On the Waterfront

Thursday's Editorial   —   Posted on February 23, 2006

(NYSun.com Staff Editorial, Feb. 22, 2006) – Somehow, it doesn’t add up. Senators Menendez, Clinton, Lautenberg, Schumer, Dodd, and Boxer are up in arms over the Bush administration’s decision to allow Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, to take over operations at ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia. So are Reps. Vito Fossella and Peter King. One has to wonder, what makes this group, not particularly known for its hawkishness – in some cases known for abject dovishness – suddenly more hawkish than President Bush? It turns out their objections look to be less and less about American national security and more about plain old politics and political money and a labor union notorious for its ties to organized crime on the waterfront.

[We do not] recall any protest from Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Schumer or Ms. Boxer when President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced in May 1998 that America was selling 80 F-16 fighters to the UAE. Nor did these politicians protest back in December 1996, when the Clinton administration’s assistant state secretary, Robert Pelletreau, went on UAE television to announce: “On the international stage, the UAE is universally respected for its generosity and commitment to regional security and fair-dealing. These qualities reflect the exceptional character of Shaykh Zayid, who is truly the father of his country, and a respected statesman.” Mr. Pelletreau went on, “We were pleased that the U.S. could offer His Highness Shaykh Zayid medical treatment earlier this year while he was here. President Clinton telephoned him to welcome him and placed the White House at his disposal to make his stay comfortable and productive.”

So what, one wonders, accounts for the sudden turnabout and interest of all these politicians in the UAE as a potential terrorist threat? The answer got a lot clearer yesterday afternoon when the International Longshoremen’s Association, the AFL-CIO-affiliated union that represents workers at the six ports that would be affected by the Dubai deal, issued a statement praising the politicians complaining about the deal. The union’s statement expressed “great concern” about the transaction. From there, it’s easy to just follow the money…from the political action committee of the International Longshoremen’s Association into the pockets of the protesting politicians.

Mr. Schumer, the first to raise the alarm about the deal? He’s collected $4,500 in campaign contributions from the trough of the Longshoremen. Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who was one of the first big-name Republicans to break ranks with the administration over the deal? The Longshoremen’s political committee donated $5,500 to the King campaign. It turns out that nearly every politician who has been at the forefront of the opposition to the Dubai deal is on the receiving end of some Longshoreman largesse.

Senator Clinton’s campaign took $4,500. Senator Dodd, $2,500. Congressman Fossella, $9,500. Senator Boxer, $6,000. Senator Lautenberg, $9,000. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York who is another outspoken critic of the Dubai deal, has accepted $22,500 from the Longshoremen since March of 2000. Senator Menendez, a leader of the opposition to the Dubai deal, has taken in fully $39,500 in campaign contributions from the Longshoremen’s political action committee. It puts a different spin on the statement yesterday from the president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, John Bowers, who said, “We echo United States Senator Robert Menendez who correctly notes that our ports are the front lines of the war on terrorism.” It raises the question, for example, of whether the Longshoremen are echoing Mr. Menendez, or whether Mr. Menendez is echoing Mr. Bowers, who has been so generous to his campaign.

Mr. Bowers has been president of the ILA since 1987, having previously served for 24 years as executive vice president of the union, its second highest position. He was charged with racketeering and named as an associate of the Gambino organized crime family in a July 2005 civil complaint filed by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. Whatever objections the politicians have to the UAE and its leadership – and we are not, by any stretch, fans of the emirates – they’re no more serious than the charges in the racketeering suit brought against the ILA and Mr. Bowers by the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Roslynn Mauskopf.

The FBI’s assistant director in charge in New York at the time, Mark Mershon, said, “The hard-working rank-and-file members of the ILA were denied the right to fair and honest representation when members of the Gambino and Genovese crime families conspired to fix the selection of certain union officers. Pension and health plans intended to benefit the union membership were pillaged for the unjust enrichment of those corrupt, self-dealing union officials and their mob associates.” Mr. Bowers, who earns an annual salary of $413,556 from the 59,000-member international union and $154,467 from the Atlantic coast district, for a total annual compensation of $568,023, according to filings at the federal Department of Labor, has called the racketeering charges unjustified by the law or the facts. This, in any event, is the union whose political action committee has been bankrolling the politicians who all of a sudden have taken a disliking to the UAE.

It puts in a different light President Bush’s statement yesterday. The president said, “If there was any question as to whether or not this country would be less safe as a result of the transaction, it wouldn’t go forward. But I also want to repeat something again, and that is, this is a company that has played by the rules, that has been cooperative with the United States, a country that’s an ally in the war on terror, and it would send a terrible signal to friends and allies not to let this transaction go through.” The secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, hinted at the issues involved when, on “Meet the Press” Sunday, he said, “Without getting into classified information, what we typically do if there are concerns is we build in certain conditions, or requirements, that the company has to agree to make sure we address the national security concerns.”

If a bomb or weapons were to be smuggled in by terrorists via the Dubai controlled American ports and used to attack America after those sorts of guarantees by Mr. Bush and Mr. Chertoff, the political consequences would be devastating. We just have a hard time doubting Mr. Bush’s sincerity when it comes to protecting American security – he feels it is his God-given calling, and he has demonstrated a vigilance that earns our respect, far more so than the politicians questioning Mr. Bush’s judgment. On top of all else is the question of the rights of the owner of the docks company to find a buyer, which counts for a lot with us. Mr. Bush’s critics would have more credibility in the middle of this war if they hadn’t been on the receiving end of lucre from a labor union with a history of corruption and mob ties.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.

Questions

1.  What reason does the editor give for questioning the motive of several leading politicians’ opposition to Dubai Ports World’s take over of operations at six U.S. ports?

2.  What conclusion is made about the politicians’ motive for their opposition?

3.  List the amount of money each protesting politician received from the political action committee of the International Longshoremen’s Association.

4.  Does the motive for their opposition negate the validity of their argument?  Explain your answer.

5.  What facts do you learn about ILA president John Bowers, and the Longshoremen’s Association itself?

6.  Congress.org is not a U.S. government website.  It provides websites and email addresses for government officials and media representatives.  
Go to Congress.org to send an email to the editor of your local newspaper, as well as Michael Chertoff, Head of Homeland Security expressing your views about the Dubai Port World deal. (For further information about Congress.org, click here.)