Saturday, February 25, 2006

Country for Sale

Sixteen years ago, Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett wrote a book titled City for Sale, a chronicle of how the oft-revered New York City Mayor Ed Koch was actually a corrupt wheeler-dealer whose door was always open to the influence peddlers. I was reminded of the book when I read a post over at Blue Meme that included this bit of Texas news:

HOUSTON -- A sheik from the United Arab Emirates contributed at least $1 million to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The UAE owns Dubai Ports World, which is taking operations from London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which operates six U.S. ports.
. . . .

The donations were made in the early 1990s for the library, which houses the papers of former President George Bush, the current president's father.

The list of donors names Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan and the people of the United Arab Emirates as one donor in the $1 million or more category.

Well, as I have noted, I abhor cliché, but the more I read up on the ports deal, the more I want to say, “Follow the money.”

While I am not denying the obviously scandalous approach the Bush Administrations has had toward port security, or the reprehensible disregard they have for open governance, the more I read, the more portgate turns out to be yet another lobbying scandal. In fact, it is starting to make Jack Abramoff look like little more than a guy who threatens to beat you up for your lunch money.

The octopus that is the DPW/P&O-UAE/USA deal seems to involve crony lobbying, influence peddling, palm greasing, backslapping, and log rolling of literally global proportions. Indian gambling? That’s like the $2 blackjack table compared to this international game of high-stakes baccarat.

Of course, the most amazing thing about all of this is that there is nothing amazing about it at all. This is how things are done in this White House. This is what stands in for policy.

Exiles from this administration have remarked that they have never seen a White House with less policy-making apparatus. Karl Rove manages the political strategy, but when it comes to “the vision thing,” Bush just looks for a place to farm it out. Security and infrastructure in Iraq, Medicare drug plans, Katrina reconstruction—all outsourced to private interests; interests almost exclusively with strong ties to the administration.

What makes this doubly scandalous is that when you outsource government, you outsource responsibility. (I have mentioned this in the past with reference to Medicare.) The Bush administration not only gets the benefits of enriching friends and buying political allies, they get to say “It’s not my fault” when the private contractors screw up.

Of course, this does circle back to the K Street Project and the “pay for play” culture that has taken over our government. Republicans have not only monopolized the lines of influence, they have indemnified themselves against accountability. Cronies are enriched, responsibility is shirked, and, in the end, campaign coffers are filled—Republican campaign coffers.

Yes, Abramoff looks more and more the poor player in this cast of millionaires, each strutting and fretting all the way to the bank. And, Ed Koch, interested mostly in enriching himself politically, was a bit player, too. Besides, he only had a city to sell; not an entire country.


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