GOOD-BYE PORK-PIE HAT: We all need something to believe in, but every day it’s getting harder to know what. This morning, my abiding faith in Big Brother — an unseen but all-intrusive, all-knowing police-state bureaucracy — was shattered beyond repair. Two more panga boats, it turns out, were discovered washed ashore up by Gaviota. One would have thought the accidental killing of Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III two weeks ago at the hand of a panga-boat smuggler seeking to evade apprehension off Santa Cruz Island would have brought the panga parade to a screeching halt. In the real world, I understand, the show must go on. Notwithstanding ridiculous laws to the contrary, America has an insatiable appetite for marijuana. It must be fed. Still, I would have expected the Department of Homeland Security — the über-umbrella agency for every unaffiliated law-enforcement entity this side of Vector Control — to bring the hammer seriously down on the offshore panga-boat traffic. So how did these boats get by? Certainly, the tracking technology has been long in place. As a fisher friend of mine reminded me, the federal government operates a high-tech “listening” station off the backside of San Nicholas Island, tracking the acoustic footprint of every single submarine in the entire Pacific Ocean. So how hard could it be to monitor small fishing boats equipped with four outboard motors capable of hitting 60 knots an hour?
Maybe if our pot laws made a shred of sense, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about panga boats and the seriously scary drug cartels putting them in the water. But we don’t and we won’t — meaning panga boats, for the time being, will remain a legitimate law-enforcement concern. What bugs me, however, is all the terrorist rhetoric surrounding the panga-boat discussion. The “real” concern, I have frequently been told by smart people in local law-enforcement circles, is that a terrorist could be smuggled up the coast in a panga boat armed with explosives. After all, last June, a hapless crew of panga pirates took the wrong turn and landed — with 1,500 pounds of pot — just down the beach from the San Onofre Nuclear power plant. As an admitted armchair quarterback, I’d suggest the terrorist threat is an exceptionally low probability. Not one of the hundreds of panga-boat incidents has yet involved terrorism. My more immediate concern is what happens when a panga crew — landing almost anywhere on Santa Barbara’s virtually unpatrolled coast — encounters a bonfire brigade enjoying a late-night party at the beach? But in true Pavlovian fashion, law-enforcement officials have learned since 9/11 they must raise the specter of terrorism to qualify for federal law-enforcement grants. The Department of Homeland Security, after all, was formed with the primary goal of fighting terrorism. And Homeland Security pretty much has all the money.
Last week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn — a hardcore right-winger — issued a report highlighting the extent to which local law-enforcement agencies will use the terrorism boogeyman to secure Homeland Security grants, and the extent to which Homeland Security is happy to go along with this farce. Oxnard and Thousand Oaks snagged $75,000 from Homeland Security to install closed-circuit security cameras all around the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. This expenditure was justified on the grounds that the city council holds its meetings in the same complex. Initially, I thought it was because some consultant had discovered terrorists were interested in the performing arts, and not having long to live, wouldn’t balk at high ticket prices. By contrast, the Santa Barbara City Council has had to make do conducting duck-and-cover drills behind the bullet-proof council dais. In San Diego, Homeland Security dollars were made available so that law-enforcement personnel could pay the $1,000 registration fee for a five-day counterterrorism summit held in San Diego, which in reality was a glorified trade show for retired special ops trying to make a buck on the private market. Among other things, this 30-class conference featured the staged massacre of 40 actors dressed up as zombies by a paramilitary squad. The point, purportedly, was to highlight the extreme distractions confronting emergency-service managers during a crisis situation. Event organizers — understandably defensive — have stressed no actual zombies were killed or hurt. The Coburn report noted that a Michigan town secured $6,200 for a new snow-cone machine and a New Hampshire community of 23,000 got the funds to buy a new armored vehicle the size of a small tank — known as the BearCat — ostensibly to protect the annual pumpkin festival from obstreperous pranksters. And Pittsburgh got $88,000 to equip its police cars with near-deafening acoustic equipment to disperse crowds then anticipated for a big anti-corporate protest. Coburn is a genuinely intriguing conservative — pro-lifer, pro-gun, and pro-death-penalty. He voted against funding the War on Iraq and has described President Barack Obama as “a neat guy.” And he’s violently allergic to political pork.
In my book, there’s always been a fine line between pork and “bringing home the bacon.” Pork, typically, is what the other guy gets. In this case, Santa Barbara was somehow deemed too small a community to even qualify for this particular Homeland Security grant program. We did, however, land numerous grants from other Homeland Security grant programs. These have helped local firefighting agencies expand their firefighting capacity, especially in connection with forest fires. In my book, that’s prime bacon. With forest fires, you can terrorize an entire community without a single terrorist.
The moral of the story, when it comes to sharks or panga boats, is that Big Brother — in typical fashion — isn’t there when you really need him. The good news is that you can’t miss what you didn’t have. In the meantime, don’t be an idiot; enjoy the beach.