I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ports, polls & party divisions

(updated below)

Some observations about the port controversy, Bush's shattered popularity, and one the many significant problems which Democrats have to resolve:

(1) When Iran’s President made statements recently about wanting to wipe Israel off the map, that anti-Israel sentiment was immediately held up as evidence that he was a dangerous, deranged madman whom we have to confront, even with our (somewhat tied-up) military, if necessary.

Neoconservatives have spent many years equating anti-Israeli hostility with anti-American hostility – arguing, for instance, that when it comes to “supporting terrorism,” a country is guilty of that crime not only by supporting Al Qaeda but also by supporting terrorists groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which focus their attention almost exclusively not on the United States, but on Israel. Neoconservatives have long conflated anti-Israeli terrorism with anti-American terrorism, constantly claiming that Saddam Hussein “supports terrorism” and then citing as evidence the fact that he paid $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers who attacked Israel, not the United States.

All of that is what makes the support which many of them have expressed for the UAE port deal rather baffling. As has been noted many times, the UAE has a policy towards Israel that is as radical and hostile as any country in the world, including Iran.

A CNN/Sports Illustrated tennis columnist, Jon Wertheim, published a column yesterday expressing outrage over the fact that an ATP tennis tournament is currently being held in Dubai, UAE. Wertheim observed that Israeli players on the tour are barred from participating in the tournament because Israeli citizens are not even permitted to enter that country.

One can get a sense of just how radical the UAE is by reviewing its official website for tourists, which includes some information about the country’s entrance and visa policies:

General Information

There are several types of visas for visitors to Dubai.

Nationals of “Israel” may not enter the U.A.E.

Citizens of the Arab Gulf Co-operation Council member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia) do not need a visa.

It isn’t just that Israeli citizens are barred from entering the country. Note the snide quotations marks around the word Israel -- because it’s a concept that is not real, that does not actually exist.

And notice the countries whose citizens can enter the UAE without even so much as obtaining a visa. The list includes Saudi Arabia, the country which gave us 17 15 out of the 19 hijackers (with the other 2 sent courtesy of the UAE). Is a country which allows Saudi nationals to enter without even a visa really a country which is serious about combating Al Qeada?

The United States has previously insisted that countries which allow citizens of certain Middle Eastern countries to enter without visas are creating a security threat. Indeed, the U.S. invoked this rationale when it angered numerous countries around the world, including several Eastern European nations as well as Brazil, by refusing to waive vias requirements for entrance of their citizens into the U.S., and even imposing new fingerprinting and photograph requirements on those citizens.

The rationale given by the U.S. is that those countries have “insecure borders” because they allow citizens from various Middle Eastern states to enter their countries without visas. And yet the UAE allows Saudi nationals to enter with nothing more than a passport. No visa is required. That’s a country which we are going to allow to operate our ports?

(2) Back in early November, in the midst of the seizures which Bush followers were having over the insufficiently ideological Harriet Miers, CBS News released a poll showing that Bush’s approval ratings had sunk to 35%, a new all-time low. In response, a slew of Bush followers began shrieking that the CBS poll was so plainly biased and fixed, with National Review’s Peter Robinson proclaiming: “If this is the way you intend to re establish your network's credibility, save yourself a lot of trouble and simply re-hire Dan Rather.”

As I noted at the time, the following day the Pew Research Center released a poll showing Bush’s approval ratings at 36%. And that was followed by a slew of similar polls showing his approval ratings in the same range. In my naivete as a relatively new blogger, I wrote a post which asked whether those who attacked the CBS poll would acknowledge the unfairness and erroneous nature of their attacks (given that virtually other poll subsequently confirmed the findings of CBS), and then observed in a follow-up post that while a couple of the accusers did acknowledge their error in response to my post, most remained silent, slithering on to their next series of shrill attacks without any accountability and without any regard to whether the attacks are true.

This week we have deja vu all over again. A new CBS poll shows the President’s approval ratings at another all-time low, and Bush followers – who, even more than they hate “liberals,” hate facts which undermine their fantasies of the triumphant glory of the Commander-in-Chief – are swarming all over the place, insisting that the CBS poll is biased and false. They do so despite the fact that no less a Bush loving shill than Kellyanne Conway, who holds herself out as some sort of pro-Bush polling expert, has made clear that the CBS poll is methodologically sound, but no matter. Polls which reflect poorly on the Leader are bad, wrong and skewed – just like those little skirmishes in Iraq are nothing more than the inventions of a Bush-hating media. Facts that negate fantasies are simply discarded.

Bush is a popular and beloved Leader. Americans admire him and believe in his vision. They hate Democrats. Everything is going great in Iraq. Exactly on plan. There is peace, democracy and prosperity there. We are winning the war. We are defeating the terrorists. Freedom is on the march.

(3) Nobody has more of a capacity for leading his followers to believe the opposite of reality than Rush Limbaugh does. Here is what he told his audience of 20 million people back in November, 2005 in the middle of an angry rant about Republicans dissenting from the President’s decrees:

Now the Democrats don't do this. They are disciplined. They punish those who dare to cross them, not so on our side. We don't have any party discipline.

I’ve been meaning to write a post for sometime about what I consider to be one of the most serious problems which Democrats face in trying to undermine Republican hegemony. It is the fact that they are so divided on almost every issue that they spend more time fighting with each other and attacking each other than they do fighting the Bush Administration. The most vicious and effective attacks on DNC Chair Howard Dean, for instance, have come from other Democrats. By contrast, one cannot even fathom hearing a Republican express anything other than praise and agreement with Ken Mehlman.

Democrats are constantly attacking one another and muddling, and even destroying, their brand. To illustrate this problem, here is the vote breakdown by party on some of the most significant legislative questions to face the Senate during the Bush Presidency:

Vote to confirm John Roberts to the Supreme Court

Republicans - 56-0

Democrats - 22 -22

Cloture vote on Sam Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court

Republicans - 54-0

Democrats - 19-25

Vote on Authorization to use military force in Iraq

Republicans - 48-1

Democrats - 29-21

Cloture vote on Bankrupty Bill

Republicans - 55-0

Democrats - 14-30

Cloture vote on nomination of Priscilla Owens to appeals court

Republicans - 55-0

Democrats - 25-18

Just as Rush told his audience, those wild, rebellious Republican free spirits have no party discipline at all, while the robotic, loyal Democrats whip everyone into shape and dissent from the party line is severely punished.

This problem for the Democrats is profoundly serious. There is no way to articulate a clear, principled set of ideas to the American public when, on every major question, the party itself is divided and more interested in waging war on itself than on the Administration.

UPDATE: We have begun the Maine and Nebraska phase of our local campaigns to demand a hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee into the NSA scandal. As the post below sets forth, it has become indisputably clear that the Administration is eavesdropping on Americans beyond just the limitations of the lawless NSA program that has been disclosed thus far, and almost certainly includes exclusively domestic communications. The need for an investigation into the scope of this lawless eavesdropping is more urgent than ever.

Jane Hamsher has posted all of the relevant information here, including all of the contact information you will need -- which is posted at Vichy Democrats -- to write letters to the editor or Op-Eds for local newspapers in Nebraska and Maine. Anyone in Nebraska or Maine or with meaningful connections to those two states (enabling you to use a local address) is enthusiastically encouraged to participate. Swaying either Sen. Hagel or Sen. Snowe to support Sen. Rockefeller's motion to hold hearings can make the difference as to whether these hearings are held.


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