The Brancatelli File

joe FIVE


September 7, 2006 -- It is five years now. Sometimes it feels like five seconds. Sometimes it feels like 500 years. Either way, I think I know just one thing for sure about 9/11: None of us have really come to terms with this thing that we have reduced to a numeric acronym.

Oh, we argue the facts and the politics and life on the road before and after. But deal with the ugliness and the horror of 9/11 itself? I think not. Deal with the pain? How it affects each one of us every time we step on a plane? Hardly. Accept the reality that we are the targets of this new war simply because we fly for a living? Who wants to face that?

It has become the "don't ask, don't tell" of business travel. If you don't bring up 9/11, then neither will I. We'll just live our lives on the road and make believe 9/11 was another time, another life, another planet.

But once a year, at least, I think we should try. If not to look the horror of 9/11 straight in its face, at least to take a moment to stop and reflect.

My thoughts about 9/11 are always a jumble, much like the day itself. For me, personally, meaning has always been illusive. All I have are what seems like disjointed thoughts and passing observations. Some are new. Some are not. But it's what I have. I offer them because, once a year at least, we need to remember that our lives since 9/11 have never been the same.

I can't ignore the obvious: We are losing this war. Iraq is a mess, Afghanistan is in turmoil again, Bin Laden is still out there and we're not even allowed to bring a bottle of water on a plane.

I saw one estimate that the Big Six has collectively shed 150,000 jobs and $40 billion since 9/11. Not to mention that some have dumped their pension liability on us. Yet all six are still basket cases that look more like the past of air travel, not the future. And why should that surprise anyone? The root of all their evils--the repulsive fare structure that overcharges business travelers, undercharges leisure travelers and infuriates every passenger--remains in effect.

I heard Rick Santorum, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, whining that that Bush Administration doesn't get enough credit for making sure there hasn't been another attack on American soil since 9/11. I'd be a lot more willing to give the Bush Administration the credit if I didn't believe that they'd use a new attack as a cudgel. You know that five seconds after another attack, they'll be saying, "See, this is why you need to keep us in office."

I despise the term "homeland security." Fascists, flea-bitten dictators in banana republics and minor-league monarchs rail about the "homeland." It sounds un-American and paranoid and it makes me cringe.

I ask one more time: Where are the honorable Muslim leaders who are willing to stand up against the thugs who have hijacked their religion? Show me in the Koran where it says that you're honoring Allah if you stay silent when terrorists kill children in his name.

We're all scared. And the more frightened we get, the more I think of what Benjamin Franklin said in a much more dangerous time: People who give up a little liberty to get a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Add nuance to the list of victims of 9/11. No one seems willing to listen to the other guy anymore when it comes to the issues.

Five years after December 7, 1941, the day that President Roosevelt said would live in infamy, we had won the war and America was about to embark on the greatest economic boom in the history of man. Five years after 9/11, which President Bush said marked the beginning of our war on terrorism, we are still mired in the muck. So it would behoove the Bush Administration to stop making references to Nazis because it just reminds us of this government's inept handling of the nuts and bolts of this war.

I understand that the Democrats think they can win back at least one of the Houses of Congress by saying nothing and letting the Republicans follow Karl Rove back down the dark, nasty corridor of fear and loathing. But I'd feel a lot better if the Democrats actually had a program to present. About anything.

We all know that the experience of business flying, especially clearing security and the ever-changing, never-sensible carry-on rules, stinks. And it's been particularly bad this summer. Which is why I am amazed that most business travelers couldn't give a damn about whether there will ever be a Registered Traveler program. That's probably because business travelers have figured out what Steve Brill and the others pushing their for-profit solutions haven't: The Transportation Security Administration doesn't want a frequent-flyer bypass program and it'll do anything in its bureaucratic power to stop one.

It's one thing to speak truth to power. But it's also important to speak truth to paranoids. All you people who think 9/11 never happened, 7/7 was a government plot and there is no "real" terrorism are fools. Just because we have a government intent on trampling on our constitutional rights doesn't mean we don't face a real threat from people who are trying to kill us.

A note to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and all those smug neo-cons who said that we'd be greeted with flowers when we marched into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein: I just called Calyx & Corolla and they still insist they have no record of an order.

If the terrorists hit us again at our airports and airplanes, how are we going to explain to the victims and their families that we never did get around to screening all the cargo that is carried aboard commercial jets or that we didn't feel like spending the money to train a large enough core of screeners and sky marshals?

September 11th should be a national holiday of remembrance. And, by law, everything but essential services should be closed. No 9/11 sales, no 9/11 getaway holidays. Just an honest-to-goodness day of national reflection.

Three thousand people were murdered in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington on 9/11. They were all innocent. We should never forget that.

Copyright 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.