David B.




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March 8, 2006

A Perfectly Engineered Scandal


It was just another business deal.


In the eyes of Bush administration officials, in the eyes of the management of P&O and Dubai Ports World, and in the eyes of several senior Democratic party politicians, it was just business as usual - another minor event in the continuing sell-off of American assets and the continuing off-shoring of American jobs in the name of advancing the share values of major corporations. A minor event, really, in the never ending forward march of the merged corporation-state: The transfer of terminal operations at several U.S. seaports to a United Arab Emirates-owned firm, accompanying the sale of one of the world's largest shipping industry firms, P&O.


What was there to complain about? It was a deal like any other in recent memory. When major American automakers began harnessing the power of semi-slave labor in South American and Asian countries to make their grommets, door jambs, ball bearings and camshafts, resulting in the idling of tens of thousands of U.S. autoworkers, the public didn't care. When the American steel industry was systematically dismantled for the sake of cut-rate producers such as India's Mittal, no one seemed to mind. And when suddenly every other telemarketer or customer service representative on the other end of the telephone line seemed to be in Bangalore while their displaced U.S. counterpart filed for food stamps, there was nary a whimper of popular discontent, apart from some grumbling about the accents.


But hoo, boy: Announce that you're going to let an Arabic company be your baggage-handlers, and all of a sudden it's meltdown time, Three Mile Island all over again. What gives?


The attacks came thick and fast from all points on the political spectrum. "Security!", people screamed. For once the likes of Bill Frist made common cause with Hilary Clinton, bleating about this perceived betrayal of America's trust, while nightmare visions of shipping containers packed with yellowcake uranium and suitcase nukes danced through Americans' heads. Meanwhile, Bush mounted the battlements in solidarity with his corporate brethren to announce that his mighty veto would thwart all comers' attempts to nix this sacred transaction, public opinion be damned.


Bush's "resolve" in standing up for the rights of big business must have come as a relief to Treasury Secretary John Snow, former chairman of CSX Corporation, whose own dealings with DPW might be called into scrutiny should the agreement be scrapped. CSX, you see, had quietly sold off one of its divisions to DPW under his aegis, which rather suggests a role for him in fast-tracking the current approval process. A successful transfer, on the other hand, probably stands to fatten his wallet a tad, as well as make him a hero of free-trade globalists and secure his post-administration board memberships. Doin' a heckuva job, Snowy.


Of course, Bush is absolutely correct in his assertion that the DPW deal won't compromise U.S. port security at all, for the simple reason that there isn't any to compromise. Despite the post-9/11 fury and bluster, nothing of substance has been done to ensure that hazardous cargo or contraband won't enjoy an easy free-market ride in and out of New York, Newark, New Orleans and Long Beach. The logistical hurdles in establishing effective port security are daunting and cost-prohibitive - particularly when a nationalist, nativist Republican administration is sure to scuttle any attempt at developing the global cargo security infrastructure, with global benefits to all participating countries and companies necessary for effectiveness. Bush's answer has been to throw up his hands, ignore the problem and make us all take our shoes off at airport checkpoints instead.


In point of fact, security at DPW terminals will probably be considerably tighter than at present - after all, the company will have a $6 billion investment to protect. And despite the sham 45-day "review" process, the deal will go through - in fact, effective control was transferred as of March 2. Seen from hindsight (which it already is), the DPW dustup appears to be a Roveian masterstroke of a PR power-play: Clinton and the Democrats' current bluster will be seen as ineffective in thwarting this "Arab takeover." Bush, who isn't running for re-election anyway, will succeed in shunting more money to his corporate pals. And Republican sacrificial lambs such as Frist, Dennis Hastert and Duncan Hunter can rest assured that the electorate's short attention span will enable them to win in a walk next election day, once they've passed the now-obligatory legislation preventing future transfers of U.S. port facilities to foreign ownership.


Which, by the by, leaves precious few firms capable of buying in the next go-round. And isn't that nice for Halliburton?


2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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