Strangers on a train

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Lanny Davis

A rather interesting piece by Betsy Woodruff appeared in the Daily Beast on October 9. That morning, she recounted, one of her colleagues, Guy Benson, had been a passenger on the 6:55 A.M. Amtrak train from Washington, D.C., to New York. Sitting right across the aisle from Benson, as it happened, was Lanny Davis, the longtime Clinton spinmeister whose sleazy career we surveyed back in July.

Benson overheard a few juicy tidbits, which Woodruff passed on to Daily Beast readers. Davis, who was engaged in an unguarded conversation with a couple of unidentified companions, referred to Senator Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate from Vermont, as a “nut.” Said Davis: “There’s no way he can be nominated, ever.”

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With Hillary Clinton

Davis also declared that he was sure Vice President Biden would enter the presidential race – but he added that Biden’s bid would go absolutely nowhere. Why? Because, he explained, Biden is viewed in political circles as a “buffoon.”

There was more. Davis told his travel companions that candidate Carly Fiorina is “nasty” when she makes public statements about Hillary Clinton.

The chitchat wasn’t entirely about politics. Davis went on to express interest in watching the Showtime series Ray Donovan, leading one of his companions to say: “Oh yeah, it’s about a fixer.” The other companion added: “It’s like us if we had guns and baseball bats.” Fun crew.

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Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan

When the Daily Beast contacted Davis about his palaver on the 6:55, he walked his remarks back with his usual shamelessness – claiming, for example, to have “nothing but the highest respect for Bernie Sanders.”

In fact, Davis was remarkably lucky that the chitchat Benson overheard was as anodyne as it was. Imagine if he had been talking about other aspects of his career?

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Teodoro Obiang

This is, after all, a guy who, in exchange for a million bucks a year, led the morally bankrupt – indeed, downright chilling – effort to whitewash the repulsive Equatoguinean dictator Teodoro Obiang in the international media. According to World Policy Review, Obiang has “killed or expelled more than one third” of his own people, as a result of which his country is widely known as the “Auschwitz of Africa.” Then there’s Obiang’s wastrel son (and presumptive successor) Teodorin, who “spent more on luxury goods during 2004-2007 than the [Equatoguinean] government’s 2005 budget for education.”

Yet Davis didn’t hesitate to pocket Obiang’s money (or, rather, his people’s money) for performing the disgusting job of covering all that up. 

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Laurent Gbagbo

And let’s not forget another reprehensible African dictator and Davis client, Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire. After losing the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo, instead of stepping down and allowing the winner to be inaugurated, did two things: he started murdering and “disappearing” his opponents – and hired Davis to go on CNN and other cable networks and tell the world that he was, in fact, a man of peace. Davis didn’t hesitate to front for this creep, either. 

That Amtrak exchange, then, was small potatoes. Very small potatoes. Davis should count himself exceedingly fortunate that Guy Benson overheard such remarkably innocuous stuff, given the utterly loathsome, morally bankrupt nature of Davis’s “work.” And Benson – and Woodruff – should be kicking themselves for not having lucked into the far meatier, more damning material with which Davis might have inadvertently provided them – and which might have brought him down at last, removing at least one ball of slime from the Beltway swamps.

Jeremy Corbyn, chavista

As we saw yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn is a big Putin booster. That being the case, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s also an ardent admirer of Venezuela’s chavista government.

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With the caudillo himself

Never mind that Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, have declared war on individual liberty, trashed human rights, jailed opposition leaders, and sponsored terrorist cells; never mind that they’ve taken crime and corruption to new heights, surrounding themselves with grasping, cartoonish thugs who will apparently do anything to anybody to put a few more céntimos in their pockets; never mind that their ideologically driven economic policies have made their oil-rich nation inconceivably poor, depriving ordinary citizens of desperately needed medications and emptying the supermarket shelves of basic goods. No, forget all that: to dogmatic socialists like Corbyn, what matters is the ideology itself, not its real-world consequences.

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The triumph of the Bolivarian Revolution, summed up in a single picture

To be sure, like many other dogmatic socialists, Corbyn has apparently managed to convince himself that the real-world consequences of chavista ideology have been just dandy. He’s praised Venezuela as “an example of what social justice can achieve.” In 2009, he lauded Chávez for “seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting the Neo Liberal policies of the world’s financial institutions.” In 2012, he traveled to Caracas so he could be there in person to celebrate Chávez’s re-election. Upon Chávez’s death in March 2013, Corbyn tweeted: “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”

His zeal for chavismo didn’t end with the death of Chávez. Last year, Corbyn called into Maduro’s weekly radio show to eulogize the just-deceased UK socialist honcho Tony Benn, and they talked like old buddies, taking turns trashing capitalism, lauding the politics of Benn and Chávez, and patting each other on the back. This year, Corbyn said the following: “When we celebrate, and it is a cause for celebration, the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing, in health, in education, but above all its role in the whole world as a completely different place, then we do that because we recognise what they have achieved.”

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Venezuelans queuing up for groceries

Corbyn’s devotion to the chavista cause has not gone unnoticed in Britain. This past July, only weeks before he became party boss, a Labour MP unhappy with the prospects of a Corbyn victory told a Telegraph reporter that if the man from Islington were to win, it would be “an absolute disaster. The first thing on his agenda will probably be twinning the UK with Venezuela.” In August, Corbyn won the endorsement of a British group called Hands Off Venezuela, which cheered him as “a long standing supporter of the Bolivarian revolution.” Indeed, the group went even further, stating that “[t]he spirit of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, in a certain sense, is the spirit of the Bolivarian revolution being brought into British politics: the struggle against oppression, injustice, exploitation, imperialism and war, and in defence of health care, education, housing for all, the struggle for socialism.”

Well, here we go. Somewhere up there, Chávez is smiling. 

Putin’s Labour honcho

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: Britain’s new Labour Party leader.

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Corbyn not singing “God Save the Queen”

There’s a lot that can be said about Jeremy Corbyn, the politician from Islington whose recent ascent to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party has sparked (to put it mildly) immense controversy. After his election to the top post on September 12, he proudly belted out “The Red Flag” – a dusty old Commie tune, long popular among politically active and revolutionary-minded workers, that Tony Blair and New Labour tried to shelve back in the 1990s because of its radical-left associations – but, attending a Battle of Britain memorial service shortly after his election, Corbyn famously refused to sing “God Save the Queen.” The Economist, in a commentary headlined “Backwards, comrades!”, called his rise to power “a grave misfortune” for Britain; Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice, wrote that if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister, it would represent “a direct threat to the security of our country, the security of our economy and the security of every family….The country would face economic chaos.”

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Vladimir Putin

That’s not all. He’s also a big Putin fan. An August 12 headline at the International Business Times website didn’t pull punches: “Is Jeremy Corbyn Putin’s latest ‘useful idiot’ in Europe?” Reporter Tom Porter noted that Corbyn, writing in March 2014, had “oppose[d] providing Ukraine with military support in the wake of the Maidan revolution, and echoe[d] Russian claims that it was Nato scheming that lay at the heart of the crisis.” In comments that might have been written by Putin himself, Corbyn complained that Ukraine had been “put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and Nato military orbit” and sought to paint the Maidan revolution as “far-right and racist.” Instead of acknowledging Putin’s own saber-rattling, Corbyn acted as if NATO was the aggressor: “Nato has sought to expand since the end of the Cold War. It has increased its military capability and expenditure. It operates way beyond its original 1948 area and its attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”

jeremy-corbyn-poll-lead“To any viewers of Kremlin-owned news and propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT),” observed Porter dryly, “these views will be familiar.” Indeed, as Porter pointed out, “Corbyn has appeared as a guest on RT, and in a tweet urged followers to watch the station, arguing it provides a more ‘objective’ coverage of world affairs than Western media.” A few days before Porter’s column came out, Anne Applebaum, the brilliant historian of Soviet Communism and author of the sobering and meticulous Gulag: A History, said straight-out that Corbyn is a useful idiot, “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by Nato, rather than by the ‘separatists’ who have invaded eastern Ukraine and are paid, trained and organised by Russia itself.”

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Anne Applebaum

Journalist James Bloodworth agreed, describing Corbyn as “remarkably good at proffering apologetics for dictatorship and tyranny,” including that of Vladimir Putin. Writing in the Telegraph, also in August, political editor Michael Wilkinson and Russia correspondent Roland Oliphant quoted Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, who is “considered very close to the Russian foreign ministry,” as saying that “Russia would certainly be pleased to see [Corbyn] as the head of either major party.”

Indeed, after Corbyn’s election, this remarkable sentence appeared in the Huffington Post: “The Russian embassy has given Jeremy Corbyn its support amid the Conservative Party attacking the new Labour leader over being a threat to national security.” Does one laugh or cry?

Putin’s Chinese fans

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world.

This one is particularly depressing. Apparently it’s time to add a new wing to the Putin fan gallery. A huge wing. For, as it turns out, Vladimir Putin is a superstar in China.

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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

While people in other countries have cooled on Vlad since he sent troops into Ukraine, in China his numbers have soared. A biography of him was a bestseller last fall. After Russia annexed Crimea, his approval rating hit 92%. A 2014 article in a Chinese publication referred to “Putin fever.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jeremy Page provided the context in an article that appeared last October: in recent years, he noted, the governments of China and Russia have grown closer, united by their contempt for democracy in general – as represented by pro-freedom protests in Hong Kong and Kiev – and for the U.S. in particular, which is seen as instigating such protests.

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Bestseller: millions of Chinese book buyers want to read about Putin

Chinese president Xi Jinping has said that the two countries have the world’s “best great-power relationship.” In September, Putin said:  “Russian-Chinese ties have reached probably their highest level in history and continue to develop.” Last year, Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian that Xi and other Chinese leaders, who “grew up under Chairman Mao,” look up to Putin because they love “the idea of another non-western leader standing up to the capitalist and imperialist west.”

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Mao: he killed 50 to 80 million people, but oh, that charm!

Indeed, Mao may be history and China may have become a top-flight capitalist power, but the PRC’s government remains firmly Communist – and its people are still taught from infancy to respect, and even fear, authority. While Putin, as Page notes, has “overseen a gradual rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin,” Xi has done much the same for the memory of Mao. Even though millions of Chinese citizens unquestionably crave democracy, long for greater freedom, and are active in reform movements, millions more, like generations of their ancestors before them, reflexively esteem tyrants. Or, as they might prefer to put it, they admire leaders who have power and aren’t afraid to use it boldly to benefit their own countries.

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“Very big muscles”

Uninspired by Obama, they’re galvanized by Putin. They’re impressed by his bullying moves against Georgia and Ukraine. As one Chinese journalist has said, they’re attracted by Putin’s “strong ’emperor’ quality.” They view him as “a leader with character” who “strikes back when the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is invaded.” To quote a commenter at an online Chinese forum: “Chinese people approve of Putin for the same reasons that they reminisce about Chairman Mao.”

Since Page’s article appeared, the Chinese enthusiasm for Putin has only intensified. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that China’s “adulation” of the Russian president had “reached dizzying new heights” thanks to “a slick propaganda video lavishing praise” on him. The video includes comments by Chinese people praising Putin for his “very big muscles” and calling him “a big handsome man!” How can freedom compete with that?

Putin’s Israeli “peacemaker”

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a former Israeli official.   

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Yossi Beilin

His name is Yossi Beilin. He held four ministerial positions in the Israeli government, was the guy who kicked off the process that culminated in the Oslo Accords, and is considered a major figure in the Israeli peace movement. Now, as James Kirchick reported on September 11, Beilin has a new job: he’s involved with something called the Ukrainian Institute of Strategies of Global Development and Adaptation, which was founded last December and is run by Viktor Levytskyy (sic), a former official in the pro-Kremlin government of Viktor Yanukovych. The institute’s goal, Kirchick explains, is to “promote…Ukraine’s neutrality as well as the idea that Russia’s assault on the country is a ‘civil war.’” In other words, it’s a propaganda outfit, designed to whitewash Putin.

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Viktor Levytskyy

And whatever they’re paying him, Beilin has apparently been earning his keep. In op-eds, he’s criticized arms shipments to the pro-Western Ukrainian government, demanded a promise that Ukraine won’t join NATO, opposed the idea of NATO arming the Baltics, condemned sanctions on Russia as “unproductive,” and even proposed that Ukraine be divided into two nations.

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Viktor Yanukovych

In other words, he’s been serving up arguments that are entirely predicated on a Big Lie – the lie that a brutal invasion of a sovereign country by a totalitarian power is, in fact, a domestic crisis, an internal struggle. Like many of Putin’s other international supporters, he acts as if Putin has some kind of natural right to annex Ukrainian territory and to veto decisions by Ukraine (or, for that matter, the Baltic states) to join NATO. This, by the way, from a man who – as Kirchick points out – had “shown absolutely no public interest” in Ukraine until he hooked up with Levytskyy a few months ago.

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Oleksandr Klymenko

And why did Levytskyy hire Beilin? Kirchick has the answer: “the institute clearly hopes to trade on his name as an internationally recognized peace-seeker, providing a gloss of legitimization to its agenda of discrediting Ukraine’ post-Yanukovych government.” Kirchick also raises the question: who exactly is behind this “institute”? The reigning theory appears to be that Levytskyy is a front for Oleksandr Klymenko, his thuggish ex-boss, who ran the government tax agency under Yanukovych and who in April, owing to charges of “massive tax fraud” (we’re talking billions), was sanctioned by the European Union, which froze his assets and denied him the right to enter the EU.

These, then, are the kinds of creeps with whom Yossi Beilin has now aligned himself. Back home in Israel, his name was once synonymous with efforts for peace; now, he’s signed on to defend a remorseless warmonger. Every prostitute has a price.

Putin’s British billionaire

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: the grand poobah of auto racing.

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Putin with Bernie Ecclestone

He’s 83, he’s worth over $8 billion, and he’s the head of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One racing. He’s also a fan – and buddy – of Vladimir Putin.

Speaking last fall to a reporter for a Russian newspaper, British tycoon Bernie Ecclestone called the Kremlin leader “a first-class person,” saying “I always supported him.” In the same interview, Ecclestone also made the bemusing statement that Putin “could control Europe or America; he is able to deal with it. But I think he is very busy. Let him finish what he’s doing and then we’ll see.”

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Two vicious homophobes sharing an intimate moment

That wasn’t the first time Ecclestone had praised Putin. “I’ve great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says,” Ecclestone said in a CNN interview in February of last year. He singled out for special approbation Putin’s hostility to gay people, his view that children should not be exposed to gays (or to any non-condemnatory mention of them), and his public warning to gay athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics last year that they should stay away from children while on Russian soil. “I completely agree with those sentiments,” Ecclestone told CNN, “and if you took a world census you’d find 90 per cent of the world agree with it as well.” Such views, he added, “may upset a few people but that’s how the world is. It’s how he sees [the world] and I think he’s completely right.”

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Ecclestone with Max Mosley

As a member of Bernie Ecclestone’s pantheon of heroes, Putin is in interesting company. Among Ecclestone’s other idols (and chums) is Max Mosley, son of the notorious Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), founder of the British Union of Fascists and himself a close pal of Joseph Goebbels, at whose home in Berlin Mosley married his second wife, Diana Guinness, in 1936. (Among the wedding guests was Adolf Hitler himself.) Years ago, Ecclestone suggested that the younger Mosley – who started his career as a political associate of his dad’s and who for 16 years ran Formula One’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile – would make a great prime minister for Britain; auto exec Alan Curtis told the Conservatives in 2005 that if they could find a safe parliamentary seat for Mosley, Ecclestone would pour cash into the party. (Asked about this seven years later, Curtis affirmed: “Bernie would always support whatever Max did.”)

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Ron Lauder

But Ecclestone’s enthusiasm for Mosley is small potatoes compared to his 2009 comments about Hitler. In an interview with the London Times, Ecclestone expressed admiration for the Führer’s leadership skills – his ability to “get things done,” which, in Ecclestone’s opinion, made him a considerably more effective politician than, say, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. “I prefer strong leaders,” he explained. Among those who called for Ecclestone’s resignation was World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald Lauder – in response to which Ecclestone suggested that the WJC, rather than criticizing him, should have “sort[ed] the banks out” (his point, he explained, being that Jews “have a lot of influence” in that sector).

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A thumbs-up for a “first-class person”

But back to Putin. Ecclestone first met him in February 2013 in Sochi, when Russia was preparing to host its first Grand Prix there. (The Kremlin now pays Formula One a $47 million yearly fee to hold a Grand Prix within its borders.) The two men forged a friendship, and Putin invited Ecclestone to attend the February 2014 Sochi Olympics as his personal guest. After Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, apparently by Russian or pro-Russian troops, Ecclestone came under intense pressure to cancel the Sochi Grand Prix, which was scheduled for the following October. But he stood firm, saying: “I don’t see any problem with going. We are not involved in politics.”

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Ever the charmer

In the end, Ecclestone professed to be so thrilled with the way the Sochi race turned out that in December he presented his Russian colleagues with the Race Promoters Trophy, which is given annually to the organizers of the year’s best Formula One Grand Prix. At the awards ceremony, Ecclestone showered Putin with even more accolades. “Ignore all this nonsense from America and Europe,” he advised Russia Today. “It would be very nice to have him running Europe. He knows what he’s doing. He is positive and in the end he will succeed because I think all these silly things like these sanctions are completely[,] utterly wrong.”

Putin’s Italian bromance

Yesterday, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: the one and only Silvio Berlusconi.

putinberlus8When it was reported in late July, the news doubtless caused some people to scratch their scalps in wonderment. Vladimir Putin, it emerged, had invited Silvio Berlusconi – the 79-year-old media tycoon and three-time Italian prime minister – to become Russia’s economy minister.

No, Putin didn’t expect Berlusconi to accept, and Berlusconi had no intention of doing so. The offer was just a private joke, intended as a gesture of solidarity and friendship at a time when both men are on the outs with almost every other Western head of government – Putin because of his military adventurism and saber-rattling and Berlusconi because of his sordid scandals and court cases involving underage sex, corruption, tax evasion, and so on.

putinberlus2But the cameraderie between the two men isn’t new. Putin and Berlusconi are old buddies. A recent article in an Italian daily was headlined “Berlusconi and Putin: An Enduring Love.” Their “bromance,” as Adam Taylor called it in a recent Washington Post article about the relationship, “was cemented in the summer of 2002 when Putin’s two teenage daughters spent a month at Berlusconi’s summer residence in Porto Rotondo. The following year, Putin’s entire family visited.”

putinberlus9Since then they’ve socialized frequently, vacationed together on the Black Sea, in Sardinia, and elsewhere, exchanged lavish presents, partied, skied, strolled, and sung à deux, pulled schoolboy pranks on each other, played host to each other’s spouses and kids, frolicked with each other’s pets, and praised and defended and applauded each other in the media when everyone else in the Western world’s executive mansions and foreign offices was piling on.

putinberlus6Berlusconi, who has been described as having a “strange fascination for Putin,” has called Putin a “macho” guy and a “good boy” and a “godsend” to the people of Russia; Putin has expressed admiration for Berlusconi’s reputation as a ladies’ man, saying, when Berlusconi was on trial two years ago on sex charges, that if his Italian chum “were homosexual, no one would lay a finger on him.” Each of them has cut short meetings or changed appointments with powerful international personages in order to hang out with or take a call from the other. It’s that kind of friendship.

putinberlus4What’s the secret of their mutual attraction? Taylor cites their shared “pro-business, pro-power outlook” as well as their similar personalities: they’re “manly men on a continent of gray, dull eurocrats.” Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Center in Moscow puts it a tad differently: “They’re corporate, ruthless, willing to screw principles.” In early 2009, Ronald Spogli, then U.S. Ambassador to Italy, wrote a nine-page memo about the curious bond between the two, observing that Berlusconi “admires Putin’s macho style of governing and sees in his Russian friend a ‘fellow tycoon.’”

putinberlus1Their friendship is, of course, also a power alliance. While Berlusconi was PM of Italy, he personally made all government decisions relating to Russia, repeatedly leaving his own diplomatic corps entirely out of the loop. After Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Il Cavaliere was quick to stand up for him and to call the G8 “reckless” for banning him from their sodality; this past June, he promised his pal that the Forza Italia party (of which he remains capo di tutti capi) would fight to lift Western sanctions on Mother Russia.

Not unsurprisingly, the unusual intimacy of this adorable twosome has occasioned a good deal of international chn-scratching. In a 2010 article in Der Spiegel, appropriately entitled “Macho Friends,” Gregor Peter Schmitz wrote that the two men’s “close relationship” was “a source of unease for the US State Department.” In cables made public by WikiLeaks, American diplomats described Berlusconi as “increasingly the mouthpiece” of Putin in Europe.

putinberlus3In addition, those cables raised the possibility that the two mates might also share clandestine business and financial ties. According to one dispatch by Spogli, many Italian politicians and foreign diplomats were convinced, during Berlusconi’s years in office, that he was “profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia.” A Georgian ambassador to Italy suggested that Putin had promised his Italian buddy a “percentage of profits from any pipelines” developed jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s Eni.

But, hey, what’s a little graft between friends?

Putin’s Dutch rapper

Today, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a hip-hop star from Amsterdam.

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Lil’ Kleine

He won’t turn 21 until later this month, but he’s already become a household name in his native country and raked in a boatload of dough. He’s a Dutch lad who was born Jorik Scholten but who is known professionally as Lil’ Kleine. He’s been acting for ten years; now he’s also a top-flight rapper. He and his musical partner, a 23-year-old who calls himself Ronnie Flex, were responsible for this summer’s #1 hit in the Netherlands, a tribute to booze, narcotics, and hook-up sex entitled “Drank & drugs.” The tune is of zero musical value; the lyrics are witless, reflecting the mentality not of two twenty-somethings but of a couple of rather dim, immature 12-year-olds. Here’s a rough translation of the refrain

If you want to chill, bitch, no problem, I’ll go there

I’m not coming alone, because I’ve got booze and drugs

I’ve got booze and drugs

On August 23, the song went triple platinum. As of the morning of August 30, the startlingly puerile and amateurish-looking You Tube video had racked up 15,726,795 views.

The population of the Netherlands is 16.8 million.

In August, Lil’ Kleine sat for an interview with the daily Het Parool. He talked about a number of subjects: his childhood in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, where he became accustomed to the sight of junkies shooting up and prostitutes plying their wares; his teenage years in another Amsterdam neighborhood, the Jordaan, where he and his brother lived in a one-parent home, his mother having taken off and left them in their father’s care; his early professional ambitions and activities (he trained to be a plumber and worked for a time as a carpenter); accusations that “Drank & drugs,” which includes the line “all the teenagers are saying yes to MDMA” (i.e. ecstasy) encourages kids to take MDMA (he denies the charge, but says that if you’re twenty or so and have your act together, MDMA “will definitely be fun”); Justin Bieber, whose ability to churn out hits he admires (“I could see myself chillin’ with Bieber”); gays (when he was little he found them icky, but now he has plenty of gay friends); money (“getting rich is now simply the most important thing in my life”); and, oh yes, Vladimir Putin.

putin23For Lil’ Kleine, it appears, is a big fan of Putin’s. He doesn’t really know very much about Putin, but then again he’s honest about the reason for this ignorance: “I have no time to follow the news because I’m far too busy with myself.” Still, he feels confident about his esteem for the Russian president: “Everybody always says, like, Putin is so bad and this and that, but I admire him. He defends his country and stands up for his people.” And he takes on “everybody in Europe and America” by “giving them the finger.” Lil’ Kleine likes that. He’d rather have a drink with Putin, he says, than with Obama.

Details from Lil’ Kleine’s interview spread rapidly. Dutch pop-culture websites and social media were saturated with choice tidbits from Het Parool. A few people tut-tutted over Lil’ Kleine’s remarks about Putin. But the overwhelming majority of those who summed up and shared and quoted from and linked to his interview were plainly just excited to discover all this new personal information about their hero.

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With Ronnie Flex

Now, why should any of us non-Lil’ Kleine fans care what he thinks? Because countless young people do. Around the Western world, the opinions of chart-toppers like him are saturating the new media and shaping the minds of innumerable young people who (a) are highly impressionable and (b) know next to nothing about the world. As a result, Lil’ Kleine and his counterparts in other countries are immeasurably more influential than any professional political commentator.

lil_ronnThink about it: on any given evening in the United States, the population of which is about 20 times that of the Netherlands, no political commentator – not Bill O’Reilly, not Rachel Maddow, not Megyn Kelly – gets a fraction of the number of viewers that “Drank & drugs” has gotten. On Sundays, Meet the Press is lucky to reach 3 million people. Lil’ Kleine’s comments about Putin may well have been retweeted more times in the course of a few days than anything anybody else has said or written about Putin in a long time.  

The truth is simple – and bleak: in the Western world today, callow stars like Lil’ Kleine steer the culture. They can endorse any product and it’ll fly off the shelves. They can put their names on a perfume and it’ll sell like hot cakes. In 2008, young Americans thought Barack Obama was the coolest guy on the planet, largely because their showbiz idols told them so. Their vote helped get Obama elected.

(FILES) A file picture taken on July 20,
Members of Pussy Riot behind bars (not the same kind of bar Lil’ Kleine wants to visit with Putin)

But seven years is a long time in youth culture. Now, Lil’ Kleine says that he’d rather go out for a drink with Putin than with Obama. His gay friends, if they’re better informed about Putin’s policies than Lil’ Kleine appears to be, might not want to join that pub crawl. And Lil’ Kleine himself might change his mind about Putin if he learned a little bit more. (We wonder if he’s ever heard of Pussy Riot.) Who knows? If he found out enough, he might even awaken to the realization that he himself is a poster boy for precisely the kind of Western, American-influenced cultural product that Putin considers emblematic of the decay of civilization and thus feels justified in punishing to the fullest extent of whatever law he feels like putting on the books.

But in the meantime, Lil’ Kleine has sent out the word that Putin is cool. And for hundreds of thousands of young Dutch people who know no more about Putin than he does, his thumbs-up makes – like it or not – a great deal of difference.

Putin’s Quisling

Tomorrow, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a nutty but high-profile creep in Norway.

Ad for the TV series Occupied, showing a Russian flag flying over the Norwegian Royal Palace

In late August, Russia’s Foreign Ministry publicly condemned Occupied, a forthcoming Norwegian TV series, complaining that its premise – in the near future, Russia invades Norway and seizes its oil fields – brings to mind various anti-Soviet movies made in Hollywood during the Cold War. (One imagines they’re thinking of such fare as 1984’s Red Dawn, in which Soviet forces overrun the U.S.) The ten-part series, which was created by bestselling mystery novelist Jo Nesbø and will premiere in October on Norway’s TV2, had another critic: Bjørn Ditlef Nistad, who was identified by a Kremlin-controlled “news” website, Russia Beyond the Headlines, as a historian and an Associate Professor of the University of Oslo.

Nistad was paraphrased as saying that Occupied is offensive to residents of Norway, liberated by the Soviet Union from German occupation in 1944.”

What? Norway liberated by the Soviet Union in 1944?

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Bjørn Ditlef Nistad

Yes, it’s true that on October 18, 1944, Red Army soldiers chased retreating Nazi forces out of Russia and into the remote, sparsely populated far northern tip of Norway, with which Russia, then as now, shares a 122-mile-long border. But to describe these troops as having liberated Norway is Orwellian. On the contrary, even though Stalin was nominally an ally, the leaders of the Norwegian government-in-exile in London were so concerned about the entry of his troops into their territory that they dispatched Norwegian soldiers to the region, partly to try to minimize the damage done by the scorched-earth policy that the Nazis were pursuing as they fled southward but also partly to ensure that Uncle Joe didn’t annex so much as a square centimeter of Norwegian soil.

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Josef Stalin

When did the German occupation of Norway end? Ask any Norwegian. It ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945, when the Nazis surrendered to the Allies. The date is still celebrated in Norway as Liberation Day. Soviet troops lingered in northern Norway until late September 1945, when they finally packed their bags and went home. Fortunately for Norway, Stalin had his hands full subduing and Communizing Eastern Europe and knew that any effort to turn his foot-in-the-door presence in Norway’s icy attic into a conquest of the entire country would be a difficult proposition and would be fiercely resisted both by Norwegians and by the Western Allies, who at that point were tacitly accepting his ongoing imprisonment of the people of Eastern Europe behind what Churchill had yet to call the Iron Curtain.

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Vladimir Putin

So how can a professor of history at Norway’s leading university present such a twisted version of the facts? Well, first of all, as it turns out, Nistad isn’t on the University of Oslo faculty. He got his Ph.D. in Russian history there in 2008, and stayed on as a temporary lecturer until 2010, but has not held an academic position since. He claims to have been unable to find a job. Why? Because, he says, of his “pro-Russian” views – by which he means his unqualified approval of absolutely everything Vladimir Putin does and says. Nistad supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; he endorses Putin’s oppression of gays. “I think Vladimir Putin is a good guy and a likeable politician who has saved Russia,” he told Dagbladet last year. He has even compared Putin to Churchill.

Because no Norwegian university will hire Nistad, he compares himself to a Soviet dissident. He’s tried to arrange financial backing from Russian oligarchs to pursue his “pro-Russia research.” There’s less freedom of speech in Norway today, he claims, than in Putin’s Russia.

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John Færseth

Not that he’s been silenced. Far from it. Despite his inability to wangle a sinecure at the University of Oslo, he’s secured, in the words of writer John Færseth, “an important role in Norwegian debates about Ukraine, not least on NRK,” Norway’s government-run TV and radio network. Nistad, according to Færseth, is the “most important – or in any case the most obvious – defense player on the Russian team on the Norwegian scene today.” While most Norwegian commentators on the crisis in Ukraine, observed Færseth last November, are “in practice mouthpieces for Russian propaganda,” what sets Nistad apart is that his readiness to defend Putin and Putin’s former puppet in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, “has as times led him over into pure bloodlust, as when he wrote in July that the ‘coup makers’ in Kiev should be hanged.” Nistad has called pro-freedom Ukrainians fascists and neo-Nazis, and has written that killing a “few hundred” of them “would be a small price to pay” if it succeeded in establishing “that fascists would not be able to come to power through a coup in one of Europe’s most populous states.” 

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Vidkun Quisling

Here’s another way that Nistad stands out: he’s not one of those Putin fans who deny any similarity between the current regime in Moscow and the Soviets. On the contrary, as his fantasy version of the liberation of Norway might suggest, he was a fan of the USSR, too. In 2011, Norway’s newspaper of record, Aftenposten, ran an article by him headlined “Can We Learn from the Soviet Union?” His answer: da! The USSR, he maintained, was “one of the few reasonably successful multiethnic and partly multicultural societies that the world has known.” Its 200-odd ethnic groups “lived together in peace.” They had “a common dream: of building a socialistic society.” And this shared goal made them “good, honest, and hard-working citizens.” Although Gorbachev, in Nistad’s version of history, did a deplorable amount of damage to this paradise, Soviet values still survive among today’s Russians, thanks largely to Putin – who, he explains, has breathed new life into those values and made Russians proud again.

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Nistad on NRK

Bjørn Nistad: remember the name. If the scenario imagined in Nesbø’s TV series ever did come to pass, it’s not a bad bet that Nistad would be to Putin what Quisling was to Hitler: a devoted Norwegian acolyte, willing to run his puppet government and enforce his tyranny.

What a shame that, in the meantime, Norwegian students won’t be able to learn at the feet of this courageous truth-teller!

Putin’s boys in Budapest

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending today and the next few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a couple of Hungary’s top dogs.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his speech during the meeting the Professiors' Bathyany Group in Budapest on September 7, 2010. At home at least, the popularity of Hungary's new Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who secured an historic two-thirds majority in general elections in April, remains unbroken. With the government marking its 100th day in power opinion polls show support for the charismatic leader still at an astonishing 64 percent, making the 47-year-old the country's most popular premier ever. AFP PHOTO / FERENC ISZA
Viktor Orban

It’s not every day that a prime minister publicly declares his determination to turn his country into an “illiberal” state. Granted, more than a few heads of government, as we’ve seen on this site, are working hard toward that very goal, but they usually don’t go out of their way to advertise it. Yet that’s precisely what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban did last year. And the reason he gave for wanting to make Hungary “illiberal” was that, in his view, Vladimir Putin has done such a terrific job of making Russia an “illiberal” success story.

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Orban with his hero

Orban, you see, is a big fan of Putin. In fact, to quote the Telegraph, he’s done such an effective job of “harassing civil liberty groups, clamping down on the press and entrenching his grip on power” that critics have called him a “little Putin.” In February, the Russian president visited Orban in – as the Telegraph put it – “an attempt to show the world he still has a friend in the EU despite East-West tension over Ukraine.” The visit was marked by a sizable protest one of whose organizers warned that Hungary, which in the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed like a solid democracy and U.S. ally in the making, is “getting ever closer to the Russian model and farther from the European one.” In short, Orban’s plans are working.

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At a joint press conference

Orban announced his country’s new direction in a speech given on July 26 of last year. “The new state that we are building in Hungary today,” he declared, “is not a liberal state. It doesn’t deny liberalism’s basic values such as freedom but doesn’t make it a core element. It uses a particular, nationalist approach.” As Tim McNamara explained in Policy Review not long after the speech, Orban’s “populist nationalism” peddles the concept of Hungarian exceptionalism, depicts the EU and US as enemies, demonizes opponents of his ruling Fidesz Party, works to close down foreign-funded civil-society groups, and uses a combination of methods (described by McNamara as “remarkably similar…to what has happened in Russia”) to intimidate, bankrupt, buy off, seduce, or just plain crush opposition media. Yet leaders of the European Union (which Hungary joined in 2004) have been pretty much silent about this systematic violation of purported EU values. 

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Gábor Vona

And what about NATO, of which Hungary has been a member since 1999? In a time when other countries in Russia’s neighborhood are uneasy about Putin’s saber-rattling and are begging for a stronger NATO presence within their borders, how can Orban’s government possibly be seen as a reliable partner in the defense pact and not as the likely ally of a potential aggressor? As Keith Johnson wrote about Hungary in Foreign Policy last November, “While Europe and the United States are trying to build a common front to push back against Russian aggression…one member of the team seems to be switching jerseys.”

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Vona with Aleksandr Dugin

This April, the Economist brought what might have seemed like hopeful tidings: “a row with America over corruption, Mr Orban’s cosying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the flashy lifestyles of some Fidesz leaders” were eroding the ruling party’s support among the Hungarian electorate. But in fact it looks more as if Hungary is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire: for as Fidesz falters, more and more Hungarian voters are turning to another party, Jobbik, which has its own “paramilitary wing” and a platform that makes Fidesz look like Amnesty International. Jobbik doesn’t try to hide its savage contempt for (among much else) gays, Jews, and Israel. And let’s not forget the U.S., which, according to party leader Gábor Vona, is engaged in the vile business of “spread[ing] a subhuman culture” around the world.

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Vona and a colleague at the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament

Meanwhile, guess whom Vona is cozying up to? In the last couple of years, he’s lectured in Moscow on invitation from Putin intimate Aleksandr Dugin – who calls for “the restoration of the Russian Empire through the unification of Russian-speaking territories” and seeks to “hasten the ‘end of times’ with all out war” – and praised Putin’s Russia as a “Eurasian power that could spearhead a real political, economic and cultural resistance against the Euro-Atlantic block.” (It’s no coincidence that Vona was head of the Hungarian-Russian friendship group in the Hungarian Parliament.) Writing last year in Foreign Affairs, Mitchell A. Orenstein stated flatly that “Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing.”

What more do we need to know? The facts are clear: barring some thoroughly unforeseen development, Hungary will in all likelihood either continue to be governed by Fidesz during the next few years or pass into the hands of Jobbik. Which means that this strategically located member of the EU and NATO seems destined to become more and more of a satellite (and Xerox copy) of Putin’s Russia.

It’s a sad prospect for the Hungarian people – and a dangerous one for Europe and the West. In other words, just what Putin wants.