It’s All Personal, Not Just Business.

05 April 2019

There is a famous scene in the classic movie The Godfather, where Michael Corleone, off to meet with an enemy, says, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

The terrible tragedies of crashes of the Boing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia remind us, once again, how wrong that statement it. These tragedies were not “just business.” They are terribly, horribly personal. Hundreds of lives were lost due to callous, negligence, or worse – deliberate indifference to human life.

The Boing 737 Max 8 had software problems that led the plane to drive itself at high speed directly into the earth.

This happened because of unsafe design, overreliance on untested technology, terribly lax oversight and missing governmental regulation, in a competitive environment where Boing focused “on getting the plane on the market quickly to compete with its rival manufacturer Airbus.

Flyers Rights – the airline passenger consumer group –proposed a real passengers bill of rights. Year after year the industry’s toadies in Congress said no. A slim version passed last year — requiring regulations creating minimum seat standards, regulations regarding prompt refunds for ancillary services not provided or on a flight not taken, and a variety of small improvements for consumers.

Boeing is all over Capitol Hill. They have 100 full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Over 300 members of Congress regularly take campaign cash from Boeing. The airlines lather the politicians with complimentary ticket upgrades, amenities, waivers of fees for reservation changes, priority boarding, and VIP escorts.

It gets worse:

Here is how the Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by FAA, endorsed by Boeing’s Congress:

“In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the U.S. government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations…”
“Hundreds of Boeing engineers would have played out this scenario thousands of times as the company sought to verify the performance of mechanical systems, hardware installation and massive amounts of computer code…”

This is a corrupt business environment, where our government has defaulted on its obligations, trusting instead to corporations to care more about the safety of their passengers, than about their profits.

But that trust was misplaced. It is only now, after two crashes, and hundreds of lives lost, that Boing acknowledges the design and software problems in their aircraft.

In the end, Michael Corleone came to realize that he had been wrong.

“Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes? Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.”

Mario Puzo, The Godfather.

Ralph Nader’s grandniece, Samya Stumo, was killed when the Boing aircraft crashed in Ethiopia in March. Her life, and the lives of all of the other passengers, and the crew, make this personal, not business.

At the wreckage near Bishoftu in a small pastoral farm field and in the Java Sea off Indonesia lie the remains of the early victims of arrogant, algorithm driven corner cutting, by reckless corporate executives and their captive government regulators.

Here is a link to the press conference about the lawsuit Samya’s family has filed against Boing. It explains in detail what went wrong with the design and operation of the Boing 737 Max 8.