Remembering Chico’s 9/11 hero

How many lives did Nicole Miller and the passengers of United 93 save?

On Monday morning, two days after the ninth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I was riding my bicycle to work and, as I do most mornings, passed by the memorial bench in Bidwell Park for Nicole Carol Miller. She’s the young Chico woman who died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

I was glad to see that several people had left flowers and messages of sympathy there. There was also a photograph of a plaque containing the names of the 44 people who died in the crash.

Of the four planes terrorists hijacked that terrible morning, United 93 was the only one that did not reach its destination. That’s because its passengers, in a desperate act of selfless courage, revolted against their captors. They had learned, via secret phone calls to people on the ground, about the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and understood that their plane was to be used in a similar manner. So they fought back, causing the plane to crash and thereby saving countless lives. The terrorists’ goal had been to crash into the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The word “heroes” is used rather indiscriminately these days, but if any people deserve to be called heroes, it’s Nicole Miller and her fellow passengers on United Flight 93.

In a thoughtful letter to the editor, Jennifer Bruce Arvonen, of Chico, takes issue with our Sept. 2 editorial, “Labor Day blues,” arguing that the Democrats in Sacramento are to blame for the state’s budget problems, not the Republicans.

Arvonen’s certainly right that Democrats were the ones who, nearly 10 years ago, jacked up state workers’ pension benefits in a way that has come back to haunt them. Unless corrected, those benefits will be a big drain on state government in coming years. But right now they represent only a minor portion of state expenses.

On the other hand, it’s a real stretch to charge that the Democrats somehow caused the current high level of unemployment in California. Let’s remember that we’re in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. That’s why so many people are out of work. And the recession resulted from a combination of failed federal regulation and Wall Street greed.

In any event, the question is not who messed up in the past, but what to do now to balance the state budget. Is it preferable to lay off hundreds of thousands of state-funded IHSS, Medi-Cal and child-care workers, thus increasing the unemployment ranks (not to mention shredding the safety net for their clients), or to find additional sources of revenue, such as a sales tax on services or Internet purchases?

Arvonen’s right to say that job creation should be state government’s highest priority these days. But a job is a job, whether it’s for the government or a private company, and it would be disastrous to add a half-million people to the already swollen unemployment lines.