by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
Happy New Year to Everyone!
I hope everybody survived. I hope that tons of snow (Buffalo, New York), bitterly cold wind chills, and subzero temperatures didn’t freeze out your holiday spirit.
Just before Christmas, a large cold front moved across the country. It brought severe winter weather to most of the country. Besides the freezing cold temperatures, wind gusts in the 40- to 50-miles-per-hour range made this a severe winter storm. On December 23, as winter storm Elliott hit the Midwest, over 4,500 flights were canceled. With Christmas just around the corner, this was disastrous for holiday plans. Over the next two days, Americans seemed to figure out how to get where they were going.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. Tens of thousands of Americans were stuck. They had no way to get to where they needed to go. While major air carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines managed to get their planes back on schedule relatively quickly, Southwest Airlines continued to struggle. A week later, Southwest Airlines continued to cancel more than 2,500 flights a day. Passengers were stranded hundreds of miles from home. Southwest had no answers for them. Why? Why was Southwest Airlines so out of step?
Let’s remember that we, the taxpayers, bailed out Southwest Airlines early in the pandemic. We handed them over $7 billion. Billion. This was done to prevent massive layoffs in the travel industry, which would have crippled our economy. So, I think that we should be able to ask Southwest for some customer service for our money.
A failed business model
Some of the problems lie in Southwest Airlines’ business model. Major air carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines use a hub and spoke model for their flights. For example, American Airlines has five or six major hubs throughout the United States. To get almost anywhere on American Airlines, you need to go through one of those hubs to connect to a remote location. For example, if you wanted to fly from Asheville, North Carolina, to Miami Beach, you have to fly into Charlotte, a major hub for American Airlines.
Southwest Airlines is different. They have a point-to-point model. For example, you can fly on Southwest Airlines from Oklahoma City directly to Phoenix. If you are flying on a major airline like American, to get to Phoenix, you would have to fly from Oklahoma City to Dallas and then Dallas to Phoenix. So, besides the cheaper fares, you also save time at the airport with Southwest.
The point-to-point model works great until you have a major weather event like winter storm Elliott. Now you have airplanes scattered all throughout the country, but they’re not in the right location at the right time. This makes logistics extremely difficult. One would figure that Southwest Airlines would have a sophisticated employee tracking system. This system would tell them where their pilots are as well as where their stewardesses (flight host/hostess) are located.
Unfortunately, they don’t. Southwest pilots have been sitting in airports waiting on assignments right beside angry passengers waiting on planes. To get this complicated system back online, Southwest Airlines must cancel thousands of flights to get their airplanes, pilots, and crew back in the right locations. It is still unclear to me why it takes nearly 10 days to make this happen. This is a huge failure of big business. The next time someone tells you about how great business is at efficient use of resources, point to Southwest Airlines.
Every now and then, I’m amazed at the ability of some people to tell a lie. They can weave these fantastical tales, and the lying never stops.
George Santos seems to be one of those guys who can tell one lie after another after another. He was recently elected to the House of Representatives, representing parts of Long Island and Queens, NY. He seemed to be just another MAGA Republican.
His résumé was impressive. He graduated from Baruch College. He attended New York University and received degrees in finance and economics. Following this, he got a job working at Citigroup and eventually went to work for Goldman Sachs. He was an openly gay Republican, which is as rare as hen’s teeth. Impressive. What a paragon!
Unfortunately, none of it is true. Two years ago, when he ran for Congress and lost, he reportedly had a net worth of around $55,000. Now, he is reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars. Where did the money come from?
Well, there is a company called LinkBridge that reportedly puts high-wealth individuals together in order to make deals. Supposedly, he got involved with this group somehow. He also worked for a group called Harbor City. Harbor City is currently under investigation by the SEC for an alleged Ponzi scheme. Furthermore, it appears that George Santos cashed some checks that did not belong to him back in 2008 when he was 19. This occurred in Brazil. There is still an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and Brazil has recently reopened their pursuit of him (it was put on hold when he disappeared from Brazil years ago). The only part of his story which appears to be true is the fact that he is gay.
Almost-Representative Santos seems to be in hot water. He gave a recent interview in which he admitted he had never worked for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. He admitted that he never graduated from college, any college. It even turned out that his high school record was phony—the elite, private, Horace Mann prep school in the Bronx had never had him enrolled. Law enforcement from both state and federal levels are starting to look into Mr. Santos and his sorted past. Santos, like Donald Trump, is a serial liar. His house of cards seems to be collapsing. Interestingly, congressional Republicans have been silent on George Santos.
Many years ago, I discussed how big business looks at you and me. We are no more than a pile of cash. We are not a customer. We are clearly not an individual. We are not even Americans. We are no more than a pile of cash. Some of us are big piles of cash. Some of us are small piles of cash.
After 9/11, all airports across the country instituted TSA checkpoints. Americans went from breezing through the airport to standing in line for minutes, if not hours at a time, waiting to be searched before boarding an airplane. TSA pre-check was born. This was a simple government program through which you could submit some of your information and bypass the long TSA lines. You would pay a nominal fee of $78 every five years.
Now, along comes Clear Secure. This is a private company that has popped up in airports throughout the US. For about $100/year, they are going to allow you to bypass the short TSA pre-check line. Do you get increased security? Not really. You get about the same background check. Clear Secure has made deals with airports. LAX got about $7 million from Clear Secure last year. These airports get money for Clear Secure to take up space in these airports, so we have a business that doesn’t add anything to make us more secure.
To me, this is big business at its worst. This adds no value to airport security. Instead, they act as an excellent device to suck more money out of your pocket. For impulsive travelers, I guess getting to the gate three to five minutes ahead of everyone else is worth it.
So, Donald Trump is back in the news. The House Ways and Means Committee has released his taxes. I’m not a tax expert. I don’t want to be a tax expert. What we know is that Trump is really, really great at losing money from his core businesses. He is not a financial wizard. His tax preparers used to seem like financial wizards for their skill at using his tens of millions in financial losses to offset his minimal profits; that way, he didn’t have to pay more than nominal taxes most years. But even his primary tax preparer already told the courts last fall that they “couldn’t stand behind” the numbers he had reported to them. Oh, and apparently, Trump did not donate his presidential salary to charity as he said he would, but this should not be a shock to anyone.
Da’ House of (non-)Representatives
Seeing the US House of Represen-tatives choose a Speaker has been like watching one of those old 1920s, silent movies in which you see the train coming. You know the train is going to crash. You are hoping that somebody is going to take some action to prevent this tragedy, but no one comes to save the day. Representative Kevin McCarthy has been maneuvering for the Speaker’s job for months, if not years. He’s faced staunch opposition from the Freedom Caucus—a group of approximately 15 Republicans who would prefer to dismantle the government rather than figure out how to make our government run more effectively.
Now, as if we are all still in high school, Kevin McCarthy enters a staring contest with the Freedom Caucus. Kevin versus the Freedom Caucus. Who is going to blink first?
Voting begins for the Speaker of the House. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Kevin McCarthy loses. So, the House votes again. He loses again. After the fourth ballot, nothing has changed. The House kept voting, and McCarthy kept losing. There appeared to be no significant negotiations. Nobody is blinking.
Finally, after three days, negotiations began in earnest. McCarthy blinks. He sells his soul to the Freedom Caucus. And at last, on the fifteenth ballot, he is elected Speaker of the House.
This was a stunning display of disorganization and chaos. Politics is about the ability to negotiate, and the Republican party failed at basic politics. Thirty years ago, this would have never happened. The Republican Party would have never allowed the American public to see such disarray. Instead, the GOP would have had a closed-door meeting and hammered out their differences. They would have emerged unified.
This whole debacle tells the American public that Republicans are not serious about governing. They would prefer to go on Fox News and “own the Libs,” rather than sit down and write policy. And the American public will pay the price.
The House committee investigating January 6th has officially wrapped up its business. They made four criminal referrals to the Justice Department regarding Donald Trump. They requested the DOJ investigate the former president for four possible crimes: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement, and incitement, rebellion or insurrection against the government of the United States.
What this committee accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. First of all, they were able to convince the American public that the attack on the Capitol was not a spontaneous event. Remember, this was the narrative that the mainstream media was trying to force on the American people. Secondly, they presented compelling evidence that Donald Trump, along with several others, planned the event. Finally, I think that the House committee showed Americans what patriotism really is.
If you love the United States of America, you cannot love the people who tried to perpetrate a coup on January 6th. If you love democracy, you cannot support a mob who forced their way to the US Capitol.
Democracy and Freedom
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made a surprise visit to Washington a few days before Christmas. On Dec. 21 he delivered an emotional, passionate speech to a joint session of Congress—which many commentators compared favorably to Winston Churchill’s speech of Dec. 26, 1941, to encourage American support during World War II.
Of course, Zelensky asked for more weapons and more aid. He also said something very important: he said that aid to Ukraine was not charity but instead was an investment in democracy. I would add that it’s an investment in the world order.
Russia thought it could take whatever it wanted. Russia thought it could thumb its nose at the sovereignty of another nation. Russia thought the rest of the world would let him get away with it. But the democratic nations of the world, in NATO, across Europe, and here in the US and Canada, have stood solidly behind Zelensky, providing Ukraine with the money and weapons they need. And after approximately a year of war, Ukraine may be bruised and battered, but it is not defeated.
We should do all we can to support this democracy. I hate war—yet sometimes you have to stand up to a bully and punch back. This is one of those times. We should support Ukraine with as much aid as we can afford. Forcing Russia to end this war on Ukrainian terms is the only way to restore world order and save Ukrainian democracy.
Happy New Year!
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed here, as well as assertions of facts, are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of The Urban News.