Monday, March 06, 2006

Robert Reich and I agree on something

And no, I am not drunk. I knew this day would eventually occur. I knew one day I would read one of his pieces and go "He gets it, this is totally rational and seemingly correct". I would have never guessed it would be about the Bush administration being right and their critics being hysterical. I may need a drink. I may send him one! Can you legally ship those little scotch bottles like the airlines use through the mail?
About 80 percent of American ports are already run by foreign companies. These companies usually hire Americans to do the day-to-day management. After all, global companies want the best talent they can get. Dubai Port World's chief operating officer is Edward Bilkey, who's an American. Its former American executive, David Sanborn, was just nominated to be U.S. Maritime Administrator.

And if this deal goes through, Dubai Ports World will probably keep most of the American executives who have been working for the British company that now runs the six ports in question because they've made the company lots of money, which is why Dubai Ports wants to buy it.

Whatever the arrangement, the day-to-day operations at the ports will still be done by American longshoremen, clerks, and technicians. And control over port security will remain with the U.S. government, the Coast Guard, Customs, harbor police, and port authorities, who make and enforce the rules.
I haven't written on the ports deal mostly because I haven't had time to blog lately. But I also held off because it was clear in the beginning that more data would come out. I, like most people, don't know anything about port management or port security.

The initial reports just seemed too thin on hard facts to do anything with them. I read it as OH MY GOD, we are turning over our ports to ARABS. But they didn't say what, exactly, we were turning over and I did know enough that you don't actually sell or buy major US ports, you rent them. And when, early on, someone pointed out that companies wholely owned by the Communist Chinese Government were doing exactly what the UAE company was going to do we got: But you don't Understand, THESE are ARABS we are talking about. That was my first cue that this was another kerfuffle.

When I found out from this Varifrank post (HT: Hugh) that the same UAE holding company owns passenger and cargo airlines and CARGO TERMINALS at JFK airport (you know, the one in New York City), I was convinced that this is a kerfuffle. We trust them to fly jumbo jets over our most populated city every day but we can't trust them to run forklifts. It was a PR disaster and the administration better start figuring out how to do better PR, but the decision seems, now that we have more data, entirely in line with what we and the majority of the world has done and continues to do. To undue this deal would either mean kicking out all the foreign companies who do this work or being overtly and extremely racist, IMO.

I have heard some non-racist, thoughtful arguments against this deal. Those arguments would also apply to the Chinese companies and a bunch of others. It seems to me that it is reasonable for the Congress to (please God, after talking to people who know the subject which they clearly haven't done to date) look into passing laws around what kind of security clearances one should have to get access to some of the information floating around at a major port and apply it to all of these companies. It doesn't seem reasonable to piss off the whole Arab world by pulling what looks like a perfectly reasonable deal for both us and the UAE, and which appears to have little to no security implications.

One of the things that strikes me about the non-convincing arguments against this deal is that by running port operations a bad guy could get something bad into the US. My first thought on that was that if it is coming into our port the guy who arranged to get it to the US wasn't in the US, now was he? It is completely irrational especially in the face of the fact that we keep being told that only a tiny fraction of the containers arriving are inspected. Why bother to infiltrate our port if you want to get a nuke into the US? Why not infiltrate the port in Pakistan? The nukes in the US are, well, already here!

We have learned something that at least I didn't know. We now have a bunch of inspectors at foreign ports checking the containers coming here at the shipping point. That actually makes a lot more sense to me than checking them once they get here.



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