Danny Glover’s annual Castro fix

danny-glover-cubaLast August, we profiled action-movie star Danny Glover, with a focus on his chummy relationship with the late Hugo Chávez and his even chummier camaraderie with the not quite late Fidel Castro. Unlike some other celebrities who’ve befriended the Cuban autocrat, Glover doesn’t skirt around the unpleasant little fact that his bosom Caribbean buddy is a totalitarian dictator. On the contrary, Glover has said explicitly that the reason he likes Castro so much is that he “admires Havana’s Communist regime.”

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With Castro on an earlier visit

And the affection, we noted in August, is mutual: Glover has been a frequent guest on Castro’s prison island, where he’s been presented with awards and feted at film festivals. In 2012, he told a “reporter” for the Cuban government’s propaganda apparatus that the Castro Revolution is characterized by “an extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” This chillingly deluded utopian rhetoric about “new” this and “new” that is, of course, part of the stale old rhetoric of Marxism, a mark of the True Believer who’s neither able nor willing to let go of the Big Lie. Glover’s devotion to the Castro regime is warmly reciprocated: he’s been an honored guest at several film Cuban festivals and has been presented with a number of Cuban awards.

Glover’s latest visit to Castro’s prison island, which took place in November, was breathlessly recorded by “reporters” for the official Cuban “news media,” one of whom praised Glover’s “commitment to truth and justice” and noted that the actor had been making the pilgrimage to Cuba for some twenty years, each time returning “with an open heart,” prepared “to listen, to learn, and to grow.”

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With Gerardo Hernández

During his visit, Glover was reunited with one of the Cuban Five, the “hero” Gerardo Hernández. Who? Quick flashback: the Cuban Five were a quintet of Cuban spies who, sent to Florida to infiltrate Cuban-American groups, were arrested in 1998, found guilty in 2001 of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder, in addition to a couple of dozen other charges, and put behind bars. The Castro government originally denied vociferously that they were spies; two years later it admitted that they were. One of the five was released in 2011, another in 2013; the remaining three, including Hernández, were finally shipped back to Cuba in 2014 as part of President Obama’s efforts to improve relation with Cuba. By that time the five spies had become another terrific anti-American propaganda tool for the Castro government, whose official line on them was – and is – that they “served long and unjust sentences…for warning their country” against anti-Cuban terrorist acts that were purportedly being planned in the U.S.

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Glover at a 2014 event to free the Cuban Five

Glover, who’d visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell, noted on his arrival at Havana’s José Martí Airport that he’d also had the honor of belonging to the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five (which is linked in the U.S. to the far-left group ANSWER). He spoke with admiration of the five admitted spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity.” He’d seen in them, Glover declared, “the bridge to the world of justice and equality that we want to build.”

That wasn’t all. According to one of the Cuban “reporters” who met him at the airport, Glover enthused over “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places” and praised “the helpfulness of the services provided by Cubans to the Latin American nations.” Either the official Cuba press was putting words in the Hollywood star’s mouth, or else Danny Glover has done a first-rate job, over these last two decades, of learning to speak the Orwellian language of Communist totalitarianism.

The 20-year-old scourge of Brazil’s stooges

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Dilma Rousseff

In recent days we’ve been observing how Brazil – which, a few years ago, looked as if it was on the verge of becoming a prosperous, developed First World-style nation – has rapidly declined, during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, into an economic disaster zone. Meanwhile, the most massive corruption scandal in the country’s history has brought down one member of her administration after another. In the months after her re-election in October 2014, Rousseff dropped from an 80% to an 8% approval rating. Millions are now calling for her impeachment.

Among the most prominent of them is Kim Kataguiri, who turns 20 years old today.

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Kim Kataguiri, with a laptop reading “Less Marx, More Mises”

Just over two years ago, when he was an obscure college student, Kataguiri attended a history class in which the teacher attributed Brazil’s economic success – which would soon evaporate into nothingness – to the welfare-state policies pursued by Rousseff and her predecessor (and Workers’ Party colleague) Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva.

That just seemed wrong,” Kataguiri said in an October 2015 interview with Time Magazine, which named him one of the year’s most influential teenagers. To Kataguiri – a grandson of Japanese immigrants – it was obvious that Brazil’s growth was a result of “the commodities boom and our relationship with China.” In recent years, China had become Brazil’s #1 trading partner, with the value of trade between the two nations climbing from $2 billion in 2000 to $83 billion in 2013.

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The Free Brazil Movement’s logo

Kataguiri responded to his teacher’s sunny socialism with a You Tube video in which he spoke up for the free market. The video went viral. He followed it with other videos, in which, as Yahoo News has reported, he and a group of like-minded friends, who call themselves the Free Brazil Movement, “often don wacky costumes and dress up as political figures such as Fidel Castro.”

The Free Brazil Movement’s positions are clear. It calls for the introduction of a free-market system, with lower taxes, a smaller government bureaucracy, and complete privatization of publicly held companies. It also demands the impeachment of Rousseff, whose Workers’ Party Kataguiri (now a college dropout) views as “the nemesis of freedom and democracy.” His heroes? Politicians Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, and economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises.

 

As Brazil’s economy faltered, and then, with terrifying rapidly, spiraled down into the dustbin, Kataguiri and his movement became increasingly popular. On March 15 of last year, when over a million Brazilians attended anti-Rousseff rallies, Kataguiri spoke to an audience of 200,000 at a protest in São Paulo.

CCbJYzSWgAAfp64Pointing out that he had himself “emerged through the Internet,” Kataguiri told Time that he has

a great hope that the internet can have a serious effect on the political world and can bring change. It can improve knowledge, participation and transparency in politics. Now, politics in Brazil looks very bad. Everyone steals. But I have hope that in 20 years things can be different. I have hope that our generation can change the ways things are done.

President Sanders?

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Bernie Sanders

In November we took a brief look at Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders – specifically, his admiration for Fidel Castro and the late, great USSR.  At the time, it was still possible to think of Sanders as an entertaining sideshow in the race for the Democratic nomination – a far-left clown who didn’t really stand a chance of winning. But since then things have changed quickly. His poll numbers have been rising while Hillary Clinton’s have been diving. Suddenly, it seems to be within the realm of possibility that this seventy-four-year-old socialist will make it all the way to the general election.

Sanders’s campaign is especially popular with younger voters – with millennials, that is, who cheer his promises to soak the rich and give everybody else lots of free stuff. To his young supporters, who know nothing about economics or about the history of ideologies that made such promises, Sanders’s program sounds like nothing other than common sense – goodness set into system.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Sanders has, of course, his share of older fans – old hippies, old Commies, people who’ve never given up on the utopian dream. Which brings us to our friends at The Nation, who on January 14 gave Sanders their endorsement. Applauding his call for “single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the breaking up of the big banks,” his vow to “wrest our democracy from the corrupt grip of Wall Street bankers and billionaires,” Katrina vanden Heuvel & co. averred that the “revolution” promised by Sanders “is not only possible but necessary.” In conclusion, “Bernie Sanders and his supporters are bending the arc of history toward justice. Theirs is an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse.”

And sensible observers are getting worried. One of them is Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution, who on January 16 complained in the New York Post that the media were helping to “mainstream” Sanders. “If Sanders were vying for a Cabinet post,” maintained Sperry, “he’d never pass an FBI background check.”

Six months after the avowed socialist scored a surprise victory to become mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city, Bernard Sanders is discovering that having an office inside City Hall doesn't make him an insider, Sept. 15, 1981. (AP Photo/Donna Light)
Sanders in 1981, after being elected mayor of Burlington

Why? For one thing, in 1964, when he was a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders belonged to the youth wing of the Socialist Party USA. In the 1970s, he took part in the founding of a party that “called for the nationalization of all US banks and the public takeover of all private utility companies.” In 1979, as Yahoo News reported in a January 17 article, he called for government takeover of all commercial television stations. In the 1980s, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he “restricted property rights for landlords, set price controls and raised property taxes to pay for communal land trusts. Local small businesses distributed fliers complaining their new mayor ‘does not believe in free enterprise.’” At one event he told an audience of charity workers said he didn’t believe in private charity – government should take on all social needs.

sanders1He also became an international busybody, making “goodwill” visits to the USSR and Cuba. In 1985, he attended an “anti-U.S. rally” in Nicaragua at which participants chanted that “the Yankee will die” and President Daniel Ortega charged the U.S. with “state terrorism.” Sanders displayed a Soviet flag in his office and spoke to Communist front groups.

It’s predictable enough that the handful of marginal old Commies who edit, write, and read The Nation are marching arm in arm with Sanders into the bright, new socialist America that they’ve been dreaming about all their lives. But what is depressing is that Sanders’s ideas are admired by millions of young people who don’t understand that the programs advocated by their candidate have been tried before, in the previous century, and that they brought unprecedented calamity, disaster, and tragedy to hundreds of millions of people who’d been promised utopia.

 

 

The “Peace Troubadour” meets…ISIS?

They call him the “Peace Troubadour.” Or at least that’s what he calls himself. 

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James Twyman

His name: James Twyman. His website says he’s written 15 books, produced seven music CDs, and made five movies. He’s credited as the writer of Indigo, a 2003 film that, according to its Wikipedia page, “deals with the supposed phenomenon of ‘indigo children’ – a set of children alleged to have certain ‘special psychological and spiritual attributes’.” Indigo “was distributed primarily to New Thought churches,” which teach that all illness is psychological in origin and that the right kind of thinking can heal sickness. The film was released through “the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a DVD club that mails spiritually themed films to subscribers each month.” The film’s Wikipedia page cites precisely one review, which called it “crass and alienated beyond belief.”

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The cover of one of Twyman’s books

In 1994, according to Twyman’s site, he “put the peace prayers from the 12 major religions to music and began traveling the world as ‘The Peace Troubadour.’” That’s not all. He’s also “the founder of The Beloved Community, a network of spiritual peace ministers around the world.” The network’s website, which looks just like Twyman’s personal website, quotes a thirteenth-century “Cathar Prophesy” as saying:

The Beloved Community has no fabric, only understanding.

The Beloved Community has no membership, save those who know they belong.

The Beloved Community has no rivals, because it is non-competitive.

The Beloved Community has no ambition, because it seeks only to serve.

The Beloved Community knows no boundaries, for nationalisms are unloving.

twyman(The Cathars, by the way, were Gnostic Christians who thrived in southern Europe from the 12th to 14th centuries.)

Twyman’s site further informs us that he founded something called the Seminary of Spiritual Peacemaking, “which has graduated and ordained over 500 ministers.” It, too, has a website, which explains:

Our goal is to train thousands of dedicated people to serve the world as Peace Ministers in the Beloved Community, being the front line in a profound movement toward lasting peace. In the program we assist people in celebrating their unique gifts,finding their path of service and in identifying ministries where they may best BE Peace.

twymanbookIn other words, Twyman is, or at least represents himself as being, a New Age macher.

Frankly, we hadn’t heard of Twyman before. That changed earlier this month, when he made international headlines. Here’s the beginning of the story at Fox News:

An Oregon folk singer plans to leave next week to serenade the Islamic State, and he intends to bring the black-clad barbarians a prayerful message of peace – despite a warning from the State Department that his life could be in danger.

One of Twyman’s CDs is called God Has No Religion. That should be popular with ISIS.

The Fox story continues:

James Twyman, of Portland, Ore., told FoxNews.com he feels a “calling” and believes he can soften the hearts of the Islamist army known for beheading Westerners, throwing gays off of buildings and summarily executing innocent women and children.

twymancd“It’s going to be pretty powerful,” Twyman said, referring to his plan to have those attending and others around the world sing and pray for peace at the same time. “When people come together and focus on something in a positive way…there’s scientific evidence that it can change things for the better.”

A report in the Daily Beast added further details. Twyman would fly to Italy on January 20. After a weekend there, he’d head to Tel Aviv. From there, it’s on to the Majdal Shams, a town near the Israeli-Syrian border. Which means he’s probably arriving there…about now.

We’ll be staying tuned to see what happens.

Dilma Rousseff: decline and fall?

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Dilma Rousseff

Last week we explored the presidency of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, who in recent months has seen her throne shaken by the Petrobras scandal – described by the Wall Street Journal as “the biggest corruption case ever in a country with a long history of scandals.” Even Rousseff’s predecessor as head of state, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (whose own administration was almost brought down by the 2005 Mensalão scandal), has been under scrutiny in this season of scandal, with authorities looking into shady financial activities involving both Lula and his son as well as into accusations that the former president had lobbied illegally (and profitably) for Odebrecht, a huge Brazilian conglomerate.

In this photo provided by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, and Brazil's newly elected leader Dilma Rousseff, make a sign of victory, at the Alvorada palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Nov. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency, Ricardo Stuckert) NO SALES
Lula and Dilma, 2010

Even as the Petrobras probes were widening and arrests adding up, Brazil’s economy was in free fall. Brazil’s GDP, which had experienced annual growth of over 5% during the century’s first decade, sunk below 3% in 2012 and 2013 and to 0.1% in 2014. On September 9, 2015, Standard and Poor downgraded Brazil’s credit rating to junk status. Over the course of 2015, Brazil’s economy actually shrunk by 2.7%. Meanwhile, Rousseff’s numbers also dived. In December 2014, her approval rating was at 80%; by March 2015, it was at 34%; by August, 8%. In that month, protesters around the country called for her impeachment. By September, she’d become “Brazil’s most unpopular president in recent democratic history.”

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João Vaccari Neto

In that same month, party treasurer João Vaccari Neto was sentenced to over 15 years in prison for corruption and money-laundering, the latter of which involved over $4 million. Sentenced to prison alongside Vaccari was Renato Duque, who received a more than 20-year term for “inflating contracts at Petrobras” and funneling the excess profits into the coffers of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. 

RJ - OPERA«√O LAVA JATO/DUQUE/PRIS√O/ARQ - GERAL - Foto de arquivo de 23/06/2005 do ex- diretor de ServiÁos da Petrobras, Renato Duque, durante entrevista na sede da empresa, no centro do Rio de Janeiro. Ele foi preso esta manh„, pela PolÌcia Federal, em nova fase da OperaÁ„o Lava Jato. … a sÈtima etapa da operaÁ„o que investiga um esquema de lavagem de dinheiro suspeito de movimentar R$ 10 bilhıes. A PF tambÈm prendeu executivos e faz busca e apreens„o em cerca de cinco das maiores empreiteiras do PaÌs, o braÁo financeiro do esquema de corrupÁ„o na estatal. 23/06/2005 - Foto: MARCOS DE PAULA/ESTAD√O CONTE⁄DO
Renato Duque

Not long ago, in response to state employees and business executives who’ve blown the whistle on the massive government corruption on her watch, Rousseff famously said: “I do not respect informants.” She cited with pride her refusal, back in her Marxist guerrilla days, to rat on her comrades under torture. Her remarks, of course, reflect a curious attitude (to put it mildly) toward corruption – and, indeed, toward the very concept of public service and stewardship of the people’s resources. In October 2015, maintaining that the mounting accusations against her in connection with the Petrobras scandal were utterly false, she declared: “I do not intend to leave power.”

dilma_lulaTo be sure, on October 19, a parliamentary commission (consisting mostly of pro-government legislators) issued a report purportedly clearing Rousseff and Lula of personal involvement in Petrobras-related crimes. But that report didn’t end the controversy, and nobody expected it to. Rousseff remains under a cloud, and continues to hold on to power by a thread; in late December, Reuters reported that the lower house of Brazil’s Congress would probably decide by March whether to recommend Rousseff’s impeachment.

Meanwhile her administration’s corruption has dramatically altered Brazil’s image on the world stage. Writing in Forbes on October 22, Kenneth Rapoza summed up  the whole messy situation by noting that while Brazil, according to Transparency International, had been the “least corrupt” of “the big four emerging markets” (not really much of an accomplishment, given that the other three are Russia, China, and India), “2015 has shaped up to be the year that threw all that off a cliff.” The Petrobras scandal, wrote Rapoza, had “made Brazilian politics into Latin America’s Greece.” 

The Petrobras probe

As we’ve seen, Brazil’s current president, Dilma Rousseff, was chief of staff in the administration of her immediate predecessor, the beloved Lula. But at the same time she was also head of the state-owned energy company, Petrobras. Operation Car Wash, a probe into Petrobras’s finances, begun in 2014, has investigated several major firms and dozens of politicians – including Rousseff – and has so far uncovered four separate criminal rings. During Rousseff’s second term, which started in January 2015, Petrobras quickly began shaping up into her Watergate.

Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, RJ. 20/12/2011. Paulo Roberto da Costa, diretor de Abastecimento da Petrobras, durante entrevista coletiva na sede da empresa, no centro do Rio de Janeiro. - Crédito:TASSO MARCELO/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO/AE/Código imagem:160701
Paulo Roberto Costa

Even before Rousseff’s re-election, several leading figures had been implicated in Petrobras-related corruption. Already in March 2014, for instance, Paulo Roberto Costa, who’d served as Petrobras’s supplies director from 2004 to 2012, was arrested for his role in the bribery and money-laundering scheme. In September 2014, Costa provided authorities with a list of politicians who’d received bribes. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison (though he’s since been granted house arrest beginning in October 2016). An August 2015 article reported that a couple of politicians had met with Costa in 2009 in a luxury hotel room in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, and handed him a liquor bottle containing $200,000 in cash.

Ricardo Pessoa, owner of UTC, a major construction company, was arrested in November 2014 on charges of bribery and money-laundering, also as part of the Petrobras scandal. In a May 2015 plea-bargain deal, Pessoa acknowledged that he’d handed over large sums to several political campaign, including Lula’s presidential bid in 2006 and Rousseff’s in 2014.

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Ricardo Pessoa

In March 2015, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for Petrobras-related probes into dozens of members of Congress; in April evidence was uncovered of “similar scams at Brazil’s health ministry and at state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal.” In that same month, a poll found that 63% of Brazilians wanted to see Rousseff impeached.

Also in April, party treasurer João Vaccari Neto was arrested and charged with accepting “irregular donations” to the Workers’ Party from Petrobras suppliers, who were alleged to have inflated contracts with the oil company and funneled excess proceeds to party members and political campaigns.

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Pedro Barusco

A former Petrobras manager, Pedro Barusco, who cooperated with prosecutors, testified that he’d personally received almost $100 million in bribes, that he’d met Vaccari at fancy hotels or restaurants to discuss the sharing of bribes, and that some of the ill-gotten cash had been passed on to Rousseff’s 2010 election campaign. Julio Camargo, one of the businessmen charged with bribing Petrobras officials, also provided authorities with details of what he called the “institutionalized reality” of bribery at Petrobras, stating that he himself had paid the firm $4.5 million in bribes. 

Vaccari denied everything, as did Rousseff. 

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José Dirceu

Then there’s José Dirceu, a former militant student Communist who’d preceded Rousseff as Lula’s chief of staff, a job from which he resigned after being charged in the 2005 Mensalão scandal (which we’ll get around to later this month). Found guilty in 2012 of corruption, embezzlement, racketeering, and money- laundering, Dirceu was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was apparently released at some point prior to August 2015, when he was arrested on charges of corruption and money-laundering in connection with the Petrobras scandal.

We’re not yet done with Brazil, with Rousseff, or with Petrobras. More on Monday.

Rousseff: round two

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Dilma Rousseff

We’ve been looking this week at Brazil, where, under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who served as its president from 2003 to 2010, the country’s economy boomed. Then his chief of staff, an apparatchik named Dilma Rousseff, was elected to succeed him – and everything started going down the drain.

Not that Rousseff is fully to blame for this decline. It’s clear that its seeds were sown under Lula, when the president and his ideological allies managed to convince themselves that Brazil owed its new prosperity to their welfare programs, rather than to a massive increase in trade with China. But it was Rousseff who was in charge once growth started to falter. Not understanding how economies worked, she responded to her nation’s calamity by doubling down on taxes, bureaucracy, and tariffs – a disastrous formula that guaranteed increasing stagnation. Nor did it help that the massive government and Workers’ Party corruption set in system under Lula only got worse, if anything, on her watch.  

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At a campaign event

Despite the bad choices of her first term, Rousseff was re-elected (by a very close margin) in October 2014. Comments by her supporters left the impression that she’d won despite her handling of the economy, not because of it. (One voter, Natascha Otoya, while admitting that Rousseff’s government had been involved in “corruption,” “embezzlement,” and “white collar crimes,” said that “as a woman, a feminist and a socialist, I am very glad that Dilma has won! 4 more years for the left, I can only be happy about that.”) According to one source, Rousseff was re-elected only because a law requiring Brazilians to vote had guaranteed a big pro-Dilma turnout in poor regions, where people “feared losing their social programs.” 

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Ronaldo Caiado

Unsurprisingly, her victory was celebrated in places like the New Yorker, where John Cassidy called it a win “for the world’s financial markets.” Brazil, insisted Cassidy, was “no basket case.”

Not yet, perhaps. But after Election Day, things got a lot worse – and did so very fast. “There is a process of economic, social and moral collapse under way,” said Senator Ronaldo Caiado, an opposition politician, on March 15, a mere two and a half months into Rousseff’s second term.

Then came the Petrobras scandal. Petrobras is Brazil’s national energy company. From 2003 to 2010, Rousseff, in addition to her other positions under Lula, had served as chair of Petrobras. Operation Car Wash, a probe into the firm’s operations from 2004 to 2014, began in 2014. It soon uncovered evidence that about $2 billion in company funds had been stolen during that decade by Petrobras officials, construction companies, and politicians – Rousseff included.

More on that probe – and the results thereof – tomorrow.