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Buying & Selling

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 1:14 AM

Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the Pentagon had ended its program of paying for positive stories in the Iraqi news media.

Two days ago, Rumsfeld said he was mistaken. It turns out the program is under review only.

And he doesn't understand why having the military pay a contractor to allegedly pay for publication of a story - even a true one - is inappropriate.

"The resulting explosion of critical press stories then causes everything � all activity, all initiative � to stop, just frozen," Rumsfeld noted.

The media must be beyond the perception of cash-for-access in order to be perceived as fair. Even if you believe in inherent media bias, the model is not improved by allowing paid placement of stories.

According to White House Spokesman Scott McClellan, President Bush only learned of the planned transfer of domestic port operations to a foreign, national-flag company a few days ago.

And yet, Mr. Bush is somehow able to assure us that the sale does not endanger security. That the Coast Guard and Border Patrol are on the job. That Dubai is a respected partner in the fight against terrorism.

Foreign ownership and operation of six major American ports is nonetheless a significant security liability. While proponents are quick to point out that all work is done by union members who have undergone background checks, union members do not inventory containers.

The burden of port security should not be placed upon Dubai Ports World, nor upon American union workers. Nor is security simply a question of having the Coast Guard offshore.

We need certified personnel and secure procedures to identify and inventory containers at their point of origin and point of entry to this country. A method of securing a container so that it cannot be opened without detection would also be useful. (Just as one tracks a package through UPS or FedEx, if the container were to show that it had been opened in transit, this would be apparent to inspectors.)

Update - 4:37 AM

It seems the Bush Administration cut a deal with Dubai Ports World, agreeing to the sale if the company would make records on their 'foreign operational direction' available on demand. However, requirements found in other foreign sales - such as copies of records kept on American soil, where they would then be subject to court orders - were omitted.

This strikes me as something above and beyond a mid-level decision; it has a direct effect on homeland security. And we're to believe that Mr. Bush knew nothing about it?

Giving Dubai a free pass on business requirements common to other foreign trade agreements is foolish, and even more of a security risk than what was previously thought to be a straightforward sale.

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