Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Any Port in a Storm?

From the New York Times:

The Republican governors of New York and Maryland on Monday joined the growing chorus of criticism of an Arab company’s takeover of operations at six major American ports. Both raised the threat of legal action to void contracts at ports in New York City and Baltimore.

“I have directed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to explore all legal options that may be available to them in regards to this transaction,” Gov. George E. Pataki of New York said in a statement.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland told reporters that he had “a lot of discretion” and was considering his options, including voiding the contract.

A lot of the backlash at the idea of having an Arab company run major ports in the US has been, frankly, based in the xenophobic idea that we shouldn’t put the security of major trading outlets in the hands of Arabs because, well, they’re Arabs. That is a rather simplistic, not to mention bigoted, way of looking at it. Backing off a notch, some have said that they don’t like the idea of “foreign” companies — Arab or otherwise — doing it. That’s less odious than the idea of a blanket distrust of any Arabic company, but in reality we do business in sensitive areas — namely banking — with lots of foreign countries like China, which can hardly be called the bulwark of capitalism, and there are very few corporations in America that do not have some component of foreign ownership.

It comes down to the basic fact that there are just some things in this country that shouldn’t be privatized or outsourced, and defense and national security is one of them. One of the reasons we have a federal government is to provide protection at the borders and ports, and for those of us who live and work close to the ports covered in the contracts — my office is within walking distance of the Port of Miami — it would be comforting to know that my tax dollars are going to pay for that protection by our armed forces, and not from the lowest bidder.