Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Sad State Of Affairs

While the fallout of United Airlines' ("Fly the friendly skies of United") forcible removal of a paying customer from an overbooked flight continues to reverberate, the ugly incident is reminding all of us of some ugly truths that now constitute our reality. Corporate power rules, and we are merely incidental casualties in its relentless march to profit.

Quoting one of his colleagues, Shawn Ryan sums up the situation: a blind pursuit of profit, United overbooked the flight, didn’t offer enough to entice anyone to get off the plane, then in order to get their own employees on the flight, they removed ticketed passengers, and when one wouldn’t comply with their orders, they called the cops to pull a supposed doctor off the plane—bloodying his face in the process.
Ryan sees much deeper significance here than a viral video that is doing tremendous damage to the airline's 'brand':
But let’s tell the deeper truth here—United made a dumb decision, but essentially they just got unlucky that the problem landed on their laps, and it was their dirty laundry that got aired. They are a cruel agent, without a doubt, but they are not some lone wolf—they are a product of an indifferent system that increasingly devalues individual life, and that system is called America.
Essentially, then, the forced removal of the doctor is only a symptom of an underlying systemic disease, much of which Canada is not immune to. What are some of the things we share with the rapidly unraveling U.S. of A.?
—The social safety net, once the strongest in the world, has been gradually dismantled by both major parties over three decades, leaving the poor and working classes vulnerable to increased poverty and immiseration.

—Labor unions, the only reliable form of protection for the American worker, have likewise been gutted as power amasses in the hands of corporations.

—Our economy is designed to transfer wealth and income into the pockets of those who need it least, and any opposition to this structural inequality is treated as political radicalism.

—Our police are empowered to shoot and kill our own citizens for dubious reasons, and—especially if the victim happens to be a minority—escape all prosecution.

—Harmful free trade agreements have been passed to milk profit from globalism, with no thought given to the loss of jobs, money, and dignity for American workers, or the slave wages and environmental destruction unleashed abroad.

The reality is plain: United Airlines is not the disease. United Airlines is a symptom of an infected country whose institutions of power no longer respect the dignity or the sanctity of the individual life. They don’t care about you
Soon, of course, the furor will subside, and all of us will return to our quotidian concerns, but perhaps we will remain at least a little shaken by having had many of our notions about fairness, equality and justice exposed for the delusions they often are.


  1. As a friend of mine -- who spent thirty five years in retail -- told me yesterday, if he had have been in charge, he would have chartered a small plane to get the flight crew to its destination. Now, he said, he smells a $50 million law suit. Customer service, Lorne?

    1. I hope United does pay dearly here, Owen. As to customer service, it does seem to be an increasingly quaint notion consigned to history, doesn't it?

  2. I'll shamelessly recycle a response I posted to a comment on my blog this morning on the matter of disaffection with the U.S. among foreigners of all nationalities:

    "It certainly does nothing to quell the "ugly American" sentiment that has crept in since the US became a permanent warfare state. Americans decry fundamentalism - religious, social, even political - in the Muslim world even as a degree of a similar fundamentalism has become established in the States, particularly since the 9/11 tragedies. The rise of authoritarianism in government and the decline of liberal democracy; the rise of the surveillance state and decline in the rights and freedoms of the individual; the militarization of police agencies; the spread of social Darwinism accompanied by increasing inequality - of income, wealth and inequality; the waning of press freedom and the rise of fake news and other forms of disinformation - these all evidence a darkness in our southern neighbour that we may not often dwell on but nonetheless carry in us some awareness. Trump's election showed that the American people are not particularly troubled by these trends and certainly not insistent that they be reversed. Perhaps they're nearing some sort of societal "rock bottom." Perhaps this will change and there will be an American restoration, possibly founded on progressivism. For now, however, that seems a remote prospect."

    What was this fellow, this Dr. Dao? An older, Asian man, small of stature, traveling alone in "cattle class." About as significant as a piece of carry on luggage in the rack above. Let's be honest - if it was a young soldier in combat fatigues sitting in Dao's seat he would never have been told to get off the plane. I don't want to say it was racist. I don't think the others were Asian-American or spoke with an accent. I think Dao was selected on the basis of an overall profile that can be summed up in the word "dispensable." Who, as a flight attendant, might you least likely enjoy serving? Oh, I know - that guy. Off with him. Get him out of here.

    1. Probably far too accurate an assessment, Mound. The only thing I could think of when I saw the video of this abuse was, "Thank God so many people have cellphones with video capacity." Otherwise, I'm sure the story would have been that United had to call in the authorities to remove a disruptive and belligerent passenger for the safety of all.

  3. Off topic.. what happened to Canadian Progressives site ?

    On topic.. Mainstream Media needs to clean up their act. Was the flight overbooked, or was United just trying to shuttle 4 employees to another city & thus bumping customers? These are two different situations.

    I have in the past 'volunteered' to take a next day flight with United out of Chicago after coming in from Salt Lake City.. and will mention the same incoming flight crashed the next day. I kid you not. This was in the era where you could watch 'live' as you landed via video camera mounted in the landing carriage

    I was not dragged from the aircraft.. that evening.. in fact I was cheered and patted on the back as I deplaned, for being a cheerful dude, ok with staying overnight and getting to Toronto in the AM.. I believe I was paid more by United for volunteering than I was being paid by my client to photograph a restaurant. I believe it was some 400 $ US .. again I kid you not

    There's a sort of metaphor floating out there.. ie the assault of an airline passenger by a corporate entity & their contracted security force. I can't quite get my finger on it or my head around it.. But a very special person in my life asked me this morning.. When was the last time we heard of a person attending a concert or sporting event, asked or told.. to 'voluntarily' give up their seat, leave the venue, so an employee of the venue could take their seat..

    Well, I'll ask you the same question.. And.. on refusing, dragged and beaten into submission.. As she pointed out to me, the ensuing lawsuit would bankrupt the venue, the promoter, the sporting or entertainment entity.. and enrich many many law firms. The ensuing malicious smearing of the injured plaintiff, in her view would probably result in a tenfold judgement on top of the initial fines. After all, who can determine the costs when you smear the victim?

    This one.. will take years to process, deny, obstruct, appeal, re-appeal blah blah.. and by then a new President will have replaced the doddering fool golfing at Mar blah Lago .. But that's America eh ? And its friendly skies .. ...

    1. I don't know what has happened at Canadian Progressives, Sal. The Mound alerted me to it in an email.

      Your analogy of a concert venue puts the United situation into stark relief. I think the costs, both to its reputation and in litigation, will surely ensure a rethink before they treat their future passengers to such abusive and cavalier treatment.