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Some days you need a compass
Wow! Here it is Thursday and the wind is back as it blows us toward a weekend of freezing temperatures and possibly icy conditions across the Midwest. The Northwest is still getting pummeled by rain and snow in record-setting amounts. In fact, they’ve had so much snow that officials closed Crater Lake National Park due to avalanche concerns.
Trying to look at the world through media reports is confusing as hell. When there’s no actual news, we get a lot of news-looking articles that don’t really tell us anything of value. Sometimes you have to piece the information together to get the full picture. That’s what we’ve done this morning. We’ve sifted through the actual facts and have 5 Things You Should Know.
Making corporate crime personal
Americans are known for having notoriously short-term memories so don’t feel too bad if you thought the whole mess over the Volkswagon emission-cheating scandal was over. Nope, far from it. These things take time to wind their way through the court and it gets all the more complicated when multiple countries are involved. The US can’t just reach across the Atlantic ocean and demand that someone from another country follow our laws. So, the fact that we’re just now seeing a resolution to the scandal really isn’t that surprising.
What we’ve seen in the past two days is that VW has pled guilty to criminal charges after installing software in diesel engines on nearly 600,000 VW, Porsche and Audi vehicles in the U.S. that activated pollution controls during government tests and switched them off in real-world driving1. The software allowed the cars to spew harmful nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times above the legal limit. As a result, the US has fine the company $4.3 billion, the largest fine against an automaker ever, and yes, VW is going to pay the fine.
What you should know, though, is that the Department of Justice also indicted six high-level VW executives yesterday, which is seen as a major step in holding individuals responsible for corporate crimes, something that has been extremely difficult in the past. Now, since all six are German citizens, actually arresting them is difficult. Germany doesn’t extradite their own citizens outside the EU. However, it effectively prevents those executives from traveling outside Germany. This is a huge win for consumers and the Justice Department.
They China Syndrome
While everyone has been distracted by possible spying and interference from Russia, another larger and potentially far greater danger has been growing in the South China Sea as China has made some very strong and deliberate moves that the US should find more than a little worrisome. Earlier this week, Taiwan was intimidated into launching fighters and naval vessels as China’s only aircraft carrier sailed through the Strait of Taiwan in a very obvious display of power2. This is just the latest in a series of military events where China essentially shakes its fist at the small country.
Then, yesterday, Secretary of State nominee and former head of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson, told the Senate Confirmation Committee that China should be denied access to the islands it built and then militarized in the South China Sea3. Tillerson didn’t state what legal justification the US might use in interfering in matters in the South China Sea, but it puts further stress on the relationship between China and the incoming administration.
What you should know now is that earlier this morning China launched a new electronic intelligence ship4. Care to guess where they put it? That’s right, the South China Sea. The activity we’ve seen in that region over the past few months is some of the strongest China has made in the past 50 years. We need to remember, though, that China is also deeply embedded in the US economy. Any action we might take against them would likely be met with a response from Beijing that could send the US economy into a tailspin. The ramifications are extremely troubling.
Redefining the press
If it seems as though every media outlet on the Internet is talking about the president-elect’s news conference yesterday5, the reason may be because not since the Nixon administration has the relationship between the press and the White House been so strained. While I strongly agree that the exchange between the Great Orange and CNN’s Jake Tapert was one of the most childish displays of narcissistic bullying we’ve seen to date, the fact remains that he is the new reality and media needs to adjust to deal with him more effectively.
One of the ways that is happening is that Facebook has decided to take on a larger role in journalism6. What makes this something you should know is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was very adamant in defending the social media powerhouse against charges that fake news posted on the site may have contributed to the outcome of the presidential election. What we now know is that roughly 40% of American adults get their news from Facebook7. What we see on Facebook we generally consider to be true, whether we admit it or not.
The Facebook Journalism Project, which was announced on the website yesterday, works in three ways:
- The collaborative development of news products
- Training & tools for journalist to enable better use of Facebook
- Training & tools for the general public, including efforts to curb hoaxes
Exactly how legacy media outlets will respond to the project is still uncertain, but at least Facebook is stepping up and recognizing its role in the dissemination of news. This won’t make presidential press conferences any less vile, but hopefully, it will prevent the kind of unsubstantiated news stories at the center of that exchange from becoming a problem.
Up, up and away
So, with all the stress and anxiety going on across the US at the moment, perhaps you’re thinking it might be nice to get away for a while, maybe enjoy a Spring Break somewhere different, even if you’ve not been a college student for 30 years or more. The problem is, you’re an adult. You have too many responsibilities and too little expendable cash. How can you afford to go anywhere? The Icelandic airline WOW would like to solve that problem for you by offering tickets from the US to Europe for as little as $708.
Oh yeah, there are some catches to that price. What you should know is that not every seat on the plane qualifies for the severely discounted rates. You’ll pay to check your bags and if you want anything to eat or drink during the long trip you’ll need to bring those yourself. WOW is only offering the service from LAX and SFA to Stockholm, Sweden; Bristol, England; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Edinburgh, Scotland. Oh, and there’s no Wi-Fi on the planes, either.
Still, this low-cost discounted rate for international travel may be the wave of the future. WOW’s CEO Skuli Mogensen thinks that eventually you might not pay for a ticket at all and that airlines will make their profit through ancillary costs and fees. Norwegian Air plans to make similarly discounted flights available later this year when it adds new planes9. This particular sale only last through April 5, though, so if you’re going you might want to make that reservation sooner rather than later.
And finally …
I’m beginning to think that there’s not anything that Taco Bell won’t try to stuff into or wrap around a taco. The fast food favorite of munchie-ridden stoners and college students everywhere has announced, and I swear I am not making this up, that it plans to go nationwide later this month with a taco shell made entirely of—are you ready?—fried chicken9. You may now take a moment and pick your jaw up off the floor. This is really coming to a Taco Bell near you.
This new culinary curiosity is being called the Naked Chicken Chalupa and, according to the chain, the entire shell is made of all-white seasoned chicken. They then fill that thing with lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and avocado ranch sauce. Apparently, this mess has tested well for two years in Bakersfield and Kansas City, though I don’t know that I would necessarily consider either of those places culinary capitals by any stretch of the imagination.
There’s no word yet as to how much this new source of indigestion might cost you. Remember that you’ll want to eat the thing immediately and not let it sit on your dashboard or coffee table overnight. Being chicken, it should be consumed hot to avoid any chance of contracting salmonella. Of course, if you’re eating at Taco Bell you’re probably not too worried about food poisoning in the first place, are you?
That’s all the time and space we’re willing to commit to this morning. If you’re in the Midwest, watch out for possible Thunderstorms midday. Wherever you are, please stay safe. We like you. Both of you. Until tomorrow, good day!