Vladimir Putin, “moderate”

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James Carden

We’ve recently discussed James Carden, the Nation contributor and Putin apologist (excuse the redundancy) who in an epically long May article smeared a thoroughgoing report on pro-Putin propaganda in the West. What has Carden been up to since? Well, in early July, a video was posted online in which Carden and three other admirers of the Kremlin honcho had, or pretended to have, a conversation in which they addressed the question: “Is the invitation for Ukraine to join Europe’s economic association a means to expand NATO’s jurisdiction?” The conversation could not be called a debate, because all four were in total agreement on every major point, and in fact the word conversation is probably not the best choice, either, given that the video, a rather slick production, was obviously edited and also bore traces of being at least partly scripted, coached, or planned. In other words, it had the feel not of a free-wheeling, spontaneous discussion but of a well-packaged piece of propaganda.

About the videotape. It was recorded at the offices of Verso Books, the self-described “radical” publishing house that was founded in 1970 by the staff of the New Left Review. It was posted at therealnews.com, a radical “news” website that calls itself “the missing link in the global media landscape” (one of its directors is Danny Glover, whose useful stoogery we’ll get around to in the next few days). The Nation itself appears to have had something to do with putting it together. And the person identified as the moderator of the discussion, Alexander Reed Kelly, is an editor at truthdig.com, another radical “news” site that describes itself as “drilling beneath the headlines.” In short, a far-left perfect storm.

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Michael Hudson

Along with Carden and Kelly, the participants in this discussion were Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Jeffrey Sommers, a professor of political economy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Hudson and Sommers are something of a pro-Putin, anti-capitalist tag team who have collaborated on articles in which they’ve (for example) compared the Koch brothers to “Russia’s oligarchs.”

The description of the chat furnished at the Real News website added helpfully that the four men “explain why Russia may not be able to tolerate a foreign military alliance along its western border.” Make of that wording what you will; we found it interesting, especially given that at no point did any of these men betray the remotest interest in the question of why the free nations along that border – among them not only the Baltic republics, Poland, and Ukraine, but also, let’s not forget, Norway and Finland – should be expected to tolerate an increasingly aggressive and increasingly dictatorial power along their borders without choosing to enter voluntarily into a defensive alliance with one another as well as with other free nations willing to help protect them from invasion.

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Alexander Reed Kelly

But then again, Carden and his three colleagues claim not to consider NATO a defensive alliance. Not anymore, anyway. The crisis between Russia and the West, Carden insisted, “is being driven by the desire to put Ukraine into NATO,” which, he said, no longer has anything to do with mutual defense. “We’re a long way from that now,” he maintained, and then served up this interesting assertion: “There’s something very wrong with the idea that NATO and the European Union have to expand to include nearly the entirety of the former Soviet space.” Pause, if you will, over those last four words: “the former Soviet space.” This seems a curious way to refer to those countries that were freed from the Kremlin yoke. Carden can fairly be read here, it seems to us, as implying some kind of lingering right, on the part of the Kremlin, to have a say in what goes on in that “space.”

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The “moderate” of the Kremlin

When Kelly suggested that there was an “understanding” after the fall of Soviet Union that NATO wouldn’t ever expand eastward, Sommers agreed, and opined that it’s “foolish” for NATO to be “taking former Soviet territory” – a formulation that leaves little doubt that Sommers, at least, believes that Moscow should indeed have something resembling a veto right over what happens in “former Soviet territory.” This eastward expansion by NATO, Sommers added, has given “the Russian leadership…tremendous pause regarding the United States’ intentions,” as if it were at all reasonable to think that Putin & co. really believe NATO has any designs on their turf. Sommers then expressed a tender regard for Russian concern about “the military advance of an alliance up to its borders,” citing past invasions of Russia from the west (by Napoleon, in 1812, and Hitler, in 1941) as reasons for that concern; needless to say, Sommers showed no similar regard for the concerns of the Baltic republics and other Eastern European countries, which have been brutally violated by Russia on multiple occasions over the centuries, and all of which have been under the Russian boot within living memory, with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 experiencing Soviet incursions that cruelly crushed efforts at democratic reform within their borders.

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Jeffrey Sommers

Hudson chimed in by saying that “today the aim of NATO is to make Europe insecure against the Soviet [sic!] threat” and that “it is as if the Americans were trying to prod Putin into doing something intemperate.” In short, NATO is “restarting the Cold War.” Sommers concurred: “NATO is a force for instability and its increasing the possibility for military conflict.” He rejected the idea that Putin’s an aggressor, claiming that good ol’ Vlad is actually “somewhat of a moderate” when it comes to having imperial designs on former Soviet states, and that, indeed, he’s “a restraining force” against other top Kremlin figures who, given their druthers, wouch take over the whole Ukraine tomorrow. Carden echoed this assessment: Putin’s a “moderate” who’s “surrounded by hawks.” All of which is kind of like saying to an Italian in the 1930s: “Be grateful you’re living under Mussolini; you could be living under Hitler.”

Million dollar booby

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Hilary Swank and one of her two Oscars

Yesterday we took a look at Hilary Swank‘s big, ugly Chechen payday in 2011 – and her inability afterwards to take responsibility for her own actions.

Here’s more. After the story broke of her nauseating performance for Putin-backed warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, a “source close to the affair” told the Independent that “Hilary values her liberal credentials and is close to Michelle Obama. She’s really upset by what happened.” Break that down: for Swank, it wasn’t about principles but about image, about “credentials”; she wasn’t upset by what she’d done but by how it looked afterwards – and how it might affect her career and her connections.

First Lady Michelle Obama greets actress Hilary Swank and other guest mentors in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House during an event celebrating Women's History Month, March 30, 2011. Mrs. Obama brought the distinguished group of volunteers together to visit schools and share their experiences with students across the Washington, D.C. metro area. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Hilary Swank with First Lady Michelle Obama

Her conduct after her return to Hollywood, in short, was as shabby and irresponsible as was her original acceptance of Kadyrov’s invitation. Her publicists at a firm called 42 West, feeling that she was trying to shift some of the blame for her actions to them, actually dropped her as a client – a rare event indeed for a star of her magnitude.

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Akhmed Zakayev

Four months after the debacle, the Independent reported that no charities had yet “come forward to publicly acknowledge receipt of Swank’s promised financial donation.” Human-rights groups were “starting to wonder what, exactly, has become of” all the dough she’d collected from Kadyrov, and exiled Chechen official Akhmed Zakaev penned an open letter to Swank demanding that information. “We really expect, when someone apologises, and promises publicly to do something, and says they will try to fix a big mistake, to be able to see that it actually happens,” wrote Zakaev, reasonably enough. “Hilary Swank said that she would transfer the money. But after four months, nobody knows if she has kept her word.”

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Does this really need a caption? From an actual perfume campaign

A spokesperson for Swank refused to answer Zakaev’s question, saying that “Hilary has been working directly and privately with various human rights organisations and other charities, giving both her time and financial resources. At the request of such organisations, and consistent with Hilary’s longstanding practice of donating anonymously, she will not be publicly acknowledging her contributions and efforts.” Under the circumstances, this statement was, to say the least, outrageously tone-deaf.

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Vladimir Putin, Ramzan Kadyrov

The one good thing that can be said about Swank’s conduct during this episode is that by apologizing, she at least came out smelling a little better than her fellow sellouts. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vanessa Mae, and Seal, all of whom also appeared at the Kadyrov event, refused to apologize at all; Seal, for his part, tweeted defiantly: “I played music for the Chechen people. I’m a musician and would appreciate if you leave me out of your politics.” (He added, bemusingly: “You sit there under the umbrella of democracy and never once stop to think how it keeps you dry.”)

Four years later, Hilary Swank has yet to disclose what she did with Kadyrov’s money.

Hilary Swank’s big, ugly payday

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Hilary Swank onstage in Grozny

Hilary Swank has won two Academy Awards for Best Actress and gets several million dollars a film. For some people, this would be enough. It wasn’t enough for Hilary, though.

Back in 2011, the Putin-installed puppet president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, offered several entertainers princely fees (reportedly in the mid six figures) to take part in an event in Grozny. Several human-rights organizations got wind of these invitations, and contacted the performers in question, explaining to them that Kadyrov was guilty of torturing and killing political opponents and promoting the abuse of women who dress “immodestly.” Some of those invited, including actor Kevin Costner, actress Eva Mendes, and singer Shakira, turned Kadyrov down; among those who chose to take his money and travel to Grozny were actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, violinist Vanessa Mae, singer Seal – and Swank.

Appearing onstage before Kadyrov and an audience of his lackeys, Swank gave what the Guardian aptly described  as a “gushing” speech in which she said she had toured the city earlier that day and “could feel the spirit of the people, everyone felt so happy…it was nice to be around….Really, truly, for me this is a great honor to learn more about you and your country and what you’re building….I hope someday when you have your opera house built, I will have a film premiere here.” She closed by saying, “Happy birthday, Mr. President.” Asked by the event’s MC how she knew it was Kadyrov’s birthday, Swank boasted: “I read. I do my research.”

Thankfully, the human-rights groups didn’t let her off the hook for this shameless display. Returning to Hollywood, she saw reports of her infamy all over the media. A video of her appearance in Grozny was posted on You Tube. Her response? Instead of taking responsibility for her own actions, she blamed her team – including her longtime friend and manager and two of her agents at CAA – and fired them all instantly, even though one source said that her manager hadn’t even known anything about the Chechnyan booking.

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Swank spinning away on Leno

She also issued an apology – described by the showbiz news website TMZ as possibly the “biggest BS apology EVER”– in which she dropped her claim to have done her “research” down the memory hole. The apology didn’t really make any sense: “If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be,” she stated, “I would never have gone.” She seemed not to grasp that the problem wasn’t the nature of the event but the nature of the man who was paying her to be there. And then she went on the Tonight Show, where she told Jay Leno that she’d donated her hefty fee to “charity” and that she hadn’t known anything about Kadyrov or Chechnya when she accepted the invitation – a curious claim, given that she did, somehow, find out that it was Kadyrov’s birthday. Leno, characteristically, didn’t ask any tough questions.  

What happened then? We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Steinem crosses a border – and crosses a line

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Christine Ahn

Yesterday we began discussing a May 24 spectacle starring women’s movement hero Gloria Steinem, who led a group of about 30 activists in a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas. Noting that Steinem had kept her mouth shut about the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime – including atrocities against women – we observed that her chief collaborator on this enterprise, Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, was even more disgraceful.

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Ahn and Steinem at a press conference

Who’s Christine Ahn? She’s head of a Bay Area-based group called the Korea Solidarity Committee. In the run-up to the border crossing, she criticized what she called the “Cold War mentality” that “has enabled Korea to remain divided” and maintained: “I am pro-peace. I am pro-engagement. I am pro-dialogue. I am pro-human rights.”

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Steinem in Pyongyang

On his blog, Washington, D.C. lawyer Joshua Stanton has provided a useful catalog of Ahn’s views: she’s “opposed human rights legislation for North Korea that funded broadcasting to North Korea, and that provided for aid and asylum for North Korean refugees, calling it an effort ‘by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea.’” She’s rejected the conclusion of an international team that found North Korea responsible for the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, in which 44 South Korean sailors were killed. She’s praised the Kims’ wacky “juche” ideology for giving the North a “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force” free of “the stranglehold of the United States.” And she’s blamed North Korea’s Great Famine on George W. Bush, deep-sixing, as Stanton pointed out, “the fact that that throughout much of the famine, the U.S. was the largest donor to food aid programs in North Korea.”

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Steinem just after the border crossing, holding yet another press conference

Lizzie Crocker, in her Daily Beast essay on Steinem’s foray into Korean affairs, quoted Sue Mi Terry of Columbia University’s East Asian Institute as saying that Ahn “has a tendency to blame the U.S. and South Korea for all the problems caused by North Korea.” Terry also lamented the fact that Steinem, revered by millions as a heroine of women’s rights, seemed, like Ahn, to be deliberately overlooking Pyongyang’s monstrous treatment of women.

Terry wasn’t alone. In a Washington Post op-edAbraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea roundly condemned Steinem’s stunt, pointing out that it “could only be undertaken with Pyongyang’s consent” and that “[i]f Pyongyang truly is interested in a peace gesture, it might start by releasing hundreds of South Korean POWs, now in their 80s and 90s, who were never allowed to return to their loved ones after the armistice.” Cooper and Scarlatoiu added:

We would urge Steinem and company to review last year’s scrupulously investigated U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, which determined that crimes against humanity have long been committed as a matter of state policy in North Korea. Those most vulnerable to these policies are North Korean women, and many are murdered by this merciless regime. In North Korea’s political prison camps and other detention facilities, starvation, humiliation and exploitation of women is rampant. Women have been subjected to medical and poison gas experimentation. They suffer forced abortions and can be coerced to witness the infanticide of their babies. Sexual violence is common.

We desperately need the voices of feminists protesting the murder, torture and exploitation of North Korean women by their own government. But any sanctioning of a peace march by North Korea can be nothing but human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.

Shin Dong-Hyuk, North Korean defector and author of Escape from Camp 14, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea formally presented its report to the Human Rights Council March 17, 2014. U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers
North Korean defector Shin Dong-Hyuk

Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition also had choice words for Steinem and her clueless comrades. “It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” said Scholte. North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk, the only prisoner ever to have escaped from a top-level internment camp in that country, agreed wholeheartedly. “I wonder if these people understand the meaning of peace,” he wrote on Facebook. Later, he added: “There really wasn[‘]t much they could do in the name of peace in the first place. Instead, they decided to be quiet about the atrocities taking place and basically went there to praise the dictator.”

Amen. With her foolish actions in Korea, feminist deity Gloria Steinem has become what Ahn already was – namely, a useful stooge of the very first order, serving the propaganda purposes of the very worst (and most woman-oppressing) regime on the entire planet. 

Sic transit Gloria

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Gloria Steinem in her heyday

It won’t be news to readers of this website that Kim Jung-un presides over a country that can fairly be compared not just to a prison – that’s far too mild an analogy – but to an extermination camp. Terror and torture, arbitrary arrests and executions, the total denial of civil rights and absence of any kind of freedom, a society perpetually starving, thoroughly saturated in propaganda, utterly cut off from the outside world, and armed to the teeth, its mad leader constantly rattling his saber: this is North Korea today. There’s only one way, of course, to bring an end to this nightmare: bring in Gloria Steinem.

On May 24, the feminist icon led a group of 30 or so women on a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas, starting in the north and crossing to the south. “Our purpose,” she told the Washington Post, was “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” She and her fellow activists were going to North Korea “to listen and learn, to say we care by being physically present” because there’s “no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are” and “conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together.”

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Steinem and her fellow activists at a pre-event press conference in Beijing

Yes, that’s the way to solve the North Korea dilemma: we need to “sit down” with Kim’s henchmen so we can “listen and learn.” Learn what? Asked whether she planned “to address women’s/human rights issues” while in North Korea, she replied: “Yes, we will say what our experience is and ask what their experience is and hope that one informs the other.” As if any North Koreans were free to say anything honest about “their experience”! Could Steinem’s entire premise be more naive, more misguided? “It’s hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings,” she said about the DMZ – as if the root problem were the division itself, and not Kim’s totalitarianism.

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Steinem and pals crossing the border

The title of Lizzie Crocker’s article in the Daily Beast asked the right question: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Crocker noted that Steinem and her co-leader in the “walk for peace,” Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, were “calling on the UN to broker a peace treaty between the North and South, and asking the U.S. to lift sanctions against the North,” but had said nothing about the “executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement” for which the Kim regime is responsible; indeed, Steinem’s statements had “been decidedly anodyne.”

But Ahn was even worse. Lots worse. We’ll get to her tomorrow.

C-U-B-A!

Another week, another nonsensical missive from the morally reprehensible alternate reality inhabited by the dopey editors of The Nation.

havana_street_pictureIn a cheeryannouncementthat went up online a couple of days ago, the American left’s flagship magazine invited readers to, and we quote:

Join The Nation for a week of educational and cultural exchange in Havana, Cuba!

Here’s the pitch: from September 26 to October 3, 2015, a few lucky Nation readers will be able to go to Havana “for a unique trip specially curated for fellow Nation travelers.” Meaning what? Will participants be granted an audience with Fidel himself, and be able to kneel before him and kiss his ring?

Roof top view of HavanaWell, close enough. There’ll be “private seminars and concerts featuring prominent Cuban professors, government officials, urban planners, journalists, musicians, artists, dancers, and community activists.” “Specially curated” indeed: could anyone but a Nation subscriber stand a full week of wall-to-wall Communist propaganda by Cuban “professors, government officials,” etc., without constantly throwing up?

To judge by the prospectus, by the way, The Nation‘s guests won’t be meeting any dissident writers or political prisoners. They won’t be taken to view the places where gay people were locked up and tortured, the psychiatric hospitals to which critics of Communism were committed as mental patients, the walls against which counter-revolutionaries were lined up and shot, or the coastal locations from which a million or so people escaped from the island prison on flimsy rafts and boats. But we didn’t expect that from The Nation anyway, did we?

Of course, this tour of one of Communism’s last remaining redoubts – led by Peter Kornbluh, The Nation‘s Cuba correspondent, and Charles Bittner, its “Academic Liaison, representing the magazine and organizing panels at academic conferences throughout the country” – comes with an evil capitalist price tag:

havana3The all-inclusive cost of this weeklong tour is $5,550 to $5,950 per person (double/single occupancy) and includes round-trip chartered airfare between Tampa and Havana, seven nights at the Hotel NH Capri La Habana, one night in a private guesthouse in Pinar del Río Province, all transportation within Cuba, tours, seminars, lectures, concerts, most of your meals, and many other captivating events.

Reading through this solicitation, our first thought was that, for a lover of freedom, there could hardly be any form of punishment more cruel and unusual than having to spend a week slumming in Cuba with a gang of starry-eyed Nation staffers and drooling Nation groupies while they “[d]iscuss Cuban foreign policy and the coming changes with Carlos Alzugaray, former Cuban diplomat and expert on US-Cuba relations.”

havana4On second thought, however, we found ourselves wishing we could be there just to hear these bozos making unctuous small talk with the “Cuban family hosts” on their “bucolic private farm” in “the beautiful Viñales Valley” and to witness their earnest conversations with the “professors” and “community activists” and “urban planners.”

Our own question to the urban planners would be this: what exactly does an “urban planner” do in a country where every city is a pile of rubble?

“Ventura” isn’t Spanish for idiot, but maybe it should be

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Che Guevara mural in Havana

We took a brief look yesterday at credentialed crank Jesse Ventura – at, in particular, his friendship with Fidel Castro and his enthusiasm for the Castro regime, whose praises he sang in a 2012 interview. That interview wasn’t the only occasion on which Ventura has publicly eulogized the Cuban dictatorship. In another conversation with a reporter, he offered up what he saw as irrefutable evidence of Fidel’s humility: “The main downtown building in Havana has this huge flat wall and it has got a huge portrait on it. It’s not Castro. It’s Che Guevara. The biggest photograph in downtown Havana was a mural on a wall of Che. Now if Castro was such an egomaniac and all this, wouldn’t he put himself up there instead of Che?”

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Ventura at the University of Havana in 2002

During his visit to Cuba, which took place in 2002, Ventura spoke at the University of Havana, where he urged students to dream big and work hard to achieve success.” A few months ago, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and eloquent Castro critic, had the perfect reaction to Ventura’s comments:

Here one blinks, looks again—and gapes. You long to believe otherwise, you grope for an extenuation, you hope you misread—but it’s inescapable: A man elected as governor of a populous and prosperous U.S. State (and a “Harvard Visiting Fellow”) cannot distinguish between the subjects of a Stalinist police state and the attendees of an AmWay convention.

Ask anyone familiar with Communism. To achieve “success” in such as Castro’s Stalinist fiefdom, you join the Communist Party, you pucker up and stoop down behind Fidel and his toadies and smooch away. (Either that or jump on a raft.)

Castro isn’t the only brutal dictator for whom Ventura has a soft spot. In his 2012 interview, the ex-wrestler quoted fellow Fidel fan Oliver Stone as having told him: “Governor, you’d love Hugo Chávez because he’s you. You and him are alike. You’re men of the people.” In 2010, appearing on The Larry King Show with Stone to help the director promote one of his unctuous “documentaries” about Chávez, Ventura said that although he’d never met the Venezuelan caudillo, he believed that Stone’s propaganda film about the guy “should be mandatory viewing for every high school senior in the United States of America.”

Plainly, Jesse Ventura is one “libertarian” who’s somehow forgotten – if, that is, he ever knew – the meaning of the word liberty. Hell – this is a guy who loves severe juntas so much that his name is actually an anagram for “severe juntas.”

 

Jesse Ventura, “libertarian” – and Castro fan

Former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura speaking about his book "They Killed Our President" October 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Ventura, who is considering a long-shot independent run for the White House, said he would immediately clear the intelligence leakers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden if elected. Ventura, who served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003 and is an avid proponent of conspiracy theories, said it was "wonderful" for individuals within government to expose abuses. Ventura's book "They Killed Our President," alleges that the 1963 Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy in reaction to his efforts to reduce war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Jesse Ventura has long been a familiar figure in the American media. Open and outspoken, colorful and controversial, he’s had a remarkably varied career, working in turn as a Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, film actor, and one-term Governor of Minnesota. Since leaving office in 2003, he’s spent much of his time criticizing top U.S. officials and floating conspiracy theories in countless TV and radio interviews. He’s played coy about where he stands on many of these theories, sometimes vehemently denying, for example, that he’s a 9/11 “Truther” – a believer, that is, that the Bush Administration plotted the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon – and sometimes explicitly endorsing “Truther” theories. From 2009 to 2013, he hosted a TV show about conspiracy theories, and in recent years he’s co-written a couple of books on the subject, one of which argued that the JFK assassination was an inside job.

conspiracyIt’s tempting, of course, to dismiss Ventura as a marginal crank – an obvious crackpot whom nobody could possibly take seriously. But we’re talking here about a guy who’s in a position to get his books published, get his TV shows aired, and get himself booked on any number of high-profile TV and radio shows. A self-styled libertarian, he presumably has fans (at least one of his books was a New York Times bestseller) and thus at least a degree of influence, and during the last year or two has often offered himself up – and he doesn’t seem to be kidding about this in the slightest – as a candidate, if not in 2016 then in 2020, for president of the United States.

(FILES) In this 04 September1999 file photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro discusses his request to the president of the International Olympic Committee in Havana for an investigation into the treatment of certain Cuban atheletes. Castro said the communist nation is not afraid of dialogue with the United States -- and not interested in continued confrontation with its powerful neighbor.  The comments came as a group of US lawmakers visited Cuba this weekend to try to end nearly half a century of mutual distrust and amid reports that President Barack Obama was planning to ease economic sanctions on the island, including travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans. "We're not afraid to talk with the United States. We also don't need confrontation to exist, like some fools like to think," Castro, 82, said in an article on the Cubadebate website on April 5, 2009.  AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE /FILES (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)   Original Filename: Was672139.jpg
Fidel Castro

Which is why, despite the man’s manifest preposterousness, it’s worth drawing attention to one aspect of his life that’s perhaps relatively obscure – namely, his outsized, highly un-libertarian enthusiasm for none other than Fidel Castro. “I can only judge Fidel by the hour I spent with him,” Ventura told an interviewer in 2012 – an extraordinarily unserious and irresponsible thing to say, of course, when you’re somebody who’s eager to be regarded as a serious thinker and responsible political player. You can only judge a head of state with a decades-long record – one that includes mass torture and innumerable executions without trial – by the hour you spent with him? Really? 

ventura-01[1]Of all things, Ventura enthused over Castro’s handshake: “I will always remember his handshake. Always. And I’ve shaken how many hands? But I will always remember his.” Although famously prepared to believe the most absurd conspiracy theories about the U.S. government, Ventura credulously parroted the transparently mendacious propaganda about Cuba’s purportedly magnificent health-care system. And although he rode to victory in Minnesota by claiming to be an ardent believer in libertarian values, he was quick to defend Communism as merely “a different form of government.”

His summing-up on the topic? “Castro never lied to me. My government has.

Jermaine Jackson, the D-List Dennis Rodman

Jackson-2-01[1]Hardly anybody in the Western world these days knows or cares much about the teeny West African dictatorship of Gambia, and hardly anybody in the Western world these days gives much thought to Jermaine Jackson, the older and far less talented and charismatic brother of the late Michael Jackson and member of the family musical group The Jackson Five. Yet the obscurity of the country doesn’t make the brutality of its government any less terrible to the approximately two million people who live in it, and the has-been status of Jermaine Jackson doesn’t make his grotesque kowtowing to the clownish autocrat who runs Gambia any less reprehensible.

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Yahya Jammeh

First, a few facts about that autocrat, Yahya Jammeh (officially referred to as “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Awal Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen Babili Mansa”). He took power in a 1994 coup and has survived eight attempts to overthrow his rotten regime. He’s been described as “holding sway through a potent mixture of state brutality and mysticism.” Under his rule, Gambia has developed the “worst press rights” in west Africa, which is quite an accomplishment, and innumerable journalists have been imprisoned or assassinated or “disappeared.”

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Jammeh and one of his wives with President and Mrs. Obama

And that’s just for starters. Jammeh’s also a crackpot of the first water who claims to be able to cure “a long list of maladies including obesity and erectile dysfunction.” In 2009, he accused a thousand of his subjects of being witch doctors and ordered them beaten and forced to “drink hallucinogens.” In 2000, thugs acting on his direct orders “gunned down 14 school children…who were protesting against his regime.” Last December, the European Union halted €13 million in aid to Gambia in response to its ghastly human-rights record; in the same month, the U.S. government revoked Gambia’s preferential status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a step hailed by a Gambian freedom activist as “a clear indication that the international community has had enough of Yahya Jammeh’s tyrannical rule.”

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Protest against Jammeh’s dictatorship, December 2014

As with the Kims in North Korea and the Castros in Cuba, Jammeh’s countenance is ubiquitous throughout his realm, with his face being “used to advertise everything from food to phone credit.” One human-rights activist, indeed, has even called Gambia “the North Korea of Africa.” Jammeh is especially preoccupied with homosexuality, having called gays “vermin” and destroyers of culture and threatened to decapitate them. “Some people go to the West,” he announced in a 2014 speech, “and claim they are gays and that their lives are at risk in the Gambia, in order for them to be granted a stay in Europe. If I catch them I will kill them.” Last year, he approved a law punishing homosexuality with life imprisonment. Among many other offenses, he’s been accused by Senegal, the country that surrounds his own (except for a small sliver of Atlantic seacoast), of trying to ship Iranian weapons to separatist rebels in Senegal’s Casamance region.

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A Jammeh billboard in Banjul, the capital of Gambia

This is the man whom Jermaine Jackson calls a friend and a “very, very real person,” whatever that means. During a visit to Gambia in 2010, Jackson hung out with Jammeh and announced that he wanted to play a role in what he described as Gambia’s development. (As one German newspaper noted, nobody, especially human-rights activists, thinks that there is anything deserving of the label “development” going on in Gambia.)

Jackson-01[1]In addition to identifying Jammeh as a key figure in building bridges between Africa and African Americans, Jackson praised him effusively for his belief in Allah, his “respect” for his people, and above all for his “truthful” nature. Jackson said that he’d met many world leaders over the years, but placed Jammeh “above all of them because of his devotion to Allah.” At a concert Jackson held in Gambia during his visit, he addressed Jammeh personally from the stage, saying: “Thank you for being you for the world. Thank you for being you for Africa. Thank you for being you for Gambia. Thank you for loving him, Gambia.”

Think of it this way: if Jammeh is the Kim Jung-un of the D-list, Jermaine Jackson is the D-list Dennis Rodman. No, it’s certainly not as high profile a friendship, but it’s every bit as odious. And, of course, every bit as dumb.

 

 

De Blasio’s appalling proclamation

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Here’s a new item for our ever-growing files on The Nation – whose well-nigh nonpareil history of useful stoogery we’ve dipped into rather frequently since beginning this site – and on current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose participation in a City Hall tribute to Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe we’ve also taken note of.  It was, of course, only a matter of time before the left’s Manhattan-based flagship weekly and the Big Apple’s stridently progressive mayor ended up in the same item. The convergence of the twain took place earlier this month, when de Blasio issued a proclamation declaring July 6, the magazine’s 150th anniversary, “The Nation Day” in New York City.

Yes, politicians issue such proclamations all the time. And, yes, they rarely mean very much. Last year, after all, de Blasio himself declared August 20 “Al Roker Appreciation Day,” in honor of the Today Show weatherman’s 60th birthday.

Nation_Day_Proclamation_ccBut the text of de Blasio’s proclamation about The Nation was not just the usual empty boilerplate. Recalling the magazine’s founding in 1865 by prominent abolitionists, de Blasio stated: “A century and a half later, the integrity and audacity of America’s oldest weekly magazine are still very much intact.” He went on:

New York has served as The Nation’s home and history-making partner through Emancipation, the Great Depression, two world wars, the civil rights movement, and into the age of technology. Whether taking politicians to task, exposing the lasting effects of war, profiling our state’s progressive labor movement, highlighting the intersection of economic justice and criminal justice, critiquing the rising cost of higher education, reporting on conflicts in Syria or South Sudan or outlining strategies for keeping hope alive, The Nation continues to shed light on the disenfranchised, mobilizing its readers to articulate and reaffirm their values and to take action in the name of progress (necessarily ruffling not a few feathers along the way).

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

This spectacular load of B.S. might have penned by editor Katrina vanden Heuvel herself. In pretending to sum up The Nation‘s history, it entirely omits, among much else, the magazine’s decades of vigorous Stalinist apologetics, of poisonous personal attacks on anti-Communists, and of enthusiastic support for enemies of America and of liberty. It ignores the magazine’s inflexible devotion to a far-left, freedom-hating ideology and its routine practice of blithely twisting or deep-sixing facts that make that ideology look bad.

17/11/05-CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS-Christopher Hitchens, a controversial British-born, U.S.-based journalist; former left-wing, now a conservative, was in Toronto on Thursday to speak at the Grano Speakers Series. He spoke to the Star in his hotel room in the morning.(Photo by Peter Power/The Toronto Star)pmp (Photo by Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Christopher Hitchens

Speaking of ideology, perhaps the most outrageous part of de Blasio’s proclamation was its opening: “Healthy debate. Consistent reflection. Diverse voices. Nuanced perspectives.” Right. Tell us another. We only wish the late Christopher Hitchens were alive to read this nonsense and comment on it. Hitchens, of course, was the longtime Nation contributor who, after 9/11, dared to dissent from what had instantly become the magazine’s party line about that atrocity – namely, that the U.S. had “asked for it” – and ended up quitting the staff in 2002.

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Katha Pollitt

In his last column for The Nation, Hitchens lamented that it was becoming “the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden.” Among the inhabitants of that echo chamber was (and is) Katha Pollitt, whose first response to 9/11, it will be recalled, was to write an article explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter, in the wake of the atrocity, fly the American flag –that vile symbol of imperialism and oppression – from the window of their apartment, which was located only a few blocks from Ground Zero.

No city suffered more on 9/11 than New York. No American magazine showed less sympathy for the victims, and more “understanding” for the perpetrators, than The Nation. For the mayor of that city to issue an official proclamation congratulating that magazine on its anniversary – a proclamation in which he whitewashes its history and overlooks its disgusting reaction to the attack on the Twin Towers – is a disservice both to the truth and to the people of the city he was elected to serve.