquake devastated the camp.

Photo by Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

As the hours pass it is also becoming increasingly clear how one of Asia’s poorest countries is ill-equipped to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. Aid groups and foreign governments began to send assistance as international search-and-rescue teams arrived on the ground for last-ditch efforts to try to get people out of the rubble while there is still a chance survivors were alive, notes the Guardian. The International Monetary Fund also said it is sending a team to evaluate Nepal’s needs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is sending a disaster-assistance response team as well as search-and-rescue teams, reports Bloomberg. India, Pakistan, Australia, Britain, and Sri Lanka are just some of the countries that have pledged to help relief efforts.

Prayers for Nepal
Nepalese novice Buddhist monks living at the Bodhgaya Tergar monastary offer prayers for the victims of an earthquake in Nepal at the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi temple in the Indian town of Bodhgaya on April 26, 2015.

Photo by STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Nepalese people stay outside in tents on the outskirts of Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.

Photo by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, conditions on the ground in Nepal are likely to get worse, as strong rains and thunderstorms are expected to hit the country, which could trigger new landslides, warns the Times of India.

This post has been updated with new information since it was originally published.

April 26 2015 12:44 AM

The Best Joke of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and 11 Runners-Up)

The highlight of every White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the jokes (at least for those of us not invited). And this year, both President Obama and Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong delivered. Strong ribbed the president lightly, but no jokes were strong enough to cause lasting damage. Even though Obama had the best zingers, the funniest joke belonged to Strong.

Without further ado, here are the best jokes of the night.

President Obama:

  • Today thanks to Obamacare you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance if you lose your job. You’re welcome, Senate Democrats.
  • Six years into my presidency some people still say I’m arrogant, aloof, condescending. Some people are so dumb.
  • A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime. Which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.
  • You know, let me set the record straight. I tease Joe Biden, but you know he has been in my side for seven years. I love that man. He’s not just a great vice president, he is a great friend. We’ve gotten so close in some places in Indiana, they won’t serve us pizza anymore.
  • It turns out Jeb Bush identified himself as Hispanic back in 2009, which, you know what, I—look, I understand. It’s an innocent mistake. It reminds me of when I identified myself as American back in 1961.
  • Rick Santorum announced that he would not attend the same-sex wedding of a friend or loved one, to which gays and lesbians across the country responded, that’s not going to be a problem. Don’t sweat that one.
  • And Donald Trump is here. Still.
  • Anyway, it’s amazing how time flies. Soon, the first presidential contest will take place, and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick. It’s exciting.

The best Strong jokes:

  • Since I’m only a comedian, I’m not going to try and tell you comedians how to do politics. That would be like you guys telling me what to do with my body. I mean, can you even imagine? Crazy.
  • The Republicans finally succeeded and Obama is being forced out of office in 14 months. You did it!
  • President Obama, your hair is so white now it can talk back to the police.

And the funniest joke of the night:

  • Let’s give it up for the Secret Service. They’re the only law enforcement agency that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot.

April 25 2015 11:52 PM

Freddie Gray Protest in Baltimore Turns Violent, 12 Arrested  

A day of peaceful rallies to protest the unexplained death of a black man while in police custody in Baltimore turned violent late Saturday, as marchers began confronting police officers. Two people were hurt and at least a dozen were arrested in what was the largest protest since 25-year-old Freddie Gray died last Sunday. Anywhere between “nearly 1,000 people,” according to the Washington Post and “at least 2,000,” according to Reuters, marched through Baltimore on Saturday. But six hours into what had been a peaceful demonstration, violence broke out as protesters spread out across the city and fought with baseball fans near Camden Yards.

Protesters confront police during a demonstration in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 25, 2015, against the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters jumped on police cars and smashed a few windows as “state police in full tactical gear were deployed to the city,” reports the Baltimore Sun. “Protesters shouted ‘Killers!’ and ‘You can’t get away with this!’ and ‘Hands up don’t shoot!’ Some threw rocks and water bottles at police mounted on horses, smashed the windows of businesses and looted at least two convenience stores.”

Gray’s twin sister appeared alongside the mayor asking for calm in what were her first public comments since her brother died on April 19, a week after he suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. “My family wants to say, can you all please, please stop the violence?” she said, according to the Associated Press. “Freddie Gray would not want this. ... Violence does not get justice.”

Hundreds of protesters gather outside city hall in honor of Freddie Gray on April 25, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

Officials have yet to explain how Gray’s spine was injured, although on Friday, Baltimore’s police commissioner acknowledged that police failed to provide him with timely medical care. The Baltimore Sun carried out its own investigation and “found that police missed the opportunity to examine some evidence that could have shed light on events.” The paper also talked to residents and “found that accounts from residents conflicted with the official version of events, including a police account that Gray's arrest was made ‘without force or incident.’ ”

Holding posters with victims involving deaths with police, mother and son, Jenelle and Jaden Powell, 9, join hundreds of protesters in honor of Freddie Gray on April 25, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images