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March 27 2015 12:49 PM

Harry Reid Endorses Charles Schumer to Succeed Him as Minority Leader

When Nevada's Harry Reid announced early Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2016, immediate speculation pegged New York's Charles Schumer as Reid's likely successor in the role of Senate minority leader. Schumer is a legislator who's willing to compromise, seems to enjoy fundraising, and loves talking to the press, which are three traits the position demands. He also has a blue-state seat that seems unlikely to face a potentially embarrassing Republican challenge; Schumer won 66 percent of the vote in his 2010 re-election campaign.

It seems that Harry Reid agrees with the conventional wisdom on this issue. From the Washington Post:

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in a Friday morning interview at his home in Washington's West End.
Reid predicted that Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat in leadership and a close friend, would win the Democratic leader post without opposition. He said that the other likely contender, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would stand down for Schumer.

Durbin and Schumer don't seem to have publicly commented on their plans yet. Elizabeth Warren, the prominently liberal first-term Massachusetts senator beloved by activists, says she will not seek to become Reid's successor.

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March 27 2015 9:53 AM

Crashed Plane’s Co-Pilot “Hid” an “Illness” From Lufthansa, German Prosecutors Say

German prosecutors say that pilot Andreas Lubitz, suspected of intentionally crashing Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, may have hid an "illness" from his "employer and colleagues," while multiple German publications report that he had issues with depression. From the New York Times:

Prosecutors said that among the items found at Mr. Lubitz’s home was a doctor’s note excusing him from work on the day of the crash, and another note that had been torn up ... The German investigators said they had not found a suicide note or “any indication of a political or religious” nature among the documents secured in Mr. Lubitz’s apartment. “However, documents were secured containing medical information that indicates an illness and corresponding treatment by doctors,” Ralf Herrenbrück, a spokesman for prosecutors in Düsseldorf, said in a statement.

Per the BBC, the German tabloid Bild says Lubitz had a "severe depressive episode" in 2009. The paper Der Tagesspiegel reports via a source that Lubitz was being treated for depression at a university clinic in Dusseldorf, and both Bild and another outlet say that a note in his "aviation authority file" recommended regular psychological treatment.

March 27 2015 9:15 AM

Harry Reid Won’t Run for Re-Election in 2016

Harry Reid, the 75-year-old six-term Nevada senator who has led Senate Democrats since 2005 and currently serves as minority leader, announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2016. New York Sen. Charles Schumer is considered the favorite to take over Reid's party leadership position. From the New York Times:

Mr. Reid, 75, who suffered serious eye and facial injuries in a Jan. 1 exercise accident at his Las Vegas home, said he had been contemplating retiring from the Senate for months. He said his decision was not attributable either to the accident or to his demotion to minority leader after Democrats lost the majority in November’s midterm elections.

Reid added that avoiding a high-profile Republican challenge to his re-election in Nevada would allow Democrats to divert campaign money to other potentially competitive races, in Maryland, Florida, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. In Maryland, long-serving Democratic Sen. Barbara Milkulski is retiring; in Missouri and Pennsylvania, Republicans Roy Blunt and Pat Toomey are running for re-electon; in Florida, Marco Rubio may be vacating his seat for a presidential run.

A statement from the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Reid is now "irrelevant and a lame duck."

March 26 2015 8:01 PM

McDonald’s Launches Big Mac Fashion Line in Case You’ll Wear One Even if You Won’t Eat One

McDonald’s is having a bit of an existential crisis at the moment. Its sales numbers continue to slide—perhaps because the exchange rate for “lovin’ ” isn’t what they anticipated it would be—and the company is looking for ways to reinvent itself, to make its glorious comeback. Until that eureka moment dawns on the company’s executives, here’s their interim big idea to get the mojo flowing again: a Big Mac fashion line. If the internal company memo announcing this grand plan wasn’t titled If People Don’t Like Eating It, Maybe They’ll Like Wearing It—it should have been.

The online shop launched in Sweden this week because Swedes apparently have already bought everything else in the world or were just in the market for some hamburger-themed wallpaper. Along with Big Mac wallpaper these are also burger thermals and linens for the Big Mac–lover in your life.

Unlike the McDonald’s menu, these lifestyle accessories are not cheap—most of the products are in the $50 range. While the clothing line probably isn’t the silver bullet to restore the company to profitability (the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House charities), at least we can look forward to a higher quotient of hipster irony out of the company. Because that’s what this is, right?


March 26 2015 7:30 PM

The 2013 Airplane Crash That Is Eerily Similar to the Germanwings Tragedy

The initial evidence suggests that the first officer of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, a 27-year-old German named Andreas Lubitz, locked himself in the cockpit and flew the plane into the ground, deliberately killing himself and the 149 others on board. It’s hard to overemphasize how unusual this is—nothing like this has ever happened aboard a European or North American carrier before—but it’s not totally unprecedented. Around the world, a number of pilot-suicides have taken place in recent years, including one that bears uncanny similarities to Tuesday’s crash.

At 11:26 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2013, LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 took off from Maputo, Mozambique bound for Luanda, Angola with 27 passengers and six crewmembers. LAM is not a great airline—it’s been banned from flying in Europe—but the plane, an Embraer E-190 narrowbody, was nearly new, having been delivered to the airline just the year before. About halfway through the flight, shortly after 1 p.m. local time, the plane was passing over Botswana when the co-pilot left his seat to go to the bathroom.

Left alone in the cockpit, the captain, Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, locked the door and changed the autopilot altitude setting from 38,000 feet to 592 feet, which happened to be lower than the elevation of the terrain in that region. He also deployed the plane’s spoilers, which protrude from the wing to reduce lift and make the plane descend more quickly. Over the next eight minutes, the plane descended at about 6,000 feet per minute, somewhat faster than Germanwings 9525 but considerably more slowly than SilkAir Flight 185, whose pilot put the nose down and flew the plane into the surface at tremendous speed.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up sounds of shouts and banging on the cockpit door as the first officer struggled to gain access, to no avail. The plane crashed into a swamp in Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park amid heavy rain in an area so remote that it took recovery teams 24 hours to reach it. Due to dangers posed by roaming lions, the search team was armed with rifles.

The force of the impact clearly had been tremendous: Only one body was recovered intact. “There is no plane. There are just pieces of metal scattered around,” an official declared.

To this day, the motive for the pilot’s actions remain unclear, though rumors have circulated online that he was struggling with domestic problems. Mozambique has still not issued a final report on the crash. Yet what little we do know about the case does line up eerily with what little we know so far about the Germanwings crash: the perpetrator who waits until he is left alone in the cockpit, then appears to lock his colleague out; the use of autopilot to command an orderly descent down into the ground; the resulting high-speed crash that leaves the aircraft ripped to shreds, without the slightest possibility of survival.

An air of mystery surrounding the incident is not unusual in cases of what appear to be pilot suicides. Such a horrific act, in which an individual not only takes his only life but slaughters the passengers who have been put into his care, defies easy psychological classification. Suicide notes are rare, as are words of explanation on cockpit voice recorders. With the pilot dead, and the scene of the crime destroyed, all that remains is the unsolvable riddle: Why?

March 26 2015 5:55 PM

Powerful New York City Explosion Causes Raging Fire, Building Collapse

An explosion in New York City’s East Village Thursday caused a five-story apartment building to catch fire and collapse causing at least a dozen injuries, several of them critical. The New York Fire Department said early reports indicate the fire was caused by a gas explosion and some 250 firefighters were actively fighting the seven alarm fire. CNN is reporting that several people may be trapped inside the burning building.

As firefighters battled the blaze, thick smoke clouded the city skyline. Portions of the neighborhood, near New York University, have been evacuated.

March 26 2015 5:51 PM

Mike Pence Declares Public Health Emergency Over HIV “Epidemic” in Indiana

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has declared a public health emergency in a rural county in his state following an "epidemic" of HIV among intravenous drug users. The New York Times reports that Scott County, which sees approximately five new HIV infections in an ordinary year, has recorded 80 cases as part of a recent outbreak, an explosion that public health officials believe is due to the sharing of infected needles. From the Times:

Gov. Mike Pence said the infections constituted an epidemic, and he pledged state resources to help local health officials contain the virus. In his emergency declaration, which lasts 30 days, Gov. Pence authorized a short-term, state-supervised needle exchange program that would provide drug users with access to safe needles.*
"This is all hands on deck," said Gov. Pence, who met this week with officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a very serious situation."

The creation of a needle exchange signals the level of urgency in the state's response, since such programs are explicitly forbidden under Indiana law and Pence, a Republican, has vowed to veto any attempt to reverse that ban. "I do not enter into this lightly," he said, according to the Indianapolis Star. "In response to a public health emergency, I'm prepared to make an exception to my long-standing opposition to needle exchange programs."

Using a multifaceted approach including a mobile enrollment facility for Healthy Indiana, the state's Medicaid program, and a command center to coordinate efforts to get drug users tested for HIV and into drug treatment programs, Gov. Pence promised that the state would both contain the outbreak and aid those already affected by the disease and by drug addiction. "I have deep compassion for people who have been trapped by this addiction," he said, "and we want to make sure people know they're not alone."

*Correction: This post originally misquoted the New York Times as talking about “local help officials.”

March 26 2015 5:34 PM

Dean Smith Buys His Players Dinner from Beyond the Grave

Dean Smith was a pretty good dude. As Jason Zengerle noted earlier this year in Slate upon the former UNC coach’s death, Smith was an early warrior for civil rights and a man who spoke out against injustices wherever he saw them—be it on the basketball court, or in the political arena.

Now Smith has continued to do cool things even after his death. As Jim Dempsey reported on Twitter, Smith’s trust has been sending his former players $200 each on Smith’s behalf with the notation “Dinner out.”

The above letter, to former UNC guard Dante Calabria, states: “Each Player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his letterman. Accordingly, Coach wanted each letterman to be sent a two hundred dollar ($200.00) check with the message 'enjoy a dinner [out] compliments of Coach Dean Smith.'”

USA Today confirmed the letter’s authenticity with accountant Tim Breedlove, who said that the letter was sent to about 180 of Smith’s former players. Sports Illustrated, meanwhile, estimated that Smith coached 184 players between 1961 and 1997.

It remains to be seen if the NCAA will attempt to sanction Dean Smith’s estate for this final gesture of friendship, or perhaps add it on to pending charges against UNC.

March 26 2015 2:13 PM

A Week Before Indiana Final Four, NCAA Is “Concerned” About State’s LGBT Discrimination Law

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law Thursday that permits businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. A number of national groups have already threatened to move planned events outside the state as a result, and one week from Saturday, the NCAA men's basketball Final Four is scheduled to begin in Indianapolis (which is also the location of the NCAA's national office). The organization's president, Mark Emmert, issued a critical statement about the law soon after it was signed:

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events.  We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.  We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

While Emmert's statement suggests the NCAA could seek to avoid holding future events in Indiana (which has hosted six previous Final Fours) while the law is in effect, the organization does have a contract with the city of Indianapolis that stipulates the Final Four must be held in the city once every five years until 2039.

March 26 2015 1:10 PM

Federal Agency Issues Report on Cartel-Funded DEA “Sex Parties”

Drug Enforcement Administration agents took part in cartel-funded “sex parties” with prostitutes in Colombia, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The damning new report paints a portrait of agents who put potentially confidential information at risk and acted with impunity, with some of the agents involved receiving punishments of just two-to-10-day suspensions.

The incidents allegedly occurred between 2005 and 2008 when a host-country police officer helped set up the parties, according to interviews with Colombian police officers:

The foreign officer allegedly arranged “sex parties” with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels for these DEA agents at their government-leased quarters, over a period of several years. Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds. A foreign officer also alleged providing protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties. The foreign officers further alleged that in addition to soliciting prostitutes, three DEA SSAs in particular were provided money, expensive gifts, and weapons from drug cartel members.

The report stated that the “sex parties” occurred on government-leased quarters while the agents involved held “Top Secret clearances,” which raised the possibility that “DEA equipment and information also may have been compromised as a result of the agents’ conduct.”

Specifically, “agents’ laptops, BlackBerry devices, and other government-issued equipment were present [creating] potential security risks for the DEA and for the agents who participated in the parties, potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail, or coercion.”

As Politico reports, the investigation was part of a wider look by the Justice Department into allegations of “sexual harassment and misconduct" in the DEA, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Politico has a rundown of some of the other key allegations in the report, including a deputy U.S. Marshal maintaining a “romantic relationship” with the spouse of a fugitive against agency orders, an ATF official disabling a hotel fire detection system and “[modifying] a hotel room door to facilitate sexual play,” and an ATF Program Manager failing to report consensual sex between training instructors and their students.

“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing and fundamentally not right,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told Politico. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture … anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.”

Chaffetz promised major action from his committee when Congress returns from an upcoming two-week recess and said he wanted those involved in the alleged misconduct to be fired.