Sunday, March 30, 2008

Does CBP Have A PR Problem?

Dateline Mar. 30, 2008, Chicago
Today, the above cartoon by Dan Piraro appeared in Parade Magazine, which is shoved into the Chicago Tribune in the company of the Best Buy and Circuit City ad supplements. For reasons that escape me and likely make Parade execs very happy, I always leaf through it but rarely read anything in it. I suspect it has much to do with my personal love-hate for Marilyn Vos Savant. As an aside, her explication of the three-door-game-show problem is worthy of reading although not to the standard of The Straight Dope on jets on treadmills.

So, what does this cartoon say about the public perception of Customs & Border Protection? Is the agency perceived as corrupt? Or, is it merely considered annoying and this shows that in the extreme? Note how everything from the luggage is set out neatly. Is the inspector and obsessive-compulsive bureaucrat? Plus, he's armed. Is there an implied threat here?

What about the art itself? Note the very high-quality rendering of the old seal of the Customs Service. By avoiding the current seal, has the artist intentionally implied that this episode took place prior to 2003 or is it an intentional anachronism? If so, why? Perhaps to avoid spreading malicious lies about today's hard working Customs professionals.

These are important questions. Without these very important questions, I would just be posting a cartoon from the paper, like the annoying Ziggy or Family Circus that shows up on the bulletin board or refrigerator without warning. I'm not doing that. I am using the cartoon as a vehicle for social commentary, criticism, scholarship, and news reporting. That seems like a fair use and I'm sure my friends who are copyright lawyers will agree.

Friday, March 28, 2008

U.S. and E.C. Joint Roadmap on Security

This press release from Customs and Border Protection states that CBP and the European Commission's Tax and Customs Union Directorate have adopted a joint "roadmap" to mutual recognition of trade partnership programs. The ultimate goal is to establish mutual recognition of the U.S. Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and the European Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programs. Once mutual recognition is established, C-TPAT and AEO members will be able to participate in the corresponding other program and, one assumes, reap the benefits thereof. According to the plan, upcoming steps include:

  • Establishing guidelines on information exchanges
  • Joint verifications
  • C-TPAT for exporters
  • Exchanging best practices

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Supreme Court Considers Customs Declarations

It is pretty rare for customs-related issues to come before the Supreme Court. The last cases to do so dealt with fundamental questions of administrative law and the degree to which the Courts had to defer to Customs' legal interpretations. Those cases were Haggar in 2000 and Meade in 2001. Consequently, I'll always take note when something involving customs gets to the Supreme Court.

That happened this week, although in the context of a terrorism case. The case involves the 1999 plot to attack LAX airport. You may remember that the would-be terrorist was stopped by the then Customs Service (now Customs and Border Protection) when he drove in from Canada in a car full of explosives. One charge against the defendant was carrying an explosive in the commission of a felony. The underlying felony in this case was lying to Customs when making the customs declaration at the time of entry. [Side note: keep that in mind the next time you load up on jewelry or watches while on a foreign trip.] The lower court threw out the charge because there was no link between the explosives and the false declaration. Apparently, Customs did not specifically ask "Are you carrying any explosives." The question for the Court is whether the statute requires a link between the felony and the explosives. I'm not sure how it will come out and I try not to prognosticate on what are essentially criminal law matters.

The reason this got into the papers (see NYT article) is that the government was represented by Attorney General Mukasey. This restores a tradition of having the AG argue at least one case before the Supreme Court.

Another interesting NYT article has nothing to do with CBP, but I pass it on anyway. It seems that before Edison invented the phonograph, a Frenchman invented a similar device only with the intention of graphically recording sounds as images on paper. Apparently, he figured someone might be able to reproduce the sound at some point in the future. Well, someone has. A group of audio engineers have reconstructed the sounds from the paper records making those papers now the oldest known recorded sounds. You can listen to an excerpt at the link. Pretty cool.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is Mickey Raising a Stink?

I saw this story earlier in the week and decided against posting it. But, it keeps showing up so I may as well jump on the band wagon.

Orlando stinks.

According to Customs and Border Protection, the Orlando airport stinks from dead rats. Apparently, this is not an "Oh, yuck" kind of stink. Rather, the stench has caused CBP personnel and passengers to get sick. Thankfully, the building has been cleaned.

Hmmm, rats in the Orlando airport. What could cause that? An obvious problem is that airports are giant food courts and there must be plenty of rat-friendly garbage around. Plus, Orlando is a destination for kids, meaning that more food is likely dropped on the ground than one would normally expect.

But, I think there is something more important happening here. This is--after all--an airport. What if Orlando is a destination for rats? Is it possible that the rats are sneaking onto flights from all over the world with the express intention of getting to Orlando?

This may sound far-fetched; but it is not. Think about who else lives in Orlando. If you were a lowly street rat in New York, or London, or Tokyo, who would you think might be able to help you out of your tough straits? I have a theory that a rat might seek out its cousin the Mouse who has made good. The Mouse probably can hand out a few patronage jobs and probably has a few extra dollars to spread around. I picture Mickey Mouse acting like the Tony Soprano of the rat world.

That, I think is why Orlando stinks from dead rats. Some probably owed Mickey some money. Others probably looked at Minnie the wrong way. One or two might have tried to work for Donald Duck and got themselves rat-whacked by Mickey's crew.

Its tough being a rat in the Mouse's world.

Friday, March 21, 2008

From the Blogosphere

A few worthy posts from other blogs:

An ode to smuggled absinthe from The Obscurarium. I would not take the comment that Customs and Border Protection does not enforce the ban on absinthe as legal advice.

This self-described Minnesota Diva is shocked by CBP border searches of laptops. The more interesting points come in the anonymous comment that purports to be from a CBP inspector. There are generally two sides to every story and the inspector's side is worth considering. While I have very serious concerns about the scope of border searches of personal electronic data, I do accept that the point of the searches is for the public good.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Literature=Moral Turpitude

Customs and Border Protection in Newark detained British author Sebastian Horsley for eight hours before telling him that he was not welcome in the U.S. under the visa waiver program. The reason for this determination is that Horsely purports to be a drug user who has employed the services of prostitutes and also has worked as an "escort." According to the U.S., this amounts to moral turpitude and makes him inadmissible without a visa. Read the New York Times story on Horsley's blog.

Among the interesting questions this raises is who in CBP gets to decide what constitutes a moral failing? Is it based on community standards or do we know moral turpitude when we see it?

A somewhat more interesting question is what happens to Horsley and to CBP if it turns out that his literary persona is, in fact, more fiction than fact? Although the quotes in the article are coy in an Oscar Wilde sort of way, the clear implication is that his memoir is embellished. Consequently, Horsley might also need to worry about being grilled by Oprah.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Notes from the Road

Not a good day for United Airlines. We are experiencing the dreaded mechanical delay here in San Diego. This, of course, leaves me with time to do a quick blog update.

In the category of not-terribly-relevant is the fact that Arthur C. Clarke has passed away. Clarke is the genius who worked out how to use satellites for communication purposes and who wrote such classic sci-fi books as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood's End, and Rendezvous With Rama. News here.

Crap Shoot at the Border:

Here is a sad story about a gambler. He is a Mexican national living illegally in the U.S. who decided to go to a Canadian casino. While there, he lost $500. When he tried to cross back into the U.S. without proof of citizenship, he was arrested and now awaits deportation to Mexico. Thereby likely losing a lot more.

Canadian NDP and Idaho Down on NAFTA:

This report indicates that the leftist New Democratic Party of Canada would like to work with U.S. Democrats to renegotiate NAFTA with an emphasis on labor and the environment. Meanwhile, the Idaho legislature is taking up NAFTA as a policy issue despite its complete inability to affect the issue.

An Economist on NAFTA:

This essay from the New York Times on the NAFTA debate is worth reading.


Luckily, before I left on this trip, I picked up a copy of The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. The book is a serious and well-written look at what happens when an agnostic decides to follow all the commandments in the Old and New Testaments for a year. I'm about halfway through. The book is interesting in that the author finds humor and tries to find meaning in what are--by modern standards--often absurd rules. For example, there is a commandment against mixing fibers in clothing. There is no known basis for this rule, although there are theories. Nevertheless, the author hires an expert to vet his clothing. In a funny and somewhat disturbing episode, Jacobs goes to Central Park looking for an adulterer to stone (with small stones) and finds one.

Given that my ETA is nine hours from now, I may finish the book.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Voice Mail, Massagers, and Mootness

One thing I'll say for Customs & Border Protection is that the people making up the agency tend to be pretty responsive to voice mail. That makes me wonder why they need a $20 million overhaul of their voice mail system.

Of course, voice mail is important and should be kept up to modern standards. Foot massagers, on the other hand, are a luxury item. In the case of one foot massager stopped by CBP in Memphis, a $45,000 luxury. According to this story, someone tucked that much cash inside a Foot Pleaser Ultra Deep Kneading Foot Massager. Customs found it when they x-rayed the cargo.

On to something of more moment: The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has vacated and remanded Gerdau Ameristeel to the Court of International Trade. Normally, I don't cover trade cases here. But, it has been quiet and this is interesting.

Gerdau was originally dismissed from the CIT because liquidation of the entries had rendered the appeal from the sixth antidumping review moot. But, on appeal, Gerdau (a domestic producer) had a cool argument based on unique facts. Gerdau noted that the fifth review produced a de minimis margin, as did the sixth review, which it sought to challenge. Gerdau wants to challenge the sixth review because if the seventh review comes up de minimis, the three-in-a-row de minimis margins might result in a revocation of the order. Importantly, Gerdau is not challenging the results as applied to particular entries. Thus, liquidation of the entries is not that important and does not moot the case. Rather, because the outcome will have an impact on the future, the Federal Circuit sent it back to the CIT for a review of the results in the sixth review.

Monday, March 10, 2008

NAFTA-gate Expands

Here are a couple substantive items.

First, what is rapidly becoming known as NAFTA-gate is spreading. Now there are questions about whether Hillary Clinton's people had contact with Canada to reassure that Country about her commitment to NAFTA. At the same time, it appears that Canada does not think that renegotiating is completely out of the question. What, exactly, would be on the table is the question. For example, would Canada leverage its status as an energy exporter to the U.S? Would the U.S. raise the topic of the exemptions for cultural industries?

Of course, as a practical matter, Canada is not the "problem." People who complain about NAFTA tend to complain about Mexico and the perceived lack of labor and environmental enforcement. Will Mexico accept a NAFTA with actual labor and environmental standards built into it and subject to dispute resolution? That's a big question.

Here are some articles on the topic:

US Election Clinton campaign denies NAFTA report

NAFTA Not What It Used to Be

Talk of Opt-Out Dangerous Nonsense

And, as long as I am spreading news, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced its plans to place inspectors at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach. Here is the notice.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

In Deep Yogurt

I’m traveling and too much time spent in airports makes the odd profound. With that in mind, I want to know whether anyone but me has noticed that America is being invaded by granola-topped yogurt parfaits. I shudder at the larger implications of this for national security, let alone the health of the average American. First, they are often monstrously large. Second, they are not clearly marked as low fat or unsweetened, so it is likely that they are neither.

I think they are the harbinger of an alien invasion force. Kind of like the flying fried egg that killed Captain Kirk’s brother.

I’m not kidding about this. Walk around an airport and look at the food offerings. Everyone has them. As I type this, I am looking at Cibo Express in LaGuardia—Yogurt Parfaits. The Au Bon Pan has giant cups of plain and berry yogurt paired with little cups of granola—do it yourself parfaits. McDonalds has their own, which is a reasonable size but often half-frozen. Earlier this week, I had one from Cosi (also in LaGuardia). Starbucks has them, without any coffee in them at all. I'm fairly certain I've seen them at Wolfgang Puck, Chili’s, and other airport restaurants that have no obvious connection to yogurt. Every no-name snack bar has them.

I don’t know who decided that America needed to always be within 50 feet of a yogurt parfait. Was this even a food item outside of communes and ashrams two years ago? Did some lucky supplier get a requirements contract for American airports?

In the past, if you were stuck in an airport, you would eat some classic American junk food like a Cinnabon, pizza, or ice cream. The beauty of the airport used to be that you had an excuse to eat junk food, because that is all their was. Now there is hippie food (e.g., dried fruit and trail mix), the occasional fresh fruit (generally too old apples), and the equally ubiquitous boxed chicken Caesar salad. That makes it tough when what I really want is a Mrs. Field’s peanut butter cookie dipped in chocolate or an Aunt Annie’s jalapeno pretzel with cheese sauce.

On Thursday, I did a presentation in Milwaukee. Thanks to everyone at the Milwaukee World Trade Association. The meeting was held in the Tripoli shrine center. What a cool building. Apparently, its design is based on the Taj Mahal with lots of arabesque tile and iron work, a real-live onion shaped dome, and generally not what one would expect to find in Milwaukee. Of course, given that the Shriners built the place, the parking lot is very small.

Tomorrow, I fly again. I’ll be looking for those parfaits, and running the other direction.