Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs

As internal and external pressures mount to hold Boeing responsible for its criminal negligence, the giant company is exerting its immense influence to limit both its past and future accountability. Boeing whistleblowers and outside aviation safety experts are coming forward to reveal the serial, criminal negligence of Boeing’s handling of its dangerous Boeing 737 Max airplanes, grounded in the aftermath of two deadly crashes that took 346 lives. Boeing, is used to having its way in Washington, D.C. For decades, Boeing and some of its airline allies have greased the wheels for chronic inaction related to the additional protection and comfort of airline passengers and airline workers.

Most notoriously, the airlines, after the hijacks to Cuba in the late Sixties and early Seventies, made sure that Congress and the FAA did not require hardened cockpit doors and stronger latches on all aircraft, costing a modest $3000 per plane. Then the 9/11 massacre happened, a grisly consequence of non-regulation, pushed by right wing corporatist advocacy centers.

Year after year, Flyers Rights – the airline passenger consumer group –proposed a real passengers bill of rights. Year after year the industry’s toadies in Congress said no. A slim version passed last year — requiring regulations creating minimum seat standards, regulations regarding prompt refunds for ancillary services not provided or on a flight not taken, and a variety of small improvements for consumers.

Boeing is all over Capitol Hill. They have 100 full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Over 300 members of Congress regularly take campaign cash from Boeing. The airlines lather the politicians with complimentary ticket upgrades, amenities, waivers of fees for reservation changes, priority boarding, and VIP escorts. Twice, we sent surveys about these special freebies to every member of Congress with not a single response. (See my letter and survey .)

That is the corrupt backdrop that at least two Congressional Committees have to overcome in holding public hearings into the causes of the Indonesian’s Lion Air crash last October and the Ethiopian Airline crash on March 10, 2019.

Will the Senate and House Committee invite the technical dissenters to testify against Boeing’s sequential corner cutting on its single sensor software that miscued and took control of the 737 Max 8 from its pilots, pulling down on the plane’s nose? Boeing’s sales-driven avoidance of producing effective manuals with upgraded pilot training was courting disaster as was outrageously leaving many of the pilots in the dark.

The Congressional Committees must issue subpoenas to critics of Boeing and the FAA in order to protect them from corporate and agency retaliation.

Moreover, the Committees must get rid of the grotesque self-regulation that allows Boeing  to control the aircraft certification process for the FAA. This dangerous delegation has worsened in recent years because Trump and Republicans in Congress have cut the FAA’s budget.

Brace yourself. Here is how the Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by FAA, endorsed by Boeing’s Congress:

“In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the U.S. government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations…”
“Hundreds of Boeing engineers would have played out this scenario thousands of times as the company sought to verify the performance of mechanical systems, hardware installation and massive amounts of computer code…”

So, citizens, watch out for bloviating Congressional Committee members castigating Boeing executives at the witness table before the television cameras and then doing nothing once the television broadcasts fade away.

Boeing’s 737 series started in 1967 and has had a good engineering safety record in this country. But Boeing was in a rush with its Boeing 737 Max 8. They had to catch up with the growing orders for a similar-sized passenger jet built by Airbus. Being in a rush meant a modification that added more seats (a key motivation), that led to larger engines that affected the aerodynamics of the plane that led to the inadequate, mostly uncommunicated software fix to the pilots. Step by step, top management pushed the engineers in ways that compromised their professional expertise and each slide set the stage for a deeper slide. Now, the press is reporting a criminal probe by the Justice Department. The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation is also investigating the FAA’s certification of 737 Max 8.

Years ago, aviation experts say, Boeing should have developed a brand new aircraft design for such intermediate distances. But Boeing dug in and compliant FAA officials dropped the ball. And President Trump has failed to fill three top slots at the FAA since January 2017.

That is why, after flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa, both Boeing and the FAA kept issuing statements filled with gibberish saying that the 737 Max 8 was safe, safe, safe—the malfunction-prone software time bomb to the contrary. A brand new plane, crashing twice and taking hundreds of lives, can’t be blamed on pilot error.

Caution: the grounding of the planes may receive a whitewash unless the media keeps light and heat on this corporate-government collusion.

Installing artificial intelligence replacing or overpowering human intelligence in ever more complex machines, such as modern aircraft or weapons systems or medical technology is the harbinger of what’s to come.  In a 2014 BBC interview Stephen Hawking, the famed theoretical physicist, said:  “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And in 2018 Elon Musk said: “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings.”

At the wreckage near Bishoftu in a small pastoral farm field and in the Java Sea off Indonesia lie the remains of the early victims of arrogant, algorithm  driven corner cutting, by reckless corporate executives and their captive government regulators.

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Who will Displace the Omniciders?

Citizens challenging the towering threat of climate crisis should never underestimate the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuel corporations. Real engagement with the worsening climate disruption means spending more of our leisure hours on civic action. The fate of future generations and our planet depends on the intensity of these actions.

This was my impression after interviewing Dahr Jamail, author of the gripping new book, The End of Ice, on my Radio Hour. Jamail, wrote books and prize-winning articles, as the leading freelance journalist covering the Bush/Cheney Iraq war and its devastating aftermath. For his latest book, Jamail went to the visible global warming hot spots to get firsthand accounts from victims of climate disruption. His gripping reporting is bolstered by facts from life-long specialists working in the regions he visited.

Readers of The End of Ice are taken on a journey to see what is happening in Alaska, the mountain forests of California, the coral reefs of Australia, the heavily populated lowlands of South Florida, the critical Amazon forest, and other areas threatened by our corporate-driven climate crisis.

Jamail, an accomplished mountaineer, precisely illustrates the late great environmentalist, Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology. Namely, that “everything is connected to everything else.” Jamail makes the connection between the rising sea levels and the untold catastrophes engulfing forests, mountains, and the wildlife on land and in the sea. Jamail is not relying on computer models. What he is seeing, photographing, and experiencing is often worse than what the models show in terms of accelerating sea level rises and the melting ice of the glaciers.

Jamail’s trenchant conversations with bona fide experts who have spent a lifetime seeing what mankind has done to the natural world, presents a compelling case of the threat the climate crisis poses to human survival.

Jamail, near the end of his narrative, writes: “Disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction… This is the direct result of our inability to understand our part in the natural world. We live in a world where we are acidifying the oceans, where there will be few places cold enough to support year-round ice, where all the current coastlines will be underwater, and where droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, and extreme weather are already becoming the new normal.”

If you don’t know that melting ice and permafrost is a big tragedy, then that is all the more reason to read this book and immerse yourself in its vivid prose.

His chapter on south Florida and its millions of residents is probably the one scenario that will bring the alarming message home to people in coastal communities worldwide. South Florida could be underwater in fifty years or less. Many of the houses, buildings and infrastructures are located only a few feet or yards above sea level. Engineers and some city officials see Miami Beach as doomed and say Floridians must prepare for evacuations.

There are other more approaching, intermediate dangers. As Jamail writes: “One major source of concern is the Florida aquifer. Once that water is contaminated by saltwater, it is over.”

Already, some banks will not provide 30 year home mortgages for vulnerably located houses. Some home values along the ocean are starting to be adversely affected. Insurance companies are reluctant to publicize their projections but their actuarial tables are not, shall we say, consumer friendly.

Then there are the lethal-storm surges during major hurricanes as sea levels and high tides rise relentlessly.

Most businesses, people, and municipalities are looking the other way. Two-term Governor Rick Scott (a corporate crook) even prohibited state employees from uttering or writing the words “climate change” in any state documents. It is admittedly hard to face such catastrophe while the sun is shining and most normal life continues. In 2017, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Florida Power and Light, the go-ahead to build two new nuclear power plants (they’re too expensive and won’t be built) to join its aging plants on the beach. Shades of the Fukushima disaster in Japan 8 years ago.

None of these warnings are recent. Climate scientists warned President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers associated with carbon release in the atmosphere in 1965. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore released a detailed, urgent, report, with pictures and graphs, about climate disruption in 1993 to demonstrate that the clock was ticking. Unfortunately, in the following seven years, they mostly did what the auto industry wanted them to do—nothing.

Some of the most poignant passages in Jamail’s book are the informed cries and worries of the onsite specialists he interviewed. People you have never heard of, but who should be heard all the time. One of them, Dr. Rita Mesquita, a biologist with the largest research institute in Brazil for the Amazon forest says, “We are not telling the general public what is really going on.” While the general public is spending more time in virtual reality and, with growing urbanization, becoming estranged from nature, this ominous disconnect is widening.

The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has openly vowed to bolster more commercial development in the Amazon and on indigenous tribal land.

How will India’s billion plus people get their water if its rivers dry up because the glaciers in the Himalayas have melted? How do you relocate 30 million people from Mumbai from rising sea levels? How do you head off spreading diseases due to habitat destruction? Meanwhile, 100 corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Shell, and state entities) continue to be the source of 71% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

There are 600 cable channels in the U.S. transmitting largely junk programs. How about one percent of them (six) being dedicated to the global stories and urgencies of climate catastrophes, and to how movements like Drawdown (of greenhouse gases) are succeeding in cutting these menaces (see Drawdown by Paul Hawken) around the world?

Think about what we should be doing with some of our time for our descendants so as not to have them curse us for being oblivious, narcissistic ancestors!

We can start with instructing our Congress to deploy its transformative leverage over the economy. The only reason Congress has been an oil, gas, and coal toady, instead of an efficient, renewable energy force, is because we have sat on the sidelines watching ExxonMobil be Congress’ quarterback.

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Unleashed Graphic Designers – Art over Function

Many readers object to illegible print in contemporary print newspapers and magazines. In today’s print news, legible print is on a collision course with flights of fancy by graphic artists.

Admittedly, this is the golden age for graphic artists to show their creativity. Editors have convinced themselves that with readers’ shorter attention spans and the younger generation’s aversion to spending time with print publications, the graphic artists must be unleashed. Never mind what the ophthalmologists or the optometrists may think. Space, color, and type size are the domain of liberated gung-ho artists.

There is one additional problem with low expectations for print newsreaders: Even though print readership is shrinking, there will be even fewer readers of print if they physically cannot read the printed word.

I have tried, to no avail, to speak with graphic design editors of some leading newspapers about three pronounced trends that are obscuring content. First is the use of background colors that seriously blur the visibility of the text on the page. Second is print size, which is often so small and light that even readers with good eyesight would need the assistance of a magnifying glass. Third is that graphic designers have been given far too much space to replace content already squeezed by space limitations.

Function should not follow art. Readers should not have to squint to make out the text on the page. Some readers might even abandon an article because of its illegible text! One wonders why editors have ceded control of the readability of their publications to graphic designers. Editors cannot escape responsibility by saying that the graphic designers know best.

I am not taking to task the artists who combine attention-getting graphics with conveyance of substantive content. A good graphic provides emotional readiness for the words that follow.

However, in the February 17, 2019 Sunday edition of the New York Times, the page one article of the Sunday Review Section was titled, “Time to Panic,” about global climate disruption by David Wallace-Wells. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. The editors wanted to strike fear in readers to jolt their attentiveness to such peril, through a lurid two giant fingers with a human eye in between. A dubious attempt. Taking up the entire first page of the precious Sunday Review section (except for a hefty slice of an ad for the Broadway play “To Kill a Mockingbird”), smattered by three paragraphs of small, white and almost unreadable text on a dark pink background, is counterproductive. Less graphic license and clearer type would have had art following function.

Many graphic artists seem to have lost their sense of proportion – unless that is, the editors are pushing them to bleed out more and more valuable space with their increasingly extravagant designs. It is bad enough that print publications have been shrinking due to diminished ad revenue.  It is time for better editorial judgment and artistic restraint.

Unfortunately, there is no sign of such prudence. In that same Sunday edition of the Times, over eighty percent of page one of the Business Section was devoted entirely to a graphic of a presumed taxpayer smothered by flying sheets of the federal tax return – it rendered the page devoid of content. At the bottom of this front page, there was a listing of five articles under the title “Your Taxes 2019.” I can only imagine Times reporters gnashing their teeth about having their prose jettisoned from being featured on this valuable page of the Business Section. That wasn’t all. The artists ran amok on the inside pages with their pointless artistry taking up over half of the next three pages of this section.

Think of all the additional articles on other pressing business topics that never reached readers. Gretchen Morgenson’s prize-winning weekly column exposing corporate wrongdoing used to be on page one of the Business Section. She is now at the Wall Street Journal.

This is happening in, arguably, the most serious newspaper in America – one that tries to adjust its print editions to an Internet age that, it believes, threatens the very existence of print’s superiority for conversation, impact and longevity for readers, scholars, and posterity alike.

I first came across run-a-muck graphic design at the turn of the century in Wired Magazine. Technology has dramatically reduced the cost of multi-colored printing. I could scarcely believe the unreadability and the hop-scotch snippets presented in obscure colors, and small print nestled in-degrading visuals. At the time, I just shrugged it off and did not renew my subscription due to invincible unreadability.

Now, however, the imperialism of graphic designers knows few boundaries. Many graphic designers don’t like to explain themselves or be questioned by readers. After all, to them readers have little understanding of the nuances of the visual arts and, besides, maybe they should see their optometrists.

Well, nearly a year ago, I wrote to Dr. Keith Carter, president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Dr. Christopher J. Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, asking for their reactions (enclosing some examples of designer excess). I urged them to issue a public report suggesting guidelines with pertinent illustrations. After all, they are professionals who should be looking out for their clients’ visual comfort. Who would know more?

Dr. Carter responded, sympathizing with my observations but throwing up his hands in modest despair about not being able to do anything about the plight of readers. I never heard from anybody at the Optometric Association.

Of all the preventable conditions coursing across this tormented Earth, this is one we should be able to remedy. It is time to restore some level of visual sanity. Don’t editors think print readers are an endangered species? One would think!

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What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!

What exposed the Tobacco industry’s carcinogenic cover-up? The lethal asbestos industry cover-up? The General Motors’ deadly ignition switch defect cover-up? The Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal? All kinds of toxic waste poisonings?

Not the state legislatures of our country. Not Congress. Not the regulatory agencies of our federal or state governments. These abuses and other wrongs were exposed by lawsuits brought by individuals or groups of afflicted plaintiffs using the venerable American law of torts.

Almost every day, the media reports on stories of injured parties using our legal system to seek justice for wrongful injuries. Unfortunately, the media almost never mentions that the lawsuits were filed under the law of torts.

Regularly, the media reports someone filing a civil rights lawsuit or a civil liberties lawsuit. When was the last time you read, heard, or saw a journalist start their report by saying…“so and so today filed a tort lawsuit against a reckless manufacturer or a sexual predator, or against the wrongdoers who exposed the people of a town like Flint, Michigan to harmful levels of lead in drinking water? Or lawsuits against Donald Trump for ugly defamations or sexual assaults”?

I was recently discussing this strange omission with Richard Newman, executive director of the American Museum of Tort Law and a former leading trial attorney in Connecticut. He too was intrigued. He told me that when high school students tour the Museum, their accompanying teachers often admit that they themselves never heard of tort law!

Last fall, a progressive talk show host, who has had many victims of wrongful injuries on her show, visited the museum. While walking through the door, she too declared that she didn’t know what tort law was. She certainly did after spending an hour touring the museum. (See tortmuseum.org).

Public ignorance about tort law should have been taken care of in our high schools. Sadly even some lawyers advised us not to use the word “tort” in the Museum’s name because nobody would know what it meant.

“Tort” comes from the French word for “a wrongful injury.” Millions of torts involving people and property occur every year. Bullies in schools, assaults, negligent drivers, hazardous medicines, defective motor vehicles, toxic chemicals, hospital and medical malpractices, and occupational diseases, and more can all be the sources of a tort claim.

Yes, crimes are almost always torts as well. When police officers use wildly excessive force and innocent people die, families can sue the police department under tort law and have recovered compensation for “wrongful deaths.”

American law runs on the notion that “for every wrong, there should be a remedy.” When Americans get into trouble with the law, they are told by judges that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” and that “you are presumed to know the law.” In that case, why then don’t we teach the rudiments of tort law (or fine print contract law for that matter) in high schools?

After all, youngsters are not exempt from wrongful injuries in their daily street and school lives. Just recently, scores of schools’ drinking water fountains were found to contain dangerous levels of lead. That is a detectable, preventable condition and would be deemed gross negligence invoking tort law.

Most remarkably, the insurance industry has spent billions of dollars over the past fifty years on advertising and demanding “tort reform”, meaning restricting the rights of claimants who go to court and capping the compensation available to injured patients no matter how serious their disability. Still the public’s curiosity was never quickened to learn more about tort law and trial by jury. The right to trial by jury is older than the American Revolution, is protected by the seventh amendment to our Constitution and is available to be used by injured parties to help defend against or deter those who would expose people and their property to wrongful harm or damage.

One way to educate people is to do what a physician friend of mine did at a conference of Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialists. He walked in wearing a Tort Museum T-Shirt, raising eyebrows and provoking discussion.

There are, of course, more systematic ways to inform Americans about tort law. Bring the high school curriculums down to earth and educate students about this great pillar of American freedom. Devote one of the 600 cable channels in America to teaching citizens about the law, and how to use it to improve levels of justice in our country.

From social media to traditional media, the law of torts needs to be illustrated with actual case studies showing its great contribution and even greater potential to provide compensation for or deterrence to all kinds of preventable violence.

Artists and musicians should use their talents to convey many of these David vs. Goliath battles in our courts of law. Oh, for a great song on the delights of having a jury bring a wrongdoer to justice.

The powerless can hold the powerful accountable, with a contingent fee attorney. Tort law remains vastly underutilized—though it is before us in plain sight. The plutocrats must be happy that so few people know about or use the remedies available through tort law.

Hear this practicing plaintiff lawyers—wherever you are: You number 60,000 strong in the U.S. If you each speak to small groups—classes, clubs, reunions, etc.—totaling some 1,000 people a year, that is 60 million people receiving knowledge central to their quality of life and security. Every year! Fascinating human interest stories full of courage, persistence, and vindication of critical rights will captivate and inspire your audiences. What say you, “officers of the court”?

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The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS

Recently an elderly gentleman asked me about my opinion on NPR and PBS, knowing of my vigorous support in the nineteen sixties for these alternatives to commercial radio and television stations.

Here is my response:

Congress created NPR and PBS to provide serious programming, without any advertisements, for the American people. Former media executive Fred Friendly and others worried that the commercial stations were not meeting the 1934 Communications Act requirement that they operate for the “public interest, convenience and necessity.”

In 1961, before a shocked convention of broadcasters, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Newton Minow called commercial television “a vast wasteland.”

Over the decades, NPR and PBS have produced some good programming – original features (among the best coming from Boston affiliate WGBH) and interviews. NPR has the largest radio audience in the country. David Brancaccio, the bright host of Marketplace Morning Report, has a daily listening audience of 11 million.

However, over the years, without regular critiques by liberal and progressive groups, both NPR and PBS have bent to the continual right-wing antagonism in Congress that decreased public budgets. PBS started to allow advertisements (called “support for x station or x PBS network program comes from y corporation.”) These ads have become more frequent and can be as long as 15 seconds.

During the 8am to 9am hour WAMC, Albany recently aired 28 such “support from…” commercials. That is almost one “ad” every two minutes!

The omnipresence of the ads hour after hour has irritated many NPR listeners around the country. By way of comparison, a major commercial station in Hartford – WTIC – clocked 18 advertisements in that 8am hourly slot – albeit they were longer than the NPR ones.

It seems that NPR and PBS, often by their omissions and slants, bend over backward in order not to offend right-wing lobbies and corporations. They invite guests on air who ideologically oppose public broadcasting – that’s fine, but then they minimize the appearances by leading progressives.

Occasionally, I speak with the NPR and PBS Ombudsmen. The purpose of the ombudsman is to maintain proper standards and ethics as well as to consider audience complaints. A while back, an NPR Ombudsman volunteered to me that NPR was giving far more time to representatives of conservative evangelical groups than to representatives of liberal religious organizations.

Charlie Rose on PBS had many more CEOs on his program than civic leaders. During a rare appearance by me on his show with Jim Hightower and William Greider in 1998, the audience reaction was robust. The response from around the country was so pronounced that in an internal e-mail, that was inadvertently sent to my office, a Rose staffer complained that we might have been encouraging the positive response. Absurd and false, but revealing nonetheless.

Rose, by the way, set the stage for PBS and NPR by interviewing his two favorite reporters again and again instead of active specialists or scholars in various fields. For example, Judy Woodruff, the ultra-cautious, exclusionary anchor of the “News Hour,” interviewed reporters on complex tax legislation instead of authentic experts such as the long-time director of the well-regarded Citizens for Tax Justice, Robert McIntyre, often invited by her predecessors.

In 2016 we convened for eight days in the largest gathering of civic leaders, doers, and thinkers of more reforms and redirections ever brought together. They made over 160 presentations in Constitution Hall (see breakingthroughpower.org). Although we advanced this remarkable Superbowl of Civic Action directly to NPR and PBS producers, their reporters never showed up. Certainly, they have not treated right-wing conventions in Washington, D.C. in that manner.

There are other practices of public broadcasting and its syndicated talk shows, that its audiences should know about to understand how much broader coverage they have been denied. One is that the amount of time devoted to music and entertainment pieces goes well beyond the intent of the legislators who created NPR and PBS (both created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967). Members of Congress knew that entertainment was adequately taken care of by the thousands of commercial stations.

Moreover, even commercial network radio would not use its weekday 6pm hour for music, as one NPR station does in Washington, D.C. Nor does commercial network TV news in the evening start their programs with several advertisements, as does PBS’s The NewsHour and Kai Ryssdal’s jazzy, drumbeat, breathless NPR evening show – Marketplace.

Recently, I discovered another woeful transformation. Wondering why I could not get calls back from the state-wide NPR stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I sent them written complaints. These stations had venerable programs that used to interview me and other civic leaders on consumer, environment, and corporate crime topics.

Minnesota Public Radio politely wrote back, regretting that they had not called me back and explained that they now adjust their programming to react or expand on ”what is in the national conversation.” Since Trump et al. command the heights (or the depths) of the news agenda, very important subjects, conditions and activities not part of this frenzied news feed are relegated to far less frequent attention.

These are just a few of the issues that should be analyzed by print journalists who cover the media full time, such as the estimable Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, formerly the “public editor” of The New York Times. But then, she also doesn’t return my calls.

The slide toward commercialism and amiable stupefaction will continue on PBS and NPR until enough people review public broadcast’s history, raise their expectation levels consistent with why PBS and NPR were created, and insist on adequate public funding (a truly modest amount compared to giant corporate subsidies by taxpayers). These redirections would enable public broadcasting to fulfill better its serious statutory public interest missions.

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Rand Paul’s Call—Reality vs. Rigidity

Two contemporary stories about Senator Rand Paul (R- KY) illustrate the disconnect between one’s ideology and personal experiences. Imagine a fierce opponent of regulation being saved in a crash by government-mandated seat belts and air bags and the ensuing cognitive dissonance.

In the case of Rand Paul, MD (ophthalmology) the two experiences came almost at the same time. Last month Senator Paul went to the Shouldice Hernia Centre, the world famous hernia repair institution located just outside of Toronto, Ontario.

Before he departed for his surgery, some in the media recollected his virulent opposition to any government health insurance programs, including Medicare and Obamacare. In 2011, running for the Senate, Rand Paul declared:

“With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care…It means you believe in slavery. You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery.”

In 2010, Rand Paul ran for the U.S. Senate, and won demonstrating the abject weakness of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

Explaining why he chose Shouldice — a hospital in a country where single payer covers everyone and gives them free choice of  physician and hospital, averaging half the price per person of the U.S. system (that still leaves over 27 million people without any insurance, and millions more underinsured) — Paul replied that Shouldice is a private hospital that “accepts Americans who pay cash.”

But as any Canadian knows, there are many private hospitals in Canada. The single payer system means that the governments (the Provinces assisted by Ottawa) are the payer while the delivery is mostly private. Shouldice operates under the Canadian single payer system.

In any event, Rand Paul chose the best place for hernia repair – Shouldice uses tissue repair, not the risky mesh insertion used in U.S. hospitals that has bred so much tort law litigation (see Jane Akre’s recent column). Shouldice, as reported in peer reviewed medical journals, has the lowest infection and recurrence rate in North America. It also conducts its operations, including a four-day stay at their hotel-like premises replete with gardens, at about forty percent of the price charged for the-in-and-out-in-one-day surgery prevalent at many U.S. hospitals.

By all accounts, Senator Paul was pleased with how his operation turned out and enjoyed the food and company of his fellow patients over his four-day stay.

So has Senator Paul changed his mind about single payer, clearly the more efficient, humane system? Canada does not have socialized medicine like the U.K. Our Canadian neighbors have a public funding, private delivery system that hugely reduces the kind of anxiety, dread, and fear afflicting Americans (see my recent column, “25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare”). Moreover, Canadians are not subjected to arbitrary denials of care, maddening fine print complexity, co-pays, inscrutable bills often larded with fraud, and sometimes a “pay or die” drug pricing or surgery confrontation. Then there are those choice-destroying narrow networks. Americans would benefit substantially in a single payer system.

Apparently, Dr. Paul has not budged. He was unavailable for comment to this writer.

The other experience Senator Paul had was with the tort law or personal-injury civil justice system. While piling brush near the property boundary with his neighbor, Senator Paul was violently blind-sided, and tackled by the neighbor, Rene Boucher. Later, Boucher pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and served a 30 day prison sentence.

The assault left Senator Paul with several broken ribs and other injuries. “I went through horrendous pain,” he said, adding that his traumas resulted in two bouts of pneumonia and fluid buildup in his lungs.

As a physician and a U.S Senator, Rand Paul stands with the “tort deformers,” those lobbyists and lawmakers who push for legislation to restrict wrongfully injured people from adequate awards, their full day in court with trial by jury. Senator Paul specifically favored a $250,000 lifetime cap on pain and suffering no matter how serious were the injuries to the victims of medical malpractice.

Yet when wrongfully injured, Rand Paul sued Rene Boucher under the law of torts and asked for far more money than the caps he has favored for others allow. After two hours of deliberation, a Bowling Green Kentucky jury awarded the Senator $200,000 for pain and suffering, $375,000 in punitive damages and $7,834 for medical expenses.

Rand Paul sought justice in Kentucky’s state court and received justice for his painful wounds.

Now let’s see whether Senator Paul opposes Kentucky Senate Bill 11, filed by state Senator Ralph Alvarado, which would amend the state constitution and repeal the present ban on the state legislature limiting jury awards.

It is a recurring question as to whether, Senator Paul, a libertarian conservative, is willing to modify his ideology due to his real-life experiences. Our civil justice system and the Canadian health care system have provided him with significant benefits. Don’t Americans deserve the same?

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Demand Critical Congressional Hearings – Long Overdue, Avoided or Blocked

Earlier this month I wrote a column listing twelve major redirections or reforms that most people want for our country (see: “It’s Your Congress, People!” Make it work for you!). All of which require action by Congress—the gate-keeper.  Now Congress must hold informative and investigative public hearings to inform the media and to alert and empower the people.

The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) explains a Congressional Hearing as follows:

“A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest.”

Here are my suggestions for a dozen long-overdue hearings in the House of Representatives, now run by the Democrats:

  1. Hearings on the corporate crime wave, which is often reported by the mass media. Yet Congress, marinated in corporate campaign cash, has ignored, if not aided and abetted, corporate criminals for many years. Hearings on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse must be a top priority (see more at corporatecrimereporter.com).
  2. Hearings on the causes of poverty – e.g. the frozen minimum wage, tens of millions uninsured or underinsured for health care, unaffordable housing, criminal justice reform, and low utilization of tort law. These hearings will address public outrage about how our rich country treats the poor among us.
  3. Hearings on the need to fund the small Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) to provide in-house advice to Congress about big technological/scientific decisions – whether the boondoggle ballistic missile defense, electromagnetic or cyber-attacks, driverless car hype, runaway artificial intelligence, nanotech, biotech (see: Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us) and many other unassessed innovations— are key.
  4. Hearings on the overwhelming tilt into speculation, rather than investment, by the financial markets (e.g. Wall Street). The focus on speculation can cause grossly unproductive investments in the form of stock buybacks and off-the-charts executive compensation, which weaken the economy and keep shareholders (who are not allowed to vote on such decisions by their own overpaid hired managers) powerless. These matters need Congressional Review.
  5. Hearings on consumer protection – the myriad of recent controls and manipulation of consumers and their spending, savings and credit, along with the first real investigation of contract fine-print servitude or peonage. All topics neglected by Congressional Committees.
  6. Hearings on fundamental reform of our tax laws. Aggressively examining our tax laws’ perverse incentives, unjust escapes, privileges and immunities, and estimated (by the IRS) $400 billion a year of uncollected tax revenue will enlighten taxpayers and members of Congress. A hearing on this is long overdue.
  7. Hearings reviewing and evaluating our failed military and foreign policies – their costs, their boomerangs, and their unlawful violent impact on innocent peoples and communities abroad are vital.
  8. Hearings on the planet’s environmental disruptions from the climate crisis to water usage, to soil erosion, deforestation, and the oceans’ pollution and deoxygenation could increase grassroots action.
  9. Hearings on electoral reforms – dealing with campaign finance corruption to gerrymandering, to voter repression, ballot access obstruction, unequal treatments, and more might really help to “drain the swamp.”
  10. Hearings on needed and unneeded government-funded and operated projects, including varieties of infrastructure or public works and how to make them more efficient and clean will make the case for rebuilding our communities.
  11. Hearings on shifts of power from the few to the many, so long denied and abused will help empower the people to more easily band together as workers, consumers, small taxpayers, voters, litigants and as audiences of the public airwaves and cable channels.
  12. Hearings on the benefits of opening up an increasingly closed Congress, with concentrated power in the four leaders of the House and Senate at the expense of committee and subcommittee chairs as well as individual members. Doing so will help make Congress more accountable for the people. When Congress cuts budgets for Committees and advisory institutions, such as the Congressional Research Service and the GAO, it becomes more reliant on corporate lobbyists. These lobbyists work as Congressional staffers before they return to their corrupt influence peddling (the so-called K Street crowd). See: “Why is Congress so dumb?” by Congressman Bill Pascrell in the Washington Post). It also needs to be emphasized that routine Appropriations hearings in both House and Senate must step up mightily to exercise far bolder their supervision of Executive branch departments and agencies.  (The Senate’s confirmation hearings on nominated judges and high officials must also be far more rigorous and open to more witnesses to testify).

There you have it – people, citizens, voters, students and teachers. We need these and other such Congressional hearings to make up for the years of deliberate inaction and avoidance. Send your Senators and Representative your suggestions and the above list.  Demand more production from their $5 billion a year Congressional budget.

United States Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.

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John C. Bogle: Renaissance Money Manager for the People and More

The accolades were uniformly respectful for the honest, innovative, and unyielding defender of shareholder/investor rights – the late John C. Bogle – the founder of the now giant Vanguard Group of mutual funds. Writers took note of his pioneering low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indices. Index funds, tied to such indices as the S&P 500, now total trillions of dollars.

Bogle abhorred gouging by the money managers. He would add up their fees – seemingly small at less than 1% a year – and show how over time they could cut the cumulative return by 50% or more. That’s why he set up Vanguard in 1974, which by holding down costs and fees has begun to push the rest of the smug industry to be more reasonable. Vanguard now has over $5 trillion in managed assets.

He could have become as rich as Edward Johnson III– his counterpart at Fidelity Investments, who is worth over $7 billion. Instead, Bogle organized Vanguard as a mutual firm, not a stock firm, owned by its investors. Bogle’s fortune, at the time of his passing last week, was estimated at $80 million after a lifetime of giving away half of his annual adjusted gross income to charitable and educational groups.

In the admiring words of Warren Buffett, Bogle’s work “helped millions of investors realize far better returns on their savings than they otherwise would have earned. He is a hero to them and to me.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer described the Malvern, Pennsylvania-based local giant of the investing world as “motivated by a mix of pragmatism and idealism. Mr. Bogle was regarded by friends and foes alike as the conscience of the industry and the sheriff of Wall Street.” It was hard to be his foe. Bogle, a father of six children, was calm, gregarious, and amicable. He connected his irrefutable rhetoric with unassailable evidence. He was Mr. Fair Play, the go-to wise man for his judgment on whether the torrent of financial services and offerings were, as he put it, “all hat and no cattle.” He unraveled the sweet talk and complex camouflage of the financial services industry with analytic precision and explained it with clear language.

He would call out the corporatists whenever he saw “rank speculation” reckless debt, “obscene” executive pay, or the disgraceful, unearned golden parachutes handed to bosses who tanked their own companies. For Bogle, there were serious economic differences between “speculation” and “investment” with “other peoples’ money.”

His admirers were so numerous they organized themselves as “Bogleheads,” two of whom wrote the book The Bogleheads ‘Guide to Investing. Right up to his passing at the age of 89, after surviving 6 heart attacks and a heart transplant, Bogle, was still humble, approachable, and writing memorable articles.

He was responsive and kind. In May and September of 2016, we held 4 days of the Super Bowl of civic activities in Washington, D.C. I invited Mr. Bogle to speak on the topic of “Fiduciary Duties as if Shareholders Mattered.” His voice sounded weary from being over scheduled and other responsibilities. Yet he said “yes, I’ll take the train down from Philadelphia.” (You can watch his presentation here).

We were fellow Princetonians and he often told me about his 1951 Princeton senior thesis where he laid the basis for his career emphasizing a “reduction of sales loads and management fees.”

His family business – American Can – crashed in the Depression, so he grew up poor, working as a newspaper delivery boy, waiter, ticket seller, mail clerk, cub reporter and a pinsetter in a bowling alley, and as he described “growing up the best possible way.” The cheerful champion of the fiduciary rule between sellers of financial advice and their client pension funds, insurance policyholders and other buyers/investors wanted fiduciary responsibility to be the law, not just a principle. He urged the large institutional investors – mutual, pension and university endowment funds – to end their passivity and exercise their ownership rights as shareholders in giant companies (Exxon/Mobile, Bank of America, Pfizer, GM etc.), including specifically challenging their political activities and campaign contributions.

Ever the contrarian, in a November 29, 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Bogle warned about the index mutual funds – an industry he started – having too much power! The big three – Vanguard, Black Rock, and State Street Global dominate the field with a collective 81% share of index fund assets. He wrote: “if historical trends continue, a handful of giant institutional investors will one day hold voting control of virtually every large U.S corporation… I do not believe that such concentration would serve the national interest.”

Rick Stengel, former managing editor of Time magazine and former president of the National Constitution Center, when Jack Bogle was the Board chair, described him as “the last honorable man, a complete straight-shooter.” In his 2008 book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life, Bogle ranged far beyond index funds and shareholders.

The Philadelphia Inquirer put it well: he was “less interested in counting than in what counts. … He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse …a social critic, civic leader, mentor, and philanthropist.” He was also very courteous – striving to return calls and respond to letters, which makes him unique these days.

A devoted father and husband, Jack Bogle declared that the “essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.”

Now is the time for his family, friends, and Bogleheads to plan a series of living memorials to this great and resourceful man, so that his legacy is more than a memory but an ongoing foray into the future that he so fervently wanted to become realities.

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Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General

Many Senate Democrats are throwing in the towel on the nomination of William Barr for Trump’s Attorney General (a prospect assured by Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, declaring his personal vote against Barr). Let’s ask why?

One would think that Senate Democrats would be appalled at Barr’s long-time unyielding conduct and writings asserting that the President can start any wars he wants even if Congress votes against it! An example of this is the constitutionally undeclared criminal invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush. Barr was also George H.W. Bush’s Attorney General and has been a long-time defender of executive branch lawlessness.

One would think that Barr’s insupportable drive for more corporate prisons and more mass incarceration would upset these Senators.

One would think that Barr’s view of the separation of powers, which has meant separating Congress from its constitutional powers and handing them over to the “unitary presidency,” would alarm these Senators. (Didn’t James Madison believe that Congress would jealously guard its authority vis-à-vis any new emergence of a modern King George III?)

One would think that Barr’s inflexible position giving Presidents—including the embattled Donald Trump—effective immunities for obstructing justice and from blocking ongoing investigations, including limitless pardons even of himself and his family, would infuriate the Democrats.

One would think that this champion of corporate immunities—otherwise known as the deregulation of EPA, FDA, FTC, and OSHA—would anger Senate Democrats who tell their voters that such agencies are protecting our health and safety.

Needless to say, Barr’s legal positions are distinctly minority ones among legal scholars and practitioners, especially his fanatical argument, The New York Times points out, that “Congress has no authority in the area of foreign affairs.”

Barr’s view of the President as King ignores the clear meaning of article II, section 3 of the Constitution that obliges the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Barr and other right-wing ideologues defend the actions of Trump’s outspoken deregulators, exercising complete discretion to shut down law enforcement, not to mention the present government shut-down. The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent much time on what Barr would do regarding the Mueller investigation. Barr tried to disarm them by saying that Mueller was a great friend going back many years in the federal government and that he would certainly let Mueller complete his investigation and report. Big deal!

Would he make the report public, as supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, and as urged by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa? Would he censor parts of it? Backed into a corner by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barr admitted the Mueller Report would be treated like any other “prosecutive memo” with its full text kept secret. Really?

There is no broad presidential power of executive privilege to withhold information from Congressional Committees—subject to conditions of confidentiality—according to many constitutional law scholars who differ from Barr.

Keeping the Mueller report secret cannot stop a Congressional Committee from issuing a subpoena to Barr and Mueller to testify and leave the entire report in the Committee’s hands. If Mueller resists Barr’s opposition and appears as a witness, this conflict may end up in federal courts.

There is much more in Barr’s secretive, corporatist, anti-consumer, labor, and environmental record to get the Senate Democrats’ dander up and throw down the gauntlet. But, no, they prefer to be polite and in so doing let the American people down.  Please note the comment from the ranking Democrat on the Committee, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, during a break in the hearing: She said the hearing was “going very well” and expected Barr to be easily confirmed by the full Senate.

See why I’ve called the Republican and Democratic parties an inbred duopoly? Expect the further decay of a Department of Injustice, shielding a chronically lawless President and turning the rule of law on its head.

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Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher – One of a Kind!

When Herb Kelleher, the joyous, fun-loving Founder and retired CEO of Southwest Airlines soared past permissible flight levels for passenger aircraft on his way to heaven last week, the accolades in the exuberant obituaries were also sky-high.

Listen to former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall: “He was a man of great imagination. He was a man of diligence. He paid careful attention to the details. And he was a man of integrity. I think we will look back on Herb Kelleher as an example of the kind of people who ought to be our leaders.”

Herb (everyone called him Herb), was much more than a super-successful creator of a low-fare, no-frills, high-pay, unionized, constantly profitable airline (since 1973) that never laid off any workers, with consistently high customer-approval ratings, and the most solid financial stability in a boom-bust, managed industry. In overturning the stagnant, brusque ways of the industry, he challenged his industry, with four Boeing 737s in 1971 flying between Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, and overcame a cartel-like industry. After beating back numerous lawsuits by other airlines trying to stop his fledgling enterprise – he rewrote the book on management for a large company.

For starters, he put employees, not consumers, first. That seemed not effective to me at first. But then came his explanation. You treat employees well in all ways, occupationally and personally, they’ll treat airline passengers well and safely, which makes the airline prosper for the shareholders. He did all three, having fun along the way. More than a few of his pilots, attendants, and other staff became—as workers/shareholders— millionaires.

Making money was not his first personal priority – making work pleasurable and exciting and giving employees discretion to bring the best from themselves – not playing rigidly by rule books – gave him the most professional gratification.

After a while it probably did not surprise him that his wealth grew and grew to an estimated $2.5 billion.

His way of doing business, motivating people, and relieving their anxieties should invite many diverse living memorials in his memory. It is easy to think of many ways to recognize business practices that could be established in his same joyously productive fashion.

I’ve made no secret that Southwest is my favorite domestic airline. There is no second. When I step from the jet way onto the plane, I invariably say to the flight attendants and pilots – “the best airline in America” often adding that it reflects the pioneering ways of Herb Kelleher.

Once I called him to say that he is such a critical asset to the airline that shareholders should pass a resolution demanding that he stop his five-pack-a day smoking habit.

His successor CEO Gary Kelly captured the full breadth of Kelleher’s life-long contributions. Kelly said: “His legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people – and he kept us laughing all the way.”

Born in Camden, New Jersey in 1931, young Herb worked in a soup factory where his father labored, later calling it his best education (including his time at Wesleyan and New York University Law School). Because it taught him how to interact with and understand all kinds of people and “how to produce results, not just paper.”

He attributed to his mother an outstanding influence. In one of his many writings, he described why: “She had a very democratic view of life. She had enormously wide interests in politics and business, so it was very educational in that respect, just talking with her. We’d sit up and talk to two, three, and four o’clock in the morning when I was quite young about how you should behave, the goals that you should have, the ethics you should follow, how business worked, how politics can join with business.”

When you fly Southwest and order refreshments, the flight attendant brings you the drink and a napkin emblazoned with the airline’s motto:

“In a world full of No
We’re a plane full of Yes.”

To make such an expectation a reality, Kelleher put in place a recruiting priority that placed “temperament” above talent and skill. He would say “we could change skill levels through training. We can’t change attitude.”

Southwest ate the lunches of their stodgy competitors by doing business differently: no first class seats, no seat assignment, leg room, lower fares, fast turnaround for its efficiently used aircraft (a record breaking 15 minutes), a great safety record, no fees for changing reservations or checking two bags, using less congested, near-to-cities airports (eg. Chicago, Dallas), flying only one class of airplane— the Boeing 737—to reduce maintenance and training costs and avoiding the “hub and spoke” inconvenience for travelers. Southwest engaged in fuel hedging that locked in prices and then won the bet saving hundreds of millions of dollars over their competitors, when fuel prices soared. It also, until recently, answered the phones immediately with a human being. Its global mileage-reward program rejects termination dates. It is now the nation’s largest domestic airlines conveying 120 million passengers last year to over 100 destinations.

“We market ourselves on the personality and spirit of ourselves,” he told an interviewer. Which is why some flight attendants love to tell jokes during the pre-take-off announcements which gets passengers to either chuckle or roll their eyes in mirth.

Kelleher was a many splendored human being. He and his wife, Joan Negley, raised a family of four children. He had a robust, quirky side to him, riding motorcycles, and engaging in amusing stunts that have become legendary in both family and company history.

With his 58,000 productive employees, Kelleher, in the words of Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst, “literally brought air travel to the masses on a scale that was unimaginable.” Small wonder that Herb immediately approved my suggestion that Southwest’s mantra should be – “We do not imitate!”

His self-deprecation was consistently funny. One sample: “Because I am unable to perform competently any meaningful function at Southwest, our employees [they were also shareholders] let me be C.E.O.”

No one has been able to imitate Kelleher’s super-successful management philosophy, his hands-on behavior and authenticity. They may install cut-rate fares, but unfortunately for the people, Kelleher stands as one of a kind.

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