February 22, 2006

The Ports

I admit, I haven’t plumbed the depths of this story yet — I mean the whole selling-the-ports-to-Dubai tempest that has hit the news.

My first inclination (I admit it) is to think “what’s Bush gone and done now.” Usually I have the time to look into it, but not so much these last few days.

So, I’ll speak from ignorance and ask a few questions that I will return to later to see if more info is available when I have time.

  • Would there be such an uproar if this deal involved a non-Arab country?
  • Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging liberal Arab countries? To have as allies? Dubai is right up there in the extremely liberal category. I had a student from Dubai, years ago, when I taught an online course. I was unfamiliar with the emirate, but she told me a little bit about it. What I heard was amazing. She made it sound practically like a paradise, and from what I’ve learned since, she wasn’t lying to me. It’s very westernized and America-friendly.
  • Does this have to do with Bush helping out powerful friends? I have no idea. If there is a security aspect, then that ought to be investigated. Anything else shady? Investigate it. But I admit to having little faith in the government to investigate itself lately.

I need to know more before passing any sort of judgment. But I hope that we’re not looking at a new version of the paranoia about Japanese buying up stuff in this country over a decade ago.

We’ve got the government increasing its power to run secret spying operations involving US citizens with no oversight as far as I can tell. We’ve got a White House under investigation for politically strategic leaks that have compromised CIA operatives. We have an administration that sends mixed messages on torture. We have an ever-shifting rationale for war, ending in a circular justification; you can’t stop the war now because of the mess we’ve made. We have an administration which is willing to release propaganda domestically (disguised as news briefs) on its own policies (Medicare bill) and also is ramping up money to foreign propaganda at a time when we’re learning that previous foreign operations (Ahmed Chalabi) worked really well on domestic public opinion since the news feeds back here through foreign sources.

I could go on. People are getting used to this stuff, unfortunately. Is it just the case that it takes Dick Cheney shooting someone or the frightening prospect of foreigners owning a port to rile people up now?

Most importantly: Can we get a REAL opposition party congress in 2006? And can we expect the Democrats to be an actual opposition party? Can we get some movement on some of these issues? Are we going to have to resort to xenophobia?

I’m depressed thinking about it.

[P.S. When it comes to how the president has conducted himself, I think I’m more disturbed that he wasn’t aware of the deal until a few days ago than I am about anything sinister going on. Problem is, it has become difficult to trust any information coming out of the White House because we’ve been yanked around so much. Whose to say that’s just not more misinformation thrown in there to muddy up the water? I mean, it appears that Rumsfeld simultaneously approved the transaction AND hadn’t heard about it. But why is it that, no matter what the news story it, the first reaction fromt he administration seems to be “we have no idea what’s going on. We’re as in the dark on this as you are.”]

Posted by James at February 22, 2006 1:21 PM
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BTW - there is no hope of this coming back to bite Bush. He's a lame duck president at this point. His popularity is so low, he can't really help anyone in the 2006 elections. Unless an issue is going to come to an impeachment, you're not seeign him going anywhere.

I think we have to face it -- we're stuck with him until 2008. Time to think about the 2006 elections and whether it's even possible to have a 2 party system working again.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2006 2:21 PM

Having dealt with "port security" in limited capacities, all I can say is that I would rather have an American national at the end of the dock holding the clipboard. Not out of xenophobia or jingoism. I'd rather give the job to an American Port Service Company. There're a lot of Americans out of work.
Besides, isn't it funny that Dubya nominated the European and Latin American operations point man of DubaiPortsWorld, David Sanborn, as boss of the US Martime Transportation Administration? I mean, Dave quit DPW to accept the nomination, but...
Yeah, Dubai is swell. Except for the "no alcohol without a license" part. And then there's: http://www.theworld.ae/index.html. Just to give you an idea of what these guys can do in shallow water.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 22, 2006 3:09 PM

Sorry. A non-Muslim Westerner can drink whatever he or she can get in Dubai, usually at tourist restaurants, bars, clubs... A beer for about 7 bucks.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 22, 2006 3:30 PM

Sure, I'd like more jobs for Americans. But the port is being sold to Dubai by the "Great British" to use Dubya's airheaded term. So it wasn't American-owned anyhow.

As for Sanborn, what's a high-level deal nowadays without a Bush crony being put in charge? Doesn't mean I like it, but the explosion over this story reads "Ports sold to Arabs! Ayiiii!" not: "Crony Makes Out On Deal"

This story is unfocused as all Hell.

I support Congress taking some time to look at this, btw. I mean, why not. But why not take a look at port and railroad security anyhow.

I certainly don't blame people for questioning the Bush administration. But I worry about the messages we send to the world, especially parts of the world where it would profit us to make some decent friends.

The other issue is that we are at a point where the White House has such little credibility because of constant bungling, shady dealings, hackocracy, and secrecy that there is nobody to turn to that you can trust.


Posted by: James at February 22, 2006 3:36 PM

I'm going to hang on until I have a chance to read the Economist, and maybe a Stratfor report before I settle myself that I have any idea of what's going on here.

I welcome any enlightenment that my readers can point my way.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2006 3:37 PM

I don't care if the country is Dubai, Britain, or Micronesia. The part that burns my tushie is that an important job like this has been outsourced--period!

Why on earth would we want another country to manage our ports? Until this story broke, I had no idea we did things such as this, and now I wonder what else we're up to?

Why isn't an American company doing this job?
This is the ultimate outsourcing insult.

"Outsourcing: It's not just for call centers anymore!"

On a side note, I can just imagine how happy the anti-UN contingent in this country is with this story. I wonder if they'll begin seeing black ships to go with the black helicopters they see now.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 22, 2006 3:51 PM

"Maybe we should sell oversight of the Mishandlement Division to the Great British?" (next Bush quote)

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 22, 2006 3:57 PM

Don't you just want to slap him? It might help to reset his den-shoos so he can speak properly (probably won't have much effect on the brain, what little there is).

Posted by: Patti M. at February 22, 2006 4:00 PM

Actually the person doing the job is likely to be an American. The jobs are in New York, New jersey, etc. They aren't going to be flying in guys from Dubai to check shipping manifests. I don't really have a problem with a foreign owner any more than I have a problem with a foreign manufacturer for my car. I'd like to see port security beefed up and I'd be upset if the reason the company got the job was because they were a friend of dumbass.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at February 22, 2006 4:16 PM

The problem with this story is that there are too many angles/agendas competing here.

* Xenophobia - Arabs control our ports! Aieeee!
* Cronyism - see David Sanborn
* Greed - The Florida based ports company that is suing because they see this as an opening for them.
* Politics - Someone suggested this might have something to do with terror and we can't be soft on that
* Legitimate security concerns - Rep. Ed Markey has been harping this issue for some time. He feels our port security in general sucks. He's just hindlegging the DP press to get the attention where he thinks it needs to go.
* 14% - That's the popularity rating of America in UAE at large. The government likes us, but it's people, not so much.
* Administration secrecy - They've done this under cover of darkness like they do everything else. Then they say "Trust us. We checked." In fact, we are so adamant about you trusting us, that we won't even agree to wait a month or two, just on principle. Here. Have a tax cut*

So, choose your favorite angle and good luck getting an honest answer.

* Tax cuts only for those making more than $250k per year.

Posted by: briwei at February 22, 2006 4:37 PM

Me, I just like to say Aieeeee!

Aieeeeee! [jumps out the window]

Posted by: James at February 22, 2006 4:45 PM

I'm going with the US-UAE FreeTrade Agreement angle.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 22, 2006 4:52 PM

Another interesting angle, via a friend Erik, via the Carpetbagger:

In a country that Bush has conditioned to be afraid, the White House shouldn't be surprised by the reaction this is receiving. Is this to say all of the criticism of the port deal is fair? Probably not. But the phrase "you reap what you sow" keeps coming to mind.


You can stir up the shit, but you can't stir it back down. But I would have expected at least a little more political savvy from the Mayberry Machiavellians.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2006 4:56 PM

Few quick thoughts -

Turns out many of our ports are owned by other countries, or by companies from other countries.

So - we don't have to worry about foreign powers attacking us - they already own us ;-)

(And, btw, there's some possible wisdom inthat quip which I first heard as an email to CNN - and some hope. The more international busines becomes, the less profitable it is to start wars because you end up destroying either your sources or your markets.)

I really am not too worried about who owns the ports - I am somewhat concerned that they are not secure no matter who owns them. And no matter who owns them, from what I've seen and heard a lot of the jobs - most of the jobs - go to Americans. We're here.

What raised my eyebrows about this story was I could not figure out why Bush wanted to go to the wall on it. He apprently knew little about it - well, that's hardly unusual - he's the most intentionally ignorant person ever to be president - but why would he call an impromtu press conference on Air Force 1 to attack this issue, threaten a veto, and do battle with his own base, his own Congressional leaders, and Fox News? Maybe it's just psychological. The man can't stand to be opposed? Besides being intentionally ignorant he also is the most isolated president we have ever had, very carefully avoiding any contrary opinions coming from any one, any where, any time. But if the original decision wasn't his - if he wasn't deeply involved - why did he take such offense at people who were not so much opposing it, as deemanding a closer look?

Posted by: Greg at February 23, 2006 8:47 AM

I'd say it's a little bit of the psychological; Bush does not like to be challenged. Remember back in his first term, the stories of him getting upset and yelling that he was the president, and that he was the one in charge?

I think there may be an element of that. It is his first reaction to anything. Even when he eventually backs down. Think "Supreme Court Justice Miers."

Posted by: James at February 23, 2006 9:05 AM

I think he's dug in his heels because, as you say, he can't bear to be opposed.

My first thought was, of course, how much money did he make on this deal?

To be fair, now that I've read the other posts (and had a nice convo with the husband last night), it appears that I was mistaken. This is not outsourcing, as the actual jobs will go to Americans. However, it still strikes me as odd that we couldn't find an American company to do this job. I suppose this is just another case of bidding the job out and accepting the best offer.

This reminds me of the whole "buy American" thing that was going on in the late '80s and early '90s. I have some personal experience with this. When we lived in our last appartment, I had a to-do with the neighbors. I was driving up a steep one-way street to get to my apartment, and their kiddies were playing in the street. I beeped, they became angry when the had to move out of the way...long story short, they followed me to my apartment and an argument ensued.

One small boy leaned on my Volkswagen Fox and shouted "Buy American!" apropos of nothing.

Obviously, he was parroting what he had heard at home. Of course, I did not enter into such a discussion with a child, but I did want to ask its parent(s) what it means to "buy American." If the parts are made elsewhere but the item is assembled here, is that American enough? How about vice versa (parts made here, assembled elsewhere)?

The point I'm making here is this: If a company is owned by a country other than America, but it is staffed by Americans, do we have an issue? Bob made a good point last night when he asked me if I would have a problem with buying a drug from an international company, which of course I would not.

Posted by: Patti M. at February 23, 2006 9:59 AM

It's the worst type of racism and xenophobia. It started largely with politicians positioning themselves for the 08 elections, and was quickly embraced by an increasingly reactionary and ill-informed 'liberal' blogosphere who latch onto anything that they think will make Bush look bad.

Let me be perfectly clear, this entire "scandal" is about one and a half steps from just saying "Bush is a nigger-lover" because you think it might play well to the KKK.

Nobody is arguing against privatization of the ports (which happened a long time ago). Nobody is even arguing against contracting with multinational corporations. Nobody is saying that the cities these ports are in should run them, or that they should be run directly by the ILWU and ILA, who are more than capable of doing so. It's pure scaremongering and racist demonization of all Arabs as terrorists, regardless of the disclaimers occasionally thrown out there.

Posted by: DG at February 23, 2006 10:45 PM

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