O.k., now they're just being ridiculous. Does this chocolate look dangerous to you (other than in the sense of all those empty calories)? Because the Bush administration has issued directives that foodstuffs can no longer be mailed to the United States - even when sealed in manufacturer's packaging!
My mouth dropped open when the French postal clerk gave me the news: "No chocolate." He thought it was just as crazy as I did and in an aside, asked if I was American, after he'd listened to me exclaim the French equivalent of "That's incredible! What next? Such idiots!" Once again I felt compelled to apologise for the latest inconvenience caused by the current administration's paranoid and intrusive behaviour.
When I got home I looked up US Customs regulations online and discovered that new "rules" apply when mailing any sort of foodstuffs to the US. One must now go through a company called FDA Registrar Corp. It bills itself as FDA (Food and Drug Administration) compliance and assistance and registration for food, medical devices and cosmetics registration. The company has a Live Helpline, so I explained that I live in France and want to mail a gift of chocolate to a friend in the US. However, the French post office said today they can no longer accept foodstuffs mailed to the US. The Helpline response was that I must go to www.priornotice.com and fill out a form.
Apparently, whether you're a company or an individual, if you want to send food, medicine or cosmetics to the US, you must fill out forms (one per shipment), listing your address, phone number and contents of the package, as well as the recipient's address and phone number. You have to pay $9.95 to get your shipment "approved" and to make that payment, you must provide your credit card details.
So in addition to paying French postage to the US (which is expensive; typically around 40 euros, or nearly $50) we have to fork over $9.95 to a company to "approve" our shipment - a company we know nothing about, who now has our personal information and financial details. Presumably, after paying the fee, the company contacts the requestor within hours with some sort of "approval" to mail the shipment. So is this company part of Homeland Security? Are they a government agency? Where are the fees for all those shipments channeled? Why do inviduals sending single packages have to get involved with regulations that were clearly designed for bulk exports of foodstuffs?
Let's see, since September 11, 2001, our airlines have been constantly fighting to stave off bankruptcy and air travel has become an enormous hassle with endless security checks. Our own government presented false evidence and lied, thrusting us into an ill-conceived and poorly-planned war in which thousands of young soldiers have died or been seriously wounded and billions of dollars of taxpayer money have been wasted. Those soldiers lucky enough to return home find substandard medical care, minimal housing benefits and few jobs. And don't get me started on the damage to Iraq and the entire Middle East caused by the war.
As Americans our civil liberties are repeatedly violated: our phones are tapped and our emails intercepted - even though it's illegal to do so! Our own government ignores the law when it suits, to the point the Supreme Court had to get involved (i.e. declaring military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay illegal). And of course lawsuits are ongoing against the government's surveillance of ordinary Americans.
Any international entrepreneur or company who wants to do business in the US is forced to jump through a maze of bureaucratic and security hoops - which are enough to discourage anyone from making the effort. Many companies are concluding reluctantly that it's easier to do business with Europe or Asia or South America.
Our international reputation is in tatters, as our longtime friends and allies shake their heads and wonder what's happened to America, the once-bright and shining beacon of liberty and freedom. Meanwhile Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida cronies walk continue their work virtually unimpeded. So I ask you, who's winning this so-called "war on terror?" And what does chocolate have to do with it?