Trimming Hedges, part two

hedgescubaYesterday we started looking at Chris Hedges, a journalist and commentator who is a hero on the radical left – and, above all, a hero in his own mind. He routinely describes the U.S. as a totalitarian power, and routinely represents himself as a courageous truth-teller about that totalitarian power.

But that’s not all. When he’s not depicting the U.S. as a dictatorship, he’s celebrating the real tyrannies. Get a load of this, from last February:

We have a renaissance in Latin America taking place that is extremely exciting. Nations like Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador.…Venezuela has spearheaded Latin America’s emergence from literally centuries of subordination to the U.S. regarding media, economic policies, culture, and international relations. That alone is a killable offense in the eyes of Washington. 

Like other critics of his persuasion – and other writers in The Nation‘s stable – Hedges has in recent years become a fixture on RT (Russia Today), the Kremlin-owned TV network, where he reliably bashes the U.S. and Israel (and what he describes as their lapdog mainstream news media) and stands up for assorted terrorists and tyrants. Appearing on RT last November, he describedfreedom of the press in the U.S. as a myth – quite a claim to be making on a TV network run by a government that orders hits on opposition journalists.

paris-je-suis-char_3160192kAnd this past January, rejecting the claim that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was an act of jihad, he argued that the atrocity had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, but was, rather, an understandable response by “the global dispossessed” to a life of “poverty, aimlessness, and despair” that is the fault of the wealthy and privileged people of the Western world.

Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons about Islam, Hedges insisted, were not brave free-speech acts carried out in defiance of acts of terrorism, but were inexcusable assaults on the poorest and most helpless people in France; the murdered cartoonists had been mocking the only thing that oppressed and brutalized Muslims have to cling to, namely their religion, and the Muslims had responded in the only way they had available to them. “When everybody is chanting ‘Je suis Charlie Hebdo,’” Hedges maintained, “what they’re really chanting is, you know, ‘We can’t stand dirty Arabs.’” (For good measure, he also called the killing of Osama bin Laden a “war crime.”)

But Hedges’s way-out-there views aren’t the worst thing about him. We’ll get around to that in our next installment.

Chris Hedges, legend in his own mind

Chris Hedges

He was a New York Times reporter for 15 years, and for four of those years he was the paper’s Middle East bureau chief. But he couldn’t pose as an objective journalist forever, and eventually, in 2005, he left the Gray Lady to write opinion pieces for The Nation, for the Truthdig website, and for other left-wing outlets. Soon the former Timesman became known for his extreme anti-American views – as well as for his self-righteous posturing and over-the-top rhetoric. As Christopher Ketcham noted last year in the New Republic, Chris Hedges “has secured a place as a firebrand revered among progressive readers.” 

Here, from 2007, is a sample of the kind of stuff he churned out after leaving the Times: 

I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran. I realize this is a desperate and perhaps futile gesture. But an attack on Iran – which appears increasingly likely before the coming presidential election – will unleash a regional conflict of catastrophic proportions. This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d’êtat that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.

In a 2011 interview on a program broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the host, Kevin O’Leary, called Hedges a “left-wing nutbar.” And last December, in an article entitled “ISIS – the New Israel,” Hedges provided a fine example of the kind of writing that has led people like O’Leary to view him as a nutbar: 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture. It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East.

hedges5It’s easy to sum up the thrust of Hedges’s work these days. It is, quite simply, this: that pretty much every bad thing that happens on this planet it ultimately the fault of the U.S. – which, he insists, is, in its own way, as much of a totalitarian power as Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR ever were. Specifically, Hedges subscribes to the proposition, advanced by political scientist Sheldon Wolin, that the U.S. is developing a form of government that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” And if the U.S. is a totalitarian tyranny, what does that make Hedges? Why, of course, it makes him a courageous soul who dares to utter the dark truth about America while the rest of the nation’s journalistic community, as he depicts it, meekly echoes the U.S. government’s lies about itself and promulgates the pretense that American society is free.

hedges6Of course, to call the present-day U.S. a totalitarian state is to dismiss or trivialize the brutal day-to-day reality of despotism in countries like North Korea, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, China, Eritrea, and Cuba; and to pose as a gutsy hero who risks untold danger to speak truth to power is to insult the genuinely brave men and women who stand up to the Kims and Castros. Hedges’s demonization of the U.S. government has led to teaching gigs at Princeton and Columbia universities and won him the Pulitzer Prize and other awards; for him to present himself as the moral equivalent of human-rights activists in genuinely totalitarian or authoritarian countries – where many of them end up being arrested, tortured, imprisoned, or murdered – is the height of arrogance.

But this is just the beginning of the case against Chris Hedges. More tomorrow.



Taking on Kyle Bass’s illicit pharma scheme

Kyle Bass

Since inaugurating this website, we’ve tried to keep up with the always interesting activities of Cristina Kirchner’s favorite hedge-fund manager, Dallas’s own Kyle Bass – who’s routinely praised her corrupt, incompetent Marxist regime and slammed his fellow hedgies for expecting her to pay the money she owes them. We’ve seen him defend General Motors’s cover-up of a faulty-airbag case by blaming the passengers who lost their lives as a result of the defect.

bassprofitMost recently, we looked at his newest money-making scheme. Taking advantage of a new process called “inter partes review” (IPR), he challenges drug companies’ patents via a newly formed front group called the Coalition for Affordable Drugs – and, at the same time, short-sells those companies’ stocks. It’s a sure-fire gimmick: the minute a patent challenge becomes public, the firm’s stock price plummets and Bass pockets a few million dollars. Meanwhile, of course, every new patent challenge further weakens the motivation of pharmaceutical firms to invest in product development – and thus places at risk the welfare (and perhaps even the lives) of heaven knows how many sick people who are in desperate need of miracle drugs.

Bass, who’s constantly trumpeting his own moral superiority to (for example) the “vulture” hedge funds that actually expect Argentina to pay its debts, claims that this slimy pharma hustle of his was prompted by the most ethical of motives: he wants to break up monopolies on certain medicines and thus bring down prices. But the pharmaceutical industry isn’t buying it: as James C. Greenwood, head of the BIO trade association put it, “There’s nothing in this man’s history to suggest he has any interest in lowering health-care costs.” Another observer, intellectual-property expert Scott McKeown, calls Bass a “patent troll.” 

Bass, McKeown recently wrote, “is certainly not embarking on this multi-million dollar venture to help Medicare patients. Instead, he is simply hoping to spook financial markets to his benefit.”

Cristina Kirchner

At least some folks on Capitol Hill agree, and are doing their best to stop Bass in his tracks. On June 10 came the news that the House Judiciary Committee, in response to Bass’s activities, was “considering revisions to a pending bill” that would “require any party seeking an inter partes review…of an existing patent to certify that it does not have any financial interest in a drop in the patent owner’s securities.” On June 22, it was reported that the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) had agreed to consider a motion by Celgene, one of the pharma firms targeted by Bass, to sanction the Coalition for Affordable Drugs for abusing the IPR process. And on June 26, the Wall Street Journal added a scintillating new detail: 

…according to Celgene, Bass had committed extortion, threatening to challenge Celgene’s patents unless the firm paid him off.

Oh, well. We already knew how chummy Bass is with Cristina Kirchner and her crooked crew. Why should we expect his behavior to be any less morally reprehensible than theirs?

Meet Venezuela’s not-so-very-oppositional “opposition” leader

Over the last few days we’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s slimier chavistas. But let’s not leave the impression that all the unsavory public figures in that country are members of the ruling party. Not officially, anyway.

Henry Ramos Allup

Take Henry Lisandro Ramos Allup, a lawyer who is Secretary General of Acción Democrática, Venezuela’s largest opposition party, and who represents Venezuela in the Latin American Parliament. Acción Democrática isn’t a conservative or classical liberal party; like Chávez‘s PSUV, it’s a left-wing party. Indeed, Ramos is currently Vice President of the Socialist International. And although he’s purportedly a leader of the opposition to Maduro’s government, he’s very – shall we say – diplomatic when discussing the ruling party. He believes, he says, not in confrontation but in respectful discussion and debate.

Léopoldo López

The man he does criticize – and very fiercely, at that – is his fellow opposition leader, Léopoldo López. Founder of the pro-freedom party Voluntad Popular, López is Venezuela’s most admired politician. He’s been in prison since February of last year, having been locked up by Maduro because he loudly and eloquently assailed the regime’s systematic violation of basic freedoms and human rights. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other such groups have called for López‘s immediate release; Ramos, however, has persisted in slamming him even while he’s been in the slammer, condemning his spirited approach as counterproductive and divisive. The irony here, of course, is that Ramos’s cheap, cowardly swipes at López are nothing if not divisive for the Venezuelan opposition. This past February, when leaders from a range of opposition parties took part in a demonstration protesting López‘s continued imprisonment, Ramos stayed away, as did his cronies from Acción Democrática. How could that be interpreted, other than as a tacit endorsement of the chavista practice of putting its real opponents behind bars?

William R. Brownfield, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela

Why is Ramos so hostile to López? One reason is doubtless sheer envy. A 2006 cable, written by U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William R. Brownfield and later made public by Wikileaks, described Ramos as a “crude” and “abrasive” figure whose “repellent” personality and lack of imagination made him a burden to his own party. López, by contrast, is unusually intelligent, articulate, and attractive – a stirring, courageous figure whose vigorous denunciations of the oppressive and fiscally disastrous Maduro regime have struck a chord among millions of increasingly fed-up Venezuelans.

But another reason for Ramos’s criticism of López, we suspect, is that Ramos, a socialist, isn’t really all that opposed to the ideology of the Maduro regime. On the contrary, there’s ample evidence that Ramos has intimate and profitable links to what one of his critics has called “the revolution’s most unsavory characters.” Welcome, then, to Venezuela, where even the head of the largest opposition party is uncomfortably close to being a chavista stooge himself.

More on those “Circles”

We’ve been looking at the “Bolivarian Circles,” Venezuela’s nationwide network of violent chavista terrorist cells that, ever since its founding in 2001, has been masquerading as a harmless chain of community-service groups. One of the most prominent figures in the Circles, who died in 2011, is deserving of special notice. Her name was Lina Ron, and she was widely seen as the very personification of what the Circles were all about. She was an anarchic, violence-happy woman who seems to have had some very serious psychological issues. Her favorite slogan was “With Chávez, everything; without Chávez, bullets.”

Lina Ron with Hugo Chávez

Ron became famous for setting fire to an American flag in a Caracas square shortly after 9/11. She went on in 2004 to found the fiercely pro-Chávez Venezuelan People’s Unity Party, whose members she herself characterized – approvingly, of course – as “radicals, hardliners and men and women of violence.” (The party was later folded into Chávez’s own PSUV.) In 2009, Ron led “a violent attack on the offices of the pro-opposition television station, Globovision,” for which even Chávez felt obliged to lock her up for a couple of months. Ron called herself the “ugly part” of the Bolivarian Revolution; after her death, a commenter on her El Universal obit called her the Revolution’s Joan of Arc.

There are also Bolivarian Circles in the U.S. Here’s one in Miami.

What kind of activities, you might ask, do the Circles engage in? The proper response to which is: what kind of activities don’t they engage in? A 2009 report stated that Diosdado Cabello (the thuggish National Assembly president whom we looked at back in May) and Ramón Rodríguez Chacín (whom we met a couple of days ago) “shared responsibility for training, arming and deploying paramilitary street forces under the guise of Bolivarian Circles.” In a 2013 book, Jeff D. Colgan noted that opposition critics of the Bolivarian Circles have been “violently persecuted”; he also reported on charges that the Venezuelan government had armed the Circles “in a bid to turn them into a fighting force that could sustain the government in the event of civil conflict.” In addition, Colgan pointed out that

Members of the Bolivarian Circles at a 2006 congress

The structure and purpose of the Bolivarian Circles bear a striking resemblance to similar organs of “participatory democracy” in repressive countries such as Cuba and Libya. It is widely suspected that Chavez modeled the Bolivarian Circles on the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). Like the Circles, the Cuban CDRs are designed to provide public services at a neighborhood level and to report ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity. In Libya, the equivalent organizations are called Revolutionary Committees, which like the Bolivarian Circles, establish clientelistic relationships with the state leadership. It seems likely that Chavez got the idea for the Bolivarian Circles from Castro and Qaddafi. In all three countries, the organizations served the same three purposes: build and maintain political support for the revolutionary regime; distribute public services; and provide information about potential threats to the regime.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Last year, the Wall Street Journal‘s Mary Anastasia O’Grady cited the Bolivarian Circles in chiding OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for their claims that the Maduro government in Venezuela is democratic. Documents in O’Grady’s possession, she wrote, showed “that Chávez had an active program early on to corrupt and politicize the military and to build a paramilitary within the Bolivarian Circles….Today organized snipers and gunmen on motorcycles roam the streets and kill with impunity.” It was clear, O’Grady underscored, that these goons were working for Maduro. “Any government that unleashes brown shirts to indiscriminately kill in order to sow terror among its opponents,” she pronounced, “does not qualify as a democracy.”

Alas, there are untold millions of people, both in Venezuela and around the world, who still don’t grasp that simple point, and who persist in clinging to romantic illusions about chavismo. To which we can only say the following: if you can look squarely at the facts about the Bolivarian Circles and still maintain those illusions, there’s no hope for you.  

Inside the “Bolivarian Circles”

Hugo Chávez

We’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s more prominent chavista creeps. But no account of useful stooges in that poor put-upon country would be complete without a mention of the so-called “Bolivarian Circles.” In 2001, the year they were founded, The Washington Post ran a puff piece about them by one Scott Wilson, who was not alone in describing them as part of a benign, civic-minded movement by ordinary people across the country to help one another. This, after all, was the official story about the Circles. Wilson just fell for it. He began his piece as follows: “They do not look like revolutionaries, the mothers and grandmothers, waitresses and street sweepers huddled around a sewing machine, making gingham slippers and cloth baskets for Christmas sweets.”

circleTo be sure, Wilson acknowledged that for some anti-Chávez Venezuelans, the Circles brought to mind “Cuban-style revolutionary defense committees, designed to ensure fealty to the president’s populist agenda.” Yet Wilson, in his account of what he represented as a typical Circle meeting room, insisted that “aside from the poster of guerrilla leader Che Guevara on the wall, ideology rarely enters this room of swinging light bulbs, plastic furniture and scraps of colored cloth strewn on the cement floor.” Wilson even quoted a Venezuelan political science professor as saying that “[t]he idea that these circles could multiply and serve as centers of indoctrination and organization of a vast mass movement didn’t get off the ground.”

A 2006 Bolivarian Circles “ideological congress”

One wonders whether that professor was seriously misguided or was in fact a part of the chavista PR machine. For the fact is that even then, despite Wilson’s depiction of the Circles as essentially apolitical, Circle members were taking an oath to “completely dedicate [their] work to the Bolivarian ideology, to the popular organization, to popular mobilization, to popular power, to never abandon the struggle” and to “fight without rest for the defense of the revolution, even if I have to sacrifice my life, for the glory of Venezuela.” Let’s face it: it’s not exactly the kind of oath taken by members of your great-grandmother’s quilting bee. 

Anyway, that was just the beginning. By 2004, the BBC was reporting that the Bolivarian Circles, which by then had grown into a network of about 70,000 local groups, amounted in fact to an “underground armed militia” whose critics called it the “Circles of Terror.” Tomorrow we’ll get into the details, and meet one of the most prominent members of those terrorist circles. 


Yet more chavista thugs

Ramón Rodríguez Chacín

Yesterday we started out on a little tour through the swamps of chavista criminality. First up was Hugo Carvajal, a longtime pal of Hugo Chávez who served as his main conduits to the FARC terrorist group, with which the Bolivarian regime enjoyed very friendly relations.

Deserving of mention alongside Carvajal is Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, who held two cabinet positions under Chávez, served as his intelligence chief, and is now governor of the state of Guarico. Although he co-founded the Comando Específico José Antonio Páez (CEJAP), an elite force purportedly established to quell FARC and another Colombian guerilla group, ELN, he (along with Carvajal) acted as the top middleman between Chávez and FARC, with whose leaders he has close friendly relations. One source described him in 2009 as having been “Chávez’s personal liaison to the senior FARC leadership since 1994, when Chávez and Rodríguez Chacín met in Colombia with several members of the FARC’s directorate to forge a political alliance.” The U.S. has called Rodríguez Chacín FARC’s “main weapons contact” in the Venezuelan government, and has even said that he tried at one point to arrange a quarter-billion-dollar loan to the terrorist group. Between 2002 and 2007, he “traveled frequently under at least four false identities (but with legal Venezuelan passports and identity documents) to countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.”

With Maduro

There’s more. Rodríguez Chacín helped Chávez plot “Operation Knockout,” a plan “to instigate a coup attempt against his government in order to justify declaring martial law and crushing his political opponents.” In the 1980s, he played key roles in a cold-blooded operation in which 42 people were killed and in the brutal massacre of fourteen fisherman in the town of El Amparo. As of 2009, he was “believed to be the military commander of the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL), a nominally all-Venezuelan Marxist guerrilla (militant) group which operates in Border States like Apure, Barinas and the Andes region.”

José Vicente Rangel

Then there’s José Vicente Rangel Vale, a sometime journalist who went on to hold two cabinet positions under Chávez before becoming his Vice President. Not only was he a good pal of the caudillo; he’s also a fan of the Cuban Revolution, and back in the day encouraged friendly relations with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.

A few random items from his CV. With Chávez, he hatched plans to – among other things – kidnap a union boss, assassinate opposition leaders, and “organize fake terrorist attacks.” He was behind the 2004 car-bomb explosion that killed public prosecutor Danilo Baltasar Anderson, who’d threatened to expose Rangel’s involvement in an extortion network.

rangel3Once, when riots were taking place in Caracas, a reporter who’d just witnessed them – and was still coughing from the tear gas – was told flatly by Rangel that there were no riots. “That, dear reader,” wrote journalist Francisco Toro after Rangel’s departure from the Vice Presidency, “was José Vicente Rangel. That was his modus operandi: untrammeled contempt for his former profession, barely concealed delight at the way power allowed him to piss all over the truth, to flaunt his ability to lie and lie again, ever more outrageously, without anyone being able to hold him to account for it.”

In recent years, Rangel has been active as a TV and print journalist – or, more accurately, as a vigorous promoter and propagandist for the Maduro regime. On July 10, he turned 87. Maduro tweeted his congratulations, thanking Rangel for his loyalty “to the People, to Chávez, and to the Socialist Revolution.”


Those chavista stooges

Back in May, we took a little stroll through a rogues’ gallery of Venezuelan bolifuncionarios. We covered quite a bit of territory, but we’ve felt guilty ever since for having omitted some pretty important names. This was unfair of us: the guys we overlooked are, after all, among the scummiest of chavistas, and are more than deserving of a nod of recognition.

Hugo Carvajal in Aruba

Take Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, who last year was sent by President Nicolás Maduro to the Dutch island of Aruba to serve as Venezuelan consul general there. On July 22, he was arrested on a U.S. warrant.

Why the arrest? The previous year, Carvajal had been indicted in Florida on conspiracy to traffic cocaine. But this was only a relatively minor item on his long and colorful rap sheet. As head of DGIM, Venezuela’s military intelligence agency, under Chávez, Carvajal oversaw a broad range of atrocities. He took money for providing weapons, shelter, and logistical support to terrorists and drug traffickers belonging to FARC, the Colombian rebel group. He took money from another drug cartel that supplied most of America’s cocaine. He carried out “witch hunts” in the Venezuelan armed forces, torturing members of the military who were suspected of disloyalty to the regime. He ordered the torture and murder of a DEA informant. He ordered the torture and murder of a Colombian army captain and corporal who’d entered Venezuelan territory in search of FARC guerillas. Along with other top Chávez officials, he had his hand in several assassinations. The news website Infobae has called him “the symbol of chavista corruption.”

Carvajal with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

While Carvajal was at DGIM, Henry Rangel Silva, who is now governor of the state of Trujillo, was head of DISIP, the national intelligence agency, the two men collaborated with FARC and ELN on drug smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping operations. “Protecting drug trans-shipments,” stated one 2009 source,

is one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in which Carvajal and Rangel Silva are involved….Carvajal and Rangel Silva reportedly charge the FARC and other Colombian drug traffickers about $1,500 per kilo to protect drug shipments transiting through Venezuelan territory by land, air or water….in 2007 the roughly 189 metric tons of FARC-owned cocaine which transited through Venezuela represented potential profits of up to $283.5 million for the organized crime gangs run by Carvajal at DGIM and Rangel Silva at DISIP – assuming all of this cocaine received official protection, which is not necessarily the case.

As for kidnapping, hoods working for Carvajal and Rangel Silva provided “protection and surveillance services” for FARC and ELN, sold them “financial intelligence on potential abduction targets,” and in some cases took part personally in abductions and contract murders. Of the 537 reported kidnappings in Venezuela in 2008, the FARC and ELN were believed to be responsible for about 75%, for a potential profit of as much as $450 million.

Alas, Carvajal didn’t end up in an American court of justice. Under pressure from the Venezuelan government, he was released only six days after his arrest on grounds of diplomatic immunity. The Netherlands did, however, declare him persona non grata on Dutch territory, and flew him back to Venezuela.

More tomorrow.

At sea

Titanicx-largeHey, grab your Cuban-flag beach towel, exchange your red diaper for a red Speedo, and head down to Fort Lauderdale! It’s The Nation‘s Caribbean cruise!

Just to recapitulate: in the last few weeks we’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this loony left-wing weekly. We’ve examined its checkered 150-year history, complete with decades of tireless Stalinist apologetics. And we’ve pondered the strenuous efforts of the current editor, ditzy heiress Katrina vanden Heuvel, and her Kremlin-expert hubby, NYU prof Stephen F. Cohen, to whitewash the thuggery of Russian persecutor-in-chief Vladimir Putin. Most recently we looked at the prospectus for the magazine’s upcoming jaunt to Cuba, which offers faithful Nation readers the opportunity to spend a chummy week together this fall imbibing cervezas, Cuba Libres, and (most important) venti-size doses of Communist propaganda spewed out by an assortment of Cuban professors, bureaucrats, and other Castro puppets. 

The 2009 Nation cruise

But what self-respecting Nation diehard could possibly be satiated by a one-time trip to the Castros’ island prison? For those drooling disciples of Katrina, Katha & co. who just keep wanting more, the weekly sent out another tantalizing invitation a couple of days ago. And what thrilling tidings! On December 13, ardent subscribers can board a Holland America Line cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale and spend a week inhaling the same air as vanden Heuvel and her fellow Nation ideologues. It’s an annual event, and the pictures of previous excursions don’t lie: champagne socialism was never so luxurious!

nationcruise1This year’s cruise will feature stops in the Bahamas, Cayman Islands (where the magazine’s limousine-liberal supporters can visit their money), Cozumel, and Key West. On the ship, according to the itinerary, passengers will have the opportunity to “Enjoy High Tea,” “Pamper Yourself in the Luxurious Spa,” “Take a class in the Culinary Arts Center,” “Attend a wine tasting,” and much else. Hey, you can pray for the Revolution, but while you’re waiting, why not party it up?

What Nation cruise would be complete without some true believer playing folk songs on an acoustic guitar?

The most important events, of course, will be the talks and panel discussions. Vanden Heuvel herself will deliver a lecture about the forthcoming elections. Ralph Nader – and who could ever get tired of hearing what he has to say? – will “decr[y] the toxic influence of money and politics.” (We assume that was supposed to read “on politics.”) And that’s not all! There’s also


Sorry, we nodded off while perusing the events schedule. (If you’re actually interested, the full list of speakers is here.)

Humorist P.J. O’Rourke

As it happens, the Nation cruises have a pretty long history. Back in 1982, years before the Iron Curtain fell, the magazine actually offered a cruise on the Volga. The humorist P.J. O’Rourke bought a ticket just to see what it was like. It was called the “Volga Peace Cruise,” and came complete with “five Russian ‘peace experts’” who fed the useful idiots the usual line of Soviet B.S. Not that there was any real need for indoctrination: as O’Rourke made clear in his account of this absurd expedition, the passengers were already thoroughly brainwashed. Even before their plane left Kennedy Airport, they were telling O’Rourke “how wonderful the Soviet Union was: Pensions were huge, housing was cheap, and they practically paid you to get medical care.” O’Rourke summed up the doublethink at work here in one snappy observation: “These were people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.”

Well, you won’t have to bring along your own toilet paper on the Nation‘s Caribbean cruise. But you might want to pack a barf bag. 

Harry Belafonte, “unreconstructed Stalinist”

harry-belafonte1Harry Belafonte, now aged 88, is one of those maddening souls for whom the noble cause of civil rights is inextricable from its ignoble opposite – the enthusiasm for unfree societies and totalitarian ideologies.

Belafonte was a protégé of the great singer Paul Robeson – who, similarly, saw no contradiction between his activism on behalf of racial equality in the U.S. and his devotion to Stalinist tyranny in the USSR.

For a long time Belafonte seemed to many a reasonable, admirable figure. He was active in the U.S. civil-rights movement and spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington. But as the years went by, he became increasingly outspoken in his support for tyrants. During the Cold War, he allowed himself to be used as a tool by the East German government. He’s also been a key player in the Africa-aid racket, raising billions in the West – supposedly to feed the poor – that have ended up in the pockets of dictators.

Historian Ronald Radosh has rightly called Belafonte an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” Last year Mona Charen called him “a die-hard communist” who “never met a communist government he didn’t like, including the genocidal regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia.” Indeed, when Belafonte had a twenty-minute conversation with Mengistu in 1985, they talked mostly about human-rights violations in South Africa – which, horrendous though they were, could not hold a candle to Mengistu’s atrocities. 

Left to right: Fidel Castro with Harry Belafonte
Belafonte with Fidel Castro

He’s also frequently praised the Castro regime, saying in one 2002 interview that “there’s much about the Cuban government, the Cuban people and what they have achieved that many of us here are still trying to achieve.” At one Havana appearance, he condemned American “censorship.” And he’s raised money for a fund, named for the Soviet atom spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, that claims to provide “for the educational and emotional needs of children of targeted progressive activists, and youth who are targeted activists themselves.” Addressing a 2000 rally in Cuba honoring the Rosenbergs, he praised the Castro regime as exemplary of “the principles the Rosenbergs fought and died for.”

Belafonte with Hugo Chávez

He loves the current Venezuelan government, too. During a 2006 visit to Venezuela, he called George W. Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” and told Hugo Chávez on a national broadcast that “[n]ot hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution.”

Not long after President Obama’s re-election, Belafonte told Al Sharpton on MSNBC that Obama should behave “like a Third World dictator” and put his opponents “in jail.” All this, and still he’s routinely fêted as a humanitarian and social activist; indeed, the older he gets, the more honors he accumulates, and the more the media are inclined to treat him as a pillar of wisdom and virtue.