Friday, October 28, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-28-11

I’m writing. Swear. I just keep getting distracted.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Sometimes, I think the picture would be better without the swans. But I’d rather have them around than not.

Don Brown
October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-27-11

Yes, I’m still alive. And I have a dozen things to write about. But I just can’t get unbusy. Vacation, planting for winter (I’m in the South) and -- of course -- taking pictures.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
October 27, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shuffle the Deck Again


FAA’s Air Traffic Chief Pledges Execution of Capital Programs

”The largest commitment involves the $2.1 billion En Route Automation Modernization (Eram) program to replace the computer system connecting 20 FAA air route traffic control centers. According to the DOT IG, the program is running four years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

“This isn’t necessarily a failure of money. This is a failure of management,” U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said during a hearing on October 5. Grizzle said developers must introduce 200,000 additional lines of software code to the system and complete 18 more en route centers before anyone can consider Eram operationally ready.”

Here’s a crazy idea. Take the last 100 computer programmers Lockheed has hired -- the kids just out of college -- send them out to academy in Oklahoma City and try to make them controllers. Those that make it through, send them to the various Centers and try to make them controllers. Let them work traffic for 2 years and them give them back to Lockheed. They’ll be there in time to work on ERAM.

Or you could reverse that idea -- like they did last time. Take 100 controllers and let Lockheed make them into programmers.

You could do both at the same time. Well, except for the fact that the FAA is short of controllers. (That’s what happens when you let ideologues run your bureaucracy.) Let me restate it. The U.S. Government could afford to do both -- at the same time. And it would be a pittance compared to what it will wind up costing us in the end.

Meanwhile, enjoy watching history repeat itself. No matter how many times they shuffle the deck, they’re still playing with the same cards.

Don Brown
October 21, 2011

Plundered Pensions

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the author of a new book is making the rounds (The Daily Show, Morning Edition, etc.) selling her new book -- Retirement Heist. It’s going on my “to read” list. (I’m still wading through Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative.)

This author -- Ellen Schultz -- used to work for the Wall Street Journal. I’d suggest taking a look at this article from Reuturs:

“Retirement Heist” book asks: Who stole America’s pensions?

”“It wasn’t an accident,” Schultz says in an interview. “It is the result of actions companies took starting in the 1990s to profit from their plans. Employers took perfectly healthy plans with a quarter trillion dollars in aggregate surpluses, and they siphoned out the money through a variety of means.””

And/or this article from Forbes:

Has Your Retirement Been Stolen?

”To be sure, the Employee Retirement Income Safety Act of 1974 made clear that pension assets are to be managed solely for the benefit of participants. But Schultz describes how companies still managed to use the money to pay for severance packages and for parachute payments to executives, among other things. Some companies simply sold pension assets for cash. Now pensions are collectively 20% underfunded.

Many employees are already aware of how this pension-starving affects them. In the book, Schultz writes about how a Delta pilot who’d been receiving a pension of almost $2,000 a month, which fell to just $95 a month after the company went bankrupt.”

You need to keep going in this article. On page two...

”FORBES: What about government employees, or teachers, cops and firemen?

SCHULTZ: There’s been a bit of hysteria over the public plans. For the most part, the benefits aren’t as rich as they’ve been characterized. Most are fairly realistic, and the numbers sometimes look larger than they really are because they include automatic forced retirement savings, for example. The bottom line is that, with some well-publicized exceptions, a lot of these plans aren’t as generous people think they are and aren’t as underfunded as people think they are.”

On page three...

”SCHULTZ: Well, you’ll probably have to continue working longer. You’ll have to save more, which will be difficult. ... Really the only safety blanket that you have is Social Security, which is also under assault. The same retirement industry that dismantled pensions would love to dismantle that program and have a crack at the assets.”

Why yes, I did tell you so. More than once.

Don Brown
October 21, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-20-11

I am not sure about this vacation concept. I’m worn out. Dash to the mountains. Dash to the beach. Dash home. And the “work” just piles up while you’re away.

My hard drive is full. This is a new problem for me. I’ve never filled one up before. I have to get some photos off of it. (You knew what the culprit was.) I am way behind on email. I haven’t listened to a podcast in days and I’ve barely had time to skim Krugman’s stuff. The yard is a disaster. And here I am, still fooling around with pictures. What can I say?

I’ll save some for a rainy day. But here are three good ones.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)
Hooker Falls, Dupont Forest, Brevard, NC

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)
Sunset, Panama City Beach, FL

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)
Red-Shouldered Hawk, this morning near the lake

Don Brown
October 20, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-17-11

When in Rome...

Yeah, I had to leave the mountains to go to the beach. Life ain’t fair. But, if that’s all I have to complain about (and it is), I’ve got it pretty good.

No mountains. No Fall colors. But they do have some pretty picture opportunities.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Oh yeah, it’s a snowy egret.

Don Brown
October 17, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-15-11

Lucky for y’all, I can’t sleep.

The overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway are small, little worlds. You can meet some nice folks. I owe a few of them a picture. Or two.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)
Looking Glass Rock

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)
Fetterbush Overlook

Don Brown
October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-14-11

It’s a good thing I don’t live in the mountains. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have time to write.

High Noon yesterday. Table Rock, South Carolina. Sometimes, clouds are our friends.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

P.S. The only reason I’m taking the time to write is insomnia. I’m waiting on the sunrise, on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Don Brown
October 14, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Krugman’s Army

That’s right -- army. I can feel it. Something is up. I think non-right-wing America is finally getting it. I certainly hope so. As usual, Krugman helps crystalize my thoughts.

Panic of the Plutocrats

”What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.”

There’s much more in the editorial. Take the time to read it.

Pictures and videos are very powerful things. I knew when the video of the girls being maced came out that it was going to stick in America’s collective memory. We knew something was wrong -- and it wasn’t the ones that were being harmed that had done something wrong.

If we were right-wing radicals we’d all be screaming about the Constitution right now.

”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But the Left doesn’t think of that as a right guaranteed by the Constitution, we think of it as a human right -- the right of all people.

Instead of getting all long-winded and everything, I’ll use two pictures to make my point. One is from Krugman’s blog. It’s indicative of the type of people protesting on Wall Street -- despite what a lot of our media would have you believe.

I don’t know of too many homeless or lazy people that graph aggregate demand (even if they did make an error.)

This next one is one you’ve seen before. Right here on this blog.

Remember this guy? He showed up outside a rally President Obama was attending in Arizona. With an AR-15 and a pistol. With the clip in the rifle where you can’t tell if it’s loaded or not. Remember?

You might want to ask yourself why girls shouting on a New York street are being maced but a guy toting an assault rifle outside a Presidential event is being lionized. I bet you know the answer in your heart already.

If you need some help putting what you know into words, I’d suggest you read Krugman.

”The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.”

You might even want to join the “army”.

Don Brown
October 10, 2011

NTSB Report CEN11CA516

It took a little digging but here is the information I’ve been able to find about the aircraft that crashed into Lake Huron -- where the pilot had to tread water for 18 hours awaiting rescue.

From the NTSB: CEN11CA516

”The pilot stated that while crossing Lake Huron at an altitude of 3,000 feet, the engine began to lose power. The pilot contacted flight watch and informed them of the situation. He moved the fuel selector handle and enriched the fuel mixture to no avail. The pilot stated he applied carburetor heat, moved the throttle, and fuel selector switch again, but by this time he was about 100 feet above the water and 15 to 17 miles off shore. He contacted flight watch again to provide a position update and to tell them he was ditching in the lake. The pilot stated that engine power was regained just prior to the airplane contacting the water; however, by that time he was unable to avoid the ditching. The pilot exited the airplane which sank soon after contacting the water. The pilot was able to tread water for approximately 18 hours prior to be picked up by a pleasure boat. The pilot was hospitalized for several days following the accident. The airplane remains at the bottom of Lake Huron in about 210 feet of water. The outside air temperature was 73 degrees Fahrenheit and the dew point was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the FAA Icing Probability Chart, these conditions were conducive for serious icing at glide power. The pilot reported he did not recognize the symptoms of carburetor ice and that he should have applied the carburetor heat sooner.”

The aircraft was a C-150, N3050X.

I found a blog post that fleshed things out a little better.

”"Our agencies have come to the consensus that Lockheed Martin Flight Service played a major part in the lack of response to this incident," referring to the Federal Aviation Administration's move to subcontract flight services to Lockheed Martin, who then consolidated services and closed the Lansing Flight Service. ”

That’s the sheriff being quoted and I’m not sure what agencies “our agencies” refers to.

Just to show you how this goes, I listened to the tapes (okay, mp3 files) available at the previous link, and until you look at a map, you don’t have any idea about the level of confusion. Unless, of course, you have local knowledge. (Just in case the important point escaped you.)

(From Google Maps)

“B” is Harbor Beach, MI. N3050X crashed in Lake Huron a dozen or so miles from there. I believe he was headed for Bad Axe, MI (“A” on the map), not “Big Axe” as heard on the tape. (I can’t find a “Big Axe” in Michigan.) Regardless, the FSS guy heard “Lansing” and that got stuck in his brain. On the tapes, you continually hear him reference the pilot’s initial position report when talking to other ATC facilities trying to locate the aircraft: “29 miles east of Lansing.” As you can see on the map, Lake Huron is over a 100 miles east of Lansing, MI.

Once again, I see the same old errors at play that I see in every incident or accident. And the greatest of these is communications. Start at the very beginning. The only correct way to declare an emergency is with one simple word repeated three times -- “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”.

AIM 6-3-1. Distress and Urgency Communications

”c. The initial communication, and if considered necessary, any subsequent transmissions by an aircraft in distress should begin with the signal MAYDAY, preferably repeated three times. The signal PAN-PAN should be used in the same manner for an urgency condition.”

If you can’t get your mind wrapped around that fact, then get your mind wrapped around the fact that your communication errors will likely help kill you should you ever encounter an emergency. I’m not talking about procedures for the sake of procedures. The words in-of-themselves aren’t important. Getting your mind wrapped around the fact that the wrong words can contribute to your demise is what is important. Okay, I’m going to stop before I go on a full-blown rant about phraseology.

Don Brown
October 10, 2011

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ouch, That Hurts!

I bit my tongue. It’s the curse of a safety rep. You can’t say anything (yet) if even you want to very, very badly. I’ll wait for the NTSB to do it’s job.

Many, many thanks to a loyal reader, The Washington Post and a certain sheriff in Huron County, Michigan.

Sheriff blames controller’s confusion for delayed rescue of downed NY pilot in Lake Huron

”A pilot whose plane crashed into Lake Huron spent nearly a full day in the water because an air-traffic controller and Coast Guard rescuers were confused about where he had ditched his single-engine aircraft, according to a sheriff’s report.”

”Trapp believed he was speaking with a controller in Lansing, Mich. But a private company hired by the Federal Aviation Administration had consolidated the service, meaning that Trapp’s radio transmission was received in Virginia.”

(I think we all know who that private company is.)

”If the flight service had remained in Lansing, the sheriff said, “the controller would have been more familiar with the area and certainly wouldn’t have questioned what body of water this was occurring over.”

Hanson, a commercial pilot, said he has 28 years of flying experience.”

That would be Hanson, the sheriff, who just happened to be a commercial pilot. I’ll do more research tomorrow. But for today, my son is home from college so I have better things to do.

Don Brown
October 9, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-9-11

The only appropriate term to describe last night’s sunset is “biblical”. Wondrous. Marvelous. I was moved to look up an appropriate Bible verse. King James version no less.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
October 9, 2011

Saturday, October 08, 2011

I Guess I Have to Say Something About ERAM

My Google News Alert thing-a-ma-jig went from zero to overflowing in one day. It’s set for “+ERAM +FAA” (ERAM alone leads to some strange places). I guess the Inspector General still knows how to get media attention.

My mailbox also filled up. My readers sent me articles from Business Week to Time. (They’re both the same story -- actually written by Joan Lowy at AP.) Please, don’t anybody take that as a complaint. I’d rather hear about the same story a dozen times than not hear about it all. Thanks to everyone that took the time to make sure I was paying attention.

My problem is what do I say that I haven’t already said?

FAA History Lesson -- February 18 (2008)

”The current effort to rewrite the program is called ERAM -- En Route Automation Modernization. If you don’t have time to keep up will all the going-ons in the FAA but you would still like to get a feel for how things are going -- this is the program to watch. And this is the first thing to watch for.”

Does This Apply to NextGen ? (Oct 23, 2009)

”Don Brown, Ex-controller and current nobody

”No one is going to reinvent air traffic control. ATC evolves. Slowly. The FAA may get their ADS-B system but it won’t replace radar. NextGen is just another sales job like URET. URET saved the airlines so much money they went broke. Did I mention it won’t replace radar ? “”

What I Learned About ERAM (March 30, 2011)

”Before I close, I want to reiterate; ERAM has to work. If the FAA decided to scrap the whole thing tomorrow, they’d have to start over the very next day. It’s that important. It is a monumental undertaking. The pressure to keep this ball rolling is enormous. But so are the consequences if ERAM’s shortcomings cause an accident.”

My knowledge of ERAM isn’t getting any deeper. I’m retired. My knowledge is getting staler. But yet, I still see things that I can comment on with a comfortable certainty. For instance, this blurb at the end of an article in Information Week.

Problems Plague FAA's NextGen Air Traffic Control Upgrade

”By 2018, the FAA estimates that, thanks to NextGen, airlines will see a 35% improvement in delays and save more than a billion gallons of fuel.”

No they won’t. They won’t even come close to that. The only thing that will increase capacity by any significant degree is new runways. The only thing that will decrease delays is proper management of capacity. In other words, if we increase the capacity of the system by 35% (by building new runways) without managing the scheduling of those runways...the airlines will just overschedule them like they do now. There won’t be any reduction of delays. Not to mention, the General Public isn’t being told that NextGen gets its capacity improvements from building runways. They think it’s due to all that fancy hardware they’re paying so much for.

It other words, the FAA is still lying to the people it works for -- the people that pay for it all. You might think “lying” is too strong a word. I don’t. Admittedly, I have a strong feelings about telling the truth.

Don Brown
October 8, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Dear 99%er

I was listening to Marketplace with Ky Ryssdal this morning and I heard this:

”It's protesters who say, in personal detail, how despite doing what everybody says you've got do to -- get an education, work hard -- they're falling behind while the other 1 percent, the rich, get richer.”

Oh, how I remember that feeling. You see, 30 years ago, I was in exactly the same spot with the same feelings. I had been working since I was 16. I had worked my way through college, graduated and...Nothing. Nobody “wanted” me. I had done what I supposed to do. I had held up my end of the social contract. But society hadn’t held up its end of the bargain. Of the two dozen-or-so friends I graduate with in college, only three got hired for “real” jobs.

But that’s where our similarities end. I didn’t graduate with a lot of debt. My parents had helped out and, despite being the worst recession since this one, I was able to work the whole time. As a matter of fact, I never really considered myself unemployed. I took a couple of odd jobs here and there. Once I gave up hunting for a “real” job -- full time -- I went back to work at the job I had had all through college -- pumping gas at the airport. (Just as an aside, a job at a General Aviation airport is was a great place to meet people that run businesses.)

The recession of the early 80s was bad, but it’s nothing like what is happening now. The Great Recession is much, much tougher. The casualties from it are going to be much worse. That -- of course -- means you are going to be hurt much worse.

My whole point in writing this is to say that some of us get it. Some of the “old” folks watching you on the nightly news know what you are feeling. And we recognize that it wasn’t tougher in our time. We recognize that the society we helped build -- or at least allowed to develop -- wasn’t as fair or as just as the one we were given. We fell asleep at the wheel. We let Wall Street and our greed get out of control. We got comfortable. We got lazy.

Keep your eyes open. My generation elected Ronald Reagan because of economic tough times. Trust me, we didn’t all think he was a hero when he was in office -- or afterward. We remember the Iran - Contra scandal. But mostly, we remember he fired the air traffic controllers. We did think that was the right thing to do at the time. At least we let ourselves think that. I thought something didn’t seem quite right about it. But I didn’t know what, much less how to verbalize it. So I let myself be convinced that I was young and stupid.

Don’t let anybody convince you that you are. (Young and stupid that is.) The important thing is what you know in your heart. And yours is in the right place. So stand up for yourselves. Demand better from our society. You have every right to do so and every right to expect better.

Don Brown
October 7, 2011

An ATC What?

I heard this question the other day...

Athletes Have Coaches. Why Not Everyone Else?

...and I didn’t have a good answer.

”Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament on television when he saw star Rafael Nadal's coach urging him on from the sidelines.

If one of the world's greatest tennis players has a coach, Gawande asked himself, why shouldn't doctors and teachers? In an article for “The New Yorker”, Gawande argues that coaches can help anyone, in any profession.”

Air traffic controllers are in a profession. Can you think of a good reason senior air traffic controllers don’t have a coach? How many times have you heard us complain, “Once someone is checked out they act like they know everything. They stop learning. They won’t listen to criticism.”

Like I said, I didn’t have a good answer to the question. I bet you don’t either.

Don Brown
October 7, 2011

Astro Awesomeness

A 360 degree picture of the night sky. Zoomable. Rotateable. Click a button and it will map out the constellations. Explore.

Standby transporter room...


Don Brown
October 7, 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Insanely Great ATC

Like the rest of the planet, I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of stories about the passing of Steve Jobs. I try not to be obnoxious about it but I’ve been using Apple products since my kids started grammar school. I haven’t heard that thought today -- one of Apple’s biggest markets used to be schools, back in the day.

We bought one for the kids when they started using them in school. As soon as I tried one I junked my PC and we never looked back. I’m typing this on a MacBook with the iPod hooked up and charging. It’s sitting next to the iPad while the Airport sits next to the old eMac upstairs. When PC users talk to me about virus programs, updating video cards and what kind of processor they have...I just look at them. It’s like they’re talking in another language. I never think about those things. Ever. I want to type a blog post, share a picture, watch a video --- not build a computer.

(Folks at ZTL will remember this machine.)

That thought led me to thinking about ATC. Do you ever wonder about the equipment you use? Who designed it? I know from experience that controllers are always brought in on the tail end of the process. After the engineers and designers and software writers and bean counters and managers and a whole host of people get their say...somebody remembers that controllers actually work the airplanes and they finally show it to us. And you really wonder what they were thinking. Sometimes you wonder if they were thinking at all.

So, for today, I urge you to Think Different.

Forget the hardware. Forget the limitations. Dream of an insanely great workstation. Dream of what will allow you to run an insanely great ATC system. ATC is all about time. Dream of an insanely great clock. One that can be a stopwatch, a timer, a countdown clock. You could even dream of having one of each.

Don’t be embarrassed. I’m not sure if I ever said it, but I actually wrote Steve Jobs one time to try and interest him in designing an ATC interface. He probably only got a hundred or so requests like that every day. So what? Take your idea, write it down and share it with someone. Email the guys up at Lincoln Labs if you want. They’re just people. So what if they’re “smarter” than you. I bet they can’t do what you do -- work airplanes.

I always wanted data blocks to flicker whenever a transmission came from that aircraft. That would solve the problem of pilots not using their callsigns -- amongst other things. How about a “sticky note” for data? You can’t do it right now (whatever “it” might be) but you’ll look at it again in a few minutes. In three minutes the “sticky note” pops back up on the datablock. A touchscreen sounds cool but as I’m finding out with the iPad, you can have a lot of unintended entries. (Trust me, the advertisers have already figured it out.) But don’t let that stop you. Dare to dream.

(Hey! I just moved my spell-checking, pop-up box without even thinking about how to do it or what makes it happen. Imagine being able to do that on the machine you work with 8 hours a day.)

All this is just small stuff. I’m not a visionary. I’m not a dreamer. But some of you might be. Some of you are. Take the time to learn your trade. Then take the time to dream. If two guys in a garage can change the world, you can change air traffic control.

Don Brown
October 6, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-6-11

It’s absolutely beautiful weather here in Georgia. Fall is on the way, even if it won’t rain.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fate in a Few Seconds

I mentioned this morning that I stumbled on The Powell Memorandum. I was flipping channels and saw Bill Moyers. And -- lo and behold -- Garrison Keillor was talking with him. I caught about a minute of their conversation before I had to move on. This is what I caught.

”Garrison Keillor: You said something a couple years back that I imagine your father would have liked. I'm quoting you here, I think I am quoting you. "The corporate right and the political right declared class warfare on working people a quarter of a century ago. And they have won. The rich are getting richer with which arguably wouldn't matter if the rising tide lifted all boats. Instead the inequality gap is the widest its been since 1929. The middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their head above water. As the corporate and governing elites are helping themselves to the spoils of victory, access to political power has become a matter of who gets what and who pays for it." Those are fighting words.”

” Bill Moyers: Yes and I wish that more Liberals would use words like that. We are in a class warfare. Every time Liberals stand up for the poor, working class, working men and women, even the middle class, the Right, particularly the Wall Street Journal, fires back they're trying to start a class war. Bull! Class war was declared in the 1970s., and its documented. Its on the record. You can go home and google tonight. Google Lewis F. Powell. Richard Nixon put him on the Supreme Court. But before he was on the Supreme Court, he wrote a famous document in which he called on the business community, corporations and others, to get involved in repealing the New Deal. Crushing labor unions. Fighting government programs that provided a floor under the poorest of our citizens. He wrote that memorandum for the Chamber of Commerce. Its on the record. Go home and google William Simon. Richard Nixon's Secretary Treasury. Wrote a book called Time for Truth in which he called upon the business community, corporations, just like Lewis Powell, to rally to defeat Ralph Nader's consumer programs, the New Deal and so forth. And the conservative movement, beginning with Ronald Reagan when he fired the air traffic controllers in 1981 began that movement. The most they had several aims. One, destroy unions. Because unions, if they raised wages of their workers brought other wages up behind them. Furthermore, unions were the only national organizations that could organize middle and working people across the country to take on the powers that be. To take on the large economic interest. And that demonized Liberals. Demonized Liberals. (applause) Richard Nixon believed not in defeating his enemy. He believed in demolishing and destroying his enemy. Newt Gingrich carried that on. Newt Gringrich introduced vicious political rhetoric 25 years ago when he urged conservative to talk in demonic ways about Liberals. And neutralized the main stream media. And in which they did, because so many people in main stream media are afraid to get as close to the verifiable truth because they would be accused of being unfair. Will be accused of being on the side of marginalized, disqualified, disenfranchised people in this country. So what does the main stream media do now? We go for entertainment, the arguments, the punditry that goes on. And they have succeeded. We are at the end of a 30 year war in which democracy is dysfunctional. Its symbolic only. And the real power that is exercised in our society by increasing smaller number of wealthy people. And that's the way. If you don't mind, let me (reaches for his book) Most of what I learned, I learned from other people. And here's an interview I did with Simon Johnson, Who's one of the most fascinating young economist on the scene today. A Brit who came to this country. Was at the IMF and now teaches at the Wharton School of Business. But he has the best economic website in the country called And he wrote an article that I saw on that website called High Noon, Geithner vs the American Oligarchs.

 And I wanted to know more. "So I said to him, What are you signaling with that headline Geitner vs. the Oligarchs?" " I'm signaling something a bit shocking to Americans. The situation that we find ourselves in this moment is very strongly reminiscent of the situations we've seen many times in other places. The places we don't like to think as similar to us. Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea. (aside by BM: this is no Marxist by the way) Not comfortable comparisons. We sometimes find ourselves in the grip of the same sort of crisis in the same sort of oligarchs as in those countries." "I say oligarchy is unAmerican term you know. It means a government by a small group of people. We don't like to think of ourselves that way."”

You can find this part of the conversation on Daily Kos.

I assume you caught the part about air traffic controllers. Again. You might want to follow Bill Moyer’s advice and google all that other stuff. If you have an hour and 35 minutes to spare, you can watch the whole thing.

Don Brown
October 5, 2011

The Powell Memorandum

(As you will be able to tell, I wrote most of this a while back. I should have finished it...because today’s events are catching up with it.)

Tropical Storm Lee won’t stop blowing sand in my eyes and camera so I might as well write. I stumbled upon this document (The Powell Memorandum) the other day and I was thoroughly fascinated. As always, those that have the time should read the whole thing for themselves. Those that don’t...

...I’ll pull out a few quotes. I found it exceedingly well thought out. Perhaps even visionary. Of course, that was before I read up on Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell. I used to just read things and take them at face value. Now, it seems more prudent to consider the source first and then read about them. From Wikipedia...

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

”Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (September 19, 1907 – August 25, 1998) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He developed a reputation as a judicial moderate, and was known as a master of compromise and consensus-building. He was also widely well regarded by contemporaries due to his personal good manners and politeness. He has become infamous for drafting the Powell Memo, a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that describes a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society.”

Sounds like a nice guy. Until you read this little piece of history from Wikipedia.

”Based in part on his experiences as a corporate lawyer and as a representative for the tobacco industry with the Virginia legislature, he wrote the Powell Memo to a friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memo called for corporate America to become more aggressive in molding politics and law in the U.S. and may have sparked the formation of one or more influential right-wing think tanks.

In August 1971, prior to accepting Nixon's request to become Associate Justice of Supreme Court, Lewis Powell sent to the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the "Confidential Memorandum", better known as the Powell Memorandum. It sounded an alarm with its title, "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System." The previous decade had seen the increasing regulation of many industries.”

The key is (of course) “corporate lawyer”, “tobacco industry” and “regulation”. Presto, you see where he’s coming from.

With that in mind, here are some excerpts. There are some that want to argue that this didn’t have much influence on anyone. But if it didn’t, it manages to predict the future course of public discourse in America with an unbelievable accuracy.

”It is time for American business -- which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions -- to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.”

What Can Be Done About the Campus
The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administrations and faculties of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:

Staff of Scholars
The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. It should include several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected -- even when disagreed with.”

Evaluation of Textbooks
The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. This should be a continuing program.”

What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:”

(Again, it’s best to read all this in context. But if you don’t have time, he’s talking about “think tanks” studying and shaping the issues they want presented and then “selling” the ideas to the Public.)

The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.”

Other Media
Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.”

And I’ll close with this snippet, about a time that many of my fellow union members might not remember.

”There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected -- where it counts the most -- by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.”

With the clarity of hindsight, I hope you can see the demonization of socialists and communists. At one time, the people of the Earth did look to those economic systems. That would be back during the last time we found ourselves in a situation where capitalism failed -- the Great Depression. No one looks to those systems now. Yet, capitalism -- unregulated capitalism -- has failed again. The answer now -- I believe -- is the same as the answer was back then: regulate it.

Yet Big Business -- in the form of the Chamber of Commerce -- has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the memo in taking over the public discourse of the nation. The have the best arguments that money can buy. The best brains (that are for sale), the best writers (that are for sale) and the best media outlets (that are for sale.) Everybody has a price. And Big Business can afford to pay it.

Don Brown
October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Today’s Photo 10-4-11

It’s been so long since I put up a new picture you must have thought I stopped. Nope. It’s been so dry that there haven’t been any great clouds -- hence no great sunrises -- in a long, long time. Let me sound flippant (although I really do wonder) -- Georgia is working on becoming a desert.

On the bright side, clear skies mean you can see the stars. If you get up early enough. And I do.

For those that care about photography, I’ve been experimenting with the “White Balance” setting on my camera. All exposures were the same: F4 @30 secs. ISO of 400.

For those that don’t care about photography, the constellation in the left third of the frame is the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), “standing” straight up on it’s “handle”. Enjoy. (You’ll probably want click on the pictures to enlarge them. Stars are pretty subtle.)

"Florescent" setting

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

"Incandescent" setting (old photogs, think Tungsten)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Auto White Balance

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
October 4, 2011

Koch Heads

Hey boys and girls, remember I told you about these guys?

Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales

”A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries -- in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East -- has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism.”

Well golly Gomer, it’s not like we didn’t know they were a little nutty to start with. It runs in the family.

”Fred (the father of the Koch brothers) was an early adviser to the founder of the anti- communist John Birch Society, which fought against the civil rights movement and the United Nations. Charles and David have supported the Tea Party, a loosely organized group that aims to shrink the size of government and cut federal spending.

These are long-standing tenets for the Kochs. In 1980, David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket, pledging to abolish Social Security, the Federal Reserve System, welfare, minimum wage laws and federal agencies -- including the Department of Energy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.”

You kids might want to read up on the John Birch Society if you don’t know about it. We used to laugh at those people back when I was a kid, they were such looney tunes.

It’s a long article and I really don’t need to say anything else, do I? Inherited wealth, deregulation and political corruption. It all goes hand in hand.

Don Brown
October 4, 2011

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Good Job Rachel

I am still listening to Rachel Maddow’s podcast every morning. I have intentionally shied away from commenting on her programs because of my previously-mentioned unease about MSNBC’s business model. But, I have to say, Rachel is winning me over.

Friday’s program was all-around great. What sold me on mentioning it was her coverage of the Anwar al-Aulaqi assassination. I’ll leave it to others to discuss (for now) but I’m really troubled by this process. I don’t doubt al-Aulaqi’s (or Awlaki) “guilt”, I am just troubled by the process. Just because Barack Obama is pulling the trigger instead of Dick Cheney doesn’t make the process any better.

While Rachel’s resistance to cheerleading for Democrats at all costs has eased my discomfort, the story I’m going to provide the video on is definitely anti -Republican. Well, as far as it goes. No one has a “bigger tent” -- a more diverse membership -- than the Democratic Party. And religious zealots have a right to be heard and vote in America too. But they scare me. And they have more influence in the Republican Party than I think is healthy.

If you want to see the full-blown zealotry that I’m referring to on display, it would be best to watch this linked video first. If you’re somewhat familiar when this trend -- if you know what the Values Voter Summit is -- then you can proceed to the embedded video below.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And if all that isn’t crazy enough for you, you can watch the crazy guy from the NRA verbally set himself on fire. Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you with the impression that it was just any old gun nut. It’s a vice president of the NRA that is talking crazy. (I’ll remind potential-rabid-gun-nut-repliers that I own a fair number of guns myself. I’m not your enemy. Look in the mirror.)

For the normal, non-political people out there (assuming there are any left), do you see the trend here? I hope and pray that the Democratic Party doesn’t get overtaken by zealots that are only on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the Republican crazies. I know it could happen. Perhaps we are all just doomed to ride the political pendulum as it swings back and forth over time. But, be that as it may, you’ve got to ask yourself if you want to live in the political climate that these people are promoting.

Do you really want to sit in a bar next to a guy that is carrying a gun? Maybe you’re okay with it in Waycross. But how about in Atlanta? And just because I know that line conjured up the comparison between white rednecks and inner-city blacks in the minds of my fellow Southerners...are you really comfortable with the implied racism in all this? Do you see that there isn’t a real difference between black-and-white racism and white-and-arab racism? Both are just as ugly.

I remember the Republican rants from back when Bill Clinton was President. I know that the Republican Party can be mean and viscous to any Democratic President. (Any Democratic leader actually. Ask Nancy Pelosi.) But I know in my heart of hearts that there is a little extra zeal in the hate for Barack Obama because of his race.

To sum it up, I’m not going to go backwards willing and I’m not going to sit idly by and watch my country go backwards either. We’re not going back to the days when abortion was illegal. We’re not going back to the days when racism was tolerated and socially acceptable. I’m sure as hell not going to sit by while the Christian Taliban tries to start a religious war with Muslim theocrats.

The days when teenage boys (in farm country) could carry their squirrel rifle to school and hunt on the walk home are gone. No matter how strong your nostalgia, we can’t go back. There will be happy days ahead (somewhere) but they won’t be Happy Days.

You often hear the refrain from Conservatives as to why moderate Muslims don’t speak out against the Muslim radicals. You can take this as a moderate Christian speaking out against Christian radicals. The separation of Church and State works. We aren’t going to have a theocracy in America. Not if I’ve got anything to say about it.

Remember these words of wisdom (from a better man than me ).

"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness, but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light."

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
January 27, 1965
Atlanta, Georgia

Don Brown
October 1, 2011