Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Never-Ending Saga of LIAT Airlines

A LIAT Airlines plane at the San Juan Puerto Rico airport in its most familiar pose - late

Several recent news articles and opinion pieces in the Miami-based magazine Caribbean Journal have focused on the never ending saga of LIAT Airlines.  The news articles and opinion pieces have largely focused on how to fix the mortally wounded airline.  Not one of those news articles or opinion pieces has addressed what really needs to happen to LIAT. After reading the latest op-ed piece as it appeared in today's Caribbean Journal I decided it was time to chime in with my own 2 cents on what, next to Bahamasair, is arguably the most pathetic airline in the western hemisphere.

My letter to the editor of the Caribbean Journal written today follows verbatim:

Caribbean Journal Magazine
Miami, Florida

Dear Editor

Regular news articles and opinion pieces in the Caribbean Journal regarding the hapless managment of the hapless airline known as LIAT have all failed to consider one important solution to the issue.  Kill the airline by hitting the reset button and start over fresh. Insanity is defined as "repeating the same action expecting different results."  Changing the CEO or bringing in consultants or whatever other solution is suggested will be as effective as putting a band-aid on a severed artery - no matter how hard you try it will run out of blood.  LIAT's aorta was severed years ago and more band-aids wont fix the problem.  Stop the insanity and start over.

I first flew LIAT in 1989 on a flight from Antigua to Montserrat.  My scheduled departure time was 8:00 a.m.; we finally lifted off from V.C. Byrd International airport at 6:00 p.m.   My database shows that I have flown on 44 LIAT segments in the intervening years.  Not ONCE have I been on a flight that was anywhere near on time.  My last flight, a year ago, was between Antigua and Tortola.  After hearing the now-standard refrain "We have a slight problem ladies and gentlemen" we were finally airborne one hour late.  Climbing out of Antigua the pilot gave the now standard apology for tardiness and then added "At least its nice to be close to on-time once in awhile."  |

Ah, excuse me, LIAT, but its not nice to be close to on-time. What is nice is being on-time.  However with a pilot attitude such as that of the one on my Tortola flight is it any wonder that the airline, its structure, its management, and its attitude are horrible and show zero signs of improvement.

Rather than continuing to put band-aids on the severed artery known as LIAT just end it.  Put it out of its own self-inflicted misery.  There are real airlines operating in the Caribbean that are cognizant of customer satisfaction and traveler needs.  Right now JetBlue is expanding its operations in the Caribbean. Perhaps JetBlue could be cajoled into further expansion to pick up some of the more important and lucrative routes that LIAT has fumbled.  Sir Richard Branson has managed his Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia and Virgin America airlines to the point of them being excellent examples of how an airline should be run. Perhaps Sir Richard might be interested in establishing Virgin Caribbean Airlines and doing it right.

Reinventing an entity like LIAT that for at least 25 years has shown zero interest in or potential for fixing its own problems is counterporductive.  Please LIAT management - hit your own reset button. Sell the joke you call an airline for parts if necessary and allow someone who actually knows what they are doing run a real airline that will address the needs of the Caribbean.  Long ago I was told that LIAT was the acronym for "Leave Island Any Time."  Perhaps now is the time for LIAT to leave the islands also.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Government Regulation of Hot Tub Water Temperature

I just sent the following email to our criminal governor, Rick Scott, through the Governor's contact portal

Dear Rick

Sunday night this week I stayed at a Fairfield Inn by Marriott hotel in Orange Park, Clay County.  When I visited the hot tub area I saw a sign that really annoyed me.  It said that the temperature of the water in the hot tub was "regulated according to state code." What?  Why is the State interferring with my use of a hot tub?  Doesn't the state have enough to worry about already?  

When we the people elected the Tea Bag Party to office one of the things we wanted was to get rid of government regulation.  This state law regulating the temperature of the water in a hot tub is one example. Damn it, Rick. If I want to scald myself in a hot tub it should be my business whether I do so or not.  No bureaucrat in Tallahassee should have the right to tell me when if or how I can inflict bodily injury on myself.  Its these sorts of state regulations that we elected you to get rid of and its apparent that you have not.  Why is that?

I want to suggest that you immediately introduce legislation in the Tea Bag dominated legislature to require all hotels in Florida to 1) let them heat their hot tubs to any temperature they want, 2) remove those hideous regulatory signs, and 3) let Floridians and out of state visitors live without government regulation of the hotel industry.  

If we don't stop this sort of liberal regulation nonsense we will soon have to put up with speed limits on the highways and people will have to properly dispose of waste water to keep our water supply safe and we might even have to drive with lights on at night!  At least we can carry concealed weapons in this state and have white adults kill black kids while we stand our ground.  Thank god and the constitution for that. 

But seriously Rick something needs to be done immediately about this ridiculous over-reaching of the government into personal choices!  Whats next?  Are we going to start telling women how they can manage their own body or tell people whom they can love, where, and in which orifice?  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twelve Years Ago This Morning

September 11, 2001 dawned clear and brisk in Washington DC.  There was not a single cloud in the sky as I walked to the East Falls Church station on the Orange Line for my commute to my office.  At 6:20 a.m. I distinctly remember seeing a US Airways Shuttle jet roaring north overhead on its way to New York La Guardia and I remembered also thinking it would be in New York before I arrived at my office.

Exiting the train at Ballston Metro I walked to a nearby bagel shop called “Manhattan Bagels” where, as part of my daily ritual, I practiced my Spanish while giving my order to a woman working there who was from Cochabamba, Bolivia.  I had recently become her hero when I told her that not only had I been in Bolivia but I had spent several days in her home town.  As we talked I casually glanced at the logo for the company that included the Manhattan skyline and prominently on it were the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Shortly after 9:00 a.m. that morning my supervisor casually walked into my office to tell me he had heard a report that “a small plane” had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York.  We chuckled and dismissed it thinking that probably some student pilot became confused, flew off course, and entered the ranks of the non-survival of the least fit as Charles Darwin once predicted.  However a few minutes later John returned to my office with fear on his face as he informed me that “a 747 just flew into the other tower at the World Trade Center.  Someone is attacking us.”

It wasn’t a 747 but a 767 and the size and shape of the plane didn’t matter. What mattered was a lot of people were obviously dead and none of us had any understanding of why.

Someone turned on a radio in the center area of our main office and as some people listened to it for updates a colleague, Kathy Bangert, walked across the hall into my office and with the same fear in her eyes that my supervisor possessed a few minutes earlier asked me “Craig, why would an American Airlines 757 fly 500 feet over our office building?”   Kathy had just seen the doomed American Airlines jet from Dulles to Los Angeles as it was on final approach to the Pentagon less than a minute later.  A phone call to one of our secretary’s from a friend of hers at the Pentagon a couple minutes later provided the answer to Kathy’s question about the low-flying American jet. 

Our Division Chief ordered everyone out of the office and out of the building.  We didn’t know if some anti-government anarchist was on the attack or who it was.  There were nearly 1,000 people crammed into the 8 floors of the Arlington Square building on Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia, and each of us was a Federal employee.  If some anti-government nut case was at war with us the last place we wanted to be was in an office building paid for by the US government.  I stayed with my Division Chief until we had all of the people in our program safely out of their office and into the stairwell walking down to the first floor of the building.  Unknown to us at the time there were thousands of people doing the same thing in the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.  The only difference was that all of my colleagues safely exited the building. Not so at the World Trade Center. 

Outside the building I was greeted by three things that have never left my memory.  First was the blindingly clear sky.  If you have ever been on the ocean in the Gulf Stream you know how the deep cobalt color of the water appears.  That same incredibly blue color was in the sky over Washington DC.  Also in the sky was the sound of sirens everywhere and with the sirens was the sight and sound of helicopters all of whom seemed to be headed south to the Pentagon.  From my perch on Fairfax Drive I could look down the street and see smoke rising from the Pentagon.

Now in the safety of my home I can check Google Earth and I can tell that the Pentagon was exactly 3.12 miles from my office building and the American Airlines jet was only 500 feet above the surface of the ground when it streaked by us. However I didn’t think of that when I saw the smoke rising from the crippled building.  All I saw then was pandemonium all around me. 

I ran to the nearby elevator leading down to the Ballston Metro stop and took up a position along the track waiting and waiting for the next Orange Line train to come along.  At that time of day there should have been a train every 8 minutes but this morning was different and it took more than 40 minutes for a train to arrive.  As we waited like sardines packed in a can on the train platform someone’s cell phone rang and on answering it this fellow learned that one of the towers at the World Trade Center had just collapsed.  Collectively we dismissed it as a false report because, after all, no building the size of one of the WTC towers could simply collapse - or could it.

After 40 minutes waiting for a train one limped into the Ballston station and there didn’t seem to be a single fillable space on any of the cars.  The doors opened, nobody exited, and I resigned myself to waiting until the next train came along.  As I did a woman reached out, grabbed me by the collar and said “You’re coming with us” and pulled me into the train.  Nobody said anything to anyone on that sad and mournful ride to East Falls Church.  As we moved along I noticed a woman in her 30s standing near me who had lost bladder control no doubt from the fear and emotions that were palpable on the train.  Seeing her and sensing her embarrassment I removed my sweatshirt and handed it to her telling her to tie it off over her hips.   I then stood in front of her to help her hide her embarrassment.

Hundreds of people poured from the train and onto the platform when we reached East Falls Church.  As each of us left the train everyone staying on said, almost in unison to those of us leaving, “be safe out there.”  It was a simple but overwhelming display of humanity directed at people in stress by people we would never see again.

US Air Force fighter jets from nearby Andrews Air Force base were now in the air circling over the city and I listened to them roar by overhead as I quickly walked a mile from the station to my home.  At first the sound of the fighter jets was unnerving but after a few days that same sound was soothing and reassuring.  The sound remained reassuring for several weeks until the alert was removed and there was no longer a need to keep the planes in the air.  It was curious to me at the time that as soon as I could no longer hear the planes I started to wonder what happened to them and imagined another attack under way.

Reams have been written about that day and more video collected and recorded than I care to imagine.  And it seems that 99 percent of what has been written and recorded was done in New York City and it surrounded the planes flying into the World Trade Center.  That attention makes the attack on the Pentagon seem almost like an afterthought and at times that becomes a bit annoying.  People seem to forget that nearly 200 people died at the Pentagon that day and nobody but a few of us in 4401 North Fairfax Drive in Arlington knew that the ill-fated American Airlines jet flew past us not 500 feet over head and we were almost as much in the cross-hairs as the innocent people in the Pentagon just 3.12 miles away.

Seven months after the attack on the Pentagon I took a trip to Sweden to look for a species of owl and a species of eagle I had never seen before.  While there I took a ferry from the Swedish mainland to the Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea. These islands, a part of Finland, are the home of several nesting pairs of White-tailed Eagle and I went there to look for that bird.  My hotel on the island was a bizarre outpost of Graceland in Memphis it seemed.  Its owner was an Elvis fan who was convinced, as he told me, that “Elvis is alive and living in the Aland Islands.  It’s my job to find him and I will.”

At dinner, I sat alone in the restaurant that had also been decorated in an Elvis Presley motif.  A large group of Swedes with their hockey playing children had sailed on the ferry with me today.  They also stayed at the same hotel, and descended on the restaurant when I did.  An attractive Aland Islander who worked at the hotel walked up to my table and said I looked lonely.  Had I been in the Dominican Republic or Fiji, my first impression would have been that she was a prostitute.  Instead she was hoping I was British so she could practice her English on me.  Her name was Maria.  She had coal black hair, dark eyes, and fine Scandinavian features.  She spoke six languages and felt the least secure with English.

She asked if I was British and when I said America she asked where.  I told her suburban Washington, D.C. and learned that she had visited the city the September before.  From her purse she extracted a postcard she mailed to her family.  Its front was a picture of the White House and the Washington Monument.  On the back, the postmark was from Northern Virginia and the date was September 11, 2001.  I looked at her and said, “You were there?”

Maria had Aland Island friends who were students at American University.  She had traveled extensively in Europe and Asia but had never been to the United States.  On that fateful day in September, she was on the nine o’clock tour of the White House.  Her group had barely entered the building when “the Secret Service came and told us that we were to leave immediately.  They just chased us from the building and left us on our own.  Someone else said an airplane was going to crash into the White House.  When I got outside I just ran toward the Washington Monument.  We were all running down the street when we heard an explosion.  We looked to the right and saw smoke in the air.  I didn’t know then that it was the plane that hit the Pentagon.”

I asked what she did after the explosion.

“My friends and I didn’t know what to do so we found our way to your subway.  Suddenly there were sirens everywhere and helicopters in the air and people running down the streets.  I thought someone had started a war.”

Her friends lived in northern Virginia and commuted to college on the Orange Line subway. “We waited forever for a train to take us out of Washington and back to Virginia.  We waited and waited.  I didn’t think the train would ever come.  We got to Virginia and didn’t wait for a bus.  We just ran to my friend’s home and turned on the television.”  She learned about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon about eleven.  I told her that I was walking away from an Orange Line station wondering when the next plane was going to fall out of the sky about the same time she was running to her friend’s home.

Many have said that the attack on September 11, 2001, brought the world together for just a brief moment in time and for a brief moment in time I believed that.  And my belief in it was further reinforced seven months afterward when 4,100 miles from home sitting on a snow-covered island in the middle of the Baltic Sea, I met a Finnish woman who just like me was petrified that day as she stood waiting for what seemed like forever to get on an Orange Line train and get away from the danger. 

And my memory of that day began with the sight of a jet flying to New York City through the cobalt blue skies of sunrise on a morning twelve years ago that looked just like this morning.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Debacle in Syria - Or - Governing While Black

(Digital image from the BBC)

September 9 2013

The Bradenton Herald
Bradenton, Florida

Dear Editor

The run-up to the impending military action in Syria demonstrates the degree to which the Republican Party opposes President Obama.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq these same Republican hawks couldn’t endorse military action fast enough.  In those heady days anyone who opposed military action in Iraq was branded as unpatriotic and a traitor if you didn’t want to enter a war based on now-proven lies. Bush overlooked the Constitution and did not consult with Congress (as required by the Constitution) before beginning his multi-billion dollar fiasco in Iraq.

Fast forward to 2013 and examine the current setting in Syria.  There has been an accusation of the use of chemical weapons on Syrian people, just like Saddam Hussein was accused of using chemical weapons on his own Iraqi people.  Only this time the President has followed the Constitution and consulted with Congress before bringing military action.  Yet how does the Congress react?  Temper tantrums are being thrown along with more invective slung at the President accusing him of being unpatriotic and violating the Constitution and failing to have a backbone and any of a million other things the Republicans have spewed since his first inauguration day.

Why the difference in outlook eleven years later?  Some claim it’s because the Congress is weary of war.  None of them have yet to come out and speak the truth – they oppose it because Obama proposed it.  Obama could find a cure for cancer and the Republicans in Congress would oppose the cure.  Many have suggested all manner of things that Obama is guilty of as President however there is only one crime he has committed - he is guilty of Governing While Black. 

America and its Republican-controlled House of Representatives should be collectively ashamed of itself.  I can only imagine how they will respond after the next election when a white woman is elected President.  At least she won’t be guilty of Governing While Black.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Time Has Come to End the National Wetlands Inventory

The following letter was sent to Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) regarding the need to eliminate the National Wetlands Inventory program of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  I have another US Senator (Marco Rubio) and my local Congressman (Vern Buchannan) but both are more interested in importing bags of tea than in governing so I'm sending this only to Nelson in the hope that he does something.

September 1 2013

Senator Bill Nelson
716 Senate Hart Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Nelson,

The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (16 U.S.C. §§ 3901-3932, November 10, 1986, as amended 1988 and 1992), required, among other things, that the Secretary of the Interior acting through the US Fish and Wildlife Service … “complete by September 30, 1998, mapping [of wetlands] of the contiguous United States; to produce, as soon as practicable, maps [of wetlands] of Alaska and other noncontiguous portions of the United States;…"

Today is September 1, 2013, almost exactly 15 years since the September 30 1998 end date mandated by the Congress, and the National Wetlands Inventory is still alive and functional in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Given that the final date of authorization provided in legislation by the Congress ended 15 years ago I am writing to inquire why the Congress continues to appropriate funds annually for the Inventory.  I ask this not as a Tea Party wing nut but as a former US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist who worked for the last 14 years of my career in the National Wetlands Inventory in Washington DC.  The concept of the NWI was a good one when it was conceived in the late 1970s but the program has become mired in “we always did it that way” mindset and quite frankly the mapping program no longer has any relevance.

The EWRA also mandates that “…A digital wetlands database for the U.S. is to be produced from the various maps by September 30, 2004. The Secretary also shall archive and make available for dissemination wetlands data and digitized maps”.  It is now 9 years after the digital wetland database mandate expired and the digital database is nowhere near completion.  The reason for the failure to complete the database lies entirely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and its former National Wetlands Inventory coordinator who placed emphasis on producing paper maps and hoped that other agencies and entities would pay for the digitizing of those maps.  Bottom line here is that the digital wetland database will never be completed and the Congressional mandate to conduct the work ended 9 years ago.

The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act further directs the Secretary acting through the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to “…produce, by September 30, 1990, and at ten-year intervals thereafter, reports to update and improve in the September 1982 "Status and Trends of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitat in the Coterminous United States, 1950's to 1970's." Currently the wetland status and trends component of the National Wetlands Inventory is the only part of that program that 1) remains relevant, 2) produces information useful to policy makers and  3) and most importantly, is the only part of the program that still has a Congressional mandate with no end date.

The National Wetlands Inventory is funded at about $4 million a year which in the grand scheme of things is not even a blip on the radar screen. Still, scarce taxpayer-generated funds are being appropriated annually by the Congress for a component of a law that expired 15 years ago.  And with the exception of the wetland status and trends component of the program, those funds are producing an outdated product that no longer is of value to resource management decision makers.

I am writing to request that you look into finding a way to defund the National Wetlands Inventory.  If the entire program cannot be eliminated (my preferred alternative) then at least change the wording in the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act to only provide a Congressional mandate for conducting the wetland status and trends component and then ensure that the status and trends component is funded at a level where the US Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t’ have to beg other agencies for money to complete a task mandated by Congress but for which Congress provides insufficient funds to complete.

Thanks for considering my request and one other thing.  I would like to hear back on your views on this topic.  Sending a letter to Interior asking for them to prepare a response will result in a letter being generated by the Fish and Wildlife Service extolling the virtues and values of a program whose day in the sun ended 15 years ago.