Monthly Archives: July, 2014

The Telegenic Dead

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JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images “Video cameras set up by International and Israeli media crews point toward the Gaza Strip from their vantage point on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border….”

It is the last insult, of course. Not only must the over-worked Israeli government and its military arm deal with recent uprising in the Gaza strip, they must now contend with the televised facts of dead Palestinians. Despite getting a unanimous vote of support from the US Congress –a miracle of politics, in and of itself—there appear to be some gaps in the media coverage of current events such that—no matter who is fired and who is forced off the air because of an unfortunate interest in truth-telling– dead Palestinians are still showing up.

Dismayed by this turn of events, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”

Now English isn’t his first language, so I suppose this might excuse the awkwardness of the phrase, but I suspect Netanyahu’s pronouncement, unfiltered by a prescient press agent, was exactly what he wanted to say. Something like, “We are losing the public relations war because the Palestinians we kill have the temerity to show off their dead bodies as, well … dead.”

Of course, they have a shortage of dead Israelis as well, but apparently that’s a problem they don’t have a keen interest in fixing. What are you going to do?

But I must say, Israel, with the help of many a media outlet, has done yeoman’s work in channeling their message. Just looking back over the last few days, we can see how fast someone called NBC News shortly after a journalist reported on four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach who were shelled into oblivion by a naval bombardment. The unfortunate journalist made the mistake of actually reporting what he saw. For this act of actual journalism, he was relieved of duty in the Gaza strip and brought home—ostensibly for security reasons—even though a less seasoned reporter (and one presumably less inclined to report the actual news) was shortly put in his place. After much media exposure, the deactivated reporter was sent back to cover Gaza, but half the world had to know about NBC’s decision before the matter was set straight.

So it goes. CNN pulled correspondent Diana Magnay from covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reassigned her to Moscow on Friday, a day after she tweeted — and then deleted — that Israelis who were threatening her and were cheering at the bombing of Gaza were “scum.” Apparently, she made the mistake of having a conscience while reporting these events.

One final incident, last week, on ABC News, Diane Sawyer misidentified scenes of the aftermath of Israeli missile strikes in Gaza as destruction caused by Palestinian rocket fire. As Sawyer segued into the segment, she said, “We take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky.” Next to her was video footage not of Israelis or even Israel, but of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. Sawyer then incorrectly described an image of a Palestinian family gathering belongings in the smoking debris of a missile-hit home in Gaza as “an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can.”

For a grace note on that report, Sawyer described another Palestinian woman surrounded by destroyed homes as “one woman standing speechless among the ruins,” with the implication that she was Israeli. It was a beautiful portrait. And a nearly perfect propaganda victory for Israel. You really can’t buy that kind of press.

Later, Diane Sawyer apologized and said it was an accident, wouldn’t happen again, and please don’t concern yourself with my multimillion dollar contract.

The real problem is that  these are not isolated incidents. Mistakes curiously pile up in favor of the ‘current news frame’….But social media is slowly making inroads. Communications are as fast as a twitter feed, so it becomes that much more difficult for state propaganda operations, or major news outlets with politically weighted boardrooms to slant the news. Eventually, the truth outs.

Israel is well aware of this, too. Like our own military, the IDF is concerned to present a good face to the general public. But if you look at their internal reports, abuse of Palestinians or Arab nationals is common place. The dehumanization of the Palestinian people takes place at the ‘edge of the sword’, where the military first makes contact with the population, and this attitude works its way back through their society. It’s been this way for years, and it’s a sad case. Israel knows it’s losing the propaganda war. That’s why they’ve been carpet bombing the web with complaints about media bias, and why Netanyahu complains about Hamas using dead Palestinians to promote their cause. But, you know, they can only do that when Israel provides the dead.

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In the Dark Cave of the Court

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Next to the Supreme Court that gave us the indefensible Dred Scott decision, this court  may be the worst.  One irony–and God, are there ironies to choose from here — is that the lifetime sinecure provided to the court, saving them from the influences of the ‘real’ world in a failed attempt at objectivity is probably enabling their agonized legalize. Their historically misguided Citizens United decision was the shot over the bow. That ruling purported to advance the cause of ‘free speech’ by allowing corporations the right to fund partisan politics—something which had been limited by the McCain–Feingold Act, essentially saying, “Um, no Wal-Mart, you can’t carpetbomb a locality with ads for or against a particular candidate.” But the majority apparently live on a different planet, or in an especially dark and warm place, where corporations — legal entities that have no purpose outside of profit-making—should be allowed the same rights as an individual.

But, of course, corporations are not individuals. They’re not even just groups of individuals. They aren’t social clubs, or coffee klatches, nor are they rock bands or churches. Corporations have one purpose—to make money, everything else they might do is ancillary. They have no morality, no feelings, no loyalty to anything but the bottom line. Unlike humans, they have limited liability, a perpetual life, and the ability to span the globe with resources at their disposal in some cases equivalent to a nation-state. One may as well confer individual speech rights on an ATM. But in the view of the majority, corporate players are just another grouping of citizens, the core of their legal purpose of no more concern than the human rights of a black man, like Dred Scott, say, circa 1857. We’d excuse a five-year-old for the easy confusion. But that the top legal minds in our country should be thus baffled? That’s an intellectual embarrassment.

And the confusion at the core of Citizen’s United just got amplified with the recent Hobby Lobby decision. Again, the majority plows the same field, this time assigning morality to  its favored legal construct, and now adding improved super powers in addition to speech; we confer on corporations the ability to have faith!  But, of course, Hobby Lobby the legal entity doesn’t believe in God or Allah or anything. It has no capacity for belief. Now the owners of Hobby Lobby may have religious beliefs, but the legal entity called Hobby Lobby is designed to make money without regard to religious beliefs. And, in fact, it does exactly that. Investing in contraceptive firms and trading with China which, in fact, has some of the highest incidents of abortion—government funded and occasionally mandated– in the world today. Even if we entertain the dubious concept that Hobby Lobby as a corporate entity can enforce its owners beliefs on its employees—or somehow use the corporate entity Hobby Lobby to channel those beliefs, we’d find ourselves with some glaring inconsistencies when we discover how those ‘beliefs’ actually played out in the market place. If “sincerely held beliefs” are the test for refusing to abide by Federal law, do they need to be even remotely consistent?

Apparently, Hobby Lobby gets it both ways: I refuse to fund contraception through Obamacare, but I will invest in a company for profit that produces those contraceptive devices.  That’s what you get for conflating an owner’s ‘moral taste’ with a legal entity that they happen to helm. Does moral inconsistency disqualify ‘deeply held’? Who determines what’s deep and what’s not? More importantly, who determines what’s religious and what’s not? The owners of the company? Would they perhaps be influenced to shade this opinion based on their own legal requirement to make money?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a sweeping dissent raises the same issues, noting, rather drolly that “the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.” As Stevens has noted as well, “Corporations have no consciences, no thoughts, no feelings, no beliefs, no desires.” Furthermore, the actual ‘harm’ to the religious believer is nebulous at best—the employer is not required to provide contraceptives, the insurance company is—along with a slew of other services. If the employer or employee doesn’t want to use contraceptives for religious reasons (or any reason, really), there’s no requirement that they do so. In fact, the coercion works the other way, forcing employees of a for profit corporation to essentially cow-tow to the religious beliefs of their owners. If an employer’s religious beliefs don’t mesh with the employees in this instance and they would want to take advantage of a universally available Federal program with direct health benefits, the owner’s religious ‘beliefs’ now trump all: the employee’s own religious beliefs, the employee’s right to healthcare and the force of Federal law.

Ginsburg rightly notes that the decision opens up a floodgate of questions and possible challenges, “Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious beliefs is offended by health coverage of vaccines? Or paying the minimum wage?” What about Scientologists? Christian Scientists? Rastafarians and Wiccans? Do they get to weigh in? Where exactly does it end? If the Court must decide which religion is valid and which is not, favoring one over the other, won’t that in fact touch on—and violate– the Establishment Clause? Only if you live in a very dark place, would you assume that a “sincerely held religious belief” –whatever that might mean–should trump the government’s own interests in fairly representing the people.

But maybe that’s the whole point of this exercise, at least for the majority. Maybe it’s all about a particular flavor of religion that they would like to see ascendant.  After all, Alito tried to tailor the ruling so just folks agitated by contraceptives are defined as ‘religious.’ Not peyote eaters or Rastafarians to be sure, but those guys with the swell beanie caps, who get little shivers of horror that a woman should have access to contraceptives regardless of her marital status; now that’s morality!

Ginsburg concludes with a statement that may well turn prophetic: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield”… perhaps it’s because for far too long this Court has made decisions as if living in a cave.