Why was the downed Malaysia Airlines plane flying over Ukraine, anyway?
On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. But what was it doing there in the first place?
In April, the FAA prohibited U.S. airlines from flying over Crimea because of the conflict in the region. However, the FAA's concerns were related to air traffic control, not military action, USA Today reports — the FAA's yearlong ban is the result of a dispute over airspace between Ukraine and Russia.
The region specified by the FAA's order is south of where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed. While the FAA's rules only apply to U.S. airlines, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. subdivision, also warned airlines in April to avoid the region, according to USA Today.
However, Alan Yuhas at The Guardian says flying over conflict zones has been typical practice since the Ukraine conflict started. Here's a snippet of an anonymous pilot for a "major European airline," speaking to Yuhas' colleague Dan Milmo:
"We would often avoid areas where there is air-to-air conflict, but we flew over Iraq and Afghanistan when the British and U.S. armed forces were deployed there, because only one side was using military jets.
There will be weapons based on the ground when you are at 30,000 feet, but that is far up in the air. There are not many missile systems that can be so accurate." [The Guardian]
The pilot's statements imply that these assumptions about the capabilities of ground weapons "will have to be reevaluated, pending investigation of the crash," Yuhas says.
Update: The FAA released a notice on Thursday "barring U.S. flight operations within the Simferopol and Dnepropetrovsk regions of Eastern Ukraine following the crash," Time reports. The new paths prohibited are in addition to the Crimean routes prohibited in April.
Indonesian military's search for crashed AirAsia jet is officially over
Indonesia's military has withdrawn its search for the bodies of AirAsia Flight 8501. Seventy of the 162 passengers' bodies have been recovered.
The plane crashed over the Java Sea in December while en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Rescue divers have recovered the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
"The operation has been ongoing for 30 days, so the joint team has been pulled out," Rear Admiral Widodo, head of the navy's western fleet, told Reuters. "We apologize to the families of the victims. We tried our best to look for the missing victims."
The civilian National Search and Rescue agency has said it may continue the search for the bodies, and it will hold a press conference on Wednesday.
Americans projected to spend $703 million on their pets this Valentine's Day
A new report from the National Retail Federation found that Americans will likely spend $18.9 billion on Valentine's Day, and $703 million of that will go toward gifts for their pets.
One in five survey respondents — 21.2 percent, to be exact — said they would include their pets in their Valentine's Day plans, and planned to spend an average of $5.28 on their furry friends. In total, that's $703 million among all U.S. consumers.
The annual poll surveyed 6,375 consumers between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13, 2015.
Marshawn Lynch perfectly trolled the NFL for forcing him to speak with the media
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a noted distaste for speaking with the press. But with the NFL threatening to fine him a reported $500,000 should he skip out on Super Bowl Media Day, Lynch dutifully answered questions for the press on Tuesday with a single response: "I'm just here so I won't get fined."
This year alone, the NFL fined Lynch $100,000 for refusing to sit through two media avails.
Disney reportedly wants Chris Pratt to be the next Indiana Jones
Are Harrison Ford's days of adventuring as Indiana Jones behind him? According to a "dishy informed rumor" from an insider, Deadline reports that Disney is seeking Chris Pratt — who played a distinctly Indiana Jones-ish character in last summer's megahit Guardians of the Galaxy — to take over Ford's whip and fedora in a reboot of the Indiana Jones franchise.
2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull introduced Shia LaBeouf as Indy's son Mutt Williams, who many expected would eventually take over the franchise. That didn't pan out, but Indiana Jones remains a hot property; last year, it was widely rumored that Bradley Cooper was a favorite to star in a reboot of the franchise, though producer Frank Marshall quickly dismissed those reports as false.
Oxfam urges wealthy countries to support Ebola recovery
International development agency Oxfam warned that without the help of rich countries, Ebola recovery in the three countries hit hardest could lead to a "double disaster."
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the West African countries worst hit in the Ebola outbreak, are among the world's poorest countries. Oxfam encouraged donor countries to adopt a multi-million dollar "Marshall Plan" to help these countries access social services, including health, education, and water and sanitation.
"The world cannot walk away now that, thankfully, cases of this deadly disease are dropping," said Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring. "Failure to help these countries after surviving Ebola will condemn them to a double-disaster." Oxfam noted that 60 percent of people in Liberia, the country with the most Ebola deaths, haven't had enough food in the past week.
More than 8,600 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. The World Bank estimates that since the outbreak, almost 180,000 people in Sierra Leone have lost their jobs, and the countries directly affected will lose more than 12 percent of their combined GDPs this year.
Obama proposes opening Atlantic coast to offshore drilling
The White House on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to permit offshore drilling in waters stretching from Georgia to Virginia while banning drilling in parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, in Alaska.
The administration first proposed an oil lease off the Virginia coast in 2010, but scrapped the plan after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The latest proposal — which is separate from the administration's call for Congress to protect 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from energy exploration— will be finalized later this year after a public comment period.
Mormon leaders call for LGBT protections
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday that it is shifting its attitude toward gay people.
The Mormon church will now support anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT people in housing and employment. However, the church also seeks legal protections for "believers who object to the behavior of others," The Associated Press reports. An example of these protections includes doctors who refuse artificial insemination for lesbian couples.
"We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values," church leaders said at a news conference on Tuesday. The church emphasized, though, that its doctrine still believes it is "against the law of God to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman," AP notes.
The announcement comes as Utah's legislature considers two bills, once of which would prohibit housing and employment discrimination against LGBT people, and one of which would protect individuals' rights to deny services based on religious beliefs.
Marco Rubio: Obama's war on terror is failing
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the latest Congressman to join in the criticism against President Obama's defense strategy.
In an op-ed he penned for Fox News, the likely GOP 2016 presidential candidate alleges that "the U.S. war against Islamic extremism has been put on hold by President Obama and his national security team."
Obama, Rubio points out, did not even make mention of al Qaeda during his State of the Union address. The recent terror attacks in Paris, he adds, "gave us a glimpse of what the future of terrorism looks like, and what the civilized world will have to defend against."
Lofty speeches and half measures do not defeat terrorist groups. They also do not keep Americans safe in the long term. The threat from Islamic extremism is only growing and without greater leadership from the United States, I fear that it will only be a matter of time before innocent Americans pay the ultimate price if we continue to underestimate our enemies and not develop a strategy that is commensurate to the threat. [Fox News]
Scott Walker inches closer to 2016 bid with launch of new political committee
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday announced the formation of a new political organization, a likely sign that he is moving closer toward a 2016 White House run.
Called "Our American Revival," the organization's aim is to "communicate a vision and work to enact policies that will lead to a more free and prosperous America by restoring power to the states," Walker said in a statement announcing the launch. Notably, the organization differs from those of other potential 2016 candidates in that it's a so-called "527" — named for a snippet of tax code — and not a leadership PAC; a Walker adviser told The Washington Post they opted against a PAC because those are best suited for fundraising, not messaging.
Walker earned high praise from conservatives after his appearance at last weekend's Freedom Summit in Iowa, but he remains largely unknown outside the beltway and polls near the bottom of early 2016 surveys.
Meteorologist apologizes as storm predictions didn't deliver
The old saying goes that it's better to be safe than sorry, but meteorologists in the Northeast who erred on the side of caution are now apologizing for overestimating the effects of latest blizzard.
Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, apologized on Twitter for the over-hyped predictions:
My deepest apologies to many key decision makers and so many members of the general public.
— Gary Szatkowski (@GarySzatkowski) January 27, 2015
You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn't. Once again, I'm sorry.
— Gary Szatkowski (@GarySzatkowski) January 27, 2015
While Massachusetts and some New England coastal towns experienced hazardous conditions with heavy snows and violent winds, cities like Philadelphia and New York have lifted their travel bans after the big storm failed to deliver.