Wednesday, November 01, 2006


This just in from my friend Joe Brancatelli, the publisher of and perhaps the most deeply committed skeptic as regards the vaunted Registered Traveler program that promises expedited airport security screening passage to enrollees who pass a federal background check and pay an anual fee for a biometric I.D. card:

"It's now November 1, and the TSA has not approved any further developments in Registered Traveler. Bottom line: There won't be anything in 2006, either..."

Good point. I've written an awful lot about Registered Traveler -- currently operating in only one location, Orlando. Among the purported benefits of the program as it purportedly rolls out nationwide are that members will be processed by T.S.A.-approved technology that will allow them to pass through security in special lanes without having to remove jackets and shoes, and without having to remove laptops from their cases. For about a year now, the T.S.A. has been saying these things are under review.

But as Joe points out, it is now Nov. 1.

More on that next week, after I get home from Tucson.

Meanwhile, I'm still sorting through the shipments of Brazil nuts that keep tumbling into my in-box, as a secret military inquiry drags on into the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people in a 737 while a coporate jet with seven aboard managed to land safely.

According to, (yes, two "z's") an online English language magazine published in Brazil, a lawyer for the two American pilots who have been detained in Brazil since the accident has called the seizure of the pilots' passports "illegal" and denounced the Brazilian air force for dragging its heels in not cooperating with the order of a federal judge to present information about the crash.

I can't quite figure out, which yesterday ran an article saying the collision -- which evidence increasingly suggests was at least in large part the result of Brazilian air-traffic control error -- was evidence instead of: "North American imperialism. Here we have a live and in-color presentation." In denying culpability for the accident, the Americans are "attempting to shift the blame," declared.

Well, yeah. In truthfully DENYING that you are to blame for a disaster, by definition that would amount to attempting to shift the blame to whoever IS to blame -- imperialism notwithstanding. That statement reminded me of the Brazilian military authorities' repeated insistence that the pilots are not being "detained;" they are just not free to leave.

It is quite remarkable how American political issues associated with the Patriot Act and other Bush Administration anti-terrorist initiatives have entered into this controversy about a mid-air collision, by the way.

I have received well over a thousand e-mails from Brazil, some with barely veiled death threats, many denouncing me as an "American assassin," because I was one of the seven who walked away uninjured from the collision while those 154 people in the 737 died so horribly. Many of these e-mails are obviously orchestrated, ending with the same two sentences (only one of which I dispute): "YOU ARE SUCH A SHIT OF A JOURNALIST" and "WE DO NOT HAVE A GUANTANAMO IN BRAZIL."

These broiling themes call out for more intelligent evaluation because they underly the political dynamics at work and the plight of the two American pilots who have been detained for over a month, with no release in sight.

On Monday, after the military authorities conducting the investigation decided they would finally get around to actually questioning air traffic controllers this week, and as noted in an earlier post here, the 10 air traffic conrollers working in Brasilia and Manaus at the time of the accident all said they were ill and under psychiatric care, and thus unable to testify until mid-November. Yup, they all called in sick.

Now I think it might be useful to examine some quotes from, including readers' comments. (The English is generally o.k., but very wobbly in spots -- which, incidentally, is how international pilots describe air-traffic control over the Amazon).

From the Oct. 31 article "Brazil's Worst Air Accident Ever Reveals How Arrogant the U.S. Can Be," by David Lerer, a former Brazilian House representative and a doctor:

"As a Brazilian Air Force's incensed officer said, 'If it were a Brazilian plane hitting a North American commercial plane over there and causing more than a hundred deaths, the pilot would already be behind bars in the Guantanamo base and being treated as a terrorist."

Dr. Lerer went on: "My friend Abelardo Gomes de Abreau ... went two months ago to represent Brazil in an oar championship in the United States and he had to undress at the airport to be frisked from head to toe. ... A Brazilian tourist in the United States is always treated as a suspect, while two Americans hyper-suspect of having caused Brazil's worst air disaster ever have to be treated as tourists on vacation."

Dr. Lerer here is refering to the fact that the two pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, are being detained in a hotel in Rio. He neglects to point out that they have been pretty much confined to their rooms, because a pack of hostile Brazilian media is camped outside the hotel, where a mob is also easily assembled.

Ah, but Dr. Lerer does give us another clue into this particular Amazononian region of the Brazilian psyche: The fact that Brazilian-made Legacy 600 corporate jet flew on to make an emergency jungle landing with a badly damaged wing and bunged-up tail, while the American-made Boeing 737-800 plunged 37,000 feet into the jungle after impact, proves that ... uh, Brazil rules!

"In this painful September air tragedy, the only one with some chance of success is the Legacy, manufacturered [by Embraer] in Sao Jose dos Compos, in the interior of Sao Paulo. It is going to sell like crazy. After all, if a little plane like that can bring down a Boeing while only damaging its wing's tip and a small section of its tail, it's because it's pretty good."

Online reader reaction to this screed was mixed, indicating that perhaps Brazil really doesn't have as many nuts as might be surmised by the reaction I myself have been subject to. A lot of these people seemed to make sense.

"It is quite funny that the reporter (Dr. Lerer) accuses the U.S. as arrogant, when from Day One it was the Brazilian press and ALL the Brazilian governments who accused openly the U.S. pilots -- before the end of the investigations," one wrote.

"It will be a greater tragedy if innocent people are sent to prison while those responsible remain free," said another. "It wouldn't be the first time that a foreigner was railroaded by a kangaroo court."

And another: "For you lovers of the Brazilian air traffic control system, just have a read in the news of the current problems in Brazil. ... This is just more of the rhetorical diatribes that losers use to justify their impotent lack of self-esteem, inferiority complex, and to shift the blame from their own corruption to the attention of a mythical adversary."

Said another said the media yowling to hang the pilots was a "simple demonstration that Brazilians are either stupids, or ignorants or cheaters by hiding important facts in their articles."

And another: "Stop exploiting a tragedy so you can act superior. It is a tragedy of everyone. What we need is changes in air traffic control and other regulations and policies so this never happens again."

Not that all of the comments called for reason and a transparent, honest investigation. Many reflected the sort of e mail I've been getting:

Wrote one reader replying to someone's post about Brazil's shockingly high homicide rate: "I guess that makes Americans and British to commit murder and get away with it acceptable, does it? The American pilots screwed up and justice must be made. ... Thanks, Gringos, you screwed up once again!"

But someone else reiterated that evidence is mounting that air-traffic control in Brazil needs to be carefully scrutinized.

"Today, the press has been forced by facts to accept that air traffic controllers had an important role in this tragecy."

And a day later, in a post about the continued howling for the pilots' heads:

"This is nothing but a witch-hunt. There is no serious investigation being conducted. The authorities could save time and money, and they might actually gain some international respect ... if they brought the pilots out publicly to Copacabana [and], tossed them into a barrel of water to see if they float."

Look, as I have said from Day One, I am no authority on aviation or flying. All I know about an airplane is how to sit in one. But I can read. All I know is what I read in the papers, as Will Rogers used to say. Since the story has dropped off the radar screen in the U.S., it's part of my job to keep you updated.

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