The Federal Railroad Administration issued a scathing report on New York's Metro-North rail line.
The inquiry, which was launched after a derailment in December that killed four passengers and injured 70, found that the rail line put punctuality above safety.
"'This is a severe assessment, and it is intended as an urgent call to action to Metro-North's leadership as they work to develop a comprehensive plan to turn Metro-North into a model of safe railroad operations,' the report said.
"The FRA's inquiry, dubbed 'Operation Deep Dive,' was launched in the wake of a fatal derailment in December. A seven-car Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four passengers and injuring more than 70 others. That was the fourth big accident that occurred on Metro-North's system last year: A derailment and accident in Maysent more than 60 people to the hospital; a worker was struck and killed by a Metro-North train less than two weeks later; and a CSX freight train derailed on Metro-North's tracks in July.
"Problems have continued this year. A worker was killed by a Metro-North train on Monday. In January, trains were halted for hours due to what was described as ahuman error during a repair project. There have also been service issues caused by outside events, like the Harlem building explosion on Wednesday; debris was thrown onto nearby Metro-North tracks, cutting off service for several hours."
The New York Times reports that the railroad's control center encouraged workers "to rush when responding to signal failures." At the same time, employees found it hard to get enough time on the tracks to make repairs.
The Times adds:
"The railroad administration faulted the inadequate training of track inspectors and the 'general state' of track maintenance. The operations control center included 'no sound barriers between the controllers or chief dispatchers,' increasing the risk for distraction, the report said. Safety briefings were poorly attended, one of many 'obvious signs of a weak safety culture,' it said.
"And workers across Metro-North often perceived that on-time performance was 'the most important criteria,' the review found.
"The railroad administration said that Metro-North — which runs from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan into New York City's northern suburbs and Connecticut — must submit plans to improve its safety and training programs, among other changes, within 60 days."
Congress is still searching for money to avoid a 24 percent cut in pay for doctors who treat Medicare patients that kicks in April 1.
Seniors are already paying their share of premiums as if the pay cut won't happen.
Seniors' premiums cover 25 percent of their Medicare Part B outpatient services, including doctor visits, outpatient lab tests and hospital visits, medical equipment and home health care.
The government picks up the rest of the bill. Federal law requires Medicare number crunchers decide on premiums by Oct. 1 for the following year.
On Friday, House Republicans succeeded in passing legislation that would change the formula that Medicare uses to calculate pay for doctors.
The fix would eliminate the problem once and for all. But the legislation would pay for it by delaying penalties for five years for people eligible for subsidies who don't buy insurance required by the Affordable Care Act. The reduction in subsidized insurance would save money.
The Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, and President Obama has said he would veto it, in any event.
To calculate seniors' premiums, Medicare officials assumed that Congress would do what it has done since 2002 - block the cut.
This year's premium of $104.90 a month includes the senior's share of physicians' fees without a pay cut. (Some wealthier seniors pay an additional surcharge and low-income beneficiaries may pay less if they qualify for subsidies.)
"It's reasonable to allow for the likelihood of reaching a doc fix," said AARP spokesman Jim Dau. "And we have heard from our members for years that they are willing to pay their fair share because Medicare is a lifeline for them and a tremendous source of comfort and security."
"What isn't fair, given that we have been dealing with this for more than a decade, is the constant uncertainty and wrangling," Dau said, over whether to repeal the physician payment formula.
Instead of replacing the formula as enacted, Congress is likely to delay the cut until the end of the year, when they will face the same dilemma again.
In addition to the anxiety this annual ritual provokes in many patients and their doctors, a premium subsidy for some low-income Medicare beneficiaries is also in jeopardy. The "qualified individual," or QI subsidy, covers the monthly premium and some other costs for more than 500,000 people in Medicare. Because it is not a permanent subsidy, Congress has to decide every year whether to extend it.
Leslie Fried, senior director for the National Council on Aging, is confident that Congress will act to avoid a doctors' pay cut, but she's still worried about funding for the QI subsidy, now and in the future.
"There will be something, even if it's a nine-month patch, but what's important is that there is no harm done to low-income beneficiaries," she said.
In late February, AARP, NCOA, AFL-CIO and 20 other organizations urged congressional leaders to make the QI subsidy permanent and repeal the "sustainable growth rate" formula that Medicare uses to calculate how much to pay physicians that produced the pay cut.
"Failure to do this would seriously threaten vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries' basic economic security and access to physicians," they said.
Once a year music fans from around the world converge in sunny Austin, Texas, to check out bands they like and discover great new artists. SXSW is a musical playground, and for those of us who love Latin music, it's good to see new kids being invited into the sandbox. This year's edition includes SXAméricas, which features exciting artists from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil and beyond.
We took a break from barhopping and musical exploration to sit down and talk to one of our favorite performers, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux. Tijoux has always been an Alt.Latino favorite — she's as unique in her style as she is universal in her themes. She says what's pressing on everyone's mind, but few in the industry have the nerve to say.
We invited listeners to join in on the conversation as well, and ended up having an hour-long discussion about Tijoux's amazing new record, Vengo, as well as what it means to be a politically outspoken artist in Latin America today, and the importance of making independent music.
Join us for a conversation with one of the most exciting and innovative artists in Latin America — and as always, let us know what you think of Vengo and any music you think we should hear.
Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? All are standard questions, but: "Bulgogi?"
That one-word question is the headline of an ad in the Wednesday print edition of the New York Times.
I was busy reading an article about Ukraine (that's what you do if you work at NPR) when I saw the ad.
On my first, second and third read, I was baffled. Was this an ad for a Korean-American restaurant association? Perhaps for a beef trade group of some sort? Was the ad seriously promoting grilled, marinated beef as an essential part of a spring training regimen? Is that why a Texas Rangers outfielder (called Choo Shin-soo in the ad but listed as Shin-Soo Choo by the Rangers) was inviting us all to try bulgogi?
And what was with the promotion of a national dish rather than a brand? It's hard to imagine an equivalent ad. It would be like Justin Timberlake appearing in a British newspaper ad touting the great taste of ... hamburgers. Not Burger King or McDonald's or Wendy's. Nope, just hamburgers.
Reading the ad was disorienting — like walking into your bedroom and finding your pillow at the foot of the bed.
"Spring's here and I'm ready to play!" Who says that? Why the exclamation point? It's all just weird.
In pursuit of greater understanding, I visited the website listed at the bottom of the print ad: ForTheNextGeneration.com. That just led to greater confusion.
First off, it looks like something that belongs on a cached GeoCities page.
Second, the website features links to English-language pages about K-Pop and the city of PyeongChang's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
I was stumped. So I invited strangers on Twitter to join me on a trip down the rabbit hole. I tweeted about the ad in the hope of getting some insight.
And I did. In retrospect, much of the insight provided by others should have been screamingly obvious to me.
"Did they hire my mom to write this copy?" asked @NatalieKimNYC. The ad does make more sense if you imagine it written by a nonnative speaker of English.
That the website included earlier ads from the same source dating back several years was pointed out by @18millionrising.
Among the ads was this arresting and beautiful and appetizing commercial promoting bibimbap:
There was an ad, too, about Makgeolli, which is a Korean alcoholic beverage made from rice. The spot consists of a somewhat suggestive voiceover of the following text:
"Who are you?
I'm from Korea
I'm an oldie but a goodie
I'm made of rice
I have an excellent taste
I create an amazing time"
By this point, the bulgogi ad had begun to makes sense within the context of a series of advertisements promoting Korean food and drink. But I still didn't understand why the website, in addition, contains sections on comfort women and the territorial dispute between Japan and Korea over the Dokdo islands (a dispute that has extended to the Virginia state Legislature).
I called the New York phone number listed on the site and it jumped to voicemail. I left a message. I searched the Web for other places where the number appeared. And this was when it got curiouser and curiouser. The cellphone number appeared in a job ad from August 2012 for a Korean restaurant on Long Island. The restaurant was looking for a part-time server (the listed workday was 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week). I found the restaurant and texted a cell number listed on its website. No response. Yet.
I sent a note to the email address listed as the contact on the ForTheNextGeneration site, and first it bounced back as undeliverable. The email went through on a second attempt. No response. I searched for other mentions of the email, and that's when I got my first real break.
A Professor Seo Kyoung-duk listed the contact email from the site as his personal email in one of his tweets. A link to ForTheNextGeneration.com was included in his Twitter bio. With the name in hand and a slightly different transliteration (Seo Kyung-duk) I was able to track down a number of stories that refer to efforts by the professor to promote Korean culture and interests abroad.
This report says the Sungshin Women's University visiting professor arranged to have the bibimbap ad run on a giant video screen in Times Square. For that matter, he is also apparently the man behind billboards in Uzbekistan. All of which pointed one last question: Who was picking up the tab for this international advertising campaign?
International BNT News (which describes itself as an "internet newspaper that is specialized in fashion, beauty, entertainment, and k-wave") apparently interviewed the professor (even though he is not directly quoted). The article states "the price of the advertisement was fully supported by Chicken Maru." There is a link to ForTheNextGeneration.com on Chicken Maru's homepage, and the bulgogi ad appears on Chicken Maru's Facebook page.
Together, the different bits and pieces of evidence are persuasive but not definitive. To be definitive, there would have to be a confirmation from the New York Times, Chicken Maru or the Professor. But, for now, it seems likely that the professor produced the bulgogi ad and that it was paid for by a Korean chain of fried chicken restaurants. (Maybe this is all an insanely clever and incredibly sophisticated inverse of Chick-fil-A's "Eat Mor Chikin" campaign.)
This year, Seo Kyung-duk reportedly plans to expand his promotional efforts to Cairo, Egypt and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Maybe the bulgogi ad campaign will make more sense in Arabic or Kazakh.
When it comes to avoiding unhealthy food, it might be that out of sight means out of mind.
The more fast-food joints people encounter around their homes and workplaces, the likelier they are to be obese, according to a study published Thursday.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that the people who are most exposed to fast food were almost twice as likely to be obese as those who were least exposed.
The idea seems commonsense. "But up to this point, it's really just been based on a hunch," says Thomas Burgoine, the study's lead author and a research associate at the U.K.'s Center for Diet and Activity Research.
The researchers surveyed nearly 5,500 adults who live in Cambridgeshire County, England, about their eating habits. They also looked the number of fast food and takeout joints around the participants' homes, commuting routes and workplaces. The results appear in the British Medical Journal.
While the findings suggest an association between people's food environments and their chances of being overweight, they don't prove that one directly causes the other. But, Burgoine tells The Salt, the research does suggest that policies restricting the number of fast-food joints in a neighborhood might be on the right track.
For example, since 2008, Los Angeles has had a moratorium on the opening of new fast-food outlets in South L.A., a neighborhood that suffers from alarmingly high rates of poverty and obesity.
Burgoine says that the number of fast-food restaurants in many neighborhoods, both in the U.S. and the U.K., have skyrocketed over the past few years.
"As I was doing the research, I really got to thinking about my food exposure and my travel from where I live on one side of Cambridge to the other," says Burgoine, whose research focuses on the interaction between obesity and environment.
And the dining options around our workplaces can be especially significant, Burgoine says. A quick burger or takeout is especially appealing to people rushing to feed themselves during a limited lunch break. The study found that, on average, people were exposed to 48 percent more fast food at work than at home.
Of course, access to fast food is only one reason that people might reach for unhealthy foods. Studies have shown that everything from people's income and upbringing to the layout of their local supermarket can affect their choices.
But the researchers found that the risk of obesity increased with the density of fast-food joints, even after controlling for demographic factors like age, income and education, and the amount of calories that participants burned through physical activity.
Still, this study doesn't show whether limiting the number of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood will affect people's risk of obesity in the long term. It also doesn't look at whether the availability of healthier choices played a role.
"Changing the food environment, even with evidence like this, isn't likely to be the answer by itself," Burgoine says. "But it might be one part of a wider solution."