Thursday, February 23, 2006

Port Insecurity and Crony Capitalism

While most security experts and trade people see no security risk in allowing a government-owned Dubai company to run six U.S. ports including ones in New York and New Jersey (see this LA Times article for that part of the ports story), I think many of us on the left have had a bit of fun out-9/11ing Karl Rove and George Bush on the issue.

The Dubai deal has allowed Democrats to point out just how insecure America's ports really are, helping to undercut Rove's 2006 campaign theme that "Republicans have a post-9/11 mindset while Democrats have a pre-9/11 mindset."

Here's the LA Times on port "insecurity":

Ports pose a security concern because only a portion of the more than 14 million containers that arrive in the U.S. every year are inspected. Many fear that the containers could easily be used to smuggle weapons, such as so-called dirty bombs, into the country. Efforts to install U.S. inspectors in foreign ports are just beginning and funding for port security, which has increased 700% since the Sept. 11 attacks, lags behind aviation security funding.

P.J. Crowley, domestic security expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said that insufficient security at America's ports was the nation's "greatest single vulnerability," and the federal government had provided insufficient resources to prevent the "nightmare scenario" of a nuclear device being smuggled into the U.S. in a shipping container.

Frankly, I really am much more worried about "insufficient security at America's ports" and the "insufficient resources" given to prevent a "nightmare scenario" than I am at the Dubai company taking over the management of cargo terminals at six U.S. ports.

Which is not to say that I am happy about the Dubai deal either.

Leaving the race, religion, and ethnicity issues aside for a moment, I must say that I am also sick of international companies based overseas buying up U.S. properties, companies, and/or utilities. Too much of this country is owned by shadowy multi-national corporations based in shadowy places around the world where they pay a shadowy amount of taxes to the U.S. government and live outside of U.S. law and regulations.

Josh Marshall at talkingpointsmemo notes that the secret agreement the Bush administration made with the Dubai company allows the company to keep its records overseas away from U.S. scrutiny and court orders. The agreement also does not require the Dubai company to "designate an American citizen to accomodate U.S. government requests" which "outside legal experts said are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries."

In other words, the Bush administration has given the Dubai company a real sweetheart deal. Marshall says:

The failure to require the company to keep business records on US soil sounds like a pretty open invitation to flout US law as near as I can tell. Forget terrorism. This is the sort of innovative business arrangement I would think a number of Bush-affiliated American companies might want to get in on. Perhaps Halliburton could be domiciled in Houston, pay its taxes in Bermuda, do its business in Iraq and keep its business records in Jordan.

Indeed. This Dubai ports deal has shone a light into the shady business practices and cronyism the people running the Bush administration seem to routinely engage in. Call it "Halliburton capitalism," call it "Enronism": whatever you call it, it's downright unethical and harmful to the nation.

So in addition to the "port insecurity" part of the issue, the shady business end of the deal is just one more reason why the Bush administration must be forced to back down. CNN reported today that Condi Rice plans on visiting the United Arab Emirates to assure our "allies" that the ports deal is going to go through despite the vast bipartisan opposition to it. Republicans and Democrats must make sure that Preznit Bush loses on this one, no matter how many the assurances that Condi and Bushies are giving to their oil cronies abroad that the deal is done.

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