Incapable Hands

If U.S. ports were run the way major corporations are run, most of those in authority at those ports would have been canned long ago. But management in our ports come under the scrutiny of exactly no one; wary stock holders are non-existent for one thing, and for another, the ones who actually “invest” in those facilities – the taxpayers who actually foot the bills – are completely ignorant of what transpires in the maritime world.

It isn’t until “unnamed San Francisco Chronicle sources” uncover shenanigans, like the misuse-of-public-funds scandal by two Port of Oakland officials, that anyone is placed on “administrative leave” – with pay, of course – which amounts to $ 471,756 annually for the two gents in question.

We’ll at least give the port official who suspended the two party-goers that much credit. Recent scandals and ripoffs by banksters and by schemers on Wall Street, on the other hand, resulted in not suspensions of any kind but enormous windfall bonuses and even government bailouts.

But let’s go back to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind management practices at our seaports. Americans are hurting. They’re broke. Although the Labor Department likes to sell the idea that U.S. employment has dropped to less than 8%, the real figure is approaching 30%. And in spite of the gloss the Labor Department puts on its monthly report, more than 40 million Americans were unemployed or underemployed at the end of September. That staggering jobless situation is the reason why our diminishing buying power (demand) is requiring less production (supply) from overseas (outsourced) manufacturing centers. Right? Any first year economics student can see that.

But do port authorities become conservative in this period of persistent decline? Heck, no. That would alert the dumbed-down public who would expect some belt-tightening – and some layoffs among highly-paid management personnel. Can’t have that. Better to keep the taxpayers in the dark by pretending that incoming cargo volumes depend upon successful, and expensive, national and international business junkets. That’s how business is promoted for U.S. ports, they tell the taxpayers. And the completion of the new Panama Canal will certainly increase the cargo volumes in our ports, they insist. And the misled taxpayer pretends to understand this spinnage.

Here’s the latest money pitch port authorities posted in Port Technology International:
“Dredging: are global ports getting ready for the new Panama Canal? – The post-Panamax era has inherent impacts on ports and harbors worldwide. In most of Europe and the Far East, the major ports have already been dredged and prepared for post-Panamax shipping vessels. The same cannot be said for the US. Although the larger West Coast US ports can handle post-Panamax vessels, the bottleneck is the most active ‘all water routes’ to and from the East Coast and Gulf Coast of the US to Asia. The ports on those routes are feeling the most pressure to expand. These East Coast and Gulf Coast ports tend to be insufficiently deep to receive the newest post-Panamax ships and such ships must be light-loaded to access these ports, a time-consuming and costly exercise.” –

[They’ll be “light-loaded” alright, but because of a lack of demand, not because of a lack of depth.]