Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged presents evidence that Treasury Secretary John Snow stands to make a great deal of money in the Dubai port deal (why am I not surprised?).
More on the port deal, from an editorial in today’s New York Times:
The Bush administration has followed a disturbing pattern in its approach to the war on terror. It has been perpetually willing to sacrifice individual rights in favor of security. But it has been loath to do the same thing when it comes to business interests. It has not imposed reasonable safety requirements on chemical plants, one of the nation’s greatest points of vulnerability, or on the transport of toxic materials. The ports deal is another decision that has made the corporations involved happy, and has made ordinary Americans worry about whether they are being adequately protected.
It is no secret that this administration has pursued an aggressive antiregulatory agenda, and it has elevated corporate leaders to its highest positions. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department convened the panel that approved the ports deal, came to government after serving as the chief executive of the CSX Corporation, which was a major port operator when he worked there. (After he left, CSX sold its port operations to Dubai Ports World.)
At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson points out that allowing our ports to be run by a foreign government are just part of a pattern:
We’re selling our harbors to an Arab government. Our biggest Internet companies are complicit in the Chinese government’s censorship of information and suppression of dissidents. Welcome to American capitalism in the age of globalization.
Here the market rules. National security and freedom of speech are all well and good, but they are distinctly secondary concerns when they bump up against our highest national purpose, which is maximizing shareholder value.
Ooo, first-rate snark, Mr. Meyerson. You’d make a good blogger.
At Huffington Post, David Sirota writes,
The harsh reaction from the Bush administration to the proposal to rescind the deal should be a red flag. This administration is unquestionably the most corporate-controlled administration in recent history, meaning its reactions are usually tied directly to the reactions of Corporate America. And the fact that the White House is ignoring its own security experts and reacting so negatively to Congress’s opposition to the deal means this cuts to the much deeper issue of global trade policy – an issue that trumps all others for Big Money interests, even post-9/11 security.
In a previous post, I noted how the Bush administration is simultaneously negotiating a “free” trade agreement with the UAE – the country tied to the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11. The administration was negotiating this deal at the very same time it tried to quietly slip this port security deal under the radar. It’s not surprising few in the media or the political system have mentioned that simple fact – as I note in my upcoming book Hostile Takeover, the political/media Establishment’s devotion to “free” trade orthodoxy is well documented, and the Establishment’s desire in this current scandal to make sure a discussion of trade policy never happens is obvious.
Sirota quotes Michael Chertoff, among others: “We have to balance the paramount urgency of security against the fact that we still want to have a robust global trading system.” This is the bleeping Homeland Security Director saying this. Technically he may be right, but Chertoff is supposed to be focused on the security end of the equation. The fact that he’s defending the UAE deal and lecturing us about the global trading system shows us where the Bush Administration’s priorities lie. And they don’t lie with We, the People.
And so any attempt to stop the UAE port security deal fundamentally threatens the Tom-Friedman-style “free” trade orthodoxy that says we must eliminate all barriers to trade – even those that protect national security. When you realize that, President Bush’s threat to use the first veto of his presidency on the UAE port security issue suddenly becomes not so surprising. He is proudly defending what Jeff Faux calls “The Party of Davos” or John Perkins calls the “corporatocracy” – that is, the multinational interests who have bankrolled Bush’s entire political career, and who desperately rely on the American government preserving a “free” trade system that subverts all other concerns to the corporate profit motive.
Let’s go back to the Harold Meyerson column. Once upon a time, writes Meyerson, there really was such a thing as corporate responsibility. This existed back in the day when the (mostly unionized) labor force remained within U.S. borders. But no more. And other nations designate certain industries as being too sensitive or strategic to outsource to other countries or sell to foreign interests. But not the U.S.
And, increasingly, the “interests” of financial institutions and corporations have become the “nation’s” (i.e., government’s) interests. They’re the ones creating the nation’s wealth. But since more and more high-paying jobs are going overseas, that wealth is staying in the pockets of corporate top management and shareholders.
Further, since labor is being outsourced to countries with repressive governments, like China, it can be said that corporations are profiting from the suppression of rights.
After all, when American business goes to China to have a machine built or a shirt stitched or some research undertaken, it is in no small reason because the labor is dirt-cheap. This is partly the result of the nation’s history of poverty and partly the result of repressive state policy that views all efforts at worker organization — as it views all efforts at establishing autonomous centers of power — as criminal. Were the current labor strife in China to escalate, were the nation plunged into turmoil in an effort to create a more pluralistic society with actual rights for workers, what would the attitudes of the U.S. corporations in China be? Would Wal-Mart, which does more business with China than any other corporation, object if the Chinese government staged another Tiananmen-style crackdown? Would other American businesses? Would the current or a future administration levy any sanctions against China? Given the growing level of integration of the Chinese economy and ours, could it even afford to?
Put another way, we are all compromised by the way our corporations are making their profits. Meyerson continues,
To the extent that American business or our government even attempt to square this circle, the argument they most frequently adduce is that modernity — that is, the integration of a nation into the global economy — will transform that nation into a more pluralistic democracy. China, however, is determined to manage its integration on its own repressive terms. And, more broadly, modernity hasn’t always guaranteed the flourishing of democratic pluralism — a lesson you might think we’d learned after that nastiness with Germany in the middle of the past century.
Indeed, at the heart of the Bush administration’s theory of democratic transformation, we find two non sequiturs: that integration into the global marketplace leads to democratic pluralism, and that elections lead to democratic pluralism. Yet China and the Arab nations of the Middle East tend to refute, not confirm, these theories. Elections and economic integration are both good in themselves, of course, but absent a thriving civil society, they offer no guarantee of the kinds of transformation that these nations sorely need.
But outsourcing and other business practices may be compromising us. I have argued that much of our middle-class standard of living is being floated on the economy and policies of the past.
… a lot of us are still benefiting from The Way America Used to Be Before Reagan. Boomers like me are still benefiting from the fact that our fathers got free educations on the GI Bill and our newlywed parents got cheap housing and cut-rate mortgages from other government programs, for example. Our parentsâ€™ prosperity got us off to a good start and put us on the road to security, equity, and stock portfolios. In a very real sense, many of us today are living better lives because government in the 1940s and 1950s effectively responded to the needs of citizens.
But those days are long gone, and their effects are running out of steam. Many generations of Americans were more affluent than their parents. I think perhaps that pattern is about to be broken.
Well, I’ve wandered a bit afar from the UAE takeover of ports. I note there are some smart people here and there arguing that the deal wouldn’t really compromise port security. Maybe, maybe not. Even so, this episode is symptomatic of much that is wrong with our government today.