When small government endangers you and your loved ones

Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 10:12 AM

The small government crowd is always in a dither about the joys and benefits of shrinking government, exemplified by Grover Norquist's much-publicized desire to shrink the federal government to a size that he could drown in a bathtub.

Like all movements run by zealots, of course, the reality differs markedly from the utopia depicted by the zealot-in-chief.

Take airline safety. Take the recent crash of the airliner in Kentucy, which killed 49 people when the pilot mistakenly turned onto a runway too short to allow the plane to get airborne, which the tower's traffic controller failed to notice because he was the only one on duty and had turned his attention to some paperwork that had to be done in addition to his controller duties.   As the linked source put it:

Months before the Comair jet crash that killed 49 people, air traffic controllers at the Lexington airport wrote to federal officials complaining about a hostile working environment in the tower and short-staffing on the overnight shift, according to letters obtained by the Associated Press.

In identical letters sent April 4 to Kentucky's senators, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, a control tower worker said the overnight shift, or "mid," is staffed with two people "only when convenient to management." The Federal Aviation Administration's guidelines called for two people to be there the morning of the Aug. 27 crash, but only one was present.

"We had a controller retire last month and now we are back to single man mids," wrote Faron Collins, a union leader for the Lexington control tower workers. "Are two people needed on the mids for safety or not? If they are, why are they not scheduled?"

Collins said yesterday that he sent the letters to the Washington and Kentucky offices of both senators. Bunning's spokesman , Mike Reynard , confirmed that his office received them, but McConnell's office said it had not located the correspondence in its computer system that tracks constituent mail.
Another Lexington control tower operator wrote to the FAA's Accountability Board on Dec. 1, 2005, complaining about a hostile work environment in the tower. That employee requested anonymity, fearing discipline against him.

"Not only do the vast majority of controllers worry about the security of their jobs, but this anxiety in the work place should be considered a legitimate safety concern for the flying public since controllers are not in a healthy state of mind while working traffic," he wrote.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she had no comment yesterday about the complaint.

And the story gets much, much worse.

From USA Today:

Controllers say staff shortages are everywhere
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Air traffic controllers say they have to keep track of more airplanes with fewer people as the Federal Aviation Administration tries to control costs for operating air traffic control facilities.
The staff shortage has forced some controllers to handle double-duty -- simultaneously directing airplanes on the ground and monitoring air traffic by radar, much like the solo air traffic controller in Lexington, Ky., last weekend when a commuter plane crashed trying to take off on the wrong runway.

While FAA acknowledges short-staffing at Lexington Blue Grass Airport and a handful of other small airports, air traffic controllers say the problem extends to major airports around the country and is compromising safety.

From the NY Times:

Air Controllers Chafe at Plan to Cut Staff

DALLAS, Sept. 13 -- A drive by the Federal Aviation Administration to cut the number of air traffic controllers nationally by 10 percent below negotiated levels, and even more sharply at places like the busy radar center here, is producing tension, anger and occasional shows of defiance among controllers.

At the radar office that controls planes around Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and at a cluster of other airports where staffing levels are falling fast, unhappiness is usually not visible in the darkened radar centers where they work, except when it is glaringly obvious.

Like the recent day when a controller here went to work in lime green pants and a clashing brown jacket, along with hair dyed blue, to protest a new dress code. Elsewhere, male controllers have rebelled by going to work in dresses.

Most controllers here say they are far more concerned with workplace changes that do not involve wardrobe, including salary caps, lower pay for new hires and stricter control of vacation schedules and sick leave.

The F.A.A. imposed the changes on Sept. 3, three months after it declared an impasse in contract talks. Most of the changes have had little effect on the public. But one in particular may have safety implications, controllers and some outside experts said. That is the ending of contractual protection against being kept working on a radar screen controlling traffic for more than two hours without a break.

The agency has been defensive about staffing rules since a plane crash on Sept. 1 in Lexington, Ky., in a case where the workload of the lone controller on duty violated policy.

Your right wing, anti-government, American Empire builders at work.  They may not be able to run a government, but between the blunders in Iraq and Afganistan, the mindless trimming of government without any serious regard for the effects of that trimming, and the shifting of wealth from the already wealthy to the already destitute, there may yet be one problem this passel of plutocratic jesters is capable of solving: the excess population problem.

This air traffic controller nonsense really demonstrates the blind alley inherent in the Republican "agenda": the goal was always extreme.  It was never "cut government waste" to get a smaller but effective government; it was always "cut government."  So the goal could be met by cuts in essential government, while keeping the incredible waste that fattens the corporate supporters of the movement.  And the agenda never carried any natural end point, any measure that would allow the zealots to view the landscape and say, "yes, that's enough cutting."  The only end point to this mindless doctrine is the absence of government.

So, how many people do you think will have to die unnecessarily--on battlefields, on crashing airliners, on beds in overcrowded clinics for the destitute--before the people wake up and realize they've been had big time?