NEWS DAY | The plane / Animal stories / Flu scams / more

Question MarkWhat happened on that plane? Nobody knows, but the black box may tell. Pilots on Northwest Flight 188 say they were involved in a heated policy argument … that apparently distracted them so much that they didn’t see city lights below them, didn’t hear radio calls from Denver and Minneapolis, and completely lost track of the passage of time, as the plane flew over Minneapolis and continued for 100 miles off course into Wisconsin on Wednesday evening. Not everyone is buying the “heated argument” explanation, with some suspecting the pilots fell asleep. According to the New York Times:

One of the things most pilots are attuned to when flying, even above 30,000 feet, are city lights. The bright lights of Minneapolis should have alerted the pilots that they were over their destination, just as the dimmer lights of Eau Claire should have warned them they were in the wrong place, experts said.

Yet, the pilots didn’t discover their mistake until a flight attendant in the cabin contacted them over the intercom, said a source close to the investigation who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified. The pilots had lost communications with air traffic controllers for over an hour and had overflown their destination by 150 miles.

The plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have been sent to Washington, where National Transportation Safety Board officials will examine them.

Friday animal news Let’s start with the YouTube video of Minnesota Zoo grizzly bears tearing apart a 500-pound pumpkin — obviously a top story, reported on Fox News and seven kazillion tweets. And they’re not the only ones – apparently giving pumpkins to zoo animals in the week before Halloween is a tradition from coast to coast, or at least from Cleveland to Canada to Seattle.

Then there’s the pit bull puppy, stolen from a car in a St. Paul gas station by two gun-wielding bad guys. When the pup’s owner chased after the dognappers, they shot at him. Luckily, their aim was bad, but the pup is still missing. (Report from The Usual Suspects blog in the PiPress.)

And MPR reports on a rescue operation for abandoned or abused urban chickens, headquartered in Minneapolis.

On a serious note, BBC reports that scientists have figured out how the fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, kills frogs and other amphibians.

The fungus is steadily spreading through populations of frogs and other amphibians worldwide, and has sent some species extinct in just a few years.

Good news = bad news As unemployment dips in Minnesota, federal rules will cut the number of weeks that Minnesotan’s can collect unemployment compensation. As of November 15, unemployment benefits will be paid for 72 weeks instead of the current 79. MPR reports that there are now 3,500 Minnesotans in their final seven weeks of benefits.

According to the Star Tribune:

Unemployment benefits typically go for 26 weeks in Minnesota up to a maximum of $585 per week, but various state and federal extensions had pushed the maximum duration for eligible clients to 79 weeks.

Asian businesses challenge Central Corridor About 30 Asian businesses along University Avenue filed a civil rights complaint with the Federal Transit Administration, similar to one filed by African American residents and businesses in June, reports MPR. The businesses say they construction of the Central Corridor rapid transit line down University Avenue will disproportionately affect Asian businesses and that the Met Council has made no plans to mitigate its effects.

Central Corridor spokesperson Laura Baenen said the Met Council recognizes that businesses will be affected but that “there’s no money in the budget to provide them with compensation.” Baenen also says the project has set aside an unknown amount of money to help the public maintain access to businesses during construction.

Swine flu reports and scams
As Minnesota reported three more H1N1 flu deaths, the scammers are out in force. AP reports that they are focusing on internet sales:

Air “sterilizers.” A photon machine. Supplement pills to boost the immune system. Protective shampoos and face masks. Even fake Tamiflu.

The feds have sent warning letters to more than 140 con artists, and new products just keep popping up. some are actually dangerous to your health, while others are only dangerous to your pocketbook.

World/National news

Hungry in Ethiopia Four years of bad harvests due to the drought that has affected most of East Africa has contributed to a growing food crisis, 25 years after the 1984 famine that killed an estimated one million people, reports BBC. The Ethiopian government has called on international donors for food aid to feed 6.2 million people, on top of food aid for more than seven million who are chronically hungry during lean periods of every year. According to figures from Oxfam and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some 46 percent of Ethiopia’s 80 million people are malnourished.

According to BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut, the drought has hit only parts of Ethiopia, especially in the south, and other factors contribute to hunger in the country:

It is in part the result of policies designed to keep farmers on the land, which belongs to the state and cannot be sold. So farms are passed down the generations, divided and sub-divided. Many are so small and the land so overworked that it could not provide for the families that work it even with normal rainfall.

At present only 17% of Ethiopia’s 80 million people live in urban areas. Keeping people in the countryside is a way of preventing large-scale unemployment and the unrest that this might cause.

According to Oxfam, at least 23 million people in seven countries are in need of food aid because of the drought. The U.N. World Food Program says $285 million will be needed in the next six months, and said it is “particularly concerned about Eritrea, where it is unable to collect data because of restrictions on movement.”

Health care reform – challenge from consumer groups The deals made with groups representing doctors, drugmakers, hospitals and health insurers to get them on board for health care reform gave away too much, say consumer groups. NPR reports that they are fighting to get rid of “provisions now included in both House and Senate health bills that would give brand-name makers of expensive biotech drugs 12 additional years on the market before cheaper generic copies could be made and sold.”

Ralph Neas, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, is generally skeptical of the cost-cutting promises made by health industry groups in exchange for favorable treatment in the health care reform bills. First, he says, they stand to make much more from health care reform than they have pledged to cut, because more patients will be covered. Second, the pledges to cut costs are vague, voluntary and unenforceable.

War Reports

Pakistan As government troops continue a major offensive in South Waziristan, Taliban bombers struck throughout the country, killing seven people near a major air force complex at Kamra in northwest Pakistan and 17 on a bus heading to a wedding in the Mohmand tribal region. A car bomb in the parking lot of a recreational city in Peshawar, the northwest’s main city, wounded 15 people. NPR reports that the army offensive in South Waziristan is now in its seventh day, and that:

The army has previously moved into South Waziristan three times since 2004. Each time it has suffered high casualties and signed peace deals that left insurgents with effective control of the region. Western officials say al-Qaida now uses it and neighboring North Waziristan as an operations and training base.

According to BBC, “There are no details of the latest fighting, as journalists are not allowed into the conflict zone.”

Somalia An attack on the airport in Mogadishu failed to harm the president, who was boarding a plane to leave for a conference in Uganda, but killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 60 in nearby neighborhoods, reports the New York Times, as the initial mortar attack was followed by more mortars and shelling between insurgent militias and government forces.

[Question mark: ©Ramin Khojasteh – Fotolia.com]

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