Since “free trade” policies got rolling, and the World Trade Organization, run by and for trans-national corporations, has taken powers formerly reserved to elected governments, the quantity of international shipping, by train, truck, plane and ship has skyrocketed. Ships can be owned by anyone, but even most of those that are owned by American corporations are not inspected or documented by the United States. This of course is because it costs more to comply with U.S. safety and pollution and labor regulations than it does to register a ship with a “flag of convenience” nation.
The increase of imports brings us souvenirs for sale at the ball park, our holiday decorations and gifts, and a heck of a lot more. Containers are loaded at the far-flung factories of the erstwhile third world, which are then transported to the export docks at the edges of the seven seas where they are stacked on ships which set course, eventually, for one of the many North American container docks. There they are efficiently taken off the ship and placed directly on rail flat cars and trucks designed expressly to accommodate these containers. The trains and trucks rapidly disperse and distribute them.
Well now there’s another downside to this “free trade” besides the giant sucking sound of disappearing factories and jobs described by Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, and the international “race to the bottom” of wages, working conditions, and environmental degradation that’s the inevitable result of the way the WTO and its clones are set-up in order to boost corporate power and profits. The new downside is that this huge volume of import shipping, coupled with the highly efficient containerized means of handling and distribution, is vulnerable to be used for delivery of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Terrorist cells and “rogue states” assuredly do not have ICBMs, long range bomber fleets or nuclear attack subs, but they may have competence in smuggling techniques and remote triggering devices.
The planet is just too big to search every corner for possible hiding places. But detecting and intercepting a WMD at the point of entry into the commercial freight system bound for our shores is, by contrast, do-able. Accordingly an attempt was made to protect the American people from a terrorist WMD by instituting just such an inspection and security regime at the origins of shipment, where it would make the most sense. Unfortunately, major U.S. corporate importers, including Wal-Mart, called on their friends in Washington and called in some of their campaign contribution chits and derailed it. You’ve heard the old saw, “What’s good for business is good for America”? That’s not so this time.
But while corporate America is not willing to give up a little of its profit for increased safety of Americans at home, our Congress and President have just made a law that strips from all American citizens some of our basic freedoms and right to privacy in the name of Homeland Security. The bill passed authorizes unprecedented collection of personal information about all Americans, without cause and without warrant. Our computer files and e-mail can be inspected and copied without our knowledge. Clandestine agencies are now empowered to track and record each transaction and move we make under the Orwellian “Total Information Awareness” initiative. What books you read, what web sites you visit, who you know… these are all just future data points in the brave new government files. How ironic that our government restricts the rights and freedoms of American citizens in order to “preserve our way of life”, while allowing corporate profits to block a sensible security precaution against international terrorist attacks on our homeland. The contradiction is telling and should be pondered. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s warning that a people who relinquish freedom in order to attain security will have neither.
Other contradictions should be carefully considered. Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis. Members of the Saudi ruling family and religious fundamentalists who hold substantial power in Saudi Arabia are known to have provided material aide as well as political and moral support to the fundamentalist al Qaeda. None of the hijackers were Iraqi and there is no credible evidence of any support for al Qaeda from the secular ruling regime of Iraq. Yet our Administration contends Saudi Arabia is a good friend and ally in the War on Terrorism, while it targets Iraq. It may be relevant that Saudi Arabia’s oil is fully available to major Western refineries and markets, while Iraq’s oil reserves, second only to Saudi reserves, are not at present. Meanwhile, where’s Osama?
A third contradiction appears in the income and estate tax cuts that favor the very wealthiest and are without precedence during war, while our nation’s mayors, police and fire departments, emergency medical services and hospitals are unable to get adequate federal help, funding and training to prevent and if necessary respond to possible major terrorist attacks.