Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Rants Go Marking Dubai, Too

Okay, that's a bit of a stretch, but "Dubai or not Dubai", exceedingly appealing in its double-entendreness, is already well-worn. We are, of course, talking about Dubai Ports World taking over the British owned and so quaintly titled Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company's rights to operate either six or twenty one American port operations, depending on how one defines operate.

What an interesting story this has turned out to be! In October DPW told the Treasury Department about the proposed deal, and then it took all of the agencies involved in the security of the US, who normally can't agree if a sign says walk or don't walk, about a month to declare, "No problem here." Seems like things might have been expedited a little, would you think? By whom?

Not the Preznit, no sir. After the AP "broke" the story of the deal on February 11th, and people began wondering why we were hiring the fox to watch the hen house, Bush was allegedly informed on Feb.16th that his administration had approved the deal. The approving body was the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Among it's members from eleven agencies is Donald Rumsfeld, head of the Department of Defense. Surely this one of eleven would have been involved in this vetting, right? Nope, in a press conference on Feb. 21 he said he had "minimal information" about the deal because he had "just heard about this over the weekend."

At this point all hell had broken loose, with some interesting role reversal going on in the mix. One of the first tacks was taken by the AP in its initial story, that DPW was somewhat state owned by the UAE that had been host and/or home to several al Qaeda terrorists. This unnecessarily fueled the immediate, more racist fires whose objection is purely that these are Arabs. This is a nonsensical argument―it's like saying Kansas's Sprint corporation can't build towers in Oklahoma because Terry Nichols lived in Marion, KS. At the liberal blogs there was plenty of this raw attack, but also a whole lot of, "Hold on there, lets not out-hate the haters. Let's not base our opinion solely on the race of DPW's ownership."

Astonishingly in this black/white political climate, the right was having the same argument. Here was the administration telling people that we need to consider the message we were sending to our "ally" in the war on terror. Clearly there was a lesson in sensitivity to be learned here, and from the Administration, no less!

There were lots of ways to go with this story, including the examination of big business. Big, big business. The inevitable political agony this would surely cause the administration, and their bull-headed intention to stay the course, led some people to become very suspicious on the money side. Could someone be trading political capital for real capital? Enter another of the eleven, Treasury's Jack Snow. CSX Corp. is a shipping giant that sold much of its worldwide operations to DPW in 2005. Snow was CEO of CSX (try to keep up, here) when they had sold another subsidiary in 2002 for 300 million to (here we go) the Carlyle Group. Enter Bush the Elder, James Baker, and a couple of Bin Ladens, among others. When the deal was announced, Snow had already been tapped as Treasury Secretary. One week earlier! A year later Carlyle sold the renamed company to a New York company for 650 million!

Questions that still burn here:

  • How did the Carlyle Group get such a bargain?
  • Are the CSX/DPW and CSX/Carlyle deals intertwined?
  • Who might owe whom what after Carlyle doubled their money in one year in a business that is apparently not profitable enough for US interests?
  • Bush and Rummy knew nothing about DPW's latest 7 billion dollar deal in a business that Snow, Baker and Bush Sr. made millions in?

I keep coming back to that, don't I? A UAE company is spending seven billion dollars on US port operations management, the deal is under a security review, and the unholy duo of our "war on terrorism" leadership knows nothing about it and/or is willing to put that up as their defense!

Well, a little time has passed, and Congress is in a major fit now. The deal is delayed, with Bush threatening to veto a ban. Liberals and conservatives are looking for consolidation, time marches on. Each accuses the other side of trying to be like them, which is, of course, each side's purported goal in life.

My take? Who knows what all these deals mean to the principals and hangers on, so the money angle is beyond me. On the matter of security, I don't consider caution in consideration of the anti-American aspect of the culture of the UAE and its employees to be racist. Chinese do not blow up our ships. Brits don't hijack our planes. Bush is still pushing the "Coast Guard handles the security" line. This is bullshit, pure and simple. This is the administration who asks every man jack in America to be ever vigilant against terrorism, yet in our most vulnerable locations vigilance by the few is enough.

Even by Bush standards, the policy is idiotic. Is he being set up? Is it convenient right now to push through what DPW wants on a limping administration, a killing of two birds with one stone? If Bush is on the outs, how dangerous is this India/Pakistan trip? I'd be thinking twice.

But to my mind the most likely scenario is the continuance of union busting, part of the war on everyone else that the corporate world has been conducting without pause for such things as terrorism and war. Check out this Wall Street Journal editorial about the criticism of the deal:

It is also not a good way to convince the world that we mean what we say about free trade and investment. The port-management business is dominated by non-American companies in part because high labor costs drove U.S. firms out of the business. That's also in part the handiwork of the International Longshoremen's Association, an affiliate of the protectionist AFL-CIO.

Let's see; the Administration and the UAE and the WSJ on one side. Workers on the other.

That's about right.


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