Friday, December 31, 2010

Mica Has A Problem

It’s a long-term memory problem. He can’t seem to remember back 10 years ago.

As frustration grows, airports consider ditching TSA

”Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written to 200 of the nation's largest airports, urging them to consider switching to private companies.”

We’ve been down this road before. Evidently, the TSA is going to be one of Chairmen Mica’s pet projects.

”The TSA was "never intended to be an army of 67,000 employees," he said.”

Are you saying that is what it has become, Chairman? An “army”? Really? Armed with rubber gloves?

”"If you look at [the TSA's] performance, have they ever stopped a terrorist? Anyone can get through," Mica said in an interview.”

First off, isn’t that the kind of question you should be able to answer, soon-to-be-Chairman Mica? After all, your predecessor, James Oberstar, didn’t cut you out of the loop. He kept you informed. Instead of scaring people with an stupid question and reckless statement, shouldn’t you be the one providing the answers and the calm?

Let’s cut to the heart of it, Congressman Mica. The TSA was formed because private airport screeners were a disaster. And if you have your way, they’ll become a disaster again. Oh, it might take a while, but it will surely happen. And I’m not the only one that knows it.

”"We can't go back to the late '90s when private screeners had McDonald's-level wages and attention spans to match," Mann said. "A uniform, tough government system makes a lot of sense."”

But it’s not hard to find Congressman Mica’s true motivation in this article. Even if it is buried inside 3 pages.

”Covenant (a private security firm), based in Mica's home district in northeastern coastal Florida, has airport screening contracts in Sioux Falls, S.D., Tupelo, Miss., and seven small airports in northern and eastern Montana. Its deal at San Francisco International is by far its largest. Covenant employs nearly 1,100 people in the bay area, who make up nearly all of its 1,150 workers. The last four-year contract, from 2006 to 2010, totaled $314 million. ”

And let me single out the Kansas City airport director for his inane remark while I’m here.

”"Unlike a government job, these contract employees can be removed immediately with poor performance, attitude or unsuitability," said Kansas City airport director Mark VanLoh. "It shows in our passenger surveys for customer satisfaction each year."”

I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about security. I didn’t know we were talking about “customer satisfaction”. We all (that includes you Congressman Mica) remember why the TSA was formed don’t we?

Transportation Security Administration -- History and organization

”The TSA was created in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Its first administrator John Magaw was nominated by President Bush on December 10, 2001 and confirmed by the Senate the following January. The agency's proponents, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, argued that a single federal agency would better protect air travel than the private companies who operated under contract to single airlines or groups of airlines that used a given terminal facility.”

(Emphasis added)

It’s going to be a long two years.

Don Brown
December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I just happened to notice this story while I was researching something else this morning -- for those interested in economics.

Iceland offers risky temptation for Ireland as recession ends

”Iceland has finally emerged from deep recession after allowing its currency to plunge and washing its hands of private bank debt, prompting an intense the debate over whether Ireland might suffer less damage if adopted the same strategy.”

For those keeping track -- KTYS. Krugman Told You So.

The Icelandic Post-crisis Miracle

”The moral of the story seems to be that if you’re going to have a crisis, it’s better to have a really, really bad one. Otherwise, you’ll end up taking the advice of people who assure you that even more suffering will cure what ails you.”

More if you are interested:

Lands of Ice and Ire

”Oh, and while the IMF is demanding that Ireland cut minimum wages and reduce unemployment benefits, its mission to Iceland praised the “focus on preserving Iceland’s valued Nordic social welfare model.””

Don Brown
December 30, 2010

Strike to Privatization

I don’t claim to know what is going on in Spain and it looks like we in America will never find out. First, the government of Spain broke its word and voided their air traffic controller’s contract. When that pushed the Spanish air traffic controllers into a wildcat strike, the Spanish government sent in the guys with the guns -- the military -- to crush the strike. I wrote about it all at the beginning of the month.

I have heard from individual sources that one reason the strike was so crippling was that some first-level supervisors joined in. In other words, in some cases, the controller’s immediate supervisors walked out too. I have no reason to doubt this but I haven’t been unable to verify it through any media accounts. I haven’t been able to verify much of anything through the media. At least not from America. Which brings us to today.

Spain launches sale of air traffic control in 13 airports

”Spain's government on Wednesday formally launched the privatisation of air traffic control in 13 airports, just weeks after clamping down on a wildcat strike by controllers.”

If you’re interested, you can read about the story from a second source here. So far, these are the only two English-language stories I’ve been able to find. Time magazine did a background story on it before Christmas.

So, let me list what we know so far.

Spain started demonizing controllers months ago.

Spain broke its word and voided the controller’s contract.

The controllers responded with a wildcat (not sanctioned by the union) strike.

Spain sent the military in to arrest the strikers and take over the air traffic control system.

Spain didn’t stop with breaking the strike. They are now out to break the union. The government’s actions proved so politically popular that the socialist government (that’s right, they really are Socialists) is now prosecuting union members for sedition.

And, after using the power of the State to break the power of a legal organization of citizens, the State is going to sell off the public’s asset -- the air traffic control system.

Cui Bono?

And for those that don’t keep up with economics, you might want to know that Spain is in the crosshairs of the world’s bankers.

Let’s say that Spain’s controllers really did make some ridiculous salary -- say on average it’s $463,600 a year. Let’s say it’s outrageous. Let’s say it’s bad for their country. Let’s say that no one should have that much power -- to be able to negotiate that big of a salary and hold the country hostage. And let’s say you change “controllers” to “bankers”, go back and reread this paragraph.

Check the date -- 2006. Good deal: Average Goldman Sachs employee makes $622,000. Keep in mind, their average includes secretaries and the mailroom boy.

Cui Bono? It isn’t the controllers. And it isn’t the citizens of Spain.

Don Brown
December 30, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Wish I Had Paid Attention in School

Then, maybe -- just maybe -- I could think (and write) this clearly. Where else but at the Praxis Foundation?

Syllogistic Fallacy: LMGTFY

”Without the claimed Bloomberg justification, the Cato piece is an unwarranted assertion of desire. I could imagine Socrates sitting in the circle of philosophers with his iPad. Socrates (S) would consider Cato’s claims, review the Bloomberg link on his tablet, and ask Robert Poole (RP) a few questions.”

Don’t worry if you can’t follow it all (some of the links will make your head spin), just keep going until you read the questions at the end. Then everybody will understand. Well, except for those guys that are paid not to understand.

”It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” -- Upton Sinclair

It’s amazing what I’ve come to understand since I retired. I understand that there is some serious thinking going on at Praxis Foundation. Go read the latest. You can thank me later.

Don Brown
December 28, 2010

Privatization? Again?

I’m afraid so. I mean, after all, the rich guys and the corporations are paying them to write these things. They aren’t going to stop. Never mind that their ideology blew up the world’s economy. They’re obviously not hurting (because you bailed them out) so why should they care?

Remember, I’ve warned you about these guys before. “The Three Stooges of think tanks -- The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.” This one if from Cato -- the libertarian branch of this dysfunctional family.

Privatize the FAA

”The FAA has a long history of mismanaged technology projects, and so the latest screw-ups are nothing new. Yet the nation needs high-tech advances in air traffic control more than ever to ease our increasingly congested airspaces.”

The Cato guys have read the same bad news I’ve read about ERAM’s troubles and have come up with a completely different solution to the problem. Is anyone surprised that their solution is to privatize something? It’s no more surprising than that my solution to everything is slots.

Who do you want to believe? I was an air traffic controller. They weren’t. They will tell you their plan will “save” you money while bleeding the public of billions in “profits”. I’ll tell you right up front that my solution will cost you more in ticket prices.

”If we limit the supply of landing slots at the nation’s busiest airports to a sustainable rate of air traffic -- sustainable even in typically poor weather -- the price of tickets will go up. Come now, you know there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Who do you think is telling the truth? Okay, hair splitters, who do you think is closest to the truth? The “big lie” is right there in the text I quoted from the Cato article. You probably blew right by it without noticing. Let me quote it again.

”Yet the nation needs high-tech advances in air traffic control more than ever to ease our increasingly congested airspaces.”

Our “airspaces” are not “increasingly congested”. Heck, over Christmas they were all but empty. Remember? Major airports along the East Coast were closed. Not to mention, since the Great Recession began, air traffic has been down all over the country. The only thing that is “congested” is major airports when the airlines overschedule them. “High-tech advances” won’t cure that. Not unless you consider concrete runways “high-tech”. Even if you could build more runways, it wouldn’t help if you didn’t put in regulations to keep the airlines (and the billionaires with biz jets) from overscheduling them too.

But the Cato boys are libertarians and they don’t believe in regulation. Just like they didn’t believe in regulating Wall Street.

Me? I was an air traffic controller and I believe in safe, orderly and expeditious. For those that don’t click on the link, that means “safety first”. Or, if you like, “Safety Above All”.

By the way, I know that there are times when airspace does become “congested”. Like I said, I was an air traffic controller. That means I also know it happens because airports get so overscheduled that we have to hold the overflow in the air. That does indeed make airspace “congested”. Anybody that is paid to think for a living (that is what they do at think tanks, right?) has probably figured that out also. At least I hope they have. There is some kind of free-market magic that eliminates the bad thinkers from the good thinkers at think tanks, right? There’s some kind of competition in that “market”, right?

Oh, and one more thing. Just in case you didn’t notice, one of the links in that Cato article leads to another article by you-know-who. Come on. You know. The guy that has been trying to privatize air traffic control forever. Mr. Privatization himself. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

Oh, all right. I just can’t help myself. Now I’m just showing off. Here’s another piece of the puzzle I’ve put into my blog in the past.

””Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week.”

I know my readers are familiar with the Reason Foundation -- home of Mr. Privatize ATC, Robert Poole.”

The Cato Institute to Robert Poole of The Reason Foundation to David Koch.

”In 1984, Koch founded, served as Chairman of the board of directors of, and donated to the free-market Citizens for a Sound Economy. In 2004, this organization separated into Americans for Prosperity Foundation and FreedomWorks. Koch continues as Chairman of the Board and gives money to Americans for Prosperity Foundation and to a related advocacy organization, Americans for Prosperity. A Koch spokesperson issued a proactive press release stating that the Koch's have "no ties to and have never given money to FreedomWorks"

Both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity have been providing funding and training to the US Tea Party movement, which opposes much of U.S. President Barack Obama's policies and legislative agenda. In addition, Koch sits on the board and gives money to the libertarian Cato Institute and Reason Foundation.”

You remember the Koch Brothers don’t you? Yeah, I covered that too. You see how all of this is connected, right? If you “conservative” controllers keep voting for these guys they will gain enough power to destroy you and your profession.

Don Brown
December 28, 2010

Mother Nature Has Your NextGen

Nextgen this.

FAA says LaGuardia, Newark airports to reopen soon

”The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday New York's LaGuardia Airport is set to reopen at 4 p.m. Eastern time and that Newark International Airport is scheduled to reopen at 6 p.m. The airports were closed earlier because of heavy snow. ”

Major airports closed for nearly a day by Mother Nature. Do you really think NextGen is going to have an impact on that? Or thunderstorms? And for the facility consolidators...

KK air traffic control fire disrupts flights

”According to an initial report by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), thick smoke had emerged from the Telekom Malaysia equipment and battery room located on the first floor of the air traffic control centre.

The centre is located 1.5km from the air traffic control tower.”

And for a real time waster, you can watch this painfully funny video about NextGen. It’s long (13 minutes), it’s hard to understand (especially the acronyms, initials, etc.) and the format is overdone. At the same time, it’s smart, right on the money and, therefore, still funny. Kudos to whoever put it together.

Don’t forget, ERAM, the backbone of NextGen is in trouble and that news was buried just before Christmas.

Don Brown
December 28, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from the FAA (and Lockheed)

I’m not real sure there is a significant difference between the FAA and Lockheed, et al. these days. At least the contractors seem to be running the show. Be that as it may, the taxpayers are still on the receiving end of this “gift”.

FAA May Need to Pay $500 Million More on Behind-Schedule Lockheed Project

Now, before we get into the meat of this article, let’s put our thinking caps on shall we? The first thing to notice (actually it’s the second but it’s the first thing they want you to notice) is the price tag -- $500 million. Nobody gets excited about 500 million when we talk in billions now and the Federal debt is approaching $14 trillion.

What really should have gotten our attention is the fact of when this story came out. The article was posted “Dec 23, 2010 4:12 PM ET”. That’s less than an hour before a lot of people went home for the holidays.

”Completing the En Route Automation Modernization project will take as many as six more years, compared with the original goal of finishing by the end of this year, Calvin Scovel, the department inspector general, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that was released today.”

As you can see, the report was released “today” -- December 23, 2010. You are free to make your assumptions. I’m going to assume the timing was deliberate. Moving on.

Six more years. That figure takes on a little more significance with some additional information. You have to go back to August and an article I posted from AINonline.

””The GAO noted that after limited simulation tests at the FAA Technical Center, the FAA formally accepted Eram from the contractor since the "equipment has performed to specification at all 20 sites." Unfortunately, ARTCC tests with real traffic were abandoned after more than 15,000 software issues arose, of which 1,400 are still unresolved, including 200 "critical" issues. Equally unfortunate, government acceptance means that the FAA will have to pay to fix every one of them, at a cost of $12 million per month, according to the DOT Inspector General.””

Twelve months in a year times $12 million a month times six years equals $864 million .

Keep reading, it doesn’t get any better.

”The ERAM project, which has cost $1.8 billion so far...”

”It was originally projected to cost $2.1 billion...”

Does anyone think the FAA will stay under $0.3 billion (2.1 - 1.8) for the next year -- much less the next 6 years?

If you’d like a glimpse at how ERAM is really doing, you can view the comments on my Facebook page. The system crashed at Seattle Center not long ago and took every radar scope with it. And it’s struggling at Salt Lake Center.

For those just joining us at Get the Flick there are a few things to keep in mind.

1) All of this is nothing new. It’s history repeating itself.

2) In air traffic control, you do not want the “latest, greatest” technology. You want the proven, safe and reliable technology. In other words, we don’t want the iPhone 4 (okay, I want one, “we” don’t) and the glitches that come with any new technology -- we want the old LG model (that my son randomly throws across the room to prove it’s indestructible.) And we want the old Western Electric model hard-wired into the wall for a backup. ATC isn’t supposed to be sexy. It’s supposed to be safe.

3) None of this is new.

Merry Christmas.

Don Brown
December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Market “Reality”

First, a disclaimer. I do not understand the stock markets. I am highly skeptical of those that think they do. Exhibit A.

Fortune 500: Top-performing stocks of 2010

#6 US Airways

”Most consumer hate airlines, but investors seem to love them. That's especially true for US Airways, whose shares have more than doubled this year, outpacing the stocks of major rivals, which barely managed to log double-digit gains.”

I guess -- at least in this case -- the customer isn’t always right because (and I quote) “Most consumer (sic) hate airlines...” Not to mention, they haven’t made any money in....forever.

Exhibit B.

#9 United Continental Holdings

”On Oct. 1, two powerhouse airlines joined forces. United Airlines and Continental swapped roughly $3 billion worth of stock to form United Continental Holdings. The deal ousted Delta Airlines as the world's biggest carrier by airline traffic, and investors are betting that that dominance will pay off.”

My mind focused in on the word “betting”.


Don Brown
December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Facts Are Like Deficits

Evidently they don’t matter.

Notes On Government Employment

”Yes, government got bigger under those socialists Dwight Eisenhower, LBJ, and Nixon. Since then, however, there has been no trend relative to population.”

All that really matters to the Republican Party seems to be, “Did we get out cut?” My local paper was complaining about the number of government employees rising. After doing the math (we all know I hate doing the math) I figured out that they too were using the census workers to cook the numbers. And I called them on it. Of course, it did no good. A retraction (even if there is one) rarely ever gets the attention of the lie -- the distortion.

Many would think (because they’re not used to thinking) that the obvious answer is to join in on the lying. Just in case you ever wonder how we got to the Great Depression. Does the term “liar loans” ring any bells with anybody?

One would hope that I wouldn’t have to explain this to air traffic controllers (again.) Yet many controllers continue to support the Party that lies to them. The Party that hates them. The Party that wants to fire them.

”So those are the facts — not that they matter.”

Don Brown
December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

For the Unemployed

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

This prayer caught my attention last Sunday. I wonder whatever happened to the sentiment of “use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment“? Just a thought.

While we squawk about tax breaks, “cuts” that aren’t cuts, debt and deficits...

The truth is that no one in America needs a tax cut. What we need to do is pay our bills. The businessman doesn’t need a tax break and he surely doesn’t need an incentive to become rich. What he needs is a better mousetrap and customers with the money to pay for it. The world will still beat a path to his door. And the unemployed don’t want more handouts. They want a job.

The corporations? Frankly, I don’t care what they want or need. They aren’t people. The way I see it, men form institutions to serve man. When those institutions no longer serve the cause of humanity, humanity no longer has a use for them. The widgets that corporations can provide us are nice. Sometimes they are wonderful. But if men can no longer afford them, they become irrelevant. I’m assuming the board of directors -- the people that supposedly run a corporation -- realize this. I hope they start acting like it. Soon.

There are 15 million Americans without a job this Christmas. We have “American” corporations sitting on billions in cash. It’s time for the institutions of man to serve mankind. Or it’s time for us to question the need for their existence.

Don Brown
December 21, 2010

Today’s Photo 12-20-10

It’s almost time to go and and make today’s photo (God willing.) Here’s one from last night.

© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jesus! Can He Say That?

All hail Stephen Colbert.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

For those that don’t know, Stephen is a Southern, a Roman Catholic and a master of satire.

Don Brown
December 18, 2010

You’re Not Going to See This Often

You saw me post the video from The Daily Show, with the show about the 9/11 first responders and their health problems. Ladies and Gentlemen, Get the Flick presents to you Fox News.

Don Brown
December 18, 2010

So, It’s Not Just Me

I know some readers wonder how I ever veered so far left -- off course. Call it a case of bad timing. I retired right when our economic world was starting to collapse (although I didn’t know it.) You see, I was always too busy being a controller and safety rep. to pay attention to....well, hardly anything else. But suddenly, when I retired, I had a lot of time.

You can see right here how far behind the power curve I was.

”What I found most interesting (and what inspired me to write this post) was that we are able to talk politics. I mean talk -- as in a real discussion. No yelling, no sound bites, no ill will. It was refreshing.

No one was ridiculed. No one was belittled. Not even me, when my new friend Ian pointed out (gently) that I was probably the last person on the planet that hadn’t read Paul Krugman of the New York Times. ”

That was December 27, 2006, before the recession started. Before Wall Street fell. Back when I thought I was pretty much middle of the road -- politically speaking. Well, except for that union thing, of course.

Today, I was reading James Fallows’ take on Peter Orszag leaving the Obama Administration (he was budget director) and going straight to work for Citibank. Mr. Fallows has been around a long time. He’s off-the-chart smarter and more knowledgeable than me. And he’s vexed by the lack of outrage/acknowledgment/concern about this.

Peter Orszag: The Shoe That Didn't Drop

”What I meant was, "Politically this is damaging and should be shocking." Because the real point is that official Washington should notice this instance of structural corruption -- but won't.”

Washington is corrupt. (Ho hum) People are stealing your money. (Yawn) They’re ruining your country. (ZZZzzzzzz) I don’t know what will wake people up either.

Mr. Fallows continues:

”If you're wondering just how taken for granted such arrangements are in today's Washington/ Versailles, here's a data point. The Washington Post, still aspiring to be official journal of politics, has not published a single story about Orszag's new job.”

It reminds me of controllers that see local managers go to work for Delta et al. and national managers go to work for Lockheed et al. And we just shrug our shoulders -- at best. At worst (and I do mean worst) we ask, “Hmmm, I wonder how I can get some of that action?” It’s easy. You start by finding some small way to betray the people you work for -- the American Public.

A really smart guy from a long time ago said it best. “No one can serve two masters.”

I could transition into a discussion about assuring decent pay and retirement for government workers at this point but I’m going to shoot pictures. Go read James Fallows thoughts on the subject.

Don Brown
December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Today’s Photo 12-17-10

There were a lot of contenders from this morning. I’m so busy I’m not sure when I might get them up. Enjoy this one.

© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
December 17, 2010

Sic ‘Em

Jon Stewart does what no comedian should ever have to do, he gets serious and turns his whole show over to the business of getting the 9/11 first responders the medical help they deserve. It is awesome. Watch the whole show of you have time.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

If you want to be outraged about something your government has done, be outraged about this. Call your Congressman. Today.

Don Brown
December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How Can You Not?

How can you not read something like this when you know what deregulation has done to the airline industry?

Orwell and the Financial Crisis

”Barry Ritholtz catches AEI purging mention of deregulation from Peter Wallison’s bio. Wallison is co-director of AEI’s financial deregulation project;...”

Jimmy Buffet needs to write a new song and add think tankers to the list -- along with lawyers, thieves and bankers.

Don Brown
December 16, 2010

Knowledge Makes It More Interesting

There is a really interesting situation unfolding but I’m not sure the aviation crowd is going to catch how it involves them. Granted, it is very indirect. Yet it is important when you consider what deregulation has done to the airline industry. And what privatization is still trying to do to air traffic control. (Not to mention airport screeners.) Stick with me.

There is another one of those boring government commissions at work -- the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

”The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) is a ten-member commission appointed by the United States government with the goal of investigating the causes of the financial crisis of 2007–2010. The Commission has been nicknamed the Angelides Commission after the chairman, Phil Angelides. The Commission has been compared to the Pecora Commission, which investigated the causes of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and has been nicknamed the New Pecora Commission. Analogies have also been made to the 9/11 Commission, which examined the September 11 terrorist attacks.”

The commission is getting ready to issue its report but it is split along (surprise!) ideological lines. So...the Republicans on the commission issued their own report before the commission’s report is due to come out.

According to the Huffington Post

”During a private commission meeting last week, all four Republicans voted in favor of banning the phrases "Wall Street" and "shadow banking" and the words "interconnection" and "deregulation" from the panel's final report, according to a person familiar with the matter and confirmed by Brooksley E. Born, one of the six commissioners who voted against the proposal.”

I assume you caught “deregulation” in all that. The obscure knowledge that makes that quote so interesting is Brooksley Born’s background. You may remember I tried to get you to watch a PBS show -- Frontline: The Warning.

The “warning" was that financial derivatives were dangerous. The person giving the warning? Brooksley Born. In 1998.

”Born was appointed to the CFTC on April 15, 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Due to litigation against Bankers Trust Company by Procter and Gamble and other corporate clients, Born and her team at the CFTC sought comments on the regulation of derivatives, a first step in the process of writing comprehensive regulations.”

”CFTC regulation was strenuously opposed by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and by Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers” (If you don’t know those folks, follow the links at Wikipedia and read about them. Especially Summers.)

And, as confirmation on what we already know...

There are four Republican appointees on the commission. Half come from our friends at the American Enterprise Institute.

Bill Thomas -- ”In 2007, after leaving the House, Thomas joined the American Enterprise Institute...”

Peter Wallison -- ”is a lawyer and the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.”


As always, thanks to Professor Krugman for getting me started.

Don Brown
December 16, 2010

Beck vs. Zakaria

You already know how this works out don’t you? I told you I liked Fareed Zakaria.

The triumph of propaganda over reality” isn’t a given. The truth can win if we’ll give it a chance.

Don Brown
December 16, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Totally Random CEO

Some of you might think I make this stuff up as I go along. But actually, I do a lot of reading that never even makes it onto the blog. After the Krugman/SPECTRE story below, I spent a little time researching the question, “How rich is the Queen Of England?”. Interesting stuff.

That lead me to a Forbes’ story on the World’s Most Powerful Women. (Queen Elizabeth is #23.) That’s where I bumped into Patricia Russo. She was rated #10 as the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent.

A piece of info you need to notice about the story is that it’s from August of 2007. Lehman Brothers collapsed in September of 2008. The music had already stopped playing when this story was written. The economy was already headed down. Most of us just didn’t know how far down it was headed. You have to wonder if the 10th most powerful woman in the world knew where it was heading. I’m guessing not.

The reason Ms. Russo caught my attention was that -- once upon a time -- Lucent was a really hot stock. I had a controller friend that had some. She was really excited about it. We had lots of controllers that were really excited about a lot of stocks. I, having a regular pension under CSRS, wasn’t that interested in the stock market. The younger controllers, being put into FERS, were literally betting their retirement on the stock market. They had been told it was a safe bet. It had sparked the day trader in some of them. Some did really well. Some did not. Some lost their retirement. Then the stock market crashed. Which brings me back to Ms. Russo.

She became CEO of Lucent in 2002 and became CEO of Alcatel-Lucent when they merged in 2006. She “stepped down” in 2008.

Here’s what Lucent stock looked like. You can plug the dates in for yourself.

From Forbes:

”Russo has reaffirmed Alcatel-Lucent's forecast of $819.5 million in pretax cost savings in 2007, in line with its target of $2.32 billion within three years. Russo also cites as a point of progress the fact that the company to date already has cut 30% of its targeted 12,500 jobs over three years.”

From Wikipedia:

”Alcatel-Lucent shares lost more than 60% of their value in the year preceding her departure.”

The stock was at $3.07 today. It peaked at $84.87 in September, 2000.

I wake up every day and thank my lucky stars I have a regular pension. For now. At least until John Boehner & Co. come after it.

Just a thought -- in case it has never occurred to you. Uncle Sam, the nation’s biggest employer, has its employees drop a lot of money in “the market” every two weeks. You might want to wonder where that money went before FERS came along in 1986.

Oh yeah, back to Ms. Russo.


I wonder how those 12,500 people she was going to “downsize” made out? Probably about as well as Lucent’s investors.

One more thing you might want to know about Ms. Russo.

”On July 23, 2009 General Motors announced that Russo would be a member of the company's new Board of Directors.”

That would be the General Motors that you helped bail out.

Don Brown
December 14, 2010

P.S. The Queen of England is worth about $450 million. But, it’s complicated.

Here We Go Again

I guess now that the Washington Times is headed into oblivion, some other religiously-motivated rich guy has to replace them. Enter the Washington Examiner and it’s owner, Philip Anschutz.

For those that don’t have time to read the links.

Washington Times “was founded in 1982 by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon,...”.

Sun Myung Moon is the Korean founder and leader of the worldwide Unification Church.”

“Moon has said, and it is generally believed by Unification Church members, that he is the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and is fulfilling Jesus' unfinished mission.”

“In Washington, Moon found common ground with strongly anti-Communist leaders of the 1980s, including Reagan. Using Unification Church funds in 1982, Moon, Bo Hi Pak, and other church leaders founded The Washington Times. By 1991, Moon said he spent about $1 billion on the paper (by 2002 roughly $1.7 billion), which he called "the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world".”

The Washington Examiner is a free daily newspaper published in Springfield, Virginia, and distributed in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Philip Frederick Anschutz is an American entrepreneur. Anschutz bought out his father's drilling company in 1961, and earned large returns in Wyoming. He then diversified his portfolio by investing in stocks, real estate, and railroads.”

”Often identified as "Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz", he is a Republican donor who supported George W. Bush's administration. He has been an active patron of a number of religious and conservative causes:”

“Helped fund the Discovery Institute, a think tank based in Seattle, Washington that promotes intelligent design and criticizes evolution.”

“In 2009 Anschutz purchased the conservative American opinion magazine The Weekly Standard from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.”

None of this means that these are bad guys of course. It doesn’t mean they don’t hire decent journalists either. It doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them a couple of guys with beliefs outside of the mainstream. That’s okay too I guess. After all, I’m a Democrat in one of the most solidly Republican country in Georgia. That means I’m outside the mainstream too.

If you want to get your news from a guy that’s been called a modern-day J.P. Morgan that’s your business. Just don’t come to me in a few years and tell me you didn’t know a guy that thinks he’s Christ owns a munitions factory and that you’ve been quoting his paper as Gospel. Yeah, sometimes you have to click on the links.

P.S. “(Anschutz has trademarked the name "Examiner" in more than sixty cities.)”

Don Brown
December 14, 2010

Small-time Crooks

Krugman notes that James Bond’s nemesis SPECTRE was a small-time organization compared to Wall Street’s bankers.

The SPECTRE of Inequality

SPECTRE only asked for 100 million pounds ($2 billion, converted and adjusted for inflation) to ransom two nuclear warheads.

AIG got $182 billion for blowing up the economy. Paulson got $3.7 billion all by himself.

Don’t think it escaped my attention that Krugman can outthink and outwrite me, even when he’s home sick. I think I’ll go work in the yard.

Don Brown
December 14, 2010

Did That Hurt?

I sure hope it did. Shame on you, Republicans.

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Don Brown
December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Message is Brought To You By...

As I was sitting in my truck this morning, trying to avoid freeing to death, I was listening to Marketplace. Alan Sloan from Fortune magazine (a regular guest on the show) was being interviewed. Let me repeat the scene. A radio program dedicated to following the market, interviewing a guy from a magazine about accumulating wealth.

The following conversation took place.

CHIOTAKIS: How much interest, Allan, do you think people have in this? Does the average Joe really care about estates? I mean most Americans don't have estates, right?

SLOAN: You know that, and I know that, but most people don't know that because over the years, the estate tax has been changed to the death tax, which makes it sound like it applies to everybody who dies, and it doesn't. It's an example for the triumph of propaganda over reality.”

(emphasis added)

Now...just who do you think brought you this “triumph of propaganda over reality”? That would be the party of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey -- the Republican Party.

The thought occurred to me that most of the Republican shenanigans like this are so obvious that they wouldn’t even make a good detective novel. As soon as you ask “who-done-it?”, the answer is obvious. Means, Motive and Opportunity. Means? Rich people. Motive? (Big DUH) Rich People. Opportunity? Rich people.

What? Poor people are going to say, “Don’t tax the rich, tax me instead”? As far as motive, how’s 5 billion dollars sound? Is that motive enough? And $5 billion will buy you all kinds of opportunities.

You can read about the surface issues here:

Legacy for One Billionaire: Death, but No Taxes

”A Texas pipeline tycoon who died two months ago may become the first American billionaire allowed to pass his fortune to his children and grandchildren tax-free.”

My main trouble with the issue is a little deeper. I worry about inherited power. Just because you’re the offspring of a guy that was smart enough to amass a fortune doesn’t mean you should have that much power. I think I have some pretty good company on the issue. A guy named Roosevelt.

”As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual—a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government. Such taxation should, of course, be aimed merely at the inheritance or transmission in their entirety of those fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limits. ”

That was Teddy. Franklin had the same idea. He even credited Teddy with it..

”The transmission from generation to generation of vast fortunes by will, inheritance, or gift is not consistent with the ideals and sentiments of the American people.

The desire to provide security for oneself and one's family is natural and wholesome, but it is adequately served by a reasonable inheritance. Great accumulations of wealth cannot be justified on the basis of personal and family security. In the last analysis such accumulations amount to the perpetuation of great and undesirable concentration of control in a relatively few individuals over the employment and welfare of many, many others.

Such inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our Government.

Creative enterprise is not stimulated by vast inheritances. They bless neither those who bequeath nor those who receive. As long ago as 1907, in a message to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt urged this wise social policy:...”

Me? I’m a pessimist. I’m betting the propaganda -- and the money behind it -- wins again today.

Don Brown
December 13, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Billion Dollars is Heavy

I was listening to Rachel Maddow yesterday and learned an interesting little tidbit: A million dollars in $100 bills weighs 22 lbs. You might want to find out what Ms. Maddow was talking about. Me? I went off on a tangent.

It’s hard to get your head wrapped around a billion dollars. I’ve showed you a picture of a billion dollars. The math ought to be pretty straightforward for all of us. If a million dollars weighs 22 lbs., then a billion (1,000 million) dollars in cash weighs 22,000 lbs. That’s 11 tons.

Remember the $3.7 billion-dollar man? Paulson? If he could convert that year’s income (that’s right, one year’s income) to cash, it would weigh 81,400 lbs. That’s more weight than a C-130 can carry. (Okay, more than it’s supposed to carry. You get the point.)

Payload: 45,000 lb (20,000 kg)
Useful load: 72,000 lb (33,000 kg)

It’s not a problem really. Paulson can certainly afford two of them. Well, actually, he could buy 59 of them with one year’s earnings.

”Unit cost US$62 million”

According to Forbes, there are 402 billionaires in the United States. Do you really think these guys need a tax break?

The thing that bothers me is the power that kind of money bestows on someone. Here’s another way to think about it. The most expensive Senate race in the country cost a little under $50 million. Theoretically, one third of the Senate is up for change every two years. That’s 33.3 Senators. If you could funnel $50 million to all 33 (and one third), you would spend $1,665,000,000. Paulson would still have $2 billion left over to spend on the House.

That’s a lot of influence. If you were so inclined to spend it on such things.

I want you to take a look at this list -- Forbes400 - The Richest People in America. Scroll down and look at names on numbers 4-9. Every one of them a Walton or Koch. That would be the Wal-Mart ”We Crush Unions” Walltons and the Koch brothers that financed the Tea Party movement. And the Supreme Court said they can spend an unlimited amount of money on political campaigns now.

Do you understand why the Republicans want to make sure the rich keep their tax cuts too? And they’re not scared of infuriating 15 million unemployed Americans by holding unemployment benefits hostage to get it done either. Imagine being able to thumb your nose at 15 million voters. (Obama won by less than 10 million votes. ) As we used to say, way back when, that’s heavy.

Don Brown
December 11, 2010

Today’s Photo 12-11-10

Actually, it from the sunset last night.

© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
December 11, 2010

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Everything’s Relative -- Even Obama

I would love to be outraged by President Obama’s deal with the Republicans. I do find the Republicans outrageous. You’ve probably already heard the talking points. The unemployed were taken hostage by the Republicans to ensure that the wealthy kept their tax cuts. The one that really burns me is the audacious lie that the Republican were concerned about the deficit. We just blew another 900-billion-dollar hole in the deficit.

Let’s look at those numbers. It cost $56 billion to extend the unemployment benefits. To over 15 million people. 900 - 56 = $844 billion for the tax cuts.

Let me hit that again. $844 billion in tax cuts.

Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the $787 billion stimulus plan? Keep in mind, this tax cut is totally unfunded. There are no spending cuts to offset the cost. In other words, all the Republican whining about being unwilling to extend unemployment benefits because of the deficit was just a bald-faced lie.

It’s outrageous I tell you. I think I’ll write my Congressmen and complain. I’ll tell them to vote no. Uh...wait a minute....

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland -- R-GA
Sen. Saxby Chambliss -- R-GA
Sen. Johnny Isakson -- R-GA

Do you think they’ll listen? Yeah, I don’t think so either.

For much of the country, Obama is our only hope. I can get upset that he’s not representing my wishes, but there’s not much else I can do about it. More to the point, I can’t get him the votes he needs to move Congress. Georgia isn't electing many Democrats these days. It can’t even keep the ones it has elected in the party.

If you live in a Blue State, go ahead and get mad at Obama. I understand. I’m mad too. But I’ll stick to being mad at the Republicans.

Don Brown
December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Today’s Photo 12-8-10

It’s cold. Real cold for early December. 20ºF (6ºC). But with no wind, it was tolerable.

You may remember the link I gave you to the Center Weather Service Units. The observation before dawn this morning was BKN180 at ATL. For the non-aviators, that’s a layer of broken clouds at 18,000 feet over the Atlanta (ATL) airport. Something photographers will want to know -- and controllers/pilots should always keep in mind -- the automated weather reporting stations don’t report any cloud layers above 12,000 feet. Only the humans do that.

You might want to file that piece of information away for a rainy cloudy day. Like the day I had a guy stuck on top of a cloud layer, VFR at 17,500. When you start looking for a place to get him down, you might want to call a Tower with a human in it and ask them to look up before you bet somebody’s life on an ASOS/AWOS that is reporting CLR (clear).

That’s a little more important than taking pictures. But if I had believed all those other automated weather stations -- all reporting CLR this morning -- I would have missed this:

© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

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Don Brown
December 8, 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Rough Translation

Right-wing governments sound pretty much the same in any language. Take a look.

”Thus they ANULLED the working conditions agreed in the negotiations between the company, Spanish Airports & Air Navigation (AENA) and its employees, represented by their professional union USCA. The said working conditions are to be found in the collective agreement, which is a legal document valid since 1st January 1999. In the said agreement, it was established that all the articles would be maintained until another agreement was signed. ”

”Following a collective negotiation aimed at reaching a new agreement, which was broken off unilaterally by the company on February 2nd 2010, the Spanish Government decided to become judge and jury, annulling three days later the present collective agreement and dictating new working conditions.

The premeditation in such a measure is evident. That very same 2 February, at the very moment negotiations broke down, the union representatives learnt of a 52-page document on “crisis management” whose authorship Aena had no choice but to admit. The Royal Decree is already mentioned in this document. ”

Any of this sounding familiar, NATCA members?

Remember Your Friends

”Here’s a video of Congressman Pete DeFazio, back when the FAA was driving the controller contract negotiations to an impasse so they could impose their work rules on you. You remember -- Joe Miniace, Marion Blakey and George W. Bush.”

I know the stilted English of the APROCTA presentation (a .pdf file) makes for difficult reading but surely you see the commonality.

”Air traffic control in Spain suffers from a serious shortage of air controllers. This shortage has meant that for several years the service in Spain has been covered by relying on the good will of employees to do overtime. ”

Overtime is Spain is paid as triple time. It’s not hard to figure out where the inflated salary figures are coming from once you know that is it?

”Considering all the above, we ask for the support of all world citizens to condemn the Spanish Government for taking such dictatorial decisions infringing the rights of European workers and jeopardizing safety in the air.”

I think NATCA should support them. Not that it will make a difference, mind you. But misery loves company. And one day, somewhere in the future, when workers decide they’ve had enough of the unholy alliance between corporations and governments, it will be nice to have some friends.

Don Brown
December 7, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Today’s Photo 12-4-10

I finally got another good sunrise at the lake. My shooting time has been limited for the last month. With the holidays coming up, I suspect that trend will continue. I’ll do what I can.

© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

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Don Brown
December 4, 2010

It’s Cryin’ Time Again

Krugman makes me want to cry. Twice. First, he says what I’ve wanted to say since President Obama froze Federal wages and -- as always -- makes it look easy.

”So freezing federal pay is cynical deficit-reduction theater. It’s a (literally) cheap trick that only sounds impressive to people who don’t know anything about budget realities. The actual savings, about $5 billion over two years, are chump change given the scale of the deficit.

Anyway, slashing federal spending at a time when the economy is depressed is exactly the wrong thing to do. ”

Before this moment passes...even though the tears, I can see how this statement will be useful in future years. You’ll want to put it away some place safe -- for negotiations -- when better times come back around. Which brings me to the second -- and real -- reason to cry.

”Mr. Obama’s pay ploy might, just might, have been justified if he had used the announcement of a freeze as an occasion to take a strong stand against Republican demands — to declare that at a time when deficits are an important issue, tax breaks for the wealthiest aren’t acceptable.

But he didn’t. Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have.”

I would love to write that I disagree wholeheartedly with Professor Krugman and that he’s a quack and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But we all know better. For those that don’t read my blog (or his), it’s uncanny how often Krugman is correct -- long before anyone else has gotten around to thinking about the subject.

”Stimulus, bank rescue, China, foreclosure; it applies all along. At each point there were arguments for not acting; but the cumulative effect has been drift, and a looming catastrophe in the midterms.

Or to put it another way, the administration has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. And soon there won’t be any more opportunities to miss.”

That statement isn’t from today’s column. It was a blog entry back in October. If I wanted to spend the time, I’m sure I could go back further -- because I’m sure Krugman does.

But wait, there’s more. And it’s worse. Krugman’s column was in Friday’s New York Times. Oh no, it wasn’t in some blog entry. I was out there in front of God and everybody.

Freezing Out Hope

In addition, the editorial board itself wrote an editorial on Friday that was just as damning.

Inside the Beltway: A Deficit of Purpose

”In the last few weeks, Republicans have blocked or vowed to kill: an extension of jobless benefits; the first real arms reduction treaty with the Russians in nearly a decade; the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; and, most significantly for the nation’s financial future, the expiration of unnecessary and expensive tax cuts for the rich.

Where has the president been through all this, as the sand runs out on a Congress with two Democratic majorities? He has issued a few mild statements and urged everyone to work together, when everyone knows the Republicans will refuse.”

To lose Paul Krugman and the New York Times editorial board on the same day has to hurt, if you’re a Democratic President. Especially a few days after you threw one of your core constituencies -- Federal workers -- under the bus.

Is it time to turn on the light saber yet, President Obama? It sure looks like it is, to me.

Don Brown
December 4, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Simple Math

All my readers know I hate math, right? But even I can tell the difference between these numbers.

132 million people voted in 2008 -- the election President Obama won.

In the recent 2010 midterm elections, approximately 82 million people voted.

Pundits can pronounce all the guesses they care to make. I don’t contest the numbers nor will I try to belittle the significance of the Republican’s win. This is the way our system works.

But at least 50 million people that “spoke” last time didn’t speak this time. Just something to keep in mind when people are trying to tell you what the country was saying.

Don Brown
December 3, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How’s the Cake?

”Finally I recalled the last resort of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: "Let them eat cake."”

For the poor:

Millions may lose jobless benefits as holidays loom

Nearly half of unemployed in U.S. have been out of work for more than six months

”Hours before beefed-up benefits were set to expire at midnight on Tuesday, Democrats sought to extend them for another year. But they were blocked by Republican Senator Scott Brown, who said Democrats should have taken time to work out a compromise.”

For the rich:

Senate GOP Pledges to Block All Bills but Tax and Budget

”Senate Republicans informed Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a letter signed by all members of the minority Conference that they will block all legislation during the lame-duck session until the chamber has acted to fund the government and extend Bush-era tax cuts for all income tax brackets.”

Reality. The poor have lost unemployment benefits. The rich have retained their tax breaks. For now. This reality has been brought to you by the Party of Big Business Party of the Confederacy Republican Party.

For the air traffic controllers of America, ask yourself a question; How many PATCO guys ever thought they’d be on unemployment when they were in your shoes?

Your turn awaits.


”Efforts to save taxpayer money by shutting down obsolete FAA facilities or combining unnecessary operations is often delayed or denied by purely political decisions. As the air traffic control system is modernized, FAA will require fewer facilities to operate.”

That’s Congressman Mica talking. Soon to be Chairman Mica.

How about some coffee with that cake? Y’all need to wake up.

Don Brown
December 1, 2010