Friday, December 06, 2013
NATCA's convention is right around the corner. Instead of wasting your time on the endless seniority debate or trying to figure out how to pay less dues, I want you to consider becoming a leader. Not just a leader of controllers, but a leader of your country.
Specifically, I want you to lead controllers and convince them they should lead the nation. There are two issues of national importance in which I believe controllers could become effective advocates. I want you to consider writing a resolution for one (or both) of these and submitting it to the convention.
1) End the cap on income subject to Social Security tax.
Currently, any income above $113,700 is exempt from the 6.2 percent payroll tax that funds Social Security. I'll leave it up to you to come up with an argument that will win the day. That has never been my strong suit. I can only tell you that it is the right thing to do. The fact that it would put controllers in a good light with the pubic would just be a bonus.
2) Get air traffic controllers back on a regular pension plan and off FERS.
I realize that these two proposals might (at first) seem contradictory. In case you didn't know, employees on the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) didn't pay Social Security tax because they weren't eligible for Social Security. I'm advocating a total makeover for pensions so the role of Social Security in Federal pay is up for debate as far as I am concerned. The real debate is for having a pension as opposed to this poor substitute called a 401k. It is summed up succinctly on Bill Moyer's page (by Lynn Stuart Parramore).
It was an extraordinary shift in thinking about public policy: Instead of having predictable streams of income from traditional pensions, ordinary people with little financial expertise would suddenly transform themselves into financial gurus, putting money aside and managing complicated investments in tax-deferred accounts.
We all know controllers that failed to "transform themselves into financial gurus" and wound up in trouble. If it can happen to a group as clever as controllers, imagine what has happened to the rest of America. This idea of pension reform might be more popular than eliminating the income cap on Social Security tax but, regardless, it's still the right thing to do.
To elaborate a little more on pensions, I believe NATCA (and Labor in general) should advocate for required payments to pension funds. In other words, corporate promises to pay into funds have proved worthless in too many cases. Cash money should be put into the "bank". And when I say "bank", I'm thinking of the only entity you can really count on -- the U.S. Treasury. That's right, I think everybody's pension should be held in T-bills.
My intention here is not to get bogged down in specifics, it is to make you think. It is much easier to see how our current system is designed to confuse when you have people think of something much simpler. Long-term treasury rates of around 3% make you wonder how anyone can responsibly base a promised pension on a rate of return of 10% (over, say, 30 years). The simple answer is that that they can't. Keep going with this line of thinking and you'll see how big the lie Americans have been told really is. And, of course, you wind up realizing that the Mortgage Backed Securities that crashed our economy had nothing to do with making mortgages affordable and everything to do with stealing public employee (State and Local) pensions. Those pensions (by law) could only be invested in "safe" securities. Securities that had a "AAA" rating. It's less than amusing to realize that these "toxic assets" had triple-A ratings and America's bonds now have a AA rating. How's that for a big lie?
I've said that NATCA can lead Labor and the nation before. Here are two ideas that you can tell NATCA are worth pursuing and make it union policy to do so. You can put the wheels in motion to affect change on a national scale. Or, conversely, you can spend all your time trying to figure out how to get Saturday and Sunday off. It's your convention. It's your union. It's your country. The decision is up to you.
December 6, 2013
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I am happy to report the only item in the FAA's history that mentions Thanksgiving is the following one from November 15, 2013. Let's keep it that way shall we?
For the non-controllers reading this, the day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest day of the year for air traffic controllers. We always pray for really good weather...or really bad weather. The rationale is (of course) safety. We want weather good enough for the inexperienced (or rusty) pilots. Or we want weather so bad that the only ones that will consider flying are the professional pilots. In short "got-to-get-there-itis" is the number one cause of accidents in aviation. Y'all be careful out there.
From the Update to FAA Historical Chronology 1997-2012 (A .pdf file)
"November 15, 2007: President George W. Bush announced an agreement between the FAA and DoD that temporarily released military airspace for Thanksgiving holiday travel. Under the airspace agreement, the Department of the Navy released airspace, above 24,000 feet, off the east coast from Maine to Florida. FAA was allowed to use that airspace from 4 p.m. eastern standard time on Wednesday, November 21, to 6 a.m. eastern standard time on Monday, November 26. The Navy continued to control airspace off the east coast below 23,000 feet for training operations."
For my long-time readers, you might remember this little piece of history happened shortly after I retired and I was able to weigh in on the subject. And thanks to James Fallows, a lot of people got to read about it.
November 27, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
My wife and I went on a weekend trip with another couple to Carters Lake, in the North Georgia mountains. As always, the place we pick is a compromise. The girls want to shop. I want to take photographs. My friend wants to fish. Carters Lake is near Ellijay and looked like fun for everyone.
Carters Lake is a pretty place. It's an Army Corp of Engineers project. That made the encroachment of private homes somewhat surprising to me. Trophy houses in the mountains ceased to surprise me a long time ago. What did surprise me was how close they were to a Federal facility. The approach roads to the various picnic areas, fishing docks and boat ramps were littered with expensive homes. And they were, of course, visible from all over the lake.
I'll never accept the stupidity and arrogance of trophy houses. No one comes to the mountains to enjoy the view marred by trophy houses on the hills. Yet everyone wants to own (or rent) a house they know will ruin the view of others. And they'll keep building them until they have spoiled the very beauty of the place that attracted people to the area in the first place. Oh well. Let's get back to the subject at hand.
After arriving the first afternoon (check in time was 3 PM), I'm stuck with the typical photographer's dilemma: I need to find a place for the rapidly-approaching sunset and find a place for the sunrise. You have to think about the details. After sunset it's dark. To get to a place before sunrise, you have to be able to find it in the dark. There's nothing like getting up two hours before sunrise, driving (or walking) to an unfamiliar place, stumbling around in the dark, waiting for many minutes in the cold, and then finding out you've chosen a horrible place for a sunrise picture. Another detail that escapes non-photographers is that the Sun "moves". It doesn't set at 270º West and 90º East all year. Currently (around here) it rises at 115º and sets at 244º. (The U.S. Naval Observatory will calculate it for your location.) I carry a compass with me wherever I go so I can make an educated guess as to what might make a good sunrise/sunset location.
The trail from our rental cabin to the lake is about a 10 minute hike. Not a problem. My buddy and I take the short walk to the lake. The "big" view is to the north (with the trophy houses on the mountains) and a more limited view to the southeast. What are you going to do? By the time we unpack, grab our gear and walk to the lake, it's too late to get anywhere else for the sunset. I'll make the best of it and maybe it will work out for the sunrise. My friend fishes until the sunset and we both enjoy the view as the streetlights start coming on in the dusk. Nothing reveals the beauty of nature quite like a mercury-vapor lamp. (Or sodium vapor if you prefer.)
Sunrise was a little better than sunset. One thing you can say about a "little" view; there's less room for trophy houses.
The next day, we did a little scouting for better fishing/photography places. "Scouting" is an ugly process. You waste an awful lot of time and gas. I guess that keeps the guides (both fishing and photography) employed. (I'm pretty sure you could find a fishing guide for Carters Lake. Not so sure about a photography guide.) To make a long story short, neither Doll Mountain Recreation Area nor Harris Branch Recreation Area provided a place that was promising (that was also open.)
Once again, we were out of time so we just drove blindly down the road to whatever was next around the lake and run into this sign.
In case you were wondering, sunrise was at 7:18 (42 minutes before the park opens) and sunset was at 5:30 (30 minutes after it closes.) It was a nice sunset but there wasn't even a place to pull over off the road from which to photograph it. We drove home in the dusk dejected -- fishless and photoless.
I hope the need for a photography park is obvious from this little story. I also hope it's obvious that the needs of photographers can coexist with other park users. You can fish in a lake designed for photography. You can picnic in a park designed for photography. As a matter of fact, these things would only enhance a photography park. Sailboats are photogenic. People playing in a park are a favorite subject of some photographers. Kites look spectacular in photographs. People riding horses? Yes please.
But all parks are not conducive to photography. As a matter of fact, many seem designed to prevent decent photographs. Wether it's utility wires strung willy-nilly, trophy houses littering the view, blindingly-white boat buoys visible from two miles away on the lake, day-glow yellow trash cans, reflective trail markers or sickly-green street lights....there are hundreds of fixable things that would make a park more photogenic. But that wasn't the most important lesson I learned this weekend.
I didn't get a great photograph. My friend didn't catch a single fish. But the weekend was deemed a resounding success. Our wives found tons of junk to buy. If I have to make a photography park commercially viable, I'll have to work trophy houses and an outlet mall into the master plan.
November 26, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
From the Update to FAA Historical Chronology 1997-2012 (A .pdf file)
" President George W. Bush signed into law the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (Public Law 107-71), which, among other things, called for the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the Department of Transportation, to be responsible for security at airports. The act also broadened AIP eligibility to include costs for additional security-related activity required by law or the Secretary of Transportation. The period of eligibility for such projects was for FY 2002 and could include only those additional costs incurred from September 11, 2001, to September 30, 2002. February 13, 2002, TSA took over responsibility for aviation security from FAA. (See October 18, 2001; December 6, 2001.)"
November 19, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
Saturday, November 16, 2013
One of the things I'll need to "sell" this photography park idea is the economic portion of it. So do me a favor and be on the lookout. If you see some economic statistics that might be of interest, do me a favor and just pass along a link to me.
Here's a "for instance" I stumbled upon the other day when I was looking for a chuck wagon cook off.
Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking
"Pigeon Forge Mayor, David Wear met with the City Hospitably Association stating, "Every business sector was up having a phenomenal year during 2012." Gross receipts total were $905.8 million for last years tax revenues breaking their previous record of $872.5 million 2007 prior to the recession."
"Pigeon Forge, with a population around 6,000 attracts over 10 million tourist each year nested on the banks of the Smokey Mountain range."
If you stumble across some stats like that in your daily reading, do me a favor and email me a link to the web page. You can find my email under the "View My Complete Profile" link on the righthand side of the page, or if you're comfortable enough just typing it in, I'm still using atcsafety@ the gmail domain (amongst about 5 other addresses.)
Specifically, I'm looking for the economic impact of:
Photography -- the entire industry, outdoor photography, professional photography and/or amateur photography.
Parks -- Pigeon Forge (for those that don't know) is a gateway town to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. A billion dollars for being located next to a park tends to get the Chamber of Commerce's interest.
Thanks for whatever help you can provide.
November 16, 2013