Having successfully extorted $2.8 trillion out of the American people and handed it to their plutocrat cronies with their unconscionable hostage-taking of the federal debt ceiling, Republicans have taken yet another hostage: the American flying public.
With their latest kidnapping, Republicans have returned to another of their favorite rackets: union-busting. Well, of course, they'd never really given up union-busting, as it was, along with extorting ever larger tax breaks, tax cuts and tax subsidies for themselves and their ultra-wealthy cronies, one of the pillars of their party mission.
Republicans were keen to abolish a rule that allowed workers to vote on forming unions, and replace it with a system that counts all non-votes as "no" votes. Of course, as there're billions of people on Earth, such as yak herders in Outer Mongolia, who might not bother to vote in any particular airline union election, pretty much the nays would have it every time.
Naturally, Democrats, workers, and anyone else interested in democracy and goodness triumphing over Satanic Republican evil, didn't want that, so, naturally, Republicans resorted to holding FAA reauthorization hostage until they got their way. Thus, Republicans have forced a partial shutdown of the agency that administers the nation's air transport system, and tossed 4,000 FAA employees onto unpaid furloughs.
"This is a made-up crisis," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for the benefit of those who hadn't been keeping up with the situation. "This is government by hostage taking."
"The fact is, when you look back at their threats to shut down the entire government - remember that? - unless they got tax breaks for the rich, followed by holding the full faith and credit of this government hostage to their desires to cut government spending," Boxer reviewed for an electorate that admittedly had the attention span of a bacterium. "And now, here we are a third time."
One had to wonder where Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI had been while all this was going on. At one time, extortion had been illegal. They must have changed that during the Bush Administration.
Perhaps, Holder was too busy helping Rupert Murdoch shred incriminating documents.
Most lawmakers had gone home for Congress' summer recess, although both the Senate and the House remained open with skeleton crews of legislators on watch in "pro forma" sessions.
"They could send us a bill or we could send them a bill and they could pass it because we are in pro forma session," complained Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Congress can pass measures by unanimous consent while in pro forma session.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), however, would have nothing to do with consenting, unanimously or otherwise. "All it would take to end this crisis is for the Senate to pass the House-approved FAA extension," he said. 'House-approved' meant a Republican measure that basically included pointing the Death Star at the Earth and pulling the trigger, abolishing unions and all other life on the planet.
Meanwhile, 767s were criss-crossing the skies with bleary-eyed air traffic controllers nodding off in front of their radar screens, as all their support staff were forced to sit at home wondering how long they can stretch a can of baked beans and a pack of hot dogs.
The brouhaha this time was over a National Mediation Board rule that required any vote to organize into a union be approved by the majority of the people voting. In English, that's called an election. Republicans wanted to do away with that rule, and replace it with one that required a majority of all effected employees. Furthermore, any effected employees who didn't cast votes would be counted as "no" votes. It was not immediately known whether airline officials were signing up yak herders wandering around outside Ulan Bator International as temps to stuff the ballot box.
No one seems to have asked Republicans why they didn't push for counting all non-votes as "yes" votes. That would be because, of course, they were gumming up the works on behalf of their corporate patrons, in this case Delta Air Lines.
It was not immediately known whether Republicans, if they got their way, planned on demanding that everyone not voting in the 2012 Presidential election be counted as votes for Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
Since no one except Republicans and their corporate and Tea Party patrons want to redefine the nature of voting in a democracy, Republicans naturally took the normally pro-forma reauthorization of the FAA's operating authority hostage until they got their way.
Since July 23, when Republicans shoved a .357 Magnum against Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's head and demanded he change the definition of the word "election" in the Oxford English Dictionary, about 75,000 have been thrown off their jobs. Aside from the 4,000 FAA employees furloughed, more than 70,000 construction workers on projects at airports around the country requiring FAA supervision have been idled.
Furthermore, the US government was missing out on about $30 million a day worth of airline ticket taxes it couldn't collect so long as the FAA was out of business.
"No safety issues will be compromised," LaHood said in his proof-of-life statement. "Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety Inspectors are on duty and are doing their job."
Air traffic controllers were still on the job and hopefully not nodding off in front of their flickering radar displays, because they and aircraft inspectors were paid out of a separate fund, presumably set aside at some point by someone who realised there were Republicans afoot in the bushes, and knew there was no telling the depths of their perfidy. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone else around who might go fetch them a cup of coffee.
Airport safety inspectors were also on the job, albeit without pay. They oversee airport construction, runway inspections, and fix safety problems.
"The reason they're out on the job is because of the risk to operational safety of life and property," explained FAA administrator Randy Babbitt. Hopefully, if an old refrigerator got tossed away on a runway, someone would be around to drag it off before Flight 214 from Duluth piled into it.
LaHood was incensed at his fellow Republicans, and Wednesday blamed "one or two people who wouldn't compromise" for the threat to the nation's airways. He chided Republican lawmakers for going away on "their vacation" without settling the issue.
Hopefully, by the time lawmakers got back from their summer recess in September, the runways at Dulles and Reagan National won't be strewn with abandoned sofas and rusted car chassis. Or not.