Clem’s Chronicles: Commuter Crash Hearing/Iraq Shooting Follow/Texas Fight Club

By Clem Lane

May 12, 2009 10:10pm

Howdy-here’s our Nightly Editorial Note……

COLGAN AIR COMMUTER CRASH-NTSB hearings started today on the Colgan Air Commuter Crash. Here’s hoping the crew’s actions are not indicative of an industry-wide pattern. Lisa Stark, reporting on WORLD NEWS, said “In the minutes before the crash, when the crew should have been focused on landing, they violated FAA rules by chatting about their jobs, the first officer’s stuffy nose and the icy conditions.” Unfortunately, as Stark notes, “ice wasn’t the real problem. What the crew failed to notice…the plane was losing speed fast.” Compounding that fact-the pilot’s subsequent actions. Stark: “in the cockpit the pilot’s controls started to shake, a warning the plane was losing lift and about to stall. Captain Renslow increased engine power then inexplicably pulled up the plane’s nose, the opposite of what he should have done.” ABC NEWS Aviation Consultant John Nance told Charlie Gibson: “It is absolutely aerodynamics 101. You immediately push the power forward and push the airplane forward. The fact that he didn’t speaks confusion.” Stark also reported that “Investigators revealed Captain Renslow lied on his application to Colgan Air about failing three flight tests. The airline could have accessed those earlier records, but only with Renslow’s permission.” Charles Gibson asked John Nance the questions most people probably have: “are these small regional airlines in any way less safe? Are the planes less safe? The crews less competent?” Nance says no problem with the planes-“we have wonderful equipment compared to 10 or 20 years ago. “ While saying that he didn’t think the crews were less safe, Nance added “but there is a potential for slippage in any aspect of aviation. These folks tend to be younger in starting out and the level to which they are checked and watched…this is a training…and it’s an FAA issue.”
 
IRAQ/CAMP LIBERTY SHOOTING-We learned a little bit more about Sgt. John Michael Russell today and the events leading up to yesterday’s tragic shooting. Russell was charged today with the murder of five US soldiers. Martha Raddatz reports that Russell “had just six weeks left in his third deployment to Iraq. Russell’s father said his son had gotten into a dispute with two superior officers in April and immediately told his wife he was having the worst day of his life. Russell was then taken against his will for treatment at the combat stress center.” Russell’s father Wilburn was quoted in Raddatz’ WORLD NEWS piece saying “when the military turned against him, he didn’t have any recourse…I guess he just broke…he didn’t know how to ask for help.” Russell’s weapon was confiscated last week but Raddatz says that “yesterday he beat up a fellow soldier and stole his weapon, returning to the stress center on a deadly rampage. Military police called the center to warn the staff…but it was too late. They could hear gunshots over the phone.”

TEXAS FIGHT CLUB-How low can people go? Brian Ross has a disturbing look at just how inhuman human beings can be. The setting is a Texas state school for the mentally disabled in Corpus Christi. Ross: “The state employees who controlled (the residents) lives on the night shift would wake them and force them to fight one another. A fight club, all recorded on cell phone videos by the staff for their apparent amusement as they called out the blow-by-blow like ring announcers.” Why would residents fight? Ross: “Residents were told they would be sent to prison, or be beaten, if they did not fight. “ Ending this nightmare? A fluke. Ross again: “The fight club came to an end only because one of the staff lost his phone two months ago and it was turned into police who then discovered the videos.”  As for the state of Texas, officials apparently were warned that budget cuts enacted five years ago were causing problems at the 13 state facilities for the mentally disabled.  Ross notes that “a federal civil rights investigation released in December found a pervasive pattern of abuse with some 800 employees suspended or fired for abusing residents since 2004. “

VISITING THE HOLY LAND:  Pope Benedict XVI removed his red shoes in the Muslim tradition as he entered the Dome of the Rock,  Jerusalem’s most sacred Muslim shrine.  There he met with the Grand Mufti, the Palestinians’ most senior Muslim cleric, and delivered a message of peace.  An hour later, the Pope was at the Western Wall, the holiest of Jewish sites, in Jerusalem’s Old City, where he honored Jewish practice by placing a written prayer in a crevice in the wall.  But despite his best efforts, Simon McGregor-Wood explains:  “The Pope is finding it hard to separate religion and politics – and his audiences are proving tough – not everyone is pleased to see him here. He came with baggage – the Pope still hasn’t apologized for his 2006 speech which offended Muslims – and letting a Holocaust denying Bishop back into the Church offended Jews.” Tomorrow, the Pope will be in Bethlehem for a Mass in Manger Square and a visit to the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity.  Then he’ll give a speech at a Palestinian refugee camp followed by a courtesy call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (thanks to Ed Bailey for this entry)

SHUTTLE/HUBBLE TELESCOPE-Scratches on people usually aren’t serious. For space shuttles it’s potentially a different story. The shuttle Atlantis sustained a 21-inch scratch during launch. Thankfully, the scratch is not deep and NASA told the shuttle astronauts a short while ago that no further inspection of the damage is needed. Gina Sunseri reports that it’s “too early to know if the damage on Atlantis is a threat. The preliminary indication is NO.” The crew doesn’t need anything additional to worry about-the mission to the Hubble is serious enough, with thousands of pieces of “space junk” making things unpredictable. Gina Sunseri/Ned Potter and Ki Mae Heussner explained this in a posting to ABC NEWS.COM earlier today: “Not only could debris hit the orbiter during launch, which was what happened to Columbia, micro-meteorites could imperil the shuttle while the astronauts fix Hubble. Hubble orbits about 350 miles above Earth, in an area with a higher density of debris. Two satellites collided over Siberia earlier this year, which has increased the risk even more, as junk from that collision drifts lower. As soon as Atlantis fixes Hubble, and releases it back into orbit, it will immediately maneuver to a lower altitude to reduce the chances of getting hit by space junk. The most dramatic step NASA has taken to reduce risk is the preparation of a full-scale rescue mission. In the event that Atlantis sustains damages the crew cannot repair, a second space shuttle, Endeavor, is standing by on another launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to rescue crew members. STS 400 can be ready in three days if a rescue is necessary.” 

SOCIAL SECURITY/MEDICARE-It seems this darn recession we’re experiencing is going to be hurting us all well after it’s over. Matt Jaffe: “The forecasts for Social Security and Medicare trust funds have worsened this past year, suffering under the weight of the country’s current recession. Two new government reports released today by the programs’ trustees revealed that the Social Security trust fund will run out by 2037, four years earlier than last year’s report had predicted. The Medicare hospital trust fund will be insolvent by 2017, two years earlier than the trustees projected last year.”

FREDDIE MAC/PLEASE SIR I WANT SOME MORE- Freddie Mac would like some more government money. $6.1 billion to be exact. The mortgage giant released its’ first quarter earnings and pretty they weren’t. The company, seized by federal regulators in September, posted a loss of $9.9 billion, or $3.14 per share, for the quarter ending March 31. That compared with a loss of $149 million, or 66 cents a share, in the year-ago period. The results were driven by $8.8 billion in credit losses due to soaring delinquency rates and falling home prices, and $7.1 billion in writedowns of the value of its mortgage-backed securities. More than $63 billion of Freddie Mac’s loans were either 90 days overdue or in foreclosure at the end of March, nearly triple year-ago levels. The request for federal aid is Freddie Mac’s third since the takeover, for a total of about $51 billion. Sibling company Fannie Mae last week requested $19 billion in additional government aid, bringing the total for both companies up to $85 billion out of a potential $400 billion government lifeline.

GENERAL MCCHRYSTAL/REVIEW HIS RECORD SAY TILLMAN PARENTS-Lt. General Stanley McChrystal has been tapped by the Obama Administration to run the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. Count Pat Tillman’s parents among those not impressed by the appointment. Tillman’s parents want the Senate to look into McChrystal’s role in the mischaracterization of NFL star Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire.  In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Pat Tillman Sr. accused Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of helping falsify the homicide investigation. Separately, Mary Tillman called it "imperative" that McChrystal’s record be carefully considered before he is confirmed. Pat Tillman was an Army Ranger when he was killed in a friendly fire shooting in Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal approved paperwork awarding Tillman the Silver Star and reporting that he had died by enemy fire. Pentagon testimony later showed that the general suspected even then that Tillman had died by fratricide. Martha Raddatz weighs in: “This is an interesting issue……but not likely to do him in.   The Pentagon IG’s investigation recommended that "the Secretary of the Army take appropriate corrective action with respect to the officials whom we identified as accountable for the regulatory violation and errors in judgment described in this review." There were several  general officers named…one was already retired, but censured and dropped rank, two others were given a "memo of concern." And McChrystal?  Nothing. The Secretary of the Army did not agree with the recommendations.  McChrystal later got a third star…which has to get congressional approval. “ (thanks to Faisal Jamil for flagging this story)

OTHER STUFF
CHEERIOS AND HEALTH CLAIMS—The Food and Drug Administration has issues with Cheerios. The Food and Drug Administration says in a warning letter to General Mills that language on the Cheerios box suggests the cereal is designed to prevent or treat heart disease. Regulators say that only FDA-approved drugs are allowed to make such claims. Among other claims, the labeling states: "you can lower your cholesterol 4 percent in six weeks." General Mills said the health claims on Cheerios have been approved for 12 years and the FDA’s complaints deal with how the language appears on the box. The company said in a statement that the science was not in question. (AP)
MISS CALIFORNIA KEEPS HER CROWN—Relax everybody. She’s going to be fine. Miss California USA gets to keep her crown. The owner of the Miss USA Pageant, Donald Trump, says Carrie Prejean can keep the title despite controversies over semi-nude photographs and her association with a conservative advocacy group for marriage.

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