Volume 21, Number 6
Mississippi’s SB 2988
Bruce k. Gagnon
A War on Communities
Z magazine Readers
Sean Bell Verdict
Damming the Flood
Triumph of Lunacy
Dr. Wall Street
Colombia Trade Deal
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The Private World of Aircraft Maintenance
On April 9 there were 1,100 cancellations by American Airlines and 900 more the following day. Over 250,000 passengers were stranded as the carrier rushed to make adjustments to "wiring bundles" on its fleet of 300 MD-80s. Similar maintenance problems, never before publicly disclosed, hit several other major carriers, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.
It started in early March with the much-publicized Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) record fine of $10.2 million against consumer- friendly Southwest Airlines (SWA). The public was given its first look inside the private world of aircraft maintenance and it wasn't pretty. For example, contrary to its popular image, Southwest deliberately avoided safety checks and knowingly flew an estimated 145,000 passengers on uninspected aircraft. Six of these aircraft were subsequently discovered to have cracks very similar to those that led to a catastrophic accident over Hawaii in 1988.
In that memorable incident, the cabin top of a B-737 fuselage blew off at 24,000 feet. One flight attendant was ejected, leaving 94 other strapped-in passengers and crew gasping for oxygen. Incredibly, the crippled Aloha Airline aircraft landed safely with only that one tragic fatality. This frightening example is still recalled by safety experts because it immediately increased awareness of the deadly consequences of corrosion and metal fatigue.
New and effective industry standards for regular inspection of every individual part and each area of the fuselage became mandatory requirements. These are extremely critical tasks dutifully observed by all employees anywhere near an aircraft. They have to. There are some 25,000 take offs and landings each day in the United States carrying around 1.6 million passengers.
Most of us have seen ground crews and pilots doing these "walk around" visual observations looking for defects after each "touch down." These are in addition to closer inspections performed by trained mechanics with sophisticated instruments during regularly scheduled maintenance checks.
It was shocking, therefore, when it was recently reported that top FAA officials knew of lapses in SWA inspections and yet still gave the carrier a free ride. Worse, it was learned safety-conscious FAA inspectors were overruled when they reported violations. In testimony this April before Congress, Department of Transportation Inspector General (IG) Calvin L. Scovel III, who has oversight over the FAA, admitted that FAA superiors "developed an overly collaborative relationship" with carriers that "appears to allow, rather than mitigate, recurring safety violations."
It was an observation echoed by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. There was a "cozy relationship between the FAA and airlines and a lack of an enforcement mind-set," said Obestar. These disclosures prompted a full- scale investigation of other U.S. air carriers. At the end of April, American Airlines repaired wiring on 145 aircraft and United Airlines grounded its total fleet of B-777s to repair fire suppression devices.
Predictably, neither the FAA nor the carriers considered any of the infractions very serious. There is disagreement on this point, but even independent safety experts were quick to reassure us that the skies remain the safest than at any time in history.
However, it is more difficult to dismiss serious weaknesses in the FAA's oversight processes and of the industry's current deteriorating level of aircraft maintenance. Both were revealed as grossly inadequate. This is not big news among keen airline observers. Speculation had been flying around for a long time that the FAA was tailing behind domestic airlines it was pledged to oversee. Lack of FAA oversight became particularly glaring in the last several years when most of the majors began dismantling their time-tested, high-quality maintenance programs.
Big changes occurred with the accelerated outsourcing of "in house" maintenance. The latest debacles are evidence that most of the changes are not good. For example, U.S. airlines historically required an FAA-certified Aircraft & Powerplant (A&P) license before anyone touched an aircraft. All repair work was done by these qualified mechanics, the overwhelming majority represented by a labor union. When a supervisor pressured a mechanic to speed up or to rush a job, a complaint to the union flight-safety representative would quickly squash the uncomfortable situation.
Many national safety experts recognize that the excellent safety record of U.S. carriers resulted from this checks-and-balances relationship. Who now performs this important safety function? U.S. airlines are estimated to contract out 53 percent of their maintenance, up from 37 percent in 1996. The industry doesn't pretend this is being done to advance safety, but rather to save money.
Of course, the question is raised: does cutting costs also lead to taking shortcuts and risks that reduce safety? No, at least according to the FAA. Yes, current government policy allows FAA-licensed maintenance operators to outsource work to unlic- ensed facilities and, yes, unlicensed shops legally operate without prior FAA verification of the quality of their work. Ultimately, however, the FAA is satisfied as long as a licensed mechanic approves the work of an unspecified number of others who do not possess the coveted A&P license.
Thus, in our outsourcing world, licensed mechanics are signing off on work they do not personally perform. It is improbable to assume they observe each and every aspect of the operation performed by these unlicensed workers.
In any case, the FAA has no way to monitor this work because it doesn't know the location or number of unlicensed shops operating through agreements with the major carriers. This major crack in the system was revealed several years ago but is only now getting the attention it deserves.
A 2005 Department of Transportation IG report indicated that the FAA never inspected approximately 1,400 unlicensed repair facilities, including 104 outside the U.S. The same report stated that a mere 71 FAA inspectors oversee 698 certified facilities outside the U.S. Consumer- Reports.org writes that even licensed facilities "are sometimes found to hire unskilled and untrained employees."
Even more worrisome, when asked how U.S. carriers follow up to ensure the outsourced work has been done properly by their vendors, the Department of Transportation IG responded that carriers "rely mostly on telephone calls to the repair shops with which they've contracted." Now that's reassuring.
Numerous warnings in the last few years about the dangers of massively outsourcing maintenance to low-cost facilities have mostly been discounted by the FAA as nothing more than jet blast from disgruntled unions and furloughed mechanics. Recent Congressional sworn testimony proves otherwise as Rep. Obestar stated his concern about outsourced repair facilities not always being certified. Maintenance is "not being done with the same oversight," said Obestar. "What we have is the potential of major failure."
Another constant criticism in the last few years from conscientious inspectors within the FAA is that the agency has reduced "hands on" inspections of low-bid contractors.
Marion Blakey, head of the FAA, ridiculed these objections in a public television "NewsHour" interview (June 9, 2005): "It is a very old-fashioned approach to looking at safety oversight because in fact these days it's not about standing over someone's shoulder in the middle of the night and seeing if they're turning the wrench in the right direction."
The FAA instead relies on overseeing computer module maintenance systems. Again, according to ConsumerReports.org, it is an "electronic surveillance system, dubbed the Air Transportation Oversight System (ATOS), that relies less on inspection and more on statistical trends."
Supporters claim this is a more modern approach to technological advances in the industry. What it means in practice is that Blakey deflects criticisms by repeating the statistical trend that "no major airline incident has occurred since November 2001."
Veteran FAA employees argue that primarily relying on examinations of computer grids is too distant from the necessary grunt inspection work that occurs on the ground where actual maintenance occurs. They also claim the FAA system places far too must trust in carriers and vendors who are expected to self-monitor their compliance, based on the supposedly idyllic computer program outline.
In today's political atmosphere where U.S. government policy places all trust in the deregulated market, it's no surprise the FAA confidently delegates authority of critical safety inspection to powerful carriers. Nonetheless, for non-believers in the all-knowing, beneficent corporate market, this is a huge concern. The House Committee on Transportation's investigation into airline safety confirmed these doubts. The end result is that a very troubling picture emerges of the FAA being far too cozy with domestic airlines it is pledged to monitor.
Carl Finamore is a former president of Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.