- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ernie Weaver, district commander of Veterans of Foreign War posts in Westmore County, Pa., said the veterans he knows oppose a deal President Bush is pushing that would allow an Arab state-owned company to run six major U.S. seaports.

“They all feel this deal would absolutely open the floodgates to letting terrorists in this country. They recognize that containers that come into these ports could hold chemicals, bombs, people, anything,” said Mr. Weaver, who says he’s against Middle Eastern control of American ports, even though his own grandparents were Syrian immigrants.

Stacy Cleary, manager of the Black Mountain Bakery in Black Mountain, N.C., said in a telephone interview she doesn’t understand why Mr. Bush wants a United Arab Emirates company to operate ports in Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia and New Jersey “if national security is one of his primary interests.”

“I’m not that political, but this was not a wise choice,” Ms. Cleary said yesterday of the plan in which Dubai Ports World (DPW) would take control of the six ports.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Dennis Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Barbershop, said he and his customers share those concerns. “We’re not for this change, since it could definitely mean terrorism at the ports,” said Mr. Ferguson.

“Customers at this shop are 60 percent Democrats and 40 percent Republicans, and we all feel this way. We feel officials in the Bush administration should have talked this over with Congress before going ahead with it.”

Not surprisingly, talk radio is currently dominated by callers and hosts vehemently opposed to the plan, according to Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of Talkers Magazine, an industry trade publication.

“There is a tremendous amount of dissension against George W. Bush, even from supporters of his, such as Cal Thomas,” Mr. Harrison said yesterday.

“Critics are questioning the obvious: Why should a country that was connected to 9/11 be running U.S. ports? It’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Mr. Harrison noted that the theme is the same on both conservative and liberal talk shows. “I feel this could be the beginning of a lot of conservative dissatisfaction with Bush, and liberals are even more opposed on this one,” he said, adding, “Even if the president assures us there is no danger, the perception of danger can be very strong and damaging.”

While Mr. Bush insists he will fight any attempts to kill the deal, Mr. Harrison says some talk-radio fans are convinced it came about without the president’s knowledge, which they say indicates “incompetence” on his part.

A very different opinion was offered by Walt Schnyder, owner of Arbuckle Food Center in Arbuckle, Calif. “I’m OK with this change,” said Mr. Schnyder. “Foreign countries finance ports all over the place, but this doesn’t mean they control them.” He said he is convinced DPW will not actually be in control of the six U.S. seaports.

Carmen Battisto, manager of Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock, Ark., said, “I heard that news this morning, and I am not happy about it.”

Asked if this could heighten the threat of terrorism at the ports, she said: “Of course, it could. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we didn’t sell them weapons” or do things to increase their access in this country.

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