Quantcast

The Nation

Lamont Wins; Lieberman Concedes But Promises November Run

"Stay the course -- that's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America," declared anti-war candidate Ned Lamont as he accepted the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut.

The man Lamont beat, Senator Joe Lieberman, conceded defeat in the Senate primary Tuesday night. But the three-term incumbent announced he would go ahead with a sore-loser campaign on a third-party line against the candidate of the party that nominated him for vice president in 2000.

"I will not let that result stand," Lieberman said of the decision of Connecticut Democrats to hand their party's nomination to Lamont, a political unknown before his frustration with Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq led him to challenge the Bush administration's favorite Democrat.

"We've just finished the first half, and the Lamont team is ahead," the senator told supporters gathered at a Hartford hotel. But the senator claimed "our team... is going to surge forward to victory in November."

With 97 percent of the state's precincts reporting in the most closely watched Senate primary the nation has seen in years, Lamont had 52 percent, while three-term incumbent Lieberman trailed with 48 percent.

Turnout was high in the primary, especially in areas that were friendly to Lamont. But the challenger's margin was not enough to discourage the senator from running on his "Connecticut for Lieberman" line in a fall race that will also include Republican Alan Schlesinger.

It is expected that Lieberman will try to paint Lamont as a one-issue candidate, and there is no question that an anti-war message defined Lamont primary campaign.

But, as he declared victory, Lamont painted himself as a reformer who would seek not just to change U.S. foreign policy but to reorder national priorities -- particularly on issues such as health care and education.

Saying that Connecticut "voted for big change," the primary winner told his cheering backers, "It's time to fix Congress."

To Lamont's view, that fix requires opposing the Bush White House -- something Joe Lieberman refused to do on the most fundamental issues of the day. That failure cost Lieberman his party's nomination Tuesday, and could yet cost him his Senate seat.

Capitalist Logic

Saving the planet should be motivation enough, but a new report forthcoming from Environment California Research & Policy Center shows that cutting global warming pollution can also create economic opportunities.

In its report being released on August 10th, the Center tells the stories of 12 pioneering businesses in the Golden State that have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 million pounds a year, while saving more than $13 million in the process. (That's in addition to the invaluable publicity that savvy companies now realize they can cynically exploit by appearing green.)

From the Westfield Corporation's energy efficiency and conservation projects in San Diego shopping malls to the installation of large-scale solar photovoltaic panels at P-R Farms' fruit packaging facility in the Central Valley, the report details approaches that work both for the environment and the bottom line. Of course if the climate change crisis goes on too much longer, all of our bottom lines will be devastated and our problems will run much deeper than triple-digit heat waves and air-conditioning breakdowns.

So here are some things you can do:

Join the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. The point is to develop a collective entity that can ultimately demand that governments, corporations, and politicians take the steps necessary to forestall global warming.

Petition your mayor to sign the Climate Protection Agreement if he or she is not one of the 275 US mayors who have already done so. If they have, thank them.

Urge your legislator to support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's Safe Climate Act. Click here for contact info for your legislators.

Finally, join the group StopGlobalWarming.com for updates on new actions and efforts to ensure a viable climate for our descendants.

Lieberman Cancels Campaigning, Fox Carries On

Joe Lieberman canceled his scheduled campaign events on Tuesday afternoon, with his campaign announcing that the embattled senator would spend the rest of primary day making get-out-the-vote calls.

Depending on one's perspective, that's either a sign that the senator is confident, or a sign that he's giving up on winning the primary.

But one thing is sure: the Fox News Channel is still campaigning for Lieberman. An Election Day report on the neoconservative cable channel featured an image of the neoconservative senator's anti-war challenger in today's contest for Connecticut's Democratic Senate nomination, Ned Lamont, above the line: "HAVE THE DEMOCRATS FORGOTTEN THE LESSONS OF 9/11."

The same report featured images of Lamont and Lieberman on a split screen with an image of an Israeli tank, all above the line: A LAMONT WIN, BAD NEWS FOR DEMOCRACY IN MIDEAST?"

Apparently, the network is delivering on Fox personality Sean Hannity's pledge of support from earlier this year. "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election," Hannity told the senator in February, adding that, "I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

No fund raiser? O.K., how about some TV time?

Managing Expectations

The primary race is tightening between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, the conventional wisdom goes. Lamont's thirteen point lead is down to six, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. In reality, both campaigns will admit, the race was always closer than the double digit leads suggested by public polling. The fact that Lamont was down 45 points three months ago and is leading, by however slim a margin as voters go to the polls, is good for the challenger and bad for the incumbent.

A win is a win, the Lamont camp understands.

The mood in Connecticut (yes, I'm here too) is eerily quiet, a bunch of highly caffeinated people waiting for results they can cling onto. Depending on who you talk to, turnout is either incredibly high or depressingly low. The truth, on a hot August day, is probably somewhere in between.

At a campaign stop this afternoon outside of Nica's Restaurant in New Haven, Lieberman claimed "a real surge was occurring."

"Voters understand that even though my opponent is trying to get them to vote against George W. Bush, George Bush ain't on the ballot," he said.

The word "independent," Ari Melber recently pointed out, has been stricken from Lieberman's lexicon. As my cabdriver told me on the way to the hotel, "When Lieberman decided to run as an independent, he said to Connecticut voters 'if you don't pick me, fuck you!'"

Lamont, for his part, is staying upbeat. "I'm confident," he said at a well-attended press conference in New Haven yesterday. His campaign, like so many of the volunteers--bloggers and otherwise, posseses a youthful enthusiasm and sense of possibility. Insurgents on the brink of something much, much greater.

We'll find out how great tonight.

Lieberman, Lamont and the Future of the Democrats

The last time that Democratic primary voters turned out a nationally-known U.S. Senator because they did not like where he stood on an issue of war and peace was in 1970, when Texas Democrats rejected anti-war incumbent Ralph Yarborough and replaced him with Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman who favored taking a tougher line against the Vietcong in Vietnam and against student protesters on the campuses of the United States.

The Texas result was big news nationally, and it played a significant part in the decision of the Nixon White House to try and stir up a "silent majority" backlash to congressional liberals in that fall's Senate races.

Thirty-six years later, in a very different state, Democratic primary voters may avenge Yarborough's loss and set in motion a backlash of another character altogether.

If anti-Iraq War challenger Ned Lamont defeats pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman in today's contest for the Democratic Senate nod in Connecticut, and if Democrats in Washington finally figure our that no message energizes their base so much as the "Bring the Troops Home" signal that Lamont has sent, then the 2006 election could yet be the referendum on George W. Bush's misguided policies that Democrats denied voters in 2002 and 2004.

There were a lot of "ifs" and "coulds" in that previous paragraph. Here's why: Though Lamont took a poll lead several weeks ago, there were some indications in the final days of the race that Lieberman was making something of a comeback. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday had Lamont at 51 percent and Lieberman at 45 percent – suggesting a closer contest than the one seen in polls from last week, which had Lamont up by 10 to 13 points.

Could Lieberman still win this thing? It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Though his reelection campaign has been pathetic, and though he is dramatically out of touch with Democrats on the war issue, the incumbent retains strong name recognition, he has most of the major endorsements from interest groups and newspapers in the state, and he has spent a lot of money on a bitterly negative television advertising campaign against Lamont.

It is the prospect that Lieberman could have a little more going for him than has seemed to be the case through much of the primary fight that has the Lamont campaign working harder than ever today. The narrowing of the polls is likely to bump turnout, perhaps to an unprecedented 45 or 50 percent of the potential primary electorate. The best bet is that this will help Lamont, but the uncertainty about who all these new voters might be – in a state where it is relatively easy for Republicans and independents to reregister as Democrats and participate in the primary – will have everyone on edge until the results are in this evening.

Even if Lamont wins, there is still that bigger "if." Will Democrats in Washington get the message that the war is the issue that gets voters to the polls and that, ultimately, poses a threat to stay-the-course incumbents of both parties? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the size of the margin in Connecticut.

If Lamont wins narrowly – say, by under four points – Lieberman will claim that Democrats are just about evenly divided and plunge into a third-party challenge to the Democratic nominee as the candidate of his newly-created "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

On the other hand, if Lamont secures a decisive victory with a margin of ten points of more, then the pressure on Lieberman to accept the result will intensify. It will become difficult for the incumbent to hold onto those endorsements from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. And the senator might either forego a fall race or mount a titular campaign that will ultimately be a sad footnote to a lamentable career.

If Lieberman has to hang it up tonight or in the next few days, Democratic Party leaders in Washington are likely – because of the intensity of interest in this contest – to be forced by a suddenly engaged press corps to speak with a measure of clarity about where they stand on the war. Chances are that they will try to firm up a message that on the eve of the primary was still better defined as a "whine" than a muscular challenge to Bush and the neoconservatives.

The prospect that the Connecticut primary could be about more than one state's Senate nomination is what will make tonight a rare moment in American politics. It has been a long time since a Democratic Senate primary shifted the direction of national politics. If this one does, and if it pushes the party in the direction of the anti-war position embraced by most Americans at this point, then this will be a historic day – the day when, after far too long, our politics again became meaningful.

Beyond My Lai : New Revelations of Vietnam Atrocities

How long does it take the US government to release documentation about atrocities in which US military forces killed unarmed civilians, women and children? In the case of Vietnam, it's taken almost 40 years. The 1968 My Lai massacre became public in 1969, but officials at the time said My Lai was an "isolated incident"--the same thing we hear about atrocities today in Iraq and elsewhere. After that, GIs described dozens of other My Lai-style atrocities in which they said they had taken part. Those GIs were called liars and traitors, and no one was ever punished for any of the events they described.

Now the Los Angeles Times has published a page one story, "Vietnam Horrors: Darkest Yet," based on official government documents detailing 320 incidents of Vietnam war atrocities that were confirmed by army investigators. The documentation, according to the Times, comes from "a once-secret archive assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s." This "Vietnam War Crimes Working Group" archive, 9,000 pages long, was discovered by Nick Turse, who was doing research for a Ph.D. dissertation as a student at Columbia University. Turse shares the byline on the Times report with staff writer Deborah Nelson.

The stories are terrible. "Kill anything that moves" – that's what one company of American soldiers was told when they set out on a sweep of the rice paddies on Vietnam's central coast in February 1968, according to Jamie Henry, at the time a 20-year old medic. So they shot and killed 19 unarmed civilians, women and children. When Henry got home to California, he held a news conference describing the slaughter, but there was no official response. Now we learn that the army did investigate his report -- and concluded it was accurate – but did nothing to punish the guilty.

The official line that abuses were "confined to a few rogue units" is demolished by the material Turse discovered. Atrocities were committed, according to the Times, by "every army division that operated in Vietnam." They found a pattern of "recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese--families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing," who were "murdered, raped and tortured with impunity" by American soldiers.

Military investigators documented seven large-scale massacres between 1967 and 1971 in which at least 137 civilians were killed. They described 78 other attacks on civilian noncombatants in which US troops killed at least 57, wounded 56 and sexually assaulted 15. They described 141 incidents of torture of civilians, including the use of electric shock.

The evidence against 203 soldiers was strong enough for the military to bring formal charges of war crimes. According to the Times investigation, 57 were court-martialed and 23 convicted – about ten percent. Fourteen were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from six months to 20 years, but most appealed and won significant reductions. The longest sentence, 20 years, went to an interrogator convicted of "committing indecent acts on a 13 year old girl in an interrogation hut." He served only six months.

Army investigators came to no finding about 500 other reports of atrocities, some of which described extensive killing. One sergeant reported in a 1970 letter about a pattern of American soldiers murdering civilians in the Mekong Delta in 1970. "I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year," he wrote. The Times reported that "there is no evidence in the files that his complaint was investigated further."The extensive LA Times report includes details about particular incidents and online links to documents including statements by participants in atrocitiesand a memo from White House counsel John Dean.

Of course this archive deals only with Vietnam atrocities that the army investigated. Doubtlessly hundreds, perhaps thousands of other incidents were not reported – for example former Senator Bob Kerrey's role in killing unarmed Vietnamese villagers in the Mekong Delta in 1969, first reported in 2001.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and official US policy require the protection of civilian non-combatants in wartime. Public opinion in the US turned against the Vietnam war in part because My Lai suggested it was a war on the Vietnamese civilian population rather than a defense of freedom and democracy, as Nixon claimed. 125 eyewitness reports of atrocities were presented at the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in Detroit in 1971, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.Senator John Kerry, an anti-war Vietnam vet at the time, described those hearings in his Senate testimony in 1971.

The only recent report confirming Vietnam atrocities was the "Tiger Force" story that won the Toledo Blade a Pulitzer prize in 2004. Tiger Force was an elite unit of the 101st Airborne division that, according to the Blade, "killed unarmed civilians and children during a seven-month rampage." That story also revealed that army officials failed to stop the atrocities and then failed to prosecute soldiers found to have committed war crimes. That story recently was told in a book, Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War. The new revelations in the LA Times are much broader and deal, not with a single unit, but rather with every division that fought in Vietnam.

As for Iraq today, reports of war crimes committed there by US forces have appeared recently. The LA Times has been covering a family of four in Baghdad murdered by US military, including a 14-year-old girl apparently raped first, and her 5-year old sister shot in the head. The incident has gotten a lot of coverage in Iraq.

The records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that Nick Turse discovered in the National Archives, and that provided the basis for the L.A. Times story, have now been closed to the public, on the grounds that they contain personal information exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Vietnam documents inevitably raise the question of whether we are getting the full story now about Iraq, and whether the military has changed its Vietnam-era practices of secret investigations of atrocities concluding with no punishment for the guilty. We may have to wait another 40 years to find out.

Culture of Corruption Claims Another Congressman

Three months ago, back when Republicans were dismissing the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and this whole "culture of corruption" thing as a Democratic fantasy, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney earned a standing ovation from members of the House Republican Caucus after he announced that he had no plans to resign even if he was indicted over his dealings with Jack Abramoff.

Never mind that federal prosecutors had described Ney in court documents as having accepted gifts, trips and other things of value from Abramoff and his equally controiversial associates.

Never mind that Ney and his top aides, including his chief of staff, have been subpoenaed as part of the examination of the Abramoff case.

Republicans were on board with Ney – just as they were on board with all the other members of their caucus who have been linked directly or through their staffs with the Washington lobbying scandal.

"I'm supporting Bob Ney as he runs for reelection,"chirped National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-New York. "Bob Ney is my candidate running for reelection."

Oh, what a difference 90 days can make!

Now, the GOP line is: Bob Who?

After rejecting any suggestion that he had been harmed by the Abramoff scandal for months, Ney suddenly turned course Monday and quit his reelection race. He says he won't quit his post -- as did another Abramoff ally, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- until his term is finished in January. But it is safe to say that Ney's political career is finished.

And Republicans are wasting no time in shoving him aside.

With Ney's withdrawal came the announcement that Republicans were preparing to settle on a replacement candidate – an Ohio legislator named Joy Padgett.

So does the Abramoff scandal have political "legs"?

Ask Bob Ney and the Republicans who are now scrambling to replace him on their ballot line.

Or, better yet, ask Conrad Burns, the conservative Republican senator from Montana who took more political contributions from the Abramoff operation -- $150,000 -- than any other member of Congress.. Burns has plenty of other problems, but there can be little doubt that the scandal has contributed to polls that have him trailing Democratic challenger Jon Tester by seven points.

"The way things are going for Montana's Conrad Burns," opined Butte's Montana Standard newspaper recently, "all challenger Jon Tester may have to do is to stay quiet until November to win the hotly contested seat."

Would You Like a (Grande) Pink Slip With That Latte?

Sometimes I almost want to like Starbucks, purveyor of expensive yet soothingly foamy hot drinks. The company buys some Fair Trade coffee (though not nearly enough). Employees get health insurance even if they only work 20 hours a week. And while it's always horrible when a Starbucks displaces a neighborhood coffee shop with more character, and roots in the community, I've also seen Starbucks in strip malls, on highways and many other places that never had a coffee shop before. A coffee shop is, after all, a civilized spot for people of all ages to gather, talk, read and hang out with one another, and if Starbucks creates more such spaces, that's a good thing. Best of all, as a friend put it, for many of us, Starbucks is not a coffee shop at all, but "an infrastructure of free bathrooms throughout New York City."

Sadly, however, like so many companies that make "social responsibility" a part of their brand identity -- Ben & Jerry's, Whole Foodsand even Philadelphia's vaunted White Dog Cafe -- Starbucks is adamantly anti-union. Daniel Gross found that out the hard way. This weekend, Gross was fired, fellow employees say, after trying for three years to organize his fellow workers at 17th and Broadway, in Manhattan. Gross is the fourth union activist to be fired from the company this year. The workers will continue trying to organize with the IWW (yes, the Wobblies live!) and have some suggestions on how you can help support their campaign, including boycotting Starbucks until it changes its union-busting ways. Students should consider joining the Justice from Bean to Cup campaign, to pressure Starbucks to reinstates the fired union activists, as well as make a more meaningful commitment to Fair Trade coffee.

Speaking of the latter, I've had some complaints from people who didn't read my Fair Trade coffee post carefully and thought I was dismissing all Fair Trade coffee. Duh, of course not. I was serious when I wrote that I'm convening a tasting panel, and am confident we'll have some tasty findings to report. Relax, people: identifying the good stuff can only help, not hurt, the Fair Trade movement by giving the consumer a little more information.

Mad Mel: Beyond Hezbollah

Last week, while hooked to an IV of air-conditioning, web surfing and TV news, I came to a startling conclusion. Mel Gibson is in league with Hezbollah, and the future of Mideast peace hinges upon the total eradication of his cinematic oeuvre. He must never be allowed to eat lunch at Spago again.

Before you tune me out, let me explain. It all started on a dark Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) when Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee (yes, a Jew) pulled Gibson over for speeding. From the very first moment that TMZ.com broke the story, I knew we were onto something far more momentous than just another of Mel's nights of ladies, liquor and Jew-bashing. According to the deep throats at TMZ, higher-ups at the LAPD feared that public disclosure of Gibson's comments would incite a lot of "Jewish hatred" and ordered the police report "doctored" and "sanitized" because the current situation in Israel was "way too inflammatory." Caution or cover-up?

Exposed to the bright lights of Hollywood, Mel's remarks were roundly condemned by Tinsel Town elite. But it was Ari Emanuel, talent agent, brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for HBO's Entourage, who first connected Gibson's words with the week's second most important story, the conflict in Lebanon. In an article for Huffington Post, "The Bottom Line on Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Remarks," Emanuel wrote "at a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements." He was echoed by Hollywood big-wigs like Sony Pictures Chairwoman Amy Pascal who said, "It's incredibly disappointing that somebody of his stature would speak out that way, especially at this sensitive time." But Emanuel and Pascal only scratched the surface of Mel's diabolical plot. What would happen in Lebanon if Hollywood allowed Gibson to get away with his "tragically inflammatory statements"? Enquiring minds want to know.

Luckily, HuffPo's Queen Arianna uncovered the connections. Declaring the "Gibson affair" Hollywood's "defining moment," she concluded that Mel Gibson and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah are "psychological soul mates." "Gibson's no-longer-deniable brand of bigotry," she wrote "continues to fuel much of the strife and suffering in the world today." Huffington seems to think that world peace is just one Netflix boycott of Braveheart away. "In the same way that ordinary Muslims need to separate themselves from the blood-drenched ideology of Hezbollah, Hollywood needs to separate itself from the odious racism of Gibson." You hear that residents of Qana? Tired of Israeli bombs and Hezbollah terrorist tactics, just change the channel.

Her blog-mate Bill Maher exposes even more. It's not just Gibson who's in cahoots with Nasrallah, it's all of us. As Maher watches "so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would," he comes to the conclusion that "the world IS Mel Gibson." "Most of the time," Maher says, "the anti-Semitism [sic] is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there's been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out." So there you have it. If you're worried that you too might be a closet anti-Semite, then mind the lunar cycle, lay off the Jack Daniels and for heaven's sake, don't criticize Israeli foreign policy.

But wait, there's another figure in this shadiest of conspiracies. According to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, "the world is having a Mel Gibson moment." By "the world" Cohen does not just mean the tendency of "the world" to "blame Israel alone for the carnage in Lebanon" (as Gibson blames the Jews for "all the wars in the world") or even the prevailing "anti-Israel zeitgeist" that Gibson "put his finger to." Cohen is referring to the granddaddy of all conspirators -- the UN and its mastermind, Kofi Annan. Yes, according to Cohen, "before Gibson there was Kofi Annan." Cohen stops shorts of accusing Annan of anti-Semitism, but he does find some commonalities between the UN Secretary General and the star of What Women Want: "a rush to judgment, an impatience, an anger and a general vexation that, at best, is worrisome." In Cohen's troubled mind, when Kofi Annan prematurely claimed that Israel deliberately targeted UN observers in an airstrike on southern Lebanon (killing four of them), he was "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment."

I think Cohen is on to something. Who knows what other international fiascos can be explained by this new syndrome? When George Bush molested German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a recent G8 confab, was he too "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment"?

Now, I'm normally averse to conspiracy theories, but all these reputable folks got me thinking -- maybe Mel Gibson plays a far bigger role in geopolitics than any of us had previously thought? For example, during his drunken diatribe, Mel Gibson revealed that he "owns Malibu." Could the city of Malibu, like Syria and Iran, be funding Hezbollah? Could this be the nefarious purpose behind those mysterious "Team Aniston" baby-Ts worn by so many a Malibu mom? What about all that Aramaic spoken and subtitled in Passion of the Christ? Do any of us really understand reconstructed Aramaic? How do we know that the whole movie wasn't a set of coded instructions intended for Muqtada al-Sadr? And don't even get me started on what a repeat viewing of Lethal Weapon 4 revealed!

But then, I got thinking even some more, and well, I'm no Mideast scholar or Entertainment Tonight reporter, but it seems to me that, though Mel Gibson and Hezbollah both hate the Jews, they do so for totally different reasons. As far as I can tell, Gibson hates Jews because they killed Christ, because they "started all the wars in the world," because they "run Hollywood," and because they have the audacity to pull him over for doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone in his Lexus LS 430 with a .12 blood-alcohol level. These are not, as far as I know, the concerns that preoccupy Hezbollah, Hamas or even the Palestinian National Authority.

Alright, in all seriousness, what is the link between Hezbollah, Kofi Annan, Israel and Mel Gibson? Allow me to suggest another global conspiracy called "culture." As a fellow critic said to me, "Americans only understand the cult of celebrity, so they transpose everything into the key of Hollywood." So here we are, trapped in this meta-Mel moment. The press relentlessly dissects every minute detail of Mel Gibson's evening, from his choice of liquor to his glassy-eyed mugshot. Reporters feverishly pursue the roots of Gibson's anti-Semitism (his father, right-wing Catholicism, Holocaust denialism, Australian white supremacy). Through Mel Gibson's vehicle, we ponder such universal questions as: What responsibilities come with fame? What is the nature of forgiveness? What are the limits of rehabilitation?

All the while, the conflict in Lebanon rages on. And it is not just that this foray into Gibson's psyche provides a distraction from violence and suffering, but that the forced synergy between the two transforms the very field of meaning in which we might place Israel's offensive and Hezbollah's militancy. Gone are Israel's forty-year occupation of Palestinian lands, the dispute over Sheba farms, the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah as political and social movements, the mutual capture and detention of military prisoners, the possibility of war crimes, the asymmetry of power, the suffering and ambivalence of civilians on both sides. What is left when the pundit class finishes forcing the Mideast conflict through the Hollywood machine is simply this: the eternal, omnipresent meta-narrative of Jewish suffering. As Rick Salutin of The Globe and Mail writes, the Mel Gibson incident "reinforced a sense that an ancient, ineradicable hatred of Jews lurks behind the current strife." I would add that the Gibson flap also reinforced the idea (see Maher and Cohen) that to criticize Israel is to engage in anti-Semitism, to join Gibson in his irrational, primordial hatred of Jews.

It seems to me that there was a brief moment --when the bombing of Lebanon began, when the images of Lebanese children in body bags flickered across TV news -- that the American public might finally grasp the extent to which Lebanese and Palestinian Arabs have suffered as result of Israel's policies. That moment is now gone -- in no small measure due to the fallout from the Mel Gibson crisis. But I don't blame Mel; I blame the delusional, infotainment-centered press corps. Wake me up when September comes.