This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Recent and Re-Printed Quote in the Lead

(One day short of just one year ago today)

Although I printed this a couple of days ago, I felt it appropriate to print it again. I feel that this is all the evidence we need to not allow the sale of 21strategic American ports to a UAE government-owned Dubai World Ports.

"Problems remained in the (UAE) Government's respect for human rights. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. The Government restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The press practiced self-censorship. The Government restricted free assembly and association, and it restricted religious freedom by banning proselytizing of Muslims. The Government restricted the rights of workers, many of whom were not protected by labor laws. There are no labor unions. There were poor working conditions for some laborers, failure to pay wages, and abuse of foreign domestic servants in an economy in which 98 percent of the private sector workforce is foreign. There were no independent human rights organizations. Trafficking in women as prostitutes and very young foreign boys as camel jockeys continue to be serious problems, despite government pledges to end these practices."
The United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005

-Noah Greenberg

What If...

Imagine these scenarios:

A) The United States, under "G"lobal "W"arming Bush, is engaged in a conflict with Iran. There are troops amassing at the Iraq-Iran and Afghanistan-Iran borders; Saudi Arabia is very nervous; Israel readies their citizens with gas masks and air raid drills, their troops standing guard; the Turks place their troops on the Iranian border; and Pakistan is pretending to guard their shared border with Iran.

As Bush wished for, there is democracy growing in the middle east. But it's a kind of democracy that he, and his "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party cronies, didn't expect. In Egypt, as close to a Muslim ally as the US is going to get, more and more people are supporting a more Muslim extremist, although outlawed, political party; Afghanistan's deposed, but "still there" Taliban is gaining more support; and Hamas is entrenched in Palestine. Even in Iraq, the democratic movement is toward a theocratic style of Muslim government.

And now we go to Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates.

Let's assume that the Bushies get their way (again) and the UAE is granted ownership of 21 strategic US ports. (After all, this is an "ownership society". It's just not an "ownership society" open to the average American citizen.) Democracy, as the Bushies have always said they wanted, is taking hold all over the middle east, and in Dubai as well. The people are granted elections and they choose a hard liner president (like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). The government owned Dubai World Ports are now owned by an enemy of the United States.

What is our recourse?

B) What if there was a revolution in the UAE? What if, in a 1979 Iran-style revolt, workers, who have no say in the UAE, rise up and take over the small, but oil-rich country? How would the Bush administration respond? Would they invade, although they are already stretched thin in Iraq, Afghanistan, and by this time, Iran? Would the Bush administration allow an Iran-style theocratic government to own our ports?

C) Ask yourself this question: If The Bin Laden Construction group wanted to purchase these ports, would the Bush administration support such a purchase?

I bet they would.


So when President Bush says that he wants us to show a reason why we shouldn't allow an Arab country to own our ports, among all of the other reason, I would like him to look at the above scenarios.

Then I'd like GW to face the reality that, no matter how much money his father's interests accrue (through the Carlyle Group); or no matter how much business was granted to Dick "Go <F---> Yourself" Cheney's Halliburton; or no matter how "good for the global economy it is", this is still a terrible idea to allow the UAE ownership of our strategic US ports.

-Noah Greenberg

Health-Care Savings Plan Laughable

Can our President be that out of touch?

Buy an insurance policy with a high deductible and then buy in to a health-care savings account?

Buying the high deductible plan is "no problem." Many of the insurance companies would like to sell you one of those. How long will it take to earn money on your HSA at the 0.25 percent rate paid on savings accounts at many neighborhood banks? How long will it take for someone working at Wendy's to save enough in his HSA to spend one night in a hospital when just a few hours costs thousands of dollars?

Shop around for medical care?

Try calling reputable medical practices. They aren't taking new patients. If they are taking new patients, they want to know all about your insurance coverage before they discuss your health problem. Don't think of making an appointment if you have no insurance. It is not done.

Most uninsured or underinsured in America would love to have the benefits they are already paying for with their tax dollars. Only the members of the federal government have access to that kind of care, while the people paying the bill have little or nothing in comparison.

Sadly, many of our wealthy elected officials have never had to balance a family budget, let alone a national one. Therefore, it is hard for them to understand where most people are living. Unfortunately, they have no desire to learn. They need to burst out of their protected bubbles, quit the constant bickering, and serve the people who elected them.

-A letter by Delores Bleau, as forwarded by Robert Scardapane

HSA's will not help the people that really need help and those that don't will simply use them as tax shelters. Just another example of Bush helping his base - the have's and the have mores.

-Robert Scardapane

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The gun-powder residue was barely off the Vice President's hands when a new debacle over trust in the Bush Administration was raised. Does this Administration *never* learn from its mistakes?

Fresh from a grueling dressing-down by the media for its failure to disclose that the Vice President had shot someone, Administration officials were attempting to explain why the U.S. was ceding the security of its major ports to a company, Dubai Ports World, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Committee on Foreign Investment, headed by Treasury Secretary John Snow, approved the deal on February 17th; the deal hands over control of six major U.S. ports–Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Boston, Newark and New York–to Dubai Ports World as of March 2nd. News of the deal was leaked to the press on February 20th, President's Day.

As is so often the case, George Bush was initially adamant: The deal was done and there was no reason to question it. Then as the controversy heated-up, a White House spokesperson suggested that the President hadn't actually known about the deal until it was done.

The history of the Bush White House on matters of national concern is consistent: Act first (preferably in secret), think later (preferably not at all) and when all else fails, exert an arrogance so intense as to brook no interference.

A few fissures seem to be appearing in the Administration's facade, however: The appalling lack of transparency of the Bush Administration seems finally to be upsetting even its most stalwart supporters. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at–once again–not being informed or consulted, as if in the words of Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), senior member of the Armed Services Committee, "there is only one branch of government, the executive branch."

Congress is fuming and Democrats and Republicans are, for once, overwhelmingly united. Pennsylvania and New Jersey's Democratic Governors Rendell and Corzine moved for injunctions against the deal in their states. Republican Governors Pataki in New York and Erlich in Maryland also moved to stop the deal. On the issue of Dubai Ports World the ayes have it: The deal should never have been permitted; scrap it, *now.*

Objections are in part predicated on these disturbing facts from the 9/11 Commission Report: The UAE produced two of the 9/11 hijackers, was implicated in money-laundering for the 9/11 plan and other terrorist attacks and the UAE was home to Marwan al Shehhi, the 9/11 hijacker who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.
Reasons to pause, if not outright rescind the deal.

A February 24th poll showed most Americans are as queasy about the Dubai prospect as Congress: 83 percent oppose it. Not exactly the mandate Bush is searching for.

Yet Bush's arrogance is fully engaged. In press conferences on February 21st and 24th, the President declared that there was no difference between the UAE, whom Bush cited as an ally in the war on terror (when not funding it or producing the terrorists), and Britain, who had previously owned the charter at the ports.

In theory the President is correct: there *is* no difference between one foreign nation and another having control of U.S. ports. *No* foreign nation should be in control of the most vulnerable entry to our country. Not the UAE nor Britain nor the penguins of Antarctica.

Think of the port controversy like this: You give control of the door to your house to someone who has been involved in a few home invasion burglaries in the past but has since claimed to have reformed. You give them the keys and any other information they need to enter and have full access to your house. Then you hope they only let you, your family and friends inside and that everything in your house is safe.

I doubt sincerely that anyone would agree to such an arrangement. It sounds, on the face of it, more than a little crazy.

Yet after the story broke (which it wasn't supposed to; it was supposed to remain secret as most deals brokered by the Bush Administration are), the President and a small bunch of cronies were attempting to deflect attention from the outrage with counterattacks.

It hasn't worked.

The Administration has made a mess of this and the implications will, of course, be far-reaching.

Internationally, the outrage is, not-surprisingly, perceived as racist and anti-Arab. Yet another problem in the secret deal the Administration failed to figure into the equation. The President has fueled this impression with statements of his own suggesting that those opposed–Congress, governors and most Americans–are indeed expressing anti-Arab sentiment.

That is untrue, but even if it were, isn't the President himself at fault for that perception? Hasn't this Administration used Islamist terrorism as a tool to beat the American people with since 9/11? Isn't that why we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan?

The President simply can't have it both ways. He cannot consistently use the fear of terror to incite Americans and then expect certain nations–Saudi Arabia, Egypt and now the UAE–to be considered exempt.

An overwhelming concern cited in the 9/11 Commission Report was America's long-ignored vulnerability regarding port security. There simply is none. Port security was given a failing grade by the bi-partisan Commission and it's co-chair, former New Jersey governor and stalwart Republican Tom Kean has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Dubai deal.
On February 26th, Kean put the quandary in succinct terms. "From our point of view, we don't want foreigners controlling our ports," Kean said. "From their point of view, this is a legitimate company that had a legitimate bid and won, and here are all these congressmen saying all these things about not wanting this company. It looks to them like it's anti-Arab."
Kean argued that Bush should not only have approached Congress prior to making the deal, but that he also should have talked with the governors who control the ports.

"I think this deal is going to be killed," Kean said. "The question is how much damage is this going to do to us before it's killed."

Part of the secrecy problem this Administration has is that when the secrets come out–which they invariably do, this being a democracy–the layers are usually voluminous. The Dubai scandal is no exception.

United Press International (UPI) revealed on February 25th–a Saturday, traditionally the slowest and most ignored news day of the week–that the Dubai deal doesn't cover six ports–it covers *21* ports.

According to UPI, the brokered deal to Dubai Ports World is still scheduled for March 2nd unless Congress intervenes. But that deal will cover not merely the six ports already named, but *all* the ports now run by P&O Ports North America. This company, soon to be traded to Dubai Ports World, leases terminals for the import, export, loading, unloading and security of cargo in 21 ports. Eleven on the East Coast (including five of the six originally noted, like Philadelphia) run from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida. Another ten on the Gulf Coast include Gulfport, Mississippi, New Orleans and Corpus Christi, Texas. These details are listed prominently on the company's website. Not exactly secret.

And then there's this fact: The Marine Transportation Security Act of 2002 requires vessels and port facilities to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop security plans including passenger, vehicle and baggage screening procedures. Security patrols. Establishing restricted areas. Personnel identification procedures. Access control measures and/or installation of surveillance equipment. Under the same law, port facility operators—this would be Dubai Ports World–may have access to Coast Guard security incident response plans: that is, they would know how the Coast Guard plans to counter and respond to terrorist attacks. In other words, despite the President's assurances that the Cost Guard would be in ultimate charge of the ports, Dubai Ports World would have all the information the Coast Guard has. Which–succinctly–means that situations like 9/11 where people posed as something other than what they were–could easily occur.

Another aspect of the scandal involves a possible pay-for-play deal the Bush Administration may have made with the UAE. According to the Associated Press on February 26th, the Bush Administration has revealed that the UAE contributed more than $100 million for Hurricane Katrina relief. That donation wasn't made back in September, but was proffered two weeks before Dubai Ports sought approval for the transfer deal. White House press sources acknowledged that the donation was nearly four times more than the Administration was granted by all other contributing nations *combined.*But White House sources were adamant that the munificence of the UAE had no connection to the Dubai deal.

Assuming that all of this is mere coincidence–kind of like all those terror alerts during Bush's re-election campaign that mysteriously ceased after the election—the Bush Administration has a poor track record when it comes to transparency, whether it is over the shooting of the Vice President's hunting partner, negotiations with oil tycoons over America's energy resources or decisions to go to war regardless of intelligence to the contrary. Five and a half years of stonewalling the media, the American people and the co-equal branch of government, Congress, has led to severe mistrust on all sides. Even the President's staunchest allies are upset over this one; Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), the most right-wing member of the Senate, urged rescinding of the Dubai deal. Excessive executive secrecy has simply eroded all public and even political trust in this Administration.

President Bush and his cohort in the Dubai deal asserted that there had been thorough scrutiny prior to the deal being brokered. But thorough scrutiny by whom? When Sen. Levin queried the panel on February 24th, he asked whether they had talked to the 9/11 Commission chairs about port security and asked if they had considered that the intelligence report examined purported links between government officials in the UAE and Osama bin Laden before the 9/11attacks.

Silence met his questions.

Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) raised other questions about the deal. "Our port security is too important to place in the hands of foreign governments," Clinton said.

Menendez added: "Our ports are the front lines of the war on terrorism. They are both vulnerable targets for attack and venues for smuggling and human trafficking. We wouldn't turn the border patrol or the customs service over to a foreign government, and we can't afford to turn our ports over to one either."

The Dubai deal is now in the hands of Congress, which has vowed to enact legislation to stop the deal from going forward. For his part, President Bush threatens to veto any legislation designed to stall the deal.

Congress needs to exert its own power for once, override any Bush veto and remind this Administration that there are three co-equal branches of government: the executive branch may act as if it has all the power, but it does not.

Some have said the Dubai controversy is simply hysteria in an election year. But the reality is that the Dubai deal isn't just about globalization, it's about national security.

The 9/11 Commission revisited port security four years after 9/11: No changes had been made. None. And Dubai Ports World isn't just some international conglomerate: it's a *government-owned company* with differing allegiances based on expediency.

Can we imagine a scenario in which another country would be comfortable with the U.S. government owning and operating their ports?

The Dubai Ports deal has to be rescinded and control of America's ports must be ceded back to the U.S. President Bush was elected by 51 percent of Americans predicated on one issue: that he was tougher on terrorism and national security than his opponent.

Now is the time for him to prove it in a way that does not incur exponential expenditures of either American money or American lives. There is little required to take a stand here for national security. But what is required is for the President to do what he has never done in five and a half years in office: take responsibility for an error in judgement.

No one should hold their breath for that eventuality. Fortunately we have co-equal branches of government. It falls to Congress to block this misbegotten deal now. And when they do, the fallout will be on the President's shoulders. Let's just hope someone in Washington remembers what their real job is– protection of the American people–and does it.

In response to "For Misinformed Americans", Billie M. Spaight writes:

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn what's in the Koran or not. There's plenty of crazy stuff in our Bible (both Testaments) too. All I care about is how people interpret what they learn about and how they live it.

Have you ever met any Muslims?

Let me tell you a story: Back in the 70s, I made friends with an African-American gentleman and we enjoyed many talks about things we had in common--music, philosophy, modern culture, and more. Seeing Clyde was one of the highlights of my workday because he was always so gentle and sweet. I became closer to him and invited him up my apartment. The heat was coming up rather strongly and Clyde would not remove his suit jacket although I reassured him that I wouldn't have been offended. He was that polite--I'd never seen anything like it in my life and my mom's family is not exactly unrefined.

During dinner, we had one of our great talks and the conversation moved to our respective religions. I told him I was a kind of lapsed Catholic with a lot of interest in other religions, such as Spiritualism and Judaism. He replied that he was a Black Muslim.

"But, but, but....," I exclaimed. "You are here! You are in my apartment! You don't hate me!. . ." You see, I had read a lot of bad press about Black Muslims and the articles always stressed how much Black Muslims supposedly HATED white people with a passion! Well, Clyde didn't get offended. He didn't storm out of my house. He saw the look of genuine and pleased wonderment on my face and said quietly and simply: "Not all Black Muslims hate white people!"

I will never forget that experience as long as I live. I learned something valuable about what you read and what you experience. And Clyde didn't lie to me--we remained friends for years afterward until he moved and we lost track of each other. From time to time, I think of Clyde and I hope all is well with him. I know that when HE bows to Mecca he wants to be close to G-d and that he loves people too as part of his sincere beliefs.

Rhian, what Muslim did anything to you or your loved ones? I mean personally--what Muslim has ever come up to YOU and did you wrong?

I had one who complained about the way I dressed :) It didn't bother me too much.

I'm not saying I don't hate the fanatics and the terrorists. You bet I do! As a New Yorker, I found 9/11 totally horrifying! That's one of the reasons I am against Dubya's Dubai deal because of the potential for danger--just like the countries where my ancestors came from were considered to be dangerous during the Cold War.

But this hatred of Muslims? I can't understand that. We may as well hate ourselves. The Christians had the Inquisition and the Crusades! Were all Christians bad then? Hardly!

It's amazing you don't get cancer from all that hatred in your body. Seriously!

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-Noah Greenberg