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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Disconnected Thinking: Any Port in a Storm
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") -
Dick Cheney has never been your normal politician. He has never seemed as eager to please, as needy for votes and approval and headlines as, say, Bill Clinton. Cheney can seem taciturn, self-contained, a little gloomy; in recent years, his manner has been not just unwelcoming but stand-offish. This is not to say, however, that he is entirely modest and self-effacing, or that he does not crave power as much as or more than any office-seeker. This, after all, is a man who, in conducting a search for George W. Bush's vice president, picked himself. Indeed, since 9/11, Cheney has struck a pose more familiar to readers of Greek tragedies than the daily Hotline. At times, he appears to be the lonely leader, brooding in his tent, knowing that doom may be inevitable, but that the battle must be fought, and that glory can be eternal.

... What happened to the genial, gently amusing Dick Cheney of the 2000 vice presidential debate? After he and Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, exchanged good-humored quips, more than a few voters wondered why the tickets couldn't be flipped - allowing a couple of affable, common-sensical Washington hands to run for president instead of Bush and Gore, who at times seemed like the wounded sons of great political dynasties, groaning under the burden of expectation. Cheney, the conservative that moderates once seemed to like, has strangely iced over in recent years. Even his old friends sometimes wonder if he has not grown angrier, more suspicious, even paranoid. Last fall, Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser in the George H. W. Bush administration, caused a stir by telling The New Yorker magazine, "I consider Cheney a good friend - I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."
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 -
- The UAE was one of three countries in the world to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

- The UAE has been a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia.

- According to the FBI, money was transferred to the 9/11 hijackers through the UAE banking system.

- After 9/11, the Treasury Department reported that the UAE was not cooperating in efforts to track down Osama Bin Laden's bank accounts.
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 -
The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and who was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
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 -
The Republican governors of New York and Maryland on Monday joined the growing chorus of criticism of an Arab company's takeover of operations at six major American ports. Both raised the threat of legal action to void contracts at ports in New York City and Baltimore.

"I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction," Gov. George E. Pataki of New York said in a statement.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland told reporters that he had "a lot of discretion" and was considering his options, including voiding the contract.
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 -
He would veto any legislation to hold up this deal and warned that the United States was sending mixed signals by going after a company from the Middle East when they said nothing when a British company was in charge. He goes on to say that it is the lawmakers - members of Congress - that have to step up and explain why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard. He also took issue with a reporter's question aboard the plane saying what is the - kind of the politics of all of this - and he says that this is not a political issue.

Clearly, Tony, we've all been waiting to see what the President was going to do, what he would say, and how he was going to come out on this issue. He has spoken very strongly aboard Air Force One essentially saying he would veto any legislation that would put that deal on hold.
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.
Even as the President is now declaring that he wants this port deal to go through and that he would veto any legislation the Congress passes to try to block the deal, CNN has also just learned that the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, a key Republican ally of the President, of course, has just fired off a letter to the President saying he should halt the port deal. He's saying he should also "conduct a more thorough review of the matter before it goes forward." Hastert is also warning that he might introduce legislation if the President does not follow through on that.

This letter almost directly mirrors... what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist sent to the President earlier today. A prepared statement - not a letter - a prepared statement telling the President - complaining - that there had been very little Congressional consultation in this whole process. Also complaining about the potential security ramifications of having this Dubai company actually take over the operations of US ports. Senator Frist had also basically said it's time to halt this deal otherwise he will introduce legislation. This is coming after rank and file Republicans all up and down the East Coast of the United States, in port cities from New York to Florida, today and in recent days calling for the deal to be halted.

And finally, Republican senator Susan Collins today, Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, she's saying she'll introduce a resolution of disapproval of this whole port deal. That's another problem and headache for this White House.

And finally, Senator Chuck Grassley, key Republican - Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - just within the last hour put out a statement blasting this entire deal. You see the President digging in, but Republicans on Capitol Hill really pushing back hard. This is a tremendous political headache for the White House.
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) -
Wolf, this may be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, this deal to sell control of six US ports to a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates. There are now actually Senators and Congressmen and Governors and Mayors telling the White House "you're not gonna do this." And it's about time. No one has said "no" to this administration on anything that matters in a very long time. Well this matters. It matters a lot. If this deal is allowed to go through, we deserve whatever we get. A country with ties to terrorists will have a presence at six critical doorways to our country. And if anyone thinks that the terrorists, in time, won't figure out how to exploit that, then we're all done. Nothing's happened yet, mind you, but if our elected representatives don't do everything in their power to stop this thing, each of us should vow to work tirelessly to see that they are removed from public office. We're at a crossroads - which way will we choose?

Here's the question: What should be done to stop a deal that would allow an Arab company to run US Ports?
Later in the show, the second question -
It doesn't matter if I'm convinced. There's 300 million people in this country that have a vote in this and it matters whether they're convinced. Based on the emails I'm reading this afternoon, they're a long way from being convinced.

When President Bush threatened to veto he said "I want those who are questioning this to step up explain why all of a sudden a middle eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company."

How about these:

- The United Arab Emirates, which owns the company that would be operating these ports, served as both an operational and financial base for several of the 9/11 hijackers who murdered 3,000 innocent people in this country on 9/11.
- Want some more? The United Arab Emirates served as a transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components that were sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
- Great Britain, on the other hand, has been an ally of the United States against people like terrorists and dictators for more than 200 years.

Here's the question: Should a company from the United Arab Emirates be held to a different standard than a company from Britain when it comes to controlling US ports?
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 -
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 [sic] company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to people of the world, we'll treat you fairly. And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, send that signal that we're willing to treat people fairly.
"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" -
As you recall, in the most recent State of the Union address, among other things, the president said we were "addicted to oil" and that had to end. Reduce the importation of oil from the Middle East by seventy percent in the coming decades! Switch to ethanol made from cellulose - from woodchips and magic switchgrass! Pull out all the stops! To the research labs!

The Saudis weren't happy and within twelve hours the Secretary of Energy was saying, well, the president was speaking metaphorically, and the switch away from oil was only offered as "an example" - as the president only meant to say reusable sources of energy were generally a pretty thing.

So how metaphorically was he speaking?

Everyone seems to be noting this - the National Renewable Energy Laboratory - the Department of Energy's "primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research" - is downsizing. Budget problems. They're laying off thirty-two people, eight of them research staff. The budget has been cut again.

He was speaking metaphorically.

And no one was supposed to notice this detail. But with hungry reporters and pesky bloggers on the net, things get noticed.

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 -
The board chairwoman is Carol E. Dinkins, a Houston lawyer who was a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration. A longtime friend of the Bush family, she was the treasurer of George W. Bush's first campaign for governor of Texas, in 1994, and co-chair of Lawyers for Bush-Cheney, which recruited Republican lawyers to handle legal battles after the November 2004 election.

Dinkins, a longtime partner in the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins, where Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales once was a partner, has specialized in defending oil and gas companies in environmental lawsuits.
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 -
Mr. Bush expanded on his defense of the program in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, saying he believed that he had to take extraordinary steps in a time of war.

"Unfortunately, we're having this discussion," he said of the debate over wiretapping. "It's too bad, because guess who listens to the discussion: the enemy."

He added: "The enemy is adjusting..."
Ric comments -
The enemy is the only one listening? Adjusting? He means who? Them? Us? Both? 'We' equal 'enemy?'

It's not cute, this attempt to blame us - for his mistakes.

Unfortunately we are having this discussion, because of one man - GW Bush. He should have thought about the 'enemy' before he set out on this course of warrantless searches.

Does the 'enemy' get satisfaction from the discussion? Probably. GW Bush can thank himself for it. He can take all the credit.
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.

Posted by Alan at 23:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006 23:40 PST home

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