What the Inhofe Case Tells Us

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Yesterday I summed up the state-of-play in the saga of Sen. Inhofe v. the FAA:
     - he landed on a closed runway while workmen were standing on it, creating panic and outrage at the local airport and leading the airport manager to tell authorities, "I've got over 50 years flying, three tours of Vietnam, and I can assure you I have never seen such a reckless disregard for human life in my life";
     - he received the mildest of possible administrative responses from the FAA;
     - and now he is launching legislation to curb FAA "excess" like what he has been exposed to.

Reader David Maier no longer flies but once held FAA designations as "CFII ASMEL." That means he was a Certified Flight Instrutor - Instruments, for both single- and multi-engine airplanes. He writes in response to the Inhofe case:

>>I'm surprised by how deeply saddened I am by this. On reflection I think I'm responding to the decreasing degree that we are a nation of laws, and the premise that no one is above the law.  Nixon was pardoned to save the country the anguish of prosecuting him. And yet, look at what we've lost as a result:  Had Nixon been prosecuted, would Bush/Cheney have been so cavalier? (And they, too, are being given a pass.)  The CIA brazenly destroyed evidence they were under judicial instruction to preserve. (They are being given a pass.) CIA members have been given a pass because John Yoo told them they could perform acts that we prosecuted as war crimes 60 years ago.  Remember when the "following orders" defense was not recognized at Nuremburg?  Will anyone in power ever again feel the deterrent effect of the Law?

That a sitting senator would have the hubris to say that he did nothing wrong in a situation that no pilot could condone, speaks volumes. That he was given a pass speaks to a serious erosion in the integrity of the fabric on which our nation rests.  The Law?  That's just for the grunts at Abu Ghraib, not the superiors who set them up.  Redress of grievances?  Not if some politician merely utters the phrase "national security."  Justice and Law in this country are becoming source of cynicism.

The Law is not real. It's an idea; it exists only in the human mind. It's nothing but ink squiggles on a piece of paper. It is only as honorable as the honor given to it by those in authority; it only deserves respect if it is applied with equity.  And, like the creditability of the US dollar, the minute that we cease to respect and to protect it, it will be gone.<<


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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