Messy Democracy vs. Painful Plutocracy

Wake up call for federal employees: In the era of Trumpery, life is really lived on the edge of insolvency and pain. Forty percent of the American people cannot cover a single $1,000- emergency. Most federal employees, though slightly better paid than their counterparts in private industry, live maybe a couple of paychecks ahead. The cost of living is much higher than the bogus government calculation of low inflation. Like most Americans, they have little savings to tide them over during a government shutdown.

No Respect

FAA air traffic Controllers are some of the most competent and dedicated professionals I have ever met. They operate in a high-stress environment where the “clearances” they issue to pilots in the national airspace routinely carry life and death implications. Especially during high traffic periods and under rapidly changing weather conditions, their prowess in skillfully coordinating the flight paths and altitudes of multiple high-speed jet airliners and slower small planes is amazing.

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Near Miss. Photo: JetlineMarvel.net

As a long time pilot, I understand the “mission critical” character of the everyday work of these federal employees. I remember distinctly when Ronald Reagan busted their union resulting in the loss of some of the best most experienced controllers then operating. I noticed immediately thereafter, an unmistakable drop in the quality of air traffic control operations. I felt I had to be extra careful to maintain a reasonable level of safety in the air.

Many other federal employees live with far less daily stress on the job. I have envied the National Park Rangers for the serene environment of their work out there in the beautiful National Forests that the plutocrats would privatize for oil and mineral extraction. Most people take federal workers for granted or just dismiss them as “bureaucrats,” especially if things don’t go well when they interact with overworked IRS agents or Social Security workers processing their paperwork.

Yet, the work of these diverse employees of the nation is important to one or another element of the everyday operation of the society itself. That importance becomes ever clearer when an arbitrary demand by the president forces a government shutdown because the Congress will not roll over to the bully who’s pretensions to power cannot grasp the basic concept of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

Moreover, these folks have been arbitrarily made victims of the “government shutdown” that Trump forced by demanding the Congress pay for his ill-conceived and poorly defined wall along the Mexican border. It is especially disconcerting when we find out that the “border wall” meme originated as a mnemonic device conjured by his campaign staff to help him remember to talk about immigration to better pander to his xenophobic base.

Illusions of Border Security

In various places along the border, walls already exist because federal agencies deemed them effective, particularly around urban ports of entry. The Congress voted to fund them as part of prior border security legislation. It is widely known that most trafficking of drugs, about which Trump feigns such concern, cross into the U.S. through the busiest border crossings in passenger vehicles or trucks. Is a wall going to have any effect on that? Of course not.

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Trump’s Border Wall could waste Billions. Photo: New York Times

Never mind the fact that illegal crossings from Mexico have steadily decreased for decades. Never mind that Trump violates the federal laws that allow applications for asylum by the victims of ruthless gangs and bloodthirsty dictators that U.S. foreign policies have caused or supported. However, let us not ignore the vicious persecution of children and their families that the obsessive xenophobia and demagoguery of a rogue president and an unhinged federal agency called ICE have caused.

Some say Trumplandia is the natural progression of the growing plutocracy in the U.S. since Reagan. True enough. But plutocrats abhor the messiness of democracy and care little about the pain they inflict on the people. When narcissistic sociopathic politicians have pretensions of authoritarian rule, as does Trump, the pain inflicted upon the people within and at the border becomes intolerable.

Over the Ultimate City: To Live or Die in L.A.

It is always unnerving yet comfortably familiar to fly into LAX. I will need to do so again in a month or so. The vast urban landscape from Palm Springs westward to the Pacific shore is amazing to behold, if you really look at it. For about 125 miles, the mostly low-lying “built environment” stretches the entire way. It takes 2 or 3 hours…or more… to drive via the freeways, “depending on traffic.” Asphalt and concrete everywhere separates apartment complexes, commercial buildings, strip malls, mega-shopping centers, suburban neighborhoods, and elite “gated communities.” It has been over six months since my last visit. Still, it is never any less strange and prosaic despite my having lived and worked there for nearly four decades — until I retired over a dozen yeas ago.

Last time I had a window seat aft of the wings. I can never resist watching the mega-city go by below. But I’ve seen it all many times, both as an airline passenger and as a private pilot. I learned to fly in 1976 over this same urban desert. The complexity even back then sure gave me a sense of the importance of the instructor’s official admonition to “stay well clear” of any nearby aircraft. It also instilled an appreciation of the complexity of the air traffic control system as a blend of highly skilled living beings interacting with sphisticated information technology that is always in need of an upgrade.

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LA Terminal Area Chart – LAX at west shoreline.

Whether as pilot or passenger, I experience both the air traffic control system and city below it as marvels of human ingenuity and collective coordination. Yet they seem ever more vulnerable to chaos and ultimate collapse. Sometimes around dusk, I used to fly my little Piper PA-161 from Compton Airport out to the north east below the LAX final approach path under visual flight rules, then west along the Santa Monica Freeway, passing downtown LA to my north, heading toward the Santa Monica shoreline.

That way I could take the coastal route north saving time by not having to file an instrument flight plan. It was quicker that way when controllers were so busy with “rush hour” airline and business-jet traffic and hardly had time to issue another clearance. The city lights of downtown LA, the sunset, the many other aircraft in all quadrants with their nav. lights and landing lights so easy to see threading their way through the geometrically parsed airspace as daylight receded were all so beautiful, yet so delicately tentative and dangerous.

On disembarking into the LAX terminal on my last trip, I faced a mass of humanity flowing haphazardly in all directions in the very large multi-gate concourse. A virtual sea of diversity was lining up at a Southwest gate to board the next flight. I had a sudden sense of the quantitatively unimaginable scale of worldwide over-population rarely mentioned among environmentalists or politicians these days as the consumption of resources and energy by the people of the industrial nations reaches truly crisis scale.

Even as Los Angeles still works, more or less, it is difficult to imagine how such intensity can continue much longer as so much fossil-fuel energy and so many resources reach their extractive tipping points. LA, with its 13.1 million people in the metro area, seems the epitome of the extent to which humanity can appear to overcome nature, then approach a dead end. Big changes lie ahead. Meanwhile, can we learn anything about our future from this glorious megalopolis that may soon die of thirst?