H.R. 4133: the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation and Screw the Taxpayer Act

On May 9 the House of Representatives passed a bill that could have a dramatic impact on America’s foreign policy and will certainly cost us a lot of money, but since any news of this legislation was virtually absent from the mainstream media, very few Americans are aware of it existence.  H.R. 4133, the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, was slipped through the House under a rules suspension that allowed a quick vote with virtually no debate.  The bill had bipartisan backing, being introduced by Democrats Howard Berman and Steny Hoyer and two particularly loathsome Republicans, who seem to owe their primary allegiance to Israel, Eric Cantor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  (Actually, the bill had “tripartisan” backing, since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Tel Aviv’s powerful instrument in America, helped write it.)  The vote was 411-2, only Ron Paul (R) and John Dingell (D) voting against.  How odd that our increasingly dysfunctional and divided government could achieve virtually unanimity on a bill, one that most Americans will never hear of.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and honesty already knows what actions counter to our interests Israel’s stranglehold on Washington has forced upon us, but this bill represents a mind-numbing escalation of commitment to a state whose foreign and domestic policies are at odds with what this country presumes to stand for.  In essence the bill is a blank check from the American taxpayer, who will now be obliged to support Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over all its neighbors combined, of course leaving it to Israel and its Congressional supporters (which is to say, almost all of Congress) to decide exactly what that vague phrase means.  Certainly, one thing it means is that we will be sending more of our money out of the country in order to support activities of extremely questionable legality and morality.

The legislation also affirms our commitment to the “security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”  This is an interesting development in our “passionate attachment” (G. Washington) to Israel.  We have of course spent decades squandering our money and international credibility on an “ally” whose value to American security and interests (apart from domestic politics) is not at all clear and which continually violates the international law we are pledged to uphold and the basic values that we trumpet to the world.  But now we have pledged (for the first time in our history, I believe) to guarantee the religious/cultural nature of a foreign country.

One might legitimately ask why we should care, unless it was to criticize an oppressive government, which we cannot do anyway in the case of Israel, but more than that, what exactly does this mean?  When the Muslim minority in Israel’s citizen body becomes the majority, as it inevitably will, will the US have to intervene?  When Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are formally incorporated into Eretz Yisrael will we have to help enforce apartheid or deport all those Palestinians?  If a majority of Israeli citizens voted to declare Israel a secular state, would we have to prop up a minority government?  And exactly what is a “Jewish state,” especially when the majority of inhabitants of the state in question do not practice Judaism?

The legislation requires the US to supply all sorts of equipment for the “defense” of Israel.  Of course, Israel has always been able to utterly smash its enemies, requiring only resupply from a compliant Uncle Sam, and the only potentially threatening neighbor whose military might be improving is Egypt, whose major supplier, America, is hardly likely to provide her an edge.  Included in the list are refueling tankers and bunker-busting bombs, which are obviously offensive weapons, unless of course your definition of defense includes preemptive strikes against other countries, which it does in the eyes of Israel – and increasingly the United States.  What are now called “preemptive strikes” were traditionally labeled “wars of aggression.”  I wonder if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor can be called a preemptive strike?  After all, American naval power was a threat to the continued existence of the Japanese Empire.

One particularly frightening part of the bill is the expressed desire for Israel to play an increased role in NATO, included a presence at NATO headquarters and involvement in NATO exercises.  The clear intention is that Israel ultimately become a member of NATO, thus dragging the entire European alliance into her wars and making it complicit in her continued violation of international law.  With that Israel could attack Iran or any other country with impunity, because if the victim dare fight back, the United States and the rest of NATO would be required to come to her aid.  This would be placing an assault rifle in the hands of an ill disciplined child.  But it is hard to imagine Turkey signing on to this plan, and one hopes the majority of European members would also object.  Of course, then Congress would begin looking at an actual treaty with Israel, though given the utter subservience of our politicians to Israeli interests, it would hardly be necessary.

One final slap in our face.  Washington has agreed to put up an additional $680 million (beyond the $3.1 billion we pay every year) to help Israel pay for her Iron Dome anti-missile system and the new F-35 fighter.  Israel has also requested another $168 million for security measures, while the Obama administration has asked for $99.9 million on top of that.  And to make sure poor Israel does not run out of American money the Iron Dome Support Act, introduced by Berman and the ever vigilant Ross-Lehtinen, would require our Treasury to keep shelling out the money.  And here is the joke on us: Israel has this year cut its defense budget by 5% and intends to do the same next year!  Oh, there is a second joke: the United States has absolutely no rights to the technology being developed for the Iron Dome system, which will be marketed to the world by Israel.  Perhaps we can get a special deal.

We have become a silly nation.

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Goodbye, CNN

(Be advised: this might legitimately be considered a rant.)

I have seen a LOT of the domestic variety of CNN.  Except when reading or writing I like to have a television buzz of some interest in the background, but henceforth that buzz will be supplied by the NFL channel.  The deficiencies and accommodations of the Cable News Network can no longer be abided.

Where’s the News?

I recognize the sorry reality that a commercial news operation must attend to the bottom line, which means providing what the public wants.  During the initial stages of the war against Iraq, for example, the ratings of Fox News left those of other networks in the dust because of its smothering overlay of unabashed patriotism and lack of even the slightest hint of critical analysis.  CNN is hardly in the same league as Fox, whose “news” is so distorted that it must call itself Fox News and Entertainment, but the pressure is nevertheless there.

One would have to surmise that the viewers of CNN have virtually no interest in events outside the US, unless there is a spectacular disaster or somehow Americans are involved.  And then engaging video and a chatty correspondent easily trump any but the briefest analysis of the situation, the video clip being endlessly repeated if there is not enough to cover the entire story.  Even in stories originating in the US action and emotion are preferred, and weeping victims abound.  This is not news.  Neither are the antics of Paris Hilton, but celebrity buzz is a regular feature.  Not even the need to produce 24 hours of programming can break the grip of vulgar appeal. 

What’s Israel Doing?

A particular instance of catering to the audience rather than what is newsworthy is the treatment of Israel, which has in general received special treatment in American media of all kinds.  Major events such as Operation Cast Lead in Gaza must be covered, but only in terms so neutral as to distort the presentation of facts.  Excesses so blatant that they cannot be ignored will be mentioned but never with the sort of in depth examination and implied indignation associated with the activities of, say, the Palestinians or Iranians.  To be fair, this bias is a facet of most commercial media in America and appears now to be breaking down in the face of increasingly provocative behavior by the current Israeli government, but it is a fact of CNN life.

Obsessive Focus

Further limitation of the news presented results from the inclination to devote incredible amounts of air time to a story deemed important, regardless of whether there is actually anything more to be said concerning the issue.  This is most obvious, as is presently the case, when dealing with American elections, during which process an army of correspondents will say essentially the same thing over and over, almost to the exclusion of reporting on anything else.  An exceptional example of this came in 1999 when a plane piloted by John Kennedy went into the drink.  Although there was virtually no information to report, for hours CNN repeated that non-information, all the while showing a live view of the sea where the plane was thought to have crashed.  One can only conclude that because this event involved a high profile figure – a prominent Kennedy – CNN felt justified in presenting hours of what was in effect dead air time rather than turning to other news until there was more information to present.

Interviewing Cardboard Cutouts

What is the point of interviewing party hacks and government and business spokesmen?  CNN (and other networks) do this constantly, despite the fact that they – and any informed viewer – know exactly what these people will say, resulting in a complete waste of time for everyone except the guests rattling off their generally meaningless bullets.  Interviewing actual office holders or CEOs is something of a step up, but here also all one will generally get is uninformative canned answers and PR points.  Anchors appear usually unwilling to press an unresponsive guest, especially a politician, presumably because they will never get another interview, and even though nothing is learned by the viewer, featuring a prominent politician is seemingly good for the ratings and they are consequently not to be offended.  The irony of course is that most of these people come away looking precisely as if they have something to hide and are self-serving.  Suffering fools gladly only reinforces the behavior of the fools.  (It should be added that Fareed Zakaria is the grand exception at CNN.)

Cult of Personality

The real heroes of journalism are the foreign correspondents, serving in the trenches of newsgathering and frequently risking life and limb in the process.  Yet it is the anchors in their studios who are lionized and advertised.  Wolf Blitzer is not
Edward R. Morrow or Walter Cronkite; apart from his name he is a completely unremarkable newsman who throws only the softest of balls in his interviews and appears extremely uncomfortable when dealing with the plain-speaking and blatantly honest Jack Cafferty.  And excepting the odd satirical poke, why should we care what these people do in their free time?  Precious hours of air time were expended on stories about Nancy Grace’s stint on Dancing with the Stars, leaving me wondering why this was more newsworthy than, say, sectarian warfare in Nigeria.  And of course no catastrophe can be adequately covered until the arrival of Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta.

One additional note: there is apparently a Nacht und Nebel policy when one of these stars falls from grace.  In the past couple years two very prominent CNN hosts, Lou Dobbs and Rick Sanchez, simply disappeared, so far as I know, without any explanation from the network.

I Am Not a Child

How many pre-schoolers watch CNN?  Then why am I being protected from words most adults have been using since grammar school?  This sort of censorship is especially silly in an age when there are vast numbers of unrestricted cable and satellite channels and even the stuffy FCC is considering relaxing the standards for broadcast television.  This naughty word censorship has always struck me as bizarre inasmuch as anyone hearing “(bleep) you” or a reference to the “F-bomb” will automatically mentally fill in the word “fuck,” just as hearing the term “N-word” leads to the translation “nigger” in every functioning brain.  A word is a symbol, and what is being symbolized hardly goes away simply because another symbol is substituted: is it somehow less offensive if I say to a black man “Hey, N-word!”  Perhaps some sort of mythic thing is going on here; you can’t work evil magic on the sorcerer unless you use his real name.

Further, while I have no particular desire to see huge amounts of gore on the news, dead bodies are a fact of life, and perhaps if we could all see the stunning images of exactly what a Hellfire missile does to a human, especially a child, we might not be so enthusiastic about their use.  Such censorship can only contribute to the notion already suggested to the young mind by movies and video games that there is no serious consequence to the use of violence.  War is not a game, and collateral damage is slaughtered innocents.

Finally, pixilation is getting out of control, and I suspect we will soon see nothing but background landscape in news video, as all the humans are pixilated to avoid any legal problems or offend a single viewer.  Especially galling is the pixilation of the hand with the one-finger salute.  Not only does everyone know immediately what the gesture is (mythic again; if you can’t see it clearly, it won’t hurt you), but the upraised middle finger is one of the most iconic exports of America, rapidly displacing the corresponding gestures of other cultures.  I have indeed seen Israelis and Palestinians flipping each other the bird, but we will certainly not see that on the news, at least not clearly.

Undermining the Serious

Why do anchors need to chat with correspondents?  Is it not more serious and appropriate for thinking adults for the correspondent to simply give his report rather than pretending he is having a conversation with a clever and penetrating anchor?  And no serious journalist should ever employ the word “exclusive,” the use of which catapults one right into the world of Hollywood and tabloids.

Last, and far from least, is CNN’s prodigious use of teases.  It is one thing – and a benefit – to know what stories are coming up, but the tease is exasperating.  “Here are numbers 5, 4 and 3 of the top 5 whatever; stay tuned (through the ads) to discover what 2 and 1 are.”  I suppose this works with the weak-minded.

And you very likely just wasted your time reading something you already knew.