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What Happened: October 4, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: The biggest leak to the media in history, China rattles Taiwan, a night out with Kosha Dillz

by
The Scroll
October 04, 2021

The Big Story

Today’s edition of The Scroll is guest-edited by Armin Rosen

It’s the largest data leak to the media in history. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, conduit for the Panama Papers dump five years ago, assures us that the grandiosely named Pandora Papers—named by whom, one wonders—is historic, an unprecedented 2.94 terabytes of data detailing offshore shell companies and tax havens connected to leading figures in business, politics, and entertainment. In much of the world, offshore can apparently mean the United States, with South Dakota emerging as an attractive tax shelter. A tranche this large is going to yield scooplets for months to come, and there are already a couple juicy ones; the documents detail how a woman believed to be a lover of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin came into possession of a Monaco apartment through a Caribbean-based holding company not long before giving birth to Putin’s suspected daughter in 2003. But so far it’s the comparatively more quotidian details that appall—the little data points of the disgusting amount of wealth one can now quietly amass through a life in public service in much of the world: A deputy to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and someone who’s practically unknown outside of his native country, contacted a company in Singapore to help him stash away $33 million. How can the president of the Czech Republic afford a $22 million French chateau, purchased through an offshore investment company? The answer probably goes a long way in explaining some of the fundamental fault lines in today’s world, what with the ever-volatile sense of alienation-verging-on-conflict between amoral high-rollers and the people whose lives they wish to control being a major social and political theme in places as different as Brooklyn and Budapest. The Pandora bombshell isn’t a free good, though: This is the umpteenth journalistic coup in recent years that’s based on what is effectively stolen information, obtained through means readers will never learn and leaked for reasons we’ll never get to know either. At this point, it’s not even clear where the Pandora Papers were leaked from.

Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/oct/03/pandora-papers-biggest-ever-leak-of-offshore-data-exposes-financial-secrets-of-rich-and-powerful

The Rest

-The above mention of Brooklyn wasn’t random, by the way. The New York Times discovered that New York City awarded $352 million to a nonprofit run by Jack A. Brown III, a scandal-plagued former private prison industry executive, in order to operate a group of homeless shelters in the five boroughs. Some $32 million of that money was channeled into for-profit companies connected to Brown and his family, moves that made him the highest-paid homeless shelter operator in town. Meanwhile, the shelters themselves are moldy, violent, and vermin-infested, at a time when the city faces perhaps the worst homelessness crisis in its history. Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/03/nyregion/jack-brown-homeless-nyc-core-services.html

-For the first time ever, Egyptair is openly operating flights to Tel Aviv instead of using its quasi-secretive Air Sinai subsidiary, the latest indication that the notoriously “cold peace” between the Middle Eastern neighbors might be warming a little. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh last month, in the first visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt in a decade. Israel, Egypt, and Hamas are also reportedly in negotiations over a number of Gaza-related issues.

-China has sent 52 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone, the mainland’s largest-ever such incursion and a show of force that included a dozen bombers and other warplanes. Beijing flew over 80 planes toward the autonomous, democratically governed island over a two-day period at the end of last week, another move likely aimed at shifting the strategic balance in the Straits in the mainland’s favor, just in case China’s communist regime ever goes for one of those allegedly impossible military “solutions” to the island’s disputed status. Read more: https://www.foxnews.com/world/china-sends-more-aircraft-toward-taiwan-one-day-after-largest-ever-incursion, https://twitter.com/LucasFoxNews/status/1445029426274709515

-Iran is indicating that it won’t return to Vienna-based negotiations over the future of the 2015 nuclear deal unless the United States unfreezes $10 billion in the Islamic Republic’s assets. The United States has often acceded to these kinds of demands from Tehran, but there’s been very little progress in the talks over the past several months, especially ever since the hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi became president this summer. Read morehttps://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-asked-us-unfreeze-10-bln-show-good-will-iran-official-says-2021-10-02/

-Novelist, Tablet contributor, and podcast host Dara Horn, author of the excellent and recently published People Love Dead Jews, has an essay in The New York Times today about the end of Jewish history in Afghanistan and how imaginary Jews help societies around the world feel better about their own nasty and intolerant realities. Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/03/opinion/last-jew-afghanistan-zebulon-simentov.html

-Did the vice president of the United States “[nod] in agreement to a blood libel” in an exchange with a high school student who accused Israel of “ethnic genocide”? Watch the video and decide for yourselves, but Middle East scholar and Tablet contributor Michael Doran makes the case that the incident shouldn’t be shrugged off. Read more: https://mobile.twitter.com/Doranimated/status/1444277686260613122

-Lars Vilks, a Swedish illustrator whose satirical drawings of Mohammed set off waves of controversy around the world in 2007, died in an apparent car accident over the weekend. One of al-Qaeda’s “most wanted,” Vilks was the likely target of an apparent assassination attempt in 2015 and spent the last 14 years of his life under police protection. Read more: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/swedish-artist-lars-vilks-stirred-worldwide-controversy-2007-drawings-rcna2542

-With President Joe Biden’s $3.5 billion infrastructure package hanging in the balance, liberals and Biden enthusiasts have directed much of their ire at Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, one of two Senate moderates seen as holding up the president’s signature legislative package. One left-wing activist group might have gone too far by haranguing Sinema and recording her in a bathroom after she finished teaching a class at Arizona State University—even if its tactics are totally in tune with the rhetorical excesses of the present debate. Read more: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/arizona/2021/10/04/activists-ambush-sen-kyrsten-sinema-asu-build-back-better-act/5985790001/

-Hard to think of a clearer sign of growing popular indifference to the fates of even the most beloved plutocratic enterprises than Chicago shrugging off the Bears’ latest, apparently serious threat to decamp to the suburbs unless state and city government showers the National Football League franchise with cash again. Read more: https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-chicago-bears-arlington-heights-soldier-field-politics-20211002-dwkcm2xjyrb7ho7grpr7zfvzky-story.html

The Back Pages

Sometime before his set at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn last night, an amusing image popped into the head of Rami Matan, the effusively Judaism-positive rapper who performs under the name Kosha Dillz. Matan, understanding that a live musical act must always offer a visual cue that separates the Olympian artist from the neck-craning commoners below, had dressed his band—a trumpeter, a turntablist, a drummer, and a second vocalist—in pickle-patterned button-ups, with the words Kosha Dillz in graffiti font decorating the breast pockets. “I wanna wear this to trial,” Matan mused as the Sunday-night revelers trickled in, the thought reaching full bloom about 30 minutes later, when he was onstage before a healthily sized crowd. “I just got 17 years and two months sober,” he announced, every new second of freedom a landmark worth sharing and celebrating in public. “My life would’ve been so different if I’d worn this shirt to court.” He said that his next song would be called “Schmoozin’” and would have sections in Yiddish.

“Who’s fahbrangin’ the party—Jewish!” goes the hook to that one. But Matan is not a novelty rapper, in part because dalliances with novelty, and the skillful embrace and subversion of the trappings of pure gimmick, can be critical elements of any rapper’s persona building, whatever their level of kosha-ness. Matan gives us Yiddish puns, and he also gives us songs about social media self-obsession. Onstage, he acts out his lyrics: He looks at an imaginary phone, runs on an invisible treadmill, drops to the ground and strikes a pose as if he’s lounging in bed, maybe tries out a moonwalk for a bar or two when his verses aren’t giving him something specific to do. Matan never goes negative in any of his music. I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard him curse, at least not when there’s a beat underneath. (Last night Matan was opening for Little Stranger, a similarly upbeat though more psychedelically soundscaped rap duo.) There isn’t the tiniest sapling of hair above the veritable timberline of Matan’s eyebrows—thus he organized the first-ever Bald Fest a couple weeks ago, which got him a nice mention on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Is this a Jewish comic fatalism in action, or an emcee’s embrace of the hustle? “Losses turn into pain, then they become advantages,” Benny the Butcher rapped last year, though it probably wasn’t hair he had in mind, exactly.

For those with backstage access and vaguely Jewish-themed newslettering duties, the night was a gallery of exhilarating tribal weirdness. Contra Matan’s stage bantering, his DJ had not just turned 18. Mikey Darwish is 21, thank you very much. Back when he was a yeshiva student, Darwish saw Dillz rapping in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, then ran into him back in New York a year later. Darwish had just co-produced an album for the rapper Austyn Skies and was especially proud of “Lonely,” a recent single layered with echoing vocals and woozy synthesizers. Back on the general public’s side of the wall, along the edge of the stage, a self-described “artist and accountant” and one-time girls’ seminary student who identified herself as Miriam Delirium—who needs a real name, when the invented one is unimprovable?—was selling a spread of kosher CBD products. The chocolates are parve, for Halachically easier consumption on meat-heavy Shabbat and Yom Tov days. She said a bracha over whatever it was she was drinking and offered to paint my face. It is unknowable how many of today’s seminary and yeshiva kids will wind up as tomorrow’s rap producers or face-painting CBD entrepreneurs, but I doubt the number will be zero.

Two figures of undeniable gravitas were at the Knitting Factory last night, living connections to two very different and seemingly unrelated chapters of the near-distant past. By the stage, in a barely cordoned-off VIP area, sat a solitary man in his early thirties in a black Goodfellas sweater, cornrowed hair ending in bristles of braid that would look uncannily familiar to rap fans of an earlier generation than my own. Tailing Matan was an equally laconic older gentleman in an Israeli Air Force T-shirt. As his set wrapped up, Matan called both men onstage, and Sami Steigmann, a Romanian-born child survivor of the Holocaust, watched from a high bar stool as Barson Jones, aka Young Dirty Bastard, son of the late Old Dirty Bastard, brought his father back to life, his rendering of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” as much a séance as it was a rap performance.

Matan had met Steigmann through a Jewish community-related event on Zoom and helped make him the first survivor to appear on Clubhouse, where thousands heard him share his experiences. Young Dirty Bastard was a rap industry acquaintance of Matan’s. Why the strange profundity of the moment? Did it have to do with surfacing the historical commonalities of African Americans and Jews, or maybe with the poignancy of how simultaneously close and far off the past can seem—with how near the ghosts of dead fathers and murdered communities are, even if you can only see them today in passing, unexpected bursts? As Matan reflected to me backstage, a moment later, “There has never been a Holocaust survivor and a living member of the Wu-Tang Clan onstage together, and that’s as close as it’s gonna get.”

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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