Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Connections



It seems like it’s harder and harder for me to stay focused these days. I blame James Burke. If you never saw his show “Connections”, then you missed a real treat. He was the quintessential mad scientist that showed the “connection” between scientific discoveries over time. It was always a wild and entertaining ride.

Anyway, that is what it feels like for me these days. I bounce between a series of seemingly random interests that all seem connected in some strange manner. Let me just delve into it.

First, I told you I’d read Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling while I was on vacation. I was searching through it to find a part that I wanted to highlight. I found the column entitled The Public Interest.

Mr. Krugman starts by telling of a government agency that could be downsized -- maybe even abolished or privatized. He builds his fictitious case and then utterly destroys it. It’s a technique he uses often -- taking an idea that is being promoted as good public policy and methodically picking it apart to reveal how foolish it is.

In this example, he used the New York City Fire Department. In demonstrating that the “market” really isn’t a solution for everything he writes, ”...a private firm would always have an incentive to pinch pennies at the expense of public safety. And that’s just not acceptable when the stakes are so high, and in particular when what we need are proud public servants, prepared to do whatever it takes to protect us -- people like New York’s heroic firefighters -- rather than employees who feel that they are paid as little as possible by a company focused on the bottom line.”

He goes on to talk about airport screeners. But go back and read that excerpt again. Only this time, substitute “Air Traffic Controllers” for firefighters.

You can’t think of the NYFD without thinking of 9/11. I can’t think of them without thinking “union.” It’s odd from at least one vantage point. Unions have been declining steadily for decades. They represent fewer and fewer people but look what happened on 9/11. Union firefighters and union police officers responded. The first civilians to respond at “ground zero” were union steel workers. And yes, union controllers were guiding thousands of airplanes to unscheduled landings.

It was a horrible day -- but a proud day -- for so many unions. What was their reward for so many heroic deeds you might ask ?

Remember that Congress proposed the idea of a Department of Homeland Security ? Sure you do. President Bush was against it but then he “flip-flopped” and supported it: After he got what he wanted. What did he want ? No unions.

I was doing a little research on the subject and ran across this cover. As the saying doesn’t go, a cover is worth a thousand words.

It was a strange place to find the story so I went to govexec.com to find the original cover and got distracted with this story.

Talk about strange. You just don’t expect to read many stories about unions in Government Executive.

As I continued to bounce around, I read the story du jour.

GOP Warns of Union Talk in Security Bill


President Bush is threatening to veto the Congressional bill that is trying to enact the 9/11 Commission's recommendations if it includes a provision to allow the Transportation Security Administration airport screeners to form a union. That would be the government airport screeners that were brought in to replace the private airport screeners that failed so miserably on 9/11. Which brings us back to Mr. Krugman’s column “The Public Interest”

The column was written on October 10, 2001. And the following is an example of why so many people find Mr. Krugman so brilliant.

“Whatever the explanation, the dispute over airport security leaves no doubt about one thing: The right’s fanatical distrust of government is the central fact of American politics, even in a time of terror.”

President Bush and the crowd that “brung him” are still dancing around national security at the expense of busting unions. They’d rather kill a bill that adopts the 9/11 Commission's recommendations than let a bunch of airport screeners organize.

I thought The Great Unraveling was an excellent book. Even though it is now dated, it is still relevant. I was only disappointed in one aspect. Mr. Krugman was not very flattering of unions in the few instances he mentioned them. I was surprised. I would have thought he would have appreciated them for the simple fact that, like himself, they’ve stood up to the Bush Administration from day one.

Don Brown
February 27, 2007

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ya Big Bully

Did you ever wonder what makes me so unique ? That sounds horribly egotistical doesn’t it ? Sorry. Let me rephrase. Did you ever wonder why there aren’t more controllers out there telling you the truth about the Air Traffic Control system ? Why am I the guy that wound up as the safety rep. at the busiest ATC facility in the world ? Why am I the only air traffic controller in the country with his own column (at least I think I am) ? You might not wonder, but I do.

Here’s part of the reason why. Look at what the FAA is doing to this guy.

You might be tempted to tell yourself that this is an isolated incident. It isn’t. It actually started with the FAA firing 11 controllers at the New York Tracon. They all got their jobs back but the FAA got its message across. “Screw with us and we’ll screw your life up. And your wife’s and your children’s.” You might be able to withstand a few months without pay (with the help of your friends) but while you’re “fired” you (and your family) don’t have any health insurance. Think on that for just a second and you’ll realize just how much I mean it when I tell you how brave my wife was. She always supported me when I challenged the FAA.

There are many more of these cases. Most of them will never see the light of day. Why ? Well, some of them will look bad. It isn’t necessary for the FAA to get these instances into the press to spread their message of fear and intimidation among the workforce. But it is necessary for the controllers to get their stories across if they want to win in the court that matters -- the court of public opinion. (The other courts are being dominated by Bush appointees.) And some of these stories aren’t going to play well in the press.

It’s incredibly simple. Put a guy in a pressure cooker and sooner or later he’ll explode. I know I’ve had many an outburst that I wouldn’t want made public. I keep waiting for a controller to punch a manager. It will happen (if it hasn’t already.) You might be tempted to say no one could make you angry enough to punch them and risk losing your job. You’d be wrong. And you’ve never sat behind a radar scope with a belligerent supervisor breathing down your neck. You can’t just walk away from a radar scope full of airplanes you know. You can get fired for that. See how easy it is ? (Please take a moment to reflect on what keeps a controller from walking away from a radar scope full of airplanes. It isn’t the fear of being fired.)

Speaking of stories that don’t play well in the press, I assume you’ve seen this one on the handling of an emergency into DFW.

Notice that the incident was in August. It's February. Hmmm, wonder where this story has been hiding for 6 months ? I wonder how long it will be before you hear “the rest of the story.” It shouldn’t take too long. Check back in tomorrow.

Don Brown
February 26, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Did You Miss Me ?

Sorry folks. I’ve been on a vacation, hence the lack of updates. On the other hand, I’ve been to many new places, met a lot of new people and I had to the chance to read Paul Krugman’s The Great Unraveling
So, now I’ve got lots of new things to write about and you have new suggestion for a book to read and a new web site to tinker around with. LibraryThing probably isn’t for everyone but it’s oddly interesting for those of us who like books.

Talk to you again soon.

Don Brown
February 25, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Das ist Ganz Falsch !

While reading another Scientific American article, I ran across someone I‘d never heard of. Nothing surprising about that. There’s not much in Scientific American that I have heard of. Anyway, the author mentioned the “Pauli Proverb” and I thought it might help to know who Pauli was.

So I did what anybody would do and I surfed right over to Wikipedia. I have a confession to make here. I’m addicted to Wikipedia. When I was a kid, my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias just like millions of parents have done over the years. If I couldn’t get outside to play, I’d read them. I wouldn’t go look something up, mind you. I’d start at A and read. I would pick up the “T” Encyclopedia and read about “T” (the 20th letter in the alphabet) and then move right on to Tabasco, Tabby and Tabernacle. Wikipedia is like it’s custom made for me. I can get lost there for hours.

Anyway, back to Pauli. Wolfgang Pauli was a German physicist. He was even called the “conscience of physics.” To tell the truth, it sounds like he was a pain in the posterior. He was a severe critic of any scientific work that he found lacking, dismissing it as “ganz falsch” -- utterly false. But his harshest criticism (and what tickled my fancy about the article) was, “This isn’t right. It’s not even wrong.”

I really wish I had known that line back when I worked for the FAA. It would have come in handy -- many times. You might want to read the article for yourself. Wronger Than Wrong by Michael Shermer. It might have something in it you can use.

Don Brown
February 11, 2007

Saturday, February 10, 2007

We’re Number One !

Ahhhhh...that’s more like it. I’d gathered this data long ago for NATCA’s ex-president (John Carr) to use in his blog: The Main Bang. Alas, John has decided to take The Main Bang down for now. I can only hope he will bless us with his online presence again one day. He’s an extraordinary individual with a multitude of talents.

I gathered this data for the same purpose that I’m using it now. Most of America doesn’t have any idea how important General Aviation is to the United States. If you take the time to click on the link below, you’ll see that out of the 14, 857 airports in the U.S., only 5,119 of them are paved. That means that the U.S. has 9,738 unpaved runways. That’s more unpaved runways than the G8 and China (and a couple of other countries with privatized ATC systems thrown in) have runways -- combined.

(Just in case you wondered how I picked all those countries.)

Take a look.

=============
Number of Airports

United States of America 14,857

Russia 2,586

Canada 1,326

Germany 550

France 478

China 472

United Kingdom 471

Australia 448

Japan 174

Italy 134

New Zealand 116

Switzerland 65
----------------------------

Total for Them -- 6,820
Total for Us -- 14,857


Source: CIA World Factbook

==================

When the privateers want to tell you how well Canada’s partly-privatized system runs -- take a look at the numbers.

United States of America 14,857 vs. Canada 1,326

When those that bow to Margaret Thatcher’s legacy want to point out how well the United Kingdom’s privatized system works -- take a look at the numbers.

United States of America 14,857 vs. United Kingdom 471

As I hope my previous post on the Human Development Index showed, I’m not above noticing (and calling attention to) the fact that someone might have a better way than we in the United States. But I’m certainly not above calling attention to the fact that we in the United States actually do have a better way -- when we actually do.

And lest it escape your notice, the National Airspace System of the United States of America was built with massive funds provided by the United States citizens and administered by the United States Government. The Bush Administration and the Free Marketeers would have you believe that they can do it better. Tell them no -- they can’t.

Don Brown
February 10, 2007

We’re Number...Eight ?




I was talking to one of my favorite people the other day, going on about a wonderful article I’d read. He asked me if it was on my blog so he could read it. “Uh...that’s a good idea. Wish I’d thought of that.”

Sometimes I can be rather dense.

The Social Welfare State, beyond Ideology By Jeffrey D. Sachs

My favorite line in the article ? “Friedrich Von Hayek was wrong.”

Along the same lines, I stumbled onto this article at Wikipedia.

Human Development Index

Not only is it interesting reading, it ties in nicely with the Scientific American article above.

Happy reading.

Don Brown
February 10, 2007

Friday, February 09, 2007

Dear Congress

I know you’re busy people so I thought I’d help you out. Here’s a letter I will be e-mailing my Congressional representatives. Feel free to “copy and paste” and send it to yours.

You can find (and write) your own Congressman here.

You can find your Senators here. Choose your State from the drop box at the top right of the page.

Dear Congressman/Senator _______,

This year, Congress will take up Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The President's FY 2008 Federal Aviation Administration Budget includes a proposal for “user fees.”

I am fundamentally opposed to this proposal and I ask that you oppose any attempt by the FAA to impose any type of “user fee.”

In addition, I believe Congress should direct the FAA to improve its performance within the framework of a government agency instead of its current misguided quest to act “more like a business.” We have the greatest National Airspace System in the world. It wasn’t built by a business and it wasn’t built by a government trying to act like a business. It was built by the greatest government the world has ever known. I think it’s high time we started acting like it -- again.

In this light, I want you to be aware of my absolute opposition to any idea of privatizing the United States National Airspace System. The National Airspace System belongs to the People of the United States and should remain firmly in their hands where they can ensure that it will be run in their best interests.

Don Brown
February 9, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Chew On This

Here it comes. Just like I told you.

User fees proposed for air traffic services

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration proposed on Monday that airlines pay billions in user fees to replace ticket and other taxes that currently underwrite much of the nation's air traffic control system."

STOP ! DROP ! ROLL ! Okay, you’re not on fire and no alien has sucked your brain out in the last five minutes. Let’s think about this.

“The Bush Administration” hasn’t “proposed” that any business pay anybody “billions” since it took office. It isn’t doing so now. Airlines collect billions in taxes now. Take a look at your next airline ticket for confirmation. Now, suppose under this new proposed system that the airlines are paying “fees” instead of collecting “taxes.” Do you think the price of your ticket will go down ? Or do you think that the airlines will pass along the price of the “fees” just like they’ve passed along the price of the taxes all these years ?

Two more points along these lines.

Every legacy airline in America is either in or has been in bankruptcy -- except American Airlines. Pan Am, Eastern, TWA and dozens of others are gone. Does that sound like the kind of “customers” you’d want to depend on for your “revenue stream” ?

In addition, if the airlines have to “pay billions” then why are the only people complaining the little guys -- the pilots and businesses that own their own airplanes ? Why aren’t the airlines -- the bankrupt airlines -- screaming bloody murder about a proposal that will make them “pay billions ?”

If you’ll read the article you’ll finally reach this toward the end.

“The Air Transport Association, the main trade group for U.S. airlines, welcomed the proposal. It said carriers already contribute between $9 billion and $10 billion to the FAA budget.”

Seriously, I don’t want you to let me mislead you. I don’t want anyone else to mislead you either. Think about all this. Does it make sense to you ? Or does it look like the airlines -- and your government -- know something that you don’t ?

STOP THE PRESSES

This just in. Russ Chew, the head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization has announced he’s resigning.

I bet he knows something that you don’t too.

Don Brown
February 5, 2007

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Addendum

National Public Radio has a great interview about one of the Archie League Medal of Safety recipients on its site.

Be sure to listen to the interview.

Don Brown
February 4, 2006

Friday, February 02, 2007

Welcome Aboard

AOPA is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. They are a 400,000+ member organization and I assure you, they are a force to be reckoned with. They fired their opening salvo this morning.

FAA 'Funding Crisis' Manufactured by the Administration and the Airlines, Claims World's Largest Aviation Organization

Let me quote.

"No matter what they do to improve capacity and efficiency in the sky, it won't fix a system in which the airlines schedule 50 aircraft onto a runway that can only handle 30."

Does that sound like anything you’ve read before ?

Regardless of your socioeconomic feelings or mine, a 100 airplane-an-hour airport can only handle 100 airplanes per hour. While we debate policy, the airplanes continue to circle in holding patterns waiting for a landing slot, clogging our airspace and needlessly decreasing safety margins.

Those of you not involved in aviation probably don’t have a true appreciation of just how important General Aviation is in America. It is what sets America apart from the rest of the aviation world. It is huge. It is robust. It is -- literally -- the envy of the world. No one else has anything like it.

Here’s another quote to mull over.

”And it is airline control of a future air traffic control and funding system that particularly upsets the nation's private pilots and aircraft owners. Various user fee proposals circulated through government circles
would create an airline-dominated board that would remove spending decisions from Congress.”


Bingo.

Welcome aboard AOPA. Glad to have you with us.

Don Brown
February 2, 2006