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March 18, 2014

Ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in the early morning of March 8, there have been two basic theories to explain how the massive Boeing 777 with 239 people on board vanished: It crashed, or it was hijacked. Malaysia is now treating the lost flight as a criminal hijacking, and on late Monday U.S. officials bolstered that case, saying that the plane's initial turn off-course was programmed into the Flight Management System computer and was not the result of somebody manually steering the plane away from its Beijing destination.

Because the flight computer can only be programmed in the cockpit by somebody familiar with Boeing jets, it now seems unlikely that a passenger could have taken control of the jetliner. The new information, if true, doesn't do anything to illuminate why the pilots or a trained hijacker would have carefully veered the passenger jet off its planned course. If a hijacker or rogue pilot had wanted to crash the plane, there would be no point in turning off the communication and tracking devices and programming the flight computer — he would simply steer it into the ocean.

Chris Goodfellow, a veteran commercial pilot, plausibly hypothesizes that the captain piloted the plane off-course because of a fire in the cockpit or another major event onboard, and was headed to the closest large landing strip, at Palau Langkawi.

Instead of a nefarious hijacker, the pilot was likely "a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi," Goodfellow says. But the pilots were incapacitated before they got it there, and the plane "just continued on the heading probably on George (autopilot) until either fuel exhaustion or fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed," he adds. "Smart pilot. Just didn't have the time." That's not the most optimistic theory, since it assumes that everyone is dead, but it has the air of nobility and simplicity. And it makes as much sense as the other explanations out there. Peter Weber

10:10 a.m. ET
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

A study completed by the Women's Media Center (WMC) finds the Fox News website boasts the "best gender ratio" among its writers out of 20 major news outlets analyzed in the annual report. The WMC is led by feminist activists Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, and its goal is to ensure women's representation in the press is on par with their representation in the population at large.

The Fox site achieved near-perfect parity between male and female writers, the study found, with 50.1 percent of its bylines naming men and 49.9 percent going to women. On average in the online outlets the report considered, men receive 53.9 percent of bylines to women's 46.1 percent.

Other media sectors were much further from gender parity, with broadcast media exhibiting the greatest imbalance. "Overall, men report 74.8 percent of the broadcast news; women report 25.2 percent," the WMC reports. "The study also found that men produce most stories on sports, weather, and crime and justice. Women's bylines are largely on lifestyle, health, and education news." Bonnie Kristian

10:07 a.m. ET
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One Apple engineer is using his own ingenuity to help Santa Cruz's homeless population. Ron Powers spends his evenings and weekends driving around in his mobile laundromat, a van that he outfitted with two washers and two dryers, offering to do strangers' laundry for free. For many people on the streets, Powers' "Loads of Love" initiative is a blessing. Homeless individuals, he says, often throw away socks and other clothes when they get dirty because they can't afford to pay for laundry and buy food. "I want to restore dignity to people," says Powers. "I want to improve health." Christina Colizza

9:52 a.m. ET

On March 23, 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, extending health insurance to millions of Americans.

On March 23, 2017, the House Republican leadership — backed by President Trump — will vote on whether or not to dismantle it and enact the American Health Care Act in its place.

In commemorating the seventh anniversary of his signature health-care bill, Obama released a lengthy statement Thursday celebrating the law's successes. "Thanks to this law, more than 20 million Americans have gained the security and peace of mind of health insurance. Thanks to this law, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured — the highest rate in our history. Thanks to this law, the days when women could be charged more than men and Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage altogether are relics of the past," Obama wrote. "America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act."

The American Health Care Act, the bill House Republican leadership and the White House are hoping will pass the lower chamber Thursday, promises to undo much of the Affordable Care Act's institutional changes — though it has been criticized by some far-right Republicans for not going far enough in dismantling Obama's law. You can read Obama's full statement below. Kimberly Alters

9:51 a.m. ET
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"Everyone believes that artificial or prerecorded calls — 'robocalls,' as they're known — are awful," writes Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai in a new piece at The Hill. "They're intrusive. They're unwanted." And they also may be on their way out.

As Pai notes, the FCC on Thursday will vote on a proposal to allow phone companies greater leeway to block calls from numbers they have reason to believe are spammy or scammy. The proposal is supported by 33 major carriers and phone manufacturers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Apple, and Microsoft. It is expected to be approved.

While the "Do Not Call" list was supposed to help Americans avoid robocalls, in practice shady and fraudulent callers found workarounds that typically involved fooling caller ID technology. As a result, Pai notes, "American consumers received an estimated 29 billion [robocalls] in 2016. That's about 230 calls for every U.S. household." Bonnie Kristian

9:36 a.m. ET

Rewind seven years, and you will find yourself smack dab in the middle of … a gigantic health-care battle between Republicans and Democrats. But if that doesn't give you a case of déjà vu, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner's red-faced hollering about backroom deals and sweeteners in 2010 might — only in 2017, it's the Democrats who are crying foul about Republicans' sneaky tactics. What's more, Boehner's speech was delivered after a year of heath-care debates, whereas the House's vote today comes after just a month of deliberation.

"Look at how this bill was written," Boehner roared in March 2010. "Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell no you can't!"

Sound familiar? Soak up the uncomfortable irony below. Jeva Lange

8:54 a.m. ET
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The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a number of baseline "essential benefits," including hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, and mental health treatments. But on the brink of the health-care vote in the House, a group of Republicans are aiming to repeal ObamaCare's minimum requirements. As the argument goes, Americans shouldn't have to pay for benefits they aren't using; a 60-year-old-man, for example, shouldn't have to pay for maternity care.

But as The New York Times reports, the lack of a baseline could lead to fraud and a looser interpretation of what "insurance" means. At a certain point, policies could even cover "aromatherapy and not chemotherapy."

The Republicans' plan proposes that Americans who are buying their own insurance receive money from the government. But "if the essential health benefits go away, insurance companies would be allowed to sell health plans that don't cover, say, hospital care. Federal money would help buy these plans," The New York Times writes. Here's more:

Mark Pauly, a professor of health-care management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who tends to favor market solutions in health care, said that while the ObamaCare rules are "paternalistic," it would be problematic to offer subsidies without standards. "If they're going to offer a tax credit for people who are buying insurance, well, what is insurance?" he said, noting that you might end up with the government paying for plans that covered aromatherapy but not hospital care. "You have to specify what's included."

A proliferation of $1,995 plans that covered mostly aromatherapy could end up costing the federal government a lot more money than the current GOP plan, since far more people would take advantage of tax credits to buy cheap products, even if they weren't very valuable. [The New York Times]

Read more about the potential consequences of losing essential benefits at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

8:26 a.m. ET
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President Trump defended a number of his baseless claims in a head-turning interview with Time magazine published Thursday morning. When pushed by reporter Michael Scherer about sharing conspiracies that he couldn't verify as true, Trump became defensive: "I know you are going to write a bad article because you always do," he said.

After touting his ability to have predicted Brexit and reiterating his false claim that three million people voted illegally in the election, Trump explained, "I inherited a mess in so many ways," but added, "Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can't be doing so badly, because I'm president, and you're not. You know."

Read the full transcript at Time, and 10 of Trump's boasts about his ability to predict the future here. Jeva Lange

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