Monday, January 12, 2009

Playing the Media?

CNN has been airing this video of the alleged death of a young Palestinian boy, putatively at the hands of the Israelis, but several bloggers are convinced that the video is a fake:

The doctor's feeble effort at CPR certainly looks contrived, and there's not much evidence of wounds or damage to the rooftop consistent with a missile explosion. And why does the video stop before the boy is interred? I don't know if the film is a fraud or not, but it certainly is suspicious. It originated with Hamas, and there's no real evidence in it that the boy is actually dead or that, if he is, he was killed by Israeli fire. Nevertheless, an uncritical CNN swallows it hook, line, and sinker.

One might get the feeling that at CNN the working assumption is that if it makes Israel look bad it must be genuine.

James Lewis, in a strongly worded piece at The American Thinker, takes the media to task for what he calls their collusion with terrorism:

In fact, it is the media themselves who are criminally complicit in the internment of Gaza's civilians in the line of fire. They could stop the terrorists simply by headlining Hamas' responsibility for the plight of the Arabs of Gaza, over and over again. That's the real story --- if only they could headline the facts right in front of their eyes. But they don't.

Without the leftist media there is no payoff for terrorists. Shut off the oxygen of publicity and Hamas shrivels to a powerless gang of thugs.

Lewis is correct, but he goes a little too far, I think, when he accuses CNN and BBC of being just as guilty of the deaths of Palestinians as is Hamas. After all, Hamas deliberately kills its own people through brutal cynicism and malice whereas the media's complicity is due more to ideological blindness, naivete, and perhaps stupidity. Nevertheless, Lewis is right to hold them to account.


Atlas Redux

Stephen Moore writes in the Wall Street Journal that current government policy is eerily reminiscent of the disastrous government policies so skillfully parodied by Ayn Rand in her 1957 magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. For anyone who has read Atlas today's newspapers do carry the scent of deja vu. Here's some of what Moore says:

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as "the looters and their laws." Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the "Anti-Greed Act" to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel's promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the "Equalization of Opportunity Act" to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act," aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn't Hank Paulson think of that?

These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act" and the "Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act." Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion -- in roughly his first 100 days in office.

The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That's the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies -- while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to "calm the markets," another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as "Atlas" grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate "windfalls."

There's much more to the comparison to Rand's vision in Moore's column. Check it out, especially if you've read Atlas.


Proportionality in War

Recently we discussed the matter of Just War as it relates to the current conflict in Gaza. During the course of those discussions we had some things to say about the difficulties inherent in applying the principle of proportionality to this, or any, war. Critics of Israel frequently, and glibly, allege that the Israeli response to the Hamas rocket attacks has been "disproportionate" without giving us any indication how they know this or what metric they're using to determine it.

Now Michael Walzer at The New Republic weighs in with a fine essay on the matter of the difficulties inherent in assessing what constitutes a proportionate response. Here's part of his column:

Consider the example of an American air raid on a German tank factory in World War Two that kills a number of civilians living nearby. The justification goes like this: The number of civilians killed is "not disproportionate to" the damage those tanks would do in days and months to come if they continued to roll off the assembly line. That is a good argument, and it does indeed justify some number of the unintended civilian deaths. But what number? How do you set an upper limit, given that there could be many tanks and much damage?

Because proportionality arguments are forward-looking, and because we don't have positive, but only speculative, knowledge about the future, we need to be very cautious in using this justification. The commentators and critics using it today, however, are not being cautious at all; they are not making any kind of measured judgment, not even a speculative kind. "Disproportionate" violence for them is simply violence they don't like, or it is violence committed by people they don't like.

So Israel's Gaza war was called "disproportionate" on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were.

Walzer concludes that because of the difficulty in assessing it, proportionality is perhaps among the least important of the Just War principles. Anyone interested in the ethics of the application of force should read his contribution.

Thanks to Byron for passing it along.