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Say that again, Sam?
By Gary Aldrich
On November 12, 2001 all eyes were riveted to the TV screen while New York suffered yet another airline related disaster - this one apparently not connected to Osama Bin Laden. Thousands of Americans (including this writer) were on planes, or about to board planes at hundreds of airports around the country, just as this latest horrible loss of life and property occurred.
America has gotten over its fear of flying, it seems. Airports are busy again and airplanes seem to have few seats available for nervous, but game travelers whose business agendas cannot be denied indefinitely, threat or no threat. The real fear could not have been put behind us, however, without extraordinary actions taken by our federal government, including a massive public relations campaign designed to convince us that it's safer than ever to fly. President Bush says its time to get on with our lives, and so we shall.
But our willingness to "get on with our lives" very much depends on the federal government's promise and ability to protect us in every way that it can, including giving harsh penalties to those idiots who live among us, who just can't seem to get the message.
In the case of Anthrax hoaxes, it seems the federal government will take no prisoners. Those clowns who send baby powder to ex-lovers or friends as a joke, or to hated supervisors as a tool of terrorism, are arrested and held without bond, awaiting a sentence that in some cases could take away the perpetrator's freedom for a lifetime.
However, in the case of airline hijacking hoaxes, including behavior on board an aircraft that panics the crew, diverts the destination of the aircraft, and results in an on-board arrest by air marshals - in those circumstances, apparently, we still apply a different standard. Inexplicably there's plenty of discretion on the part of federal prosecutors to set a hijack-hoaxer free - even one convicted of a previous violent crime, in possession of illegal drugs at the time of his latest arrest. Wait! The story gets better! He's a federal employee!
I am not making this up. Raho N. Ortiz, a passenger on U.S Airways Flight 969 disrupted a Pittsburgh-to-Washington flight when he refused to take his seat after being ordered to do so by the flight crew of the nearly full Airbus A319 as it neared Washington. The crew, including the captain instructed the passengers over and over again that they could not leave their seats for the last half-hour before landing at Reagan International. These new rules are supposed to protect the flight against hijackers.
But Ortiz, described by news accounts as a Navajo (what does this have to do with anything?) resident of San Francisco, who was traveling on official business for the Environmental Protection Agency, apparently had other ideas of how he wanted to spend his last few minutes. He moved toward the cockpit, and could not be persuaded to return to his seat. Air marshals aboard the plane finally got his attention with a pair of handcuffs.
Amazingly, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Ortiz, who had just terrorized hundreds of persons on the plane, and relatives and officials on the ground. When asked to explain why, U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Sam Dibbley explained there was insufficient evidence to charge him. What? No DNA?
Sam went on to make the most amazing statement I have ever heard out of the mouth of someone connected with the enforcement of the law: "Just because the guy's got a prior conviction doesn't mean it has anything to do with this case." Huh? No wonder the Clinton's walked away from eight years of corruption in Washington, DC.
Of course during this outrageous incident, dozens of terrified passengers bound for Reagan International Airport suffered the ultimate fear - of death - and were ordered by air marshals to ride the remaining portion of the flight with hands locked behind their heads. They were unable to even call loved ones at home with cell phones, since all were now suspects of a potentially emerging hijacking attempt. The crew and air marshals took Ortiz's conduct seriously - how is it that Sam at the U.S. Attorney's office has missed the gravity and consequences of Ortiz's behavior?
How is it that an entire plane load of passengers can be "arrested" and plunged into gut wrenching panic, not to mention inconvenience because of the actions of one arrogant man - and then that man is set free at the end of the day to face only misdemeanor marijuana charges? Hello!? This guy has been convicted of attacking another with a knife and has pleaded guilty to that violent crime - but he is an EPA employee today!
How many passengers that day reviewed their lives in an attempt to determine if it could be possible to make peace with their Maker, so as to assure their assent into Heaven in the likely event that their flight ended in a horrible, fire-strewn frenzy? We will never know - but we do know this: The federal government apparently still does not have its act together.
The president of the United States instructs a nation on our need to understand that we are at war, while some of his own high-level employees, acting like clueless morons, behave as it they're still living in a Clinton "La La World." How many more tragedies will it take before they get the word? How deep does "stupid" go in the present federal work force, much of it built during the diversity-rich days of Bill and Hillary Clinton?
Is it possible for President Bush, in a war footing, to ever get the federal ranks free of this astounding level of incompetence? Besides ridding the world of terrorism, our president has a unique opportunity to rid this nation of a virtual plague of thousands of faceless, clueless bureaucrats, each one on the expensive federal dole.
Let's all hope President Bush and his administration makes the best use of an opportunity to reshape and downsize the federal government. By all means, get Osama Bin Laden. But, while you're at it, Mr. President, won't you please bring some much-needed quality back to a sluggish, bloated federal bureaucracy?
Gary Aldrich is the head of the Patrick Henry Center, a 501©(3) nonprofit, non-partisan educational and charitable foundation. It does not support endorse or oppose candidates, or proposed legislation.
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