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The Deep Roots of Southwest Airlines’s Winter-Weather Meltdown

The carrier’s holiday-season omnishambles can't be completely attributed to the snow.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images
Southwest Airlines has canceled thousands of flights due to a variety of issues including this year’s historic winter storm and scheduling complications involving crew members.

The massive winter storm that battered the country over the weekend hasn’t just snowed under half of the United States. The airline industry is also on ice: Thousands of flights have been canceled, and although air travel is slowly returning to normal, one carrier in particular—Southwest Airlines—is struggling hard to unmuddle itself.

Southwest canceled 63 percent of its scheduled Tuesday flights and has already canceled 62 percent of its flights for the following day, according to flight tracker FlightAware. Reports abound of hours-long waits in customer service lines, people sleeping in airports waiting to get rerouted, and suitcases piling up at the airline’s desks.

But these recent snafus can’t be entirely pinned on the inclement weather—it’s the absolutely shambolic state of Southwest’s inner workings that are actually to blame. Many airlines lacked sufficient staff for the holiday weekend, but Southwest also hurt itself by not blocking out enough turnaround time between flights, a FlightAware spokesperson explained to CNN.

The president of the Southwest flight attendants’ union also told CNN that they have not been able to get in touch with their bosses at the airline. Both Southwest’s manpower and internal communication issues are partly due to its outdated crew scheduling system, according to a member of the flight crew on a British Airways plane, who goes by the Twitter name @JustAnother_Ben.

An aviation watchdog that goes by the Twitter handle @JonNYC shared an internal memo from Southwest’s vice president of ground operations Chris Johnson. In the memo, Johnson declared a state of operational emergency at the Denver International Airport and said employees would be fired for calling in sick without a doctor’s note, requesting personal time off, or refusing to work now-mandatory overtime.

The president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Casey Murray, told CNN that these problems have been going on for nearly two years. Winter Storm Elliot appears to be merely the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

“These sorts of meltdowns occur on a much more regular basis and it really just has to do with outdated processes and outdated IT,” Murray said. “It’s phones, it’s computers, it’s processing power, it’s the programs used to connect us to airplanes—that’s where the problem lies, and it’s systemic throughout the whole airline.”

Air Disasters

Four Washington Power Substations Attacked, Knocking Out Power for 14,000+

These most recent incidents are part of an alarming nationwide trend.

Peter Zay/Getty Images
Tens of thousands were left without power in North Carolina earlier this month after power station were targeted with attacks.

Four power substations in the state of Washington were attacked on Sunday, knocking out power for more than 14,000 customers. The Christmas Day station attackers damaged equipment at each station and set a fire at one.

These most recent attacks join an alarming trend of vandals, trespassers, and domestic terrorists who have targeted power substations across the country. From North Carolina and Oregon, Washington to Florida, intruders have disabled equipment and even struck stations with gunfire. Tens of thousands have lost power as a result; North Carolina residents were recently without power for four days.

Attacks on the power grid are not unheard of—but they’re soaring compared to previous years. Documents obtained by Politico showed that “the past three years have been the most active for reported attacks on the grid in the past decade,” with “101 reported this year through the end of August” after a previous peak of 97 attacks for the entire year of 2021.

There have been numerous warnings, but stakeholders just don’t seem prepared for the onslaught. Nearly a year ago, The Daily Beast obtained a DHS intelligence report that warned of extremist groups identifying the “electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors.” And CNN recently obtained a 14-page document circulating on Telegram that included a white supremacist instruction guide for how to conduct low-technology attacks that foment chaos, including attacking a power grid with firearms.

“When the lights don’t come back on … all hell will break lose [sic], making conditions desirable for our race to once again take back what is ours,” the document reads.

In February, three men pleaded guilty of plotting to attack substations with firearms. The trio were alleged white supremacists who had for years strategized how to incite civil unrest, hoping to touch off a potential race war, and the second Great Depression.

Such attacks are disturbing in their own right. But the broader context behind the ideological underpinnings of the attackers only causes more concern. The January 6 Capitol Riot demonstrated the extent to which right-wing radicalization has deepened the resolve of fringe actors to attack the institutions that keep this country running. And in terms of pure mayhem, the attacks on power substations are arguably a lower risk-for-higher reward pursuit compared to mounting an attack on the U.S. Capitol: Literally fatal power outages from New York to Tennessee reveal how keenly vulnerable our country’s infrastructure—and citizens—are to power mishaps.

Politicians gleefully throw support behind brutally reckless over-policing; perhaps they could consider still satisfying their itch for vigilance by at least shifting their focus to protecting our crucial power infrastructure from those who’ve clearly been targeting it in increasing numbers.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Is Facing Her First Big Purity Test

The belle of the fringe-right ball is increasingly facing friendly fire since throwing in her lot with House Speaker–wannabe Kevin McCarthy.

Tom Williams/Getty Images

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is under fire again, but this time it’s coming from her former far-right allies in Congress.

At issue is Greene’s vocal support for Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House, which has already put her in the crosshairs of many far-right pundits. Now, her colleagues think she’s gone too far, as well.

In an essay published last Wednesday in The Daily Caller, Greene accused a group of lawmakers who have dubbed themselves the “Never Kevin Five” of lying to voters when they claim that there will be a viable alternative candidate who can successfully challenge McCarthy for the Speaker’s gavel. “Lying to the base is a red line for me,” Greene wrote.

Never Kevin-er Andy Biggs fired back a few days later. “She’s kind of crossed the Rubicon there. She’s calling us liars and saying we’re misleading,” he said on Lindell TV. (Apparently, neither of these two avid conspiracy theorists and election deniers sees the irony here.)

McCarthy, still a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, has made no secret of his desire to be speaker. He has already unveiled a host of plans for when he and his party take control of the House of Representatives, including impeaching various cabinet members, investigating Hunter Biden, scaling back aid for Ukraine, and attacking LGBTQ people’s rights.

But he faces serious opposition, and not just from the “Never Kevin Five,” which consists of Biggs, Bob Good, Matt Rosendale, Ralph Norman, and Matt Gaetz. Don Bacon, who is a more centrist Republican, has indicated he’s willing to work with Democrats to elect a more moderate speaker.

Greene has urged her colleagues to unite behind McCarthy, but her alliance with the California representative does not appear to be going well for her.

The feud with Biggs is only the latest public beef she’s had with a former ally. Greene and Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert—who previously were big on MAGA women supporting MAGA women—have locked horns over both Greene’s support for McCarthy and her penchant for wild conspiracy theories.

Again, yes, the irony is lost upon all of the parties involved.

Elon Musk Can’t Stop Lying to Tesla Investors

Tesla’s stock is in a free fall, and the Chief Twit is not doing much to arrest the downward trajectory.

Carina Johansen/Getty Images

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter, Tesla’s stock value has been cut in half. Musk’s reckless behavior—from reinstating far-right radicals and banning journalists, to haphazardly laying off workers, posting Nazi pictures, encouraging people to vote Republican, and alienating advertisers galore—has played a large role in the dramatic free fall.

And it’s not like Twitter is the only firm that’s been inundated by Muskian chaos. Tesla has been embroiled in numerous legal and PR issues related to rampant sexual harassment and racism in factories, to the company’s “self-driving” cars’ apparent propensity to spontaneously combust or run into pedestrians. It’s no surprise that investor confidence would be at an all-time low now that Musk’s attention has been split between the two troubled companies.

Musk himself has a dwindling commitment to the company he took over in 2008. He has sold nearly $40 billion worth of Tesla stock in a little over a year, mostly to maintain Twitter’s viability.

Naturally, this has all been to the detriment of those who still hold stock in Tesla. But in his attempts to massage those concerns, Musk has, in effect, been continually lying to investors, which in turn has only given these benefactors even more fodder to distrust Musk and flee the company.

Musk sold around $8.5 billion in stock in late April, pledging on April 29 “no further TSLA sales planned after today.” It was a pledge he couldn’t keep: On August 10, he sold another almost $7 billion. Once again he promised he was done selling, and once again, he reneged on that promise: On November 8, he sold some $4 billion; he cashed out another $3.6 billion on December 14.

In a Twitter spaces conversation on December 22, Musk pledged once again to stop the sell-off. “I won’t sell stock until, I don’t know, probably two years from now,” he said. “Definitely not next year under any circumstances and probably not the year thereafter.”

That someone as mercurial as Musk can be trusted to keep a commitment spanning the next two years is hard to believe, given his propensity for breaking promises—something that’s ticked up to a weekly basis since he acquired Twitter.

Now, the share value of the venture that enabled Musk to burnish his reputation as a prodigal tech genius is falling, with no end in sight, all at the expense of the Twitter acquisition—a pursuit largely driven by Musk’s hunger for attention, and his yearning to feel funny or well-liked.

If he’s just in it for the comedy, Musk can rest well knowing that many are surely reveling in the laughable absurdity of it all. Meanwhile, those most invested in Musk’s success—investors themselves—are perhaps reckoning with the idea that the best time to divest from Musk was probably yesterday. And that the next best time would be right now.

Unfortunately More on Elon

Who Said It: Donald Trump or Norma Desmond?

They’re both increasingly isolated and adrift from their glory days, but only one is a former president.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Gloria Swanson appears as Norma Desmond in the final scene of Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard."

Over the holiday, New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi produced a compulsively readable dispatch on the nascent presidential campaign of Donald Trump, who has been largely holed up at Mar-a-Lago since leaving office. It’s a detail-rich endeavor, but one particular factoid jumped out: Trump apparently is a massive fan of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, in which Gloria Swanson cemented her icon status playing the role of Norma Desmond: a silent film–era superstar driven to near madness by her own keen sense of faded glory, and whose ill-fated comeback attempt ends in tragedy. 

A little too on-the-nose, you say? Maybe a lot on-the-nose. See if you can parse the fact from fiction: Which of the following quotes are from Sunset Boulevard, and which are from Nuzzi’s article? (Answers at the end.) 

  1. “I did nothing wrong...I’ve done nothing wrong.”
  2. “You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!” 
  3.  “You know, these people forget.” 
  4. “We always have known that this was not the end.”
  5.  “We don’t need two cars, we have a car. Not one of those cheap new things made of chromium and spit, an Isotta-Fraschini. Have you ever heard of Isotta-Fraschini? All handmade. Cost me $28,000.” 
  6. “I think I’ve always been relevant. Like, I’ve been relevant from a very young age.”
  7.  “And who’ve we got now? Some nobodies!” 
  8. “I’m seeing people all the time. I have a lot of people. I’m not isolated.”
  9. “I believe I am overly generous, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But sometimes it can make life a little bit more difficult.”
  10.  “That’s a lie! They still want me!” 
  11.  “You know, this floor used to be wood. But I had it changed.” 
  12.  “I’ll show them! I’ll be up there again, so help me!” 
  13. “I don’t need anybody’s advice! I don’t need any advice!”

ANSWERS: Desmond said 2, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12. Trump said 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13. 

George Santos Spent the Holiday Doing Damage Control

The beleaguered New York politician has been backpedaling and making strained excuses for the numerous fabrications in his back story.

Alejandra Villa Loarca/Getty Images
New York Representative-elect George Santos

Representative-elect and apparent serial fabulist George Santos is back in the news, and he comes bearing even worse explanations than ever for the many noteworthy discrepancies in his biography.

The scandal-ridden New York Republican has recently endeavored to address allegations that he fabricated the bulk of his professional and academic resume, as well as details about his Jewish heritage.

Santos admitted Monday night that he had exaggerated his resume. “If I disappointed anyone by my résumé embellishment, I’m sorry,” he said in an interview with New York’s WABC radio.

But “a lot of people overstate in their résumés,” he explained, adding he still plans to take office.

While people may fluff their resumes from time to time, very few claim to have attended two different colleges or worked at major Wall Street firms knowing that no such documentation confirming these assertions exist, nor do they brag about founding a charity that was never registered with the IRS, or running an alleged multimillion-dollar company with no reported clients, website, or even a LinkedIn page.

Santos has also yet to explain how he went from reporting having no assets or earned income in 2020 to declaring he was worth millions in 2022.

But there are concerns beyond the fabrications on his CV. The right-winger has also said he is Jewish through his mother’s family, and has attended several Republican Jewish events. On this point, Santos has begun to backtrack after reports from Jewish Insider and the Forward showed his family has no Jewish heritage whatsoever.

His explanation is, to put it charitably, thin. “I’m Catholic, but I’m also ‘Jew-ish,’” he told City & State NY in an absolutely cringeworthy pun. “It strikes me as so odd that people are rushing to disinherit me … in a time and era where antisemitism is at [an] all-time rise.”

Democrats including Ted Lieu, Joaquin Castro, and Eric Swalwell have all demanded that Santos resign. Republicans, however, have remained silent, likely because they will need every vote they can get when they take control of the House, where the margins are razor-thin.

It’s unclear what will happen to Santos next, and it’s hard to say what, if any, repercussions he will face when he does take office. One thing, however, is clear: The New York Democratic Party failed to do basic research in him, and its stinging losses in the November midterms are growing more humiliating by the day.

Three Key Provisions in the Huge Spending Bill the Senate Just Passed

The package is more than 4,000 pages long. Here are a few highlights.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gives a thumbs-up after the Senate passed the bill on Thursday.

The Senate passed a massive spending bill on Thursday, funding the government through September 2023. The $1.7 trillion package, which passed 68–29, must now pass the House of Representatives and then be signed into law by President Joe Biden. Congress is under a major time crunch to get it done, with the 2022 budget expiring Friday and the winter holiday weekend looming.

Although the bill left out several popular provisions, here are three major measures it does include.

1. Aid for Ukraine

The bill includes $45 billion in humanitarian, economic, and security aid for Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s nearly yearlong invasion. The funds will help arm and equip Ukrainian forces, as well as support an increase of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe and the defense capabilities of NATO allies. The money will also help replenish Defense Department weapons stockpiles, which are being used to supply Kyiv’s military.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Washington on Wednesday, his first trip overseas since the war began, and called Congress to pass the aid provision for his country. He urged lawmakers to see the funds not as “charity” but as “an investment in … global security and democracy.”

The provision also comes a day after Biden formally announced an additional $1.8 billion in aid to Ukraine, including a Patriot missile system.

2. Increased protections for pregnant workers

The package includes two bills aimed at increasing protections for pregnant and nursing people in the workplace, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide accommodations for pregnant workers, such as more frequent bathroom breaks, the option to sit down during shifts, and permission to carry a water bottle around.

The PUMP Act requires workers be given the extra break time necessary to pump breast milk.

Advocates hailed the two measures, having argued that thousands of people lose their jobs each year because of the lack of accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding employees.

3. Safeguards against another January 6

The package includes two provisions that will help prevent another attack like the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act reaffirms that the vice president has a purely ceremonial role in certifying the Electoral College votes and cannot overturn the election results, as President Trump urged Vice President Pence to do.

The bill, which has bipartisan support in both chambers, also raises the minimum number of lawmakers required for an objection to the results to move forward.

The second provision increases U.S. attorneys’ budget by $212.1 million for a total of $2.63 billion in 2023. The House Appropriations Committee explained the funds were necessary “to further support prosecutions related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism cases.”

The FBI has arrested about 900 people connected to the insurrection but could charge a total of about 3,000 people when all is said and done.

Kyrsten Sinema’s Bonkers, Possibly Unethical List of Demands for Staffers

They allegedly have to buy her groceries and always have a room-temperature bottle of water at the ready.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema

As if being a Capitol Hill staffer wasn’t notoriously thankless enough, those who work in Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office must abide by an over-the-top list of dos and don’ts, The Daily Beast reported Thursday.

Sinema is already deeply unpopular both in Washington and at home in Arizona. Her recent decision to switch her party affiliation to independent from Democrat has further ruffled feathers on the Hill. The Beast’s report is unlikely to do her any more favors.

Citing a 37-page internal memo and anonymous former staffers, The Beast wrote that Sinema’s exacting demands “appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over.” Aides allegedly are required to buy Sinema’s groceries (don’t worry, she pays them back) and be on hand at her apartment to let maintenance workers inside. If true, those tasks are direct violations of Senate ethics rules, which state that staff are not supposed to perform “personal or other non-official activities” on behalf of their bosses.

Aides also are allegedly required always to have a bottle of room-temperature water handy for the senator, who is apparently always hungry and thirsty because of her intensive athletic regimen. That regimen seems to take up the bulk of her time: The memo shows Sinema trains every day and is unreachable during that time. Races are scheduled into her calendar, and she requires an hour-long massage and two 45-minute physical therapy sessions each week. Actual senatorial duties, such as meeting with constituents, lobbyists, or donors, are confined to specific time blocks each week, and never after work hours.

Sinema’s office has denied the memo, which is several years old.

Since coming to Capitol Hill, Sinema has undergone an ideological 180-degree turn, seemingly jettisoning the progressive beliefs she previously espoused. She is notoriously private, rarely answering journalists’ questions. After she announced she was switching parties, the Arizona state Democratic Party accused her of failing to stand up for her constituents in key areas such as voting rights and holding major corporations accountable.

Who Is Sean McElwee, the Progressive Buddy of Sam Bankman-Fried?

The “Abolish ICE” activist and founder of Data for Progress allegedly helped steer donations for the FTX head toward pro-crypto candidates.

Sean McElwee
Video screenshot/NowThisNews

By now, we’ve all heard of Sam Bankman-Fried, the erstwhile head of failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX who faces charges of fraud, money laundering, and illegal political campaign contributions. But who is Sean McElwee, his equally scandal-ridden adviser and ally?

McElwee, a former TNR contributor, was once hailed as a progressive wunderkind. He started the viral “Abolish ICE” movement on Twitter and in 2018 founded the progressive think tank Data for Progress, which focused on influencing public policy through polling data.

His personal influence grew rapidly, as well. McElwee regularly hosted parties in New York and Washington that were attended by younger politicos as well as established lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. President Biden’s administration began working regularly with Data for Progress.

Over the past couple years, McElwee and Bankman-Fried grew close. Bankman-Fried set up a super PAC aimed at supporting Democrats who focused on pandemic preparedness, and he hired Data for Progress to do polling.

But in reality, New York magazine reported on Thursday, many of the Democrats Bankman-Fried backed were pro-crypto. “This was not just about directing donations to candidates,” Max Berger, a progressive strategist and former McElwee ally, told the magazine. “This was about Sean running a political strategy designed to shield crypto from government oversight so that crypto billionaires could continue to rip off working people.”

Around the time of FTX’s collapse in November, McElwee suddenly began negotiating his exit from Data for Progress. The think tank’s advisory board reportedly pushed him out over allegations that he was betting on election outcomes, raising questions about a conflict of interest with the group’s polling—“whether McElwee was cooking DFP’s polls to affect races and cash in,” as Politico put it.

A month later, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed eight counts against Bankman-Fried. Seven were for financial crimes, but the eighth accused him of a straw-donor scheme, meaning he got other people to donate his money to candidates and committees of his choice. “In the race to figure out who might have helped SBF make straw donations, McElwee’s name was at the top of the list,” Politico reported, adding that one Data for Progress employee, the lead analyst, “made nearly $31,000 in donations, which a source at DFP said was more than a quarter of his salary.”

Zelenskiy Calls Russia What Washington Won’t: A “Terrorist” State

The Ukrainian president made a point of repeating the word at the White House and in a speech to Congress.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a choice word for Russia and its invasion of his country: “terrorist.”

In his first trip overseas since the war began in February, Zelenskiy visited Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Joe Biden and address a joint meeting of Congress. During that speech, and in a joint press conference with Biden, he repeatedly referred to Russia’s actions as terrorism.

Zelenskiy hailed the announcement of a new aid package for Ukraine, including a Patriot missile system. “This is a very important step to create secure airspace for Ukraine,” he said at the White House press conference. “That’s the only way we [will] be able to deprive the terrorist country and their terror attack to strike our energy sector and our infrastructure.”

“There can’t be any just peace in the war that was imposed on us by … these inhumans,” he added.

Later that evening, while addressing Congress, Zelenskiy said Russia “enjoys being a terrorist state,” adding, “Let the terrorist state be held responsible for its terror and aggression.”

Biden has been adamant that he will not officially designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. He has said that doing so would cause more harm than good.

An official terrorist designation would unleash a massive array of sanctions that would hurt not only Russia’s economy but also anyone doing legitimate business in the country. Russia is enough a part of the global economy that a U.S. terrorist designation could cause damage around the world.

The Biden administration has also said that the designation would be redundant because of the biting sanctions already imposed on Moscow.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned in July that if Biden did not designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, Congress would. But that has not come to pass, and Republicans are set to take over the House in a few weeks—likely under the leadership of Representative Kevin McCarthy, who has said that his party won’t write a “blank check” for Ukraine.