Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Olympic Swagger

I thought I was the only one who felt "creepy" watching the Olympics this year--feeling a little uncomfortable about rah rah-ing for Team U.S.A. It seems, thankfully, I was not alone in my feelings and thoughts. William Greider of The Nation put it into words far better than I could have: Read his article, "Olympic Swagger."

Bet you an Olympic Gold you will relate.

Hypocritical Bush Quote of the Day

The Shrub, in a press conference today:

"And that matters, by the way, for a person to keep his word."

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Tierney's Flighty Excursions into Wifeliness

A recent survey of married couples conducted by two University of Virginia sociologists attempts to answer the question "What makes a woman happy in marriage?"

John Tierney (see column below) makes his usual fascile attempt to draw profound conclusions from the data. Sure would love to know what in John Tierney's background and education makes him a credible commentator on women's issues. Like most members of the male sex attempting to understand the "feminine soul", he doesn't have a clue.

Attempting to answer the question , "What makes the happiest wives," through a survey is, at best, foolhardy. People (and I, unlike some men, include women in that group) cannot be reliably defined and analyzed by surveys.

People, when responding to surveys, questionaires, or focus groups are notoriously dishonest. They may not intend to be less than honest. But people are complicated. Sometimes they are trying to fool themselves. Sometimes they are trying to give the "correct" answer, or the one they think would be most admirable. Sometimes they attempt to anticipate what the questioner wants them to say. Sometimes they just plain want to mess with the researchers. Sometimes they are not inherently honest people. I could go on.

The bottom line is that the methodology and conclusions of this study amount to a whole lot of pretentious, over-intellectualized words on paper--and not much else.

The study's conclusion: "A woman wants equity. That's not necessarily the same as equality."--is hogwash.

Even so, ain't mental masturbation fun?

The Happiest Wives
By John Tierney
The New York Times
Freud confessed that his "thirty years of research into the feminine soul" left him unable to answer one great question: "What does a woman want?" Modern feminists have been arguing for decades over a variation of it: What should a woman want?

This week two sociologists from the University of Virginia are publishing the answer to a more manageable variation. Drawing on one of the most thorough surveys ever done of married couples, they've crunched the numbers and asked: What makes a woman happy with her marriage?

Their answer doesn't quite jibe with current conventional wisdom. Three decades ago, two-thirds of Americans surveyed said it was better for wives to focus on homemaking and husbands to focus on breadwinning, but by the 1990's, only a third embraced the traditional division of labor. The new ideal — in theory, not in practice — became a partnership of equals who split duties inside and outside the home.

This new egalitarian marriage was hailed by academics and relationship gurus as a recipe for a happier union. As wives went off to work and husbands took on new jobs at home, couples would supposedly have more in common and more to talk about. Husbands would do more "emotion work," as sociologists call it, and wives would be more fulfilled.

That was the theory tested by the Virginia sociologists, Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock, who analyzed a survey of more than 5,000 couples. Sure enough, they found that husbands' "emotion work" was crucial to wives' happiness. Having an affectionate and understanding husband was by far the most important predictor of a woman's satisfaction with her marriage.

But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.

These male providers-in-chief were regarded fondly by even the most feminist-minded women — the ones who said they believed in dividing duties equally. In theory these wives were egalitarians, but in their own lives they preferred more traditional arrangements.

"Women today expect more help around the home and more emotional engagement from their husbands," Wilcox says. "But they still want their husbands to be providers who give them financial security and freedom."

These results, of course, are just averages. Plenty of people are happy with different arrangements — including Nock, who makes less than his wife and does the cooking at home. He says that nontraditional marriages may be a strain on many women simply because they've been forced to be social pioneers. "As society adjusts to women's new roles," he says, "women may become happier in egalitarian marriages."

But I'd bet there's a limit to egalitarianism. Consider what's happened with housework, that perpetual sore point. From the 1960's through the 80's, wives cut back on housework as husbands did more. In the 1990's, though, the equalizing trend leveled off, leaving wives still doing nearly twice as much of the work at home.

That seems terribly unfair unless you look at how men and women behave when they're living by themselves: the women do twice as much housework as the men do. Single men do less cooking and cleaning, because those jobs don't seem as important to them. They can live with unmade beds and frozen dinners.

Similarly, there's a gender gap in enthusiasm for some outside jobs. Men are much more willing to take a job that pays a premium in exchange for long hours away from home or the risk of being killed. The extra money doesn't seem as important to women.

In a more egalitarian world, there would be more wives mining coal and driving trucks, and more husbands cooking dinners and taking children to doctor's appointments. But that wouldn't be a fairer world, as Nock and Wilcox found.

The happiest wives in their study were the ones who said that housework was divided fairly between them and their husbands. But those same happy wives also did more of the work at home while their husbands did more work outside home. Nock doesn't claim to have divined the feminine soul, but he does have one answer to Freud's question.

"A woman wants equity," he says. "That's not necessarily the same as equality."

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related articles:

Seeking Redemption? New York Times Sues Pentagon

Is the New York Times seeking to redeem itself from its irresponsible reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War and the fact that it sat on information about the NSA domestic spy program for a year before making it public?

Seems they may be headed in a new, more responsible direction.

The New York Times, on Monday, sued the U.S. Defense Department, demanding that it turn over documents about the NSA domestic spy program.

Read more.

Photo credit: An exterior view of the New York Times office in Manhattan, May 25, 2005. The New York Times sued the U.S. Defense Department on Monday demanding that it hand over documents about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. (REUTERS/Chip East)

CBS News Poll: Bush Ratings At All-Time Low

34% of Americans approve of President Bush (down from 42% last month). Another new low. Is it any wonder?

7 in 10 Americans oppose the Dubai ports deal, including 58% of Republicans.

Jim Axelrod, CBS News senior White House correspondent, reported that the Coast Guard voiced concerns about the ports deal, but was ignored.

In a separate poll, 2 out of 3 Americans felt Bush's response to the needs of Katrina victims was inadequate.
Only 32% approved of his response (a 12% drop from last September's poll).

Read more here, including links to full poll data.

Photo credit: President Bush. (CBS/AP)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Troops Say, "Withdraw from Iraq!"

One question to Nicholas Kristof about his assertion that we cannot pull out our troops immediately or Iraq will be "torn apart by chaos and civil war."

Isn't that exactly what is happening right now? And, if Abdul-Qader Ali's assertion is true--that "the main reason behind all [of Iraq's] woes" is America, that we are the "troublemaker in the middle,"--then what in God's name can be gained by having our troops stationed one more day in Iraq?

If we are the cause of the tension, removing the cause should ease the tension, not fan the insurgent flames.

And, if it is true, as you say, that by setting a timetable, the insurgents can just bide their time and wait for us to leave, doesn't that defy the logic of setting a timetable? Whatever the date, the insurgents can wait us out, so, what's the point of staying one more day? No matter what, the violence will continue--with us or without us.

We created the civil strife in Iraq. And we should do everything we can to help stabilize and rebuild the country--short of continuing to occupy Iraq. We can offer diplomatic support and training--outside of Iraq if need be--but it seems perfectly clear that the only way we can responsibly end the violence we began is to get the hell out of a country that never wanted us there in the first place. The sooner, the better.

The troops on the ground have spoken. Now it's up to us to bring them home.

The Soldiers Speak. Will President Bush Listen?
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
When President Bush held a public meeting with troops by satellite last fall, they were miraculously upbeat. And all along, unrepentant hawks (most of whom have never been to Iraq) have insisted that journalists are misreporting Iraq and that most soldiers are gung-ho about their mission.

Hogwash! A new poll to be released today shows that U.S. soldiers overwhelmingly want out of Iraq — and soon.

The poll is the first of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq, according to John Zogby, the pollster. Conducted by Zogby International and LeMoyne College, it asked 944 service members, "How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?"

Only 23 percent backed Mr. Bush's position that they should stay as long as necessary. In contrast, 72 percent said that U.S. troops should be pulled out within one year. Of those, 29 percent said they should withdraw "immediately."

That's one more bit of evidence that our grim stay-the-course policy in Iraq has failed. Even the American troops on the ground don't buy into it — and having administration officials pontificate from the safety of Washington about the need for ordinary soldiers to stay the course further erodes military morale.

While the White House emphasizes the threat from non-Iraqi terrorists, only 26 percent of the U.S. troops say that the insurgency would end if those foreign fighters could be kept out. A plurality believes that the insurgency is made up overwhelmingly of discontented Iraqi Sunnis.

So what would it take to win in Iraq? Maybe that was the single most depressing finding in this poll.

By a two-to-one ratio, the troops said that "to control the insurgency we need to double the level of ground troops and bombing missions." And since there is zero chance of that happening, a majority of troops seemed to be saying that they believe this war to be unwinnable.

This first systematic look at the views of the U.S. troops on the ground suggests that our present strategy in Iraq is failing badly. The troops overwhelmingly don't want to "stay the course," and they don't seem to think the American strategy can succeed.

It's tempting, but not very helpful, to repeat that the fatal mistake was invading Iraq three years ago and leave it at that. That's easy for a columnist to say; the harder thing for a policy maker is to figure out what we do next, now that we're already there.

I still believe that while the war was a dreadful mistake, an immediate pullout would also be a misstep: anyone who says that Iraq can't get worse hasn't seen a country totally torn apart by chaos and civil war. Mr. Bush is right about the consequences of an immediate pullout — to Iraq, and also to American influence around the world.

But while we shouldn't rush for the exits immediately, we should lay out a timetable for withdrawal that would remove all troops by the end of next year. And we should state clearly that we will not keep any military bases in Iraq — that's a no-brainer, for it costs us nothing, but our hedging on bases antagonizes Iraqi nationalists and results in more dead Americans.

Such a timetable would force Iraqis to prepare — politically and militarily — to run their own country. The year or two of transition would galvanize Iraqi Shiites to find a modus vivendi with Sunnis while undermining the insurgents' arguments that they are nationalists protecting the motherland from Yankee crusaders.

True, a timetable is arbitrary and risky, for it could just encourage insurgents to hang tight for another couple of years. But we're being killed — literally — because of nationalist suspicions among Iraqis that we're just after their oil and bases and that we're going to stay forever. It's crucial that we defuse that nationalist rage.

For now, we've become the piñata of Iraqi politics, something for Iraqi demagogues to bash to boost their own legitimacy. Moktada al-Sadr, one of the scariest Iraqi leaders, has very shrewdly used his denunciations of the U.S. to boost his own political following and influence across Iraq; that's our gift to him, a consequence of our myopia. And many ordinary Iraqis are buying into this scapegoating of the U.S. Edward Wong, one of my intrepid Times colleagues in Baghdad, quoted a clothing merchant named Abdul-Qader Ali as saying: "I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes — it is America. Everything that is going on between Sunnis and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America."

Will a timetable work? I don't know, but it's a better bet than our present policy of whistling in the dark. And it's what the troops favor — and they're the ones who have Iraq combat experience. It's time our commander in chief stopped stage-managing his troops and listened to them.

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

See also:

Zogby International: U.S. Troops in Iraq: 72% Say End War in 2006

Iraq Vets and Family Members to Testify Before Congress

Military Families Speak Out

It's the Corporation, Stupid

By Molly Ivins
The government is willing to outsource American jobs for the holy grail of free trade. Why is it surprising that national security is ditto?

So, aside from the fact that it's politically idiotic and at least theoretically presents a national security risk, just what is wrong with the Dubai Ports deal?

As President George W. Bush actually said, "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, we'll treat you fairly."

So, what's wrong with that? There's our only president standing up against discrimination and against tarring all Arabs with the same brush and all that good stuff. (The fact that it was Mr. Racial Profiling speaking, the man who has single-handedly created more Arab enemies for this country than anyone else ever dreamed of doing is just one of those ironies we regularly get whacked over the head with.)

OK, here's for starters. We have already been warned that, should we back out of the DP deal, the United Arab Emirates may well take offense and not be so nice about helping us in the War on Terra -- maybe even cut back its money, as well as its cooperation. This is a problem specific to the fact that we are dealing with a corporation owned by a country: A corporation only wants to make money, a corporation owned by a country has lots of motives.

Second, this is a corporation, consequently its only interest is in making money. A corporation is like a shark, designed to do two things: kill and eat. Thousands of years of evolution lie behind the shark, where as the corporation has only a few hundred. But it is still perfectly evolved for its purpose. That means a corporation that makes money running port facilities does not have a stake in national security. It's not the corporation's fault any more than it's the shark's.

The president is quite correct that a "Great British" corporation has no more or less interest in helping terrorists than an Arab corporation. It is not the corporation that is supposed to have other interests -- it is government. But as Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, said, "We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system."

"Balance" is the arresting word here -- keep your eye on "balance." We have an administration that is absolutely wedded to corporate interests, both American and global. It honestly believes that "free trade" is more important than the environment and more important than the people. It has repeatedly demonstrated it is willing to let both go in order to foster free trade.

There is no "balance" in its consideration on these issues, and now it turns out not much in "balancing" national security, either. The people running this country -- and that includes most of the leaders of both parties -- have proven again and again they are perfectly willing to outsource American jobs, American wage standards, and American health and safety standards all for the sacred, holy grail of free trade. Why would it surprise us that national security is ditto?

I am amused by Chertoff's use of the word "balance." Since the administration has done zip, nada, zilch about port security, it's unclear what he's trying to "balance." In 2002, the Coast Guard estimated it would take $5.4 billion over 10 years to improve port security to the point mandated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act. Last year, Congress appropriated $175 million. The administration had requested $46 million, below 9-11 levels.

As David Sirota points out, the administration has been negotiating a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates at the same time the port deal was being negotiated. This whole thing is about free trade and the lock big corporations have on our government to further free trade.

Sirota also points out you will see and hear almost no discussion of this fact in the corporate news media. I have no idea whether DP World represents a security threat, but U.S. News & World Report said in December that Dubai was notorious for smuggling, money laundering and drug trafficking in support of terrorists. I suppose the same could be said of New York, but it doesn't sound pleasant.

Dubai is believed to be the transfer port for the spread of nuclear technology by the Abdul Qadeer Khan network. David Sanborn, an executive who ran DP World's European and Latin American operations, was chosen last month by Bush to head the U.S. Maritime Administration, according to the New York Daily News. It'll be interesting to see just how much power the free trade lobby has over the political establishment.

Right now, both Democrats and Republicans are yelling about what appears to be a dippy idea. Let's see what hearing from their contributors brings about.

Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.

Confessions of a John Perkins Fanatic

Recently, I happened to catch the tail end of John Perkins speaking at a Book Talk on CSPAN about his New York Times Best Seller "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions."

I was intrigued by the little I heard and curious enough to buy the book. Actually, I had heard about the book months earlier, but had somehow managed to erase my mental note to buy it. Catching him on CSPAN must have been karma.

I confess that reading it has been life changing.

If you don't read anything else this year, read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man." It reads like a good espionage thriller but what makes it astounding is that it is a true story. Read it and you will absolutely understand how our government has been operating to the detriment of just about everyone--except an elite few.

I've included some links below including reviews, information on and links to Perkins.

Photo Credit: John Perkins (JohnPerkins.org)

Also read:

Confessing to the Converted - The Archive - The New York Times

Democracy Now! | Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

John Perkins

Dream Change - Serving the Earth

Inequality, Corruption and the Elite

You can always count on the Krug Man to keep us honest. In this week's New York Times column, he sets the record straight on inequality in America--the real causes vs. the typical, politically expedient explanations--and he doesn't disappoint.

Graduates Versus Oligarchs
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Ben Bernanke's maiden Congressional testimony as chairman of the Federal Reserve was, everyone agrees, superb. He didn't put a foot wrong on monetary or fiscal policy.

But Mr. Bernanke did stumble at one point. Responding to a question from Representative Barney Frank about income inequality, he declared that "the most important factor" in rising inequality "is the rising skill premium, the increased return to education."

That's a fundamental misreading of what's happening to American society. What we're seeing isn't the rise of a fairly broad class of knowledge workers. Instead, we're seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite.

I think of Mr. Bernanke's position, which one hears all the time, as the 80-20 fallacy. It's the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group — that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.

The truth is quite different. Highly educated workers have done better than those with less education, but a college degree has hardly been a ticket to big income gains. The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.

So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that.

A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.

Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.

Why would someone as smart and well informed as Mr. Bernanke get the nature of growing inequality wrong? Because the fallacy he fell into tends to dominate polite discussion about income trends, not because it's true, but because it's comforting. The notion that it's all about returns to education suggests that nobody is to blame for rising inequality, that it's just a case of supply and demand at work. And it also suggests that the way to mitigate inequality is to improve our educational system — and better education is a value to which just about every politician in America pays at least lip service.

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.

Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project.

And I'm with Alan Greenspan, who — surprisingly, given his libertarian roots — has repeatedly warned that growing inequality poses a threat to "democratic society."

It may take some time before we muster the political will to counter that threat. But the first step toward doing something about inequality is to abandon the 80-20 fallacy. It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Presidential Prophesies

Bob Herbert consistently "gets it". President Dwight D. Eisenhower evidently "got it" some time ago and tried to warn us. Subsequent government leaders failed to heed those warnings and we're now paying the highest price for their lack of wisdom, devotion to greed, and complete abandonment of tradional American values.

Ike Saw It Coming
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
Early in the documentary film "Why We Fight," Wilton Sekzer, a retired New York City police officer whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attack, describes his personal feelings in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.

"Somebody had to pay for this," he says. "Somebody had to pay for 9/11. ... I wanna see their bodies stacked up for what they did. For taking my son."

Lost in the agony of his grief, Mr. Sekzer wanted revenge. He wanted the government to go after the bad guys, and when the government said the bad guys were in Iraq, he didn't argue.

For most of his life Mr. Sekzer was a patriot straight out of central casting. His view was always "If the bugle calls, you go." When he was 21 he was a gunner on a helicopter in Vietnam. He didn't question his country's motives. He was more than willing to place his trust in the leadership of the nation he loved.

"Why We Fight," a thoughtful, first-rate movie directed by Eugene Jarecki, is largely about how misplaced that trust has become. The central figure in the film is not Mr. Jarecki, but Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president who had been the supreme Allied commander in Europe in World War II, and who famously warned us at the end of his second term about the profound danger inherent in the rise of the military-industrial complex.

Ike warned us, but we didn't listen. That's the theme the movie explores.

Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to a national television and radio audience in January 1961. "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," he said. He recognized that this development was essential to the defense of the nation. But he warned that "we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications."

"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," he said. "We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes." It was as if this president, who understood war as well or better than any American who ever lived, were somehow able to peer into the future and see the tail of the military-industrial complex wagging the dog of American life, with inevitably disastrous consequences.

The endless billions to be reaped from the horrors of war are a perennial incentive to invest in the war machine and to keep those wars a-coming. "His words have unfortunately come true," says Senator John McCain in the film. "He was worried that priorities are set by what benefits corporations as opposed to what benefits the country."

The way you keep the wars coming is to keep the populace in a state of perpetual fear. That allows you to continue the insane feeding of the military-industrial complex at the expense of the rest of the nation's needs. "Before long," said Mr. Jarecki in an interview, "the military ends up so overempowered that the rest of your national life has been allowed to atrophy."

In one of the great deceptive maneuvers in U.S. history, the military-industrial complex (with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as chairman and C.E.O., respectively) took its eye off the real enemy in Afghanistan and launched the pointless but far more remunerative war in Iraq.

If you want to get a chill, just consider the tragic chaos in present-day Iraq (seven G.I.'s were killed on the day I went to see "Why We Fight") and then listen to Susan Eisenhower in the film recalling a quotation attributed to her grandfather: "God help this country when somebody sits at this desk who doesn't know as much about the military as I do."

The military-industrial complex has become so pervasive that it is now, as one of the figures in the movie notes, all but invisible. Its missions and priorities are poorly understood by most Americans, and frequently counter to their interests.

Near the end of the movie, Mr. Sekzer, the New York cop who lost his son on Sept. 11, describes his reaction to President Bush's belated acknowledgment that "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved" in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"What the hell did we go in there for?" Mr. Sekzer asks.

Unable to hide his bitterness, he says: "The government exploited my feelings of patriotism, of a deep desire for revenge for what happened to my son. But I was so insane with wanting to get even, I was willing to believe anything."

Photo credit: Bob Herbert (New York Times)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Imperialist Diversions

Let's be blunt: this fuss about ports isn't "really about Arabs," as Nicholas Kristof (see column below) postulates in his latest New York Times op ed. It's about America and global empire.

Ignoring history, Kristof resorts to Bush-lite journalism, and literally misses point.

Yes, it's true that "Dubai Ports World is run mostly by Western executives, under an American chief operating officer." Which only goes to prove my point that the Dubai port deal has nothing to do with port security.

The whole 'port security' controversy is nothing more than a brilliant diversion: in reality, the Dubai port takeover is a lucrative international business deal completed in secret in order to keep Americans in the dark about the typically huge financial windfall awaiting BushCo and friends.

Port security is beside the point. It is common knowledge that our ports are far from secure. Inspecting a mere 5% of the cargo entering our ports can scarcely be called 'security.'

Funny, isn't it, that BushCo doesn't seem concerned about that? Maybe, just maybe, one could surmise, they really aren't as concerned about terrorist attacks on the United States as they caution us to be. Maybe that's why evidence shows our government complicit in the 9/11 attacks. Maybe it's time for Kristof to investigate that for his next column or two.

I suspect, however, that Kristof knows far more than he is letting on. (If he doesn't, he should). "Sure," he writes, "there are 'implications' [about a company from Dubai running American port terminals] but they are manageable. And there are also implications about rejecting and scorning a modernizing ally like the United Arab Emirates — that would be a gift to Qaeda propagandists."

Time for Kristof and all of America to read John Perkins' 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries out of Trillions.' Suddenly, after reading Perkin's first hand account, the altruism of our gifts of modernization to developing countries around the world will seem anything but altruistic. Suddenly, the violently hostile feelings of Arabs--including O'sama bin Laden-- toward the United States government become quite easy to understand. And suddenly, enlightened, we will be empowered to 'read between the lines' of our government sponsored propaganda called 'news' and moved to aggressively change both our leadership and the direction of our country.

Kristof's final assertion that, after 9/11, while we can't be "blazé about national security, paranoia doesn't work so well, either--it has led us to Iraq, Guantanamo and domestic N.S.A. wiretaps"--is at least half true.

What led us to Iraq et. al. was a government spouting lies and propaganda about a 'War on Terrorism' that they conveniently whipped up in order to create the paranoia necessary to hasten us into a real war--complete with Hussein's overthrow, torture, rendition, oil, Haliburton, and illegal wiretaps. All this they did while conveniently distracting us from, and removing our ability to protest, their real agenda: filling their pockets with the ever more gluttonous spoils of their imperialistic world empire.

Ports, schmorts. Terrorists, schmerrorists. It's about money and power, people. Wake up.

The Arabs Are Coming!
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
Let's be blunt: this fuss about ports is really about Arabs.

Port terminals have been managed, without alarm, by companies from Britain, China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. So let's look at the arguments of those who believe we should discriminate against Arabs. ...

Look, Kristof, if this is discrimination against Arabs, that's because it was Arabs who attacked us on 9/11 and still threaten us today. If Singaporeans were plotting to set off nuclear explosions in American cities, then we'd scrutinize them, too.

Even if you believe in racial profiling, you have to look beyond the profile. Senators talk about Dubai in dark tones that suggest they've never been there. Dubai is the Disneyland of the Arab world — it's the place people go to relax, to shop, to drink. It is staunchly pro-American and pro-business, and its vision of the Arab future is absolutely the opposite of Osama bin Laden's. If we want to encourage Arab modernization, we should be approving this deal — not engaging in quasi-racist scaremongering.

Critics of the deal seem to suggest that swarthy men in black turbans are going to be arriving to provide port "security" in Newark. But Dubai Ports World is run mostly by Western executives, under an American chief operating officer. Nothing is going to change on the ground in Newark.

That's easy for a columnist to say; by this time tomorrow, your words will be forgotten at the bottom of the bird cage. But you can't be sure of what will happen in Dubai in 10 years, and this is about ports, the weak link in our homeland security.

Suppose you were Osama bin Laden and wanted to set off a nuclear weapon or a "dirty bomb" in front of the U.S. Capitol. First you would bribe Russians with access to loosely secured nuclear materials.

Then you would ship them to the U.S. — but the key step would occur in the foreign port: hiding the materials in the shipping container of a well-known and trusted exporter. If the container were shipped out of Rotterdam and seemed to contain Lego toys, for example, U.S. customs officials (who are now also based abroad) might not bother to examine it.

So even if agents of Al Qaeda infiltrate Dubai Ports World, and some manage to get U.S. visas and be stationed in Newark, it's not clear that they could help the plot.

So you're claiming that there are no security implications about a company from Dubai running American port terminals?

Sure, there are "implications," but they are manageable. And there are also implications about rejecting and scorning a modernizing ally like the United Arab Emirates — that would be a gift to Qaeda propagandists.

The reality is that ports aren't the only investment with security implications, and all countries wrestle with such concerns. China imported American telephone switches and discovered that the U.S. could eavesdrop more easily on Chinese officials; the Chinese imported U.S. planes, and the U.S. installed sophisticated bugs on the Chinese version of Air Force One.

So every country accepts trade-offs. We admit European tourists without visas, even though terrorists may slip in as well. But since 9/11 there has been a nativist, Know-Nothing streak in politics; a year ago it blocked China's deal to acquire Unocal, and today it rages at the Dubai ports deal.

Secretary of State Cordell Hull used to say that "when goods do not cross borders, armies do." If we want to promote global markets, as an avenue to peace, we have to practice what we preach.

Look, 9/11 showed that you can't be blasé about national security.

But paranoia doesn't work so well, either — it has led us to Iraq, Guantánamo and domestic N.S.A. wiretaps. It was counterproductive for Republicans to get so hysterical about national security that they justified locking up hundreds of Muslims after 9/11. And it's just as wrong for Democrats to get hysterical today.

If Democrats want to improve national security, they can tackle it in a thousand ways. The biggest vulnerabilities in our ports could be addressed by increasing customs inspections abroad, by adding radiation detectors, by examining more containers or by making containers tamper-proof. And if the aim is to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, then how about more support for the Nunn-Lugar program to secure Russian nuclear materials?

Democrats have so many legitimate reasons to criticize President Bush — from ruining our nation's finances to despoiling American wilderness — that it's painful to see them scaremongering in just the way that Mr. Bush himself has.

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related articles--MUST READ:


UAE terminal takeover extends to 21 ports

Daily Kos: Baker Key to Dubai Ports Mess

The Ports: Right reaction, wrong reason

Bush's Response To the Ports Deal Faulted as Tardy

A Port in the Storm Over Dubai

Homeland Security Protested Ports Deal

Friends, Cronies and Countrymen...

Lend your ears to another terrific Sarah Vowell piece laced with sardonic humor, honesty and insight. Enjoy.

When Bush Falls in Love
By Sarah Vowell
The New York Times
The charges of cronyism against the current administration have piled up higher than the rotting rubble in New Orleans: "Heck of a job, Brownie," is fast replacing "Way to go, Einstein" as the wiseacre-to-dummy put-down du jour. And what of Harriet Miers, the good friend/lame nominee for the Supreme Court the president defended as "plenty bright."

Then there's the 24-year-old political appointee who was rewarded for working on the president's re-election campaign with a job as a press aide at NASA, where he was accused of trying to silence a top climate scientist who is, go figure, concerned about global warming. That, and he demanded that the apparently too science-y NASA Web site insert the word "theory" after every use of "Big Bang."

(To be fair, he resigned after it turned out that he'd lied on his résumé about graduating from college, so he might have dropped out before his class got to the textbook chapter titled "Just Big Bang: That's What Jesus Calls It, Too.")

Plus, in a word, Abramoff.

All of which is appalling. At this point, five years after oil and gas lobbyists started scoring Interior Department appointments overseeing national parks and the Bureau of Land Management, I'm heartened that I can still scrape up a glimmer of dismay. And yet, there is a tiny, honest voice in my head that has never let me condemn the president too loudly for wanting to work only with his allies and friends. Because that's pretty much how I live my life, too.

The other day, I was on a plane where "Good Night, and Good Luck" was the in-flight movie. I'd already seen it, but watching it again afforded me the opportunity to look beyond its grand central theme and curl up with the film's lovely periphery.

Around the edges, a second, softer movie flickers, an unpretentious but sly portrait of what real camaraderie looks and feels like. By opening with a party where Edward R. Murrow and his old staff are gussied up and drinking and giggling and taking pictures with their arms around one another as a saxophone plays "When I Fall in Love," the viewer figures out right away that this is more than Murrow vs. McCarthy circa "High Noon." This guy has backup.

My favorite scene starts with George Clooney as the producer Fred Friendly and David Strathairn as Murrow a couple of minutes before Murrow goes on the air with a potentially controversial report about a Red Scare flare-up in Michigan. I don't think I've ever seen a subtler, truer image of partnership. And not just in the way the two men talk to each other, either confessing their fears or joshing around or both.

When Friendly counts down the seconds left until Murrow goes live, Friendly sits just off-camera and taps Murrow's leg with his pen when it's time. The gesture is mundane and loving all at once.

I'm lucky enough to have a Friendly of my own. Is there anything better than figuring out what you're supposed to do with your life and getting paid to do it? Yep, doing it alongside the calm and tweedy person you regard as the brother you never had.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" taps into this understandable yearning for solidarity, for affectionate toil, for a shared mission, that's also behind the allure of the founding fathers, the Boston Red Sox, the Clash. Part of me can't blame the president for his pro-crony tendencies because I also have them to an almost sickening degree.

Then I remember — wait, neither I nor any crony of mine has ever slept through the soggy downfall of an entire city, or failed to track down the genocidal maniac who still has a few American items left to check off on his mass-murder To Do list, or sent our soldiers to wage a berserk war crisscrossing the most dangerous roads in the world in flimsy vehicles with the protective capability of Vespa scooters. (But my comrades and I would like to apologize for that reading we "organized" at a noisy Chinatown restaurant in '98, when the short stories were drowned out by egg roll orders.)

Bonhomie, as our ex-cronies the French call it, should have its limits. Seems as if American voters picked the current president because they thought he'd be a fun hang at a cookout — a jokey neighbor who charred a mean burger and is good at playing Frisbee with his dog. What we should be doing is electing a president with the nitpicky paranoia you'd use to choose a cardiologist — a stunted conversationalist with dark-circled eyes and paper-cut fingertips who will stay up until 3 tearing into medical journals in five languages trying to figure out how to save your life.

Photo credit: Sarah Vowell (Bennett Miller/New York Times)

Sarah Vowell fans, see also:

Armchair Traveler
Dead Presidents
Radio Daze

Friday, February 24, 2006

See Fitz Read Emails. See Dick Run.

Surprise, surprise. Look what suddenly turned up at the White House: 250 pages of emails sent by senior aides from VICE's office related to the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

Rumored to be explosive, Jason Leopold reports that sources close to the investigation indicate the emails may prove that VICE spearheaded the effort to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, an outspoken critic of BushCo's prewar Iraq intelligence. This could be big, people.

According to sources close to the investigation, the White House "discovered" the emails two weeks ago, turning them over to Fitz last week. The sources added that the emails could prove that VICE lied (Imagine that!) to FBI investigators during an early 2004 interview about the leak in which he denied awareness of any effort to discredit Wilson or disclose his wife's undercover status to reporters. (Too bad Cheney wasn't under oath when interviewed.)

The emails allegedly show that VICE launched a March 2003 attack on Wilson's credibility and had the CIA dig up information on Wilson in order to use it against him. (Ya think maybe that's what the NSA eavesdropping program is being groomed to do--dredge up dirty stuff on political enemies? Sure would explain why they don't want FISA court approval or oversight. Just a thought.)

Sources further indicated that some of the emails turned over to Fitzgerald revealed Plame Wilson's identity and CIA status and contained information related to our troops failure to find the infamous weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the start of the war in March 2003.

Also allegedly contained in the emails were suggestions by senior officials in Cheney's office and at the National Security Council of ways for the White House to combat Wilson's damaging comments about the administration's prewar intelligence.

Fitzgerald disclosed in court documents last month that witnesses in the case had informed him that some emails related to Wilson and his wife, written by senior aides to Cheney and sent to officials at the NSC, had not been turned over to investigators by the White House.

Sources indicated that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales withheld numerous emails from Fitzgerald citing (the usual) "executive priviledge" and "national security" concerns. According to these sources, as of Friday some emails still have not been released to Fitzgerald because they contain (of course) classified information as well as references about the Wilsons.

Also revealed on Friday by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, was that another administration non-White House official also spoke to reporters about Plame Wilson. According to sources, this person works at the NSC.

Things seem to be heating up, folks. Just wish Fitz'd hurry up and make a few more (hopefully high level) indictments. The suspense is killing me.

Read more.

Photo: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Related articles:

Identity of Official to Be Kept From Libby - NEWS - Comcast.net

Jason Leopold | Gonzales Withholding Plame Emails

Jason Leopold | Plame Whistleblowers Targeted by Administration
Two top Bush administration officials who played an active role in the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson nearly three years ago have been removed from their jobs. They were career State Department weapons experts, who disagreed with the White House's pre-war Iraq intelligence and have spoken to investigators during the past two years about the officials' role in the leak, according to a half-dozen State Department officials.

The Lowdown on Libby

Check out Firedoglake's post Libby Hearing Today, More Motions for the skinny on Libby's latest attempts to convince the courts to drop all charges against him.

The grounds? Patrick Fitzgerald was not appointed by the President or approved by the Senate.

Ain't it great? When the ruling class acts in its own behalf, the attitude is, "laws schmaws--doesn't apply to us." But when they get caught, suddenly they can't scrutinize every scintilla of the law carefully enough in their frantic efforts to defend themselves from breaking the law in the first place.

Ain't America grand?

Photo credit: Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington February 24, 2006. Lawyers for Libby, who faces perjury charges, asked a judge on Thursday to throw out the case on the grounds that the prosecutor was appointed improperly. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Related articles:

Special Counsel in Plame Case Invalid, Libby Contends
Libby's Lawyers Say Prosecutor Acted Unconstitutionally

Saving Democracy: Start Here

From David Donnelly, National Campaigns Director of the Public Campaign Action Fund:
Bill Moyers has been barnstorming California on an eight-day speaking tour focusing his considerable intellect and voice on the scandals in Washington and what we can do to clean up politics.

Public Campaign's very own Nancy Watzman and Micah Sifry helped in the drafting of the speech, and we are proud to share it with you today.

It's posted on Public Campaign's website, and we urge you to forward it to friends, family, colleagues, and associates right away.

Saving Democracy by Bill Moyers

On the urgency of the fight to clean up politics:
"The great progressive struggles in our history have been waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich, share in the benefits of a free society. Yet today the public may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a secure retirement, and clean air and water, but there is no government 'of, by, and for the people' to deliver on those aspirations. Instead, our elections are bought out from under us and our public officials do the bidding of mercenaries. Money is choking democracy to death. So powerfully has wealth shaped our political agenda that we cannot say America is working for all of America."
On Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff:
"DeLay was a man on the move and on the take. But he needed help to sustain the cash flow. He found it in a fellow right wing ideologue named Jack Abramoff. Abramoff personifies the Republican money machine of which DeLay with the blessing of the House leadership was the major domo. It was Abramoff who helped DeLay raise those millions of dollars from campaign donors that bought the support of other politicians and became the base for an empire of corruption. DeLay praised Abramoff as 'one of my closest friends.' Abramoff, in turn, told a convention of college Republicans, 'Thank God Tom DeLay is majority leader of the house. Tom DeLay is who all of us want to be when we grow up.'"
On the cost of corruption and sacrifice:
"There are, as I said, no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to you. When the government of the United States falls under the thumb of the powerful and privileged, regular folks get squashed.

"This week I visited for the first time the Museum of the Presidio in San Francisco. From there American troops shipped out to combat in the Pacific. Many never came back. On the walls of one corridor are photographs of some of those troops, a long way from home. Looking at them, I wondered: Is this what those Marines died for on the Marianas – for sweatshops, the plunder of our public trust, the corruption of democracy? Government of the Abramoffs, by the DeLays, and for the people who bribe them?

"I don't think so."
Read the entire speech – it will take you a little while, but it's worth it. And then get back to work to fight against the greed and for real reform.


If this speech moves you, tell your member of Congress to support the Clean Elections-style public financing Moyers advocates for in his speech.

Please pass along this message to others. The power of these words can shape the debate. I'm certain of it.

Photo credit: Bill Moyer (PublicCampaign.org)

America's Oil Wars

Now that his signature TV news program "Nightline" has been predictably reduced to pure entertainment fluff, Ted Koppel resurfaces with a newly freed-from-network-restraint voice bearing a history lesson worth hearing. It's not the whole story--by a long shot--of why our government continues to be consumed with controlling the Middle East, but it's a start. Maybe next time Ted will speak out about the rest of the story: America's lust for a world empire that goes far beyond mere oil.

Will Fight for Oil
By Ted Koppel
The New York Times
The American people ... know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being prosecuted and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people.

--President Bush, Jan. 10


Let us, as lawyers say, stipulate that the Bush administration was genuinely concerned that weapons of mass destruction, which they firmly believed to be in Saddam Hussein's arsenal, might be shared with the same Qaeda leadership that planned the horrific events of 9/11. That would have been a reasonable motive for invading Iraq; but surely now, three years later, when the existence of those weapons is no longer an issue, it would be insufficient reason for the United States to remain there.

Let us further acknowledge that continuing to put American lives at risk in Iraq purely for the protection of Israel would arouse, in some quarters, anti-Semitic murmurs, if not growls.

But the Bush administration's touchiness about charges that we acted — and are still acting — in Iraq "because of oil"? Now that's curious. Keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than a half-century.

Fifty-three years ago, British and American intelligence officers conspired to help bring about the overthrow of Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh's shortcomings, in the eyes of Whitehall and the State Department, were an unseemly affinity for the Tudeh Party (the Iranian Communists) and his plans to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. The prospect of the British oil industry being forced to give way to Soviet influence over the Iranian oil spigot called for drastic action. Following a military coup, Mossadegh was arrested, imprisoned for three years and then held under house arrest until his death in 1967. Power was then effectively concentrated in the hands of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

The shah's unswerving commitment to the free flow and marketing of Iranian oil would, by the end of the 1960's, become a central pillar of the so-called Nixon Doctrine, in which American allies were tapped to be regional surrogates to maintain peace and security. The sales of sophisticated American weapons to Iran served the twin purposes of sopping up billions of what came to be known as "petro-dollars," while equipping (in particular) the shah's air force.

That reliance on Iran to maintain stability in the Persian Gulf enjoyed bipartisan support. On New Year's Eve in 1977, President Jimmy Carter, visiting the shah in Tehran, toasted his great leadership, which he said had made Iran "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas in the world." By January 1980, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had driven the shah from the Peacock Throne, President Carter made absolutely clear in his final State of the Union address that one aspect of our foreign policy remained unchanged:

"An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."

The Reagan administration announced its intention to continue defending the free flow of Middle East oil, by whatever means necessary. In March 1981, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger clearly signaled that the United States was seeking a new base of operations in the Persian Gulf:

"We need some facilities and additional men and materiel there or nearby, to act as a deterrent to any Soviet hopes of seizing the oil fields or interdicting the line."

Subsequently, the United States began establishing military bases in Saudi Arabia and, to much criticism, selling Awacs aircraft to the Saudi government. In 1990, when Saddam Hussein appeared likely to follow his invasion of Kuwait by crossing into Saudi Arabia, the defense secretary at the time, Dick Cheney, laid out Washington's concerns:

"We're there because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil, and whoever controls the supply of oil, especially if it were a man like Saddam Hussein, with a large army and sophisticated weapons, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on — indeed on the world economy."

What Mr. Cheney said was correct then and remains correct now. The world's oil producers pump approximately 80 million barrels a day. The world's oil consumers, joined today by an increasingly oil-hungry India and China, purchase 80 million barrels a day. Were production from the Persian Gulf to be disrupted because of civil war in Iraq, the freezing of Iranian sales or political instability in Saudi Arabia, the global supply would be diminished. The impact on the American economy and, indeed, on the world economy would be as devastating today as in 1990.

If those considerations did not enter into the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy.

That is not to say that the United States invaded Iraq to take over its oil supply. But the construction of American military bases inside Iraq, bases that can be maintained long after the bulk of our military forces are ultimately withdrawn, will serve to replace the bases that the United States has lost in Saudi Arabia. There may be other national security reasons that the United States cannot now precipitously withdraw its forces from Iraq, including the danger that the country would become a regional terrorist base; but none is greater than forestalling the ensuing power vacuum and regional instability, and the impact this would have on oil production.

H. L. Mencken is said to have noted that "when someone says it's not about the money — it's about the money." Arguing in support of his fellow Arkansan during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, former Senator Dale Bumpers offered a variation on that theme: "When someone says it's not about the sex — it's about the sex."

Perhaps the day will come when the United States is no longer addicted to imported oil; but that day is still many years off. For now, the reason for America's rapt attention to the security of the Persian Gulf is what it has always been. It's about the oil.

Ted Koppel, who retired as anchor and managing editor of the ABC program "Nightline" in November, is a contributing columnist for The Times and managing editor of the Discovery Channel.

Photo credit: Ted Koppel. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

See Also:

TomPaine.com - Will Fight For Oil--But We Won't Debate
Will Ted Koppel's op-ed in The New York Times break the self-imposed gag order on discussing America's main strategic interest?

Un-Fear-Mongering for Moolah

Paul Krugman skillfully targets the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of Bush & Company, who find themselves suddenly seated on the wrong side of their own fear mongering table:

Osama, Saddam and the Ports
by Paul Krugman
The New York Times
The storm of protest over the planned takeover of some U.S. port operations by Dubai Ports World doesn't make sense viewed in isolation. The Bush administration clearly made no serious effort to ensure that the deal didn't endanger national security. But that's nothing new — the administration has spent the past four and a half years refusing to do anything serious about protecting the nation's ports.

So why did this latest case of sloppiness and indifference finally catch the public's attention? Because this time the administration has become a victim of its own campaign of fearmongering and insinuation.

Let's go back to the beginning. At 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld gave military commanders their marching orders. "Judge whether good enough hit S. H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time — not only UBL [Osama bin Laden]," read an aide's handwritten notes about his instructions. The notes were recently released after a Freedom of Information Act request. "Hard to get a good case," the notes acknowledge. Nonetheless, they say: "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

So it literally began on Day 1. When terrorists attacked the United States, the Bush administration immediately looked for ways it could exploit the atrocity to pursue unrelated goals — especially, but not exclusively, a war with Iraq.

But to exploit the atrocity, President Bush had to do two things. First, he had to create a climate of fear: Al Qaeda, a real but limited threat, metamorphosed into a vast, imaginary axis of evil threatening America. Second, he had to blur the distinctions between nasty people who actually attacked us and nasty people who didn't.

The administration successfully linked Iraq and 9/11 in public perceptions through a campaign of constant insinuation and occasional outright lies. In the process, it also created a state of mind in which all Arabs were lumped together in the camp of evildoers. Osama, Saddam — what's the difference?

Now comes the ports deal. Mr. Bush assures us that "people don't need to worry about security." But after all those declarations that we're engaged in a global war on terrorism, after all the terror alerts declared whenever the national political debate seemed to be shifting to questions of cronyism, corruption and incompetence, the administration can't suddenly change its theme song to "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The administration also tells us not to worry about having Arabs control port operations. "I want those who are questioning it," Mr. Bush said, "to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."

He was being evasive, of course. This isn't just a Middle Eastern company; it's a company controlled by the monarchy in Dubai, which is part of the authoritarian United Arab Emirates, one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan.

But more to the point, after years of systematically suggesting that Arabs who didn't attack us are the same as Arabs who did, the administration can't suddenly turn around and say, "But these are good Arabs."

Finally, the ports affair plays in a subliminal way into the public's awareness — vague but widespread — that Mr. Bush, the self-proclaimed deliverer of democracy to the Middle East, and his family have close personal and financial ties to Middle Eastern rulers. Mr. Bush was photographed holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (now King Abdullah), not the emir of Dubai. But an administration that has spent years ridiculing people who try to make such distinctions isn't going to have an easy time explaining the difference.

Mr. Bush shouldn't really be losing his credibility as a terrorism fighter over the ports deal, which, after careful examination (which hasn't happened yet), may turn out to be O.K. Instead, Mr. Bush should have lost his credibility long ago over his diversion of U.S. resources away from the pursuit of Al Qaeda and into an unnecessary war in Iraq, his bungling of that war, and his adoption of a wrongful imprisonment and torture policy that has blackened America's reputation.

But there is, nonetheless, a kind of rough justice in Mr. Bush's current predicament. After 9/11, the American people granted him a degree of trust rarely, if ever, bestowed on our leaders. He abused that trust, and now he is facing a storm of skepticism about his actions — a storm that sweeps up everything, things related and not.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kicking David Brooks in the Teeth

I've come to the conclusion that conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks needs to clean his glasses. His world view is decidedly blurred by the thick haze of neocon propaganda radiating from Karl Rove's overheated spin machine and is further fogged by a lack of common sense and an impetuous attempt to defend the indefensible.

Let's see.
  • First, whether or not the UAE port deal goes through or not, the fact is our ports are, five full years after 9/11, still extremely vulnerable. For that, we can once again thank the Bush Brigade, who have done nothing of any consequence to secure them. Turning over port operations to a company owned by the UAE will hardly improve that situation. But Brooks misses the point: the Dubai deal isn't about our security and never has been. It's about lucrative international corporate deals--security be damned.

  • Second, King George himself wasn't even aware of the deal until the press reported it. Neither, evidently, was Rummy. Wouldn't you think that an administration concerned with our security would have made sure they knew what kind of deals were being discussed regarding the operation of our ports? Doesn't it raise even an itty bitty question in Brooks' mind as to why this happened in secret with no oversight from either the President or Congress? Where's that good ol' journalistic curiosity, Brooksie?

  • Third, Brooks conveniently fails to mention DP World's ties to at least two administration officials, who appear to be in a position to garner more than a few bucks from this deal. Doesn't that raise a few questions about what's really going on? C'mon, Brooksie, you don't need an ear, nose and throat specialist to smell a fish.

  • Fourth, the agreement may be in violation of federal law. Hardly a rare occurance with this regime, Brooks should be asking, "Why? Who and what did they have to hide this time?" Remember Brooks--journalism: who, what, when, where and why?

  • Fifth, Brooks is hooked on the bogus line that American objection to this deal puts our relations with Arab allies in jeopardy. Excuse me, but I think shocking the awe out of Iraq pretty much destroyed our ability to be palsy-walsy with most Arabs.

  • Sixth, Bush and Friends have been inciting fear of Arabs at every opportune moment in order to break the law, torture prisoners, falsely imprison people, subvert habeas corpus, racially profile, and spy on Americans. NOW, they want us to forget five years of non-stop, dire warnings to fear, fear, fear Arabs--and eagerly invite them to control our ports? Rove must be losing his touch.

  • Seventh, nobody's talking about "nativist, isolationist mass hysteria" or "xenophobia". Slamming "isolationists" was one of Rove's lame new tactics introduced during Bushie's State of the Union address. The reaction from nearly everyone to Bush bashing away at 'isolationists' was, "What isolationists? Who the heck is talking about isolationism?" No one, of course, was or is. What we're talking about in the port fiasco is common sense. The UAE was home to two of the 9/11 bombers. They don't recognize Israel. They say nothing about radical anti-American clerics and ignore terrorists in their midst. Need I go on?

  • The only "hysterical" one seems to be Brooks himself. His reasoning is as idiotic and flawed as the administration he frantically attempts to defend. Nobody's "kicking Arabs in the teeth" here, Brooksie; it's the administration we're kicking--hard--because they so richly deserve it.

Kicking Arabs in the Teeth
By David Brooks
The New York Times
It's come to my attention that many of the foreign goods we import into our country are made by foreigners who speak foreign languages and are foreign. It's come to my attention that many varieties of hummus and other vital bread schmears are made by Arabs, the group responsible for 9/11. Furthermore, it's come to my attention that the Chinese have a menacing death grip on America's pacifier, blankie, bunny and rattle supplies, and have thus established crushing domination of the entire non-pharmaceutical child sedative industry.

It's therefore time for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Frist and Peter King to work together to write the National Security Ethnic Profiling Save Our Children Act, which would prevent Muslims from buying port management firms, the Chinese from buying oil and mouth-toy companies, and the Norwegians from using their secret control of U.S fluoridation levels to sap our precious bodily fluids at the Winter Olympics.

In other words, what we need to protect our security and way of life is a broad-based, xenophobic Know Nothing campaign of dressed-up photo-op nativism to show foreigners we will no longer submit to their wily ways.

Never mind — the nativist, isolationist mass hysteria is already here.

This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades. First seized by the radio hatemonger Michael Savage, it's been embraced by reactionaries of left and right, exploited by Empire State panderers, and enabled by a bipartisan horde of politicians who don't have the guts to stand in front of a xenophobic tsunami.

But let's be clear: the opposition to the acquisition by Dubai Ports World is completely bogus.

The deal would have no significant effect on port security. Regardless of who operates the ports, the Coast Guard still controls their physical security. The Customs Service still controls container security. The harbor patrols, the port authorities and the harbor police still do their jobs. Nearly every expert who actually knows something about port security says the ownership of the operating companies is the least of our concerns. "This kind of reaction is totally illogical," Philip Damas, research director of Drewry Shipping Consultants, told The Times. "The location of the headquarters of a company in the age of globalism is irrelevant."

Nor would the deal radically alter the workplace. If the Dubai holding company does acquire the operating firm, the American longshoremen would stay on the job, the American unions would still be there to organize them, and most or all of the management would probably stay, too.

Nor would the deal be particularly new in the world of global shipping. Dick Meyer of CBS News reports that Dubai Ports World already operates facilities in Australia, China, Korea and Germany. It's seeking to acquire facilities in 18 other countries — none of them caught up in an isolationist fever like the one we see here. Eighty percent of the facilities at the port of Los Angeles are run by foreign firms — somehow without national collapse — including one owned by the government of Singapore.

Nor is Dubai a bastion of Taliban radicalism. All Arabs may look alike to certain blowhard senators, but the United Arab Emirates is a modernizing, globalizing place. It was the first country in the region to sign the U.S. Container Security Initiative. It's signed agreements to bar the passage of nuclear material and to suppress terror financing. U.A.E. ports service U.S. military ships, and U.A.E. firms have made major investments in Chrysler and Time Warner, somehow without turning them into fundamentalist bastions.

In short, there is no evidence this deal will do any harm. But it is certain that the xenophobic hysteria will come back to harm the U.S.

The oil-rich nations of the Middle East have plenty of places to invest their money and don't need to do favors for nations that kick them in the teeth. Moreover, this is a region in the midst of traumatic democratic change. The strongest argument the fundamentalists have is that they are engaged in a holy war against the racist West, which imposes one set of harsh rules on Arabs and another set of rules on everybody else. Now comes a group of politicians to prove them gloriously right.

God must love Hamas and Moktada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill. God must love the folks at Al Jazeera. They won't have to work to stoke resentments this week. All the garbage they need will be spewing forth from press conferences and photo ops on C-Span and CNN.

Photo credit: David Brooks (New York Times)

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