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“You Are Now Free to . . .” Fly At Your Own Risk

How much more abuse of trust and public endangerment will Americans tolerate before they demand the corrupt Bush/Cheney regime be removed from office? Every week exposes new horrors. Last week we learned that Southwest Airlines officials convinced friendly FAA officials to overlook Southwest’s failure to conduct mandatory safety inspections for dozens of its aircraft.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration should "clean house from top to bottom" and has too cozy a relationship with the airlines, the head of a congressional committee investigating airline safety inspections said Friday.

The problems have led to the sort of lax enforcement that allowed Southwest Airlines Co. to fly at least 117 aircraft past mandatory inspection deadlines, said Rep. James Oberstar, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman.

Oberstar also said he believes similar violations may have occurred involving other airlines, but that those who have such evidence are afraid to come forward.

Yesterday, Southwest revealed that another three dozen planes — planes that have been carrying thousands of Americans — have been grounded to inspect for possible cracking. So I guess we’re supposed to be encouraged by this:

Southwest Airlines, combing through its maintenance files after being fined $10.2 million last week for an inspection lapse uncovered in 2007, said it found another problem and grounded 38 planes Wednesday, canceling about 125 flights. . . .

The inspections were aimed at finding cracks in aging planes. Subsequent checks identified cracks on six planes, which were fixed. Southwest has a fleet of 523 Boeing 737s.

After the F.A.A. announced its fine, James L. Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released documents indicating an F.A.A. official had signed off on letting Southwest fly the planes after the maintenance lapse was reported.

One wonders why we spend so much effort taking off our shoes, removing our computers, and placing our tooth paste in the exact size plastic bag during airport security checks, only to learn that we may be boarding unsafe, uninspected aircraft. But this isn’t just about Southwest Airlines; that story is just the tip of many icebergs, part of a pervasive pattern of regulatory abdication across the Bush Administration. Here are analogous stories from the last month alone:

— Bush’ BLM appointees ignore State’s pleas for enviromental safeguards for drilling in Colorado.

— Bush Administration wins Supreme Court ruling shielding medical device makers from state lawsuits for defective products.

— EPA adopts weaker smog standard at Bush’s behest and against unanimous advice of scientific advisory panel in favor of stronger standard.

— Administration seeks weaker version of bill meant to improve Consumer Product Safety Commission.

— Bush Administration keeps CPSC hobbled without quorum; nominates manufacturers’ lobbyist.

Lax USDA inspections failed to prevent "downer" (sick) cows from entering food supply.

— EPA has no standards to test for toxic effects of pharaceuticals in nation’s water supplies.

— Bush official questions need for new safety standards, even after "preventable" refinery explosion kills 12.

— Defense Department oversight lax in allowing Cheney’s Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, to provide unhealthy water to US troops for nearly two years.

Update: Bush surppressed public health report on Great Lakes.

Agencies responsible for protecting the public’s health and safety have been deliberately stacked with industry-friendly hacks and anti-regulatory zealots, and then protected by unethical appointees in agency oversight positions. Scientific studies are "edited" to conform to political appointees’ ideological positions, independent advice is ignored, whistleblowers are fired or demoted. Dangerous drugs and products are cleared without oversight, and then left on the market until public exposure of death or illness forces their removal. And Bush has appointed dozens of industry-sympathetic judges who are more likely to look the other way and rule against consumers, ensuring the laws cannot to enforced as Congress intended.

The country is witnessing a massive, systematic and deliberate abdication of governmental responsibility, all in defiance of decades of statutory mandates and regulatory precedents. It may be the most blatant and unlawful maladministration of the executive branch since the Age of Robber Barons.

The Republicans claim they want to remove "excessive" regulation, especially for small business, but they never ran on a platform of unilaterally dismantling the nation’s health and safety laws, conspiring with industry or concealing evidence of wrongdoing; they have no such mandate. But this regime and its Republican supporters don’t care about legitimacy or the public interest.

Their carelessness is endangering the health and safety of millions of Americans. If al Qaeda had taken over the White House and was threatening even one tenth of the damage as the Bush Administration’s deliberate assault on the nation’s health and safety laws, there would be demands that David Petraeus lead 30,000 troops to recapture Washington D.C. But it’s okay if the Republicans do it.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley