Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pilot's Bill of Rights (S 1335)

Normally when reading legislation I become skeptical at the title.

Perhaps you think something like "oh, ho, ho! What a knee-jerk reactionary who opposes legislation as soon as he reads the title!" but I am absolutely serious.

When five hundred and thirty five people selected for that particular purpose get together for the explicit purpose of considering the merits of various proposals, and when they then institute a multi-stage process for consideration of those proposals and at the conclusion of that process can get more than half of 435 to agree with sixty of one hundred to agree with one person given final executive authority who then must agree in extreme cases with five of nine esteemed legal minds, I give that proposal some amount of credit. Perhaps all those people are agreeing with the proposal for bad reasons. Perhaps they have all been fooled. But the level of safeguards in place mean that, when examining some arbitrary piece of legislation, at least two hundred and seventy one people whose job it is to examine the issue have decided that the proposal in front of them is such a good idea that some portion of the most powerful coercive organization on the planet, literally capable of wiping entire cities off the face of the earth, should be directed towards the end in question. While this opinion is not due infinite reverence, it does mean that when all I know about a bill is the number of enrollment that I should give the balance of doubt to our duly elected legislators. I assume that our government, with its checks and balances, will not pass laws putting citizens in prison camps or endorsing outright genocide.

With most bills, that goes out the window the moment I read the title. I do not know who writes bill titles, but I do know that they are brilliant with acronyms, terribly insipid, and deeply Orwellian. Take Obamacare as an example, the primary stated goal of which was to increase access to health care. The formal name of the legislation is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Two clauses, neither of which suggest coverage expansion, but rather suggest improvements to the well-being of those who already have health care. Patient Protection comes first, despite the tertiary at best role of anything that could be considered "consumer advocacy" in a bill written by the insurance industry. Affordable Care comes next, and while certain segments  of America genuinely believe the cost curve will be bent downwards, that was not the primary goal of the bill (and anyway, doesn't Affordable Care suggest a change in the sign of the first derivative, not the second?).

Anyway, titles are bad, and I realize that I a two long, ranty paragraphs in without discussing the bill which the President signed into law last Friday. The title is the "Pilot's Bill of Rights", which, as far as titles go is unexceptionally positive pro-American tripe. Who, after all, could be against pilots, or rights? Do pilots not have rights? These are the sorts of terrible questions that politicians get to insinuate in their trashy direct mail pieces if the incumbent votes against a bill like this.

As far as statements of philosophy, statements of intention, or announcements of what the bill will actually do, go, holy shit. Clearly the "Immortal Declaration" has succumbed to mortality brought on by a combination of advanced age and multiple stab wounds in the back. There exists a bill of rights which affirm a selection of those rights which accrue to all individuals. There also, now, by the power of five hundred thirty five legislators and one president, exists another bill of rights which accrues solely to a single, protected class. A class of men hereby raised above their fellows with rights above and beyond the common run of folk.

But wait, as the ad men say, there's more. It was not the title that soured me on this bill. The title is included in section 1, the very first section of the bill. However, at the beginning of every piece of legislation there is a bit of formal stuff that I usually just skip over because who cares what the date was when the bill was enrolled. On this bill it reads as follows:

One Hundred Twelfth Congress
of the
United States of America
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday,
the third day of January, two thousand and twelve
An Act
To amend title 49, United States Code, to provide rights for pilots, and for other purposes.
    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, [silly italicization in original]
Did you catch that? The purpose of the bill? This act will amend title 49 (not offensive) of the United States Code (not offensive) to PROVIDE rights to pilots.

From where do rights emerge? Our founders said they are endowed upon all men by their creator. A more modern, humanist approach is to call them natural rights, springing somehow from our status as sentient beings. While a deep discussion of the topic could be best left for its own post, the one place that rights most emphatically do not come from is coercive institutions established by fallible men and corrupted by villainous ones. The government does not provide rights to its citizens as a soup kitchen provides sustenance for the needy. A government certainly does not provide rights in exchange for tax dollars as a wheat farmer provides grain for remuneration. Governments in general, and the American Federal Government in particular, was instituted to protect the rights we hold inalienably, through the merest virtue of birth. The bill of rights exists because a certain portion of the founding fathers believed that merely shackling government through checks, restrictions, and federalism was not enough. They believed that the government must be placed on notice with signposts specifically declaring certain important rights as explicitly off limits to government meddling (amendments 1-8), while of course reminding everyone that all people are possessed with the full suite of rights held by every living person (amendments 9 and 10).

This seizing of our American birthright was agreed on unanimously by every single member of the senate, passed by voice vote in the house, and signed by President Barack Obama. This means that there is not currently a single elected federal legislature who truly believes that our rights are inherent, endowed equally at birth to all persons, whatever they may claim in their fancy speeches and pretty ads.

Now then, away from the philosophy of the thing and into the content. Surely this bill with its audacious power grabs before even the first section is filled with cruel tyranny of the highest order. Except that it isn't.

Section 1 is the title.

Section 2 amends the FAA enforcement proceedings. The first part of this section is concerned with ensuring that people or organizations caught in disciplinary action have access to certain potentially relevant data. The second part strikes the phrase "but is bound by all validly adopted interpretations of laws and regulations the Administrator carries out and of written agency policy guidance available to the public related to sanctions to be imposed under this section unless the Board finds an interpretation is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not according to law" from various places, limiting the deference given the the FAA by default. The third part adds an appeals process to certification review and specifies what will count as evidence in court.

Section 3 is concerned with improving the notices distributed to airmen, specifically by creating a panel which will take input from the private sector and determine ways to streamline or otherwise reduce the volume of notices. The recommendations given by the panel will be implemented in one year's time without any citizen or legislative review.

Section 4 requires the comptroller to examine the FAA's medical certification procedures and give out a report. The FAA will then have one year to comply with the report in a fashion they see as reasonable.

That's it. Rand (among others) was fond of saying "ideas have consequences." If this is true, I shudder to think what sort of ideas could generate such petty, base consequences at such a high cost of liberty. It is these ideas which motivate our government.

If you would rather not think about it, here is a video of kittens:

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