NEWS DAY | Pilots blame laptop / One more hole in the safety net / Flu anxiety epidemic / Waking up hungry / more

NWA planeBlame it on the laptop Maybe the air traffic controllers trying to reach the two pilots on Northwest Flight 188 should just have emailed them. According to MPR:

First officer Richard Cole told the National Transportation Safety Board that he was explaining the scheduling procedures to the plane’s captain, Timothy Cheney, while the plane cruised past the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport at 37,000 feet. The new scheduling system was initiated following the merger between Delta and Northwest Airlines.

For an hour. As they heard and ignored radio calls from air traffic controllers. And failed to notice messages from company dispatchers.

The pilots acknowledged that while they were engaged in working on their laptops they weren’t paying attention to radio traffic, messages from their airline or their cockpit instruments, the board said.

Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall called the pilots’ behavior “inexcusable,” and no one is arguing with that. MPR’s News Cut has the NTSB memo and LOTS of discussion. The comments and the responses from Bob Collins make for interesting reading and are a great example of what a comment section looks like when it works – intelligent, informed discussion and dialogue.

Meanwhile, systemic problems still need to be addressed. MinnPost reports that everyone agrees on the need for better rules about airline safety, including revisions of sleep standards to prevent pilot fatigue, which was implicated in several recent incidents, summarized in the Christian Science Monitor.

One more hole in safety net Two emergency aid programs will end this week, reports the Star Tribune, probably putting more people on the street. Governor Tim Pawlenty cut funding for Emergency General Assistance and the state’s Emergency Minnesota Supplemental Aid (EMSA), both last-chance lifelines for impoverished, childless adults.  Emergency funds are frequently used to get people into housing, by paying the upfront security deposit costs that would otherwise be an insurmountable barrier, even for individuals or families that can pay the monthly rent.

State officials say that the counties should use stimulus funds to meet their needs:

But that’s not an ideal solution, said Tom Pingatore, program manager with Hennepin County’s Economic Assistance department. Part of the problem, he said, is that TANF money goes to families with children, not single adults or childless couples.

Advocates point out that emergency money to keep or place people in housing actually saves money in the long-term. St. Stephens compared costs to the county for six people during the year before they were placed in housing and the year after:

The year they were homeless, the six cost the county and city about $95,000 for time spent in jail and at the workhouse, detox center, shelter and emergency room. The year they had housing, the cost came to about $16,000 — an average savings per person of $13,000.

Flu anxiety epidemic Park Nicollet opened and closed a flu shot hotline Monday, after the hotline was swamped with 120,000 calls in four hours, reports the Star Tribune:

The clinic, which had announced that it had 17,000 doses, was so unprepared for the outpouring that its entire phone system temporarily crashed under the weight of the calls.

Minnesota needs 718,000 doses for high risk patients, and expects to receive a total of 300,000 by the end of this week. As for Park Nicollet – they are asking high-risk patients to email flushot@parknicollet.com.

The Washington Post reports that federal officials blame vaccine makers for overly-optimistic delivery schedules:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in television interviews Monday that officials had been “relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers, and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy.”

World/National News

Let them eat cake Although the House passed a bill extending unemployment benefits last month by a huge 331 to 83 vote, the Senate is still haggling over Republican objections and amendments, according to Minnesota Independent — and 125,000 workers have run out of benefits while they bicker.

Waking up hungry AP reportsthat hunger is rising around the world, and that food prices are rising for the poor, even as global commodity prices and prices to farmers drop precipitously.One out of six people in the world “will wake up not sure they can even fill a cup of food,” according to Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program.

“The food crisis is not over. We have an anomaly happening where on global, big markets, the prices are down, but for 80 percent of commodities in the developing world, prices are higher today than they were a year ago, and the prices a year ago were double what they were the year before that,” she said.

Sheeran cited climate change, escalating fuel costs and falling incomes as causes for the increase in hunger, saying that 1.02 billion people are now “urgently hungry,” an increase of 200 million in the past two years.

Ex-Marine Foreign Service officer resigns in protest
Matthew Hoh, who served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and then as a civilian Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan, resigned in protest last month, reports the Washington Post. Hoh said he had “lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” and that his resignation was “based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.” He said that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan was strengthening the insurgency in what is essentially a civil war.

“I’m not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love,” he told the Washington Post.

“There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed,” he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.” …

As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because “I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, ‘Listen, I don’t think this is right.’ “

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