Malcolm Caldwell: Death of a Useful Stooge

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We’re posting these photos in lieu of those famous pictures of piles of skulls from the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields

On Friday we began the story of Malcolm Caldwell, the British academic and activist who vigorously defended Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia – and ended up meeting the great man himself on December 22, 1978. Following his interview with the dictator, Caldwell and his tour companions, Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, dined together. Then Becker and Caldwell stayed up for a while and debated Pol Pot’s revolution, which Becker deplored (believing, as she did, refugees’ innumerable accounts of unspeakable atrocities) and which Caldwell tried to argue her into supporting. Becker eventually went to bed, and some hours later was awakened by gunfire. Andrew Anthony, in a 2010 piece, told what happened next:

killingfields2She opened her bedroom door to see a young man pointing a pistol at her. He was wearing two bands of ammunition and carrying an automatic rifle over his shoulder. She begged him not to shoot and locked herself in her bathroom.

Meanwhile Dudman had woken up and, looking out of his window, saw a file of men running along the street. He knocked on Caldwell’s door. The two men spoke briefly and then a heavily armed man approached. The man shot at the floor and Dudman ran into his room. Two shots were fired through his door. The two Americans remained hiding in their rooms for the next hour before an aide arrived and told Becker to stay where she was. Almost another hour passed before she was allowed to come out. Caldwell, she was told, had been shot. He was dead.

killingfields3She later recounted what happened next: she and Dudman were taken to Caldwell’s room. “Malcolm was lying next to his bed. His face was ashen and there was blood on his chest and leg. He was dressed, as if he had been awake for a while before being shot.” Also lying dead in the room was an Asian man. What had happened? The Khmer Rouge put out at least two stories. According to one of them, three men, apparently working for Vietnam, had come to murder Caldwell; one of them had committed suicide, while a second escaped and a third was captured by the Khmer Rouge. According to another official account, however, two of the guards who’d been protecting the three foreigners had committed the murder, and had confessed afterwards to being part of an anti-revolutionary conspiracy. 

killingfields5People who understood Pol Pot weren’t convinced by any of these explanations. To them, it seemed clear that the murderer of a million people had claimed yet another victim. Never mind that he’d supposedly just had a friendly meeting with Caldwell: Anthony quotes a Pol Pot deputy as noting that the dictator, in meetings with any number of persons who thought they were on good terms with him, “would smile his unruffled smile, and then they would be taken away and executed.” Journalist Wilfred Burchett later claimed to have seen an official Cambodian report affirming that Caldwell had been “murdered by members of the National Security Force personnel on the instructions of the Pol Pot government.” British intelligence, too, concluded that Pol Pot had ordered the murder.

But what was the motive? There have been various theories: Pol Pot and Caldwell had argued; Caldwell, during their conversation, had lost his faith in the revolution; Pol Pot had revealed secrets to Caldwell that he didn’t want getting out; Pol Pot wanted to give the Vietnamese bad PR by murdering Caldwell and then blaming it on them.

killingfields4None of these theories is particularly convincing; surely one can’t easily imagine Caldwell arguing with Pol Pot or coming to his senses about the Khmer Rouge over the course of a single conversation. Becker, for her part, was sure Pol Pot had ordered Caldwell’s death, but she didn’t feel the need to seek out a rational motive. After all, pretty much everything Pol Pot had done was irrational. He’d executed a million of his own people for no reason whatsoever. Why should the murder of Caldwell make sense? “Malcolm Caldwell’s death,” as she memorably put it, “was caused by the madness of the regime he openly admired.”

Precisely. We may not know all the details of what happened that night, but the point is clear: this was one useful stooge who was the fatal victim of his own ideological folly. The story of Caldwell’s life and death is one that should be widely disseminated as a cautionary tale for anyone prone to getting starry-eyed over bloodthirsty totalitarians. 

Useful Stooge Hall of Fame: Malcolm Caldwell

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Malcolm Caldwell

In a recent – and fascinating – piece for The Spectator, James Bartholemew bemoaned what he called the “socialist indoctrination” provided by British universities to foreign students who then return home, rise to positions of power, apply what they’ve learned, and as a result do a lot of damage to their nations’ economies. A current example: Yanis Varoufakis, who as Greece’s financial minister earlier this year turned what had actually been an expanding economy into a total disaster. In passing, Bartholemew noted that while most of the British professors responsible for converting foreign students to bad economics “remain comfortably” in the U.K., “uninvolved in the misery they have sown overseas,” there has been one striking example to the contrary: Malcolm Caldwell.

We have to admit that we were unfamiliar with the Caldwell case, so we looked into it. It turns out to be quite a story. In the 1970s Caldwell, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, was a prominent British voice against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. An open Communist, he chaired the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and despised America. Caldwell, Michael Ezra has written, “was most in his element when writing about ‘the demonstrated strengths of the communist system.’” Five years ago, in an article for a Guardian, Andrew Anthony provided a glimpse into Caldwell’s politics:

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Kim Il-Sung

It’s not that Caldwell was lost in bookish abstraction, for he did visit the various communist regimes he extolled. It was more that when he got there he was all too willing to accept state propaganda as verified fact. For example, he praised the “magnitude of the economic achievements” of Kim Il-Sung’s impoverished North Korea and, returning from a trip to the highly secretive state, he wrote that the country was “an astonishing tribute not only to the energy, initiative and creativeness of the Korean people, but also to the essential correctness of the Juche line.”…About the totalitarian surveillance and ruthless political repression, Caldwell said nothing.

ca. September 1978, Phnom Penh, Cambodia --- Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot a few months before Vietnam installed a new government in Cambodia, in January 1979. Between 1976 and 1979, he was the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea. --- Image by © Richard Dudman/Sygma/Corbis
Pol Pot

Caldwell wasn’t just a fan of the North Korean regime. He also admired Pol Pot, the Communist ruler of Cambodia whom he apparently viewed as having devised a new and wonderful form of totalitarianism. As Ezra puts it, Caldwell “shamelessly regurgitated the propaganda provided by Pol Pot’s regime.” Caldwell was, of course, far from alone in this enthusiasm. Most Western “experts” in southeast Asia cheered the rise of Pol Pot’s vicious and violent Khmer Rouge, which ran Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During those four years, about two million of that country’s seven million people died – a million in executions, and another million from starvation, forced labor, and other such causes. Yet most Western “experts,” Caldwell included, strenuously denied reports that Pol Pot was committing atrocities. What distinguished him from Pol Pot’s other defenders in the West was that he actually went to Cambodia and met his hero.

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In Cambodia, December 1978, left to right: Michael Dudman, Elizabeth Becker, a member of the Khmer Rouge, Malcolm Caldwell

This was in December 1978, less than a month before Pol Pot was driven from his capital by Vietnamese troops. For two weeks, Caldwell and a pair of American journalists, Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, were shown around Cambodia by Khmer Rouge handlers. It was a transparent Potemkin-village sideshow, but Caldwell fell for every bit of it; as Becker later recalled, Caldwell “didn’t want to know about problems with the Khmer Rouge.” Convinced that the world was on the verge of famine, he saw Pol Pot as having the answer: the use of forced collectivization and slave labor to increase rice production. As Anthony explains, however, “owing to the shortage of technicians and experts (who were killed as class enemies) and lack of peasant support, production fell well short of targets.” The result was – yes – famine, which Pol Pot blamed on “spies and counter revolutionaries” who soon found themselves in torture camps. Cambodian refugees had brought with them to the West these and other horrifying facts about Pol Pot’s regime. But Caldwell, the truest of true believers, didn’t buy any of it. 

Which brings us to the night of December 22, 1978. Caldwell, recounts Anthony, 

was taken in a Mercedes limousine to see Pol Pot. The setting for the meeting was the former Governor’s Palace on the waterfront, built during the French colonial period. In a grand reception room replete with fans and billowing white curtains, the two men sat down and discussed revolutionary economic theory….

The perennially shabby academic and the fastidious dictator must have made for an odd couple. In any case, Caldwell left the meeting a happy man. He returned to the guest house he was sharing with Becker and Dudman, full of praise for Pol Pot and his political outlook.

What happened next? We’ll get around to that on Monday.

Karl Vick, Hamas apologist

We’ve studied a few examples of Time correspondent Karl Vick‘s useful stoogery on behalf of the Castro regime as well as of sundry nefarious, primitive, and belligerent entities in the Middle East. But these efforts pale alongside his attempts to whitewash Hamas.

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Karl Vick

In a November 2011 piece entitled “Hamas Edges Closer to the Mainstream: Agreeing to Nonviolence, Opening the Door to Recognizing Israel,” Vick wrote that on the Gaza Strip, Hamas had “largely enforced a truce with Israel since January 2009.” To be sure, Hamas had “signed a paper committing itself to ‘popular resistance’ against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories,” but Vick added: “That’s ‘popular’ in contrast to ‘violent’ or ‘military’ resistance. We’re talking marches here. Chanting and signs, not booby traps or suicide bombs.” But there was no reason whatsoever for Vick to interpret the word “popular” that way. As Pesach Benson of Honest Reporting (HR) commented at the time:

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The peace-loving boys and girls of Hamas

When Palestinians say “popular” Vick hears “non-violent.” But what they mean is grassroots.

In the Palestinian dictionary, kids throwing stones at Israelis is grassroots “popular” resistance no less than adults holding a grassroots “popular” candlelight vigil.

Gilad Shalit wasn’t kidnapped by any old resistance committees. He was snatched and held captive by the Popular Resistance Committees. Their popularity comes from promising to kidnap more soldiers, not holding marches, witty chants, or clever signs.

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A Hamas candlelight vigil

Vick served up more of the same nonsense in February 2012. “The mainstreaming of Hamas continues,” wrote Benson, “thanks to the obtuse dispatches of journos like Time’s Karl Vick.” The reference was to Vick’s article entitled “The Mainstreaming of Hamas Continues as Palestinian Unity Gains Steam.” In the piece, Vick unskeptically reported that Hamas, “which the West knows chiefly for its suicide attacks on Israel,” was putting violence behind it. Yes, Hamas remained “committed to the eradication of the Jewish State,” but Vick described this commitment as only “[n]ominal.” If Hamas had really changed its mind, why not publicly renounce its commitment to crushing Israel? Vick’s answer: “that’s an awful lot to expect of a militant group in the space of a few months.”

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Rachel Corrie

It was Vick, too, who filed Time‘s 2012 report on the verdict in the case of Rachel Corrie, an American member of the radical International Solidarity Movement who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer during a 2003 protest, becoming a martyr to the anti-Israeli cause. The bulldozer driver said he hadn’t even seen Corrie; the judge agreed it was an accident. Vick’s take was predictable. Even the headline was tendentious: “Court Rebuffs Case of Slain U.S. Activist.” (As Honest Reporting’s Simon Plosker observed, “The usage of the adjective ‘slain’ or the verb ‘to slay’ usually means the violent killing of someone intentionally, the exact opposite of the Israeli court ruling.”) The judge, Vick wrote, “stood with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israelis overwhelmingly do.” The implication, plainly, was that the verdict had had nothing to do with justice or the facts, but only with blind loyalty to the IDF.

No Time reader who’d been paying attention over the years to Vick’s reports from Jerusalem would be terribly surprised by his admission, in his article on the Corrie verdict, that his wife had actually worked as a volunteer helping Corrie’s parents while they were in Israel for the trial. That his editors knew about this connection and still let Vick report on the verdict – as if he could possibly write about it with any detachment – made it clear that not Karl Vick’s not the only Hamas stooge at Time. Or in the Vick household. 

Karl Vick, dishonest reporter

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Karl Vick

In our last couple of outings, we met Karl Vick of Time Magazine, who in recent months has made a fool of himself gushing over the “charm” of Havana’s rubble and enthusing over Cuba’s “social equality” – meaning, of course, that everybody there except for members of the top brass is dirt-poor.

But in fact Vick’s role as a useful stooge for Castro is a new one. For the past few years, serving as Time‘s Jerusalem bureau chief, he’s served in the same capacity in relation to various armed entities in the Mideast which, despite their unwavering hatred and violence, he continually represents as having turned over a new leaf. He assured readers that the reformist rhetoric of the “Arab Spring” was totally legit; he’s insisted repeatedly that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate force; and for years he’s been claiming that Hamas has turned friendly (or is about to turn friendly any minute now) toward Israel.

Meanwhile he routinely smears Israel.

Time cover-resizeTake his 2010 Time cover story “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” The article’s premise: while the world views Israel through the prism of “the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land,” Israelis themselves are too busy “making money,” hanging around Tel Aviv cafes, and lying on the beach to care about the peace process. The Honest Reporting (HR) website gave Vick a “Dishonest Reporting Award” for the piece, noting that he “appears to subtly reject Israel’s historic claims to the land and to imply that Israelis are at fault in the conflict, since the land really belongs to the Arabs.” Also, he “distorts Israeli resilience in the face of a decade of rocket attacks and terrorism into an image of decadence.” While Israel, argued HR, had made numerous peace moves – “Ehud Barak’s offer of a state at Camp David, Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, Binyamin Netanyahu’s settlement freeze” – Vick “blame[d] Israel for years of stalemate”; at the same time, “[w]hile there have been no parallel moves from the Palestinians to advance the peace process, only ever-increasing demands on Israel, Vick gives the impression that the Palestinians have been doing everything they can to make peace possible.”

HR wasn’t the only outfit to criticize Vick’s article; the Anti-Defamation League protested too, saying that Vick’s “insidious subtext of Israeli Jews being obsessed with money echoes the age-old anti-Semitic falsehood that Jews care about money above any other interest, in this case achieving peace with the Palestinians.”

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The article “Why Israel Doesn’t Care about Peace” featured this photo, captioned “Israelis at the beach in Tel Aviv”

A few months after Vick’s cover story, violent Syrians on the Golan Heights tried to charge across the Israeli border; Israel denied Syrian state media’s claim that IDF troops killed 22 of them. Vick reported it this way:

Television images on Sunday…showed apparently unarmed Palestinian civilians marching peacefully down a hill toward Israeli soldiers who had assumed firing positions. Then came a crackle of gunshots; bloodied bodies were then carried back up the hill. It went on for hours, with 20 people reported dead according to Syrian state television. The human cost was high but for a Palestinian movement trying to reframe itself, the footage at least set it on a course along on the lines of Birmingham, Soweto and Gandhi’s Salt March….

HR commented: “Aside from falsely presenting Palestinians as Gandhian acolytes, this description certainly does not correspond with other media reports that confirmed that the IDF had issued clear warnings in Arabic and fired tear gas before firing over the heads of the Palestinians in an attempt to convince them to halt. The use of live fire and then, only used selectively, was solely a last resort.”

A Palestinian woman and a child walk together on their way to a celebration for land that was recently returned to the Palestinians after Israel rerouted a section of it's controversial barrier which separates the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit (seen in the background) and the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah July 1, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS)
This picture of a woman and child accompanied one of Vick’s articles on Palestinians

Not long afterward, a poll of Palestinians showed that 62% supported the kidnapping of IDF soldiers, 53% thought it was a good idea to teach children songs about hating Jews, and 73% approved of the indiscriminate killing of Jews. Most media reports on the poll downplayed these disturbing numbers, but Vick, according to HR, was the “[w]orst offender.” Recalling Vick’s article “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” based on “anecdotal street interviews with a few unrepresentative Israelis,” HR’s Simon Plosker asked: “what happened when Vick was presented with statistical evidence that it may be Palestinians and not Israelis who have issues with peace?” What happened was that Vick wrote the following:

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Vick’s articles about Palestinians are rarely if ever accompanied by pictures like this

Palestinians are trudging down the same long road as Israelis. Yes, they want peace. No, they don’t think the other side will play ball. So for now their priority is private life: Getting food on the table and keeping the kids safe.

As Plosker observed, this was quite a contrast to Vick’s portrait of Israelis in his 2010 cover story: When a few random Israelis prioritized private issues over diplomacy, they aren’t interested in peace according to Vick’s previous article. But in his latest offering, when Palestinians say the same thing, they are presented as pro-peace despite rejecting a two-state solution and expounding Jew hatred.”

We’re not done. More tomorrow.

Karl Vick, Castro stooge

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Karl Vick

Last week, we took a look at Time Magazine’s new special issue on Cuba, and in particular at the work of Time correspondent Karl Vick, who, in what we described as a “classic ‘to be sure’ sentence,” admitted that there’s some truth in Cuban exiles’ criticisms of the Castro regime, but maintained nonetheless that the country is not totalitarian.

As it turns out, Vick is a past master at those “to be sure” sentences about Cuba. A cover story he wrote about Cuba for a March issue of Time contains the following passage about Cubans: “Their country is poor and, without doubt, a security state, but also safe, literate and healthy. People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” Of course, “security state” is itself something of a euphemism: it sounds nicer than “police state” or “dictatorship,” and is, to say the least, a rather tame way of describing a country that will imprison and torture you for criticizing its leaders or advocating for democracy.

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Glory

Even more inane, however, were the remarks made by Vick in an April 1 interview with Warren Olney on the public-radio program To the Point.  Calling Cuba a “really intriguing place,” “the island that time forgot,” and a “really dynamic, really warm and convivial” country where the people “enjoy life,” etc., etc., Vick gushed over Havana’s “decaying glory” – in response to which Olney quite sensibly asked: “How is decay glorious?”

Vick didn’t know how to answer. “That’s a really good question,” he said. Plainly, it was a question he’d never asked himself while he was strolling around Havana breathlessly taking notes on the squalor or sitting at his desk banging out his fatuous cover story. He paused. Then he resumed talking, sounding lost, uncertain. He tried to paint the kind of picture of Havana that he’d painted in his article, but nothing he said remotely answered Olney’s question. In the end, after stumbling around for a while, all he managed to do was to cough up a synonym for “decaying glory”: “faded grandeur.”

There’s no kind way of saying it: he sounded like a first-rate fool.

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Paradise

But Olney wasn’t done with him. He asked: Isn’t the average wage in Cuba $25 a month? Vick admitted that it is, but was quick to add that “rent is free” and that using “dollar amounts” was “a bit misleading.” When Olney pointed out that even professionals in Cuba often need to hold menial jobs in the tourist industry to make ends meet, Vick again acknowledged that Olney was right. With a baffling chuckle, he recalled that during a visit to Cuba 17 years ago he’d been served by a waiter who was also a heart surgeon. Once again, however, he was quick to whitewash the problem: he actually seemed to imply that the doctor had taken the job waiting tables because he enjoyed meeting tourists. Besides, he told Olney, even though “everybody’s poor in dollars, in material ways,” the Cubans can boast of “some real social achievement.” What kind of achievement? “Social equity,” Vick said, explaining that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”

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Social equality

In other words, they’re all paupers (except, he neglected to add, for the Castros themselves and other high-level officials). This equality, claimed Vick, “is one of the things that people are worried about losing with change.”

Yes, that’s a Time Magazine correspondent speaking: according to him, Cubans are worried that as a result of changes to come, some of them will no longer be destitute.

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Warren Olney

Olney’s program – which also featured a travel agent specializing in Cuba, a spokeswoman for Roots of Hope, a U.S.-based group that works for change in Cuba, and (live from the island nation itself) a Cuban diplomat – was broadcast on Santa Monica station KCRW. At its website, a listener whose mother was from Cuba, and who vowed she would “never set foot in my mom’s homeland…until the people there are free,” praised Olney for pointing out Cubans’ poverty and lack of freedom. But she wasn’t impressed by Vick, to say the least. Reacting to his bizarre enthusiasm for an “equality” based on the fact that “everyone is dirt poor,” the listener pronounced, with admirable simplicity: “That’s some morality.”  And she made a salient point that somehow hadn’t come up at all on the program: she’d “have loved to hear some commentary from a Cuban dissident,” she wrote, “but they’re rather hard to reach because they live in a brutal police state.”

We’re done with Cuba for now, but not with Vick. Tune in tomorrow.

Kyle Bass: The frantic investments of a desperate gambler

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Kyle Bass

Another month, another new low for Kyle Bass, the favorite hedge-funder of Argentine autocrats.

First, a quick recap. Bass, who founded his Dallas-based fund, Hayman Capital Management, in 2006, made his fortune – and international headlines – by correctly predicting the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. For a while there, he was a superstar. He was M. Night Shayamalan in 2001, coming out of nowhere to get nominated for both his script and direction of The Sixth Sense. Observers jumped to the conclusion that Bass was some kind of genius who could do no wrong.

But time went on.

And time has not been kind to Kyle Bass.

The magic touch – if he ever had it – is long gone. Just as Shayamalan has made bad movie after bad movie, Bass has made bad call after bad call.

And he’s done it in full view of the market-following public. The guy seems never to turn down an invitation to go on TV and pontificate – proffering so-called “analysis” that invariably serves his own bottom line.

bassstrategyIn addition to making bad calls, he’s made unsavory alliances. While pretty much everyone else in the business thinks that the economically illiterate Argentinian despot Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is the worst thing that ever happened to her country’s economy, Bass can’t stop singing the woman’s praises. Last year, her country defaulted on its sovereign debt for the second time in thirteen years an action at once indefensible and irrational. But, as we’ve seen, Bass defended it and rationalized it anyway, sounding so outrageously out of touch with reality that, as the New York Post put it, he sounded more like Argentina’s leftist economy minister Axel Kicillof than a U.S. hedge-fund manager.

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

If Bass came off like one of the hyper-socialist Kirchner’s lackeys and minions, that should be no surprise – because he is one of her lackeys and minions. The BBC has said he has a good relationship with her. That’s putting it mildly: Bass has consistently championed her preposterously irresponsible economic policies and has delicately ignored the cartoonish degree to which she and her breathtakingly amoral cronies have ripped off their own people.

And he’s gone even further than that: when New York Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina couldn’t just shell out to creditors who’d agreed to settle for reduced amounts, but also had to pay creditors – including Paul Singer of Elliott Management – who insisted on full payment, Bass took Kirchner’s side, calling Singer & co. immoralfor, as he put it, holding poor countries as hostagesand holding up 42 million people from progress.As we’ve said before, whats really holding up progress in Argentina are Kirchner and her staggeringly incompetent and corrupt flunkies, whose economic illiteracy and limitless avarice have sent poverty levels sky high in a once affluent nation.

The question is: why? Why is Bass such a Buenos Aires bootlicker? Why is his nose a bright salmon pink from rubbing it up against the walls of the Casa Rosada? What kinds of secret, unscrupulous deals does he have – or want to have – with the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours Kirchner dynasty?

kyle_gmBass’s shady ties with Kirchner and her crew aren’t his only ethical lapse since his fifteen minutes of glory. This is, for example, the guy who, in order to make good on his investment in General Motors, went on TV to try to shift the blame for fatalities caused by non-deploying airbags and faulty power steering in GM cars – problems that the auto giant knew about and failed to act on – onto the dead victims themselves, charging (disgustingly) that they’d either been drunk or failed to wear seatbelts.

Then there’s his business ties to the late Chris (American Sniper) Kyle, whose widow, Taya, is now embroiled in a messy lawsuit with one of Bass’s subordinates at Hayman, whom she’s accused of all kinds of unethical behavior. (Imagine!)

And this is also, note well, the guy who, as we’ve reported, came up a year or so ago with a ploy so vile that both houses of Congress are now working overtime – on a bipartisan basis – to close up the loophole that makes it possible.

bassprofitThe scheme is as simple as it is loathsome: Bass – in collusion with one Erich Spangenberg, known as “the world’s most notorious patent troll” – picks out certain pharmaceutical firms, short-sells their stocks, then challenges one or more of their patents via a front organization, the Coalition for Affordable Drugs, that he set up precisely for this purpose. The inevitable result: the stocks go down, Bass rakes in a few million quick simoleons, and the pharma companies’ prices go up while their motive to fund medical research goes down – thus causing palpable harm to the millions of people who depend on those firms’ products to ameliorate their suffering, relieve their symptoms, or prolong (or even save) their lives.

But why care about the sick and infirm when you’re in a position to turn a buck?

spangenberg2When Bass first got called on this sleazy dodge, he insisted he was doing it for a noble reason: bust patents and competition will drive drug prices down. On close examination, his explanation didn’t really make sense – and it didn’t fool anybody. “There’s nothing in this man’s history,” pointed out James C. Greenwood, a pharma industry leader, “to suggest he has any interest in lowering health-care costs.” Scott McKeown, an intellectual-property expert, dismissed Bass’s claim that he’s actually trying to help patients. Bass, he said, was “simply hoping to spook financial markets to his benefit.” Nobody disagrees.

So transparent was his pretense of altruism, in fact, that Bass has dropped it and switched to another defense. In a response to a filing against him by Celgene, the pharma firm that’s been his biggest target, Bass acknowledged he was motivated by a lust for profit – but quickly added that pharmaceutical companies, too, are driven by financial self-interest. So what, he asked, is the difference?

kyle2010Well, some people do see a difference, and they’re out to stop him. As we’ve noted, a government agency, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB), is considering sanctioning Bass for abusing the system with his patent challenges. Also – get this – Celgene has charged Bass and Spangenberg with extortion. Spangenberg, apparently, sent Celgene drafts of patent-challenging petitions, saying, according to Bloomberg News, that “he’d file them unless given cash.” 

kyle2011Some observers might wonder why Bass, who for fifteen minutes there was the Wunderkind of the hedge-fund industry, would be engaged in such grubby hijinks. Why would a guy who’s flown so high and cashed in so handsomely sink so low in order to further line his already well-stuffed pockets? An August 13 article in Barron’s helps clear up that question. We already knew that Bass had lost his fabled magic touch. But it turns out things are even worse than we imagined.

kyle2012Lots worse.

Jim McTague tells the story: “Bass has had a dismal time of it recently….Suddenly, the former luminary can’t seem to get anything right.” While it’s hard “to know exactly how Bass’ funds are doing because he keeps his fund’s actual performance metrics close to the vest,” news reports say he “lost somewhere around 30% in 2014, the mirror opposite of the industry’s best-performing hedge fund managers.”

kyle2013 Thirty percent! No further questions, Your Honor.

McTague quotes a recent article in which Bass himself admitted to having had a tough year.” “It’s nice to win all of the time,Bass said. When you are not winning and everyone else is, it makes life difficult.

No wonder he’s pulling this chintzy pharma con and sucking up to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, that despotic queen of the pampas!

kyle2014According to McTague, Bass’s two current preoccupations are oil (everyone else to the contrary, he’s counting on prices to rise within a year) and Argentina (where, in McTague’s words, Bass continues to be “bullish where others are heading for the exits”).

Bass, reports McTague, refuses to talk about his and Spangenberg’s tacky patent ruse. Meanwhile, the latest news from Capitol Hill is that bills triggered by Bass’s activities have easily cleared both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, with legislators hoping that by the end of this month a law will be on the books that “cut[s] the legs from under this particular Bass strategy.”

bass2aOnce that happens, what’s on deck for Bass? What squalid swamp will he wade into next? What sordid small-time con will he cook up? We don’t hold his stock-picking powers in particularly high regard – not anymore, at least – but we’re bubbling over with confidence that this shameless bottom-feeder has a cornucopia of uniquely unethical make-a-buck stratagems left in him.

And, of course, if all else fails, he’ll always have Buenos Aires.

UPDATE, August 27: Only hours after this post went up, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board denied Bass’s first two patent challenges. The PTAB’s decision “sets a worrying precedent for Bass,” wrote Business Insider, which also noted this very illuminating response by Bass: “It should be axiomatic that people do not undertake socially valuable activity for free.” In Bass’s world, it’s all about the money. 

Time‘s love letter to Cuba

time-cuba-coverThe problem with Time Magazine‘s just-released special issue begins with the title. It’s called “Inside the New Cuba: Discovering the Charm of a Once-Forbidden Island: The People, The Culture, The Paradise.”

“Charm”? “Paradise”?

Yes, there’s certainly a great deal of natural beauty in Cuba. But the title of this special issue seems designed to suggest that Cuba, under its present management, is some kind of Eden to which Americans, until now, have been denied entry.

Much of the issue is the usual travel-reportage fluff with little political content. In one pieceKarl Vick poses that burning question: “When long-forbidden Cuban cigars become more available to Americans, will they maintain their aroma of glamour?” Vick, a cigar aficionado who spends several paragraphs recounting his own experiences with “Cedros” and “Lanceros” and “Bolivar Gigantes” (these are different types of Cuban cigars), fears that those stogies will lose a “certain cachet,” “the mystique of the forbidden.” The key paradox of this special issue is that even as Time‘s authors fret about the impact that American tourists and businesses and capitalist-style materialism will have on Fidel’s island paradise, the whole product is explicitly designed to be purchased by potential American tourists, whom it encourages in every sentence to book a flight to Havana and consume away.

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Fidel Castro

But the issue does touch on politics from time to time – and when it does, it’s not pretty. In one article, Vick actually dismisses the notion that the Castro regime is totalitarian and that the Cuban people are victims – a view he attributes to Cuban exiles who live in Miami and whose opinions can’t be taken seriously because they’re giving voice to their own personal frustrations and resentments. While admitting, in a classic “to be sure” sentence, that there are facts that support the exiles’ arguments about the Castro regime, Vick insists that the Miami Cubans toward the Castros is “at heart a neighborhood grudge match.” The statement is breathtaking in its glibness and moral blindness – an insult to every free-thinking Cuban writer, artist, democracy activist, and gay person ever imprisoned, tortured, or executed in the name of the Revolution.

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Let’s hope the American tourists don’t ruin this

But then, as Joel Pollak observed after perusing Time‘s special issue, the people who put it together seem less interested in entertaining the pleasant possibility that the coming years may bring greater freedom for the people of Cuba than in fretting over the supposed likelihood of “a different kind of change – namely, the prospect of thousands of rich American tourists arriving and demanding creature comforts that will ruin the island’s charm.”

More next time.