The Brancatelli File



August 11, 2005 -- I know you come to this little portion of Cyberspace in search of my brilliant insight, my snappy wit, my laser-focused logic and my unstinting willingness to throw my mind, body and spirit against the monolithic blue meanies who make our lives on the road a living purgatory.

I am therefore disappointed to report that this week, at least, I am speechless. I simply do not know what to make of these news items. They all seem so bizarre, so outrageous and so mind-numbingly inexplicable that I have nothing to say.

In fact, I'll just pass these disparate bits of information on to you and let you draw your own conclusions. So, without further ado and without editorial comment…

President Bush signed the $286.5 billion transportation bill this week and critics were horrified by the number of pork-laden local road projects. The two most notable bacon-soaked items are $223 million for the Gravina Island bridge and another $229 million for the Knik Arm Bridge. Both projects are in the Alaska district of Don Young, the chairman of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee. The Gravina Island project will link the 8,000 residents of the city of Ketchikan with the 50 people on Gravina Island. Also on Gravina Island: Ketchikan Airport, which offers a dozen scheduled flights a day and is currently linked to the city by a 7-minute ferry ride. As currently planned, the 2-mile-long Gravina span will be nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. The Knik Arm Bridge would link Anchorage with Port MacKenzie, which has just one tenant. In contrast to Young's $452 million bridges, the nation has spent a total of $115 million on mass-transit security since 9/11. Mass-transit systems in the United States carry an estimated 14 million riders a day.

An ugly fight between Boeing and the management of Hawaiian Airlines led the bankruptcy court to appoint a trustee to steer the carrier out of Chapter 11. A Washington insider, an investment banker and lawyer named Joshua Gotbaum, took the post in July, 2003, and Hawaiian emerged from bankruptcy this past June. Gotbaum was paid handsomely for his services: $50,000 a month in salary plus more than $250,000 in expenses, for a 23-month total of $1.4 million. But that apparently isn't enough for Gotbaum. This week he asked the bankruptcy court for a "success" fee of $8 million and unspecified additional expenses to cover the cost of relocating back to Washington. The $8 million fee is equivalent to 11 percent of Hawaiian Airlines' 2004 operating profit and 20 percent of the annual payroll of the carrier's 380 pilots. The bankruptcy court has scheduled a September 21 hearing on Gotbaum's request.

That old Roger Miller song, King of the Road, celebrated an "eight by twelve four-bit room." But Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the man who created easyJet and the easyInternet chain of cybercafes, is promising something less at his first easyHotel in London. The hotel's three room types are just 80, 70 or 60 square feet each. He claims the rooms are available for as little as £20 a night, but a room tomorrow will cost you £40. The smallest accommodations don't even have a window. And none of the 38 rooms come with daily housekeeping. (Housekeeping is available for £10 a cleaning.) Each room does have a free, flat-screen television--but you can't use it unless you pay £5 a night for a remote control that offers 10 channels. Stelios, as he likes to be called, does promise that each room is "treated…with fresh air circulation."

A U.S. District Court in New York ruled last week that JetBlue Airways violated its privacy agreement with travelers when it gave almost 5 million passenger records to a private contractor working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But the judge, Carol Bagley Amon, said that the passengers were not entitled to damages and she dismissed the case.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave a long interview to reporters and editors of USA Today this week. One of his notable quotes: "The average American gives up information to get a CVS card that is far more in-depth than TSA's going to be looking at. But I actually make the case that giving up a little bit more information protects privacy."

In September, 2002, a Canadian citizen of Syrian birth was arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York while making a connection. He was held in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and then shipped to Syria and tortured. U.S. officials claimed 35-year-old Maher Arar was a member of Al Qaeda, but he was cleared of any connection to terrorism by both Canada and Syria. Now Arar is suing several federal officials. The government wants the lawsuit dismissed in part under the assertion of "state secrets" privilege. In oral arguments in a Brooklyn federal court this week, a government official claimed that foreign citizens who change planes in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts and even be denied food and sleep. Judge David G. Trager was skeptical, however. "Would not such treatment of a detainee--in any context, criminal, civil, immigration or otherwise--violate both the Constitution and clearly established case law?" he asked. No, replied a government lawyer, because an "inadmissible alien" remains legally outside the United States and the jurisdiction of the Constitution even if he is being held in a jail in the United States. "Do you do this to all people on a connecting flight?" the judge wondered.

Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.