Pork and Beans

We took another look at “the business of fear” in our previous commentary. This terrorist business, or fantasy, is turning out to be a pretty lucrative field, and the pros and cons of last week’s H.R. 1 bill have been grabbing most of the headlines throughout the maritime world.

U.S. importers foresee chaos if the bill Congress passed last week becomes law. Although the bill requires compulsory scanning of all containers in foreign ports before they embark for U.S. ports, an official of the National Retail Federation expressed strong doubts that the Department of Homeland Security would have enough equipment or personnel to do the checking needed at overseas ports.

The Democrat-backed legislation, which has yet to be ratified, was presented as a victory by the party’s House leader Nancy Pelosi, who said it would “make the American people safer”.

Not so, said James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation. He said it was “political theatre” that would antagonize U.S. allies. In his column appearing in “National Review Online”, Mr. Carafano pointed out two or three positive, but inconsequential, measures contained in the bill, but was quick to emphasize the obvious negatives. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “the bill does contain a good deal of junk. Some requirements will actually make America less safe, needlessly siphoning time, effort, and resources away from the kind of work that actually thwarts terrorists. Among the key strategic missteps are provisions that:
• Increase spending based on criteria unrelated to actual security risks. Though they tightened up one state grant program, lawmakers wound up creating new grant programs, beefing up existing (and unfocused ) grant programs, and injecting wasteful state minimums into more grant funding formulas. They also adopted a host of earmarks from congressional leadership. In the end, Congress could not resist buying a bigger barrel and stuffing it with even more pork.
• Require ports and airlines to scan every container entering the United States. While this initiative ‘polls well’, most security experts find the idea preposterous. The scanning will produce so much data (and poor-quality data at that) that it will bog down rather than inform security operations. By the time anyone dockside will be able to review pictures of, say, a container of sneakers sent from China, odds are the shoes will have already been stocked, sold, and walking around the country for weeks.

“One measure of how far the bill has missed its strategic mark is found in how very few of its more than 700 pages of provisions pertains in any way to recommendations actually made by the 9/11 Commission. Inspecting every container of frozen fish, for example, was never suggested in the commission report … What Congress cobbled together shortly before recess was pretty much standard kitchen-sink legislation — a hodgepodge of measures styled mostly to please various stakeholders and deliver on campaign promises …”

[Is that more “roaring applause” we’re hearing?]