Kossacks, you bristle at the scandalous level of income inequality, at monstrous levels of corporate entitlement, at the purchase of our government by ultra-wealthy fringe-element nutjobs, at the reign of the narcissistic sociopaths.
You walk past the foreclosed homes that pepper your own neighborhoods, see the shades, always drawn, the grass grown shaggy and choked with weeds. You've noted how, strangely, these homes attract attention to themselves by hinting at what is absent: families, flowers, toys strewn about the lawn, the squeals of children as they race around the yard. Even cars parked in the driveway speak of habitation. A walk offers the sight of neighbors chatting with each other over the fence or at the tree line, a smoking outdoor grill, the scent of fried onions and bratwurst.
Life, friendship, community, these are the other victims of mad, galloping avarice, its origins in financial districts, urban corporate headquarters and hedge fund firms far from our homes, the reach of their tentacles vast, soulless, predatory, tightening around our lives, darkening our childrens' futures. That last, if we do nothing, may be our damning legacy...
Soon the tireless, brainless corporate predation will commodotize every aspect of our lives. Virtue will be for sale, patriotism too. (Ah, too late, you say.) The more you buy, the more you have. I'm selling a few shares of integrity, by the way. Stuff's a bit overrated, if you want to know the truth. Bought some on impulse, didn't have time to read about it before the IPO. Now...well its just kinda weird. I bought a few more shares but it doesn't seem to do anything. My financial planner is clueless about the stuff, has no idea how to research it...
I live within walking distance of an airport, and there too, the signs of TDDS (Trickle Down Delusion Syndrome) are manifest. Next to an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) at the north end of the airport you could once walk past a few rows of piston-engined private airplanes: High-winged Cessna 152s and 172s, a low-wing Beechcraft Bonanza or two, the odd Mooney with its distinctive “put-on-backwards” vertical stabilizer, or an itinerant Piper Cherokee or Aztec, perhaps the property of a snowbird.
These were private planes, privately owned by women and men who enjoyed spending some of their spare time flying to other small, non-towered airports, seeing the world from 2000 to 5000 feet, living Da Vinci's dream.
Like cars, airframes send messages about their owners. If the Cessnas are the family sedans, the Fords, Chevrolets and Dodges of the lot, the Mooneys are more the Buicks. The newer, sleeker Cirrus SR-22s might be the Audis or BMWs. Da Vinci would smile to see his dream and his drawings made real, whole, functional.
Gazing through the chainlink, the pedestrian sees a variety of streamlined forms, and marvels. They do share a similarity to cars: there are doors, seats, wheels. But cars are rarely tethered to keep them earthbound, and do not wear wings to defy gravity. Still and tethered, these planes only hint at their airborne beauty. Corralled, you see only potential.
But you are denied even this sight nowadays. They are all gone, this collection of private planes. The tiedowns sit unused, filling with dirt, sprouting weeds.
The passing of these planes is another sign the middle class has been gutted, a violence that happened so slowly it nearly escaped attention. Private Pilots have sold their airframes, canceled their insurance policies, sold off or stored their headsets and flying gear. Their hard-earned skillsets sit idle, molder, they mourn the loss of a few hours of freedom aloft they could once enjoy, freedom that their labor could once buy them.
The high cost of fuel, some private pilots say. That's what killed off their passion. At a gathering of old pilots (young private pilots are a rare, rare creature these days) other culprits are fingered. Rising insurance rates, the costs of maintaining an airframe and its powerplant as they age, the costs of replacing instrumentation...
I have long puzzled over notable blind spots in the awareness of private pilots. In this bunch, clearing blind spots is an obsession. Odd then, that they remain blind to the two main causes of their approaching extinction: the economy they live in and the political party they support.
A high percentage of private pilots vote Republican, and hold pro-business, anti-organized-labor views. Ask them to explain why the population of private pilots is aging and shrinking, and they cite the fuel costs and other reasons cited above, and fall silent.
I strive to help them connect some vital dots.
“Look,” I am told by one friend, “The price of a new Cessna 182, even a bare bones model, is well over $300,000.00. So most middle class pilots have long given up looking at new airframes.” Used models, and the 182 has been manufactured from 1956 to 1985 and again from 1996 to the present, can range from near $50,000.00 to $300,000.00 and higher.
So private pilots who can still afford to fly are most often doing so in airframes that can be 40 years old. This is the new normal. Sound normal to you, Kossacks?
“Why,” I ask this friend, “hasn't your standard of living gone up?”
This simple question stuns him. He and his fellow Republican pilots never think to ask it.
If I get any response at all, it is that the nation is now awash in “takers”, that too few Americans are laboring to support a supposed horde of freeloaders. I never get solid statistics from a trickle-down true believer about this horde, just his assurances that they are everywhere. “Ah,” I say, “This reminds me of all those “assurances” from Senator Joe McCarthy that there were communists infiltrating all sectors of American government and society. Thank God the tireless, selfless patriots on the right have identified the next fifth column!”
Just how successful was McCarthy, by the way? And how accurate?
This “takers” conspiracy theory is the excuse of a victim, someone holding his or her nose to a grindstone (Read: “I'm doing this for my own good. You should, too. Pain is freedom.”) Look closely and you'll see sparks of “pity me” flying off of the stone.
Republicans are fanatically convinced that millions of lazy citizens, with help from those hordes of illegal residents, aren't carrying their fair share of the load, “And so I have to work harder, and yet I see no reward for my increased productivity, my increased dedication to my work,” says the right-wing “proletariat”. (It really irritates him when I call him that. Wonder why...)
“Wait,” I say, “You and I agree that the productivity of the American worker has risen. But they haven't been compensated for that increased productivity.” Let me state what ought to be obvious: for the middle class, productivity has been severed from prosperity. The American Dream is dead.
This begs, absolutely begs the question, “Who decided it should be so? Who decided to disembowel the American Dream? Do you seriously want to stand there and say it is an imaginary horde of “takers”, or some evil cabal of illegals?”
I can point to a real, genuine culprit, one who actually exists.
Get this: The CEO of McDonald's gets a pay and benefits hike worth millions while the company experiences a drop in monthly sales and spends millions lobbying against a minimum wage hike and efforts to unionize. So the divorce between productivity and compensation happens in the entrepreneurial stratosphere, too....in exactly the opposite direction. Uh huh. Up there the link between compensation and productivity is nonexistent. Guess who made sure of that....
Republican private pilots are remarkably blind to wage theft, to the absurdities of corporate entitlement and the galloping egomania of corporate culture. They also have a knee-jerk revulsion to union labor. So of course they can't be depended upon to cite the reasons they are a vanishing breed.
Nor can the aviation organizations they belong to. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) exudes rank and malodorous political and ideological bias. Although it is a voluntary membership organization, it is run with the inefficiency, lack of accountability and lack of transparency of a corporation. Organization bylaws are an absurd giveaway of power to an unelected Board, who in turn vet and select the AOPA President. Members are allowed no input on the selection of the President or the Board members, who exhibit, and who is surprised to see it, a remarkably narrow, corporate background.
In a “forward-thinking” pseudo-effort to get to the bottom of the shrinking private pilot population, AOPA “conducted” a “study” which soon drew the ridicule of progressive pilots, and the scorn of pretty much any pilot who didn't happen to be a raving, drooling supply-side apologist.
After a thorough cherry-pick of data, using an ingenious inversion process in which ideologically vetted conclusions were used to “test” the results of surveys, AOPA statisticians and researchers came up with a brilliantly safe and harmless conclusion:
The quality of flight instruction really wasn't as high as it could be.
The response from private pilots worldwide: WTF?!?!?
No mention of widening income inequality. No mention of the failure called trickle-down economics. No mention of wage theft. No mention that five years ago, Wall Street, aided and abetted by the Financial District, crashed our economy. No mention that banksters are still foreclosing on homes after the robo-signing scandal. Clueless. No, not clueless. Willfully blind. Culpable, and hiding their complicity in the crime.
Call AOPA and ask how much the study cost. Ask how many members voted to expend the money for this so-called “study”. Hint: members in this voluntary-membership organization can't vote on how the organization expends its funds. This includes having no say in how much the AOPA President or board members earn. Gotta love corporate entitlement...
Do Republican AOPA members object to this corporate chicanery? Hell no. They believe in it! AOPA membership plummeted by the thousands and thousands as normal, sensible pilots, many with a mere inkling of sound economic knowledge, realized AOPA has been hijacked by corporatists, ideological nutjobs, Reagan-worshippers and trickle-down true believers. Normal, sane, patriotic pilots voted with their feet.
The Private pilot is a dying breed. Blindly, pointlessly, foolishly confident that his ideological tunnel vision represents a greater truth, he refuses to acknowledge that the decades-long experiment in trickle-down economics has been a dismal, abject, complete failure. His blindness, his short-sightedness, will assure his extinction. Soon the skies over the United States will be partitioned and sold to the highest bidders. One of the few free and open places left in the nation will become a commodity, leased under easy terms to one-percenters jetting to meet up with their paid-for politicians over martinis at a golf junket.
A few of those foreclosed homes are looking a bit better these days. But not because the middle class is in recovery, not because the government has been put back to work for the ninety-nine percent. No, those homes haven't been sold. They are still bank owned. The banks are satiated, collecting the private mortgage insurance payments on these foreclosures, not feeling especially rushed to unload them. They even hire lawn care firms, staffed by minimum wage minions and probably more than a few illegals, to prevent the foreclosures from becoming nuisance properties, and hence subject to fines and public scrutiny. Gotta keep up appearances, and the banks are assured, under status quo trickle-down policy, under legalized entitlement, that they are safe from the evils of accountability and transparency.
And the Republican private pilot will still have the comfort of his ideology...he just won't be flying it anywhere. Seems he can't tell the difference between a security blanket and a pair of handcuffs.