Monthly Archives: July 2009

Neda in Palestine, Sentenced To Die Alone

For over a week, major American news outlets have broadcast on a virtual loop the video of the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, an unarmed 26-year-old Iranian woman, by Iranian security services. The poignant footage of Neda dying before a throng of grief-stricken bystanders crystallized the vulnerability experienced by the millions of demonstrators who have filled cities across Iran to confront authoritarian forces determined to suppress their voice through brutal means. When the mainstream American press chose to broadcast the graphic video — as moving as the footage is, it is difficult to watch — it made a commendable decision that nonetheless highlighted its hypocritical attitude towards Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation on a daily basis, and who often meet the same fate as Neda.

Every week, in the Palestinian cities of Bi’lin and Ni’ilin, local residents demonstrate beside international and Israeli solidarity activists for their basic human rights. The Israeli separation wall has been constructed through the heart of their communities, cutting them off permanently from farmland they have worked for generations. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the path of the wall was illegal, but construction continued unabated. When the demonstrators mobilize non-violently to stop the wall’s construction — to demand that the rule of law be honored — the Israeli army has responded with massive force, killing, maiming, and brutalizing them on a consistent basis.

Video of the Israeli army’s shootings of Palestinians demonstrators are easily accessible through YouTube. The army’s unprovoked killing of Bassem Abu Rahem, a respected activist from Bi’lin affectionately nicknamed “The Elephant,” can be viewed here at 3:15. Similarly, video of Yusuf Aqel Srur’s body being rushed into a Red Crescent ambulance after an Israeli sniper killed him with a .22 round to the chest (Srur was at the time attending the funeral of Ahmed Musa, an 11-year-old boy shot in the head by an Israeli soldier through a jeep’s rifle slit) can be watched here at 2:50.

Demonstrator Bassem Abu Rameh is shot to death by Israeli soldiers at 3:15

Demonstrator Yusuf Akil Srur is shot to death by Israeli soldiers at 2:50 while attending a funeral for an 11-year-old neighbor also killed by the Israeli army

These videos are no less outrageous than the video of Neda’s death. However, to my knowledge, no outlet from the mainstream American media has ever broadcast them. And as far as I know, no cable news program, including liberal-leaning shows like Olbermann and Maddow, have never even mentioned the non-violent protests in Bi’lin and Ni’ilin, or Israel’s brutal response. The videos remain unseen by America eyes. The struggles of Bi’lin and Ni’lin do not even play in Peoria.

Direct action protest tactics only work if the brutal responses they provoke are recorded by influential media sources and projected to sympathetic audiences across the world. MLK’s tactics in Selma would not have succeeded had he not been accompanied by camera crews ready to broadcast images of racist savagery to outraged Northern white liberals. The outpouring of American public sympathy for Iranian demonstrators might never have occurred had cable news outlets not made the courageous decision to broadcast Neda’s killing vividly and repeatedly.

Yet when Palestinians employ direct action tactics to protest Israeli oppression, and when Israeli forces respond with wanton brutality, they are ignored by the US media, even when footage is already available through online sources. It seems they can only generate media when they resort to violence, a dynamic the Israeli government obviously welcomes. Perhaps it’s no wonder only 6% of Americans declared in a recent poll that the US should stand behind the Palestinians in Middle East peace talks. The legitimacy of their struggle is denied no matter how they conduct it.

Mark Sanford’s Strange Side

Few journalists have been closer to and more supportive of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford than Warren Smith.

Smith, who writes for the evangelical Christian magazine World and has published a book this year criticizing some Christian conservatives for their part in “the cultural decline of the West,” A Lovers’ Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, has exchanged regular emails with Sanford. Sanford was a political “holy grail,” Smith told me—the ideal candidate to restore the Republican Party to national respectability. The governor was a “thoughtful conservative,” he said, who had united all factions of the Republican base behind him while avoiding the strident rhetoric that has driven moderates from party ranks in droves.

Sanford’s official apology in 2003 to a mostly black audience for the Orangeburg Massacre, a 1968 incident in which local police killed three civil-rights activists protesting outside a segregated bowling alley, exemplified his “penchant for striking just the right chord,” Smith wrote.

At the same time, Sanford proudly broadcasted his devotion to the Christian right, taking strict positions against abortion and gay rights while pushing for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the resignation of former Rep. Bob Livingston for engaging in extramarital affairs. During his three terms in the House, Sanford belonged to “C Street,” an evangelical men’s “accountability group” funded by a secretive international group called the Fellowship. Senator John Ensign, who recently admitted to having an affair, was among the congressmen who lived in C Street’s $1.1 million Capitol Hill dormitory.

As governor, Sanford seemed especially at ease in interviews with conservative reporters like Smith, talking at length about the weighty moral responsibilities he had assumed as a Christian public servant.

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JTA: YouTube Bans “Feeling The Hate”

From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

NEW YORK (JTA) — YouTube has removed footage of young American Jews making racist remarks about President Obama.

Attempts to access the video Friday were met with a message from the video-sharing Web site saying it had been “removed due to terms of use violation.” YouTube typically removes videos when they are flagged by users as inappropriate.

Max Blumenthal, who made the video, wrote on his blog, “I won’t ascribe motives to Youtube I am unable to confirm, but it is clear there is an active campaign by right-wing Jewish elements to suppress the video by filing a flood of complaints with Youtube.”

A spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, said company policy precluded commenting on individual videos, but stressed that policies are applied “uniformly and not as the result of external pressure.”

The video caused a stir when it appeared in early June and led to criticism that Blumenthal had targeted drunk young people and portrayed them as reflective of a wider strain of racist thought within the Jewish community. Blumenthal responded that drunkenness did not lead people to express views they didn’t already hold.

YouTube’s policies have led it to remove Israel-related content in the past. Last December, the site took down several videos posted by the Israel Defense Forces showing aerial footage of its operations in Gaza. The videos were restored several days later.

Blumenthal’s video is available on the rival video-sharing site Vimeo.

The Tom Coburn Cover-up

Since Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada has confessed to an extramarital affair with a female campaign staffer married to one of his top Senate staffers, none of his Republican colleagues have been more supportive of him than his apartment roommate in Washington, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. On June 17, a day after Ensign’s revelation, Coburn pleaded for forgiveness. “If you look at it in the light of everybody makes errors, at least he fessed up and resolved the problem with his family,” Coburn said, “so I think it speaks well of his corrective force.” Coburn also told a crowd of reporters of his 51-year-old roomie, “He is a bright young man. Lots of people make mistakes.”

Douglas Hampton, the husband of the woman involved, described a “confrontation” he had with Ensign at the senator’s home in February 2008. “One of the attendee’s [sic] was Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma,” Hampton wrote, “as well as several other men who are close to the senator.” According to Hampton, Coburn has known about Ensign’s affair for 16 months and maintained silence so it would not become public.

The disclosure of Coburn’s role in the scandal not only raises questions about the extent to which he participated in a coverup, but may also prove damaging to his reputation as perhaps the staunchest advocate of conservative sexual mores in Senate history. Coburn is the senator who denounced NBC’s broadcast ofSchindler’s List as “an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity.” He has warned of “rampant” lesbianism in Oklahoma public high-school bathrooms. And he has battled to discredit condom use. Elected to the Senate in 2004 after serving eight years in the House of Representatives, Coburn has demonstrated an uncanny ability to transform zealous and occasionally very weird moral crusades into headlines.

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Investigate John Ensign’s Hush Money

Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada admitted to an affair with Cindy Hampton, a female campaign staffer married to another staffer, Douglas Hampton, from his Senate office. Ensign then claimed that his out-of-the-blue confession was motivated by the husband’s demand for an exorbitant sum of hush money. But by confessing his transgressions, Ensign prompted widespread scrutiny of a series of curious payments he made to the Hamptons during the period he said the affair took place.

According to Melanie Sloan, executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, because Ensign has so far refused to discuss the suspicious payments, the Senate Ethics Committee must open an investigation. “The Senate Ethics Committee should call Ensign and require him to explain the whole situation because he seems so reluctant to explain to the public what happened,” Sloan said.

A month after Cindy’s salary doubled, her son began receiving $500 a month from the National Republican Senatorial Committee for undisclosed services.
Sloan said the Ethics Committee should demand that Ensign detail the nature of Douglas Hampton’s alleged blackmail scheme, describe the process his office used to calculate a whopping payment to Hampton one month before he left his job, and explain why he left his job. “There are a lot of issues here but we don’t have a lot of facts,” she stated. “[The Senate Ethics Committee] should act on this right away.”

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What Happens In Vegas

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada didn’t tap his foot in a bathroom stall like Larry Craig or spirit away to pricey bordellos like David Vitter, but like Newt Gingrich, he had an extramarital affair with a young staffer on his payroll. Ensign admitted his affair Tuesday, declaring, “I deeply regret and am versorry for my actions.” According to Politico, Ensign only revealed the affair when the husband of the woman involved demanded “a substantial sum of money” to keep quiet.

Confessed just two weeks after a visit to the Republican presidential-primary state of Iowa, Ensign’s affair effectively ends his apparent presidential ambitions. It also undermines his carefully cultivated image as a stalwart against the machinations of liberal judges, feminists, and homosexual activists.

Beginning with his call from the House floor for President Bill Clinton to resign after having an affair—“He has no credibility left,” Ensign said—and continuing through his tenure in the Senate with a hard-right voting record that earned a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition, Ensign has earned a reputation as one of Congress’ most active and ardent social conservatives. In 2008, he was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee, making him the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, a rising star at age 51 in a party with few strong presidential prospects. The future looked bright.

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