Action Alert — February 24, 2006

Port Deal Petition: The Real Scandal with the Port Sell-Off Deal

Will you sign the petition?
Tell Congress to cut the Arab-bashing and deal with the real issue: when it comes to who controls our national infrastructure, certain things should not be globalized, privatized and sold off for profit.
Sign the petition here.

Dear Fair Trade Supporter,

The hoopla over the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Dubai Ports World company acquiring control of six U.S. east coast ports is both overdue and off target.

Both President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are in the wrong: If Bush wants to make homeland security a reality and not a slogan, he needs to stop privatizing, globalizing and selling off our national infrastructure.

Frist and Congress need to stop bashing Arabs and Dubai Ports World in particular. Whether a private company is domestic or foreign, the bigger issue is what sets their priorities: ensuring our security or making a profit? After 9-11, the Bush administration replaced the private, for-profit security firms conducting passenger screening at our airports with a new government agency whose only bottom-line is security.

We need your help to cut through the propaganda and force our representatives to deal with the real issue: public vs. private operation of our critical infrastructure.

Many of us only realized that the control and operation of our ports was being sold off to private – and often foreign – corporations because of this recent deal. Let’s use our voices to send a really loud wake-up call to our elected officials.

Can you sign this petition to Congress and forward it to your friends?

Petition Statement:

“Please stop the Arab-bashing regarding the UAE port acquisition and instead investigate the real issue: our government needs to prioritize improving our weak port security system.

This means taking more responsibility for operating our ports with security as the focus, rather than having private companies from any country running our ports with the focus on their private profit. There is too much at stake.”

Sign the petition here: http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=2713

If we do not act now, not only will more of our nation’s infrastructure and essential services be privatized, but this unsafe situation will get locked in place through several backwards “trade” agreements. President Bush is getting public relations points today for backpedaling on the threat to use the first veto of his presidency in defense of the UAE port deal. However, right now the Bush administration is also negotiating a General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and a Free Trade Agreement with the UAE that, if completed, would handcuff our elected officials from protecting us against this outrageous sell off of our basic infrastructure.[1]

The multinational corporations that have written the administration’s trade policies are working feverishly to use the GATS, one of 17 agreements enforced by the WTO, to lock-in rules that would forbid Congress, governors or state legislatures from changing the rules for ports managed by private companies. If this WTO deal happens, what is now basically a Bush administration blunder would become the permanent WTO-enforced policy of the United States.[2]

If we work together and quickly, we can tamp down the finger pointing against Arabs and ramp up the questions about our how runaway globalization, privatization and trade policies are threatening our wellbeing. We cannot let “free trade” and corporate globalization ideology trump security.

Sign the petition here: http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=2713

Thank you for all that you do,
The Global Trade Watch Team

p.s. This critical message of sane policy solutions amid the political ruckus is one that the public must hear. We think that John Nichols from The Nation got it best, and we’ve pasted the article from his online blog below. Please forward this petition and John’s article to all of your friends and family.

Corporate Control of Ports Is the Problem
The Nation Online Beat

By John Nichols

Read John's Blog Online

The problem with the Bush administration's support for a move by a United Arab Emirates-based firm to take over operation of six major American ports -- as well as the shipment of military equipment through two additional ports -- is not that the corporation in question is Arab-owned.

The problem is that Dubai Ports World is a corporation. It happens to be a corporation that is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a nation that served as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of 9-11, and that has stirred broad concern. But, even if the sale of operational control of the ports to this firm did not raise security alarm bells, it would be a bad idea.

Ports are essential pieces of the infrastructure of the United States, and they are best run by public authorities that are accountable to elected officials and the people those officials represent. While traditional port authorities still exist, they are increasing marginalized as privatization schemes have allowed corporations -- often with tough anti-union attitudes and even tougher bottom lines -- to take charge of more and more of the basic operations at the nation's ports.

In the era when the federal government sees "homeland security" as a slogan rather than a responsibility, allowing the nation's working waterfronts to be run by private firms just doesn't work. It is no secret that federal authorities have failed to mandate, let alone implement, basic port security measures. But this is not merely a federal failure; it is, as well, a private-sector failure. The private firms that control so many of the nation's ports have not begun to set up a solid system for waterfront security in the more than four years since the September 11, 2001 attacks. And shifting control of the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia -- along with control over the movement of military equipment on behalf of the U.S. Army through the ports at Beaumont and Corpus Christi -- from a British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., to Dubai Ports World, is not going to improve the situation.

Unfortunately, the debate has been posed as a fight over whether Arab-owned firms should be allowed to manage ports and other strategic sites in the U.S. Media coverage of the debate sets up the increasingly ridiculous Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff -- who babbles bureaucratically about how, "We make sure there are assurances in place, in general, sufficient to satisfy us that the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint" -- against members of Congress -- who growl, as U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, did over the weekend about the need "to guard against things like infiltration by al-Qaida or someone else."

There are two fundamental facts about corporations that put this controversy about who runs the ports in perspective.

First: Like most American firms, most Arab-owned firms are committed to making money, and the vast majority of them are not about to compromise their potential profits by throwing in with terrorists.

Second: Like most American firms, Arab-owned firms are more concerned about satisfying shareholders than anything else. As such, they are poor stewards of ports and other vital pieces of the national infrastructure that still require the constant investment of public funds, as well as responsible oversight by authorities that can see more than a bottom line, in order to maintain public safety -- not to mention the public good of modern, efficient transportation services.

Sign the petition here: http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=2713


[1] "U.S. Begins FTA Talks With UAE, Oman, Despite Labor Violations," Inside U.S. Trade, March 11, 2005.
[2] For more information about the GATS, go to: http://www.citizen.org/trade/wto/gats/

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