Topic: Couldn't be so...
Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm
Actually, this is getting pathological in some odd way. The business with the Vice President and how he handled the hunting accident was odd enough. Newsweek picked up on that weirdness with a long and new cover story here (the magazine cover shows him in hunting gear with his shotgun with big yellow letters - "Cheney's Secret World") -
The misunderstood hero of a Greek tragedy brooding in his tent? Washington as the dusty plains of Troy? Oh my. But think about Achilles' inner torment as he sits inside his tent brooding, refusing to join the fight raging outside over a grudge with his king, Agamemnon. It's something like that - think of Cheney staying away for almost a week last fall as people died in the flooded streets of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. He was fishing in Wyoming or Montana or some such place. Let the king deal with the mess - let him drown in the anger of the masses stirred up by the likes of Anderson Cooper. Then he finally flies down to New Orleans to make a speech or two for the king, grudgingly - and some wag in the audience shouts at him to go fuck himself, just as Cheney had hissed at the senator from Maine on the Senate floor. It's not exactly Homer, but it will do.
This was very odd. But now the king himself on this fine Tuesday was doing that Greek hubris thing, big time, as Cheney is wont to say. Tuesday, February 21st, as folks got back to work after the long President's Day weekend, the president dug in his heels and had not just the usual critics berating him, but his own party wondering just what he was thinking when he approved a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, to run the major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. And then, as the protests were swelling and seemed unanimous, the president said if the Republican-controlled congress tried to stop this with any sort of legislation he'd use his veto for the very first time, even if it seemed (as it does) there are enough hypothetical votes to override this hypothetical veto. What's up with that? And it seemed as Tuesday drew to a close, the only one outside the administration's inner circle who had no problem with this was ex-president Jimmy "Killer Rabbit" Carter. And that just drove the wingnuts - the Rush Limbaugh "dittoheads" and Bill O'Reilly fans and the rest - up the wall. Jimmy Carter? The ironies were compounding exponentially.
Just what is going on? Like we need mad Homeric characters running things now?
To be fair, this is a business matter. Commercial operations at those six ports had been run just fine by a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation - and they were just purchased by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. Such things happen. And renewing the contract was reviewed by Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the US - eleven folks from various agencies meeting in closed session. They decided there was no problem, even though the CEO of Dubai Ports World reports directly to the Crown Prince of Dubai (and seems to be some sort of prince himself). This is not a private company.
In addition? Just some notes -
But they're our allies now of course, where we offload troops and supplies and stage operations. Things change.
Snow's committee said there were no security issues now. The Homeland Security head, Chertoff, was all over the talk shows saying that too, and you can believe him - he may have screwed up things with the response to Hurricane Katrina, but he said he'd do better next time, and he did finally force out Michael Brown from his post as head of FEMA.
One can be sure these wouldn't endanger us.
But then there were these notes in a New York paper -
They've worked with and for Dubai Ports World, so they must know something. Yes, it looks mighty suspicious, but you have to trust you government., it seems.
And since forty percent of or military supplies bound for Iraq and Afghanistan move through these ports the guys at the Pentagon must be okay with this. Not exactly, as noted here - "In a press briefing today, Secretary Rumsfeld revealed that he was not consulted about the decision to transfer operations of six key U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates, a country with troubling ties to international terrorism." It goes on to note the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military leader, General Pace, was a tad puzzled. No one asked him. So the civilian leader of the military and his unformed counterpart were somewhat surprised.
The congress was more surprised - Frist to Offer Bill Halting U.S. Port Deal. Yes, the Republican leader of the Senate, the good Doctor Bill "Diagnose at a Distance" Frist (MD), wants a bill to stop this, maybe not entirely, but long enough for a bit more consideration.
There are too those pesky Republican governors -
But then who will run the ports? The British company exited the business.
And here you'll find some transcription from what was said on the air, as with Suzanne Malveaux, the CNN White House reporter, reporting on the President's public statements -
And there's Ed Henry reporting house leader Dennis Hastert had issued a "strongly worded" letter encouraging the President to back away from the port deal.
So it would seem. So why do it?
Well, there may be reason to do it. And Dubai Ports World may be the only good alternative. The question is, then, why handle it this way? Why no heads-up to key people and no consultation? After all the business staring with "oops no WMD" through the "we'll do better next time and we really did our best" Hurricane Katrina business, though "yeah, the vice president shot someone in the face but it's no big deal" silliness, this is not the time to say "trust us" one more time.
There's also a transcription from the CNN Crossfire show, where the curmudgeon Jack Cafferty plays off the host stultifying but earnest host Wolf Blitzer with the question of the day (where viewers send email) -
Later in the show, the second question -
You can watch the streaming video of this here, and imagine the responses.
Is it possible the president, or more precisely, his advisors, thought this would be just fine with folks? The Republican House, the Republican Senate, the Republican Governors up in arms? And only Jimmy Carter siding with the administration?
What could be the reason this was handled this way, setting aside psychopathology (narcissism of the "I can do anything" sort)?
The president, or more precisely, his advisors, could have assumed that, given the polling by issue, in the basement on everything from the economy to Iraq, still rates the president fairly highly on his commitment to fighting terrorism. A big chunk of the public is just fine with secret warrantless wiretaps on all citizens, as the world is full of evil people out to kill us all and they've done nothing wrong. Like the Congresswoman from Cincinnati, Jean Schmidt, they feel it would be just fine to suspend the constitution - these are far more dangerous times than when the Soviets had thousands of nukes aimed at us, ready to launch. These guys have box-cutters! And the oceans don't protect us any more. (Yes, the Soviet ICBM warheads would be stopped by the vastness of the oceans, of course, and in the War of 1812 the British could not cross the Atlantic and burn the White House to the ground, even if the history books say that happened. Whatever.) The idea seemed to be that "national security" was the one remaining area where the president got a free ride - he didn't have to explain anything to anyone. He could do what he wanted. People trusted him, not those "weak on terror" Democrats.
Guess not. You learn some lessons the hard way. He just threw away his trump card.
And there's this - Mr. President, Stop Port Sale Now Or Lose Congress. Is he trying to do that?
Of course the president has his rejoinder -
"Great British?" The man has a way with words.
But everyone knows this Middle Eastern company is not the same as the departed British company. Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (P&O) was a private firm, and the new owners are a foreign government, only recently friendly to us, and some have doubts about that. But he does have a point. Opposing this could be seen in the Middle East as an indication Americans don't trust Arabs of any sort, or Muslims in general, be they Arab, Persian or Kurds or Turkman or whatever.
But this wasn't initially presented as a diplomatic effort to say "we trust you" to the Arab world. This argument is presented as an afterthought. He's saying if you oppose this you're racist and undiplomatic. And that's a bit rich. We launched an elective war that has that whole region in chaos, and Iran itching for nukes, and budding anti-American government forming in the nation we invaded and occupy.
Oppose this port thing and they'll suddenly think we're the bad guys? It's a little late for that. People here, and there, aren't stupid.
Is this just arrogance, or the miscalculation of an administration so isolated from what people now think that they're in some alternative universe? Stir up mindless fear for four years and then say that, by the way, the good folks from the government of Dubai will handle operations at our key ports - and they think folks won't run into the streets tearing their hair and rending their garments? That's not exactly what's happening, but the mid-term elections are soon and its hard for any congressman or senator up for reelection to ask voters to turn on a dime, and after having been carefully conditioned for four years to fear "the other" and be willing to give up privacy and that constitutional stuff, say, well, if George Bush says this is a good thing it must be. The conditioning worked too well. Oops.
Maybe it's just a power thing - no need to tell the Pentagon or consult with congress. They don't matter anymore. We have a "unified executive" in time of war, or something like war but not declared.
You can see what could happen. Congress passes a law firmly saying "no" to this, then the president vetoes it, then the congress overrides the veto, then the president signs it into law, saying he wanted the "no" all along, then he attaches a signing statement saying he will follow the law but reserves the right to ignore it if it has anything to do with the war on terror, as he has his "plenary powers" as commander-in-chief and no one can interfere with his war-waging decisions. No congress, no court. Kind of like the McCain amendment banning torture. Fine idea. Talk to the hand.
But even his stanch supporters are having trouble with this one. The nomination of the frumpy and dim-witted Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court has them up in arms. That was a joke - nominating an unqualified friend. The pro-life big-business evangelic right waited all those long years for her? After maybe twelve hours of if-GWB-says-she's-wonderful-maybe-she-might-be tolerance, they turned. She was excoriated and the nomination withdrawn.
This is worse. Now John Podhoretz at the National Review is saying this about the port deal - "It's possible that this event is George Bush's Bitburg."
Bitburg? You remember Bitburg. President Ronald Reagan laying a wreath on the tomb of the Nazi SS death squad soldiers, letting the Germans know that we were morally amnesic even if they weren't, or something. The SS weren't that bad? Who knows what he was thinking? He got a little fuzzy there toward the end. But what were his advisors thinking? Someone planned that. Bad idea.
People aren't stupid. That. Harriet Myers. This.
Achilles pouts in his tent. King Agamemnon is mad. The dust blows across the plains of Troy and the war continues. Homer is a giggle - the Iliad is first rate.
We do this all again.
Notes on things people notice -
Back on February 8th in They're Laughing at Us there's a section marked "It's Your Fault If You Took Us Seriously" -
And Tuesday, February 21st, there's this, a small Associated Press item noted in the Washington Post. Bush visited the lab - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - and before he arrived those thirty-two people had been rehired. Someone found the funding late last week. Bush said, well, sometimes dreadful things happen in the appropriating process. But it was unintentional. The administration really meant to fully fund the lab. Stuff happens.
In the same post there was a section marked "Employment Opportunity" - the feds had a job posting for an "Assistant Civil Liberties Protection Officer." - for "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in ensuring that the protection of civil liberties and privacy is appropriately incorporated in the policies and procedures developed for and implemented by the ODNI and the elements of the intelligence community (IC) within the National Intelligence Program, and in performing other statutory and assigned duties." You see, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the position of civil liberties protection officer within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The president signed the act into law in December 2004, but he didn't name anyone to fill that post until December 2005. The job application closes on the 28th, so hurry, or don't/
Why note? Tuesday, February 21st the Los Angeles Times reports this - the group was formed but no one ever met.
Who lead this phantom board? Ah -
Yep, they're laughing at us.
Then there's this - a sergeant major just home from Iraq is denied entrance to a George Bush rally and threatened with arrest because he's brought a couple of his students with him - and one of the students has a John Kerry sticker on his wallet. They scare his wife, then ask him over and over if he supports the president. He won't answer. They want to cuff him, and he asks them if they really want to do that to a guy who led troop in battle in Iraq. They back off, but toss the students out. Now he's running for congress as a Democrat. Why would that be?
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email noted this from the New York Times -
Ric comments -
Yep, people aren't stupid. Ric's right.
And they might notice this - a mad dash by the government to classify tens of thousands of documents, moist of them previously published and available to all. Need a secret government and to make the past disappear. This kind of bugs the historians. But then, history is what one says it is. It's a bit Soviet, isn't it? Well, everything changed after 9/11 of course. And too there's this - career diplomats bailing from the State Department as political appointees are brought in to keep them in line and make them think right. File the wrong set of facts from a foreign capital and your career is gone. You may have the facts right, but they aren't welcome. A Soviet view of facts, but it keeps people focused on... something.
And so it goes.