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

4:58 p.m. ET

Two earthquakes shook central Italy on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed. The first quake measured at a 5.4 magnitude and was followed up just a few hours later with a stronger, 6.0-magnitude earthquake. Though the quakes' epicenters were near the cities of Visso and Perugia, buildings and windows in Rome — nearly 100 miles to the south — were reportedly rattled by the shaking.

The central Italian regions hit by the quake are reportedly suffering from power outages and structural damage, but there are not yet any known injuries or casualties. The tremors hit the same area of Italy that was shaken in August by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake, which ravaged towns and killed nearly 300 people. Becca Stanek

4:54 p.m. ET

Muskets went out of fashion in the mid-19th century, when the smoothbore weapons gave way to the muzzle-loading rifle. But former Rep. Joe Walsh, who represented Illinois' 8th district as a Republican congressman from 2011 to 2013, plans to arm himself with the erstwhile firearm for the inevitable insurrection, should Donald Trump lose to Hillary Clinton in November:

If you're not swayed by Walsh's call to arms, perhaps you'd like to go to battle with Jake Tapper instead? Kimberly Alters

3:54 p.m. ET

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo started his interview with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday's episode of New Day by him telling he "looked like Grumpy Cat" at the Alfred E. Smith charity dinner last week — and things just got more tense from there. Giuliani, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, promptly responded to Cuomo's observations that he looked upset about the jokes Hillary Clinton was making about him at the Al Smith dinner by saying that, as a former prosecutor, he was just unhappy because the "crimes she committed are so many."

But for each claim Giuliani made about the crimes Clinton had allegedly committed, Cuomo came back with a fact that disputed it. "You certainly can have your own opinion, but you seems like you are feeding the Trump argument that [the FBI investigation into Clinton's private email server] was fixed, that it was rigged," Cuomo said.

When Giuliani was eventually cornered into admitting he has "no facts to prove" Trump's claims that the investigation of Clinton's email usage was rigged, he accused Team Clinton of bribery instead — at which point Cuomo couldn't hide his disbelief. "I mean, Rudy! I have looked up to you my entire life because you're so accurate," Cuomo said. "And all of a sudden you're in Trumpland, and the facts are all over the place."

Eventually, Cuomo tells Giuliani, "You're not even close to connecting anything right now." Watch the entirety of the contentious interview in the two videos, below. Becca Stanek

2:50 p.m. ET

The Chicago Cubs lost in a brutal 6-0 game against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. But if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you might point out that a Cubs-in-five World Series is now a little bit closer to actually happening. If it were indeed to happen — be it in five or six or seven games — then the Cubs would have their first World Series win since a goat allegedly cursed them in 1945.

Incidentally, another "goat" has used a Cubs World Series win as an example of the impossible since he wrote the song "Cubs in Five" in 1995. Enter Mountain Goat's singer (and novelist) John Darnielle, who explained how he came to write the song, and what it means to him now, over at Slate:

[1995 is] a good time for baseball — there's a whole lot of characters and great stories, and the arrival of the superstations to the Southern California cable market means I can watch all the Cubs games I want. They're not good yet, but they have character. I'm at my mom's house watching a game while she's at work. Specifically, I'm on the couch strumming my cheap Korean nylon-strung 3/4–size guitar, and at some point, I reflect idly on an on-again, off-again relationship I've been having for the last several years that's given me a great deal of pleasure and at least as much pain. […]

"Why don't you love me like you used to do?" ran a song on the outgoing answering machine of the person to whom the song was anonymously directed, at whom I was very angry on that day (for reasons lost to history), but with whom I could never stay angry for long, because that's how it is when you're a fan: You keep cheering, even when the circumstances might tell a less devoted partisan to seek out fairer pastures. You play nine innings. You keep hoping. [Slate]

Here's to hoping. Read the entire essay at Slate. Jeva Lange

2:27 p.m. ET
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Coming off a crushing 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the World Series on Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs are hoping to make up their deficit at Progressive Field in Ohio in Game 2 of the best-of-seven championship.

The Indians have flip-flopped their odds of winning the trophy, now up 55 percent to the Cubs' 45 percent. according to FiveThirtyEight, and will put Trevor Bauer back on the mound in the hopes of keeping their advantage. It will be Bauer's first appearance since a one-inning start against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, which ended bloodily when stitches on his pinkie finger came loose.

The Cubs will be starting 2015 National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, who is looking to pull out of a slump by capitalizing on his cutter/slider hybrid. First pitch is at 7 p.m. ET — moved up from 8 p.m. due to incoming rain — on Fox, or you can stream the action on Fox Sport Go and Jeva Lange

1:39 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that he has ordered the Pentagon to "suspend all efforts" to recollect bonus payments given to California National Guard members. Recently, thousands of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were informed they would have to repay their reenlistment bonuses — some of which totaled $15,000 — because the money had been given to them in error.

Though the recollection of the money — which was requested after audits revealed recruiters "improperly offered bonuses" — is legal, the process of getting back the cash payments has proved messy and sparked widespread criticism, The Associated Press reported. "While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not," Carter said in a statement.

Carter noted there is already a process in place that can help service members "seek relief" from repaying their bonuses, but the process "has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members." Carter has proposed a new, "streamlined" system be put in place by Jan. 1, 2017, so that soldiers will bear "as little burden as possible" while ensuring the Defense Department's "obligation to the taxpayer" will be respected. He also insisted the suspension on recollection will remain in place until he is "satisfied that our process is working effectively."

The announcement came a day after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) urged the Pentagon to stop taking back the bonuses. Ryan argued that when the service members enlisted, "they earned more from us than bureaucratic bungling and false promises." Becca Stanek

1:37 p.m. ET

After a dismal start with young voters, Hillary Clinton seems to have finally won them over. A new poll by the Harvard University Institute of Politics released Wednesday shows Clinton leading Donald Trump by 28 points with voters between the ages of 18 and 29, with 49 percent support to his 21 percent. That winning margin puts Clinton ahead of where President Obama polled with millennials at this stage of the 2012 election; Obama, who was historically popular with younger voters, led Republican nominee Mitt Romney by 19 points two weeks ahead of Election Day 2012.

"After eight years of a complicated relationship with millennials, in the closing days of the campaign, Hillary Clinton is closing strong," said John Della Volpe, the institute's polling director. "Her favorability with 18- to 29-year-old likely voters is up significantly since the summer, and the combination of her strong debate performances, and failure [of] both Trump and the third-party candidates to expand their bases, gives her a lead of 28 points."

Clinton is now 22 points ahead of where she was in a poll Harvard took in July among young voters, and her favorability rating has similarly soared. Clinton is now viewed favorably by 48 percent of young voters, compared to the just 22 percent who view Trump favorably.

Harvard's poll was conducted online from Oct. 7-17 among 2,150 U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Becca Stanek

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