The Battlefield of New Media: The Online War Over Gaza

Al Jazeera has an interesting article up about the online war over Gaza. Both pro-Palestinian and Israeli forces attempted to use new media, both through official and grassroots channels.

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Within minutes of the first missile landing in Gaza, global reactions appeared online.

During the first few days of the war, online discussions were restricted to war of words. Both sides engaged in heated debates and blamed each other for the fatal surge in military operations.

As the discussions grew, attempts were then made by supporters of both sides to establish a coordinated response aimed at combatting the other side’s propaganda.

With this awareness in mind, both Israel and the Palestinians resorted to a variety of media platforms to justify their positions and tactics used during the conflict.

Israeli supporters set up the Help Us Win website, and some Palestinian supporters created Gaza Talk.

Hundreds of groups were created on Facebook by Israelis and Palestinians to create an awareness of the facts as they saw them.

I have a hunch that this change supported the Palestinians more than the Israelis. Anecdotally, this conflict seemed to garner a much different tone of coverage from the mainstream media (read: not rabidly anti-Palestinian), and I wonder if the rise of new media voices in the US (especially the many critical and influential Jewish voices in the progressive blogosphere) and abroad had anything to do with it.

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Change in Effect: Obama Gives First Presidential Interview to Al Arabiya

Lest this blogger be accused of publishing only negative stories, I want to put out a link to Obama’s interview with Arabic language news organization Al Arabiya. This was the first interview that Obama gave since become president – there is very little he could have done to signify greater respect towards the Arab world. It’s almost too much to suddenly have a President who does things the right way, but he nonetheless deserves kudos for following through on the use of public diplomacy.

The transcript itself is also a thing of beauty: Obama seems to understand its opposition to the US is based on our policies and our message. If we were to just change how we communicate our message, but that not our policies, as Bush attempted to do with high profile public diplomacy such as the debacles of Karen Hughes and Al Hurra, we won’t get anywhere with the Arab public. Obama said all the right things to demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment to engagement with the Arab world, and the reality that inevitable disagreements shouldn’t give way to conflict. He also stressed the importance of listening to the Arab world, and not just dictating terms, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Transcript is here.

Also, see a smart take from Mark Lynch. I hope he one day goes on Al Jezerra, but this is a great start.

FWIW: I also think George Mitchell is a great choice.

Adams Responds: Can’t Resign in a Recession

As if the recession has anything to do with this. Not even a good bit of political communications. I think this is incredibly weak sauce.

Apparently, so do Just Out and The Oregonian, as well as Ron Wyden. I’d be interested to see specific responses to the Ruiz and Leonard allegations and whether the attorney general’s probe on the matter will cover those issues. Recent reporting doesn’t say.

Why Sam Adams Should Resign

As you may have heard, Portland Mayor Sam Adams has gotten himself into a little bit of trouble. Adams, the openly gay mayor of this openly gay city, has admitted to lying about having a sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove. For those of you living in a cave (or not Portland, which might be worse) the two met when Breedlove was only 17, although they both claim they didn’t start having sex until after he turned 18. The scandal initially made news in 2007, when rumors surfaced that Adams’ relationship with Breedlove had more to it than the claimed “mentorship.” Adams denied these rumors until he was confronted with a story that was recently published by the alternative weekly the Willamette Weekly.

There are a lot of interesting things this scandal suggests about Portland, sexual politics in the US and gender relations. However, those things are not my area of expertise (who knew I had one?!), so instead of offering thoughts along those lines, I’d like to try to answer the question: “Should Sam Adams stay on as Portland’s mayor?”I wanted to take a few days to get to answering this question in depth, because I don’t really know much about Adams and didn’t want to jump to conclusions before hearing the whole story.

After taking some time to think it through, I’ve decided Adams should step down. The sexual relationship that Adams had with Breedlove is ethically and legally dubious, but not ultimately a political crime worth losing office for. In the course of covering up the affair, Adams allegedly committed three political crimes, all of which rise to the level of being penalized by a removal from office. Each of these allegations is worthy of investigation by the Attorney General. Although I don’t believe politicians sexual lives should be subject to public scrutiny, I believe Adams has lost the credibiilty necessary to effectively stay on as major. As tends to be the case in politics, the cover-up was much worse than the original crime.

Didnt Anyone Learn from This Guy?

Didn't Anyone Learn from This Guy?

The Willamette Week article outlining the history of the reporting on the affair, that eventually caused Adams to confess, makes three substantially sourced allegations. First, the article outlines how Adams used the rumors of the relationship to undermine a political opponent who presented a legitimate challenge to his mayor race. Bob Ball, who is also gay, and was considering his own mayor run made news in 2007 for bringing up the allegations to other Portland political players. Adams and his supporters used Ball’s mention of the allegations as a cudgel to accuse Ball of peddling smears and playing into anti-gay stereotypes. Ball was forced out of the race – although the current reporting has vindicated his initial reaction.

At the time, Adams said he was mentoring Breedlove, and both men said their relationship was just platonic. And Adams claimed Ball was engaged in a dirty tricks campaign.

“I have been the target of a nasty smear by a would-be political opponent,” wrote Adams in a Sept. 18, 2007, email released to the public. “I didn’t get into public life to allow my instinct to help others to be snuffed out by fear of sleazy misrepresentations or political manipulation.”

Would Adams have won a race against Ball if he had been honest about his indiscretions? Portland voters never had a chance to decide.

Second, the article alleges that a reporter covering the story for the Portland Mercury was hired by Adams to hush up a continuing investigation after he was elected.

Adams hired Portland Mercury City Hall reporter Amy Ruiz to be his adviser on sustainability and strategic planning. Ruiz, 28, acknowledged in a Jan. 15 interview that she has no experience in sustainability, planning or government. “This town has a million and a half urban planners, and I’m not one of them,” she says.

Ruiz’s new salary—$55,000—is substantially more than she made at The Mercury.

Mayors and city commissioners frequently hire people whose enthusiasm exceeds their experience. But it was what Ruiz had done as a reporter—or more specifically, what she had not done—that brought into question Adams’ decision to hire her.

Ruiz continued to work on the story after the rumors died down, and was rewarded with an important city job that was beyond her experience. This is perhaps the most serious allegation contained in the story: it involves bribery and cronyism. If Adams misused public funds, and gave discresion over public planning, in exchange for Ruiz’s silence he deserves to be prosecuted. An investigation should be launched into whether Amy Ruiz was improperly hired, that should look at whether other, more experienced candidates were interviewed and, if they were, why they weren’t hired.

Last, the article alleges that Adams was trying to place his associate and colleague on the City Council Randy Leonard as the Police Chief. Leonard is now calling for an investigation into the Breedlove scandal, and must see his own political future in serious jeopardy. The article alleges that Leonard spoke out in favor of Adams during the campaign and in the course of doing so, became aware of the truth of the allegations. Apparently, Leonard was willing to trade his silence for future political considerations. Perhaps, for this reason, the police union is calling for Adams resignation.

Again, neither Adams’ sexual preferences or history with Breedlove are reasons for him to step down. But if L’affaire Breedlove was unimportant enough that Portlander’s should be cool with it, Adams should have leveled with us before we elected him. And he certainly should have done so before using city funds to quiet investigations, or defamed a potential political opponent. I know little of Adams’ politics, which I think actually makes me more inclined to judge the matter fairly. That said, I find it hard to believe that Portland can’t find a similarly progressive and capable individual to fulfill our mayoral functions.

UPDATE: The story has moved a lot over the past few days. Check out The Oregonian and Willamette for ongoing updates.

UPDATE: Some more reporting on the Ruiz aspect here, here and here. Ruiz seems much better about dealing with the issue transparently than Adams has been. That said, I think there is still cause for an investigation.

Government Protections for Me, but Not For Thee

Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of the blogger. Check out this outragous clip from the HuffPo:

Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community’s top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call — including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG — were urged to persuade their clients to send “large contributions” to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.

“This is the demise of a civilization,” said Marcus. “This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I’m watching this happen and I don’t believe it.”

There is a recording. And it gets worse. I bank with Bank Of America and imagine there are many more progressives like me. I would join a group if an enterprising union started an organizing drive around the issue.

A Slight Constitutional Amendment

Senator Feingold has introduced a constitutional amendment to change the process of replacing Senators from an appointment by the Governor of the State to a special election process. This is a good idea, as evidenced by the current debacles in New York, and Illinois. Constitutional amendments require supermajorities, and I have no idea whether or not this idea is politically feasible, but it is a worthwhile idea.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has much, much more.

Let’s Have Bizarre Celebrations

Man, Of Montreal are so weird. I saw them live and the lead singer came out after intermission as a lady, and introduced himself as a lady and proceded to play the rest of the show in female character.