A BuzzFlash News Analysis
A BuzzFlash News Analysis
November 19, 2001
Does Bush Deserve Credit for Signing the Airport Security Bill? On the Contrary . . . Aviation Security, Part 2
Maybe we can breathe a little sigh of relief now that we apparently have a reasonably sane airport safety bill.
But don't thank George W. Bush, who succumbed to the intimidating, bullying of Tom "Exterminator" DeLay and Dick "If I Only Had a Brain" Armey and opposed, until the very end, federalizing airport screeners.
As Howard Fineman wrote in a recent MSNBC article, the airport security bill was held hostage by Congressmen Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. Their personal agendas, allegiance to corporate sugar daddies and fear of "federalization" overtook the need for immediate and strong changes to an airport security system rife with incompetence. The bottom line is this: the Texas Taliban held up enacting strong airport security for a month, with the backing of Bush.
Anyway you look at it, the three of them were willing to shortchange Americans who are at the mercy of commercial airlines travel. Bush has his own "federalized" protection aboard Air Force One as he flies from elementary school classroom to elementary school classroom. The rest of us have had to rely on a third-rate sub-contracted airport screening system championed by the likes of rabid right wing junkyard dogs DeLay and Armey. Indeed, Logan Airport just took the desperate measure of firing the largest private screening sub-contractor in the U.S.
Well, in the end, the Texas Three Amigos blinked and went pretty much along with an airport security bill the Senate passed 100-0 weeks ago -- yes, that was a unanimous senate vote -- and Bush will get the PR credit for signing an airport security bill, which he should have signed a month ago.
Oh yes, DeLay will be saying he got what he wanted, an option for airports to return to sub-contractors for screening after three years. But it won't happen, and he knows it. No one is going to want to move backwards, toward less security, except for the addle-brained DeLay and Armey. (We must remind BuzzFlash readers that Tom DeLay was a professional bug exterminator before becoming chief enforcer for the GOP in the House. In addition to believing that Dioxin is as healthy as wheat germ, DeLay, a rock-bottom fundamentalist, hasn't talked to his mother for years according to a Washington Post profile earlier this year. They don't call it the grand hypocrisy party for nothing.)
Which brings BuzzFlash back to Fineman's Newsweek piece.
"The Shootout on the Truman Balcony [between DeLay, Armey and Bush] delayed legislation that should have been signed into law already-and that will now arrive too late to reassure the traveling public before the start of the holiday season."
The delay that DeLay achieved was assisted by an airport security industry dead-set on maintaining the status quo (despite continued errors when faced with even the most feckless obstacles) and campaign finance laws that favor big contributors.
While nearly all of congress was faced with the tough decision of how best to provide security, it was Tom DeLay that cried the loudest to only slightly modify the system currently in place.
"According to the Wall Street Journal, the airlines themselves are being lobbied by House Republican Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX). DeLay had asked airline lobbyists to work with him to oppose federalization."
DeLay argued that what Americans need is an airport security system supposedly based on those in use in Europe, which combines federal oversight with private ownership.
In a statement released on October 31, 2001, DeLay said, "Europe now uses systems like the President's plan. That's why we're working to preserve President Bush's flexibility to choose the most effective security system."
There's one major point DeLay left out of his argument: American airport security workers, under the current system and under the system proposed by Delay, have no motivation to do a better job.
"Among the reasons for the difference were better training for the European workers, coupled with higher pay and more attractive benefits. As a result, they tend to stay longer in their jobs, making them more experienced."
"In the U.S., passenger and baggage screening is a dead-end, low wage job with no benefits - in sharp contrast with the European system, in which such jobs are desirable and decently paid."
But don't expect this difference to get any attention from DeLay -- he's no friend of the working class. When the airline bailout plan was working its way through congress, airline labor unions were initially supportive because it contained provisions designed to assist them should the airlines continue with the layoffs. But, DeLay made certain that wouldn't happen.
"Democrats tried to include in the airline bailout bill benefits for workers, but were stopped in their tracks by Republican Whip Tom DeLay. Baird said as details of the $15 billion bailout package got to helping workers DeLay stepped in and abruptly stopped the negotiations."
"Employee protections were included in the House version of the Bill, but Majority Whip Tom DeLay stripped them at 3:30 that morning. As a result, airline executives were given an immediate five billion dollar infusion of cash, another ten billion dollars in loan guarantees and subsidies."
And DeLay wasn't alone in his efforts to shortchange aviation workers. As the DemocraticUnderground.com web site reported, Armey was more than happy to help.
"'The model of thought there, and quite frankly, the model of thought that says we need to go out and extend unemployment benefits and health insurance benefits and so forth is not I think one that is commensurate with the American spirit here,' said Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the majority leader."
DeLay also stated that he's against federalization of airport security because he's worried about creating more Democratic voters. As reported by the Associated Press, nothing gets past DeLay if it could provide relief to workers.
"Some Republicans are balking at Bush's plans, saying a stimulus package should be all tax cuts and no worker relief.
"'A meaningful economic stimulus package must focus on creating opportunity, not expanding government spending,' said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas."
According to the Public Citizen and Common Cause, the problems with our airline industry can be directly traced to the number and amount of campaign contributions.
"In recent years, the airline industry and the FAA have combined to stall, scale back and ignore specific security recommendations made by a 1996 presidential commission.
"In addition, the airline industry may have forestalled more action on the part of Congress and the White House through its aggressive lobbying and campaign contributions - most of which have come in the form of unlimited "soft money" contributions to political party leaders."
Just take a look at "Delay, Dilute and Discard: How the Airline Industry and the FAA Have Stymied Aviation Security Recommendations":
"The corporations with a lot either to gain or lose in the fight over aviation security have been cultivating lawmakers with millions of dollars in political donations over the past ten years, according to a Common Cause analysis of political action committee (PAC) and soft money data."
Other big supporters of DeLay's status quo security plan included the security companies themselves. One of the largest airport personnel companies in the world, Securicor, which owns the most troubled of airport security companies, Argenbright, teamed up with four other industry leaders as the Aviation Security Association. In a press release sent out on October 1, 2001, by the Aviation Security Association, the group offered its support for a plan exactly like that proposed by DeLay.
"The association representing the security companies responsible for passenger screening at the nation's U.S. airports today called on congressional leaders to adopt an aviation security package that is modeled after European airport security and involves direct government oversight and the expertise of private security professionals."
"Having formed the Aviation Security Association, the executives have also lobbied the White House, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, said Kenneth Quinn, the group's chief counsel and former FAA chief counsel under the first Bush administration."
Fortunately, the political risk of sticking with the current sub-contractors was too great for even DeLay, Armey and Bush to resist. When Flight 587 fell apart over Rockaway, New York, last Monday, it was the last straw that was about to break the back of any remaining consumer confidence in flying. Whatever the cause of that disaster, even the extremist wing of the Republican party couldn't afford to keep fighting for mediocre security coverage at airports.
The real question is why did it take so long for the flying public to get a commitment to the security efforts that they deserve?
Don't expect any answers from the three Texas amigos -- they don't have any that make sense.
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