Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Don't Let Arabs Sign Our Paychecks!

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush said Tuesday that a deal allowing an Arab company to take over [the operation of] six major U.S. seaports [from a British company] should go forward and that he would veto any congressional effort to stop it.
Opposition appears to be based more in fear and pandering than genuine policy concerns. As the President explained:

"I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, 'We'll treat you fairly.'"


"This is a company that has played by the rules, has been cooperative with the United States, from a country that's an ally on the war on terror, and it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through," the president said after emerging from his helicopter on the South Lawn.

The basic criticism is essentially guilt by association:
Critics have noted that some of the 9/11 hijackers used the UAE as an operational and financial base. In addition, they contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
Similar observations could be made about many countries, including the U.S., without refusing to do business with them. The UAE, however, is also an important ally and business center:

U.S. warships regularly dock at Dubai's Jebel Ali Port, which is also managed by DP World, and the emirate became the first Middle Eastern port city in 2004 to sign a U.S. pact aimed at deterring the use of shipping containers for terrorism.

The UAE provides logistical support for some U.S. military operations in the region, including Afghanistan. The Gulf Arab state, an OPEC oil producer, is negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States.

There is a more reasonable reaction than blocking the takeover. The port authorities should have some say over who they do business with:
[Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich] and New York's George Pataki, also a Republican, have indicated they may try to cancel lease arrangements at ports in their states because of the DP World takeover.
The Washington Times explains what "operating" a port really means and interviewed actual Baltimore port workers (rather than posturing politicians):

Work at the port will continue to be performed by unionized longshoremen under the deal in which state-owned Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates purchased London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. for $6.8 billion.

P&O provides stevedoring and terminal operating services at Baltimore's Seagirt and Dundalk Marine terminals, the largest of the Maryland Port Administration's seven terminals, and at five other U.S. seaports.

The company also hires the terminal work force and ensures cargo is delivered or shipped at the port. It employs about 65 workers at the Port of Baltimore who handle mostly containerized cargo.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide security... Port operators "just make sure every ship and every truck is unloaded," said Mike Bowden, president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1459.


"I don't think it will affect me," said a 61-year-old longshoreman in an orange jumpsuit, who stopped by the same Citgo station to buy a stack of lottery tickets yesterday evening. "Everybody coming through on the ships are foreigners already.

"They have to go through customs and all that. ... It's the same ship, just somebody different who owns it."

As workers rolled out of the port at the end of their shift, one longshoreman, who also didn't provide his name, summed up the situation: "Nothing is going to change for us, man."

Rich Galen draws a useful analogy to explain port operations:

...the cable news programming geniuses have been talking about the US outsourcing "port security" to Dubai.

This is like saying the company which operates your local airport - which is to say it decides how much you pay for parking and where in the terminal the Starbucks will be located - is responsible for airline security.

It isn't.

Nor will DP World be responsible for port security. That remains with Customs and the Coast Guard...

Want to know what's really behind all this?

It's an even numbered year and we are 253 days from election day.

It's not about port security; It's about incumbent security.

Misunderstanding how ports work has spawned many false-premised reactions and editorials, like the Washington Post's "Wanna Buy a Port?" which begins "We're selling our harbors to an Arab government." Then there's an overly-emotional and less than factual letter reported by the AP:

"In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO - but HELL NO," conservative Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., wrote Bush in a terse letter on Wednesday that she also posted on her Web site.

No matter that no American port is actually being sold, Bush faces a spreading rebellion among Republicans, Democrats and port-state governors.

(The Washington Post quoted Myrick's letter without pointing out the false statement.)

Allegations of "anti-Arab bias" do not seem misplaced:
Meanwhile, Arab-Americans have said that the focus on the Dubai company is based on anti-Arab feelings rather than security concerns. "I find some of the rhetoric being used against this deal shameful and irresponsible," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, "There is bigotry coming out here." He accused politicians of exploiting fears left over from the 9/11 attacks to gain advantage in an election year. "Bush is vulnerable so the Democrats jump on it. The Republicans feel vulnerable so they jump on it. The slogan is, if it's Arab, it's bad. Hammer away" he said.
Meanwhile, more important issues are being ignored:

But whatever happens, experts in port operations said they feared broader issues about security in the country's docks were being lost in the controversy...

Stephen E. Flynn, a specialist in maritime security at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that although the company is state-owned, several members of its top management are Americans -- including its general counsel, a senior vice president and its outgoing chief operating officer, Edward H. Bilkey, who is a former U.S. Navy officer. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States has increasingly depended on such foreign port operators to cooperate in inspecting cargo before it heads for U.S. shores.

"It's a global network at the end of the day that we're trying to secure here," Flynn said. "And that doesn't happen by the United States owning every bit of it. What we should be focusing on instead is the question, are the security standards adequate?"


"What I hope for out of this whole debate is that, as Americans suddenly realize most of our marine terminals are managed by foreign-owned companies, they ask, given that that's a reality, how do we secure it?" Flynn said. "I also hope this current situation doesn't lead to a feeding frenzy [against foreign operators], because if we want things to be secure over here, we're going to have to work with foreign counterparts."

With a deeper understanding of how ports operate, it's much harder to defend opposing this deal, which, as Rich Galen described it, was "known to the financial community since November, [and] approved by one of those alphabet commissions which happens to involve SIX Cabinet Departments including Treasury, State, Homeland Security, Commerce, and Justice..." I will be very surprised if opponents decide to use fact-based reasons to stop the transfer. While ports should still be able to reject having a new partner forced on them, I have yet to see a good reason to oppose the takeover entirely.

For more information, check out:
Der Spiegel's overview of the UAE's development and economy
"Background Note: United Arab Emirates" (State Department)
"Ports of Politics: How to sound like a hawk without being one" (Wall Street Journal)
"Security and the Sale of Port Facilities: Facts and Recommendations" (Heritage Foundation)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lock Up the Court?

Brian Ross at ABC News seems to have a problem Supreme Court justices venturing outside the Beltway:
At the historic swearing-in of John Roberts as the 17th chief justice of the United States last September, every member of the Supreme Court, except Antonin Scalia, was in attendance. ABC News has learned that Scalia instead was on the tennis court at one of the country's top resorts, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Bachelor Gulch, Colo., during a trip to a legal seminar sponsored by the Federalist Society.
Despite the fact that such seminars are planned well in advance and that Scalia explained this ("I was out of town with a commitment that I could not break"), Ross goes on to pretend to speak for Chief Justice Roberts:
Not only did Scalia's absence appear to be a snub of the new chief justice, but according to some legal ethics experts, it also raised questions about the propriety of what critics call judicial junkets.
The now-deified Justice O'Connor was teaching a class in Arizona on the day her successor, Justice Alito, was sworn in. ABC News has not yet labeled this a "snub."

Then of course there's the fallacious guilt by association:

One night at the resort, Scalia attended a cocktail reception, sponsored in part by the same lobbying and law firm where convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff once worked.

"You know a lot of people would be embarrassed at that. I don't think Antonin Scalia will be embarrassed," Gillers continued.

Should Scalia also be embarrassed to attend White House events because its previous occupant was impeached?

Ross leaves out some interesting details::
  • Scalia was at the resort to teach a Continuing Legal Education seminar sponsored by the Federalist Society, as part of a larger meeting of the organization.
  • Regular attendance at such seminars is required of lawyers in 46 of the 51 U.S. jurisdictions as a condition of practicing law. They are often held at resorts, because attorneys hate having to amass the necessary credits and combining them with recreation ensures better attendance.
  • The seminars are usually taught by prominent members of the bar, and occasionally judges.
And these are not minor seminars:
  • Scalia arrived at the resort after 11PM on the first day. On the second day he taught his seminar, attended a reception and dinner, and played tennis. He left at 6:30 AM of the morning after the seminar. This... a late night arrival, a day of participation, and an early morning departure for the airport, is what Nightline referred to as spending "three days" at the resort.
  • Justice Scalia's materials for his course were 481 pages long. He taught for 10 hours, all in the one day he actually stayed at the resort.
  • How he found the time, not to mention the energy, to play tennis is a mystery.
The basic issue is this:

While there are ethics rules in place for lower federal court judges, there is no explicit code of ethics for the nine Supreme Court justices. Some practices have in turn come under scrutiny, such as accepting trips from groups with political and judicial agenda and gifts from private parties who may at some point have business before the court.

Ron Rotunda, a law professor at the George Mason School of Law, author of a textbook on legal ethics and who is himself a member of the Federalist Society, finds no problem with the Supreme Court justices attending events sponsored by the organization. "I'm a member of the Federalist Society, the NAACP, and the justices get invited to both, and I think that's a good idea," he said. "The organization doesn't have litigation before the judge and is unlikely to have litigation before the judge."

Gifts, including travel, provided to Supreme Court justices are already scrutinized. Other than covering his basic transportation and lodging expenses, Justice Scalia was paid nothing for his efforts. The problem here is the attitude that justices should not be associating with or educating fellow lawyers. Attending lawyers' seminars is simply an extension of the widespread practice of teaching at summer study abroad programs. Or is it less important to have educated practicing lawyers than to provide an excuse for students to study abroad?

It is also hard to see how anyone benefits from a Supreme Court locked away deep inside the Beltway.

A detailed analysis of the issue by a CLE instructor is available at The Ethics Scoreboard.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lower Standards, Lower Success

The Washington Post reports on minorities taking AP classes and exams, but misses a pretty crucial observation on affirmative action.

Across the Washington region, more black and Hispanic students are participating in highly touted Advanced Placement courses. Now, educators say they have to make certain that those students are not only taking the classes but are succeeding in them.


For many years, AP held barriers for minority students, said George P. Arlotto, principal of Wheaton High School in Montgomery County and a former AP teacher. "A lot of schools throughout the country created prerequisites to get into AP classes. Today, we've taken those barriers down. We tell the students, 'If you have the desire, then we want you in the class.' "


At Wheaton... the number of students taking the AP exams has grown almost sixfold -- from 46 in 2001 to 247 in 2005. Arlotto said that's partly because educators are making more of an effort to encourage students to take the difficult coursework.

But Wheaton is a prime example of the next phase in AP. Although more students are enrolling, not all are achieving passing scores on the AP exams. In 2005, only 37.4 percent of the students who took an exam scored a 3 -- the minimum passing score -- or better, compared with 67.5 percent in 2001.

So the school lowered its standards, saw a forty-five percent drop in passage rates, and now they're starting to wonder why.

Then there's this meaningless statement:
In Fairfax County, the number [of students taking AP exams ] grew 32.2 percent, but the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking the tests... remained steady at about 9 percent over the five-year period.
I'll avoid reviewing basic math here, but that means that the number of black and Hispanic students taking the exams also increased around 32 percent. The rest of the article is filled with more statistics without any meaningful analysis.

I took four AP exams in high school, only two of which (Calculus AB & BC) were even arguably attached to a high school course. One teacher questioned whether I would be able to pass the other two (U.S. & Comparative Government and Politics) on my own - but I already knew much of the information and learned the rest independently. I passed them all with 4's and 5's (5 is the highest score). Prerequisites should not be an absolute barrier for AP classes, but just whining about diversity and regurgitating statistics doesn't get us anywhere.

The problem that is apparent from this article is one of the fundamental flaws of affirmative action - putting people in educational settings that they would not qualify for on merit, leading to failure and discouragement. The question shouldn't be why some minorities aren't passing the exams, but why they weren't qualified for the classes in the first place.