Tug o’ wars …

R.G. Edmonson writes in the PACIFIC SHIPPER on March 9, 2006:

“The furor surrounding the DP World acquisition of P&O Ports and that company’s terminal operations at six U.S. ports has spawned a flurry of legislative measures on Capitol Hill, including a proposal that would block the acquisition, require divestiture of foreign-owned infrastructure, and mandate screening of 100 percent of U.S. import cargo … Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, planned to file the initiative this month … No fewer than 11 bills and resolutions have been introduced in the Senate and House in the wake of the DP World’s acquisition of P&O’s U.S. terminals.

“The Foreign Investment Security Improvement Act of 2006 that’s been filed in both houses by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY., and Rep. Peter King, R-NY., would allow Congress to block the deal after a 45-day extended investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S….

“Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a joint resolution that would refer the deal for review by congressional committees, if Congress disapproved of the administration’s review.

“Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., filed a much-publicized bill to prohibit companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from carrying out operations at seaports in the United States. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., filed a companion bill in the House.

“Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said he would propose legislation giving individual ports the ability to terminate leases with port operators if the ownership has been transferred to an entity they feel poses a security risk …

“Other port security bills recently placed in the hopper included:
– H.R. 4826, to extend through Dec. 31, 2006, the authority of the secretary of the Army to accept and expend funds contributed by non-federal public entities to expedite the processing of permits.
– H.R. 4833, to require that only U.S. persons may control security operations at seaports in the U.S. or enter into agreements to conduct such security operations.
– H.R. 4839, to prohibit entities owned or controlled by foreign governments from conducting certain operations at seaports in the U.S., and from entering into agreements to conduct such operations.
– S. 2333, to require an investigation under the Defense Production Act of 1950 of the acquisition by DP World of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., and for other purposes.
– A joint resolution, S.J. Res. 32, disapproving the results of the review conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States into the purchase of P&O by DP World.
Then on March 10, 2006, MarineLog’s website reported that:

“Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, have introduced the Sail Only if Scanned (S.O.S.) Act, H.R. 4899.

“It would mandate that every container bound for the United States be scanned for nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials … Eleven other members of Congress have joined Nadler and Oberstar as original cosponsors of the S.O.S. Act …”

But wait, there’s more, from PETER DUJARDIN’S Daily Press article dated March 14, 2006:

“NORFOLK – The time has come to inspect 100 percent of all imported cargo containers for bombs and terrorist weapons, U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott and Virginia Port Authority executive director J. Robert Bray said Monday.

“Scott, D-Newport News, and Bray, the nation’s longest-running director at a major seaport, said the federal government needs to install the radiation detection machines and image readers necessary to scan every incoming container with both machines.

“Only about 5 percent of containers – the 40-foot steel boxes that carry the overwhelming majority of the nation’s nonbulk cargo – go through the scanners at most ports now.

“‘The thing that has to be done, in my judgement, to satisfy the American public and to provide better security is to inspect electronically and with radiation detectors every container that’s loaded overseas and then again when it comes off the ship before it goes inland,’ Bray said during a press conference with Scott at Norfolk International Terminals.

“‘That’s going to be expensive, but how expensive is it going to be to have another terrorist attack in this country?’…

“Scott asserted that a country that can spend billions of dollars a week on the war in Iraq and rack up huge annual budget deficits can afford to spend another few billion to improve port security.

“‘We’re running a $ 400 billion budget deficit. How about $ 401?’ Scott said, pointing out that 1,000 of the million-dollar machines could be purchased with $ 1 billion.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. Port security comes down to dollars and cents, but when none of our elected officials or appointed port officials have a clue about the most effective way to get the desired result – the security of every U.S. citizen – we get nothing but tug-o’-war debates and political grandstanding.

We could provide absolute security for all, and keep our legislators happy, by simply reviving our shipbuilding industry. And what would the budget deficit look like? How about $ 402 billion?