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By Sylvia Hampton March 15, 2009 (San Diego)--When the Hudson River landing pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger ordered "brace for impact" he was in the process of doing his job the best he could. It was up to the co-pilot, air-traffic controller, flight attendants, rescue workers and passengers to do the rest. The pilots were perfect. The flight attendants, like the pilots, went into automatic mode as the result of their training. Passengers in the front of the plane (where first class, business class and frequent fliers usually sit) followed instructions and performed very well. But in the back of the plane, where the impact was harder and damage occurred, a passenger forced open a door before the order was given and water poured into the plane causing the rear of the plane to begin sinking immediately. The flight attendant in the rear broke both legs. She was not sure when this happened, but was able to perform her duties and ordered the passengers forward in the plane to reduce the weight. Everyone survived.


Our national leaders are facing the worst set of crises since the Great Depression. The president is in the pilot seat. A problem he did not cause has hit him shortly after take-off and he is taking control. He looks down and sees: schools in trouble (San Diego City Schools has a $71 million shortfall) cities in deep trouble (San Diego can't deal with infrastructure and employee costs) and states struggling to make payroll (California is getting worse by the day) small businesses going under, General Motors on the brink, and banks in freefall. At the same time the scientists are screaming their heads off about the melting ice caps, the bee population in crisis, water shortages, endangered wildlife, and a possible food crisis. This is on top of about 600,000 people losing their jobs every month and the stock market reeling. Add a couple wars that are draining our treasury and a health care crisis that has about 50 million people with no coverage and over 50% of individual bankruptcies resulting from medical costs. Enter the talk show windbags like Rush and Roger in the back of the national plane acting as if to say "This pilot sucks, he didn't even get us out of New York--I hope he gets fired from his job!"


Like the panicking passenger who opened the rear door, they are reacting out of ignorance, behaving like fools, and making our situation worse. These are the same voices that kept insisting government was not capable of doing anything as well as business (haven't heard that lately) but wouldn't have a clue how to fix this mess. They just rant, "Cut taxes." We are in for a very hard landing. I hope the president can turn the economy around, get us out of Iraq soon and take on the powerful for-profit insurance industry to reform health care. President Obama has been in office two months. Are we, the people, sitting in the front or the rear of this national airplane?


Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted into the San Diego County Women's Hall of fame for 2008 for her work in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She is the past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and served on President Nixon's Title X Family Planning Council. Her monthly Community Forum column is published in the Rancho Bernardo Sun, Diamond Gateway Signature, and her "Soapbox" in the East County Magazine. Opinions are Sylvia's alone and not to be interpreted as the policies of the League of Women Voters.

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