Reader Mail

Dueling Over Dubai

Is it conservative to support or oppose the Ports deal? Plus: Health care accounting. Bulger Boston. Iran, anyone? More on Ben Stein. And much else.

2.26.06

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(Read today's Reader Mail on Clinton Taylor's American Country music column in the separate document here.)

SAVE HAVENS
Re: Peter Hannaford's Asleep at the Switch -- Twice:

Peter Hannaford has it exactly right, but I would add one further note: Someone please tell Karen Hughes to remove the hajib and come home. The White House Communications Office, currently staffed by left-footed, foot-in-the-mouth boobs, desperately needs her attention. So instead of wandering aimlessly around the Middle East telling jihadis what wonderful people we are, she should come back to the White House and get in front of these events before they spin completely out of control!

I, for one, grow weary of watching my President dance around trying to appear in charge when he has no idea what is going on.
-- Judy Beumler, Editor
The Wedding Chronicle

Excellent article by Peter Hannaford, which not only points to the increasing tone deafness and cluelessness of the Bush White House, but also of the amazing ignorance of our so-called representatives in Congress, our supposed "best and brightest." I had occasion to travel to the Emirates frequently, in the capacity of an analyst, during the late 1990s, prior to the present war, specifically to Dubai. It is quite a friendly place for Americans, a pretty free and freewheeling (economically) place in comparison to its Saudi neighbors. I need not repeat what others have said as far as what the UAE have been doing to work with us in GWOT, among other things, offering us rather secure air and ship port facilities.

What is particularly astounding is the ignorance of both Dims and Republicrats on general business matters and the economics of the Gulf States. As Peter says, "As to the affected U.S. ports, security will remain in the hands of the U.S. Government, specifically the Coast Guard. The ships will continue to be loaded and unleaded by American longshore workers. And, the management of DPW is largely American." Bingo. The UAE government will not be taking over in terms of sending its own people. Truth be told, the Emirates cannot even manage their own; despite the level of education of the average citizen, because of the attitude of the locals regarding suitability of certain types of work, the Emirates still import labor -- Pakistanis and Filipinos for menial work, and Americans and Brits for the higher level stuff. So, even if they wanted to, they could not spare their own to do this. I don't see much changing, as Peter notes, other than a change in the ownership. Just like in any other merger/acquisition, most if not all of the present management team and employees should still remain in place. Lastly, the company is buying the concession to manage the ports, not the ports themselves... which means security continues to be in the hands of our government, as it should be. On the other hand, I expect that, in our representative republic form of government (NOT a democracy, as many ignorant people claim), Congress should have some oversight in the transaction. But the ignorance and hysteria of a number of pompous blowhards in that representative body as well as by some of the affected governors is simply breathtaking. So is the lack of articulation by this administration. I expect better, but I guess we are doomed to continued disappointment.
-- Daniel A. Moroco Jr., Colonel, USMCR (Ret.)
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Isn't Peter's attitude just as childish as that of Congress and the press? Maybe Peter should remember the Constitution and the three separate but equal powers. If Congress would act like adults and work together, none of these incidents would be happening.

It is not the White House's fault that the New York Times published the NSA story. Nor is it the White House's fault that the Democrats and Republican went off half-cocked before they got the facts straight. The fact that you are laying all the blame on the White House for not briefing Congress and the media sounds about as childish as you can get.

As for the Dubai story, the same principle applies. If the media and congress got their facts straight, nobody but the Democrats would be playing attention to this story. Instead you are blaming the President and the White House for not letting the Senate know about the deal. Did you actually read section 721, PL 100-418? I have. And there is nothing in the law that states Congress has to be notified before the acquisition is signed. If Levin had actually gone to Dubai and seen the port operations and talked to the company executive, he wouldn't have made an ass out of himself. This story broke two weeks ago. If the Democrats and the Republicans hadn't been more concerned with Cheney's hunting accident and done their research, they wouldn't need 45 days to investigate this contract. This would have been a done deal.
-- unsigned

I am much more concerned with our lack of border control than with Dubai Ports World buying into our ports. And the thought of allowing illegals to buy their way into amnesty just turns my stomach. I know they don't want it called amnesty, but just watch the flood coming across our borders if this is passed. It is a signal to COME ON OVER and in a few years there will be another "guest worker" program and you can get in on that one.
-- Elaine Kyle

It's astounding how many conservatives are falling for the Administration arguments on the UAE ports deal. What the Bushies are essentially saying is that we are better (yes, BETTER) off with Dubai Ports World managing operations than with a British company doing so. And having an American company take over is entirely ignored.

Let us attempt to set up a balance sheet. If the UAE takes over we gain… OK, I'm waiting -- what is it we gain? Ah, here we go: if the UAE company takes over we won't be accused of being "racists" or "Islamophobes." That's it! There is no other advantage, since all of the other arguments simply state that port security will be no worse than it is at present.

Now for the other side. What is it we lose if the UAE takes over? Well, there is no active harm -- the UAE is not presently, insofar as we know, encouraging terrorism -- but there are significant potential harms. The possibility exists that UAE ownership might increase the ease with which weapons may be smuggled, that terrorists or their allies could be infiltrated by posing as DPW employees, and that monetary transfers to terrorists could be facilitated.

So there we have it. On balance there is no positive but several negatives. This looks to me like just another attempt to buy friendship with those who have chosen to make themselves our enemies. In effect, it is a form of Danegeld -- and as Kipling reminds us, paying Danegeld simply earns one more raids from the Vikings.

And let's always remember the signal this deal sends to the American people: that George W. Bush isn't all that serious about the War on Terror, that it's business as usual with the Middle East, that the Saudis and other Gulf powers are more than fair weather friends, never mind what they say about us or do to us.
-- Richard Donley
New Lyme, Ohio

It appears all this excitement was over a normal activity of our government. With the Republicans in the Congress (our unskilled practitioners) what do you expect? Rather than jump, the President they should have known the process and been the first to point this out to the Dems. And the press. They will never learn.
-- unsigned

Two overarching issues are at hand.

First, the critics and their constituents aren't worried about American jobs or who exactly provides the security manpower, or that an Arab company would run the ports. They are concerned that a foreign government would be running the ports, and security intelligence will have to be shared with them. Hotel chains and a bank system don't involve sharing secret intelligence do they?

Look, It doesn't matter if it's the UAE or Iran or France or the UK. Letting a foreign government oversee vital infrastructure is a bad idea no matter how friendly they are. Saddam was our friend too when we didn't get along with Iran, wasn't he?

Second, the Administration's handling and PR right now remind me of a terrible college professor I once had. Seventy percent of the class was failing or at risk by mid-term. If no one understands the material, and the professor can't explain it, maybe he doesn't understand it either. Similarly, if the ports sale is no big deal, Bush should be able to find a way to explain why not in terms we can understand. Yet we get nothing, not even an attempt to explain. Just "don't worry."

I've never criticized Bush publicly, but I've about had it with Mr. Trust Me. Sorry George, but this time, we don't trust you.
-- Erik Litvinchuk
Sacramento, California

ACCOUNTING FOR HEALTH
Re: David Hogberg's Stuck in HSA Denial:

I am the owner of a small company and for years we have struggled to maintain Health Insurance benefits for our employees. I have read with interest any number of articles about the HSA option and one problem that always becomes evident, and never seems to be included in the equation, is that of the prices that are charged by the providers.

When a person is covered by a large insurance company like Assurant, Principal, Blue Cross and etc., they see the statements that come through where the Doctor charges $150 for a procedure, and then discounts it to the insurance company down to $35. The same with hospital bills, lab fees and etc. If a person does not have any insurance and they have to get that same procedure, on their own, they are charged the full amount of $150. The ones least likely to be able to afford the high costs are charged the highest rates for the service. This same problem exists with the HSA. Even if the individual goes shopping (and is a great shopper) he is still at a significant leverage disadvantage. He is going to have to use his personal dollars to pay the highest rates and will get much less service for the amount he has to spend.

Buying health services as an informed consumer is completely impossible. You never know how much you are going to actually pay for a service, until the whole thing is over and all of the bills are submitted from any number of people or groups whom you have never met nor have had any contact with, that did things for you that you have no idea how it contributed to your well being. Several years ago I had cancer. My doctor suggested a new procedure for treatment. My current treatment was costing about $250 a month. The new treatment he suggested cost $2500 a month. I did not find this out until after $25,000 worth of treatments. When I challenged him on the issue, he admitted that he had no idea how much it was costing his patients for the treatment he was prescribing.

Last year my wife had cancer. When we met with the specialist, I asked up front about certain treatments and their costs. Again, he had no idea how much it was going to cost to treat her for her problem. When I asked the various facilities about this, no one was willing to detail the total costs of their services before they started treatments. They basically indicated that they could not really say what the price would be until the computer complied everything and spit out the bill (which was then discounted by about 50% by the insurance company), We all know that doctors and hospitals seem to have this artificial insurance price that then gets them what they want after the discounts are taken. We cannot afford to pay these false prices out of our HSA accounts.

If we are going to move to an HSA option, we are going to need some new rules about fair pricing and upfront truth-in-pricing policies. Otherwise, it is just going to be a windfall for the providers and we are going to run short, and once again get the shaft from an industry that just can't seem to do business in a businesslike manner.
-- Dave Hanshew
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Selling the HSA concept to Ted Kennedy may be easier than selling it to the Republicans who control the Pennsylvania legislature.

Contributions to MSAs were and are deductible for personal income tax, but contributions to HSAs cannot be deducted. It amounts to a tax increase for HSA owners just as the industry is moving from MSAs toward the newer HSAs.

So what health issues are they working on? Rep.-for-Life Matthew Baker from a safe Republican district is concerned about a "decision by the managers of the state employees' benefits fund to eliminate paying for gastric bypass surgery as of last July." [Link below]

The message is clear: taxpayers and HSA policy holders move aside; we're busy protecting benefits for obese state workers.
-- David Slauenwhite

I may be totally off base here, but if I am retired or poor even with a job, and do not have enough income to pay tax, then I would not have anything to subtract my payments from. Please let me know if I am wrong on this. I am retired and have a medigap policy as I don't want what little savings I have to be taken for medical care. So I am paying almost 1/4 of my SS check on health insurance.
-- Elaine Kyle

A problem with HSAs as they are now is that insurance companies are still processing bills from the first dollar as they do with traditional insurance. We are still paying insurers to push papers. Why should any information about my health care be communicated from provider to insurer before I have reached the deductible?
-- Merlin Perkins

HISTORICAL DIGS
Re: Lawrence Henry's Boston's Brother Bosses:

Bravo to Lawrence Henry for rising to the level of his subject, Howie Carr's Runyonesque masterpiece, The Brothers Bulger . I hope both extend their Dickensian powers to capturing more of the bizarre cast of characters , academic and ecclesiastic as well as political, that inspire many in Boston to vote early and often, and the few, the proud, to vote never at all.

Yet so heady are the vapors shimmering above the Southie melting pot that Henry seems to have perceived a mirage Somerville's Winter Hill gang were echt-Irish Mafia indeed, but Whitey's moniker betrays an injection of new blood. Some of the Bulger clan arrived from the ould sod of Finland.
-- Russell Seitz

In "Boston's Brother Bosses," Lawrence Henry asks the following rhetorical question: "Was it Tocqueville who warned against the day when citizens should realize that they could vote themselves a portion of the Treasury?"

I believe Henry may have been thinking of another Frenchman, Frederick Bastiat, who wrote of this danger in "The Law" and described the practice as "lawful plunder." The entire text of "The Law" is posted online at this site.
-- Kristine Erickson

Good Review, but the closing quote wasn't Tocqueville -- it's presumed widely to have been 18th Scottish historian Alexander Tytler, though it's ultimately unverified.
-- HF

SURRENDERING IRAN
Re: Christopher Orlet's As Iran Goes, So Goes the World:

Mr. Orlet is, unfortunately, correct in his statement that many people, including some in the U.S., have resigned themselves to a nuclear Iran. Should this happen, I would suggest that you convert your stock portfolio to precious metals. Gold and silver always increase in value during a war and stocks decline.

What I am trying to say is that a nuclear Iran will, most likely, thrust the world into a period of major hostilities (read World War). It may come sooner or later, depending on the concessions the rest of the world is prepared to make to Tehran, but it will come. The leadership of that country is expansionistic and more than a trifle looney. They will use their nuclear muscle to cover their expansion into the Caspian Sea area and into the Persian Gulf. When the Western powers finally say stop, the resulting conflict will very probably go nuclear.

And the conflict will not be country versus country as in past wars. It will be culture versus culture and the front lines will be found in every Western country in the world.

At this very moment, Tehran is putting pressure upon the U.S. through its activities in Iraq. The resistance is largely composed of and led by foreign operatives who now answer to Tehran. They used the both the Sunnis and the Shiites to embroil the U.S. forces into a seemingly Vietnamesque quagmire to distract from their own activities. If the MSM is to be believed, this is apparently working.

The conflict has already been joined. The only question remains how much damage will the U.S. and the West allow to be done before they act. The problem of a nuclear Iran will not go away, it will only get worse. And when the dust settles, there will be more petty tyrants waiting in the wings to produce their first nuclear security blanket. I just hope that we have a plan, I know that the Iranians do.
-- Michael Tobias
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Tyrant buys A-bomb from Iran and buries it under his palace. Neither his people nor the West would never bother him again, for fear of killing tens of thousands of his subjects. The A-bomb will transform the throne into a sinecure and saddle dozens of oppressed peoples into subjects for life.
-- David Govett
Davis, California

SELLING THE ROPE
Re: Barron Thomas's So When Do We Sell the Air Force?:

In the spring of 2000, I was corresponding fairly often with a retired Green Beret SGTMJ that lived in Texas. When I asked, he said that I would not like Bush as POTUS, and detailed some of his reasons. He was absolutely right about the overall perception and also the particulars. In my humble opinion, the Bushies did NOT win the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Dems lost them. It is hard to believe that a previously successful national party could find two much worse candidates and/or run two more inept campaigns as the Dems did.

I hear that, next, Bush intends to franchise out our Border Patrol and its functions to Vicente Fox and his border control agency.
-- Ken Shreve

I hope that Barron Thomas is a better real estate broker than he is a policy analyst.

These operations in the ports were already in foreign hands. And P&O was going to be sold -- the two final bidders were Singapore Ports and Dubai Ports. The transaction was going to be done, and the ownership of the contracts transferred.

Although I am not sure why he mentioned it, Mr. Thomas exhibited his ignorance by bringing in oil imports. We are talking about container ports here.

A fair summary of Bush's entire strategy in the Iraq war and in the war on terror is to support a path to modernization for the Muslim world to wean it away from violence. Maybe this can succeed; maybe it can't. So far, it is the only original idea in attacking the problem of Islamic radicalism.

Part of that strategy includes supporting and cultivating our friends in the Arab world. Dubai is one of those. Also, the U.S. certainly does not want to establish the criterion that no foreign companies can be allowed to work on important projects. What would that mean for Bechtel, ExxonMobil, Foster Wheeler, etc., etc., in the Middle East? We have a huge interest in international business and reciprocity is one of the factors necessary to support it.

The real question is what is being shipped IN the containers, NOT how the containers themselves are handled, even though they will continue to be handled by the local unions.

There is no issue here except for the ignorant, among whom Mr. Thomas loudly numbers himself.
-- Greg Richards

Barron Thomas replies:
I have been called a lot of things, but the last time I was called ignorant was in my 11th grade calculus class, and I completely agreed with the label in the context of that class, but in this case Mr. Richards is incorrect.

Mr. Richards, and others, including probably some politicians, seem to be able to look the other way on national security when it involves big profits.

Looking the other way, or compromising your security in the name of big profits, is a sin that Khrushchev predicted in 1959 as a prime lynch-pin in the fall of the West. Mr. Richards may be too young to remember that quote.

The facts of this deal are clear. The UAE is our friend, but with a less than perfect track record on security and support for the Taliban and Israel. They are also geographically vital. We are not excluding the Arabs from "important projects." But, there is a difference between "important projects" and national security. A BIG difference. I have clients in 33 countries around the world, so I am not particularly "ignorant" on international trade nor cultural courtesies as Mr. Richards charges.

What has been done in the past with various ports are mistakes of the past. To quote a wise ancient Greek: "Those that do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them." Sorry Mr. Richards, the price tag in 2006 for a mistake is simply too large.

POLITE COMPANY
Re: Ben Stein's We're Losing:

Kudos to Ben Stein and his words. He hits the mark with laser precision. In good western fashion I am ordinarily someone who is thoughtful and respectful of other's views, even when wrong, offensive or destructive to our moral and social fabric. But the threat of the Muslim religion and its accompanying ideologies are frightening. Most of the time I walk around wondering why no one gets it. I wonder if it is me. Am I a racist or a bigot? But then something in the news confirms again that the problem is in the Muslim faith system itself. As a Christian I know this will be offensive, but it must be said. Muslims worship a demonic presence posing as the true god. A whole people has been seduced with a satanic lie. "You will know them by their fruit." It was true when Jesus spoke these words, and it is true today. If you want to read something awesome on the true nature of the Islamic threat, there is a Jewish author, Bat Ye'or, who wrote Eurabia: Land of Dhimmitude. A must read for any freedom loving westerner.
-- Rev. Steve Baarda
Simcoe, Ontario, Canada

I believe actor/comedian Orson Bean once said that "liberals will fight to the death for your right to agree with them." Ben's wonderful piece on the cowardice of the press vis-a-vis the Muslin cartoons put me in mind of that wonderful epigram. Thanks again for all you do.
-- HF

Interesting piece, I agree with it, however Stein was in error when he wrote:

" . . . not one major paper has reprinted them. Not the fearless Washington Post, not the thorough Wall Street Journal, not any major newspaper of record that I know of."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning daily and certainly a paper of record, published at least one of the cartoons and has been taking heat for it since.

However, his overall point is valid and painfully true.
-- Agnes Blum

Apropos to Ben Stein "We're Losing" article, his truthful claim that "That's on top of the fact that despite these cartoons being huge news, not one major paper has reprinted them... Nor have any of the major networks shown them" is mirrored in the near total media silence about the heinous three week torture-murder in France of a Jewish young man, Ilan Halimi, by an anti-Semitic Moslem gang. The free world is indeed "losing."
-- Norman Glaser
Huntington, West Virginia

Mr. Stein is correct. An action the parents of these students can take is to sue the school they've paid for educating their children. Another would be a class action suit against anyone who uses intimidation or threats that imperil our freedom of speech. Once this precedent is made and not contested it will be almost impossible to defeat.

Someone should contact the fired editors and suggest they contact an organization such as CampusWatch.com about protesting this action. It these reprehensible people are not stopped, it will soon be passed as law that neither Islam, Koran, nor Muslim misbehavior will be legal to write about or talk about.

And while they're at it, someone get up to the college president's office and kick his butt. He has no leadership other than in how to be a coward.
-- M. Whitton

ABC's Nightline has shown the dreaded cartoons, all of them. The "most offensive" were shown up close and described. I don't see any attacks against Disney or throngs of rabid Islamist at the gates of the network.

Why then are the other networks so scared? If all of them published the darn things it would send a message and it would be too hard (impossible) for the Islamists to protest or boycott them all.
-- unsigned

Thank God for Ben Stein!
-- Richard Raborn MD
Boynton Beach, Florida

FILM SWAPPING
Re: Evelyn Leinbach's letter ("Pink Memories") in Reader Mail's What Have We Lost?:

I'm not a knowledgeable devotee of Blake Edwards, but if Ms. Leinbach is a fan, she should rent Edwards' S.O.B. Just a wonderful farce about Hollywood and terrific performances by Robert Preston, Julie Andrews, Richard Mulligan, William Holden and Loretta Swit. As one reviewer wrote -- it's Edwards' "poison pen Valentine to Hollywood" -- a perfect description.
-- Deborah Durkee
Marietta, Georgia

CAMPUS RECOVERY
Re: UW students' letter (under "UW's Few and Proud") in Reader Mail's What Have We Lost?:

To the students of the University of Washington who wrote a group signed letter concerning the proposed tribute to World War 2 Marine hero Greg Boyington:

I have read your reply and take my hat off to you for your stand. Now then, what are you doing on your campus to take back that little piece of the United States of America which a few have hijacked and stolen? Do it while you still can. I have been around the world and have seen many other nations and societies. Believe me when I tell you that we have a unique freedom here not seen even in the other G7 nations. Defend it before it's gone. If our schools will not teach true history, students, then YOU teach it to your peers.

A certain communist leader once wrote that "power grows out of the barrel of a gun." He was wrong, as all communists are. Power grows from ordinary citizens with a voice and a concern for the nation's future. Be ordinary citizens at UW. Change minds and be the future.
-- Robert L. Barninger, United States Navy, Retired

Living as I do in Blue Seattle, it's a daily assault on everything most Americans believe in just to visit this town. The guiding lights in the city and county governments are for the most part to my mind communist, hetrophobes to put it mildly. The Democrat-dominated state legislature is much worse.

The University of Washington's leftist politics are mild, though, compared to other institutions of Socialist learning funded by government in this state. Central Washington University was for instance a staging ground for the WTO riots in Seattle. Another University grad got herself flattened by a bull dozer in Israel while screaming hatred against the U.S. and the list goes on and on...

I will not protest as no one in Seattle will take the least notice or will respond with threats if they do. My sons will never spend a dime in their halls of horrors, though. Fair trade.
-- Craig Sarver
Seattle, Washington

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL...
Re: James Bowman's review of The Pink Panther and James Warren's letter (under "Classically Unfunny") in Reader Mail's Unsafe Harbors:

Although I find myself mostly in agreement with the comments expressed about Hollywood remakes, some do, at least in my opinion, transcend the original.

Consider Tom Selleck's remake of Monte Walsh available on DVD. In this age of sheep herders masquerading as cowboys, I love this lighthearted, comedic and yet serious as heartburn re-visit to the original with Lee Marvin. Rent it, buy it, whatever. If you want to see a --cowboy flick -- this is it!

At risk of legal action, I am absolutely for the tar and feathering (with very hot tar) of any idiot in Hollywood that would that would try and remake Casablanca.
-- Jim Woodward
Fruitland, Maryland

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