- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2010

AVIATION

FAA seen eyeing hefty fines for American

American Airlines could face a fine in the ballpark of $10 million for safety violations involving wiring in its large MD-80 fleet, according to a government official familiar with the nearly completed federal investigation.

While the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t decided what fine to propose in the probe expected to wrap up in mid-March, there is sentiment to top the record $10.2 million against Southwest Airlines in March 2008, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss publicly the two-year investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Southwest fine was for 60,000 flights involving planes that had missed required examinations for structural cracks. That case settled for $7.5 million a year later.

The FAA itself is coming under criticism from a government watchdog for lax oversight of American’s aircraft maintenance.

Loose fastening in 290 of American’s MD-80s led to wire damage in several dozen planes and, in at least a few cases, an electrical discharge that’s a potential fire threat, according to the government and industry officials who spoke Tuesday. They asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the two-year investigation.

The airline and officials with its mechanics union said its MD-80s never had that second type of problem, known as electrical arcing, and long has contended that safety never was jeopardized.

The FAA ordered hundreds of MD-80s grounded in April 2008 for safety inspections, disrupting travel for thousands of passengers.

ECONOMY

Obama, black leaders focus on joblessness

President Obama and three prominent African-American leaders grappled Wednesday with how to improve economic opportunities for blacks, whose joblessness looms well above the national average and is nearly twice that of whites.

On a day of treacherous weather in Washington, Mr. Obama kept his scheduled meeting with Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, could not make it to the White House because of the pounding snow and winds that kept most of the nation’s capital shut down.

The meeting did not yield immediate announcements or initiatives.

Mr. Obama and the other leaders focused on targeting aid to regions to help black people and other groups that have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession, Mr. Jealous told the Associated Press.

Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, has consistently held that he cannot adopt employment strategies that are designed to solely help blacks. But he supports targeting help to regions most in need, which in turn, he says, would lift the African-American community.

There is a push among some black advocates for Mr. Obama’s administration to target black joblessness with training programs and direct job creation. The unemployment rate for blacks was 16.5 percent in January, compared to 9.7 percent overall and 8.7 percent for whites.

INVESTIGATION

Republican wants Toyota official to testify on Hill

A top Republican on a House panel investigating Toyota’s massive recalls called Wednesday for the company’s president to testify before Congress later this month, seeking an “open exchange” before the American public.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, said Toyota president Akio Toyoda should meet with lawmakers and testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24. The automaker’s top executive and grandson of the company’s founder has said he plans to travel to the United States soon to meet with American workers and dealers.

The hearing was scheduled for Wednesday but postponed because of a snowstorm that blanketed the capital. Mr. Issa says the delayed hearing would give the committee an opportunity to “provide a forum for both Mr. Toyoda and lawmakers to have an open exchange in front of the American people.”

Toyota has recalled nearly 8.5 million vehicles since November around the globe for problems that include floor mats that can entangle the gas pedal and gas pedals that can stick, causing sudden acceleration. The recalls have drawn interest in Congress, where lawmakers are looking into how the company handled the recalls and whether the government properly investigated numerous complaints.

MICHIGAN

Republican lawmaker will not seek re-election

Rep. Vernon Ehlers, a moderate Republican from Michigan who sought protections for the Great Lakes and funding for math and science education, said Wednesday he won’t seek re-election to Congress.

Mr. Ehlers, 76, who faced a challenge in the Republican primary, was announcing his retirement at a news conference later Wednesday at the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building in Grand Rapids, Mich. Most of his district was once represented by President Gerald R. Ford.

Mr. Ehlers decided not to seek re-election a day after state Rep. Justin Amash, a conservative Republican, said he would run for the 3rd District congressional seat. Announcing his candidacy, Mr. Amash accused the Obama administration and Congress of “spending our money and our children’s money to bail out failing companies and reward irresponsibility.”

Asked whether the primary challenge factored into his decision, Mr. Ehlers said, “Absolutely not. I never worried about primary challenges, never had a problem once I got elected. The people saw what I could do.”

The nine-term congressman has bucked his party on some issues, supporting the $700 million bailout bill of the nation’s financial industry in late 2008 and legislation allowing prescription drug imports from Canada in 2003, which the Bush administration opposed. Mr. Ehlers also voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

Mr. Ehlers, who has held the seat in the solidly Republican district since winning a special election in December 1993, previously served in the state legislature and taught physics at Calvin College from 1966-83. He was the first research physicist to serve in Congress.

MASSACHUSETTS

Sen. Brown writing book about his life

A can’t miss rung on the ladder to celebrity status in Washington: Newly seated Sen. Scott Brown will write a book about his life leading up to his upset election to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Mr. Brown’s spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Wednesday the Massachusetts Republican hopes to provide “insight and encouragement” to others and to ensure the record is “complete and accurate.” She said that part of the book’s proceeds will go to charity.

Miss Gitcho said there was no word yet on the timing of the book or a publisher. She said Mr. Brown will work with a collaborator on the book and considers his Senate duties his first priority. Mr. Brown’s surprise victory in the special election to replace Kennedy ended the Senate Democratic supermajority.

c From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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