Free Trade Cult

Bush administration defenders of the deal to let a Dubai-based company operate six major US ports have cast critics of the deal as racists and xenophobes.

This from an administration that ordered wholesale roundups of Arabs in the US after 9/11, arbitrarily deported thousands of them and continues to hold hundreds of Arabs and other Muslims without charges or documentation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, Cuba.

You won't find any billionaires in that crowd. Rich Arabs are the sort who were allowed to leave the country on Sept. 13, 2001, without suffering the indignity of an FBI interview.

So when George W. Bush heard that Dubai Ports World (DP World) was buying the British company that operates ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia, he saw no problem. The Bush family has business dealings with the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is one of seven emirates) and Dubya's trade representative is finishing up a trade agreement with them. He viewed questions about the Dubai ports deal as a threat not only to his authority, but also to globalized commerce that free-trade fundamentalists revere.

We don't think it's racist to note that the chairman of DP World is a sultan who works for the crown prince of Dubai. The UAE was one of the few governments that recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda. Some of the UAE's sheiks reportedly went hunting with Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. It's notable that Dubai was a major transit and money transfer center for al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks and Qaeda operatives are still believed to use Dubai as a logistical base, even though the UAE has made high-profile arrests, passed an anti-money laundering law, and imposed monitoring procedures on charity organizations within its borders.

So yes, we're concerned that national security takes a back seat to "free trade," which demands surrender of the nation's critical infrastructure to unaccountable foreign corporations.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said of the Emirates deal, "We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system."

We don't understand why ports should be operated by foreign corporations from Britain, much less the United Arab Emirates. But we are troubled by the Bush administration's casual approach to investigating the security implications of the deal, as we doubt the wisdom of privatizing our nation's critical infrastructure.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, an interagency group overseen by the Treasury Department, appears to have greenlighted the deal with little attention, Joe Conason noted. Last year the Government Accountability Office pointed out that Treasury officials tend to value "free trade" above all other considerations, including national security.

The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 27 that business lobbyists were pushing for a resolution of the Dubai deal without reopening the legislation that governs foreign takeovers at a time when the issue is so hot politically. Some lawmakers, among them Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., have called for the Committee on Foreign Investment to operate with more transparency, and some have urged that the law be changed to allow Congress to override any deal. The US Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, backed by the administration, oppose such changes, arguing they could harm the climate for foreign investment in the US and disrupt US companies' ability to invest overseas."

Among those who have concerns are Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, who confessed his doubts on the op-ed page of the New York Times; Joseph King, the former Customs Service special agent in charge of counterterrorism for that agency until 2003; and the Coast Guard officers who warned the Committee on Foreign Investment of the "intelligence gap" in the Dubai deal after examining classified information.

At first Bush rejected any Congressional role in reviewing the Dubai port takeover and threatened to veto any bill that attempted to butt into the deal. He backed down only after the company volunteered to face the full security review that the Bush administration tried to waive.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has outlined legislation that would force national security concerns to take precedent in trade and commerce negotiations. That goes too far for the White House, whose national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, "What the Congress and the companies are able to work out, we'll support and cooperate with so long as it does not involve a summary decision by the Congress that blocks this transaction." That's the attitude we're against.


Fewer Crooks, More Health Care

The supposedly liberal media are playing down Democrats' chances of regaining control of Congress this year. The New York Times on March 6 front-paged "For Democrats, Many Voices, but No Theme Song," airing complaints that Democratic candidates from Congress are reading from their own scripts, frustrating the D.C. Democrats' efforts to forge a national message.

The next day, the Washington Post splashed on page A1, "Democrats Struggle to Seize Opportunity: Amid GOP Troubles, No Unified Message."

That sounds like a real problem for the Dems, until you notice, as Chris Bowers of MyDD.com did, that on March 7 the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll reported that voters favor generic Democrats for Congress by a 14-point spread, with independent voters favoring Democrats by 22 points.

There is a popular misconception that the Republican "Contract with America" was the reason Democrats were swept out of power in Congress in 1994. In reality, relatively few voters were aware of the "contract," which promised all manner of reforms that were promptly abandoned when the GOP took power. Most voters just wanted to take Bill Clinton down a peg.

Democrats should run against the crooks and incompetents that are in charge of Congress and the White House. They should run against the Medicare drug debacle and the arrogance and cronyism of the GOP congressional leadership that has reversed the Clinton-era budget surpluses and failed to exert oversight of the Bush administration.

If they really want something to stand for, Democrats should promise to pass a bill that expands Medicare to cover every resident of the US, or at least know the reason why such a bill cannot go forward.

Nothing would give working people as well as small business owners a better reason to vote for Democrats. Every day sees another headline of corporations trying to shed their health care costs, usually leaving retirees and low-income workers out in the cold and forcing them to rely on the charity of state and local governments.

A Democratic majority in the House could pass a Medicare expansion bill in the first week after the new majority takes over. The Senate is another matter, as Republicans probably would filibuster the bill, but at least then the GOP would be on the hook for explaining why a national health care plan would not be a good thing for working people as well as businesses.

The main reason Democratic congressmen stutter on universal health care is the fear that they'll lose funding from insurance companies and HMOs. But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, insurance companies have favored Republicans with campaign contributions by more than a 2 to 1 margin ever since the Dems lost Congress in 1994. Dems should give the insurance companies back their 50 cents and tell them to go to Hell. -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2006

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