Thursday, March 09, 2006

Deal or No Deal--or Worse

[[B U S I N E S S]] * Well, once again Dubai Ports World, the multinational corporation (wholly owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates) that has been much criticized for its bid to assume control of port terminal operations in as many as 21 American cities, is stepping forward to save George W. Bush from the consequences of his actions.

Not long after this controversy broke in the press in late February, and the prez declared that he would veto any legislation designed to kill the $6.8 billion deal, DP World agreed to delay its takeover of the shipping facilities, until Congress and the American public could be reassured that the arrangement would not compromise security at U.S. seaports, which--even four and a half years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks--are still considered vulnerable to terrorist attack. Then, earlier today, as Democrats and even habitually obedient Republicans appeared poised to put the brakes on the administration-approved ports plan, DP World announced that it would relinquish its management stake in the seaports and “transfer all interest in U.S. port operations to an American-based company.” This unexpected move saves Bush from having to actually follow through on his hollow veto threat, and might--I repeat, might--help the GOP restore some of the damage the Dubai debacle has done to its longstanding advantage over Democrats on the issue of national security.

White House officials are surely relieved that the administration’s ideological break with congressional Republicans over this touchy matter won’t be exposed further in the media, or (they hope) incite any additional acts of mutiny among the GOP rank and file. However, Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), while labeling DP World’s surprise decision to back down on this deal “a promising development,” adds that “the devil is in the details” as far as how the company’s transfer of port interests is to be achieved. Dubai Ports World only got into this mess because it purchased a British-owned enterprise, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), earlier this year for £3.9 billion ($7 billion). It certainly won’t want to sell control over the U.S. port facilities previously supervised by P&O, so it will have to strike up a partnership with an American firm that makes it appear, at least, that shipping operations at major seaports are in domestic hands, not Arab ones.

Unfortunately, as the New York Daily News reports, “the U.S. company best equipped to partner with DP World is Halliburton,” the almost century-old, Houston-based multinational energy services corporation with which Dick Cheney served from 1995 until 2000 as chief executive officer. “After undergoing so much scrutiny for its no-bid Iraq contract and the handling of some of its duties there,” the Daily News remarks, “Halliburton may not be able to help DP World land the deal.” However, Republicans in Congress might be persuaded that Cheney’s former employer--despite allegations of fraud and mismanagement leveled against the company by critics around the world--is the only viable substitute for DP World as the manager of ports in New York, Miami, Baltimore, New Orleans, and elsewhere. Whether Democrats, the press, and the public would be willing to go along with such a cozy and profitable arrangement is yet to be seen.

THE COSTS OF PROPAGANDA: For partisan political purposes, the Bush administration has spent the last few years instilling in Americans a fear of Middle Eastern terrorists. So the public’s concern about turning port facilities over to an enterprise owned by the United Arab Emirates should have come as no surprise. Nor does a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showing that “nearly half of Americans--46 percent--have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence. ... According to the poll, the proportion of Americans who believe that Islam helps to stoke violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled since the attacks, from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent today.” Read on.

READ MORE:Will Somebody Please Get Rid of This President?” by Nora Ephron (The Huffington Post); “Dick Cheney’s Inexplicable Control,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report).

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