Anchors Way, Way Away

Port Security and the Politics of a Good Story

When the news first broke that a Dubai company was to take over several major American ports, including ones in New York, New Jersey, and Miami, nobody was paying attention because Dick Cheney had just shot a man in the face. Charles Schumer, the New York Senator, who has been lobbying hard for years for better port security, started holding press conferences about the Dubai Ports World deal immediately, but people weren't listening. Then Michael Savage, the right-wing talk radio host who has been called racist and homophobic, got a hold of the story and it started to grow.

Michael Chertoff, the homeland security chief who waited days to respond while an American city drowned, went on Sunday talk radio shows to assure the country that the deal had gone through a rigorous process." But Peter T. King, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, who Sunday on Meet the Press referred to all the progress we have made in Iraq, called Michael Chertoff a liar.

Jimmy Carter pointed out that the ports have been run by foreign companies for decades, which only made the conservatives madder.

Meanwhile, it came to light that the Coast Guard had cautioned Bush weeks ago that it could not determine whether the United Arab Emirates-based company might support terrorist operations. The Coast Guard now maintains that their concerns have been addressed. Nonetheless workers at Port Newark protested. Stewart Baker, an assistant secretary for Homeland Security, said he was aware of the Coast Guard's concerns and thought it was "A little unfair to judge this report by one paragraph that happens not to be classified," making classification of documents sound like some random act, a roll of the dice, a piece of luck.

Some Democrats are now pushing for legislation banning foreign ownership of U.S. ports. But other groups are just anti-Arab and point out that two of the 9-11 terrorists were from Dubai, though neither worked for Dubai Ports World.

There is however widespread agreement that our ports are not secure and not enough has been done to change that. It was in fact a major point in John Kerry's campaign for president. Republicans at the time said, Don't change horses in midstream. But now, with midterm elections just around the corner, they are singing a different tune.

It's a sad conclusion that it would take racism to alert us to the fact that we have elected incompetent politicians who have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on a war of choice instead of shoring up our defenses. We've got 127,000 troops still in Iraq while the rest of the world is buying up our assets at home.


Stephen Elliott is the author of Looking Forward To It: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The American Electoral Process. He lives online at stephenelliott.com.

 
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