Wednesday, March 8, 2006

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The House of Representatives engages in reasoned debate

Looks like the House of Representatives doesn't want to wait for the results of a 45-day review of the port deal, according to the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman:

Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) will attach legislation to block the deal today to a must-pass emergency spending bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A House vote on the measure next week will set up a direct confrontation with President Bush, who sternly vowed to veto any bill delaying or stopping Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Co.

"Listen, this is a very big political problem," said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), explaining that he had to give his rank-and-file members a chance to vote. "There are two things that go on in this town. We do public policy, and we do politics. And you know, most bills at the end of the day, the politics and the policy kind of come together, but not always. And we are into one of these situations where this has become a very hot political potato."

Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said GOP leadership is "endorsing the viewpoint of our members and Chairman Lewis that we do not believe the U.S. should allow a government-owned company to operate American ports."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said last night that the administration is "committed to keeping open and sincere lines of communication with Congress." She added, though, that "the president's position is unchanged."....

The House is still boiling. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), with bipartisan support, introduced legislation yesterday that would scuttle the deal; mandate that the owners of "critical infrastructure" in the United States, including ports, highways and power plants, be American; and demand that cargo entering U.S. ports be screened within six months of passage.

Hey, you ask me, Hunter is being too conservative. Why not require all employees as "critical infrastructure" facilities to be red-blooded Americans? Why aren't airports and airlines included? Why, do you realize that, even as I type this, there are foreign-born pilots flying state-owned airliners within a few miles of our major cities???!!!

And, you know, there are lots of products that make up America's "critical infrastructure" beyond transportation and tilities? What about oil and energy firms? Steel? Automobiles? Will wool and mohair be next? UPDATE: Bill Harshaw makes an excellent point in the comments -- we shouldn't let foreign governments intervene in our financial markets either! Surely such a law wouldn't affect America's economic position. Oh, wait.... ]

If the House had proposed this after the 45-day review, I could believe that some serious thought was going into this bill, even if I disagreed with it. What's going on now, however, is just protectionist bulls$%t.

posted by Dan on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM


We shouldn't stop at banning foreign ownership of highways and subways, we should ban foreign ownership of things like stocks and bonds. And we don't want red-blooded Americans running things, we want true-blue Americans in charge.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

One element of the administration's problem here is simple bad luck. Boehner having just won a close election to replace Tom DeLay has House majority leader is in a shaky political position. He doesn't have enough muscle to enforce discipline against a bad piece of legislation yet, even if he wanted to. Which, I'm guessing, he probably does, though I wouldn't say the same for Fat Dennis Hastert.

posted by: Zathras on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

I agree completely. I wrote a lengthy post this morning on the same topic on my blog, at the following link:

posted by: hlswatch on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

"Listen, this is a very big political problem," said House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)

Thats all you need to know they are basing their decision on zero facts nor reality. Tell me again why I hate politicians or in this case kneejerk vote whores? The consequences of this will be far reaching in making us less safe. Why would the U.A.E. cooperate with us in inspecting cargo containers in say Jebel Ali U.A.E. after we slap them in the face like this? Why coop[erate any longer in the WOT? Why allow us to coninue using there Airfields? I am just flabbergasted by the stupidity and cowardice of our REPS on this.

posted by: Oldcrow on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

I'm all for Hunters proposal and until recently I wouldn't have even considered it...

First off, did you notice that the original DPW port deal failed to include the pretty standard requirement that all records and paperwork associated with US ports remain in America? So suppose we do have a terrorist attack or even a large drug smuggling operation taking place. How do we execute search warrants or even those new USA PATRIOT act sneak and peek warrants to get the info we want to catch the bad guys? Consider what would happen if a large portion of the culprits came from UAE and they sought to hide it by tieing the investigation up. With more and more companies going paperless it's not long before the database servers are intentially left oversees and no data was kept locally at all.

Suppose AT&T gets bought by a foreign company. How much security and money would the US loose by allowing a foreign government to spy on corporate research and government actions? There are a number of countries I wouldn't put this past. Heck, they've got their own NSA counterparts but how much easier is it if you run the switch? The NSA thought it was easier so they got the big players to all let them tap at the switch. Heck, they say they only wanted the international traffic going through there!

Here's an interesting twist for those word parsing freaks in Bush's justice department. Do you trust them not to argue that since RIM is a Canadian company and lets say all emails on blackberries bounce through a switch in Canada that the NSA can't tap EVERY email/conversation because it's not US based anymore? Whatever I may think of the benefits of the NSA spying, I'm not ready to let the President word parse his way into subverting the Constitution.

I think it was the House meeting on this issue where someone asked are we willing to sell US Nuclear Power plants to foreign countries or governments. What if Dubai wants Three Mile Island? What if they wanted to buy Lockheed Martin because they wanted discounts on F-16's? They are already planning on buying a small company with defense contracts RIGHT NOW. If your willing to let Iran buy Lockheed and 3 mile island then the words "national security" or "national interest" mean nothing. If you aren't then you DO have limits and it's a debate on where to draw the line. Debates are healthy.

Japan wants to buy Westinghouse because they forsee the future need for US Nuclear power plants. Does that not give them detailed information on a very large chunk of existing US power plants? Heck, Japan already makes a REALLY nice nuclear power plant that they export to other countries and use internally that's far better than ours (since it's newer) but they know that they might not be able to WIN bids if they don't OWN a US company to submit it with. How is it OK to disallow a foreign company to bid on something but allow a foreign owned US company? Aren't both subject to manipulation?

Did you know that highly sensitive government agencies can't buy computer equipment that wasn't DESIGNED by a US corporation? Thus NEC can't sell it's supercomputer to the NSA. Originally I thought this was just a way for the government to "buy american" but I'm pretty sure trust is the real issue.

Hunter mentioned the list would be very short and I assume things like telecom, shipping, airports, power plants, and a few other things are all that would be on it. I can live with that.

Did you notice that DHS is using a British security firm to guard at least one building which recently had the poor response to a white powder envelope? Heck, lets let Russia or China be the low bider. We can slap a whole lotta "requirements" on them which as a state owned company they will feel free to ignore to pursue their real work. I feel safer already.

I'm pretty sure you can think of LOTS of cases where the CIA stole intel or strongarmed small countries by threatening their infrastructure controlled by US companies or US grain exports. China/Japan use our Debt to influence us already. Why should we make it easier?

Sorry, this got kinda long hehe...

posted by: Yil on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

> Why not require all employees as "critical
> infrastructure" facilities to be red-blooded
> Americans?

You guys consider yourselves Conservatives(tm), or Grown-Up Republicans(tm), or perhaps Libertarians. You hitched your fortunes to the Radicals, thinking that as the experienced and wise grown-ups you could control them.

Not surprisingly, it hasn't turned out that way. The Radicals are in the driver's seat and don't listen to you at all. History shows this to be a very common outcome, but I guess you were taken by surprise anyway. Odd that.

Now a key Radical political tactic (All 9/11 all the time), combined with a complete lack of real governence (um, how ARE we doing on improving port security? Not perfecting, just improving?), is causing blowback that is hurting not only the Radicals but you and your cause(s). And you are suprised? Hurt? Outraged? How dare anyone question YOUR core beliefs (e.g. free trade)?

Perhaps you should have thought of this before you helped put the manchild in office; before you signed on to Karl Rove's political machine thinking you could control him.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Are you sure this isn't just congress letting people, foreigners in this case, know they must grease the wheels like everyone else?

posted by: Lord on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

This is good politics. Everybody can record a vote against evil Dubai. W can veto it. The 45 day review can be completed. Everybody in congress can say "Never mind" there's new information and a new deal so it's OK but tell constituents they voted against the deal. Before they didn't have to vote for it.

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

The losing bidder in the P&O auction was Singapore. Don't forget to ban them as well.

posted by: Thomas Esmond Knox on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Cranky Observer,

Hilary, Schumer, Reid and lots of DEMOCRAT politicians oppose the ports deal, while Bush supports it.

Yet according to you the deal is blowing up because some of the people who want the deal to be approved supported Bush (who wants the deal to be approved) and not the Democrats (who want the deal to be killed)

Sorry, that does not make any sense to me.

posted by: TJIT on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Poor Dan. He just can't handle it when people won't talk about what is really bugging them, and take it out on something else instead.

The fuss over this port deal has gotta be about the ports and nothing else because, well, it just gotta!

It can't be about the American people getting all insecure upon realizing that President Bush is weak and clueless because, well, it can't be!

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

> Sorry, that does not make any sense to me.

Well, I can't say I really understand your observation. But if I do, I think Tom Holsinger's 5:19 PM post addresses it.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

The undertone in Dan's post is that the American people are stupid and our politicians are pandering to our stupidity.

A typical attitude from the higher levels of academia.

Maybe we are just tired of being sold out by people who are supposed to representing our interests, heck, after all, we pay them.

What is good for Wall Street and K Street is not necessarily good for Main Street.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

C'mon Prof. Drezner. The reductio ad absurdum is one of the cheapest tricks in the debaters handbook. Its also one of the fallacies everyone learns in freshman logic.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]


Sold out? The runner up in this was a firm from Singapore. No American company even made a bid. The UAE are allies, at least they were allies, when these guys get through with them they might feel differently about our relationship and the fifth fleet in their ports and our airbases not to mention a host of businesses Americans have in Dubai.

posted by: Terrye on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

"If the House had proposed this after the 45-day review, I could believe that some serious thought was going into this bill, even if I disagreed with it."

Presumes that the review is a serious exercise.

posted by: rilkefan on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

FYI: People and foreign companies are not permitted to own land in Dubai. You have to rent or lease everything!

You can have foreign owned corporations and they have a pretty thriving free trade environment, but there's always something fishy when they don't permit people to actually own land. Britian could have argued that unless UAE would allow British companies to own land why should they sell their ports to them. Unlike the small US portion of the deal P&O owns a number of ports outright over the world and not just the right to administer them.

I'm sure of the land issue though they have been promising to address it to encourage more investment, but I think most people in the country aren't actually citizens either and thus are probably considered foreigners as well. I seem to remember Dubai has a similiar situation to Kuwait where something like only 20% of the population or something are actually full citizens though I'm having trouble verifying that right now.

posted by: Yil on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

we are talking about leasing operations of marine container terminals. Dubai is not buying New York Harbor. And companies like Microsoft are invested in Dubai. But our real investment is diplomatic and military and hopefully it will not be damaged by the cowardice of the House leadership.

posted by: Terrye on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

“Everybody in congress can say "Never mind" there's new information and a new deal so it's OK but tell constituents they voted against the deal. Before they didn't have to vote for it.”

Yup, that may very well happen. I am convinced that this agreement with Dubai World Ports will ultimately be approved. Am I too optimistic? Well, let’s hope not. This is a fight which President Bush must win. The protectionists will not stop here. The bar will simply be raised. Just about any Arab investment in the American economy will soon thereafter be deemed a security risk.

posted by: David Thomson on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure how you define "red blooded american", but I see no reason not to require a security clearence for people working at port facilities, or power plants, ect. It's already a requirement to work in the Nuclear power industry.

posted by: IaintBacchus on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Why should we settle for ill defined "red blooded Americans" restrict all ownership of American assets to red skinned Americans

posted by: Alan on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

Why doesn't GWB simply use his inherent Presidential powers concerning matters of national security to approve the Dubai deal, irrespective of any new law to the contrary?

posted by: No one of consequence on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

I bet Boeing will be able to kiss their huge order with Emirates airlines goodbye...
Of course, it is probably a security risk to have that airline flying into JFK twice a day anyway...

posted by: Man Who on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

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posted by: Kolya on 03.08.06 at 08:37 AM [permalink]

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