Sunday, February 28, 2010

Violent Storm Disrupting Travel in Europe

While nitwits like that sad Drudge fellow and those Fox News twits keep cackling about heavy snow in the Northeast somehow disproving the theory that global warming is causing global climatic disruption, volatile climatic phenomena keep making news.

Air and train travel is being disrupted this weekend all over Europe by a severe storm with heavy winds. Disruptions will probably continue into the week.

Here's the Air France alert saying that its schedules are "heavily disrupted."


Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Daze

Above: Your tax dollars at work: The FAA "real-time" flight delays and airport status map at this time.

Whoa, a blizzard that's expected to dump 20 inches of snow in New York today has again caused massive delays and cancellations in the air travel system.

Not that you'd know it from the worthless FAA flight-status map that some media keep referring people to. There it is. The only airport the FAA seems to have noticed having problems is the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, which the FAA site now marks with a little yellow dot, meaning "general arrival/departure delays are 15 minutes or less."

Uh, an actually reliable online site with real-time information,, shows that only 10 percent of the flights departing Newark so far today have departed on time, and only 14 percent of arrivals have arrived on time.

At Newark, more than half of the 1,190 flights scheduled for today have been canceled already.

At La Guardia, it's the same picture. More than half of the 1,143 flights today are scrubbed as of 10 a.m. EST. The situation is slightly better at JFK, where airlines are less eager to preemptively cancel flights: More than 260 of 1,132 flights are canceled so far.

These flight delays and cancellations today (and yesterday) come on top of the nearly 20,000 canceled flights during the previous two East Coast snowstorms this month -- and in an air-travel system that has no slack, lots and lots of passengers are fighting to be re-booked.

UPDATE 7:30 p.m. EST: At Newark, there are now 795 cancellations for the day so far; at La Guardia, 686; at JFK, 442; at Philadelphia, 356. Et cetera, et cetera.

I thought I was joking yesterday when I suggested that by Easter maybe the system would return to what passes for normal these days.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another Fine Mess

Yikes, another nasty snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, this one with heavy winds.

Of course, air travel is snarled again. And the system is still not back to normal yet from the other recent storms.

Delays are mounting at airports. As of 4 p.m. today, half of the 1,200 flights at Newark were canceled, and most of the others remaining into the night will be delayed. La Guardia had 414 cancellations. Philly had 358.

Naturally, the worthless FAA air-traffic delay map that some of the media still refer people to is inaccurate. For example, it is currently showing a green dot for Newark -- meaning, no problems.

Forget the FAA map.

Will the air-travel system be back to normal by, say, Easter?


American Putting 1st Class Cabins On CRJ-700s Regional Jets

Business travel is picking up noticeably, partly driven by pent-up demand, and American Airlines is responding by adding first-class cabins to all of its CRJ-700 aircraft, flown by its American Eagle affiliate.

The new service starts July 2.

This from Peter Bowler, the president American Eagle: "By July we will have our fleet of 25 CRJs converted by American Eagle mechanics to the new first class and main cabin design, and we will have taken delivery of the first two of our 22 new CRJs ..."

American Eagle will offer the first class service from its Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) hubs. From Chicago, customers it will be available on flights to Atlanta; Reagan National; the preposterously named Newark Liberty International; the hilariously named George Bush Intercontinental; Oklahoma City; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; San Antonio and Salt Lake City. From DFW, it's Cleveland; Milwaukee; Northwest Arkansas Regional and Little Rock, Ark.

American Eagle said it worked with the manufacturer, Bombardier, design new leather seats for both the first-class and coach cabins on the planes to use the seat-pitch space for better comfort. With thew new first-class cabins, the American Eagle CRJ-700s will have either 63 or 65 seats in coach and nine up front. (See update below)

It's going to be interesting to see how the new design works. The American Eagle CRJ-700s currently have 70 seats in a single class, each with 31 inches of pitch, or legroom -- which is not bad for a regional jet. American says the new cabin seats will be slimmer and better designed to take advantage of the existing space.

[UPDATE: Doing the math? Evidently, American's announcement did not. Obviously, adding 9 first-class seats doesn't leave room for 63 or 65 coach seats. See reader comment below.]


Monday, February 22, 2010

Lufthansa Pilots Suspend Strike But More Labor Trouble Brewing for Air Travel in Europe

Less than a day after it began, the announced four-day strike by 4,000 Lufthansa pilots has been suspended.

However, the picture is cloudy for air travel in Europe.

British Airways' cabin crews have voted to strike, and air controllers in France are planning a job action tomorrow.


Private Aviation Security: A Reconsideration

Ok, ok, I hear you, private aviation. You're right for the most part, and I am wrong.

Last week I went too far in suggesting that the idiot domestic terrorist who crashed a small plane into an Austin office building housing the IRS exposed a "scandal," a gaping hole in aviation security -- which is the fact that private aircraft, including big corporate jets, don't get TSA scrutiny.

Coming from a guy who routinely beats the TSA like a rented mule, and who has commented frequently that existing checkpoint security is little more than security theater, that is an unsupportable position, and I withdraw it.

Every business aircraft I have ever been on has seemed secure and there has been a process to ensure it. The FBOs and the pilots themselves have always made sure that they knew who was on board, and in every case I have had a personal conversation with a pilot before boarding. Clearly, that conversation was not just social.

Now, there is still one issue that I wish the industry would address clearly. Yes, corporate jets usually are occupied by passengers who know one another and are known to the flight crew. But strangers are routinely flying on charter flights -- on aircraft far bigger than that little Piper Cherokee that plowed into that office building housing the IRS in Texas.

The industry does not like to address security in public specifics, partly because passengers on corporate and other private planes manage to avoid the TSA hassles that the rest of us -- including commercial airline pilots -- routinely encounter. The "optics" are not good.

I would direct you to an ad in today's Wall Street Journal for Delta's Air Elite private jet service. The headline is: "The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is NO LINES." (Caps theirs)

I have two questions for the industry: 1. To what degree are metal detectors being used in FBOs? If not, why not? 2. To what degree are unknown passengers on, say, a charter flight checked out against watch lists and subject to searches of checked bags?

I'll be happy to turn this blog over for a day for a full explanation of private aviation security from the industry standpoint.

But I'm asking those questions.

Meanwhile, here is how Mike Boyd addresses this matter today in his always must-read essay on his company Web site:
As usual, Mike doesn't pull punches:

The New Hot Issue:
The Cessna 172 Threat

"The tragic incident where a disgruntled individual flew his Piper Cherokee into the IRS offices in Austin has created the latest hot issue for the don't-bother-to-think section of the media, not to mention a whole passel of politicians.

"Aviation Security Lapse Uncovered!" was a general headline. "Domestic Terrorism" was the reference made by another source. [Sorry, Mike, I stand by that one]. "More needs to be done to screen these private airplanes!"

"More needs to be done to find journalists who can think their way out of a paper bag.

"... He wasn't carrying explosives. The event was not the result of a security failure. It wasn't domestic terrorism. [Again, Mike, I say it was and can't see how it can be defined any other way.] It's the result of a societal vulnerability to people suddenly going bonkers, notwithstanding whether they choose to express themselves with a Piper Cherokee, a 12-gauge shotgun or a baseball bat.

"Janet Napolitano's On The Case. So, exactly what is the TSA supposed to do to "screen" these types of people? Interview every private pilot before he or she clambers into the 172? "Hi, there. Are you intending to fly this contraption into a building?" Or, "Is your karma in the love place today?"

"Finally the real-deal question: "Do you harbor a secret dislike of the IRS?"

"That'll clear the general aviation skies in a flash.

"A tragic event, but not a security failure. But do expect the usual congressional suspects to try to make as much of this as politically possible this week."


OK, most points taken.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lufthansa Pilots Start 4-Day Strike

Lufthansa's pilots union tonight began a 4-day strike after contract talks failed in Frankfurt.

Here's Lufthansa's post on how its flight operations are affected.


Pope Warns About Dirty Pictures

So what else is new, one might ask?

Ah, this time the Pope is talking about airport strip-search machines being rolled out by the TSA.

Sell your stock in whole-body imagers, sinners!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Who You Callin' a Terrorist?

I've been vastly amused by the media shuckin' n jivin' in the insistence that the deliberate crashing of an airplane into federal offices in Austin yesterday was not an act of "terrorism."

The whole matter came to a head last night when I was watching Rachel Maddow's show and the inexplicable Andrea Mitchell, one of the most reliable conveyors of Received Beltway Wisdom, explained why this was not an act of terror. Or I think she did. The explanation seemed to rest on two notions: 1. the perpetrator was not "foreign" (uh, read Arab). 2. His bat-shit-crazy online manifesto was not "coherent."

We'll leave No. 1 aside for the obvious reason of its being stupid,and instead consider No. 2, the assertion that the raving, paranoid 3,200-word manifesto raging against the IRS, the government and even the poor Catholic Church (what the hell does the Pope have to to with the U.S. tax code?) was definitely batty. Nevertheless, I did detect crazy coherence throughout, not to mention a very strong echo of the kind of angry undifferentiated anti-government rage one has become accustomed to hearing on the outer edges of Tea Party rallies.

But if sane "coherence" of grievance is the criterion by which an act of terrorism is defined, certainly the 9/11 killers and their ilk would fall out of code. And come on, you're telling me that men who believe that the eternal company of 72 virgins in paradise is a reward are coherent? Only the invincibly incoherent would fail to consider all of that shrieking and all of those doors slamming in the heavenly house, forever and ever.

Seriously, calling things by their right names is an imperative, especially in an this age of the apotheosis of media hype and political hypocrisy.

Here are two eminently "cogent" online essays on this subject: One is by David Neiwert at Crooks and Liars and the other is by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

In his article, Neiwert helpfully published the FBI's own definition of what constitutes domestic terrorism. To wit: (the italics are mine)

"Domestic terrorism refers to activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)]"

What they said.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Airport Rankings: Newark Scores Dead Last

The hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport has a new distinction, besides the ones in which TSA screwups (there was a new one this week) created passenger chaos.

Newark ranks last among major airports in a new customer satisfaction survey by J.D. Power and Associates. The study looked at things like prompt baggage delivery, airport comfort and "ease of navigating the airport."

The study measured overall airport satisfaction in three segments: large (30 million or more passengers a year); medium (10 million to 30 million) and small (fewer than 10 million passengers a year). Among the factors assessed were airport accessibility; baggage claim; check-in/baggage check process; terminal facilities; security check; and food and retail services.

Overall passenger satisfaction with the airport experience averages 690 on a 1,000-point scale in 2010, which is an improvement from 675 in 2008. However, satisfaction with airports in 2010 is considerably lower than satisfaction with hotels (756, on average) and rental cars (733, on average), J.D. Power said.

Here are some of the results:

Large Airports

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW), J.D. Power said, ranked highest, and "performs particularly well in the terminal facilities and baggage claim factors. Denver International (DEN) and Minneapolis/St. Paul International (MSP), in a tie, closely follow DTW in the segment rankings. DEN performs particularly well in the airport accessibility factor."

Medium Airports

"Kansas City International (MCI) ranks highest among medium airports, and performs particularly well in three of the six factors: airport accessibility, check-in/baggage check and security check. Following MCI in the segment rankings are Portland International (PDX) and Tampa International (TPA). PDX performs particularly well in the food and retail services factor while TPA performs particularly well in the terminal facilities and baggage claim factors."

Small Airports

"Indianapolis International Airport (IND) ranks highest and performs particularly well in the check-in/baggage check, security check and terminal facilities factors. Following IND in the segment rankings are Fort Myers/Southwest Florida International (RSW) and Tucson International (TUS)."

The 2010 North America Airport Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 12,100 passengers who took a round-trip flight between January and December 2009. Passengers evaluated their departing and arriving airports, and the study -- done between December 2009 and last month -- includes a total of more than 24,000 evaluations.

Here are the rankings, based on a 1,000-point scale:

Large Airports

-- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County - 705
--Denver International - 701
--Minneapolis/St. Paul International - 701
--Orlando International - 700
--Phoenix Sky Harbor - 699
--Charlotte Douglas International - CLT 697
--Dallas/Ft. Worth International - DFW 692
--The also hilariously named George Bush Intercontinental - 685
--McCarran International - 682
--Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta - 666
--Seattle-Tacoma International - 666
--Toronto Pearson International - 655
--San Francisco International - 647
--Chicago O'Hare - 639
--John F. Kennedy International - 635
--Philadelphia International - 629
--Miami International - 617
--Los Angeles International - 616
--Newark International - 609 2

Medium Airports

--Kansas City International - 742
--Portland International - 733
--Tampa International - 730
--Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky - CVG
--Salt Lake City International - 712
--Calgary International - 708
--Baltimore Washington International - 707
--Oakland International - 691
--Chicago Midway - 684
--Lambert St. Louis - 683
--Memphis International - 682
--San Diego International - 678
--Fort Lauderdale Hollywood - 677
--Cleveland Hopkins - 675
--Honolulu International - 675
--Reagan National - 672
--Vancouver International - 669
--Dulles - 646
--Boston Logan - 644
--LaGuardia - 604

Small Airports

--Indianapolis International - 777
--Southwest Florida International - 767
--Tucson International - 755
--Jacksonville International - 754
--Austin-Bergstrom International - 752
--T. F. Green Airport - 750
--Palm Beach International - 740
--Albuquerque International - 735
--Pittsburgh International - 729
--General Mitchell International - 726
--Buffalo Niagara International - 720
--Nashville International - 717
--Port Columbus International - 715
--Raleigh-Durham International - 715
--Sacramento International - 715
--Bob Hope Airport - 707
--John Wayne Airport - 706
--Houston Hobby - 697
--Bradley International - 691
--Reno/Tahoe International - 689
--Dallas Love Field - 679
--San Antonio International - 677
--Louis Armstrong New Orleans - 673
--San Jose International - 645


Austin Crash Pilot's Suicide Note: 'Violence Is the Only Answer' ... Homeland Security Won't Call Incident 'Terror'

The Homeland Security Department insisted today that there are no indications that the plane-crash into an Austin office building housing the IRS was an act of domestic terror. The deranged pilot left a rambling anti-government suicide message online before he took off and crashed a plane into a building housing IRS offices.

Here's the link.
[UPDATE: The link to the suicide-pilot's rambling message has been deleted, at the request of the FBI. At the end of this post, I'm pasting the entire message as it appeared earlier today on the suicide-pilot's Web site.]

[UPDATE: The Homeland Security Department continues to insist, eight hours after the crash, that it does not consider this incident to be a "terrorist attack," but says instead that it's being investigated as a "crime." We evidently no longer can call things by their right names in this country. If this was not a "terrorist" incident, then that term has no meaning. And of course it was also a "crime." The two are not mutually exclusive. I am, however, enjoying the shuck-and-jive discourse currently going on in the hand-wringing media about when it's politically or socially correct to use the word "terror."]

In his crazy message, the suicide pilot, a software engineer named Joseph Andrew Stack, writes of the "storm raging in my head" as he rails against the federal government, especially the IRS, as well as rapacious corporations, including hospitals and medical insurers. The manifesto appeared on a Web site registered to Stack.

"I have handled all I can stand," said our newest little homegrown terrorist. He adds that "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."

The manifesto is signed "Joe Stack (1956-2010)"

This, my dear fellow-countrymen on the more extreme edges of the Tea Party movement, is what you are helping to create in the minds of the deranged -- of which we have more than a few in our midst.

[UPDATE: Here is the text of the message from Joseph Andrew Stack, as it appeared online before the link was removed]:


If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time. The writing process, started many months ago, was intended to be therapy in the face of the looming realization that there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken. Needless to say, this rant could fill volumes with example after example if I would let it. I find the process of writing it frustrating, tedious, and probably pointless… especially given my gross inability to gracefully articulate my thoughts in light of the storm raging in my head. Exactly what is therapeutic about that I’m not sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers. Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”. I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood. These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse.

While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.
Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.

And justice? You’ve got to be kidding!
How can any rational individual explain that white elephant conundrum in the middle of our tax system and, indeed, our entire legal system? Here we have a system that is, by far, too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law “requires” a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not “duress” than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is.
How did I get here?

My introduction to the real American nightmare starts back in the early ‘80s. Unfortunately after more than 16 years of school, somewhere along the line I picked up the absurd, pompous notion that I could read and understand plain English. Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions. In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful “exemptions” that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy. We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the “best”, high-paid, experienced tax lawyers in the business), and then began to do exactly what the “big boys” were doing (except that we weren’t steeling from our congregation or lying to the government about our massive profits in the name of God). We took a great deal of care to make it all visible, following all of the rules, exactly the way the law said it was to be done.

The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country.
That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0. It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naive I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their “freedom”… and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them.

Before even having to make a shaky recovery from the sting of the first lesson on what justice really means in this country (around 1984 after making my way through engineering school and still another five years of “paying my dues”), I felt I finally had to take a chance of launching my dream of becoming an independent engineer.
On the subjects of engineers and dreams of independence, I should digress somewhat to say that I’m sure that I inherited the fascination for creative problem solving from my father. I realized this at a very young age.

The significance of independence, however, came much later during my early years of college; at the age of 18 or 19 when I was living on my own as student in an apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My neighbor was an elderly retired woman (80+ seemed ancient to me at that age) who was the widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on.

In retrospect, the situation was laughable because here I was living on peanut butter and bread (or Ritz crackers when I could afford to splurge) for months at a time. When I got to know this poor figure and heard her story I felt worse for her plight than for my own (I, after all, I thought I had everything to in front of me). I was genuinely appalled at one point, as we exchanged stories and commiserated with each other over our situations, when she in her grandmotherly fashion tried to convince me that I would be “healthier” eating cat food (like her) rather than trying to get all my substance from peanut butter and bread. I couldn’t quite go there, but the impression was made. I decided that I didn’t trust big business to take care of me, and that I would take responsibility for my own future and myself.

Return to the early ‘80s, and here I was off to a terrifying start as a ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ contract software engineer... and two years later, thanks to the fine backroom, midnight effort by the sleazy executives of Arthur Andersen (the very same folks who later brought us Enron and other such calamities) and an equally sleazy New York Senator (Patrick Moynihan), we saw the passage of 1986 tax reform act with its section 1706.

For you who are unfamiliar, here is the core text of the IRS Section 1706, defining the treatment of workers (such as contract engineers) for tax purposes. Visit this link for a conference committee report ( regarding the intended interpretation of Section 1706 and the relevant parts of Section 530, as amended. For information on how these laws affect technical services workers and their clients, read our discussion here (

(a) IN GENERAL - Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:
(d) EXCEPTION. - This section shall not apply in the case of an individual who pursuant to an arrangement between the taxpayer and another person, provides services for such other person as an engineer, designer, drafter, computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker engaged in a similar line of work.
(b) EFFECTIVE DATE. - The amendment made by this section shall apply to remuneration paid and services rendered after December 31, 1986.
• "another person" is the client in the traditional job-shop relationship.
• "taxpayer" is the recruiter, broker, agency, or job shop.
• "individual", "employee", or "worker" is you.

Admittedly, you need to read the treatment to understand what it is saying but it’s not very complicated. The bottom line is that they may as well have put my name right in the text of section (d). Moreover, they could only have been more blunt if they would have came out and directly declared me a criminal and non-citizen slave. Twenty years later, I still can’t believe my eyes.

During 1987, I spent close to $5000 of my ‘pocket change’, and at least 1000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time. I spent countless hours on the L.A. freeways driving to meetings and any and all of the disorganized professional groups who were attempting to mount a campaign against this atrocity. This, only to discover that our efforts were being easily derailed by a few moles from the brokers who were just beginning to enjoy the windfall from the new declaration of their “freedom”. Oh, and don’t forget, for all of the time I was spending on this, I was loosing income that I couldn’t bill clients.

After months of struggling it had clearly gotten to be a futile exercise. The best we could get for all of our trouble is a pronouncement from an IRS mouthpiece that they weren’t going to enforce that provision (read harass engineers and scientists). This immediately proved to be a lie, and the mere existence of the regulation began to have its impact on my bottom line; this, of course, was the intended effect.

Again, rewind my retirement plans back to 0 and shift them into idle. If I had any sense, I clearly should have left abandoned engineering and never looked back.
Instead I got busy working 100-hour workweeks. Then came the L.A. depression of the early 1990s. Our leaders decided that they didn’t need the all of those extra Air Force bases they had in Southern California, so they were closed; just like that. The result was economic devastation in the region that rivaled the widely publicized Texas S&L fiasco. However, because the government caused it, no one gave a shit about all of the young families who lost their homes or street after street of boarded up houses abandoned to the wealthy loan companies who received government funds to “shore up” their windfall. Again, I lost my retirement.

Years later, after weathering a divorce and the constant struggle trying to build some momentum with my business, I find myself once again beginning to finally pick up some speed. Then came the .COM bust and the 911 nightmare. Our leaders decided that all aircraft were grounded for what seemed like an eternity; and long after that, ‘special’ facilities like San Francisco were on security alert for months. This made access to my customers prohibitively expensive. Ironically, after what they had done the Government came to the aid of the airlines with billions of our tax dollars … as usual they left me to rot and die while they bailed out their rich, incompetent cronies WITH MY MONEY! After these events, there went my business but not quite yet all of my retirement and savings.

By this time, I’m thinking that it might be good for a change. Bye to California, I’ll try Austin for a while. So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work. The rates are 1/3 of what I was earning before the crash, because pay rates here are fixed by the three or four large companies in the area who are in collusion to drive down prices and wages… and this happens because the justice department is all on the take and doesn’t give a fuck about serving anyone or anything but themselves and their rich buddies.

To survive, I was forced to cannibalize my savings and retirement, the last of which was a small IRA. This came in a year with mammoth expenses and not a single dollar of income. I filed no return that year thinking that because I didn’t have any income there was no need. The sleazy government decided that they disagreed. But they didn’t notify me in time for me to launch a legal objection so when I attempted to get a protest filed with the court I was told I was no longer entitled to due process because the time to file ran out. Bend over for another $10,000 helping of justice.

So now we come to the present. After my experience with the CPA world, following the business crash I swore that I’d never enter another accountant’s office again. But here I am with a new marriage and a boatload of undocumented income, not to mention an expensive new business asset, a piano, which I had no idea how to handle. After considerable thought I decided that it would be irresponsible NOT to get professional help; a very big mistake.
When we received the forms back I was very optimistic that they were in order. I had taken all of the years information to Bill Ross, and he came back with results very similar to what I was expecting. Except that he had neglected to include the contents of Sheryl’s unreported income; $12,700 worth of it. To make matters worse, Ross knew all along this was missing and I didn’t have a clue until he pointed it out in the middle of the audit. By that time it had become brutally evident that he was representing himself and not me.

This left me stuck in the middle of this disaster trying to defend transactions that have no relationship to anything tax-related (at least the tax-related transactions were poorly documented). Things I never knew anything about and things my wife had no clue would ever matter to anyone. The end result is… well, just look around.
I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.
As government agencies go, the FAA is often justifiably referred to as a tombstone agency, though they are hardly alone. The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.
I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

Joe Stack (1956-2010)



Homeland Security and TSA Will Be on the Spot: Why Do Private Planes Not Get Security Scrutiny?

Mark my words, a long-submerged scandal is about to surface, now that it appears to everyone except the Homeland Security Department that the crash of a small plane into an office building housing the IRS in Austin was the domestic-terrorist act of an anti-government crank.

Who do private aircraft, including corporate jets, some of which are the size of commercial regional jets and even 737s, get by without direct federal security screening before takeoff?

Yeah, I know the industry says that it has plenty of adequate security measures in place and that its crews and passengers don't need the same kind of security screening that commercial crews and passengers get.

Yet right this minute, some highly trained, utterly reliable commercial pilots are being patted down at TSA airport checkpoints, while private aviation plies the skies without any real scrutiny, beyond its own assurance that everything is swell.

The fact is, big or small, private airplanes, including corporate jets and charter jets, are exempt from the security the rest of us are subjected to -- and Homeland Security and its poorly supervised offspring the TSA have not been called to account for this.



Small Plane Crashes into Austin Office Building Housing the IRS; Domestic Terror Attack Suspected by Everybody Except Homeland Security

This morning, a single-engine small plane crashed into an office building in Austin, Tex. Early news reports indicate that the pilot -- now said to be an anti-federal-government crank who posted a suicide note on his Web page -- took off after setting fire to his house.

The building houses federal offices, including those of the Internal Revenue Service.

Some early reports said the plane took off from Waco, but airport officials in Waco are now disputing that. Instead, the plane evidently took off from the municipal airport in Georgetown, Texas, 25 miles from Austin.

They're still sorting out the facts in Austin, but here's an excellent early story from the Austin Statesman newspaper. This Statesman report, which was on line only 2 hours after the crash, is an indication of how heads-up spot-news reporting is done, on the run -- while the AP is still sucking wind.

Early reports said that the plane that hit the building was a Cirrus SR22, a single-engine, 4-seat aircraft. But officials are now saying those reports were wrong and that the plane appears to have been a Piper Cherokee.

Assuming the MSM are finally waking up and catching up with this story, I'll sign off on it now. Although as indications mount that this was in fact an act of homegrown terrorism -- and the FAA is calling it just that -- I do need to note, sadly, that the poor Los Angeles Times is at this moment reporting the following online, conveyed credulously from your ever-vigilant Homeland Security Department, ever alert:

"We do not yet know the cause of the plane crash," said Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman in Washington. "We have no reason to believe it was connected to any criminal or terrorist activity."

Oh well. Maybe Homeland Security is too otherwise occupied setting up those pushcarts for the TSA agents to roam around airports checking passengers hands.


More TSA Mission Creep

Thought you had pretty much seen the last of the absurd TSA hassles once you got through the checkpoint and into the so-called secure area of the airport, where you could expect to be left in peace?

No airplane ride for you!

The leaderless TSA, still drifting along with appointees and Civil Service hires from the Bush era, has a new idea to keep itself busy and keep those expensive contracts flowing.

The agency said it is now dispatching its agents with carts and the latest in federal-contract technology to randomly grab passengers to submit to an inspection of their hands in secure sections of the airport, such as the boarding gate areas.

The new procedure involves a TSA officer -- presumably one not involved in wanding pet parrots or pranking college girls with a joke that illegal drugs had been found in their carry-ons, or delivering subpoenas to a couple of easily frightened bloggers to show where they got a memo that everybody in the media already had -- approaching you to swab your hands or your bags. "The swab is [then] placed inside the ETD [explosives trace detection] unit which analyzes the content for the presence of potential explosive residue," the TSA says.

Not to worry! "To ensure the health of travelers, screening swabs are disposed of after each use," says the agency.

The TSA, which has been without a permanent director for more than 13 months, remains under the nominal direction of a Bush appointee, Gale Rossides (shown above), who has been in top positions with the agency since it started, and thus bears a lot of responsibility for ... uh, you know... everything.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Global Premium Air Travel Rose in December, First Growth Since May '08

In a sign that business travel is in a recovery, although a shaky one, global premium traffic rose 1.7 percent in December over December 2008, the International Air Transport Association said today. It was the first year-on-year growth since May 2008.

Airline stocks rose today in response to the news. Most major airlines have bet heavily on international premium traffic in business-class and first-class cabins.

Premium traffic, once driven by robust business from banks and other sectors of the financial markets, has plunged since the economic collapse. Its lowest point was May 2008, when global premium traffic was off 25 percent over May 2007.

International travel in coach cabins recovered somewhat last September, and by December was 7 percent above year-ago levels, IATA said.

The biggest area for premium-travel growth was in the Pacific routes, where a gain of 14.5 percent was seen in December. By contrast, the once-all-important North Atlantic routes -- where major airlines had boosted capacity sharply in the boom years -- still languished in negative-land. Premium traffic on those routes remained down -- by 1.1 percent in December.

Those are the routes where less than two years ago airlines were able to charge $10,000 and more for walk-up business-class fares between, say, New York and London. For airlines, those were the days.

Premium fares -- and revenues for airlines -- are off sharply since then. Despite any renewal in passenger growth, it's revenue that counts for an airline, and the boom days of those sky-high fares will not likely return. IATA said that "there may have been a structural decline in yields from premium seats."

A steady growth in economy-class passengers since September is partly attributable to increased business-travel demand, IATA said. Indications are that international business travelers who once flew up front "are increasingly traveling on economy seats," the trade group said.



Friday, February 12, 2010

Mess Moves West: Dallas Cancellations

My son has been driving from Philadelphia to Arizona all week, and just about every state he's gone through, including Texas, has been choked with snow.

Still, driving beats flying. At the Dallas-Fort Worth airport yesterday, half of the 1,901 arrivals and departures were canceled, and today 523 of 1,891 were.

That only adds to the backlog of bookings.

This has been the worst week in air travel since 9/11.



Well, nobody got stranded -- at least on the airlines' watch, that is. But maybe a million air travelers scrambled to re-book canceled flights -- and some are still scrambling.

I suspect something besides the snow was coming down in the last week as airlines cancelled an extraordinary number of flights -- about 13,000 in all between Feb. 5 and yesterday.

Not since 9/11 have so many flights been scrubbed in such a short period of time.

Congress is chronically paralyzed, of course, and the snow didn't do much to change that. But I would suggest it is time for some kind of an inquiry into just why so many flights disappeared from the boards. Runways can be plowed in a day or less.

As I have been saying, my guess is that the airlines -- not overtly-collectively, but collectively-intuitively -- decided to keep some flights grounded that otherwise might have taken off -- eventually. In December, the Transportation Department said it would fine airlines $27,500 per passenger for flights idled on tarmacs for three hours and more. (There are certain exceptions, however, for severe weather and other circumstances.)

Congress, assuming it manages to ever get anything done, is also expected to pass legislation that would address the "stranded passengers" phenomenon.

Airlines are furiously opposed to what they see as federal meddling in their passenger operations and scheduling. Of course, big snowstorms always cause a certain number of flight cancellations. But not this many, not 13,000. My guess is that a good number of those flights were wiped out because 1. airlines did not want to chance any long tarmac delays and 2. airlines were also motivated to make a point.



Thursday, February 11, 2010

Big Flight Cancellations Continue

The air-travel system in the mid-Atlantic region is still snowbound, though by any reasonable reckoning the runways should be cleared and at least a good number of operations should be returning to normal.

One possible explanation is that airlines continue to preemptively cancel flights to avoid any chance that any of their planes might be stranded on tarmacs for three hours or more in a system that is severely backed-up after several big snowstorms. Remember, potential tarmac delays could trigger the severe fines ($27,500 per passenger) that the Transportation Department put in effect late last year to address tarmac standings of over three hours.


UPDATE: I stopped counting at around 3,500 canceled flights yesterday, but USA Today had a heads-up follow this morning. In all, 5,700 flights were canceled yesterday, the newspaper says, and it's nice to see actual reporting on the numbers and their implications.


Meanwhile, regarding today, here are some of the numbers of departure and arrival cancellations at major mid-Atlantic airports as of 10 a.m. today, via

Philadelphia: 659; La Guardia, 583; Reagan, 494; Baltimore/Washington, 397; Dulles, 323; JFK, 189. And Boston also remains snarled, with 296 cancellations already on the board.

Each canceled flight means that many more passengers remain in the pipeline to be re-booked (not counting those who have simply given up on current flight plans). Re-booked into a system that even in the best of times has no slack. What's that about trying to put 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack?

Incidentally, I've had a few surly e-mails (anonymous, of course, surly people being essentially craven) from various worthies, some of whom appear to be civil-service workers (and blissfully unaware of how easy it is to trace an IP address back to its originating computer) -- defending the atrocious FAA flight-delays and airport status site, which purportedly shows real-time conditions at the nation's major airports.

As I have pointed out frequently, the site is a joke. During major snowstorms, it routinely shows green dots -- meaning everything's moving fine -- over airports that anyone with the sense of a peanut knows are hopelessly messed up with delays and cancellations.

The gist of the nasty e-mails is that the FAA site supposedly is designed to show only conditions of "delays" at airports, and doesn't reflect cancellations -- which would be reason enough to laugh at it as a worthless report on real-time airport conditions.

But even that is not true.

For the past two days, the FAA map -- which credulous media routinely refer readers to -- has shown all-green conditions at airports that have been snarled with delays as well as cancellations. Nothing to see here, folks! Move along! Everything is operating without a hitch! To repeat: The map on the site has not been showing delays.

That happens routinely during big snowstorms, when people need reliable information. And as I have pointed out in the past, that is an insult to the nation's air travelers -- and taxpayers.

Fix it or drop it, FAA.

Finally, it is dawning on the media that that the site has no value when you actually need it.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Airlines Cancelling Many Flights Tomorrow, Too

ABOVE: Here's what you get when you depend on the FAA for your real-time airport information. As delays and cancellations pile up at major airports, the Weather Channel, evidently using information from the worthless FAA airport status and delays site, seems to think it's a sunny day in May in the nation's airwaves! This useless map is from the Weather Channel site as of 6.20 p.m. EDT today.

Keep your eye on the boards if you're planning to travel by air soon. Staggering backups are being built into the air-travel system on the East Coast.

After canceling thousands of flights today because of the mid-Atlantic snowstorm, airlines are starting to cancel flights by the hundreds already for tomorrow, according to the real-time data on

As of 6 p.m. EST today, 281 departures and arrivals had been canceled at La Guardia; 193 at Newark; 133 at JFK; 260 at Philadelphia; 132 at Dulles; 123 at Reagan and 83 at Baltimore/Washington.

This movement toward canceling flights will only continue through the night, in a system that has no slack even when the weather is good.

Meanwhile, the ridiculously useless FAA flight delays and airport status site, which is supposedly in real-time, continues to show nothing but clear sailing (or flying) all over the country, even as every major airport east of the Mississippi is choked with delays and cancellations.


Ritz-Carlton Luxury Hotel & Resort Las Vegas Shutting, the Victim of Four Names

The Ritz-Carlton hotel company, a division of Marriott, said today that its luxury resort, in Henderson, Nevada, would shut for good on May 2.

The Las Vegas Ritz, as the property was often called, was the victim of the terrible economy, and perhaps also of a location that is 17 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. But it was also the victim of four terms associated with it: Las Vegas. Resort. Luxury. And, uniquely, Ritz.

Not long after the financial collapse, when many corporations were responding to public outcry and pulling meetings and other events out of high-profile luxury hotels, I was speaking with J.W. Marriott Jr., a true gentleman who runs the Marriott hotel company build by his parents.

Marriott's top luxury brand is Ritz-Carlton. Along with Four Seasons and other top-level brands, Ritz-Carlton was really taking it in the chin, after years of great prosperity and growth. The economy obviously was the main driver, but at the brand-name luxury level, hotels were being socked because companies were afraid to be seen booking at five-star hotels and resorts -- thanks, in part, to the scandal involving the giant AIG insurance company, which brazenly went ahead with a fancy corporate retreat at a Southern California resort a mere week after Congress had approved an $85 billion taxpayer bailout of the corporation.

At the time, Bill Marriott was fretting about how to avoid big layoffs among the highly trained Ritz Carlton workforce -- the backbone of its top-shelf service reputation. All luxury hotel companies, he said, were facing the same dilemma.

"But you have one extra problem, Bill," I said.

"What's that?" he asked.

"If I stay at a Ritz-Carlton, I have to put the word "ritz" on my expense account and get it approved."

"I know," he said ruefully. "As in ritzy, puttin' on the ritz ..."

The "optics" had turned against Ritz, arguably the best-run luxury hotel chain in the world, partly because its name is synonymous with luxury.

In the case of the Las Vegas property, the optics again were unfavorable. All over the country, resort hotels have been removing the word "resort" from their titles, but Las Vegas (a town I like quite a bit) is not also good for the optics. Sounds like too much fun, it seems. Las Vegas's hospitality business in general has been staggered in the last year and a half.

Sorry to see a good hotel get a bad deal like this, but such are the times.


Flight Cancellations By the Numbers: Here We Go Again

Once again, the news media are shrugging off the staggering accumulation of flight cancellations in the big snowstorm whaling on the mid-Atlantic region today. Lost in the lazy reporting is the real story: the severe back-up in air travel as passengers try to re-book flights that were canceled.

Thank God, I haven't seen any reports yet today referring to "scores" of flights being canceled. As I said during the previous blizzard last week, no non-media speaker of American English has used that term (in singular or plural form) to refer to a number since Abraham Lincoln.

No, today the reporting is of "hundreds" of cancellations.

That, as usual, is not only inaccurate, but useless for readers and viewers who need reliable information in a travel emergency.

Try "thousands" of cancellations today. And mounting.

UPDATE: Stop the engines! CNN is reporting accurate flight information! Good for CNN, which I criticized last week for referring its readers and viewers to that ridiculously useless FAA flight-delays site (see below for more on the FAA site).

Anyway, as I said last week, you can easily look these things up on Web sites such as, which reports real-time airport operations.

Here are the actual numbers of flat-out flight cancellations as of noon EST today at major airports, mostly hubs, in the mid-Atlantic region. Keep in mind, I'm only counting the biggest airports here, and not the several dozen mid-sized or smaller airports that also are essentially wiping their flight-boards clean today.

Newark -- 869 departure and arrival cancellations.

JFK -- 652.

Philadelphia -- 766.

Reagan -- 869.

Dulles -- 485.

Baltimore/Washington -- 393.

Why is this big news? Well, as anyone with a pulse who covers air travel ought to be required to realize, the U.S. air-travel system has no slack, and has been operating at near-capacity (that is, most planes full on most flights) for well over a year. For two years, crews and airplanes have been scheduled to meet only routine daily needs, without any real backup.

Thousands of flights were canceled during last week's storm, meaning that people booked on those flights later re-flooded an already at-capacity system when they tried to re-book. Thousands more during the current storm are adding a lot more depend on a system that is already impossibly overtaxed and snarled.

Airline schedulers, who for the most part do the Herculean job of keeping the system running relatively smoothly during routine operations, are up against the neigh-impossible -- with crews and planes not where they are supposed to be. And the passenger demand is severely backed up and will be for many, many days if not weeks.

By the way, both last week and this week, airlines preemtively canceled thousands of flights well before snow began falling. An argument can be made, I think (and I intend to pursue it once I am able to sort out the mess) that airlines went overboard on preemptive cancellations because they are worried about the new Transportation Department policy that provides sharp fines for every flight that sits stranded on a tarmac for more than three hours.

Unintended consequences? An industry brazenly determined to demonstrate its opposition to the new rule by essentially shutting down rather than accepting passengers who might be the cause of big fines?

That's the story.

Meanwhile, the sad-sack FAA air-traffic delays site (at that the media always refer readers to is, again, utterly worthless today. Hey, it's a Snow Day in Washington! Nobody needs to be on the job! As of noon, the FAA map shone merrily with green dots (meaning no delays) over every major airport in the U.S. Here's a link to that infamous, useless, supposedly live-time FAA map, as of noon EST today:

Flight Delay Information - Air Traffic Control System Command Center

Again, your tax dollars at work!

UPDATE: And for pure bureaucratic asininity, please do read the anonymous comment to this post (clearly from a government worker on government time) saying that the map shows all green dots because there are no delays, just cancellations. Again, your tax dollars at work!


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Explosion of 'Luv?'

Ah, folks at Southwest Airlines, this is your Customer speaking.

It seems we have a little problem with the "cloud-heart" illustration you've cleverly chosen to accompany promotions on your "Luv" Valentine's-themed romantic vacation packages -- under the banner "Luv Is in the Air."

Yes, I know "LUV" is your stock symbol. I get it, the cloud looks like a heart. It also, incidentally, looks like a catastrophic midair explosion.

But did anybody actually carefully evaluate that image before approving it?

Did anyone think Space Shuttle, especially with a shuttle currently en route?

Just asking, luv.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Short Opening for Tall Building

Planning on visiting the world's tallest building on that trip to Dubai?

No observation deck for you!

For reasons not yet made quite clear by the building's developers, the 2,625-foot-tall Burj Khalifa was suddenly closed indefinitely to the public, one short month after it opened. Here's the story via the Huffington Post today.


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cancellations and Delays: How to Avoid FAA Web Site Nonsense and Accurately Check Airport Status Data

Every time there's a major weather disruption, like that monster snowstorm still whaling today on the Washington-Philadelphia region, I'm astonished by news reports that blithely describe "scores" of flights being canceled. Why don't reporters simply go to the basic real-time sources and do the Sesame-Street-level arithmetic?

(Also, who but the tone-deaf media use the word "scores" to describe a numerical quantity? The word in that usage (a "score" equaling 20) has not actually been uttered in singular or plural form by any non-media American since Abraham Lincoln.)

For the rest of us who might want the actual information, here's how to find it easily, on, which has a subscription component but which supplies basic airport operational detail for free. Registration is also free, and recommended.

--On the home page, click on "Airports."

--Drop down to click on "Performance Scorecard."

--Enter an airport name or code, and click "Search."

--Viola, you will be presented with the full real-time picture in three-hour time increments -- delays for departures and arrivals, plus cancellations for the airport, as well as specific delay, departure and cancellation information for the top 10 airlines operating from that airport.

(Here's the current picture at Philadelphia International, for example.) PHL measured 26.7 inches as of 2 p.m. EST today, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. But the New York area appeared to have ducked the storm.

Meanwhile, please, please ignore constantly repeated media information to consult the FAA delay site at It's seldom timely or accurate, and often not even operational.

You think I'm kidding? With thousands of flights canceled or delayed today in the mid-Atlantic region, the worthless FAA site currently shows its map of the U.S. with all airports marked with green dots, meaning no delays or problems (except San Francisco, experiencing minor delays). Your tax dollars at work.

By the way, as of 3 p.m. EST today, CNN was still ludicrously linking to the FAA's risible "Flight Delays" site, which continued showing all green dots, like some day in May. Your cable news-media editors at work!


Shutdown at Washington, Philly Airports

Huge travel mess underway and it's going to take days for the system to sort itself out. Airports in the Washington area and in Philadelphia are shut down, and the storm is still in full force.