Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Any Old Port in a Shit Storm

[[B U S I N E S S]] * This is simply astounding. George W. Bush, the first American president since James A. Garfield (who died just six months into his 19th-century term) not to veto a single bill that’s come across his desk--not even those packed with Republican pork--is now threatening to break out his veto pen to save a plan that would sell shipping operations at half a dozen U.S. seaports to a company controlled by the Middle Eastern government of Dubai. A deal that the prez claims he didn’t even know about until it had already been approved by others in his administration.

Does Dubya really have such a hard time admitting to error, that he can’t even bring himself to squash a dubious business deal made ostensibly without his go-ahead?

Of course, Bush is the boy who cried “wolf” when it comes to vetoes. Even he acknowledged during a press briefing yesterday that “I say veto, by the way, quite frequently in messages to Congress.” And it seems unlikely that the prez, who’s waved the bloody shirt of 9/11 at every opportunity to win support for his troubled administration, would exercise his veto power first on legislation blocking a $6.8 billion deal that benefits an emirate (part of the United Arab Emirates) that USA Today reported last year remains “a logistical hub” for operatives of Osama bin Laden. If Bush’s Republican Party really wants to make national security a political issue in this midterm election year, as presidential adviser Karl Rove has suggested, then the GOP can’t be seen as outsourcing vulnerable coastal ports in New York, Miami, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Philadelphia to a nation with a mixed record in the so-called war on terror. Even if the foreign company involved has ties to at least two White House officials. As The New York Times editorialized today:
The Bush administration has followed a disturbing pattern in its approach to the war on terror. It has been perpetually willing to sacrifice individual rights in favor of security. But it has been loath to do the same thing when it comes to business interests. It has not imposed reasonable safety requirements on chemical plants, one of the nation’s greatest points of vulnerability, or on the transport of toxic materials. The ports deal is another decision that has made the corporations involved happy, and has made ordinary Americans worry about whether they are being adequately protected.
Despite assurances from Bush that “If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward,” opposition to placing those six ports in the hands of Dubai Ports World (the result of a sale to that outfit of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which previously ran the shipping operations) has been bipartisan, vocal, and swift. Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, both of New York, along with Representative Peter King (R-New York) and Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota), have raised concerns about this arrangement. As has Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), the generally ineffectual majority leader of the U.S. Senate. Frist said yesterday that “The decision to finalize this deal should be put on hold until the administration conducts a more extensive review of this matter. If the administration cannot delay this process, I plan on introducing legislation to ensure that the deal is placed on hold until this decision gets a more thorough review.” Frist added that “I’m not against foreign ownership, but my main concern is national security.” As Daily Kos honcho Markos Moulitsas Zúniga writes, if a vote were taken in the Senate today on blocking the Bush scheme, the tally would likely be 99-1, with the only on-the-record defender of the Dubai sale so far being Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut).

Just what the Bush administration needs: yet another scandal. “Portgate,” anyone?

MORE TENTACLES ON THE OCTOPUS: Think Progress reports that “a major part” of the Dubai Ports story “has been mostly overlooked.” In addition to assuming control of the six ports mentioned earlier, it says, this deal would give Dubai control of the movement of military equipment through the ports at Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas. Read on.

SECRET DEALINGS: The Associated Press reports that, prior to accepting the bid by Dubai Ports World for acquisition of shipping operations at six U.S. ports, the Bush White House worked out a “secret agreement” with that state-owned company that required it to hand over records covering its “foreign operational direction.” However, the administration “did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests.” Read on.

STRANGERS AT THE DOOR: In a New York Times op-ed piece, Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department and author of the upcoming book, Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack, responds to Bush defenders who say that the opposition to this Dubai Ports plan is motivated by “some bias against Arabs”:
This is simply not true. While the United Arab Emirates is deemed by the Bush administration to be an ally in the war on terrorism, we should all have deep concerns about its links to terrorists. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of the emirates, and some of the money for the attacks came from there. It was one of only three countries in the world that recognized the Taliban regime. And Dubai was an important transshipment point for the smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with equipment for making nuclear weapons.

Most terrorism experts agree that the likeliest way for a weapon of mass destruction to be smuggled into our country would be through a port. After all, some 95 percent of all goods from abroad arrive in the United States by sea, and yet only about 6 percent of incoming cargo containers are inspected for security threats.
Read the whole editorial here.

IT’S A BLACK AND WHITE WORLD: From my I-Wish-I’d-Said-That-First File comes this quote from Salon politics blogger Tim Grieve: “The United Arab Emirates aren’t part of any ‘axis of evil,’ but you can understand why Americans are wary anyway: Members of the president’s party are still trying to sell the war in Iraq by talking up links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida that never existed in the first place. The links between the UAE and the attacks of 9/11, though passive, were real. Yet we went to war against Iraq, and we’re handing over our ports to the UAE? Yeah, that’s an oversimplified way of looking at things. But when a president spends four years reducing the world to black and white, he loses the right to complain when his people can’t see all the gray spots in between.” Read on.

THE EMPEROR HAS NO VETOES: Slate columnist Bruce Reed, reflecting on Bush’s toothless threat to veto any effort by Congress to kill the Dubai Ports deal, writes: “The Dubai debacle shows that for all this administration’s chest-beating about restoring energy in the executive over the past five years, it has systematically avoided the most important presidential power of all, the veto. Like most powers in the illusory world of politics, the veto is use-it-or-lose-it. Because Bush hasn’t mustered the strength to use that power a single time in his presidency, even the meekest Congress in memory no longer fears it.” Read on.

READ MORE:Who’s Behind the Dubai Company in U.S. Harbors?” by Tony Karon with Douglas Waller (Time); “Bush’s Push on Ports,” by Craig Gordon (Newsday); “Wanna Buy a Port?” by Harold Meyerson (The Washington Post); “GOP to W.: You’re Nuts!” by Maureen Dowd (The New York Times); “Bush’s GOP Allies Are Not on Board,” by Dick Polman (The Philadelphia Inquirer); “Port Whine: Why Republicans Should Stop Their Bickering About the Dubai Debacle,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “Stormy Waters: What the Port Deal Says About Bush and the GOP,” by Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey (Newsweek); “Growing Criticism Puzzles Many in Shipping Industry,” by Meredith Cohn (The Baltimore Sun); “Blackmail,” by Digby (Hullabaloo); “Trust Them?” by DarkSyde (Daily Kos); “I’m More Worried That Our Ports Might Be Owned by Bushes,” by Kevin Hayden (The American Street); “Indifference Über Alles,” by Justin Frank (The Huffington Post).

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