Thursday, October 30, 2008

My World Has Changed



Last night, right before I went to bed, I watched the Obama infomercial. My wife had TiVoed it for me. I could tell that she thought it was something special. It was.

This morning I got up and decided to check the polls at Real Clear Politics. I watch the electoral count and the number had changed from the last two days. Obama was up 5 votes so I went to the electoral map to see what had changed. Sure enough, Obama had picked up Nevada. But that isn’t what caught my eye. That isn’t what changed my world. It was Georgia.

Georgia had changed from “Red” to “Gray”. Georgia had gone from “Solid” McCain to “Leaning” McCain to “Toss Up”.

My world has changed. If you live in Georgia, yours has too. Hallelujah.

The fact that Obama even has a chance of carrying Georgia is a minor miracle. If he manages to actually do it...well, it won’t mean he’s the Messiah. But he will be The One.

Go make history. Go vote for Obama.



Don Brown
October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Dumb System -- Busted



Did you know that in 1859, when the telegraph system was only 15 years old, much of it shorted out and caught on fire ? The damage was caused by sunspots. To be more precise, the communications outage was caused by the biggest solar flare in recorded history. It was so big that you could see the Northern Lights in Havana.

It’s amazing the things I learn when I’m talking to air traffic controllers. No, we haven’t gone ‘round the bend. I haven’t taken up a new hobby -- astronomy -- either. My buddy Spike has. (What ? You mean you don’t have a friend named Spike ?) Spike is a modern-day Renaissance Man -- he always has a new hobby. Right now it is solar astronomy. You can check it out for yourself. He’s the one that directed me towards the article about solar flares. Why ? This will make it clearer.

Solar Superstorm

”A 1994 solar storm caused major malfunctions to two communications satellites, disrupting newspaper, network television and nationwide radio service throughout Canada. Other storms have affected systems ranging from cell phone service and TV signals to GPS systems and electrical power grids.“

You caught that “GPS systems” bit, right ? Do you remember this quote from the Associated Press story I used in my post “Dead Wrong” ?

“The $35 billion plan would replace the current radar system with the kind of GPS technology that has become commonplace in cars and cell phones. Supporters say it would triple air traffic capacity, reduce delays by at least half, improve safety and curb greenhouse gas emissions. “

Now, just suppose we could “triple air traffic capacity” (we can’t) by replacing our “current radar system” (we won’t) with a new “kind of GPS technology” based system. And then a big old solar flare came along and fried our GPS system. What would we have ? Another Dumb System -- Busted. ADS-B.

ADS-B

Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) is a cooperative surveillance technique for air traffic control and related applications. An ADS-B-out equipped aircraft determines its own position using a global navigation satellite system and periodically broadcasts this position and other relevant information to potential ground stations and other aircraft with ADS-B-in equipment.

The sunspot stuff is easy to understand. I bet you didn’t even pick out the important part of the Wikipedia quote above -- because I’ve got you looking in the wrong place. Here’s the important part. “(ADS-B) is a cooperative surveillance technique...” That means if the pilot of the airplane isn’t “cooperative” -- if he doesn’t turn the little black box on -- air traffic controllers will never see him on that system that replaces radar but isn’t radar -- ADS-B.

I’m just a retired controller so what do I know ? Maybe you had rather take the word of the “experts” with your $35 billion dollars. I mean, it’s worked out so well with your 401K and the world’s economy.

Don Brown
October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flight Service Guy



Here’s your chance to be part of an internet legend. Run over to The Main Bang and listen to the song. Seriously, this song will make it to the Top Ten. Tell all your aviation friends.

Don Brown
October 28, 2008

A Plane Wreck



With all eyes focused on the Presidential election, the aviation news is kind of slow. This highlights a theme that will become important in the next Administration -- how to get aviation on the “front burner.” The dearth of aviation coverage at the moment shows how hard it is for America/Washington/The World to focus on more than one or two problems at a time. Right now, it’s all Election and Economy. After the election, everyone will want their story in the limelight.

As usual, I’m veering off course. The story today is from my friends at AVweb.

Pilots know they must always keep learning to keep safe, and one way to keep sharp is to study the mistakes made by others. To promote that effort, the FAA has created an online safety library that teaches "lessons learned" from some of the world's most historically significant transport airplane accidents.

All right ! Now this is my kind of web site. I was all excited until I clicked on the link and read this:

Each accident also contains at least one high level lesson related to a threat element, and at least one lesson related to a theme element. View each of these perspectives and their related elements by clicking in the areas below.

If you can figure out what that means on the first try, you’re smarter than me. Honest to goodness, only the FAA can turn a good idea about a plane wreck into a train wreck. I really hoped I’d have something nice to say about the FAA for once. Instead, I’m left feeling like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football away -- one more time.

Oh well. It’s not a total waste of time. Skip the ridiculous home page and go right to the “site map”. I was able to find some useful information from there. Hopefully, you will too.

Don Brown
October 28, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Burnley Blows It (Again)



Just to refresh your memory, former Secretary of Transportation James Burnley and I have (as they say) “history”. I feel certain that he doesn’t remember me. I was just one of the little people in the room. But I remember him and what a bully he was.

It doesn’t look like he’s changed much. The National Journal Group held a “policy breakfast” about transportation at which Mr. Burnley was one of the guest speakers. Towards the end of the conference -- during the question and answer portion -- Mr. Burnely decided he’d like to blame the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for the FAA’s funding problems.

”Burnley chimed in that one major reason why the FAA's reauthorization has been held up is union efforts on behalf of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.“

Unfortunately for him, another one of “the little people” from NATCA was in the room. Well, maybe not so little. It was Doug Church, Director of Communications for NATCA. The audience had a good laugh at Mr. Burnley’s expense when Doug “clarified” the facts for him.

"The controllers union is not holding up the current reauthorization, which is held up in the Senate," Church said. "This is a battle on the user-fee issues alone, and that was what both parties have said. We are leading the push for reauthorization, as National Journal was a recipient of many of our ad dollars promoting that fact."

I would have paid good money to have seen that look on Burnley’s face -- again.

As much fun as this all is, the subject matter is deadly serious. You need to keep this in mind as you go to the polls to vote. As I was searching for today’s story, I ran across this story in Traffic World. And it couldn’t have made the situation any plainer.

”James Burnley, a former DOT secretary under two Republican presidents who also has advised the McCain campaign...“

I didn’t know Mr. Burnley was advising the McCain campaign. I’m not surprised. I just didn’t know it.

”A McCain Department of Transportation, meanwhile, likely would look much like the last eight years under President Bush.

"I think a McCain DOT is going to be very similar to what we have now," said the U.S. Chamber's Kavinoky. "There has been speculation about Mary Peters staying on as DOT secretary. In that case I think you would see a lot of consistency between a Bush and a McCain administration." “


Now it’s your turn to say, “I’m not surprised“.

If you’re in transportation and you like how things have gone the last eight years -- McCain might be your guy. I said “thanks but no thanks”. I voted yesterday. I voted for Obama.



Don Brown
October 25, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sacking Saxby



Politics is full of surprises. With Senator Obama seemingly on his way to a win, eyes have turned toward the Senate. The pundits believe it might be possible for the Democrats to win 60 seats in the Senate -- giving them a filibuster-proof majority.

Lo and behold, one of the tight Senate races is in my home state of Georgia. I stumbled across this today in The Washington Post.

Friday Senate Line: Democrats Creep Closer to 60

”In the 2006 election, almost every state in the country was swept by a Democratic wave. Almost every state that is except Georgia where Republicans nearly knocked off two Democratic House incumbents and saw Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) reelected with 58 percent of the vote. Much has changed in two years, however, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), once considered among the safest of GOP incumbents, finds himself in a dogfight with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). Polling -- public and private -- suggest this is a statistical dead heat. “

Senator Chambliss is just another “red meat” Republican from a red state. Now that the race has tightened up, he instinctively turned to what got him elected in the first place -- attack ads. In fact, that is about the whole sum of Senator Chambliss. I can’t tell you another thing he has done except for running some of the dirtiest ads you’ve ever seen against Senator Max Cleland to win his seat.

If you’ve got a moment, read Saxby’s Wikipedia entry.

”Chambliss ran for the Senate in 2002 and won by a surprisingly wide margin, defeating the Democratic incumbent, Max Cleland, 53 percent to 46 percent. “

”His campaign used the refrain of national defense and security, but drew criticism for television ads that paired images of Cleland and Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and for questioning the commitment to homeland security of his opponent, a triple amputee and decorated Vietnam veteran.”

“Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said of one ad, "[I]t's worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible;" Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said the ads were "beyond offensive to me." Chambliss supporters claimed the ad didn't question Cleland's patriotism, but rather his judgment.“


Senator Chambliss’ opponent is Jim Martin. I wish Mr. Martin the best of luck. You can too. Vote.

Last minute addition. I just found this at the The New York Times. Just in case you think I’m off base, read the “comments” section. I think Senator Chambliss is in trouble. Expect more attack ads.

Don Brown
October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Short and Sweet



AOPA has their interview with the Presidential candidates up. While my readers each have their own concerns, mine was addressed on page 7.

I am firmly opposed to privatizing the air traffic control system, and I believe that air traffic control is a governmental function. “

Senator Barack Obama




Don Brown
October 23, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bad Government



I like to use the term “good government” on a regular basis. I firmly believe in the government’s ability to change people’s lives for the better. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of that lately.

Two cases in point are on the back pages of the news this week. Scott Bloch has resigned from the Office of Special Counsel to a chorus of “good riddance” from many government workers. He actually helped out in a couple of aviation cases but it seems as if it was only to deflect criticism of his own performance.

The other obscure news is about the Federal Labor Relations Authority. There hasn’t been a quorum at the FLRA so there hasn’t been any action on a backlog of cases.

FedSmith has the story.

FLRA Has a Quorum but Still No General Counsel

”On October 2, the Senate unanimously voted to confirm the appointment of Thomas M. Beck as Chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority and Carol Waller Pope as a member. “

” The confirmation, this late in President Bush's term by a democrat dominated Senate, is a bit of a surprise as the hotly contested election is so soon to come and the candidates so starkly different in their labor relations stances.“

More insider intrigue I guess. Mr. Beck was with the law firm Xxxxx Xxx. I’d provide you a link but evidently they don’t like to be linked. It’s a good thing we have Google I guess.

Don Brown
October 22, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

January 21st



On the day after the next President of the United States takes the oath of office, he will come face to face with a disconcerting fact: The United States Civil Service is largely broken. Whatever grand plans he may have or whatever crisis may need addressing, he will start out in a hole because the people he will need to enact his orders are demoralized, poorly led or -- simply -- not there.

Since Ronald Reagan declared our government to be our problem, the Civil Service has been on a long, downhill slide. You can’t call people a problem and expect them to be motivated. If government wasn’t already the problem, Reagan and his disciples made sure it became the problem. They told us that government didn’t work and set about making it true.

It isn’t a problem that makes the nightly news. You won’t hear either of the candidates talk about it but in passing. But it is there if you look for it. It was even in the paper last week but I bet you didn’t see it.

State of Civil Service No Cause for Celebration

”This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, but don't expect any gala celebrations.

The Coalition for Effective Change, an organization of current and retired federal managers and professionals, did hold a forum to mark the occasion yesterday, but it was hardly a festive affair.

In fact, featured speaker Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University, began the day by announcing: "The state of the federal service is not good." “


It should be obvious to anyone but a first-time reader that I was part of the Civil Service. And while I think it should be obvious to my readers that the Federal Aviation Administration is a poster child for all that is wrong in Civil Service, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can take Professor Light’s.

”"I see significant morale problems, problems with ratings of leadership of agencies, the quality of appointments, staffing shortages just about everywhere on the front lines," he said in an interview after this talk.

"I'm very concerned that we are not investing in actual delivery of service."

For examples, he cited the length of time it takes to review claims for Social Security disability and veterans benefits, or problems with food safety inspections and in the air traffic control system.“


Take a few seconds to dwell on the fact that the United States Government has recently bought a large portion of the U.S. banking system. Who will oversee this investment ? Who is looking after your money ? When you consider the sheer magnitude of the job -- let alone the complexity of it (derivatives anyone ?) -- you have to wonder where the Federal Government is finding the bodies to handle the work, much less the expertise.

When it comes to air traffic control, you can’t go out and hire any expertise. What you see is what you’ve got. As I explained in The Morning After, the National Airspace System is human centered (as it should be.) You can’t go out and buy controllers, technicians and air traffic supervisors. You have to build them. And that is a slow process indeed.

If you are an air traffic controller -- especially if you are a member of NATCA -- you need to have a plan. You should have already been thinking about this. You should have been planning before I wrote The Morning After. If you haven’t, start now. I’m sure the next President will have people to take charge of policy regarding Civil Service. Unless you are very, very lucky, he won’t have an air traffic control expert on his staff.

At some point very soon, people will be quietly searching for answers to our problems. You need to have a solution. NATCA needs to have solutions. The next President will have more problems than he can handle. What he needs are solutions. If you don’t have one, you will just be another problem for which he doesn’t have time.

Don Brown
October 20, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Who ?



Today’s big news isn’t about Colin Powell’s endorsement of Senator Obama. Well, at least not as far as I’m concerned. Let’s put it this way; I think the bigger news is that Fareed Zakaria says he is going to vote for Senator Obama.

As I told you back in July , I think the show -- and Mr. Zakaria -- are brilliant. Today’s show was no exception. His guest list today included Martin Wolf of The Financial Times, Glenn Hubbard, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, and Joe Nocera, business columnist for The New York Times. In addition, he had an interview with Queen Rania of Jordan. He even has a small segment to congratulate Paul Krugman on his Noble Prize.

But the kicker -- and the reason I’m writing -- was his endorsement of Senator Obama. And as usual, it was clear and concise. You’ll have to scroll down to the end of the transcript to read it all .

”As I've watched John McCain discuss the current economic crisis, I couldn't help but think that he was really out of his element. His response to questions about the crisis and the rescue package tended to all be about cutting taxes, keeping government small, ending earmark spending.

This is a recitation of 30-year-old Republican orthodoxy and feels irrelevant to the problems we face today. “


”By contrast, Barack Obama has been calm, sensible and intelligent on both economics and foreign policy. His proposals to respond to the financial crisis have been careful, measured and attuned to the moment we're in. Some of them have been adopted by the Bush administration already.

He wants limited tax cuts for the middle class, but also major new investments in infrastructure and alternate energy.

On foreign policy, he argues for greater international cooperation and the aggressive use of diplomacy. He sees a world in which America doesn't have to fight with everyone, and should instead work with other countries to solve the common problems we all face.

I repeat, these are two good men, but with two very different views of the world.

John McCain represents the best of America's past, and Barack Obama the hope of the future -- the hope of a country that can make big changes and live out one of its greatest promises, of equal opportunities for all Americans, of every caste, creed and color.

And America has always been a country that looks forward. So, I will be voting for Barack Obama on election day this year.“


There’s only one thing for me to add. Vote. For Obama.



Don Brown
October 19, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another Blow to Safety



Here is another story that will fail to attract the attention it should.

American Airlines safety program ends amid bickering with pilots

I don’t have any inside information so, like most, I’ll just have to rely on the Press for information. I was struck by this bit of information in the article though.

Pilots who wish to report safety incidents can still do so confidentially to the airline’s safety department, American officials said. Pilots can also report safety cases under a system operated by NASA.

I believe everyone is aware of my long-standing support of NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System. The problem is, this Administration hasn’t been supporting it with an adequate budget.

Website Upgrade; Budget Downgrade

As an appalling illustration of the impact of budget cuts, of some 35,000 ASRS incident reports received annually, only about 30 percent wind up in the data base. The staff cannot handle them all, so must decide which of the reports are the most worthy of keeping. Consider the dilemma: is it better to keep a well-written report and discard a poorly-written submission? ASRS staff have been placed in the role of judges, looking for trends. But any system forced to discard two-thirds of its reports may in fact wind up missing trends, under the notion that the sum of the seemingly trivial could point to a widespread hazard.

I hope it strikes you, as it does me, how important trust is. I’ve mentioned it before but I think it bears repeating. My job as an air traffic control boiled down to one thing: Trust. Plain and simple trust in your fellow human being. When I said “turn left”, the pilot trusted me and turned left. It is the only way the system works.

As incredibly complex as our world can be, so many issues boil down to incredibly simple things like trust. The economic problems we now face boil down to trust. The presidential election will come down to trust. It is a precious thing.

I hope American Airlines and their pilots can find a way to trust each other. I hope the American people can too.

Don Brown
October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

If It’s Good Enough for the Banks...



I want to make it crystal clear to my friends that don’t follow the news much just how historic this week has been. I find it really bizarre that all of my favorite topics are being rolled up into one. Air traffic control, government and politics.

The U.S. Government -- under a Republican Administration -- has just made a $250 billion dollar bet on Socialism. And Wall Street lapped it up, recording it’s biggest one day gain ever. Don’t take my word for it. I’m just a an ex-government employee that doesn’t know anything about business and “Free Markets”. But I think you can believe the BBC.

Washington diary: Brown the hero?

By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Take a pause and consider what has happened: a conservative administration, wedded to the free market, allergic to nationalisation and hyper-allergic to all forms of socialism, run by a Texan oil man and a former Wall Street investment banker has adopted an economic emergency package that would make Michael Foot, the last leader of unreconstructed (old) Labour proud.

The Federal government now owns a stake in some of America's leading banks.


Let me pause right here and go a little “John Carr” on you. If you took my advice and started watching BBC America for some decent news you recognize Matt Frei as the anchor of BBC World News America . The above is like Brian Williams of NBC calling George W. Bush a Socialist.

But wait, it gets even better. The “former Wall Street investment banker “ referred to is Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary. Again, from Mr. Frei and The BBC.

”Hank Paulson, once the "uber-Master of the Universe", has been dragged to the altar of direct intervention in the banks and followed Gordon Brown's example. “

He previously served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs.


By the way, does the symbolism sound familiar too ?

“As we drink from this bitter cup that Saint Ronald proffered us from the altar of the Free Market, perhaps we will share a collective epiphany;... “ It ought to. I wrote it only only three days ago.

Please -- Please ! -- read the entire article from Matt Frei.

And please note that the Treasury Secretary’s former employer will get $10 billion dollars from the U.S. Government.

In case you don’t get the ATC angle in all this, I have two words for you -- inherently governmental. I wrote that blog on June 30th of this year. Please -- go back and read that one too, including this quote from The National Treasury Employees Union’s president.

”Under this administration,” President Kelley said, “the army of federal contractors has grown considerably, as agencies find themselves under pressure to put a variety of jobs—many of which previously have been considered inherently governmental—up for bid to the private sector.”

Are you getting The Flick yet ? If Socialism is good enough for the banks -- including Goldman Sachs -- then it is good enough for the FAA. Put the FAA -- all of it -- back in the government where it belongs. Training, maintenance, computer programming, VFR Towers -- and yes -- even Flight Service Stations. Let’s clean this mess up. We can start on November 4th. All you have to do is vote.



Don Brown
October 15, 2008

Edited note: My apologies to Brian Williams of NBC news -- not ABC News.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on the Mouse



As promised, here’s the story in The Atlanta Journal - Constitution.

Voter registration, a mouse head, and the ‘08 presidential contest

”Things are getting tense out there, people.

The chairman of the Pike County Democratic party says she found a cooked, severed mouse head in a take-out meal after a confrontation with the husband of the restaurant owner — who allegedly accused her of registering “gutter scum” for the coming Nov. 4 election. “


Pike County, to me, seems much like the rest of Georgia. Or at least what I call “the rest of Georgia.” There’s Atlanta, and then there’s “the rest of Georgia.” Please note -- before you consider that derogatory, I choose to live in “the rest of Georgia.” Nothing against Atlanta -- I just like the peace and quiet of the country.

There’s some invisible line about 10-15 miles north of my house. I can always tell when I cross it. People stop flipping me the bird as they pass me (I drive the speed limit, everybody passes me) and start waving and smiling. I have an “Obama for President” sticker on the back of my pickup, you see. Not everyone gives me the bird. Not everyone waves. But you get the idea.

I am proud to say that the “Obama 08” sign is still in my yard and has survived unmolested. Well, I think it has. Hold on...

Yeah, it’s still there and in one piece. Ha ! And my wife said it wouldn’t last a day. I keep telling her things aren’t as bad as people make them out to be. Shoot -- after the election is over I might even risk putting a Georgia Tech sticker on my truck.

Don Brown
October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Congratulations Professor Krugman



I would like to offer my sincere congratulations and my deepest thanks to Paul Krugman.

Paul Krugman Wins Economics Nobel

”Paul Krugman, a professor at Princeton University and an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday. “

My regular readers know I quote him on a regular basis and keep his blog in my list of links on the left. I am not a student of economics. I do study government. I hope it dawns on you that Professor Krugman could stay comfortably closeted in the anonymity of the academic world and do quite nicely.

Instead, he has chosen to enter the public debate and has been vilified by the Right for his efforts. During the darkest days of the Bush Administration, it seemed as if he was the only voice willing to stand up for the principles of liberalism. He wasn’t the only voice, of course. He was just the greatest voice.

For those that don’t know of the professor -- and those that might wonder “how we ever got here” -- I still recommend his excellent book, The Great Unraveling. It isn’t about economics so much as it is about life in these United States.

Don Brown
October 13, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Burying Ronald Reagan



Let it be known that I do not like Christopher Hitchens. If you don’t know of him, he’s a proper-speaking, British literary snot (no misspelling there) with the finest education that our world can offer. Unfortunately, the good Lord -- working in his usual mischievous ways (nor there) -- has seen fit to give Mr. Hitchens an intellect to match his education. Despite the appearance of being drunk, he has been able to outthink anyone in the room on the few occasions I’ve seen him.

I’ve just finished reading “America the Banana Republic” by Mr. Hitchens in Vanity Fair. The man is disgustingly brilliant.

”I have heard arguments about whether it was Milton Friedman or Gore Vidal who first came up with this apt summary of a collusion between the overweening state and certain favored monopolistic concerns, whereby the profits can be privatized and the debts conveniently socialized, but another term for the same system would be “banana republic.” “

He is, of course, talking about the current economic mess and the fact that the very same people that got us into it will now be rewarded for delivering it to our doorstep. And he cuts right to the heart of the matter.

”Now ask yourself another question. Has anybody resigned, from either the public or the private sectors (overlapping so lavishly as they now do)? Has anybody even offered to resign? Have you heard anybody in authority apologize, as in: “So very sorry about your savings and pensions and homes and college funds, and I feel personally rotten about it”? Have you even heard the question being posed? O.K., then, has anybody been fired? Any regulator, any supervisor, any runaway would-be golden-parachute artist? Anyone responsible for smugly putting the word “derivative” like a virus into the system? To ask the question is to answer it. “

As to my choice of a title, you won’t find mention of President Reagan in Mr. Hitchen’s piece. Playing off of an allusion contained therein, Ronald Reagan, no mere parole officer but the Warden in Chief, let loose these criminals upon our economy -- empowering them with his famous words;

"Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem."

As we drink from this bitter cup that Saint Ronald proffered us from the altar of the Free Market, perhaps we will share a collective epiphany; That Reagan was naming us -- We the People -- as the problem. We -- you and I -- surrendered our government to the servants of the money changers.

Let’s drop the intellectual facade. We forgot that smarter doesn’t mean better. Our sense of worth isn’t in our brains, it is best measured in our hearts. Sophistication doesn’t equate to wisdom. Our wealth -- no matter how enchanting -- is no substitution for what is found in our souls. Greed, no matter how sophisticated, is still greed.

Don’t mistake my religious imagery for direction. I might be a Samaritan, a stranger, an infidel, a heathen. The point of the Parable of The Good Samaritan is not that he was a Muslim, a Socialist, a Republican, a Democrat, a lawyer, a thief or a banker. The point is that he was good.

As a wise man says on most days, “be well, do good works and keep in touch “.

Do good. If you can’t love your neighbor at least try not to hate him. Get to know what good feels like, looks like and sounds like. That way, the next time some actor tries to demonize Hollywood -- or your Government -- maybe you’ll recognize the hate. The next time, when someone preaches hate -- even your preacher -- maybe you’ll recognize it. Hate, just like greed, can be sophisticated. But it is still hate.

It is time to bury the illusion of Ronald Reagan along with his legacy -- Reaganomics. Lack of a good government got us into this mess and we will only get out of it by making sure that our government is good. Less government didn’t make it good. It just made it less.

And we will pay. You may not have had as much fun as others at the party but it was our party and now it is time to pay the tab. When the hung-over college boys of Wall Street turn out their pockets to show you they have no money left, take their car keys. Trust me, they’ll find a way to pay. At a minimum, they won’t be able to drive the economy into the ditch again. And if they really can’t pay, we can sell the car. Call it tough love.

Don Brown
October 12, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You Dirty Rat



You’ve heard of dirty politics ? The campaign hit a new low for me, personally. I’ll point you towards a newspaper story if I can find one that isn't a pay site. But for right now, this picture from the main page of the local newspaper is all you get. And yes, they are talking about my county.

Pike Democrat Chairman Says She Was Served Rat Head In Take Out Plate

I don’t expect the picture to be there for more than a day. Click on it while you can. You’ll lose your appetite though.

Don Brown
October 11, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dead Wrong



Let’s pick on Newsweek.

”A World War II-era air traffic network that often forces planes to take longer, zigzagging routes is costing U.S. airlines billions of dollars in wasted fuel while an upgrade to a satellite-based system has languished in the planning stages for more than a decade.

The $35 billion plan would replace the current radar system with the kind of GPS technology that has become commonplace in cars and cell phones. Supporters say it would triple air traffic capacity, reduce delays by at least half, improve safety and curb greenhouse gas emissions. “


It’s not really Newsweek, mind you, it’s really The Associated Press. Seriously, the AP article is in Newsweek and 168 other publications (according to Google News.) AP has done an ”analysis”.

”An Associated Press analysis of federal and industry data found that if the new system were already in place, airlines could have saved more than $5 billion in fuel this year alone. “

And if pigs could fly the airlines might be able to figure out how to serve bacon for breakfast instead of those stupid muffins. Hey, it makes as much sense as what they’re saying. Which is to say, it doesn’t make sense at all.

I find these stories so infuriating because they are so far from the truth. And I’m just a guy with a blog. I can’t compete with AP. Quoting Sturgell and Poole about air traffic control is like quoting Paulson and Fuld about home mortgages. Yep, they’re the “experts” all right.

”"The United States has been to the moon and back. I think the public deserves that same level of effort for our national airspace system," Robert Sturgell, the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a recent interview. “

”Robert Poole, an aviation expert with the free market-oriented Reason Foundation, said some legislators are reluctant to vote for a satellite system that would make eliminate hundreds of jobs at radar stations in their districts. “

See how helpful, informative and inspiring those two statements are ? Now you know everything you need to know to make an informed decision about air traffic control. Brought to you by two guys that have never sat behind a radar scope, controlling traffic, in their entire lives.

”The planned satellite-driven network, dubbed NextGen, would save fuel by ditching radar technology that is more than 50 years old and enabling GPS-equipped planes to fly the shortest route between two points: a straight line. “

Right. If the shortest line between Atlanta and JFK is a “straight line” then the shortest route between JFK and Atlanta is a “straight line”. Let’s run airplanes head-to-head with each other. There’s a good idea. Not.

The next time you drive by an airport, zoom in on the GPS in your car and take a look at the airport. Notice that you can see all the runways and taxiways. What you are seeing in your car isn’t even available in most airliners. Think about that and compare it with what this story is trying to sell. Runway incursions are one of the highest threats to your safety right now. There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that prevents airlines from installing GPS in their airplanes right now. Think about how GPS could enhance a pilot’s awareness as he taxis around at an unfamiliar airport in the dark. But this article isn’t about safety. It isn’t even about saving fuel, money or the planet. It’s about spending money -- $35 billion -- on another pie-in-the-sky boondoggle.

”"GPS might be great to put in your car, too, but it's not going to get you to work any faster unless they open up another lane on the highway. And it's the same in the air," said Doug Church of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “

That’s as close to the truth as this article comes. Doug Church hasn’t ever sat behind a radar scope, controlling airplanes, either. He just listens to those that have. That fact alone makes him more of an expert about air traffic control than anyone else quoted in the article. And in that I know Doug, I know he’d be the first one to tell you he isn’t an expert on air traffic control. These guys are.

Don Brown
October 10, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Next Administration



Try not to get too excited but look whose name popped up in a discussion about possible Transportation Secretaries.

CQPolitics -- The Cabinet: Transportation Secretary

”Jane F. Garvey, executive vice president, APCO Worldwide

Before taking over the transportation portfolio at the lobbying and public relations behemoth five years ago, she spent Bill Clinton’s second term as the first woman to be the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.“


And while we’re at it, in case you’re still undecided, I recommend this article from The New Yorker, endorsing Barack Obama. It is the clearest, most logical argument I’ve seen.

The Choice

Don Brown
October 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Too Busy



I don’t even have time for links.

Good government types go to The FAA Follies and read about FTI.

Pilot types go to The Flying Penguin.

Links on the left.

Trust me.

Don Brown
October 8, 2008

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Credit Where It’s Due



This won’t excite you. You won’t pass it along to your friends. It won’t make me famous. It’s just the right thing to do.

With the closing of the 110th Congress, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee put out a press release listing the Committee’s accomplishments. True, it can be viewed as nothing more than political PR, but it shows that something in Congress works.

”Under Chairman James L. Oberstar (Minn.), the Committee conducted 180 hearings, lasting a total of 581 hours, and gathered testimony from 1,223 witnesses. In contrast, in the 109th Congress, the Committee held 104 hearings over 252 hours, and heard 580 witnesses. “

I, for one, would like to acknowledge Chairman Oberstar’s work. I can’t vote for him and I can’t tell you a whole lot about him except for the fact that he knows aviation. He seems to work hard and, from what I can tell, he tries to do the right things.

”When Oberstar was elected Chairman, he also pledged that the Committee would vigorously exercise it oversight responsibilities. The Committee’s first Investigations and Oversight hearing in the 110th Congress, in April 2007, examined at problems with the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program. One of the final bills approved by the House in the 110th Congress was H.R. 6999, a bill to institute reforms in the troubled program. Earlier this year, another oversight hearing revealed flaws in the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft inspection program, and prompted the FAA to ground hundreds of commercial aircraft for overdue inspections. Fraudulent activities in drug testing for commercial drivers and medical certification for pilots were also examined by the Committee. “

Many of you have probably never heard of Jim Oberstar. That’s a shame. I think Congress could use a lot more people like him.

”“I am very proud of this Committee, its Subcommittee Chairs, Ranking Members, and, indeed, all 75 Members of our Committee. We worked together in an inclusive, bipartisan fashion, and accomplished a great deal. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the 111th Congress,” Oberstar said.“

It’s not very exciting but it sure sounds better than what we normally hear out of Congress. Gracious, respectful and positive. I think we could use a lot more of that.

Don Brown
October 7, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

Guilt and Association



My conscience is gnawing at me and I’d just as soon it didn’t. It my last post, I used something I had either heard or read (I can’t remember which) and I didn’t give the person who said it (or wrote it) credit. The fact that I can’t remember isn’t easing my conscience any.

It was the idea of renumbering Depressions. I built upon it (Gulf War I & II, Bush I & II) but the point is the original thought wasn’t mine. If I knew who to apologize to I would. In the meantime, I’ll just apologize to you. Hopefully I’ll run across it again so I can give proper credit.

With that out of the way, I’d like to point you to James Fallows’ piece for today.

Our capacity for self-government

”From twelve time zones away, it looks as if the United States is in one of those moments where the capacity to get serious and face big problems is sorely tested. “

I think Mr. Fallows is one of the more thoughtful writers (hence the reason he’s in my blog links) out there and I look forward to the day he returns home to the United States. His reporting from China is important but I’d like to see more from the home front (if you will.) Regardless, his point today blends with mine. We’re a great country. It’s time we started acting like it.

Don Brown
October 6, 2008

Holding Our Breath



Just in case you wondered, I’ve been traveling this weekend -- visiting my daughter at college. It’s an interesting experience, making sure you have enough gas to make a round trip because you might not find any. I understand the Southeast is somewhat unique in the gas shortage. It was interesting -- in a frightening sort of way. Panic comes all too easily to the populace. You can’t help but wonder what would happen if there was a shortage of something more important than gas -- like food or cash.

The good news is that the gas shortage seems to be easing and we here in Georgia can go back to holding our collective breath with the rest of the nation -- waiting to see what comes next. I no longer have to wait in isolation, wondering if we will have to start numbering our Depressions the way we’ve had to renumber our wars. The Great War World War I and World War II -- The Gulf War The First Iraq War and the Second Iraq War. Bush I and Bush II. Every other commentator is now uttering the previously unthinkable (it-might-cause-a-panic) phrase -- “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.” Now we only have to wonder if $700 billion is enough to do the trick.

While we wait for the answer, the aviation world seems to be in a holding pattern. NATCA is getting first-hand experience as to how union busting really works. Today’s company goons don’t carry guns and ax handles, they carry briefcases and legal degrees. The FAA has already destroyed their profession a second time and they just might put a second union’s scalp on their belt. It will be interesting to see what “contract” the FAA offers during the next union election and whether or not NATCA’s membership has learned any lessons. In that NATCA’s membership mirrors the FAA’s personnel practices -- less experience as the record retirements continue -- I’m not real hopeful.

Of course, every cloud has its silver lining. Federal employees have joined the rest of America in their dependance on 401K-type retirements. They too will have to redetermine if they can afford to retire after the recent hit the economy has taken. Maybe the FAA won’t lose all of their experienced controllers after all.

I wonder if the NATCA members I know will still vote against their best interests again by voting Republican -- telling themselves that the country is more important than their well-being ? It’s a noble sentiment and one that I applaud. I just don’t understand how anyone can think that two wars, the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, a $10 trillion dollar national debt, a $1,200 dollar decline in median income, 4,000 dead and 30,000 wounded soldiers, $4 dollar-a-gallon gas and 5 million more citizens living in poverty is in the best interest of the country. Maybe they’ll take a look at their paychecks and their retirement funds and it will dawn on them that they are Americans too. And that they have a voice.

In the mean time (pardon the appropriate but unintended pun) we all wait, holding our breath instead of acting. And while we stand frozen in our fear, the damage goes on unabated.

Report faults FAA over maintenance outsourcing


”Although the FAA has taken steps to improve, "the agency still faces challenges in determining where the most critical maintenance occurs and ensuring sufficient oversight," investigators said in the report this past week.

In airlines' effort to lower costs, the report said, they continue to shift heavy airframe maintenance from in-house mechanics and engineers to hundreds of repair companies in the United States, Canada, Mexico and countries in Central America and Asia. “


Our jobs are still being shipped overseas and our government still stands bowed before the altar of unregulated capitalism. Only this type of deregulation won’t just take your money or your retirement -- this one can take your life.

If only I had paid attention in school, maybe my words would have the power and clarity of Garrison Keillor’s.

”Confident men took leave of common sense and bet on the idea of perpetual profit in the real estate market and crashed. But it wasn't their money. It was your money they were messing with. And that's why you need government regulators. Gimlet-eyed men with steel-rim glasses and crepe-soled shoes who check the numbers and have the power to say, "This is a scam and a hustle and either you cease and desist or you spend a few years in a minimum-security federal facility playing backgammon." “

If only I could find the words. Don’t hold your breath. I won’t. I’ll use the words that I can find and do the best that I can. You might want to give it a try. You might be surprised how well it works. It beats standing frozen in panic --turning blue in the face. Breathe. Act.

Don Brown
October 6, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Company You Keep



My brother called me yesterday. We don’t talk often. And we aren’t very good at small talk. Some of you know that we’re identical twins. Knowing that, it may surprise you to find out he’s pretty much a Republican. He’s in business. His business deals with a lot of military and ex-military people. Both groups are mostly pro-Republican.

Anyway, while trying to make small talk, we got started on politics. He gave me the same Republican talking points that I’ve been getting from all my Republican friends -- Barney Frank and Bill Clinton sealed our fate in 1999, mark-to-market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac making bad loans, etc., etc. I mentioned “Starve the Beast”. I was surprised he hadn’t heard of the phrase.

That is when it hit me that I really am retired. I actually have time to look some of this stuff up. Most people that are working for a living don’t. They’re simply too busy. They depend on others -- the media for instance -- to do a good job and supply them with information necessary to make rational decisions.

The same thought hit me again when I saw where someone was rationalizing their candidate’s lack of experience by pointing out that Presidents are surrounded by expert advisors. That made me curious and I decided to dig into it a little. I’ll provide the links to the information I found but don’t feel compelled to click on them if you’re one of the ones that are just too busy. If you have the time, please have a look. I’d much rather you read the truth for yourself.

First, I found a press release from the McCain campaign in USA Today.

For Immediate Release

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ARLINGTON, VA - U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today announced an impressive collection of economists, professors, and prominent conservative policy leaders who will advise the Arizona Senator as he seeks the White House.


As I read it, I kept seeing the same organizations over and over again. The American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. Both are conservative think tanks. Let me provide you with some selected quotes from Wikipedia, highlighting what I consider to be important facts. Again, feel free to read the entire entries at Wikipedia if you have the time.

The American Enterprise Institute

”AEI (American Enterprise Institute) has emerged as one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy. More than twenty AEI alumni and current visiting scholars and fellows have served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government's many panels and commissions. Former United States Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar, and Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a senior fellow. “

(Emphasis added)

All of those names are linked on Wikipedia and I encourage you to follow as many of the links as your limited time will allow. Some names listed in various roles at AEI that are worth checking into are; Newt Gingrich, Robert Bork, John Yoo, Richard Perle and Irving Kristol.

The Heritage Foundation.

”Since the end of the Cold War, Heritage has continued to be an active voice in foreign affairs and has been generally supportive of President George W. Bush's foreign policies. “

(Emphasis added)

If you somehow think that the McCain/Palin ticket stands for change, I humbly submit that you are mistaken. The fundamental philosophy is the same. In essence, McCain has chosen the same groups to advise him that President Bush chose. He didn’t inherit them -- as Sarah Palin might -- he chose them. If you liked the last eight years -- two wars and a looming economic disaster -- you should probably vote for McCain.

You may not see the link between Blackwater and contracting out the FAA’s training. I do. As wildly different as those two subjects are they are linked by a fundamental philosophy used to make public policy -- limited government. It is that same philosophy-turned-into-policy that failed to provide the oversight at Southwest Airlines and Wall Street. And if you click on that last link, you’ll see that the policy of “ Starve the Beast” isn’t something I read just yesterday.

"Starving the beast" is a fiscal-political strategy of some American conservatives to use budget deficits via tax cuts to force future reductions in the size of government. The term "beast" refers to government and the programs it funds, particularly social programs such as welfare, Social Security, and Medicare.

The tax cuts of current US President George W. Bush's administration are a current example. He said "so we have the tax relief plan [...] that now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that's good for the taxpayers, and it's incredibly positive news if you're worried about a federal government that has been growing at a dramatic pace over the past eight years and it has been."

Prior to being elected as the President, then-candidate Ronald Reagan foreshadowed the strategy during the 1980 US Presidential debates,... "


Let me sum it up for you. Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party strategy has been to cut funds available to the Federal Government so as to limit the size of government and limit its spending on any social programs -- programs designed to help our poorer citizens.

As I am writing this, the vote on the bailout bill is clearing the House of Representatives. With the signing of the Bill, the Federal Government will borrow over $700 billion dollars. That is $700 billion dollars to undo the damage Wall Street has done while your government was busy “limiting government” oversight of the financial industry (and everybody else.) While the hedge fund managers were busy earning billion-dollar bonuses and ruining the nation's economy, the same Federal Government -- under George W. Bush -- was giving tax cuts to the wealthy, even as the median yearly income for U.S. workers fell by $1,200. The rich got richer, you got poorer and now your government has $700 billion less to help you and your fellow citizens out in the recession ahead.

”A well-known proponent of the strategy is activist Grover Norquist who famously said “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”“

In the next thirty days, when you get your bank statement, when you get a good look at the gaping hole in your 401K, when you see the newly homeless on the street -- I hope you’ll remember the words that I’ve written. I hope you realize that it is your fellow citizens that they are starving and it is you that they are trying to drown in the bathtub.

When you go to vote on November 4th, remember who brought you this mess. If the name has an “R” next to it, think REJECT.

Don Brown
October 3, 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Listen to Reason



I hope some of the themes in this piece from “Fresh Air” sound familiar to you. I haven’t covered them all, nor have I covered them as well. Having said that, I have tried.

I just heard this program. I’ve never read anything by the interviewee. I’ve never even heard of him. But I think the piece is fantastic. It does a great job of telling you how we got to the current financial crisis. I think it well worth your time.

Steve Fraser: A Long View Of The Wall Street 'Dream’

Don Brown
October 1, 2008

More Delay for Delays



Here’s the news for today.

GAO: FAA Lacks Legal Basis For Slot Auctions

"We conclude that FAA currently lacks the authority to auction arrival and departure slots, and thus also lacks authority retain and use auction proceeds," the GAO report said. "FAA lacks a legal basis to go forward with the Newark auction or any other auction."

Be sure to take note of the last line.

”Earlier in the day, FAA's Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition lifted its stay on the slot auction at Newark. The auction was originally scheduled for Sept. 3, but ODRA stayed the auction pending legal challenges. “

Confused ? Don’t be. Fighting this out in the court system will take much longer -- effectively delaying a real solution to delays; Slot controls. No auction is needed. Never has been. Its just a delaying tactic.

Don Brown
October 1, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- October 1 (08)



From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Oct 1, 1969: Sixteen area navigation routes opened between 11 U.S. cities on an interim basis pending formal rulemaking. The new routes were the first in a projected nationwide area navigation route system designed to increase airway capacity.

They ran between the following cities:

Chicago and New York (two routes);

Los Angeles and Chicago (two);

Kansas City and Minneapolis (two);

San Francisco and Chicago (two);

Atlanta and Pinehurst, N.C. (two);

Knoxville and Atlanta (two);

Houston and Dallas (four).

In succeeding months, additional cities were linked as more routes were developed (see Apr 29, 1971).

The primary air navigation system in use in the United States in 1969 required pilots to fly directly toward or away from the ground-based radio navigation aid (a VOR or VORTAC) transmitting a line of position, or radial. With area navigation, aircraft did not have to fly a track to or from a navaid, though they did depend on signals from VORs or VORTACs. Pilots flying appropriately equipped aircraft could, within the limitations of the system, follow any preselected arbitrary track. An airborne computer calculated the aircraft's position and displayed track and distance to a point selected by the pilot or prescribed by the controller. The system's advantages included: routes could be established along the shortest and most convenient paths; parallel and one-way routes could be established to reduce congestion; aircraft could be segregated according to speed and destination; navaids could be placed at accessible points on more favorable terrain; departure routes could be designed to lead directly from the runway to the appropriate parallel airway; and arrival routes could be designed to accept traffic directly from en route airways. (See Mar 6, 1972.) “


(Formatting edited)

Just curious -- does any of this sound familiar ? “... designed to increase airway capacity...“ “...routes could be established to reduce congestion... “

I hired on in 1981. I never saw any “area navigation routes” until they put a GPS airway through CLT Approach’s airspace around 2000 or so.

I can just see the edited version of the FAA’s history:

"The primary air navigation system in use in the United States in 1969 in 2006 required pilots to fly directly toward or away from the ground-based radio navigation aid (a VOR or VORTAC) transmitting a line of position, or radial."

Don Brown
October 1, 2008