Monday, February 27, 2006

Racial Profiling by Democrats

For the last few days, we have been innundated by news and commentary about the Arab-owned company Dubai Ports World taking over management of our nation's ports. Personally, I think there is WAY too much hype over this deal. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, including the less-than-honorable junior senator from New York, have jumped on this silly company acquisition like a piranha on a pork chop.

Ok... for those of you who haven't been following the news recently, the large seaport management firm "Dubai Ports World" received an OK from stockholders to purchase the British company "Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co." for about 6.8 billion dollars.

Why does this matter? Because Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. manages and operates ports in the United States... six ports in fact: New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. The deal would put Dubai Ports World in charge of major shipping operations at those sea ports. Because ports are sensitive points of entry, the United States Government is required to investigate and approve the security plans of new companies seeking to operate such ports.

From everything I have read, Dubai Ports World cooperated fully with the government organizations charged with that investigation and approval process.

Under the process conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), officials carefully reviewed the national security issues raised by the transaction and its effect on our national security. Twelve Federal agencies and the government's counterterrorism experts closely and carefully reviewed the transaction to make certain it posed no threat to national security. (reference - emphasis added)

Dubai Ports World waded carefully through the bureaucratic quagmire that is the US Government approval process. And, recently, the administration approved Dubai Ports World's bid to acquire the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. As standard procedure, this process never rose above the Sub-cabinet level. It was a routine investigation that turned up no signficant security concerns.

Sounds like your basic bureaucratic approval process, right? So... what happened? Politics happened. Thinking more about November 2006 than anything else, a few choice Governors and Members of Congress basically threw a hissy fit. Talk about politics turning on its head... Bill Frist is siding with Hillary Clinton and Jimmy Carter has expressed his approval of President Bush's move. Woah! This is the weirdest Tag-Team match I've ever seen.

Anyways. Senator Frist has threatened to pass legislation to block the approval and acquisition process. Bush came out, said that was a stupid idea and threatened to veto. I'm sure I sound like a broken record on this one... but I'm gonna side with Bush on this one.

What is the problem? What are these senators complaining about so loudly?
1) Dubai Ports World is a partially state-owned operation in the United Arab Emirates.
2) Some of the 9/11 hijackers did their banking, lived temporarily, or sent packages through the United Arab Emirates.
3) Obviously the knee-jerk assumptions of politicians and press know more about a company's security plans than the various government organizations who wholeheartedly approved this acquisition.

Anyways, am I rambling? Have I lost anybody yet? I'm sorry, but I think background is important.

So, what did everybody learn in our basic Universty logic class? Anyone? Anyone? YES... we learned that CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. Just because apples and oranges appear in the same basket doesn't mean that they came from the same tree.

Let me put it this way:
1) Dubai Ports World operates ports ALL OVER THE WORLD... in places like Dubai, Germany, Shanghai, Djibouti... oh yeah... and HONG KONG. Obviously they do a pretty decent job (especially since they seem to have $6.8 billion dollars to go around acquiring other large companies)

2) The United Arab Emirates is a growing economic powerhouse and a significant ALLY in the War on Terror. I will have to strongly disagree with your characterization of the UAE as a "government known to abide and associate with Al Qaeda." We need to open our eyes people. All Arab countries are not created equal. Now, I would be concerned if the government of Yemen or Syria or Iran was seeking to take over our ports. But, the UAE is a cooperative, or if not, a friendly government to the United States.

3) Many have criticized this deal because a foreign government (namely the Government of the Dubai City-State) would control the ports. But, what is the government of Dubai? The entire system is one big family-owned business. Yes, it is a government... but they are also a very profit-minded business. Citizens of Dubai are more like investors in a large company than subjects or citizens. So, I don't think we should freak out when a business-mined government is looking to make an aquisition.

4) The only real evidence anybody has against the UAE is that a few 9/11 terrorists were UAE Citizens, and they did some banking there. But, if that is our standard of judgement, why in the world did we allow a British company to run our ports? The infamous attempted Shoe Bomber was a Brit... and we know that terrorists have done business there. As I said above... correlation is not causation. We should not punish a government or a company for the actions of a few citizens (and, we shouldn't really do the opposite either, but I can see more justification for that).

5) The primary tasks of inspecting incoming cargo still fall upon the US Customs Administration and the Coast Guard. Dubai Ports World will take over none of the National Security aspects of running the port. That is still our government's job. They need only prove that they will obey the rules and regulations of the United States when hiring workers for sensitive positions... just like every other company.

President Bush put it this way:
If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward. The company has been cooperative with the United States government. The company will not manage port security. The security of our ports will continue to be managed by the Coast Guard and Customs. The company is from a country that has been cooperative in the war on terror, been an ally in the war on terror. The company operates ports in different countries around the world, ports from which cargo has been sent to the United States on a regular basis. (February 21, 2006)

In summary, I agree with Bush and the Arab World on this one. The adverse reaction to this deal is nothing but Islamophobia. It is a frantic attempt to pander to the uninformed public through false stereotypes. Domestically, it is a silly attempt to discredit President Bush in the area where he is strongest. And, as you can likely tell, it all makes me mad!

Dubai Ports World should be subject to the same scrutiny and security precautions as any other port management company. But, we should not discriminate against the company just because it is from a country that speaks Arabic. C'mon people... put your thinkin' caps on!

Now, we could have a long debate over whether foreign companies should be managing our domestic ports. If we want to ban foreign countries from operating... let's do it. That will shut down all but the state-managed ports in the USA... basically shutting down both coasts to international shipping. You think foreign products are expensive now? If that is our priority, let us be consistent... all or nuthin'!

The deal between Dubai Ports World and that British company with a long silly name should go forward under the laws of the United States. If the DOC, DOD, CIA, and the rest of the 12 agencies said that Dubai Ports World is compliant... then what is holding us up??

Overall, if Frist follows through with his Hissy Fit... I think Bush should follow through with his veto. I think Bush is in the right on this one (see statements here and here). Dubai Ports World has every right to bid and invest in the United States if they are willing to play by the rules. I hope we can get over this soon and continue a strong economic and strategic relationship with the United Arab Emirates. Plus... I'm all excited to go skiing.

That is all.

Horatio the Pragmatist

PS: Since I wrote this, Dubai Ports World has voluntarily agreed to reopen the investigation to help placate congressional furor. They will voluntarily subject themselves to an extra 45 day investigation so they dont' have to sacrifice a 7 billion dollar deal. Overall, this is silly politicking... an example of people inside the beltway trying to freak everybody out before the 2006 election.

I can only hope that we continue to have politicians who go to Washington seeking to make it better... and less superficial and political.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Why are individualists just like everybody else?

You know, I am always curious about the people who do something who assert themselves as an individual. For example, a rebellious teen will go out and start smoking, then call himself a unique individual. But, what is wrong with this picture? I think that many people preening in their individualism should look around... they may find out that they're acting just like those around them.

Take drinking for example. For those of you who don't already know, I don't drink. In fact, I have never knowingly consumed alcohol in my life (I'm not saying this out of self-glorification, but for mere presentation of my position). But, from that position, I am always shocked by how many people are PROUD of their penchant for alcoholic beverages. People I knew in high school feel like they stand out (or stood out back then) because they got drunk on the weekends. Oh yes... they were cool individuals... rising above the muck.

But, let's be honest. Is drinking really something to be proud of? I mean, people go off and consume a substance that blocks out their memories, clouds their judgement, and makes them talk louder than is necessary. Is this considered appealing? I remember a kid in high school coming into class after a weekend of partying. His friends all stood around and talked about how funny it was when he started talking to a wooden duck in his drunken stupor (on a side note: isn't "stupor" a a great word? I mean, think of other words that sound like that... good word). I'm sorry, what is so cool about that? He didn't even remember!

But, really, isn't it harder to NOT drink than to drink? Should we not be a society that glorifies those who do not succumb to a silly mind-numbing chemical? Personally, I quite enjoy spending time with people who have tons of fun... and remember the weekend when it is over with. I love my memories. And, I am proud to know that I will remember my weekend come Monday morning.

Another group that professes their collective individualism are Goths. I'm not talking about the Germanic tribe here. I'm talking about people who have decided that black is the perfect color to make a statement. The loudest of these "individualists" are people I see all dressed in black vinyl wearing a jewelry store on their face. I love hearing how society should accept them for "who they are." Some such people go to job interviews dressed like Dracula because they want the employer to accept their individuality. Well, the employer may accept your individuality, but they won't hire you until you learn to show up dressed properly!

How are Goths "individuals" when they dress exactly like everybody else around them? I mean, how can you assert your individuality when everybody you hang out with wears black faux leather... ALL THE TIME. (On one level, I'm sure it makes your fashion choices easy in the morning.)

Some even take their penchant for black to an extreme... with lace and chains and white makeup and stuff. But, when it all comes down to it, you look like a weirdo... and you surround yourself with people who look like you. How can you be an individual when you are hiding all that makes you special behind a big flashing I'M JUST LIKE OTHER PEOPLE sign??

Individualism is important. We are all unique and special people. But, you can assert YOUR individuality and still not be a total weirdo. Relinquishing your self-control to a chemical does not make you a more unique person. When you dress or act like a vampire, you just fade into the background. You're not asserting your individuality... you're being weak.

If you want respect in this life, respect yourself. Showcase your talents, not your black wardrobe. Don't expect the world to conform to your funky redefinition of reality. Learn to function in the world, and then learn to fly as high as you can in your individual sphere.

But... please... don't try to tell me you're an individual when you're just acting like every other weakling.

That is all.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Hamas as a Political Party

An article today released by the AFP proclaimed: Israel fumes over Putin 'knife in back'. Basically, Israel is having a hissy fit because Russia invited Hamas--the fair winners of the Palestinian National Assembly elections--to meet with Putin in Moscow.

Of all people, the Israeli Education Minister was the top quote in the article: "This initiative is a real knife in the back... because it aims to give international legitimacy to a terrorist group and we must oppose it with all our means."

In response, I have to ask: What if the aim of this visit is to help Hamas earn its own legitimacy??.

Hamas is a political organization. It has functioned for the last decade as the welfare state helping the Palestinian people through horrible poverty and war. It is already a legitimate organization among Palestinians... and not just because it is Islamic or supports terrorist acts.

When Israel came in and leveled whole cities, it was Hamas who followed and helped people rebuild. As Israel pursued a reign of terror in an attempt to fight terrorism, Hamas helped the Palestinian people survive and claimed a right to legitimate resistance. I'm not saying I agree with Hamas... but just that they aren't the organization of pure evil that Israel tends to tell us they are. I am watching with bated breath to see what Hamas will do in power. But, I'm neither optimistic nor claiming that the apocalypse is upon is.

I have never viewed "Terrorism" as an ideology. Terrorism is a method used to express a point. It is an evil and despicable method because it targets innocent victims... but it is still a method. And both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty of terrorism. In fact, if they are not equally guilty, I tend to blame Israel for it... because they should have been smarter than that.

Yes, Hamas has operated a significant terrorist infrastructure... but "terrorism" is not their ideology. If they cease to perform terrorist acts, are we willing to stop calling them terrorists?

My personal belief is that if you give a group a legitimate outlet for their grievances, they will no longer pursue extreme methods. Why should a person scream if they think they can get their point across with a whisper.

As the whole press-covered world screams for Hamas to renounce terrorism, shouldn't there be some group willing to sit down with them and say: "Look... if you don't walk the line, you're never going to succeed." Isn't civilized discourse the best part of our democratic ideal? So, let us fume and clamor as we call Hamas to repentence. But, someone should sit down with them and teach them how to be a legitimate political organization.

If that is what Russia is doing, I laud them. In fact, I hope we asked Russia to do this, so we could be pushing all sides of this story.

Hamas is a Political Party with a Terrorist wing. They won on a campaign to root out corruption in the most corrupt old-man's club in the world (that is: the Palestinian Authority under Arafat's Fatah). Now, Hamas must learn to cut off that terrorist wing. Only then will they truly be able to fly.

That is all.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Alternative Energy

A recent 100 Hour Board question asked about President Bush's Advanced Energy Initative which he announced at the 2005 State of the Union. He said:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here
we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported
from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is
through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop
cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on
the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To
change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission
coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe
nuclear energy. (Applause.)

We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from
corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this
new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach
another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the
Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of
America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a
petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing
of the past. (Applause.)


Thus the question posted on The Board:
I have read some of these options and it would mean there would be an increase in cost for fuel. Would you be willing to pay more for an alternative fuel form?

Some of our increased need for fuel comes from the huge amount of SUV's in the U.S. I read an article some time ago saying that the U.S. is the only country in the world that has not improved in fuel efficiency. In fact, we have gotten worse, mainly due to the increase of SUV's. If we were able to improve our fuel efficiency, do you think that would be enough?

I think it is very important to look at alternative fuel options. First, it is important to research them for the sake of science and improved understanding. Second, and more important, we should seek to make these systems more viable... and even feasible.

Personally, I do NOT think the American people at large will pay 5.00 per gallon (or equivalent) just to be environmentally friendly. Every law of economics says that people will freak out about this. Demand depends on the intrinsic value of a specific good. Obviously, environmentalism doesn't sell nearly as well as machismo. That is why ugly Hummers are still powerful sellers... and why the Republican party tends to win elections.

But, if you notice, there has been a HUGE spike in hybrid vehicle technology over the last few years. Suddenly hybrids are mainstream. Ford Motors just dumped millions of dollars into Hybrid car commercials for the Super Bowl (which were disappointing… I miss Jim Henson’s Kermit voice). They obviously think there is a selling point for efficient cars (I’m just wondering why they don’t add some extra batteries so I could plug my [future] Hybrid in…).

Why are Hybrid cars growing so rapidly? Because people have decided they are desirable. 1) Fuel prices have pushed many people to think more efficiently. 2) The Government is offering tax breaks or limited privileges to hybrid car owners (such as access to HOV lanes). Thus, Hybrid cars have become desirable. Back when they were just "environmentally friendly" nobody really cared about electric cars. Now they are actually viable, relatively cheap, and useful.

So, I think it is impossible to mandate a switch to alternative fuels. But, through research and development—and good marketing—I think alternative fuels can become viable. But, there are some serious obstacles that we need to overcome.

I was watching an old episode of the West Wing the other day (can I just say... hooray for TiVo and DVR... how did I live?) where Josh hit a hybrid car while test driving a huge SUV (and talking on a cell phone). To respond to it, he invited spokespersons from various alternative energy groups. They then proceeded to argue about the strengths and weaknesses of their various plans. It was actually a well-written exchange outlining issues with alternative fuel technologies. Currently, none of the options are truly viable. All of them have issues to overcome.

If we want to overcome our dependence on foreign oil, I think Bush is putting us on a good path:
1) Nuclear Energy - it is safe and already viable. I know, I must be a psycho anti-environmentalist for even suggesting that we harness the power of the atom for good. For Pete's sake... we have the uranium, let's put it to some good use. Then let's store it in Nevada (ha... just kidding. Harry Reid is now going to fly in on a broomstick and throttle my neck).

2) Coal - I liked Bush's call for zero-emissions coal technology. That is viable... and we have a 200 year supply of coal. So, let’s use the resource we have and make it work well.

3) ANWR - The Alaska National Wildlife Reserve: millions of acres of protected
wilderness sitting on a huge cache of petroleum. And, using current technologies, we can get at 90% of the oil by only affecting 10% of the land. That is a pretty good trade off... and sensible. But, of course, everybody has a hernia when you mentioning regulated drilling on a wildlife reserve. Oh well.

So, the solutions are there. We need to show that they are viable and
appealing. Personally, I don't care if people need to buy SUVs. I'm annoyed that
"SUV" has become a hiss and a byword among liberals. I drive an SUV and get 25
miles to the gallon. That ain't bad!

Oh yeah, and just because people choose to buy less efficient cars doesn't mean that engine efficiency hasn't improved DRAMATICALLY. Europe has improved efficiency standards by forcing people to buy tiny cars and charging 10 dollars a gallon. The US fills consumer demand and seeks to make the in-demand cars more efficient. But, I guarantee you that the Ford F-350 is more efficient today than it was 5 years ago.

Anyways, my point is, let the market do its work. The government should
support research and development into alternate fuel options. The joy of
capitalism is that people act in their best interest, and aggregate best
interest is often a good way to go. I want to scream when tree-huggers say: "The
government should force everybody to buy Hybrid cars." Argh... top ten ways to
tank the US economy (which, by the way, keeps the world economy running too).

I'm a big fan of Bush's energy initiative. I'm going to go read some
more about it. Basically, I think the Democratic party are only criticizing his
initiative because they couldn't make the idea fly first.

That is all.

Horatio the Capitalist (who would buy a Hybrid car... but not an ugly one)