Congress Passes Security Bill

The bill, approved 371-40 in the House and 85-8 in the Senate, includes many of the provisions recommended by the 9/11 Commission, and it should reverse some of the incredibly stupid allocation of resources we’ve seen over the past few years.  I guess that means it’ll be open season on petting zoos and flea markets.

The bill elevates the importance of risk factors in determining which states and cities get federal security funds – that would mean more money for such cities as New York and Washington – and also puts money into a new program to assure that security officials at every level can communicate with each other.

It would require screening of all cargo on passenger planes within three years and sets a five-year goal of scanning all container ships for nuclear devices before they leave foreign ports.

Incredibly, the White House had threatened to veto an earlier version of the bill because it contained language that would allow collective bargaining for airport screeners.  That was a deal-breaker.  Democrats also compromised on Republicans’ insistence that people who report suspected terrorist activity be protected from lawsuits.  So screeners can’t band together to demand decent working conditions, but Aunt Suzie from Birmingham who thinks all Ay-rabs are terrorists can ruin lives with impunity.  I have a feeling this particular provision is related to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (R in the real world – CT) sponsorship.

“He had dark skin — and a beard!  And he was sittin’ right next to me on the flight from Atlanta.  And, and, you know I don’t like to fly anyway, and I just had a bad feelin’ about it, so I called that cute stewardess over and told her I thought he had a bomb.  Well, you never seen nobody turn a plane around so fast.  We was back on the ground in nothin’ flat, and the poh-leece come and marched him right off that plane.

“Then what happened?”

“Well, they kept him locked up fer a while, then they had to let him go.  It turns out he was born right here in Alabama, and he ain’t even Ay-rab.  He works up at the Methodist church.  But you cain’t be too careful these days.”

“Did you apologize?”

“No, I did not.  I was just doin’ my duty as a citizen.  Maybe he oughta shave off that beard and stay in outta the sun.  It ain’t my fault he looks like an Ay-rab.”

“I bet he’s gonna sue you, Aunt Suzie.”

“He cain’t.  The President made sure of that.”

Yeah, that scenario may sound ridiculous, but I have an archeologist friend here in Birmingham who’s detained, questioned, and searched just about every time he travels overseas because he has black hair, a beard, and a dark tan in the summer.  Never mind his Irish name and heritage; he fits the “profile”.

Anyway, back to the bill.  While Bush has ensured that any idiot who sees a terrorist around every corner will be protected, he still objects to cargo screening — and to the public knowing how much in total is being spent on intelligence.  Because, you know, any transparency in government means the terrorists win.

The most controversial provision in the legislation requires the radiation scanning of cargo containers in more than 600 ports from which ships leave for the U.S. The White House, and other critics, say that the technology isn’t there, that the requirement could disrupt trade and that current procedures including manifest inspections at foreign ports and radiation monitoring in U.S. ports are working well.

Supporters argue that the unthinkable devastation from the detonation of a nuclear device in an American port makes it imperative to scan cargo before it reaches U.S. shores. As a compromise, it was agreed that the Homeland Security secretary can extend the five-year deadline for 100 percent scanning in two-year increments if necessary.

The White House was also unhappy with a provision that requires total amounts requested and appropriated for the intelligence community to be made public.

I wonder how long Bush will delay before signing the bill — and what kind of signing statements he might attach.  Tony Snow has been so busy disparaging Congress lately that it would be hard to let this kind of achievement go unchallenged, even if it’s supported by the vast majority of Republicans as well as Democrats.

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