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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why opposing P&O's takeover by DP World isn't racism


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Democrats are once again bungling their argument, as Congressman after Congressman comes out against the proposed takeover of P&O by DP World, a port management company majority-owned by the Emerate of Dubai.

Democrats have turned this argument into one primarily about whether a foreign-owned company can be trusted to run America's ports, allowing voices in the Arab world to accuse them of racism, pointing out that America's security was not questioned when its ports were run by P&O, a British company.

However, there is one striking and very important difference. While DP World is a state-owned firm, P&O is privately owned - or so cursory research would appear to confirm.

I do not oppose a foreign-owned company taking control over management of such important security points. Whether based in Dubai, Britain, Poland or China, every business has one goal: profit. Their aims are not politics-based. If they were to let a terrorist attack occur, it would most certainly hit their bottom line, and that is not in their interest.

But state-owned firms are a different bird altogether. I was unfamiliar for the most part as to how state-owned firms worked until I came to Poland, where there are - literally - hundreds.

The scandals, affairs, and shady dealings of these companies are common and well-documented. Politicians gain control over these companies, and use them to achieve political goals. That's something different from the corruption you can find in privately-owned companies, where the goal is financial gain.

Is it not conceivable that any company owned by a foreign government - be it the UAE or Canada - might look to use its control over such a powerful tool for leverage in political disputes?

Yes. The UAE has, up to now, been a good partner for America in terms of trade, as well as battling terrorism. But that's not the point. The point is that companies owned by governments necessarily have secondary (and often primary) goals, which are political, rather than financial. Giving DP World control over America's ports doesn't put those harbors in the hands of foreign shareholders, it puts them in control of a foreign government.

And that is a risk not worth taking.


Blogger beatroot said...

But isn't port security taken care of in the US by the fed and state governments?

It doesn't matter who owns the ports. In Britain, all the ports are privatised, P and O are a British company that is selling to a Dubai company thst has been trading all over the world for years.

This is not an issue to get all worked up about.

2/22/2006 03:52:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...

This isn't about who owns the ports beatroot. The State authorities will continue to own the ports.

This is about managing them.

Would you be comfortable with the Polish government controlling who gets hired and fired at a port in Brighton? Or where money is invested and disinvested at a port in Liverpool? Or how machines are maintained at a port in London?

2/22/2006 07:09:00 PM  

Anonymous Chuck said...

The ports in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world are often run by companies which are of a different nationality than the ports themselves. The ports in the U.S. have been run by the British firm for a long time without apparent problems. Beatroot is right; the security of the ports in the U.S. is not run by the port manager - it is run by the Department of Homeland Security and is totally out of the control of the port manager. While Gustav makes an iteresting point about the UAE company being government owned as opposed to private, I do not yet share his concern about port security.

Of more concern is the effect blocking this contract would have on our relations in the Middle East. Already seriously strained, the relations could be destroyed if the contract is denied simply because the awardee is Arab. The UAE has been a staunch ally and you do not say to an ally (unless you want to get rid of them), we want your support, but you are Arabic and, therefore, unworthy of such a contract. Poland is already suffering under that kind of onesided relationship with the U.S. when it comes to visas. Denying this contract would, in my view, create far worse problems for the U.S.

2/22/2006 08:16:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

The whole problem comes from a bigger one - that all policy is drawn up with security as the number one consideration. This obsurdity runs from the current fuss over P&O to the war in Iraq to what sparked this whole miserable state of affairs off in the first place, the WAR ON TERROR.

Once lawmakers decided that the US was 'at war' this justified all sorts of legislation and actions that have undermnined freedom and civil liberties and made some even question the ports deal because it is an Arab firm that is involved.

The US is not at war; the US and its way of life is not under threat; and the P&O ports will not be the end of civilization as we know it (although with the current crop of idiots in the government and opposition in the US, the real danger to the American way of life is from them, and not those scary foreigners.

2/23/2006 03:43:00 PM  

Anonymous Chuck said...

What do you call an attack that kills around 3,000 people on American soil if not the first shot in a "war". While I do not agree that the invasion of Iraq was legitimately part of that struggle, it seems to me that al Qaeda declared war on the U.S. did they not? If someone declares war on you, are not, then, automatically in a state of war? If not, then what would create a state of war?

2/23/2006 04:18:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Beatroot, you have not answered my question.

Chuck, to you I put a similar question: Would you feel comfortable with the Polish government being in control of how cargo gets x-rayed at New York or Miami?

I wouldn't.

And beatroot - while fitting in very nicely with your view that Westerners just have to get tough with themselves and trust their own culture more for terrorism to magically disappear, it is clear that the US' way of life IS INDEED under threat, from Al Qaeda only for example. I agree that the US government is mounting its own threat through the slow wearing down of civil liberties. And while a foreign government's control of some American ports won't mean the end of civilization as we know it (hyperbole is an effective, but deceptive tool), it does represent a significant weak link in America's security - from terrorists or anyone else that might want to attack America through her ports.

But Chuck, as to the "3000 people" question - This was the same logic they used in the War on Drugs - Illegal drugs kill thousands every year. Are we in a state of war on drugs? Some might say we still are, but the reality is that no one takes this war seriously any longer, because the enemy is so nebulous. The same goes for the "War on Terror". Are we really fighting terror? We're no locking up Stephen King. No, it's really a war on "terrorism", right? - but the Bush administration (among other goverments) won't even agree to a definition of the thing. How can we be in a war with something when we don't even know what it is? How will we know when we've won?

And therein lies the rub. As long as the administsration declares we're in a state of "war" they can get away with things like Guatanamo. And since we'll never know when we've won, they can go on doing those things for as long as they like.

As for fighting Al Qaeda, well, that would make a bit more sense. I wish we had declared war on them instead of "terror", but still, where do you begin and where do you end? Al Qaeda is not a state you can take over, and you never know when all of them are dead. When do you know when the "war" with Al Qaeda is over? When we've killed all the possible sympathizers?

Depending on how you define "possible sympathizers" you could be talking about a third of the world's population. And ridding the world of that third is an ever more popular idea. But not one that I surely, and I think you too, Chuck, would accept.

So Chuck, if we really ARE in a state of war - against terror, terrorism, terrorists, or Al Qaeda - how do we know when we've won?

2/23/2006 10:35:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

Gustav - can you expain to me how almost the mythical al-Qaeda, and the rest of the odd crazys who bomb tube trains in London etc, are a threat to 'our way of life'? They are no threat to me (unless I get really unlucky).

and by the way - I don't think anything is going to 'magically disappear'. This is a going to take a generation.

2/23/2006 10:54:00 PM  

Anonymous Chuck said...

Great questions, Gustav. Let me respond.

"Would you feel comfortable with the Polish government being in control of how cargo gets x-rayed at New York or Miami?" The short answer is no. Nor would I be comfortable with DP doing it either. And that's the point - they won't be! That function - security - is under the control of the Department of Homeland Security (which is scarey enough, but at least it is our government) NOT DP. It seems that in this debate, people are losing sight of the fact that DP HAD to agree to allow the DHS to operate unfettered in the ports they operate.

"How do we know when we've won?" I don't know for sure and that bothers me. But it also bothers me that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda declared war on us before we did anything. In fact, it was before 9/11. I can't tell you how to know when the fight is over, all I know is that we are in a fight we didn't choose (with the exclusion of Iraq to my everlasting embarassment). Perhaps it will end the way all other anarchic periods have ended - the terrorist attacks became so few and so ineffectual that they were no longer really noticed. A scary possibility to this scenario is the fact that many anarchic periods ended either directly in a major war (WWI for example) or a period of facism (as a way to control the "anarchists/terrorists") followed by a major war (WWII for example). I can only hope that this country would not allow things to get far enough for facism to raise its ugly head. I also hope that lessons learned in Iraq will prevent us from fighting wars of choice in the future. As they say, "Hope springs eternal."

2/23/2006 11:07:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

I don't pretend to be an expert Chuck, but I saw a news report in which they explained how the P&O management were controlling the X-raying of cargo at an American port, and how DP would be taking over those duties. Regardless, management and security cannot operate independent of each other, nor without depending on each other. And the intimate relationship between the two is a potential vulnerability. I am not convinced the political element cannot seep in. Can you link me to the safeguards, Chuck?

before we did anything

Is the bit of your statement I think many of the world's Muslims would dispute. How do we claim the high ground when in their minds we started it?

Beatroot -

Don't get too upset, I'm just making sure you're still kickin' since I haven't seen you around in a while.

Tell the loved ones of the victims that terrorists don't pose a threat to our way of life. What if more and more and more of us became "unlucky"? Is death in a terrorist attack to become as routine as a car crash or heart attack? Tough luck, but it happens, just a bit unlucky? I'm sorry, but that is a significant change to my "way of life" - when I have to regard terrorism as just another way to go. Is it not something both to be fought and prevented?

The government has programs to make the roads safer and people healthier. We fight these risks, oughtn't we also fight terrorism?

And this is not exaggeration, although I'm sure it's where you and I disagree: I, and I think most, see the very real possibility of a growing number of terrorist attacks around the world; That they will become more regular and more frequent.

Or perhaps you see that too, and say that it's the American and British governments who are to blame for the rise. Still, I saw that possibility long before the war in Iraq, before the war in Afghanistan, and before 9/11. - For me it hit home after the Cole bombing. Thereafter I really considered terrorism a minor, but real and growing threat to the lives of people I know - And that has changed my way of life.

2/24/2006 12:53:00 AM  

Blogger beatroot said...

Oh, common on! Don't give that 'try telling that to the thousands of families who have..." routine.

What they are calling terrorism is, for sure, a real danger to people in third world countries - particularly in the middle east. But in the West? Though all the deaths - 3,000 in the US, 60 or so in the UK, over 100 in Madrid - are tragic, these are ocassional, one off events. The cranks that do these things are not crack troops of some all-powerful mass army. They are isolated little gangs - western born or educated - and are simply are not capable of presnting any sustainmed damger to whole societies.

The danger to 'our way of life' comes from panicy and dim western ruling elites who are closing down avenues of free speech, expression and assembley - not some loonies in vests packed full of explosives.

2/24/2006 01:42:00 PM  

Anonymous Chuck said...

This has been a great topic for discussion Gustav because it is generating some thoughtful points. The news reports here seem a bit confused on the point on how much influence DP would have over how security would mesh with operations. However, this seems due to two factors: politics and lack of understanding of what is actually in the agreement.

On the first point, I am getting very tired of the politicians "grandstanding" on this issue. I heard a guest on a news talk show suggest that a 45 day moratorium would be in order to learn what is in the agreement and if there are any holes. I think that is a reasonable stance and not one calculated to make political hay over this issue (which both the left and the right are doing -TOGETHER!) It seems reasonable to DP as well because they have voluntarily put the deal on hold to let Congress have time to learn whatever it is they want to learn. That is encouraging to me with respect to DP.

Secondly, there seems to be a dearth of information on this agreement due to CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.) and the way it handled the whole thing. They did not even tell the President until just before it got out (that part does not seem to be in disagreement). Furthermore, instead of answering questions directly, the President has said "Trust me" which is a stance that many cannot take given his record. There has appeared in some newsreports I've seen (on T.V. not the print media) mention of the fact that DP had to agree to cooperate fully with DHS. Perhaps, we will learn more during the moratorium.

It may be in their minds that we "started it", but I would like to know what they think we did that deserved the kind of horror launched on 9/11. Was it helping the Afghans fight the Soviet Union (even if it was done in our self interest and not in the interest of the Afghans specifically, it did help them defeat the Soviet Union)?

Osama said he was mad at us for putting troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Why should he be mad at us for that? The Saudis let us in there. Without their permission, there is no way we could have been there. Secondly, our reason for being there was not to harm Saudi Arabia, but to help another Arab country free itself from invasion by another Arab country - something the other Arab countries seemed reluctant to do. So Gustav, what, in their minds, did we do first that justified the kind of attack we saw on 9/11?

To Beatroot: Maybe its due to the fact that the U.S. has been fortunate enough not to have suffered very many terrorist attacks, but when those planes hit their targets, this country came together like I have not seen in my lifetime. The feeling was, "We've been attacked and we MUST respond or we'll be attacked again. And the next time it could be worse." It may not be justified, but that was the general feeling. Furthermore, I don't feel that "avenues of free speech, expression, nor assembly" have been closed down in the least. Nor do I think it is possible for that to happen. Just look at what has happened over the NSA wire tapping flap. It remains to be seen whether that was illegal or not (there appears to be both presidential (including Clinton) and legal precedent). However, the fact that the flap has occurred at all is reassuring to me because it means that people can object to government actions.

2/24/2006 08:52:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

Isn't it called the Patriot Act?

This gives the government powers that could only be possible in a 'state of war'. In my country, Britain, we have now laws to imprison people without charge...laws to stop the 'gloryfication of terrorism' (what does that mean?) laws to protect religious feelings being insulted...and so it goes on and on. And all because there has been a massive inflation of the threat from Jihadist terrorism in the West.

I do not accept that the threat is so huge that we have to change our way of life for a group of freaks.

But it might help if we gave up the habit of invading countries and creating chaos.

2/25/2006 12:35:00 AM  

Blogger beatroot said...

Gustav - you have been tagged! See my blog for details...

2/25/2006 12:03:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Oh, common on! Don't give that...

It certainly changed their way of life beatroot. That's my only point.

And though I agree that the threat from terrorism is not 'so huge' that we ought to voluntarily restrict our own civil liberties, I still believe the threat of terrorism spreading is enough of a reason for us to combat it. That threat exists that "isolated little gangs" can get bigger, especially as disaffected groups in the West get bigger, and extremism becomes more popular.

After all, these "one off events" didn't used to happen - isn't that enough evidence that the danger from terrorism is growing? You call it "a massive inflation of the threat from Jihadist terrorism in the West," but more Jihadist terrorist attacks are happening now than ever in my lifetime. How big will it have to get before you recognize terrorism as a legitimate threat?

So while we shouldn't 'change our way of life' by restricting civil liberties, we should by integrating these groups better, working more towards social equality, and fighting extremist philosophies - Not only in our own countries, but throughout the world, as the extremist philosophies draw on the economic inequality around the globe as justification for their beliefs.
One way of doing that is by fostering democracy in oppressed populations.


I'd agree with a 45 day period in order to review the deal is in order. I'm willing to believe safeguards against political manipulation exist, but they must be very secure in order to satisfy my conecerns.

What they think we did that deserved the kind of horror launched on 9/11 has little to do with the US' involvement in the Afghani war against the Soviets, if the "they" we're talking about is Al Qaeda and their sympathizers and partners. What it has mor to do with is the "horrors" Palestinians endure at the hands of Israel, who's biggest ally is the US. From there, it has to do with what is a perceived invasion of Muslim parts of the world by Western countries, the most prominent instance of which is Iraq, but which "started" with the US presence in Saudi Arabia. And that perception is not eliminated by the fact that the US was "let in" by the Saudi government, since the Saudi royal family are hated by Al Qaeda, and are perceived as allowing the US to "invade". It's enough that the US is there at all. A perceived 10th Crusade is what we did first, Chuck.

2/25/2006 12:32:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

"After all, these "one off events" didn't used to happen"

If that were true then that would be an interesting point. But it isn't.

There is no evidence that the threat of terrorism is growing in the west.

I know that many in America think that 'terrorism' started on Sept. 11th - but it didn't. If you had lived in Belfast, Derry, London, Kurachi, Chechnia, Afganistan, Spain, etc...you would be confused as to how the US could be the main financier of the IRA and not actually understand that this group was using violence for political aims. I think Bush and Clinton would call that 'terrorism', wouldn't they?

The difference these days is that cross border terrorist groups which brand themselves 'al_Qaeda' do not answer to any specific community and do not have a political program - like the IRA, ETA etc did.

And they are very dangerous to the people in countries destabalized by the west in the middle east and elsewhere.

But those in the west, or Poland, are much more in danger of being run over by a motorist than they are of being blown up by a terrorist.

2/26/2006 01:29:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...

They're much more likely to be run over by a motorist than get AIDS, too, and yet...

It is true that these things didn't used to happen beatroot - not with this frequency and not on this scale. Before 9/11 when was the last time a terrorist attack of such a size hit the US or anywhere else for that matter? Sure, there have been attacks in Europe from groups like the IRA and ETA - But those attacks were visibly decreasing. ETA almost always warns the public before an attack - their attacks rarely kill anymore. Also, I can't remember the last time there was a an IRA attack on British soil.

In the last 5 years, we have experienced at least three major terrorist attacks in Western countries, all claimed by Al Qaeda.

In non-western countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Turkey, where terrorism also existed before, the scale and numbe have greatly increased in this time period. Yes, it happened before beatroot - but not so often and not on this scale. Even so - THEY WERE STILL FOUGHT BY GOVERNMENTS. I say again, it is only natural to fight terrorism. It still seems to me that your solution is to swat a hand at it and say "pshaw". Even when terrorism was a regular thing in your book, governments still tried to combat it. What would you do in their position?

Indeed, if it's been this way for so long now, as you say, isn't it about time we got on top of it?

And by the way, Americans are no strangers to terrorism. There was the World Trade Center bombing exaclty 13 years ago today, as well as the Oklahoma City bombing. While the latter was quite big, it was still nothing on the scale of 9/11.

So tell me again how events such as 9/11, the London subway bombing, the Madrid train bombing, the Bali bombing or the HSBC and British consulate bombings in Turkey - all motivated by a single, worldwide philosophy - were regular occurrences, coz it still sure seems to me that terrorism isn't only growing in the west, it's growing worldwide.

Your very own government agrees with me and is doing a good job of keeping track of the "evidence". Can you produce a similar list for any other group at any other period of time beatroot?

2/26/2006 07:28:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

'During the 1980s, the number of international terrorist incidents worldwide averaged about 360 a year. By the year 2000, it was down to just 100.'
Paul Robinson, Spectator, 5 Aprii 2005

You are confusing one off spectaculars (in whuch the crazies got lucky) with regular terrorist activity. The risk to Westerners is very, very low (the same can not be said, these days, for Iraqis). .

2/26/2006 11:09:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

By the year 2000...

And after 2001?

I might add, that the drop had a lot to do with concerted government and international efforts to combat terrorism. There were ETA and IRA members (for example) being arrested, after all.

You must have noticed how most of these "spectacular events in which the crazies got lucky" have happened only within the last few years, the most spectacular coming in the West. How can you claim then that the risk of terrorism in the West is not growing? There have been three "one-off spectaculars" in the West in the last five years - not to mention several high-profile thwartings of attacks. When before in history did that happen?

Now that you've successfully maneuvered the argument to one about whether terrorism is scary for Westerners or not, I'd like to get back to my original question, which you never answered:

Would you feel comfortable with the Polish government - or the UAE gov't, or the American gov't, or any foreign gov't - making executive decisions about how Britain's most strategic ports are managed on a day to day basis?

3/01/2006 12:18:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...

From MSNBC NEWS Sept. 2, 2004

Worldwide terrorism-related deaths on the rise
NBC News findings run counter to recent Bush administration claims

By Robert Rivas and Robert Windrem

NEW YORK - As speakers at the GOP convention trumpet Bush administration successes in the war on terrorism, an NBC News analysis of Islamic terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that attacks are on the rise worldwide — dramatically.

Of the roughly 2,929 terrorism-related deaths around the world since the attacks on New York and Washington, the NBC News analysis shows 58 percent of them — 1,709 — have occurred this year.

In the past 10 days, in fact, the number of dead has risen by 142 people in places as diverse as Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. On Tuesday, the number of civilians killed by terrorists totaled 38 — 10 at a subway entrance bombing in Moscow, 16 in a bus bombing in Israel and 12 Nepalese executed in Iraq.


Since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the analysis, around 1,500 have died in terrorist attacks in Iraq, nearly 700 in Russia, more than 350 have died in Israel, around 200 in Spain and more than 100 in the Philippines. The numbers sometimes are imprecise because of the nature of the attacks, which leave many missing.

3/01/2006 01:21:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...


3/01/2006 01:22:00 AM  

Blogger beatroot said...

Using the odds of dying in a terrorist related attack during your lifetime as noted below from the CDC, let's compare them to the odds of dying from a long list of real, everyday dangers.
1 in 88,000 of a terrorist attack
1 in 1,500,000 of a terrorist-caused shopping mall disaster assuming one such incident a week and you shop two hours a week
1 in 55,000,000 in a terrorist-caused plane disaster assuming one such incident a month and you fly once a month

See Daily Kos http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/9/4/22363/72090

3/05/2006 06:37:00 PM  

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