1) This is, perhaps, the slowest news week of the year. The nation's air security system picked a bad time to fall down on the job. "Why are we so bad at detecting the guilty and so good at collective punishment of the innocent?" writer Christopher Hitchens asks (Slate.com).
For many years after the explosion of the TWA plane over Long Island (a disaster that was later found to have nothing at all to do with international religious nihilism), you could not board an aircraft without being asked whether you had packed your own bags and had them under your control at all times. These two questions are the very ones to which a would-be hijacker or bomber would honestly and logically have to answer "yes." But answering "yes" to both was a condition of being allowed on the plane! Eventually, that heroic piece of stupidity was dropped as well. But now fresh idiocies are in store. Nothing in your lap during final approach. Do you feel safer? If you were a suicide-killer, would you feel thwarted or deterred?
But back to the incident. It keeps getting worse for the security officials. The New York Times reports:
The president was told during a private briefing on Tuesday morning while vacationing here in Hawaii that the government had a variety of information in its possession before the thwarted bombing that would have been a clear warning sign had it been shared among agencies, a senior official said.
Wayback Machine time. Why was the Department of Homeland Security formed? Because one of the lessons of 9/11 was various departments in the U.S. government had information about potential terrorism, but didn't share it with each other. Here's President Bush announcing the new agency in a speech to the nation on June 6, 2002.
Right now, as many as a hundred different government agencies have some responsibilities for homeland security, and no one has final accountability. For example, the Coast Guard has several missions, from search and rescue to maritime treaty enforcement. It reports to the Transportation Department, whose primary responsibilities are roads, rails, bridges and the airways. The Customs Service, among other duties, collects tariffs and prevents smuggling -- and it is part of the Treasury Department, whose primary responsibility is fiscal policy, not security.
Tonight, I propose a permanent Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to unite essential agencies that must work more closely together: Among them, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Customs Service, Immigration officials, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Employees of this new agency will come to work every morning knowing their most important job is to protect their fellow citizens.
Weeks ago, a Northwest Airlines jet, out of communication with air traffic controllers, headed for Minneapolis. And nobody ever called the air defense command. That, too, was a problem in communication that was supposed to be solved after 9/11. The first test of the system was Northwest Flight 188 in October. The system didn't work.
2) The Department of What's Right With Us: Meet "Sully":
From time to time I've spotlighted a local pilot -- Pete Howell -- who volunteers his time rescuing abused dogs from around the country. He asked me to fly as co-pilot for a flight to rescue one of the saddest cases imaginable. But the flight got moved up to yesterday and I have to write this blog for a living so I couldn't go. The dog is in Minnesota today, and Howell provides the story as well as some gorgeous views of Minnesota in winter.
3) Carl Kassell's last newscast for National Public Radio is at 10 this morning. There aren't many people in the business who've been doing the early-morning thing since 1979. He'll continue as one of the sub-hosts on Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me. He talks about his career with the news on Morning Edition this morning. The audio will be posted here at 8 a.m. Every Public Radio listener longed to have Kassell record their answering machine messages (remember answering machines?). Some of the classics can be found here. And here's an interview he did this week with former MPR newscaster Todd Moe, who now toils in northern New York. And here's one he did with a Public Radio station in Boise. He'll also be a guest this afternoon on Talk of the Nation.
The man invented "avuncular."
Another retirement will get less notice. "My grandpa was a banker. My dad was a banker. My dad told me, 'Whatever you do, don't be a banker, especially in a small community,'" John Wisniewski of New Ulm tells the New Ulm Journal. He retires tomorrow after a career as a banker in a small community.
4) There are some days when being a district court judge must be the worst job in the world. Here's the case. A woman and her lesbian partner in Vermont had a baby by artificial insemination. Then they broke up and the woman renounced her homosexuality. Who gets the daughter? And is the case any different than if it were a heterosexual couple?
5) Impress your friends. Be the most popular person on New Year's Eve. Or not.
Bonus: What a difference a decade makes.
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) - First hour: The Naked Economist speaks on the case for a carbon tax, a year of bailouts and outcry over bonuses, and what the new year has in store for the economy.
Second hour: Comedy writer and performer Lizz Winstead brings her political humor to live stand-up comedy at her holiday show and describes how she broke into the elite boys club of late-night comedy writing.
Wayback Machine: It was 10 years ago when the tech story of the decade approached...
Second hour: Remembering writer Bill Holm of Minneota.
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) - First hour: The annual TOTN obit show. Who did we lose this year who you think we ought to remember?
Second hour: Patti Smith and the documentary that followed her for over a decade -- Dream of Life.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - MPR's Tim Post takes a look at how much cash the University of Minnesota stands to make from its football team's appearance in the Insight Bowl.
Judo Jay opened a studio on Minneapolis' North Side. Most evenings, there are a dozen kids there flinging each other around for an hour and then the adults get their chance. It all seems to be creating changes in the neighborhood, MPR's Brandt Williams says..