Monday: Flight Disruptions Continue; Court to Hear Campus Group’s Appeal

BY jbreslow  April 19, 2010 at 9:03 AM EST

stranded travelers

Stranded travelers sleep at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris on Monday, as main French airports remain closed. (Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images.)

Lawmakers and aviation officials across Europe faced growing criticism Monday, as air travel across the continent remained virtually paralyzed for a fifth straight day because of the plume of ash spewing from a volcano in Iceland.

Some 70 percent of scheduled flights in 16 nations are expected to be cancelled Monday. The International Air Transport Association blasted officials for what it perceives as a “lack of leadership in handling airspace restrictions,” adding in a statement that, “We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it — with no risk assessment, no consultation, no coordination, and no leadership.”

With losses mounting for airlines at a rate of $200 million a day — as well as for economies across the continent — European Union lawmakers will meet in an emergency session Monday to discuss easing the financial strain caused by the flight ban.

Some nations are offering aid to stranded and increasingly agitated travelers. Britain is sending three Royal Navy ships to Spain to recover stranded nationals, while the French rail company SNCF said it will lower fares and offer 80,000 extra seats on trains between Paris and London.

It’s still unclear when normal flight schedules will resume, however, two airlines — British Airways and Air Berlin — have completed test flights through the ash cloud and both reported no problems.

NPR’s Joe Palca has also travelled inside the plume and offers this report, while the NewsHour’s Ray Suarez, stranded in London, filed this post on “life under the cloud.”

Supreme Court to Hear Appeal from Christian Student Group

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will decide whether public colleges and universities can deny funding to student groups that bar homosexuals or other groups from membership.

“The case could affect public colleges and universities across the country,” says NPR’s Nina Totenberg, “and it puts the court in the middle of a long struggle by Christian activists who contend that their rights are violated on campus by secular rules.”

SEC Likely Investigating Firms

Following Friday’s news that the Securities and Exchange Commission is charging Goldman Sachs with committing civil fraud in the run up to the financial crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports Monday that the agency may be investigating other firms to determine whether some of their mortgage deals may also “have crossed the line into misleading investors.”

Goldman is readying a strong defense to the SEC case. In a voicemail to employees, the company’s chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, said the investment bank “has never condoned and would never condone inappropriate activity by any of our people.”

Nevertheless, Baseline Scenario’s Simon Johnson believes Goldman remains “too big to obey the law.”

Toyota Expected to Agree to Record Fine

Toyota on Monday is expected to pay a $16.4 million fine, the largest government penalty ever against an automaker, for failing to properly notify federal authorities about a dangerous pedal defect.

“The move is expected to fuel the scores of lawsuits pending against the Japanese automaker in the U.S. over thousands of sudden-acceleration claims and defects linked to nearly 40 deaths,” the Detroit Free Press reports. “It also won’t spare Toyota from facing more fines by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

15th Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma City marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing in which 168 people were killed at the Alfred P. Murrah building. The Oklahoman newspaper offers this site about the day and its aftermath. In an editorial, the Oklahoman asks:

“Fifteen years after, this is a better city than it was on April 19, 1995 … But how much better would it be had [Timothy] McVeigh and his co-conspirator not robbed us of the talents of those 168 people? What would they have contributed?”