The Hightower Report

Wrecking the Airline Industry; and Rewriting Some PATRIOT Act Stupidity


Gather 'round me, children, and I'll tell you a tale. Believe it or not, there was a time, not so long ago, when an airplane trip was considered a pleasure.

No, no, don't laugh – it's true! There were pillows to comfort you, snacks were freely handed out to passengers, there was no charge to have your luggage go on the trip with you, many flights were available to places you wanted to go, numerous airlines competed to win your business – and customers were actually treated as people who were valued.

Sadly, the corporate chieftains of American air travel now scoff at the quaint notion that passengers are more than just freight. Actually, being treated as freight might be an upgrade!

Three decades ago, airline executives convinced Washington to deregulate the industry, promising that the magic of free enterprise would work wonders for the flying public. Behold the wonders: The airlines merged to eliminate competition, and, in this decade alone, CEOs have cut hundreds of flights, fired more than a hundred thousand of their employees, jammed customers like sardines into their planes, abandoned any semblance of service, hiked ticket costs, imposed so many fees that the idea of coin-operated toilets is no longer far-fetched, taken shortcuts on safety, made endless delays the norm, and turned the friendly skies into tin tubes of passenger fury.

Now, with millions of passengers fed up, the geniuses who run this industry have come up with a plan: Cut more flights, fire more employees, further reduce service, raise fares, and nickel-and-dime customers with more fees.

Meanwhile, CEOs are pulling down multimillion-dollar paychecks, doling out bonuses in the executive suites, and trying to think of creative new ways to shrink their industry, deliver less for higher prices, and drive away all of those annoying passengers.


Empirical evidence notwithstanding, stupidity is not a requirement for membership in the U.S. Congress. Also, stupid acts by Congress do not have to be forever.

Witness the infamous, freedom-busting, Orwellian piece of legislative stupidity known as the USA PATRIOT Act. Passed by a panicked Congress right after 9/11 and reauthorized by a cowed Congress in 2006, this thing empowers the FBI to make wholesale, secret invasions of the American people's privacy – grossly violating one of our country's core values.

As we've learned from investigative reports by the bureau's own inspector general, concerns about intrusive and abusive actions by a bulked-up FBI were not theoretical. This national police agency has been found guilty of "widespread and serious misuse" of the PATRIOT Act's most invasive provisions. For example, the act opened up our private records to government agents, enabling them to write their own authorizations for poking into our personal business without having to show any reasonable cause for spying on us. Hundreds of cases of the FBI sweeping up information it has no authority to collect have now been documented.

Did no one foresee the stupidity of granting such broad unchecked power? Yes. Sen. Russ Feingold did, and he cast the one courageous vote against the PATRIOT Act in 2001. Now Feingold is back with Senate Bill 2088, a bill to rein in the FBI and restore the people's constitutional rights. As he puts it, we've learned the hard way that "trust us" doesn't cut it when it comes to preventing government snoops from abusing their power.

Congress has the responsibility to put appropriate restraints on government authorities, and that's what Feingold's National Security Letters Reform Act does. To help put some real patriotism in the misnamed and misguided Patriot Act, contact Feingold's office at 202/224-5323.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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Patriot Act, FBI, Russ Feingold, airline industry

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