Thursday, February 23, 2006

Port Brouhaha

If it weren't a little sad, this whole port management fuss would be on the verge of being bizarrely humorous. The amount of crazed hysteria, rumors, half-truths, and plain ol' falsehoods being spewed by everyone is getting out of hand. Listening to On Point today, one of my favorite talk radio shows, even this usually high minded and thoughtful show started to seem like something you would hear on conservative radio. Conspiracy theories, wild exaggerations, false accusations, and not-so-subtle racism seem to be in bountiful supply, even from listeners of NPR. As the crazy cab driver I had last night said, you'd think "they turned over our port security to a company owned by the Middle East." How could we possibly be turning our ports over to the much dreaded foreigner?

Let's try to pay attention to the facts of the issue. A British company called Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company previously held the leases to operate ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. A company owned by in large part by the city-state of Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates, has moved to acquire P&O. The company, Dubai Ports World, operates large port and shipping operations in countries world wide. Like all U.S. ports, security has been and would still be handled by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs Service. Both companies are multinationals, and thus employ people from all over the world. Most of P&O's workers in the U.S. port operations were Americans, and since this would be an acquisition, the same people would still be operating the ports. They would still be under the same regulations, audits, etc. that any other port operator is.

Despite the shock that foreigners could be buying our ports, compaines from China, Singapore, Europe, Japan, and Taiwan all operate ports facilities in the United States. And while the U.A.E. has a less than stellar human rights record, it has been a generally moderate and Western friendly outpost in the Persian Gulf. It has been attempting to position itself into something akin to Hong Kong, by becoming a shipping and financial hub.

Given these facts, it seems a little difficult to get worked up about foreigners taking over our security, since the American workers never had responsibility for the security in the first place. There certainly are plenty of serious flaws in our port security, but the company that runs them does not appear to be an issue. A lot of politicians, both Democrat and Republican alike, seem to see this as an opportunity to score some points by playing with scare tactics. Both have been shameless in the racist undertones of their comments. We don't want them to have anything to do with us. This seems especially odd coming from the Left, where before all they could talk about was how nice non-Americans are and how if we weren't so evil and mean to them, they would be nice to us. But try to do business with them and suddenly they go from nice non-Americans to treacherous foreigners.

There are also a lot of questions about why this was the deal was made in such secrecy. Far from any conspiracy, I believe it was done this way for two reasons. First, the Bush Administration seems to like secrecy for secrecy's sake and doesn't want to be bothered with other people's opinions. I don't think that's an effective way to run a free democracy, but it's also not necessarily malicious. Secondly, I think they felt compelled to reward a key American ally in the Middle East, but weren't creative enough to come up with a way to sell it so they just kept it secret instead. Karl Rove must have been out to lunch when this call was made, because they're being made to look very bad for untrue reasons. In a way, they're getting a taste of their own tactics. You might say the administration is being "Swift Ported". And while that can be slightly satisfying, it's still disheartening to see reasonable and thoughtful people get swept,intentionally or unintentionally, into a ridiculous frenzy while losing sight of reality.


At 12:51 PM, Blogger El Jefe said...

I actually have a big issue with the port sales. The difference between P&O being a British firm and Dubai Ports World being UAEish and that P&O is a real company, while DPW is just an arm of the Dubai government. Big difference when you ask me. Saying that the UAE has a less than stellar human rights record is like saying Canada is a touch bland. The various emirs have been at best ignorant and at worst somewhat complicit with Terrorists operating in their country, whether it be by recruiting there, traveling through it to/from the Stans or using it as their money laundering headquarters. Maybe we could get comfortable with it, but this deal deserved to have been looked at from a security perspective a bit more than the TWX/AOL merger, and it doesn't appear it was.

The real issue for me is...the message that President Rove is sending out (with only minimal cover) is that it is perfectly OK for the Gestapo to trample individual rights in any way that is marginally related to Homeland Security, but when Big Business should rightfully come under the same scrutiny, the government now has no power to act, and Market Forces should rule. Isn't this just a touch hypocritical? (Full disclosure, I didn't come up with this argument, and I don't even remember who I stole it from)

Semi-related topic - remember a few weeks ago when Bush said that "the Stock Market will drive the economy"? Well, this betrayed a total misunderstanding of the cause and effect of how the economy works. The market going up DOES NOT (except in the most minimal way) cause the economy to improve. It is the other way around, the economy improving causes the market to improve. It is easy to prove this empirically; if the market moving up could itself drive the economy, then the S&P would trade up 100% every day because, as long as the move is going to usher in a new age of wealth, who wouldn't want to buy?

It's kind of like saying tax cuts increase tax receipts (in the medium- to long- term) - prima facie untrue.


Post a Comment

<< Home