James Carden, mud-slinger

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James Carden

We’ve been looking at a recent piece in The Nation in which one James Carden spent page after page slinging mud at a report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. His chief objective, plainly, was to try to salvage as much as possible of the reputation of the West’s #1 pro-Putin propagandist, Stephen F. Cohen, who just happens to be married to The Nation‘s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel.

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Peter Pomerantsev

As we mentioned, Carden smeared Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire imprisoned by Putin, as “corrupt” and “violent” – an apparent effort to distract our attention from the fact that Putin’s own corruption and violence put everyone else in his realm in the shade. That accomplished, Carden moved on to another now-routine pro-Putin maneuver: comparing the critics of Putin, and of his apologists, to Senator Joe McCarthy. Then, just as in the good old days when The Nation was happily flacking for Stalin, Carden pulled out the moral-equivalency card, maintaining that whether or not the Kremlin is actually engaging in disinformation, well, so are the Ukrainians. So there!

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Michael Weiss

The “real goal” of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev, Carden averred, 

is not to fight Russian “disinformation” but to stigmatize and marginalize—even exclude from American discourse—anyone with a more nuanced view of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. They are waging this war against enemies real and imagined, and by doing so they are helping to create an atmosphere in which dissenting opinion on US policy toward Russia becomes impermissible.

An interesting allegation, given that it was Carden himself who, rather than addressing the actual contents of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report, kept busy throughout his piece serving up distractions, playing guilt-by-association games, and engaging in pure name-calling.

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Vladimir Putin

After he was done slandering Weiss and Pomerantsev, Carden moved on to other critics of Putin and his Western apologists. Once again – just in case we’d already forgotten – Carden reminded us that all these people who are daring to reprove Putin’s apologists are practitioners of a brand of “neo-McCarthyism” that reeks “of a barely concealed attempt to censor and intimidate.” Needless to say, none of these Putin critics – unlike Putin himself – have the slightest power to censor or intimidate anybody. All they’re doing is putting their ideas out there, accompanied by evidence and argument – none of which, again, Carden ever deigned to seriously address. Perhaps Carden’s nerviest move of all was his attempt to defile the incomparable Anne Applebaum, one of the most brilliant, best-informed, and ethically unassailable critics of the Putin regime. (Not incidentally, Applebaum has been an outspoken supporter of Weiss and Pomerantsev’s report.)

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Katrina vanden Heuvel, Stephen F. Cohen

Carden saved the real objective of his article – namely, to try to rescue the shriveling reputation of his editor’s husband – for his closing paragraphs. “For much of the past year,” he wrote, “Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as ‘a toady,’ ‘Putin’s best friend,’ and a ‘Putin apologist.’” Yet again, however, instead of examining the actual content of Cohen’s writings on the subject of Putin or the substance of his critics’ charges, Carden simply repeated the tired claim that Cohen’s critics are out to “marginalize” him. No, worse: they’re carrying out “a frontal attack on the core tenets of free speech” – an accusation that could only be made in any sincerity by somebody who doesn’t understand the core tenets of free speech. (But of course, sincerity has nothing to do with Carden’s rhetorical methods.)

cohen-natashaMoreover, charged Carden, they’re following a “policy of belligerence toward Russia” – an interesting formulation, given that the creep for whom Carden, Cohen, and vanden Heuvel are providing cover here, Vladimir Putin, is guilty of real belligerence, using guns and bullets, against his own subjects and the innocent citizens of a neighboring country.

All in all, a disgraceful, dishonest screed. But what else could you expect from a magazine that spent decades spreading Stalinist propaganda?

Doubling down at The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel , Stephen F. Cohen

We’ve spent a good deal of time on this website in the company of the Boris and Natasha of Kremlin buffs, veteran Ivy League Sovietologist Stephen F. Cohen and his sweet little hausfrau Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of Pravda – sorry, The Nation. Most recently, we’ve seen how more and more folks in the media and academy have come to recognize that Cohen is nothing more or less than a shill for Vladimir Putin. His wife, plainly understanding that the jig is perilously close to being up, has reacted in accordance with longtime Nation habits by doubling down on the disinformation. So it was that readers of the radical rag were treated on May 20 to a ridiculously long piece in which James Carden savaged a new report on pro-Russian propaganda in the West.

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James Carden

The report, which Carden slammed as a “highly polemical manifesto,” was, he charged, essentially “a publicity stunt by two journalists attempting to cash in on the Russophobia so in vogue among American pundits.” He proceeded to smear one of the report’s authors, Michael Weiss, for his background at the Henry Jackson Society – a first-rate think tank in London that Carden dismissed as “a London-based bastion of neoconservatism” and maligned as “anti-Muslim” for its gutsy, cogent critiques of Islam. Carden also went after Weiss’s co-author, Peter Pomerantsev, as an “assiduous self-promoter” (a type, of course, unfamiliar to the folks at The Nation) and for his ties to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former billionaire whom Putin unceremoniously jailed, tortured, and relieved of the bulk of his assets.

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Vladimir Putin

In what has become a standard ploy of Putin apologists, Carden besmirched Khodorkovsky – “it should not be forgotten that the oil tycoon made his fortune in a spectacularly corrupt and sometimes violent fashion,” etc., etc. – as a means of distraction from the epic corruption and violence of Putin, who, after all, unlike the former businessman and current human-rights activist Khodorkovsky, is the saber-rattling, gay-oppressing, opponent-murdering head of a nuclear power.

borisnatashacohen-natashaPlease do come back tomorrow: we’re not quite done with Mr. Carden’s jeremiad – or, needless to say, with his shifty, Kremlin-loving paymasters, the American left’s own Boris and Natasha. 

Mickey Rourke’s price tag – and other Putin purchases

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Sophia Loren and Putin at a 2012 event

Yesterday we discussed a December 2010 benefit at which stars like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke gleefully rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin.

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Paul Anka obviously enjoying himself

That was bad enough. But it gets worse. Guess what? The benefit, it turned out, hadn’t really been a benefit at all: not a single hospital or clinic or other such organization ended up receiving so much as a ruble as a result of it. Yet that didn’t keep Putin’s pals from organizing a similar event the following year – and, astonishingly, it didn’t prevent another gaggle of famous folk from turning up.

Among them: Chris Noth of Sex and the City, Sophia Loren, Steven Seagal, Andrea Bocelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Jeremy Irons – and Isabella Rosellini, who, according to the New Yorker, had been informed that morning that she was involved in a scambut was unfazed by it.”

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Mickey Rourke in Putin t-shirt

Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, writing about these shenanigans recently in Buzzfeed, provided information about Seagal’s trips to Russia – which they described as “frequent” – that was new to us. In 2007 he visited Kalmykia, a majority-Buddhist province, and promised its leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to produce and star in a movie about Genghis Khan; when that project failed to get green-lighted, Seagal blamed “the Jews”: “There are no Buddhists among the people who finance movies,” he explained. Another tidbit from Buzzfeed: last August, while Russian troops were pouring into Ukraine, Mickey Rourke, in exchange for a $50,000 Kremlin payment, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt. (Rourke had previously said that he purchased the t-shirt of his own accord and solely for reasons of private sentiment: “I have a Russian girlfriend.”) 

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Woody Allen shaking the hand of Roman Abramovich, whom Putin has described as a “son”

Finally, as recently as this June – while Poland and the Baltic republics were begging NATO to beef up their defenses in case of a possible Russian invasion – Woody Allen was spotted in Russia again, this time attending the opening of a new art museum owned by billionaire – and Putin intimate – Roman Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova. Other guests at the opening included George Lucas, Harvey Weinstein, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Salma Hayek. Was Allen, we wonder, paid to be there – or was he, perhaps, fishing for Russian financing for a future project? As for Putin, is he courting these people, who’ve already provided him with positive press in the West, in hopes of developing some larger-scale, longer-term connection with some of the Tinseltown powers-that-be? Who’s better at propaganda, after all, than Hollywood?

Hearts of stone: Putin’s Hollywood pals

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Steven Seagal, Vladimir Putin

Back in April, Buzzfeed ran a useful and perceptive study of the use Vladimir Putin makes of his useful American-showbiz stooges. The focus was on washed-up lowbrow-movie headliner Steven Seagal, whose friendship (Buzzfeed called it a “bromance”) with Putin we’ve already rehearsed here, but the insights were widely applicable.

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Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

“Putin’s unlikely bromance with Seagal,” wrote Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, “speaks to a core tenet of his rule: that political power is star power, and the president is the biggest celebrity of all. Under Putin, politics has become a carefully stage-managed TV show where spectacle takes the place of substance.” Seddon and Gray quoted Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill as saying that Putin “plays an action hero as president.”

Hence the systematic “ferrying” of “foreign celebrities to Moscow to meet Putin, staging displays of his virility and star pull.” Case in point: a December 2010 event in St. Petersburg that was billed as a benefit concert for children with cancer. That night Putin not only mingled with the likes of Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke, but also (sort of) sang “Blueberry Hill” and (sort of) played a Russian song on a piano.

Did the stars all show up out of the goodness of their hearts? Not according to Shaun Walker of the Independent, who, noting that “Russia is fertile ground for celebrities of all hues to make pots of extra cash,” underscored that the star who’s “been popping up more than any other of late” is Stone:

At anything Russia-related these days, her grinning face seems to put in an appearance, like some kind of recurring nightmare, supporting whatever it is that the particular junket is about. A trusted source told me about the prices to bring different “entertainers” to Russia for events – Stone is one of the more expensive, reportedly coming in at as much as $250,000 a time. But pay that, and, calendar permitting, she’ll likely be there.

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Putin onstage with Sharon Stone, Paul Anka, Goldie Hawn, and others

It has to be said that Stone gives plenty of bang for the buck: at the purported child-cancer benefit, she actually sang a duet with Putin and cheered his own “performance” lustily. But then again, so did Hawn, Russell, and the rest.

This disgraceful conduct didn’t go entirely unnoticed. In a livid commentary, Russian-born adult-film actor and producer Michael Lucas condemned the Hollywood luminaries who attended the so-called benefit for showing such

Stone giving Putin the “V” for victory (or peace sign?) at the 2010 gala

adoration for a man who really is a swell guy — when he’s not ordering people to be thrown out of windows or shot in their doorways. When the camera cuts to the audience during his nails-on-chalkboard performance, the stars have enraptured, ecstatic looks — like they were at Frank Sinatra’s final performance…. Don’t they — or their handlers, know how to use Wikipedia? Did Sharon Stone not realize she was flashing a victory sign to an ex-KGB agent, an eternal Communist, and a historical revisionist? (Now he is forcing Russia’s teachers to portray Josef Stalin — who murdered at least 8 million of his own people in Siberian gulags — as a good leader and the savior of Russia.)

But there’s more. Tune in tomorrow.

Hamas’s, Castro’s, and Mugabe’s pal in the New York Assembly

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Robert Mugabe addresses New York’s City Council in 2002

Yesterday we flashed back to 2002, when most members of the New York City Council chose to boycott a City Hall speech and reception by the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe; but Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, didn’t. He stayed. He attended. One assumes he applauded at the end of Mugabe’s speech. Years later, presumably for reasons of political expediency, he – or one of his flunkies – decided that it was a good idea for him to apologize for having shown up to honor the Zimbabwean despot; but it’s not as if de Blasio didn’t know at the time who the man was and what he stood for. (Then again, the mayor deserves full marks for ideological consistency: back in the day, he also supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and honeymooned in Havana.)

Councilman Charles Barron fights with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld at Groundbreaking ceremonies for CUNY's new $259 Million Fiterman Hall. The original Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron

How, you might wonder, did Mugabe ever come to be honored at New York’s City Hall in the first place? The answer: Charles Barron, a former Black Panther member who spent twelve years in the City Council, and then, after making unsuccessful runs for mayor, governor, and the U.S. Congress, won the election last year to succeed his wife, Inez, in the New York State Assembly. Barron, described by the New York Observer as “among the most flamboyant and inflammatory figures on the New York political scene,” is notorious for his virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and has been arrested and jailed several times for acts of harassment, disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass, all carried out in the guise of civil-rights activism. It was Barron who, back in 2002, arranged for Mugabe to be fêted at City Hall.

Does he now have regrets? Far from it. In September, Barron told the Observer that now that he’s living in Albany and serving in the state legislature, he “would love” to host a visit by Mugabe to the state capital. “I would love for him to come anywhere in the United States, really,” Barron added, calling Mugabe a “freedom fighter” and a “shining example of an African leader on the African continent.” Far from being disturbed by Mugabe’s distribution to black Zimbabweans of farmland seized from whites for purely racist reasons, Barron explained that he considered this policy especially admirable. “He was one of the few African leaders who had the courage to take the land back from the settlers,” said Barron, who went on to fault Nelson Mandela for not taking away more property from white South Africans.

Like de Blasio, Barron is consistent. He’s a fan of the Castros, a defender of Hamas; when Qaddafi was alive, Barron admired him, too. “All my heroes were America’s enemies,” he has helpfully explained. Moreover, as Michael Moynihan observed in a 2012 profile, Barron

barronis obsessively hostile to Israel—a country whose founding he rejects as historical crime. After a 2009 trip to Gaza with British MP George Galloway’s anti-Israel group Viva Palestina, Barron told reporters that the Gaza Strip was a giant “concentration camp.” Considering this description a touch understated, he traded Dachau for Auschwitz, comparing the Palestinian territories to a modern “death camp.” Israel, he added, “deliberately cause[s] the death of innocent children” and is guilty of “genocide.”

Moynihan summed up Barron’s politics as consisting of “a deep illiberalism and contempt for democracy, an almost pathological hatred of Israel and fondness for dictatorship.” Yep, that pretty much says it.

Tyrant Mugabe’s American buddies

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Robert Mugabe

Yesterday, we looked at hedge funder Daniel Och‘s  “intimate, mutually profitable, and utterly unconscionable transactions with some of the most brutal tyrants of our time” – among them Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Now 91 years old, Mugabe is the longest-lasting head of state in Africa, and arguably the worst. Banned from traveling to the U.S. and EU, he has a human-rights record that Human Rights Watch has called “abysmal.” Under his regime, journalists are routinely kidnapped and beaten, and aid money is stolen in massive amounts. During the 2008 election campaign, Mugabe’s hirelings killed at least 200 opposition supporters and tortured around 5,000 of them. Mugabe routinely demonizes gay people, whom he’s threatened to punish with beheading, and may well be the most openly racist current leader of any nation on earth, depriving his country’s white citizens of property and due process for no other reason than their skin color. Every international human-rights group agrees: this man is a menace, a monster.

A man holds up d 200 million and 500 million Zimbabwe dollar notes in the capital Harare December 12, 2008.   REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwean banknotes for 200 million and 500 million dollars, now worth less than one U.S. cent.

And he’s an abominable steward of his country’s economy, too: a couple of weeks ago his government discarded its “virtually worthless” currency and allowed citizens to exchange every 250 trillion Zimbabwean dollars they held for one U.S. dollar.  

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Daniel Och

As we’ve seen, these inconvenient truths haven’t kept Daniel Och from doing (shady) business with Mugabe. And Och, as it turns out, is far from the only friend, fan, or enabler that Mugabe has in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Recently, the San Francisco Bay View, which identifies itself as a “National Black Newspaper,” published a fulsome tribute to Mugabe by one Obi Egbuna Jr., who identifies himself as a U.S.-based journalist and as a member of something called the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association. “Mugabe’s pan-Africanist and internationalist vision,” Egbuna wrote, “makes him connect with Africans at home and abroad.” Describing Mugabe as a hero of “freedom-loving people” who “has spent a lifetime fighting for the empowerment of the African woman,” Egbuna gushed that the president’s “best attributes” include “his loyalty to the poor and dispossessed in not only Zimbabwe but among Africans everywhere.”

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Bill de Blasio

It’s not only relatively obscure characters like Egbuna who have given Mugabe props. Take Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City, who, back in 2002, while serving in New York’s City Council, attended a reception welcoming the tyrant to City Hall and was present when the man delivered a speech in the council’s chamber – an honor that no legislative body in a democratic nation should ever have accorded to such a thug. After all, as New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman later observed, Mugabe, by 2002, was already “a certified human rights disaster.” Another journalist, Joel B. Pollak, has put it this way: “By the time Robert Mugabe visited New York’s City Hall in 2002, he was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe. His regime was torturing its opponents brutally…and cracking down on the media as it pushed white farmers off their land, destroying the country’s economy and plunging it into hyperinflation and starvation.” But de Blasio celebrated him. 

More about this unconscionable act tomorrow. 

Qaddafi, Mugabe, and other friends of Dan Och

 

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we took a brief introductory look at ethically challenged hedge funder Daniel Och, who’s had more than his share of brushes with the law, both foreign and domestic. Some of the many legal actions against Och have been triggered by his transactions with iniquitous regimes – transactions that even his profit-hungry employees, investors, and shareholders found distasteful. Let’s start with Zimbabwe’s gangster president, Robert Mugabe. In 2008, while U.S. authorities, in the name of human rights, were striving to isolate Mugabe financially from the rest of the world, Och’s firm, Och-Ziff Capital Management, and a handful of equally venal confederates gave the dictator $100 million for platinum-mining rights. Shortly afterwards, Och provided 75% of the funding, or $150 million, for a Zimbabwean mining enterprise. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned one of Och-Ziff’s accomplices in these operations, while both the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Och-Ziff.

Several sources indicate that the money Och stuffed in Mugabe’s pockets enabled the despot, whose government had been bankrupt, to steal the 2008 Zimbabwean election – because he was able to use the cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” One commentator described the deal this way: Och “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Another source calls it “surprising that Och-Ziff was willing to finance the Zimbabwean loan despite the likelihood that Mugabe, whom Western governments opposed implacably, would use it to fuel repression.” People who know Och, however, weren’t surprised.

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Muammar Qaddafi

Then there’s Muammar Qaddafi, the late, unlamented leader of Libya, from whose sovereign-wealth fund Och accepted a $300 million investment – a breach of U.S. anti-bribery laws. Last December, it was reported that U.S. investigators were probing Och’s Libya deals, with a focus on “a multimillion-dollar payment…they believe was funneled in part to a friend of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son.”

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Daniel S. Och

Och has also been deeply involved with the not-so-democratic Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), investing in a mining scheme to the tune of some $234 million – a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that brought subpoenas from both the SEC and the Department of Justice. Also, in collaboration with a shady offshore firm, Och-Ziff made a secret loan to Guinea that a former Guinean minister described as “a bribe” – which might put it, too, at odds with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As of last August, Och-Ziff was under investigation for its deals with both Zimbabwe and the DRC, including allegations that it had deliberately and illegally tried to cover its dirty tracks. Indeed, it was reported in August that because of Och’s foreign-corruption issues, class-action lawyers were “circling…Och-Ziff Capital Management Group like a posse of Indian braves whooping around a wagon.”

Could anyone deserve a scalping more?