About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bush and the ports, not my predictable take

I am getting a bit tired of all the fear-mongering that both Democrats and Republicans are doing about the forthcoming taking over of operations at six US ports by the Dubai World Ports company, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

First, the United Arab Emirates is not Saudi Arabia (from where most of the 9/11 hijackers came). Let's not mix apples and oranges again (like, with 9/11 and Iraq). Second, it is not true that this is the only case of a government-controlled private company having a major role in operating US ports (a very similar situation holds for a Chinese company currently operating in the US). Third, according to most experts on port security, the deal is not a significant threat – when will politicians stop disregarding expert advice just to score pre-electoral points? Fourth, it is silly to accuse Bush of not having knowledge of the deal ahead of time, since there are many similar deals being concluded all the times, and this one simply doesn't rise to the level of presidential (so to speak) attention. Fifth, we can't allow ourselves to fall into the “every Arab is bad” paranoid idiocy. Sixth, it's about time to get off the na├»ve idea that there can be such thing as total security: living in an open society means that, well, we're open, and not just for business.

Of course, Bush is to blame for this mess indirectly, since he has been fostering for years a state of continuous suspicion, fear and paranoia about terrorism and the Middle East more generally. It is, in fact, ironic to see Republicans (like Bill “I can tell if Terry Schiavo is conscious while looking at a video” Frist) to accuse George W. of jeopardizing national security. What miracles can an impending mid-term election with a lame duck president do!

What is disgusting, however, is the Democrats playing the national security card (starting with Hillary “I want to be on the 2008 ballot even though I have no chance of winning because half of America hates me Clinton”) at precisely the wrong moment. National security has been jeopardized by a war in Iraq that was based on phony premises, by the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, by the disregard for human rights (allegedly, what we are fighting for) at Guantanamo, not to mention an irresponsible domestic policy that is putting the US more and more into debt -- owed, by the way, mostly to the largest communist country in the world, China.

The Democrats have so many issues to run on during the '06 elections (want more? Health care, especially the debacle of the new private assistance program for seniors; the NSA internal spying program; the blatant disregard of the White House for US and international law; the new appointees at the Supreme Court who will likely re-criminalize abortion in this country; the continued rape of the environment; the consistent pro-big business and "let's make the rich even richer" policies, and on and on), that there really is an embarrassment of choices. And the Dubai Ports affair is what gets Clinton, Schumer and co. upset? Get a life, and get serious.


  1. Well, I thought I remembered my password, but I guess not. I'll have to be anonymous then. I think you make a lot of good points, however, I'd like to make a few comments:

    1. According to reports that I heard (mostly on NPR) UAE was home to at least two of the hijackers, and has supported terrorism activities at some level in the past. I do not know their current status. And, that is at least pause for thought.
    2. I am not in favor of any foreign-government controlled entity controlling our ports, UAE, Chinese, or otherwise. (Although, I'm not sure it's significantly difficult for there to be a "private" company doing business abroad that is subject to considerable government influence from their home country)
    3. What hasn't been explained is why experts do not think this is a significant threat to port security. Common readers, myself included, think that on the surface, the best way to assure a "secure" route to a foreign country would be to have a legitimate business operating there at the ports of entry. The operator would have unprecendented access and knowledge otherwise difficult to obtain from the outside.
    4. Bush or his advisors _should_ have had knowledge of this kind of deal simply due to the perceptions that it would create - not necessarily for the approval of it
    5. No, we shouldn't automatically fall into the "every Arab is bad" paranoia - however, I'm sure there wouldn't be any uproar if it were a "western" government-owned company (say from the UK, or even Italy :). The fact remains that Al Qaida is associated with "Arab" Muslim fundamentalists - we do not see the IRA or other european-type groups trying to attack the US. Despite the view that we shouldn't use "racial profiling" to find our "enemies" - we cannot avoid some lean in that direction when it appears that the overwhelming majority of actors involved in are what we westerners would deem "Arab". I'm not saying it's right to paint all with the same brush, but human nature tends to that direction. (I'm sure it provides some survival, but may be suffer from errors of false positives)
    6. I agree - there cannot be total security. There is no security system that cannot be thwarted given a sufficiently determined and funded adversary. People don't understand that, and can't think rationally about what that means. Neither the media, nor the govt help in that matter - they provide band-aids that make people feel better without providing actual security - and compromise our rights in the process.

    Enough said about the Dems. I used to be a Republican, and only registered Democrat so I could vote in primaries. I'd like to see them field a viable candidate, and grow some cohones.



  2. One thing I had the impression I've heard, but I might be wrong: weren't the infamous ports controlled by a London-based (therefore foreign) company before being sold to the UAE company? Aren't there other ports in the US already controlled by foreign companies (I've heard that too)?

    If both these things are true, then the whole thing is just plain racism, even if I generally agree what Dave possibly had significant points above.

    Either all foreign companies are prohibited from controlling "strategic" resources, or all of them receive the same treatment. Anyway, seems like today's freedom fighter pal is tomorrow's terrorist quite often, so who knows...

    Now, I wasn't paying mych attention to the TV at the time, and my English skills demand that I must concentrate to get everything right. If I goofed (again), please let me know.


  3. J,

    one of the crucial distinctions seems to be that Dubai Ports is not just a foreign company, but owned by a foreign government. The British company was private. Of course, in this era of globalization it's not that clear that the difference matters...

  4. I agree with Dave in general - he makes some good points.

    My question is, why are there ANY foreign companies, government owned OR privately held, running our ports. Are we too stupid to to the job? I don't think so! It is only reasonable that our most vulnerable places in the nation should be run by Americans. If that is racist and/or jingoistic paint me with that brush.

    As an ex-Coast Guard officer I was rather upset when this whole thing started, to hear that the USCG had signed off on this. I even wrote Adm. Collins (Commantdant of the Coast Guard) expressing my misgivings. I now notice that the Coast Guard is backing away from that position (Didn't realize how influential I am).

    What also concerns me is that one minute Bush says he knew nothing about the deal and the next he is all for it and defending it with his last breath. From past observation we all know that he is anything but a quick study, so how did he become so familiar with the deal so quickly.

    Further, if he DIDN'T know about it he is what many of us have thought all along - he is a puppet on a string, and not really in charge.

    It's my guess that he knew all along and this is just another in a long line of contrivances and deceits designed to prove that he can do any damned thing he wants to do any damned time he feels like doing it. If my instincts are correct this does not bode well for the general election in 2008. Draw your own conclusions.

  5. Really, what's the point?

    I don't mean to be rude (I'm inebriated at them moment) but what's the point? I'm so sick of this fall dichotomy that we're stuck with - vote either Democrat or Republican.

    The GAO issued a report last Oct. that our electornic voting system was flawed and could potentially influence the outcome of elections. We've had no national discourse about this.

    And a recent Reuter's report said that only 33 of 435 house seats would be comptetitive this year;

    What the hell? We need some sort of reform that goes beyond trying to vote out individual politicians.

  6. Massimo,

    Thanks for the info. And, in my opinion, it's even worse when it's a private company instead of a government owned one.

    It is only reasonable that our most vulnerable places in the nation should be run by Americans. If that is racist and/or jingoistic paint me with that brush.

    No problem with that - after all, Ahnold still can't be president, for example. And it wouldn't be racism if only American people/companies controlled such resources. My point was that it WOULD be racism if a British company can control the ports, but an Arab one can't just for the fact of being Arab (or Chinese, etc.).

    It's like banning any black or hispanic person from being a police officer because most people in prison are, well, black or hispanic. (I don't know for sure if that is in fact true, but is a very common statement, so let's use it even as a hypothetical situation)

    our electornic voting system was flawed and could potentially influence the outcome of elections.

    Just call the UN to monitor the elections here and... oh, wait. They are corrupt too, dammit. :-)



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