Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

April 16 2014 7:18 PM

Death Toll Rises, Hundreds of School Children Still Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks

Rescuers continued their search on Thursday for survivors after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea carrying more than 450 people. According to the BBC, South Korean officials say 174 people have been rescued so far, six people are thought to have died and dozens more injured.

It is still not known what caused the ferry—named the Sewol—to sink on Wednesday morning. The South Korean government says the 480-foot ferry, which was on an overnight 14-hour journey, sent a distress signal three hours from its destination after it began to list, before capsizing two hours later. The passengers onboard were predominantly school children on a class trip. There are reported to have been more than 300 students on the ferry when it sank.

Here’s more from the Associated Press: “Early Thursday, divers, helicopters and boats continued to search for survivors from the ferry, which slipped beneath the surface until only the blue-tipped, forward edge of the keel was visible. The high number of people unaccounted for — possibly trapped in the ship or floating in the chilly water nearby — raised fears that the death toll could increase drastically.”

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April 16 2014 6:28 PM

Tim Geithner Refused to Wear His Seat Belt During a Car Ride With Elizabeth Warren

The Boston Globe has a preview of Elizabeth Warren’s upcoming book, and the most important takeaway is an anecdote about a meeting between Warren and former treasury secretary Tim Geithner:

Then they got into the back seat of an SUV that was driven by a security detail. Warren put her seatbelt on; Geithner didn’t.
“Like a bossy third-grade teacher, I looked at him and said, ‘Put on your seat belt, Mr. Secretary,’” Warren writes. “Like a naughty kid, he looked back and said, ‘I don’t have to.’”
They continued arguing the point, and Warren thinks she raised her voice.
“He didn’t put on his seat belt all the way to the restaurant,” she writes.

That is remarkable. Put your seat belt on, Geithner!

And yes, this has been a preview of an article that itself is a preview of a book.

This post has been updated.

April 16 2014 4:19 PM

Oklahoma Forbids its Cities From Passing Their Own Minimum Wage Increases

Oklahoma is very much not interested in this whole raising-the-minimum wage thing, a stance made extra clear as the state enacted a law yesterday forbidding any of its local governments from passing their own individual minimum-wage hikes. So don't even think about it, people of Zeb. From the AP:

Those against the bill also say it specifically targets Oklahoma City, where an initiative is underway to establish a citywide minimum wage higher than the current federal minimum wage. Organizers have been gathering signatures to support raising the city's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

April 16 2014 3:44 PM

U.S. Takes Small Step Toward Having System of Electing Its President That Actually Makes Sense

The National Popular Vote “interstate compact” movement aims to replace the electoral college via a simple but clever strategy. Instead of pushing for a Constitutional amendment, which would have to be ratified in 38 states, advocates ask individual state legislatures to pass an agreement: that they’ll pledge all their presidential electors to the winner of the national popular vote as soon as enough other states pass the law to ensure that the candidate who wins said vote would have the 270 electoral votes required to become president. And today New York became the 10th state to pass that agreement as law. (Washington D.C. has three electoral votes and has also joined the agreement.) New York’s move puts the total of electoral votes pledged under the compact to 165.

The best case for passing the law might be this map from the National Popular Vote group, which shows how many 2012 presidential campaign events were held in each state between the party conventions and the election:


National Popular Vote

You’ll notice that the majority of states never saw Romney or Obama at all, because their electoral votes were already foregone conclusions. And when a president can get elected by basically ignoring the specific needs and interests of most of the states in the country, that is, like, pretty messed up.

April 16 2014 1:08 PM

Mother Jones Catches New Mexico Governor on Tape Conversing In, Let's Say, Extremely Colorful Fashion

Mother Jones has the political story of the day, a profile by Andy Kroll of Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico and a potential rising star for the Republican Party. It’s an extensively researched and well-constructed piece that covers Martinez’s strengths and vulnerabilities as a campaigner, a manager, and a policymaker, and also it really nails Martinez and her staff saying a lot of swear words.

During an October 2010 campaign conference call, Martinez said she'd met a woman who worked for the state's Commission on the Status of Women, a panel created in 1973 to improve health, pay equity, and safety for women.
"What the hell is that?" she asked.
"I don't know what the fuck they do," replied her deputy campaign manager, Matt Kennicott.

There are several more such incidents, including an aide saying another political figure “sounds like a retard” and Martinez referring to a campaign opponent as a “little bitch.” Kroll apparently has all of the most sensational material documented via leaked emails and audio recordings. (The piece doesn’t say how Mother Jones got its hands on this stuff— “former close associate of Martinez’s who realllllly doesn’t like her anymore” would seem like the most obvious possibility.)

Martinez didn’t speak to Kroll, but a potential line of defense is perhaps revealed by a comment from BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins that she seems to have re-tweeted, then deleted from her Twitter timeline, this morning:



Also, FYI everyone, the Mother Jones article quotes my uncle Mike, which is cool.

April 16 2014 10:39 AM

Here's the "Artist" Who Might Have Left Two Backpacks at the Boston Marathon Finish Line Yesterday

The area around the Boston Marathon finish line was evacuated last night and a man now identified as Kayvon Edson was arrested when police found two backpacks on the ground near the site of last year's bombing, and this morning reporters are mining Edson's extensive online presence for details. (It looks like authorities are referring to him as Kevin Edson, so that might be his legal name, but he seems to have called himself Kayvon.) From Joe Coscarelli at Daily Intelligencer:

“I’m a fashion designer, an entrepreneur, a performance artist, a mental patient, a blogger bloggerist, a jailbird, a college dropout, and a drag queen,” says Edson in an eponymous video posted on YouTube. “Boston yeaaaah, dude,” he bellows in character as a bro. He also says he was diagnosed as bipolar.

Edson seems to have posted pictures of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on his Facebook page and blog yesterday before the incident. BuzzFeed also has details on Edson, including what might be phone-shot video of him walking near the finish line dressed in funeral attire and carrying a backpack.

UPDATE 5:35 p.m.: Kayvon/Kevin Edson's family said in a statement that he suffers from mental health issues and that they are "sorry and emotionally overwhelmed" by what transpired last night.

April 16 2014 12:12 AM

Rare, Chilling Video Shows Large al-Qaida Meeting in Yemen

A new video apparently released by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism analysts scrambling. The video, which had been circulating on jihadist websites and was brought to light by terrorist watchdog group Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), shows what appears to be the largest gathering of al-Qaida militants in years, and is one of the more brazen al-Qaeda propaganda pieces to be released in some time.

Appearing front and center in the video is AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Known as al-Qaida's crown prince, al-Wuhayshi is second within the group's global power structure, below only Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is seen on camera giving a speech to the militants, telling them, "We must eliminate the cross ... The bearer of the cross is America," according to CNN.

His appearance in the video is especially notable given that the meeting seems to be out in the open, running counter to speculation that AQAP leaders had gone underground and were communicating solely by courier. 

In a statement to NBC News, a U.S. intelligence official confirmed the significance of both al-Wuhayshi's actions and the number of militants, calling the expansive gathering of senior leaders and fighters "atypical of AQAP’s propaganda videos."

April 15 2014 9:26 PM

Boston Marathon Finish Line Evacuated Because of Suspicious Bag

The area near the finish line of the Boston Marathon was evacuated on Tuesday night after two unattended backpacks were discovered around 7p.m. On the anniversary of the attack that killed three people and injured hundreds more, according to eye witness accounts, a barefoot man wearing a long black veil was seen screaming “Boston strong” in the area, WBZ reports. Boston police said the backpacks that led to the evacuation belonged to the man in question and that police had taken a suspect into custody. According to WBZ, the bomb squad inspected one bag and then detonated it around 9 p.m.

April 15 2014 8:58 PM

NCAA Votes to Allow Colleges to Provide Athletes with Unlimited Meals

The NCAA, apparently, feeling the heat from Northwestern football players’ newly won right to unionize and the blowback from Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier’s claim that there were nights he went to bed "starving" while playing for UCONN, the NCAA legislative council approved the expansion of meal allowances for college athletes on Tuesday. The proposal, which still needs to be approved by the NCAA board of directors, would allow Division I schools to provide athletes with unlimited meals and snacks, and would include non-scholarship players. At the moment, athletes are allowed three meals a day or a stipend for food.

Food has been a prickly issue when it comes to the NCAA and its athletes. Earlier this year three Oklahoma athletes had their eligibility put in jeopardy after eating too much pasta at a graduation banquet. “The hungry trio ran afoul of NCAA bylaw that permits schools to provide athletes with ‘reasonable refreshments’ from time to time for ‘celebratory events,’” according to the Los Angeles Times. To restore their eligibility, the athletes paid $3.83 to charity to pay for the pasta.

Here’s more on some of the NCAA’s other food bylaws, via the Los Angeles Times:

The NCAA's 432-page rule book has previously ensnared hungry athletes. Though such violations usually revolve around boosters picking up the tab for an athlete's meal at a restaurant, [former compliance director Jim] Infante said, everything from ham sandwiches to cream cheese have become issues in the past… Another NCAA bylaw, better known as the bagel rule, permits schools to offer bagels, fruits and nuts to athletes at any time. An interpretation, however, prohibited offering spreads such as cream cheese or peanut butter with the bagels. NCAA President Mark Emmert frequently cited the prohibition on spreads as an example of the organization's overreach. The interpretation was eliminated last year.

April 15 2014 8:24 PM

North Korean Officials Pay Visit to London Salon Over “Bad Hair Day” Ad Featuring Kim Jong-un

Nobody wants to be the poster boy for a bad haircut. Presumably, Kim Jong-un is among that group. And when it comes to hair, if you needed proof that the North Korean leader’s skin may not be as thick as your run-of-the-mill dictator, it came from London this week.

It all started when a London hair salon, M&M Hair Academy, used Kim’s smiling visage and close-cropped hairdo as part of a promotional campaign. And not in a good way. The salon pinned up a poster on its window with Kim’s picture and the text: “Bad Hair Day?” As a further enticement, the poster offered a 15 percent discount to customers.

No a big deal, right?

Well, the salon put up the poster to drum up extra business on Wednesday last week. On Thursday, two men claiming to be North Korean officials showed up at M&M asking why their leader was on the poster and demanding to see the manager. M&M’s proprietor, Mo Nabbach, told Agence France-Presse the officials photographed his salon, demanded his name and ordered him to remove the poster, which they deemed disrespectful. "The two guys were wearing suits and they were very serious. It was very threatening,” said Nabbach. Not one to be intimidated by hair henchmen, Nabbach stood up for his rights (of sorts) saying: “Listen this isn't North Korea, this is England, we live in a democracy so I'm afraid you're going to have to get out of my salon,” according to the BBC.

A little worried that maybe the poster issue wasn’t yet over, Nabbach also called the cops to report the incident and was told the North Korean embassy had also contacted the police about the poster in question. A London police spokesman told the Guardian: "I can confirm that the North Korean embassy have contacted us and that we are in liaison with them. Officers spoke to all parties. No offences have been disclosed."

The motivation for the ad campaign is the widely circulated story about North Korea’s strict regulation of hairstyles in the country. “Obviously in the current news there has been this story that North Korean men are only allowed one haircut,” one of the salon’s barbers told the BBC. That one haircut, unsurprisingly, looks a lot like Kim Jong-un’s. Slate’s Joshua Keating, however, warns that you should be skeptical of claims of barbershop big brother in North Korea. But, as Keating writes: “This is not to say that the North Korean government hasn’t been unusually preoccupied with the hair of its citizens.”