Sparking Debate

Nick Blenkey has a fine article in September’s issue of MarineLog; “EUROPE’S YARDS: KEEPING THE SPARK ALIVE”. “Of the 2,480 oceangoing vessels ordered worldwide in 2005,” he writes, “474 were booked in Japan, 463 in South Korea, 445 in China and 470 in the European Union countries (including 138 in Germany) and 255 in the rest of Europe.” He doesn’t account for the other 373 orders, but you know darn well they won’t be built in U.S. yards.

There are reams and reams of written material dealing with the growing number of shipyards around the world and the ever-increasing numbers of oceangoing vessels being scheduled to be built in these yards, but rarely do we read about container ships, oil tankers or LNG carriers being built by U.S. yards. Why is that do you suppose?

Please don’t come up with that hogwash about labor being cheaper overseas. It just isn’t true. The real reason that costs are lower in foreign yards is because of subsidies. That’s right … subsidies. If we subsidized our shipbuilding industry, the way foreign governments do, no one could keep pace with us. No one.

Want proof? Look at our navy. Can any country in the world float an armada that can match it? Could the combined navies in the world make a stand against it? We subsidize naval shipbuilding and that accounts for our military superiority on the high seas, and if we subsidized the construction of non-military oceangoing vessels we’d enjoy overwhelming superiority in that category as well.

Whoever made the decision to direct billions and billions of dollars into our armed forces every year, to the detriment of our national economy and the safety of U.S. citizens, has a lot of explaining to do. Here’s what we’re hearing day after day from those in our nation’s capital who are trying to figure out how to prevent another “terrorist” attack:

— “Congress passed legislation that tightens security at U.S. ports, requiring radiation monitors at the 22 largest ports by the end of next year. The measure proposes $ 3.4 billion over the next five years to buy the detectors and hire more Customs and Border Protection Officers.” (Bloomberg)

— “The legislation would create a pilot program at three foreign ports to scan cargo containers bound for the United States …

“The Senate tabled, 67-37, an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would have required that 100 percent of the cargo containers headed for the United States to be scanned within four years …

“The House voted for the second time in a year to erect a fence along a third of the U.S.-Mexican border, part of a Republican effort to keep illegal immigration an issue before the voters.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

— “A US State Department terrorism expert says the US must work with its international partners to reduce the risk that terrorists will use container ships to carry weapons of mass destruction (WMD) … according to Thomas Lehrman, director of the State Department’s Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.”

— “Five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress is poised to enact broad legislation to safeguard sea and river ports against terrorism. But New Jersey senators said the measure doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t require all cargo containers to be checked before arriving in the country …

“Democrats Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez are teaming up with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to add language requiring 100 percent screening while the Senate debates the measure this week …

“The three lawmakers echoed worries expressed by former N.J. Gov. Tom Kean, chairman of the 9/11 commission, that al-Qaida could slip a nuclear bomb into a shipping container. Only 5 percent of cargo containers that enter the country’s 361 sea and river ports are screened.” (Gannett News)

— “Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said, ‘We have, ultimately, finite resources’ that are used to focus on the most serious threats. For instance, he said, ‘if we were to inspect every container that comes into our country, ports would shut down’…

“He called the senator’s report ‘half-baked’, saying that ‘it seems to rely upon the premise that government can prevent all threats for all people for all time’”…

“Mr. Schumer said that raising the defense against terrorism to acceptable levels would probably mean doubling the department’s budget, now about $ 32 billion a year. The federal government has spent $ 300 billion on the war in Iraq, he said, so ‘$ 30 billion on homeland security doesn’t seem like a lot to ask’”. (The New York Times)

That kind of contradiction and in-fighting takes place all day, every day, among the so-called “experts” who have positioned themselves as dictators in what was once a very comfortable and secure country. If there was a brain among them, and if they were prone to listen to the electorate, they would give serious consideration to subsidizing our non-military shipbuilding industry. Such a step would do wonders for our economy and would avert the very serious “bubble-bursting” that analysts have been warning us about. Here are some of the benefits we’d realize:

• Hundreds of thousands of job opportunities would be created.
• We’d be building our own container ships.
• These ships would be manned by our own Naval and Coast Guard personnel.
• These ships would be fitted out with our patented shipboard storage and retrieval system, a system that could not be utilized in foreign-built vessels.
• Every container would be scanned by this shipboard system prior to arrival in our ports.
• The “terrorist” threat would be eliminated once and for all, and it would put an end to all the debating. [Eliminating the “terrorist” threat is what we want, isn’t it? Isn’t it?]