Tony and Muammar: a rewarding friendship

BlairMiddleEast_1792762cThis week, we’ve been looking over some of the spectacular revelations contained in investigative reporter Tom Bower’s book Broken Promises, which was excerpted recently in the Daily Mail. The book’s subject is Tony Blair, and suffice it to say that Blair will never look the same again. Of course, from the very beginning there were those who saw through Blair’s slick image and smarmy rhetoric and recognized a cheap, sordid creep on the make; what’s important about Bower’s book is that he establishes incontrovertibly that this fellow whom many saw, back in the day, as the man who rescued the Labour Party and, in the process, Britain itself, is pretty much every abhorrent thing he was ever accused of being – and then some.

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Tom Bower

During the past near-decade, as Bower shows, Blair has had his sticky fingers in the pockets of pretty much every tinhorn developing-world dictator and dicey international zillionaire you can think of. But even in this sorry chronicle of covetousness, his relationship with Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is a standout. Bower puts it very neatly: while to most Britons, Qaddafi was simply evil – the terrorist-in-chief who’d ordered the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – Blair saw him as “an opportunity.” (But then again, is there anyone whom Blair hasn’t looked at without first wondering if he was beholding yet another opportunity?)

In 2004, after Qaddafi agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction in return for Western aid, Blair was quick to visit him in Tripoli. The tête-à-tête was a success – birds of a feather, etc. – and, to quote Bower, “the two remained in touch.” Two years later, when “an English judge refused to deport two Libyan dissidents back to Libya, where they faced an uncertain fate,” Prime Minister Blair took time out of his busy schedule to commisserate with his erstwhile terrorist buddy: “I am very disappointed at the court’s decision,” he wrote.

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Muammar Qaddafi

In 2007, only a few weeks before his resignation, Blair paid another visit to his desert buddy. The timing was no coincidence. Blair brought with him the chairman of BP and a top counterintelligence officer from MI6. Blair’s purpose, writes Bower, was “delicate”: he wanted to “placate” his pal “by promising the release from a Scottish jail of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted for his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.”

Blair, alas, wasn’t able to swing the mass murderer’s release. But the main question is: why would Blair want or need to “placate” Qaddafi? Plainly, because he’d already begun to transition into his post-prime ministerial career – a career in which, he perceived, with his splendid guile, his cozy ties to Qaddafi could prove profitable.

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Tim Collins

Sure enough, the next year Blair was back in Libya, introducing his chum the colonel to some folks from J.P. Morgan, who wanted a Libyan trade license. They got it. On yet another visit to Libya, Blair traveled on Qaddafi’s own jet, bringing with him an American billionaire, Tim Collins, who thought he was on a humanitarian mission. Once he and Blair were alone with Qaddafi, however, the dictator encouraged the billionaire to invest in a Libyan beach resort – and Blair, to Collins’s astonishment, metamorphosed before his eyes into a seedy salesman, urging him to buy in. “The former Prime Minister, Collins realised, was trying to earn a commission,” reports Bower. Collins was “outraged that he’d been brought to Libya under false pretences,” and later read Blair the riot act, telling him: “This guy Gaddafi is bat-s*** crazy. I’d rather go hungry than deal with a guy who’s a complete lunatic.” Collins “drove to the airport alone.”

An admirable response. For Blair, however, Qaddafi’s nuttiness was not a bug but a feature. Manifestly, he perceived Qaddafi’s lunacy as yet one more thing he could exploit to line his pockets. If there’s any sign of human character in evidence here, it’s the fact that at least he was loyal to the end to his vile comrade: when the Libyan people finally turned against their leader, Blair asked Prime Minister David Cameron to give Qaddafi safe haven. Cameron, to his credit, responded with a big, fat no, and Colonel Qaddafi was left to the mercy of the people he – and Blair – had exploited. Rebel militia killed him, put his corpse in a grocery freezer, then publicly displayed it for four days so that the victims of his oppression could know a taste of justice. There’s no reason to believe Blair owned the freezer and rented it out to the rebels, but there’s no reason not to believe it either. 

Tomorrow: Blair and Qatar.

Sleaze all the way down: Tony Blair

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Tony Blair

This week we’ve been pondering the sickening case of Tony Blair – who, upon stepping down from the job of U.K.’s head of government in 2007, was a not-so-young man in a very great hurry to accumulate the fortune he’d been fantasizing about during those ten underpaid years as (in his own words) “Britain’s most successful prime minister.” In a revelation-packed new bookBroken Vows – Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power, which was recently excerpted in the Daily Mail, veteran investigative reporter Tom Bower maps out in detail Blair’s squalid road to riches. His tale of Blair’s shameless self-enrichment makes the history of the tirelessly acquisitive Clintons look like a children’s bedtime story.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN13 - Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria speaks during the televised session 'De-risking Africa - Achieving Inclusive Prosperity' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo Remy Steinegger
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria

Yesterday, for example, we saw that Blair was quick to whitewash the crimes of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev in exchange for a handful of shekels. But Nazarbayev is only one of Blair’s many thuggish paymasters. In 2010, Blair visited Nigeria, “ostensibly to offer the services of AGI and the Faith Foundation” – two of his “charities” – “to help reconcile the country’s Muslims and Christians.” What he ended up doing was performing an expert ego massage on Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, whom he persuaded to hire J.P. Morgan as manager of his nation’s sovereign wealth fund. Result: a big payday for both Blair and Morgan – which secured the lucrative job without having to make a competitive bid.

Blair’s links to some of the world’s most unfree governments and to many of its less than scrupulous global businesses are too complex to easily diagram. And there’s no apparent limit to the level of oiliness that he’s apparently able to summon up in order to grease the wheels of commerce between the two. In 2012, in exchange for a generous sum, Blair put together a meeting between the top honcho at Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading house, and the prime minister of Qatar, the goal being to facilitate a business deal. “Although present at their hour-long meeting,” writes Bower, Blair “remained curiously silent,” leading the Glencore CEO to wonder whether “Blair’s huge fee had been a waste of money.”

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Tom Bower

Bower outlines deals so convoluted that they make one’s head spin. But never mind the details; what matters is the uniformly sleazy cast of characters, led by a host of disreputable but staggeringly flush sovereign wealth funds and a small army of cartoonishly rapacious presidents of African cesspools. When some corporation in the Persian Gulf that you’ve never heard of (but that’s swimming in money) decides to make an investment in some dodgy start-up in Indochina, the Balkans, west Africa, or South America, don’t be surprised if Blair’s right there in the middle of the whole ugly deal, scraping his 20 percent off the top.

And so it goes. As Bower writes, Blair

also popped up on the advisory panel that supervised the construction of British Petroleum’s £32 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Oddly enough, he was also paid to advise the president of Azerbaijan. In addition, his services were called in when BP was seeking new oil concessions in Abu Dhabi.

The sheikh who employed Blair privately to work for his investment fund also happened to be the head of Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council. 

One wonders how Blair can keep track of it all himself. But we haven’t yet gotten around to his Big Kahuna: Muammar Qaddafi. Tune in tomorrow.

Tony Blair’s web of cash

Yesterday we began looking at the post-prime ministerial life of Tony Blair, as chronicled in a new book  (recently excerpted in the Daily Mail) by British investigative journalist Tom Bower. We saw that Blair, like some of the slimiest stooges in Venezuela and elsewhere, has come up with ingenious ways to generate income and has established his own elaborate network of front companies to hide the loot.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

But that’s not all. Get this: he’s also set up a number of institutions, some explicitly designated as businesses and others as charities, but all of them apparently intended to rake in money from deep-pocketed tyrants and shady business types around the world. One of those institutions is Tony Blair Associates, a consulting firm that is frankly in the business of — well, business. Another is the Faith Foundation, a purported charity whose stated objective is to contribute to the healing of religious divisions around the world. Another is the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), another self-declared charity which is supposedly dedicated to helping governments from the Suez to the Cape of Good Hope to formulate and carry out economic development plans.

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Tom Bower

Massive amounts of dough pass through these institutions. All that mazuma should, of course, be kept separate from Blair’s own personal stash. But as with Bill and Hillary Clinton’s notorious foundation, the reality of Blair’s finances turns out to be a good deal messier than the cover story. Also like the Clintons, Blair is in the habit of collecting outsized sums for, um, delivering speeches; Bower cites, for example, “an address in Orlando, Florida, to the International Sanitary Supply Association — manufacturers of lavatory cleaners.” Quite clearly, Blair doesn’t lie awake at night worrying that he might be doing things beneath the dignity of a former British PM.

There’s more. Just as Blair is insufficiently careful about separating his personal cash from his charities’ funds, he’s not too meticulous about drawing a line between his current role as private citizen and his former role as British head of government. This often leads to wildly inappropriate situations. For instance, while making scads of money dispensing advice to other countries’ governments — advice that isn’t necessarily consistent with the interests of his own country — Blair still expects the British Embassy in each capital he visits “to provide him with a comprehensive security briefing and occasionally even overnight accommodation,” as if he were still in office.

At times he pushes it even further. Visiting one African country, allegedly on behalf of AGI, Blair asked for a private audience with the head of state because he claimed to have been asked to give the top man “a personal message…from David Cameron.” But he had no such message to deliver; he was there for no other reason than to drum up business for Tony Blair Associates. The head of state, quite appropriately, took offense at this cheesy bait and switch. Later, when confronted with this incident and asked whether he’d been “mixing charity and business,” Blair lied outright: Tony Blair Associates, he insisted, doesn’t do business in Africa, only in the Middle East and Asia.

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David Cameron

On the contrary, Tony Blair Associates seems to be prepared to do business anywhere there is a euro, pound, buck, peso, or yen to be snagged. As Bower puts it, Blair has “concentrated on offering advice to sheikhs, presidents and dictators.” It seems plain enough from Bower’s accounts that Blair’s advice itself, to the extent that he actually bothers to proffer any, is next to worthless; if the world’s tinpot tyrants are nonetheless queuing up with wheelbarrows full of cash, it’s obvious that they’re greasing his palm in exchange for influence, for access. This is, after all, a guy who can get any head of state in the world, from President Obama on down, to come to the phone. So it was that the government of Kuwait paid him £20 million to “review the country’s economy.” The report he ultimately turned in was a piece of embarrassing, amateurish hackwork – a “lengthy repetition of Kuwait’s well- known problems, concluding with a series of impractical solutions,” that was “greeted with derision” and then buried by Kuwaiti authorities. 

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Nursultan Nazarbayev

But for the authorities to whom Blair peddles his influence, no “advice,” it appears, is too worthless. And for Blair, in return, no client is too sleazy. He accepted a sizable sum to help the corrupt U.I. Energy of South Korea secure an oil contract. He took a hefty salary from another nefarious outfit, PetroSaudi, to make deals on its behalf with Chinese authorities. In 2011, he even went to work for the rotten-to-the-core Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose abuses of his subjects’ human rights didn’t keep Blair from recording “an hour-long video about Nazarbayev” in which he “repeatedly eulogis[ed]” the creep. Not only that, Blair “arranged for his old crony Alastair Campbell and former Downing Street spokesman Tim Allan to promote the despot.” When Nazarbayev asked Blair how, in a speech at Cambridge, he should address his security forces’ cold-blooded murder of 14 civilians, Blair suggested he take the angle that the massacre, tragic though it was, “should not obscure the enormous progress that Kazakhstan has made.”

Disgraceful. But Nazarbayev isn’t the only autocrat with blood on his hands who’s helped fatten Blair’s bank account. Far from it. More tomorrow.

Tony Blair’s dirty money

Tom Bower is an English investigative journalist who for more than three decades has been winning plaudits for his eye-opening books about such figures as war criminal Klaus Barbie, newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, business tycoon Richard Branson, and Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson. In 2003, he won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for an exposé of corruption in English soccer.

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Tony Blair

Now (speaking of corruption) he’s published Broken Vows – Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power, which tears back the curtain on the former British prime minister. Several excerpts from Bower’s book have been serialized in the Daily Mail, and they’re all of immense interest, probing Blair’s incompetent moves on education, health, and immigration, his missteps on Afghanistan and Iraq, his bellicose relationship with Gordon Brown, and much else. But three excerpts contained revelations about Blair the post-Downing Street wheeler-dealer – the useful stooge par excellence – that will be of special interest to readers of this website.

Bower takes us back to 2007, when Blair resigned from the top post and took up the role of Middle East envoy for the U.N., E.U., U.S., and Russia. Unfortunately, that position – however prestigious – was unpaid, and Blair, after living on a prime minister’s modest salary for a decade, was ready to be rich.

Very, very rich. 

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Bernard Arnault

He mentioned this desire to his former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. Powell then spoke with a headhunter, Martin Armstrong. He, in turn, had a meeting with the CEO of J.P. Morgan, Jamie Dimon, who, meeting with Blair, offered him $100,000 to sit on the bank’s board. But Blair was insulted. $100,000? For an ex-PM? Hewanted more. Lots more. Forty times more. Specifically, he wanted “at least £3 million a year, a five-year contract as an adviser and a percentage of every contract he initiated.”

He got it. For whatever reason, Morgan agreed to give him pretty much everything he wanted. And that was just the start. He also got a £180,000-a-year stint as climate-change advisor to a Swiss insurance firm. Plus another “advisory” gig on the payroll of Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France. And yet another job “representing” – whatever that means – “a wealth fund based in Abu Dhabi.”

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Tarek El Aissami

While busying lining up these income-generating activities, Blair did something else: he set up (and hey, which one of us hasn’t, at one time or another?) a complex maze of limited-partnership shell companies through which to collect and channel cash from these and other paymasters – and to hide from authorities the true dimensions of the wealth he was now beginning to accumulate. This network of phony firms was, and is, no different from those set up by various crooks in places like Venezuela and Argentina whose hijinks we’ve recounted on this site over the past few months.

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Wilmer Ruperti

We’re talking about people like Tarek El Aissami, the thuggish governor of the Venezuelan state of Aragua, who, it will be remembered, lifts massive amounts of money from his state’s treasury and launders it through a vast network of shell companies, the chart of which, as we’ve noted, “looks more complex than the organization of the U.S. government itself.” And then there’s shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who, in order to fool a Russian ship-rental enterprise into thinking it was chartering oil tankers to PDVSA, the Venezuelan national petroleum firm, set up a web of shell companies, to one of which he gave a name similar to PDVSA. Leasing a fleet of tankers from the Russian outfit, Ruperti then rented them to PDVSA at a profit. (And what does your dad do for a living?)

These are the kind of lowlife scum whose shabby stratagems Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, has plainly studied up and imitated. Following their example, he’s lined his pockets magnificently.

But as we’ll see tomorrow, his similarity to these useful stooges goes beyond the mere setting-up of fake front companies. Tune in. 

Bye-bye to the bloviating Bolivian?

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Beware of socialists bearing gifts

We last looked in on Bolivian bossman Evo Morales a few months ago, after he gave Pope Francis a unique present: a “cross” made out of a hammer and sickle. As we noted at the time, Morales – “like the Castros in Cuba, the Kirchners in Argentina, and Nicolás Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) in Venezuela” – is “a card-carrying member of Latin America’s hard-left club.” Like those other socialist strongmen, moreover, he’s palled around with useful Hollywood stooges, such as Benicio del Toro, Oliver Stone, and Jude Law.

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Cristina Kirchner

But the winds have been shifting south of the border. As contact between Cuba and the U.S. increases, the Castros’ island prison seems to be on the verge of transformation. In Argentina, the corrupt, cronyist Kirchner era – that long national nightmare that climaxed in a sovereign-debt default – is finally over. In Venezuela, chavista socialism – which has resulted in Soviet-style shortages of toilet paper and other basic goods – is being taken on by a National Assembly newly dominated by the pro-freedom opposition.

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Rafael Correa

That’s not all. Rafael Correa, the longtime Chávez amigo and America-basher who’s been turning Ecuador into a socialist paradise since 2007, has said he won’t run for re-election next year. In Chile, a raft of corruption scandals – at least one of which is an ugly mess involving her son and daughter-in-law – has tanked the popularity of formerly beloved lefty President Michelle Bachelet. And in Brazil, which not long ago was on its way to genuine First World prosperity, President Dilma Rousseff’s socialist policies and massive corruption, as we’ve seen, have turned the economy into a Greece-like basket case. 

Latin America’s socialist leaders, in short, are being challenged on every front, buffeted by the gusts of liberty. And Evo Morales isn’t immune.

In office since 2006, Morales was re-elected in 2009 and 2014. During his presidency, he’s nationalized major sectors of the economy, created a massive welfare state, forged close ties with his fellow autocrats in Havana, Caracas, and Tehran, presided over widespread corruption, and entertained his followers with racist rants about the evil “gringos.”

His current term ends in 2020, and he’s prohibited from running for a fourth term. So on February 21 he had the electorate vote on a rewrite of the constitution that would let him stay in office.

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Zapata’s arrest

Bolivia voted no.

Morales was still dealing with this kick in the butt when another blow struck. On February 26, Gabriela Zapata, an executive with a Chinese construction company that’s been awarded lucrative Bolivian government contracts, was arrested on corruption charges. This is important because Zapata isn’t just any businesswoman: she’s Morales’s ex-girlfriend, and the two of them have allegedly conspired to sell influence in exchange for Chinese cash.

This one should be be fun to watch. It’s always entertaining to see an oligarch brought to his knees.

 

Bashing NATO: Stephen F. Cohen

Time to check in again with Stephen F. Cohen, the NYU prof (and hubby of limo-lefty Nation publisher Katrina van den Heuvel) who is America’s most prominent Kremlinologist – and Vladimir Putin’s most ardent and assiduous champion in the U.S.

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Stephen F. Cohen

Over the last few months, we’ve spent a good deal of time probing Cohen’s reprehensible views. One example: instead of denouncing Russia’s antigay laws, Cohen has condemned Western gays for complaining about them. Surely Cohen, a card-carrying member of the leftist establishment, is a fan of the Freedom Riders who went to the American South to march for black civil rights; surely he supported folks who traveled to South Africa to protest apartheid; and without a doubt, like the rest of the Nation gang, he cheers Westerners who go to Gaza to savage Israel. But Western gays calling for gay rights in Russia? “How is that our concern?” Cohen asked a Newsweek interviewer, his irritation palpable. “Why is it America’s job to go over there and sort out the gay problem when 85 percent of Russians think they should have no rights?”

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Gilbert Doctorow, co-founder of ACEWA

The last time we looked in on Cohen, back in November, he was busy co-founding a pro-Russia propaganda scam called the American Committee for East-West Accord. Think of it as a 21st-century version of all those Cold War-era international “peace organizations” and “peace congresses” that were actually Soviet fronts and you’ll get the idea. Cohen is, after all, a guy who, in Soviet days, wasn’t just a Kremlin expert but a Kremlin fan, the sort of leftist who blamed the downside of Soviet life on Stalin (not Communism itself, which he defended) and blamed the Cold War on America.

So what’s the latest with Cohen? In a February interview with his favorite TV channel, Putin’s own RT America (formerly Russia Today), Cohen went on a rant about NATO. Hardly the first time, to be sure. But this interview – conducted by Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC hack who’s now on Putin’s payroll – was particularly worth listening to, given that it provided a tidy summing-up of Cohen’s thinking on the topic. Sample: NATO – that means Washington and that means Obama administration – has decided to quadruple its military forces on Russia’s borders or near Russia’s borders.” This equation of NATO with the U.S. speaks volumes: for him, NATO isn’t a group of sovereign nations that have pulled together in the cause of common defense; it’s an instrument of American imperialism, period.

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Ed Schultz

“The last time there was this kind of Western hostile military force on Russia’s borders,” complained Cohen, “is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941.” Yes, there it was: a comparison of NATO to the Nazis. Cohen went on: “During the 40-year Cold War there was this vast buffer zone that ran from the Soviet borders all the way to Berlin. There were no NATO or American troops there. So this is a very radical departure on the part of the administration.” Some euphemism: “buffer zone”! Of course, Cohen’s referring to the countries of Eastern Europe that the Red Army overran at the end of World War II and turned into Communist satellites. Those countries were no “buffer zone”; they were captive nations, their people unfree, their governments Kremlin puppets. When Hungary tried to break away in 1956, it was invaded by Soviet tanks. Ditto Czechoslovakia in 1968.

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Cohen with his wife (and publisher) Katrina van den Heuvel

Today, those countries are free. All of them, at the first opportunity, rushed to join NATO – not, as Cohen implies, because they wanted to subject themselves to another imperial master, but because they wanted to protect their freedom in the face of what they recognized as the continued Kremlin threat. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been absorbed into the USSR during World War II and which gained their independence after it dissolved, joined NATO too. And Putin’s actions against Georgia in 2008, plus his later intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, made it clear that these nations’ concerns were well-founded.

Not in Cohen’s world, however. “Russia is not threatening any country on its border,” he told Schultz. Yes, he said, there is a threat – but it’s coming from the U.S., which had sparked “a new Cold War” beginning with “the proxy American-Russian war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008.” Yes, Cohen actually rewrote Russia’s bullying of Georgia into a “proxy…war” with the U.S. And he went on to call NATO activity “very dangerous and reckless” because under “Russian doctrine,” born of “their weakness after the end of the Soviet Union,” the Kremlin has committed itself to “use tactical nuclear weapons” in response to any threat by “overwhelming conventional force.” So we should view Putin’s apparent readiness to use nukes – yes, nukes – as a legitimate response to the “threat” represented by NATO defense preparations.

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Just a reminder: these two are the Boris and Natasha of our time

In Cohen-land, in short, reality is turned upside down: it’s not Russia that’s rattling sabers at its neighbors and former vassals, thus compelling them to participate in a mutual-defense pact; it’s the U.S. that’s brandishing the dogs of war in the form of countries that, Cohen would have us believe, are not free and sovereign nations but American vassals – thus compelling Putin to risk playing the nuclear card. Got that? Of course you do. Believe it? Of course you don’t. Only among the type of people who read the Nation does such twisted nonsense pass muster as legitimate geopolitical analysis. 

South Africa’s top stooge?

Not everyone who fought against the Nazis was fighting for freedom. The Red Army, after all, was fighting for Communism, which the Soviets promptly forced upon the occupied countries of eastern Europe after the war.

In the same way, not all of those who battled apartheid were believers in liberty.

Meet Ronnie Kasrils.

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Kasrils (left) with ANC colleagues Joe Slovo and Jacob Zuma, now president of South Africa

Born in 1938, the grandson of Baltic Jews who fled tsarist pograms to live in South Africa, Kasrils has been called Africa’s “highest-profile revolutionary from the white race.” A member of both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party since 1960, he spent 27 years in exile owing to his ANC activities, studying at a military academy in the USSR and then doing ANC work in London and in various African capitals. The ANC in exile, wrote  R. W. Johnson in the National Interest in 2013, “was both corrupt and Stalinist,” supporting the Soviet invasions of both Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Kasrils was nothing if not an ardent devotee of Stalin, who at one point described George Orwell’s Animal Farm as “crude, anti-Communist propaganda.”

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With Mandela and Prince Willem Alexander, now king of the Netherlands

Returning home after the end of apartheid, Kasrils joined the ruling committees of both the ANC and the Communist Party. But he was dissatisfied with the new regime, criticizing Nelson Mandela for taking the ANC down a “bourgeois” path instead of forming a “people’s republic” – that is, a Communist government. Instead of holding “on to its revolutionary will,” he charged, the ANC had “chickened out,” making a “devil’s pact, only to be damned in the process.” Citing Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Che Guevara, Kasrils insisted that a “true rebel would not have accepted” the “global corporate capitalism” that, in his view, was deforming South Africa.

kas3Naturally, he lamented the loss in 1991 of “our once powerful ally, the Soviet Union,” whose collapse destroyed his faith in “the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles.” Still, he predicted in his 1993 autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, that “in years to come humanity will look back to Soviet achievements as a source of profound inspiration.”

Despite his misgivings about the direction South Africa took after apartheid, Kasrils accepted one high-ranking government position after another, serving as a member of Parliament (1994-2008), as Deputy Minister of Defence, as Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, and as Minister of Intelligence. In the last-named post, according to one informed observer, Kasrils managed to turn the country’s intelligence service into “an international laughingstock,” marked by “unending, ungovernable, internecine battles” and other horrors that went beyond “even the ugliest Stalinist traditions of the African National Congress.”

kas2Meanwhile, Kasrils became a leading booster of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel, which he routinely described as an apartheid state – a charge that outraged some South Africans, one of whom called it “a gross insult to every black South African who suffered under apartheid.” In a 2007 speech, Kasrils went even further, maintaining that Israel was subjecting the Palestinians to “hardships and methods of control that are far worse than anything our people faced during the most dreadful days of apartheid.” In an interview the same year, he further intensified his rhetoric, calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “a thousand times worse” than apartheid. He also compared it to “what my grandmother used to tell me about the pogroms: The Cossacks are coming, the Cossacks are coming.” Finally, pulling out all the stops, he accused Israel of “genocide.” 

kasWhile accusing Israel of the most horrific kinds of crimes against humanity, Kasrils has routinely made excuses for even the most barbaric actions by Palestinians – for example, calling suicide bombers “martyr bombers.” He’s even urged Israeli Jews “to succumb to Islamic rule,” maintaining “that the Jews actually thrived under Islamic rule.” It was no surprise to see his name, a few years back, on the list of members of the notorious Russell Tribunal on Palestine (2009-12), which whitewashed Palestinian atrocities and demonized Israel. As South African justice Richard J. Goldstone wrote in the New York Times just prior to its third session, in Cape Town, the convocation was not really a “tribunal” at all: “The ‘evidence’ is going to be one-sided and the members of the ‘jury’ are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.”

In short, a useful stooge for the ages.

A Maoist’s day in court

Six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape, two counts of bodily harm, one count of cruelty to a child under 16. These, as we saw yesterday, were the charges of which a Maoist cult leader by the name of Aravindan Balakrishnan was convicted in December in a London court.

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Rosie Davies

The child in question was Katy Morgan-Davies, who was born in 1983 and who, during her childhood and youth, was beaten regularly and prohibited from attending school or making friends. Her mother was a member of Balakrishnan’s commune, the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1997. After Katy’s liberation from the commune, she told a BBC reporter that her father had “wanted the whole world to be like the collective where he is in charge and everybody is his slave.” Indeed, she said he “was using the sect as a ‘pilot unit’ to learn how to control people before taking over the world” – which made her think: “God, if the whole world is going to be like this, what way out is there? How am I going to live? I cannot live in this. So I used to think that the best way would be to die.”

mao-zedong1Katy had actually escaped once – way back in 2005 – only to be returned to her father by the police. In 2013, it was the police who saved her, plucking her out of her father’s homemade hell at a time when she suffering from diabetes and desperately in need of medical treatment. At Balakrishnan’s trial, Katy described the commune as the headquarters of a “hate cult” that “was full of violence and horror.” Calling her father a “narcissist and a psychopath,” she said: “The people he looked up to were people like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein – you couldn’t criticise them….They were his gods and his heroes. These were the sort of people he wanted to emulate.” She said she’d “felt like a caged bird with clipped wings” and had finally left the house because she “didn’t want to live like an animal anymore.”

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Judge Deborah Taylor

One detective said that Katy had been so profoundly indoctrinated that when she finally was freed from the house, she “genuinely believed…she was going to explode – that her life would come to an end.”

In late January, Balakrishnan was finally sentenced to 23 years in prison by Judge Deborah Taylor, who told him in open court that he’d been “ruthless” in his “exploitation” of his followers, that he’d “engendered a climate of fear, jealousy and competition for [his] approval,” that he’d treated his daughter like “an experiment,” subjecting her to “a catalogue of mental and physical abuse,” and that these were “grave and serious crimes conducted over a long period of time” for which he had “shown no remorse whatsoever.”

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Aravindan Balakrishnan

Ideologically, of course, what Balakrishnan preached was hardly orthodox Maoism. But in his intellectual tyranny, and his employment of physical abuse and psychological terror to enforce his power, he was a Maoist through and through – a man expertly schooled in the ways of totalitarianism. And the fact that this bullying mediocrity was able to draw so many followers only reflects the perennial power of utopian ideology to attract the gullible and psychologically needy.

A Maoist squat in London

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Aravindan Balakrishnan

In December, a court in London convicted a man named Aravindan Balakrishnan of six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape, two counts of bodily harm, and one count of cruelty to a child under 16. The child was his daughter, Katy Morgan-Davies, formerly known as Rosie Davies, who by the time of Balakrishnan’s conviction was over thirty years old. Until being rescued by police in 2013, she had spent her entire life as part of a cult of brainwashed, browbeaten men and women in a commune in Brixton, south London.

A Maoist commune.

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The onetime site of the “institute”

Balakrishnan was originally from Singapore. He came to London in 1963 and was converted to left-wing extremism at the London School of Economics. (Not a surprising scenario, by the way.) In 1970, he founded a Maoist group called the Workers Institute Marxism Leninism Mao Zedong Thought – Brixton Institute for short – which, headquarted in a squat, ran a bookstore and a “meeting place.” While active in the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), he began to establish his own group of followers within the Party, whom he persuaded to obey his command and subscribe to his version of Maoist dogma – including his conviction that Britain would soon be “liberated” by Chinese Communists.

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Balakrishnan on a London street

So disruptive was he of the English Communist Party’s order and canons that in 1974 the Party’s Central Committee issued a statement saying that “after 7 years of struggle to unite together in order to strengthen the proletarian revolutionary movement,” it was suspending “Balakrishnan and his clique” from Party membership, because Balakrishnan had “tried to conspire to build a clique of people around ‘his line’ and establish his centre whilst still claiming to be in the Party, continuously saying one thing to the Party comrades and preaching and practising another to younger comrades and comrades under his ‘discipline.’”

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The house in which the commune was located

Balakrishnan established the commune, whose official name was the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, on the very day, September 9, 1976, when his “beloved Chairman Mao passed away.” The institute was shuttered (or went underground) after a police raid and mass arrests in 1978 –following which both Balakrishnan and his wife served prison sentences for assaulting an officer – but the commune lived on. Residing there with the Balakrishnans were several of his adherents, most of them women and many of them foreign students who “refused to recognise the legitimacy of the state and maintained a hostile attitude towards the establishment and towards the rest of the far-left in Britain at that time.”

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Dudley Heslop, a former member of the cult, with a scrapbook of its bulletins

Balakrishnan – who taught his disciples that Mao was a god and convinced them that he himself was one, too –allowed them to read only a small selection of leftist works, encouraged them to spy on one another, beat them, sexually assaulted them, and claimed to wield an invisible spiritual force named “Jackie” through which he could read their minds. Reportedly, he even “convinced his followers that he controlled the sun, moon and wind” and that any disobedience on their part would give rise to natural disasters. His goal, according to testimony given at his trial by a former cult member, was to create “a cadre of women soldiers who could withstand the sugar-coated bullets of bourgeois culture.” Some of his women eventually became disenchanted and left the commune; others who wanted to leave were actively prevented from doing so.

And what about Katy? We’ll get to her tomorrow.

A desperate move in Brazil

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Joao Santana

On February 23, as we noted yesterday, Joao Santana, the James Carville to Dilma Rousseff’s Bill Clinton, was unceremoniously arrested in connection with the massive police probe into price-fixing, bribery, and kickbacks at Petrobras, the Brazilian state petroleum firm. Only six days later, Brazil’s justice minister, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, resigned. Why? Because he, too, had been implicated the corruption? No – because members of the ruling Workers’ Party were furious at him for having failed to put an end to the corruption investigation, known as Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). Cardozo, a veteran member of the Workers’ Party who has previously served as congressman and mayor of São Paulo and who has long been counted as a “close and reliable friend to the president” and as one of her “most faithful champions,” was the second member of Rousseff’s cabinet to leave in recent months; the first was Joaquim Levy, who resigned in December from the position of Minister of Finance.

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Jose Eduardo Cardozo

Cardozo’s resignation came in the wake of news that the probe had broadened to included none other than Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s widely revered ex-president, who was in office from 2003 to 2010. According to reports, courts were on the verge of subpoenaing Lula’s financial records. Cardozo’s refusal to interfere in police efforts – and thus keep the damage from spreading to more and more fellow Workers’ Party members – spelled the end of his tenure at the Ministry of Justice. Although Brazilian police are technically under the ministry’s authority, the Minister of Justice has no legal authority to interfere with their activities.

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Rousseff and Lula in happier times

Operation Car Wash has already taken down a long list of top business leaders and Workers’ Party politicians. But as the probe closed in on Lula, the panic in the circles surrounding Rousseff intensified – as did outrage at Cardozo for failing to rein in what loyalists insist on describing as a political witch hunt. Lula, who had already been confronted recently with questions from the police about his children’s shady financial activities, is now being scrutinized over renovations performed at two of his properties, a luxurious beach-front apartment and a rural estate. The renovations were performed by construction firms implicated in the Petrobras corruption; Lula insists, however, that the two properties don’t belong to him.

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Wellington Cesar

Is Cardozo totally out of the government? Far from it. In a neat twist (leave it to corrupt autocrats to come up with moves so rich in poetic irony), he’s been shifted to the job of Attorney General – a position in which he’ll be tasked with protecting Rousseff & co. from the very same investigators who’ve been allowed to proceed with their work under his authority. Meanwhile, Cardozo’s replacement at Justice, one Wellington Cesar Lima e Silva, is expected to lean on those investigators to lay off Lula – and, of course, the president herself. 

It’s looking likelier by the day, however, that any efforts to fend off the fuzz may be in vain. On March 1, the media reported on a plea bargain in which eleven officials of Andrade Gutierrez, Brazil’s second-largest engineering firm, admitted to having paid over $1.27 million under the table to suppliers for Rousseff’s 2010 campaign. As Reuters put it, this testimony represented “the first direct link between the widening ‘Operation Carwash’ investigation into bribes and political kickbacks at state-run oil company Petrobras and the election of Rousseff.”

The sands are shifting fast in Rousseff country. Stay tuned.