Where is the outcry?

The New York Times reports on soccer team Beitar Jerusalem’s recruitment of two Muslim players — who aren’t even Arab; they’re from Chechnya — and the reaction of racist fans:

The team, Beitar Jerusalem, has long been linked to Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party, and for 15 years has been notorious for racism and violence, including an incident last spring in which fans stormed a local mall chanting “Death to Arabs” and beat up several Arab employees. Founded in 1936, it is the only one of Israel’s professional soccer teams never to have recruited an Arab player.

The current controversy concerns the team’s addition of two Muslim players from Chechnya. Although one is injured, the other is expected to play for the first time in a match on Sunday against a team from Sakhnin, an Arab-Israeli town.

In anticipation of the Muslim players’ arrival, some fans unfurled a banner at the team’s Jan. 26 game saying “Beitar Pure Forever.” Some critics said the banner was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s expulsion of Jews from sport, and it led to nationwide soul-searching.

The greatest irony?

“We cannot accept such racist behavior,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “The Jewish people, who suffered excommunications and expulsions, need to represent a light unto the nations.”

There has long been a double standard in the American media in which blatant Israeli racism towards Arabs and Muslims is largely ignored — or, at best, excused as an outlier — while even the slightest hint of negative sentiments towards Israel — even if motivated primarily by political considerations — is reflexively excoriated as anti-Semitic.

Take, for example, the recent brouhaha at Brooklyn College, where a predictable uproar was fortunately insufficient to prevent the institution from holding an event featuring speakers who support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S.) policies relating to Israel. Following the event, Brooklyn College professor Corey Robin blogged about a previous speaker at the school:

In March 2011, David Horowitz spoke at Brooklyn College. Someone yesterday brought to my attention this report from the event. A few highlights:

Given this context, it was all the more disturbing last night when I looked across the crowd and saw tears run down the face of a member of the Palestine Club as Horowitz said to the group of mostly nodding heads, “All through history people have been oppressed but no people has done what the Palestinians have done—no people has shown itself so morally sick as the Palestinians have.”

Horowitz, who admitted he had actually never even been to Israel, proceeded to give everyone a lesson in Middle East politics: according to him, Muslims in the Middle East are “Islamic Nazi’s” who “want to kill Jews, that’s their agenda.” He added later, “all Muslim associations are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The most revealing moment came when a young Arab-American woman directed a question to Horowitz and the audience: “You talk about Muslims as if you know them—We have a Muslim American Society, we have a Palestine Club [on campus]. I want to raise the question to any of the Jews in this room, and students, have you guys ever been threatened by a Muslim on campus or an Arab?” To this, the crowd almost unanimously spun around in their seats to face the young woman and replied “yes.” Someone shouted, “and we’re scared when we see Muslims on buses and airplanes too.”

Horowitz encouraged anti-Muslim hate by telling the crowd, “no other people have sunk so low as the Palestinians have and yet everybody is afraid to say this,” claiming that Muslims are a “protected species in this country” and that he’s “wait[ing] for the day when the good Muslims step forward.”

As Robin then asked:

First, how is it that the comments of Horowitz can be so easily admitted into the mansion of “the open exchange of ideas” while the comments of Butler and Barghouti [who spoke at the recent BDS event] seem to threaten the very foundation of that edifice?

It’s a good question, but not one we’re likely to see answered by traditional media establishments any time soon.

The meeting of two larger-than-life mayors

London mayor Boris Johnson describes meeting New York mayor Michael Bloomberg:

When the mayors met for the first time, Mr. Johnson recalled, Mr. Bloomberg kept talking about trans fats.

“I didn’t know what trans fats were,” Mr. Johnson said, a glint in his eye. “I thought it had something to do with transsexuals, obese transsexuals, or something. Anyway, he made a great deal about that.”

Why we need organizations like Wikileaks

Here’s why:

When the New York Times revealed the location of the U.S.’s top-secret drone base in Saudi Arabia today, after months of keeping the information quiet, the other most important news outlets in the country sheepishly admitted they’d known about it, too. Along with the Washington Post, which said it had “an informal arrangement” with the government for more than a year, the Associated Press added last night that it “first reported the construction of the base in June 2011 but withheld the exact location at the request of senior administration officials.” Asked why the Times acted now, the paper’s managing editor Dean Baquet told public editor Margaret Sullivan it was simple: John Brennan’s big day.

“It was central to the story because the architect of the base and drone program is nominated to head the C.I.A.,” Baquet explained. Brennan’s confirmation hearings start tomorrow, and the Times decided it was important to discuss his pivotal role in U.S. operations in Yemen, where dozens of suspected terrorists have been targeted by drones, beforehand.

Previously, the government worried that the Saudis “might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” so when the location “was a footnote,” the Times complied, Baquet said. “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.” (Fox News, too, appears to have published the Saudi Arabian base location briefly in 2011 before switching to the more general “Arabian Peninsula.”)

When the location was a footnote? As decided by whom: the White House? And I have to laugh at Baquet’s comment about “[balancing] that concern with reporting the news.” Forgive me for assuming that reporting on secretive government wartime activity conducted without the knowledge of its taxpaying citizens might be considered, without resorting to qualification or euphemism, damn newsworthy. Forgive me further for daring to presume that government “concern” is a stalling tactic as old as the media and the state themselves, and that the Times, which published the Pentagon Papers and the Wikileaks cables, must know a little something about that. Even the Times‘ normally decent public editor Margaret Sullivan scored an assist on the coverup this time:

One of its revelations is the location of a drone base in Saudi Arabia. The Times and other news organizations, including The Washington Post, had withheld the location of that base at the request of the C.I.A., but The Times decided to reveal it now because, according to the managing editor Dean Baquet, it was at the heart of this particular article and because examining Mr. Brennan’s role demanded it…

If it was ever appropriate to withhold the information, that time was over. The drone program needs as much sunlight as possible. This is another crucial step in the right direction.

No, a crucial step in the right direction would have been to publish that remarkable story back when the Times actually found out about it. Amazing that the newspaper had no problem helping to push us into war in Iraq with shoddy, factually incorrect reporting, but it now claims the mantle of journalistic responsibility in defense of delaying the reporting of relevant facts about our ever-expanding drone wars. Here’s the Washington Post‘s equally appalling take:

The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.

In China, of course, this would be called government censorship. But here in the United States, it’s just old-fashioned journalistic integrity. Glad we have that cleared up.

A very coincidental assassination

Hm:

A leading Tunisian opposition politician who had fiercely criticized the Islamist-led government, accusing it of turning a blind eye to violence by religious hard-liners, was fatally shot by unknown gunmen outside his home in Tunis on Wednesday, officials said.

The politician, Chokri Belaid, a leading member of a leftist opposition alliance formed in October, was shot just as he was leaving his house Tunis, Tunisia’s capital, the state news agency TAP said. A colleague in Mr. Belaid’s opposition alliance told Reuters that he was killed with four bullets to the head and chest.

Chris Wallace, the boss would like to see you now.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klzZxOat3mc]

Every once in awhile, someone on FOX News starts feeling a little dangerous and decides to actually do the news, just to see what it feels like to be a real reporter:

In an unexpectedly lively exchange on Fox News Sunday this morning, host Chris Wallace took on NRA head Wayne LaPierre for his group’s tasteless ad calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having Secret Service protection for his daughters while opposing the placement of armed guards in every American school. “It wasn’t picking on the president’s kids,” LaPierre argued, somewhat futilely. “The president’s kids are safe and we’re all thankful for it.” When Wallace pointed out that “[Malia and Sasha] also face a threat that most people do not face,” LaPierre shot back: “Tell that to the people in Newtown!” But Wallace wasn’t buying the indignation. “Do you really think that the President’s children are the same kind of target as every schoolchild in America?” Wallace asked LaPierre, adding, “I think that’s ridiculous, and you know it, sir.”

The Republican establishment fights back

Finally, mercifully, they’re beginning to see the light. As always in politics, it’s the money men who are making things happen:

The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.

The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

The effort would put a new twist on the Republican-vs.-Republican warfare that has consumed the party’s primary races in recent years. In effect, the establishment is taking steps to fight back against Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations that have wielded significant influence in backing candidates who ultimately lost seats to Democrats in the general election.

Big Brother is watching you, from 17,500 feet up

The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal has more:

One thing to note is that a drone can just hang out at 15,000 feet over a small city-sized area (roughly, half of Manhattan) and provide video surveillance of the whole thing. The other thing to note is that they are running machine vision on the moving objects, which means they are generating structured data out of the video, not just displaying the pictures.

I won’t get completely into the legal details, but what if some branch of government or a corporation (maybe not Google, but maybe Google) set one of these guys up over an American city. They say that Big Data analysis has told them that criminals (or consumers!) display certain types of behavior that can be spotted at that distance, helping them deploy police (or marketing promotions) on the ground more effectively. And the rest of the city’s citizens? Well, they’re collateral data.

Obama hearts guns

From New York Magazine:

Ever since President Obama awkwardly insisted to The New Republic last weekend that, “Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” media fact-checkers (including our own DI Dan) combed through every bit of White House photographic evidence for even a single snapshot of the president in the gun-toting act. Sensing that the ensuing SkeeterGate was getting out of hand, White House officials released the above photo to theofficial White House Flickr stream this morning. “For all the ‘skeeters’,” tweeted White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, “POTUS shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David on Aug. 4, 2012.” Yet we can already predict the obligatory conspiracy theory backlash, noting that there’s not a clay pigeon in sight. Apparently we’re not the only ones thinking this. As newly-departed White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe tweeted soon after: “Attn skeet birthers. Make our day – let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”

Perhaps this is actually a brilliant strategy: depicting Obama shooting a gun is probably the only way to get Republicans to start banning them.

Lindsey Graham precisely proves Chuck Hagel’s point.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh2A7BR1PZc]

Is there a greater moron in the United States Senate than Lindsey Graham? (OK, yes, actually. But he certainly seems to be gunning for Idiot in Chief here.)

Stop politicizing everything? As if.

Michael Moynihan seems to have woken up on the wrong side of his bed. (On Monday, that is. At 4:45 AM EST, when his article was posted. So maybe he didn’t sleep at all.) In a rambling complaint about people who complain about movies and TV shows for various reasons, Moynihan wrote:

There is a simple lesson in all of this: if you are trawling for readers, they can be reliably attracted by accusing films and televisions shows (Argo, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Girls, The Daily Show, American Idol, The Muppets, Homeland, The Help—a depressingly long list) of encouraging torture, war, anti-capitalism, Islamophobia, sexism, and racism. An accusation precipitates a flurry of tweets and blog posts (“I can weigh in on this; I’ve seen that movie!”) followed immediately by mainstream-media reports on the roiling “controversy.” Everyone gets provocative headlines; everyone gets page views; everyone leaves unsatisfied.

Despite a column headline that name-checks Django Unchained but then fails to mention the movie anywhere other than in the above-quoted parenthetical, and despite the fact that this very same parenthetical — consisting of a litany of film and TV titles that mostly go unmentioned for the remainder of the article — quite conveniently doubles as SEO-bait itself, the only real common thread uniting commentary on Lena Dunham’s Girls and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is that both are well-publicized pieces of entertainment whose content inspires both slavish devotion and vehement disgust.

In other words, they’re popular. Other than that, there’s not much of a similarity, despite Moynihan’s increasingly strained attempts to prove the contrary. The primary critique of Girls, to which Moynihan devotes a significant portion of his article, relates to the series’ unapologetically white, bourgeois sensibilities — with plenty of twentysomething angst and daddy’s-girl entitlement syndrome to go around.

Like Moynihan, I find some of the more common criticisms of Girls to be repetitive and uninspired (a characterization, incidentally, I’d apply in good measure to the show itself). The cries of “where are the black girls?” sound a lot like “concern trolling” to my male Caucasian ears, but then…exactly. Who knows? As I see it, it’s Lena Dunham’s show, it’s Lena Dunham’s friends, and if they all happen to be white, well…it’s probably because that’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how middle- to upper-class cliques work in real life.

They’re also caricatures of whiny, self-absorbed, only-child, Upper East Side self-actualizers whose endless navel-gazing manages to stir just enough stale air to create a mildly entertaining storyline with enough awkward sex to compile a “Best Of” YouTube hit by now. In other words, if you’re going to ask about the racial component, you’ve got to start asking about everyone else the show is ignoring too. Which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much all of us.

Zero Dark Thirty — which, I must here disclaim, I have not watched — is something very different. And that Moynihan can’t distinguish between the two types of critiques is worrying. The film’s detractors are not, as his headline declares, “politicizing everything.” It’s simply mind-boggling to me how a movie that depicts a narrative beginning on September 11th and more or less ending with Osama bin Laden’s capture, interspersed with generous helpings of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other such light-hearted curiosities, could ever not be political.

In fact, Moynihan’s frustration brings to mind that of the Second Amendmentists, those last remaining bastions of valor in the face of government tyranny, who — with the onset of each successive mass shooting: oh look, there’s another, and oh look, cue the gun rights violins at the Newtown hearings — unironically proclaim that gun control advocates are politicizing a tragedy.

Well, torture, too, is a tragedy. It is a tragedy on a small scale, in that it doesn’t work. But it is also a tragedy on a large scale, because it is a betrayal of values that rise above temporal considerations, like efficacy and practicality, and that represent the core of a society’s priorities. This is precisely why Zero Dark Thirty is, for many, a film worth complaining about. For all the caterwauling over Lena Dunham’s Girls, the show is ultimately a reflection of the creative energies of one particularly privileged 26-year-old. (And, by the way, my callous dismissal of both the show and its critics can itself be justifiably subjected to rebuttal on political grounds.) Zero Dark Thirty is a film that, as has been well-documented, was marketed as quasi-journalistic while its director simultaneously fended off accusations of inaccuracy by insisting that a portrayal of torture is not equivalent to endorsement. (Never mind that the portrayal itself did not comport with reality.)

Moynihan makes passing reference to the utter incoherence of his comparison:

The politicization of Zero Dark Thirty is understandable; it deals with a controversial policy furiously debated during the Bush presidency, after all. But a work of art needn’t be expressly political for the critic to bemoan its political failings.

What does it mean to not be “expressly political?” Is it not precisely into these subjectively-defined political vacuums that some of the most sinister ideologies calmly began their gestation? To get the inevitable Nazi reference out of the way, it’s not as if Hitler’s campaign against the Jews began at Auschwitz. Many unthinkable crimes spawned from the seeds of a seemingly benign origin. But if we are to take Moynihan at his word — and, I presume, to accept his necessarily arbitrary line separating “expressly political” works of art from all the rest — how will we then guard against the gradual incursion of bad ideas into our culture?

The short answer is: we can’t. But if the vitriol surrounding Bigelow’s movie is “understandable,” why bring it up at all as an example of the politicization of pop culture? Why, especially, bring it up as a supporting argument for the overemphasis on racism in our movies and TV shows? And, lastly, why compare the critiques of this film to those radically different ones of Girls?

Moynihan’s contempt for both brands of the pop culture commentariat is palpable: “And on it goes, with countless writers, most not long out of college, on the hunt for smelly little heterodoxies, demanding that art be deployed in the service of the people.” But it is his own nonchalance that allows previous political taboos to enter the mainstream. It’s too late to stop politicizing everything. But it’s even worse to sit out the debate.