To go forth in black raiments and wreak havoc on the realms of men, to furtively, yet fundamentally, alter the lives of millions of human beings over whom consequence and dumb luck have given you dominion, this is the purview of two creatures: Rattus rattus, the Black rat, and U.S. Federal Judges. The former is a relentlessly shrewd, self-serving, unapologetically filthy beastie that spreads suffering throughout the civilized world. The latter is a dumbed-down, degenerate iteration of its rodent forebears.
Admittedly, the preceding is my personal opinion. The purpose of this writing is to heap fact, logic, and anecdote upon that opinion until the crushing weight of obviousness occasions critical mass, and one man’s conviction explodes into axiomatic truth.
In a ruling tantamount to an admission of the NTSB’S corruption, incompetence, or both, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that the NTSB need not share all intra-agency communications from its investigations under the Freedom of Information Act. Among data deemed “privileged” are communications with OEMs and outside consultants made party to NTSB investigations. The court’s decision cites federal law specifically prohibiting the introduction of NTSB reports into evidence at related civil trials. The rationale underlying this abjectly nonsensical legislation plays to the worn out tune of the NTSB having a larger goal of promoting safety and not facilitating litigation. An objective assessment of the court’s ruling and the canonical rhetoric on which it’s based reveals a shocking dearth of transparency.
In the most fundamental sense, legal proceedings, whether civil or criminal, are pursuits of truth. The same is true of NTSB investigations. As truth is absolute and immutable, it stands to reason that the flow of information between the NTSB and American courts of law should be perfectly transparent and reciprocal. Even the FAA—that tremendous engine of obscurity and contradiction—asserts the importance of transparency in its 2018 Compliance Program Order (Order 8000.373A), wherein it is written: To foster this open and transparent exchange of data, the FAA believes that its compliance program, supported by an established safety culture, is instrumental in ensuring both compliance with regulations and the identification of hazards and management of risk. Regrettably, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has an altogether different take on transparency. Chief Judge Priscilla R. Owen and her esteemed colleagues maintain that the redaction of 215 pages—from the 13,000 pages of documents pertaining to the crash on which the court’s decision was based—constitutes an inconsequential omission of data. Two-hundred-fifteen pages?! Hemingway, Solzhenitsyn, and Dickens all wrote shorter books.
I suspect the principal point on which the court and I disagree is the absoluteness and immutability of truth. The practice of law is a perverse microcosm in which the predatory and the cruel commit atrocities under the guises of probity and impartiality. The loathsome agents of this work are called lawyers. The very best lawyers work in truth as sculptors work in clay. They bend and shape it until what remains reflects their imagination and purpose. By the time lawyers accede to the bench and take up their gavels, they consider truth an accomplishment, not a discovery. What is a hammer, if not a tool by which to shape a thing to one’s liking?
Why might a federal court block public access to communiques between a powerful governmental agency and multinational aerospace conglomerates essential to the wellbeing of the military/industrial complex? The question’s farcical naivety and the self-evidence of the answer it elicits speak to the deepening rift between America’s people and its Federal Government.
For too long, Americans have allowed government to operate clandestinely. Our local, state, and federal governments are extensions of ourselves. Why do our elected officials, our countrymen, our judges continuously, conspicuously, and contemptuously lie to and marginalize us? Where is our outrage? The notion of a Federal court ruling to shroud NTSB findings in secrecy is repellent—especially when that ruling affords airframe manufacturers and other OEMs recourse to equivocation, prevarication, and outright lies about their complicity in incidents and accidents involving their products.
Boeing’s disastrous 737MAX program illustrates the folly inherent wresting control of an aircraft’s development away from engineers and handing it over to accountants. The Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling enables Boeing to hide this embarrassing, potentially costly instance of corporate idiocy from litigants seeking compensation for the lives of loved ones lost in the October 2018 and March 2019, 737MAX accidents.
The practice of making bottom-line top-priority is not unique to Boeing. As airframe and engine manufacturers jostle for shares of an increasingly competitive, commercial aircraft market, the incidence of both accident investigation and legal proceeding promises to increase. This is not the ghoulish prediction of a Luddite. Rather, it is the inevitable consequence of herding ever increasing numbers of passengers into aircraft designed to more reliably land profits than safely at their destinations. One wonders, in light of the Fifth Circuit Court’s ruling, if the NTSB and industry leading OEM’s share my vision of an accident filled, hyper litigious future and have acted preemptively in their respective self-interests.
Football coaches and military strategists have long maintained that the best defense is a good offense. It’s an old argument, however, and its veracity is predicated upon the assumption that all parties to a conflict subscribe to pre-ordained, rules of engagement. A more contemporary argument, and one that the Fifth Circuit Court has given teeth, is that the best defense is rewriting the rules of engagement to blind, hobble, and dishearten an adversary—or litigant—into capitulating without a fight.
Okay. Now we’re cooking. Only 212 more pages to equal what the NTSB and the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals consider an inconsequential omission.