A bouquet of Norwegian Chávez groupies

chavez5Here’s a quickie. Last August, and again in June of this year, Norwegian historian Bård Larsen published newspaper articles in which he noted that prominent left-wingers in his own country who had long cheered the Hugo Chávez (now Nicolás Maduro) regime in Venezuela were now finally – finally! – acknowledging the failure of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

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Bård Larsen

At the same time, however, they weren’t quite willing to accept that they themselves had been fools and knaves, clinging with blind faith to an authoritarian ideology that from the very beginning had quite obviously contained the seeds of disaster. Some of them, indeed, had dropped their own past statements about chavismo down the memory hole.

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Audun Lysbakken

Among these chavista “groupies,” as Larsen called them, is Audun Lysbakken, head of Norway’s Socialist Left Party, who’s on record as having called chavismo “an expansion and deepening of democracy.” Over the years he’s made other statements in praise of the Bolivarian Revolution, but they now appear to have been removed from his party’s website.

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Kristin Halvorsen

Lysbakken isn’t alone in his party, which has firmly supported chavismo from the beginning. After Chávez was re-elected in 2004, the Socialist Left’s national board – including such high-profile figures as Kristin Halvorsen, Øystein Djupedal, and Bård Vegar Solhjell – sent a letter of congratulations to Caracas that begin with the words “Dear comrades!”

Author Eirik Vold now presents himself as having foreseen Venezuela’s collapse. But it was only three years ago that the radical-left publisher Manifest issued Vold’s extremely pro-chavista book, Hugo Chávez: The Revenge. In it, Vold hailed Chávez as a “Christmas present for the left” and claimed that the dictator had a lot to teach Norwegian socialists.

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Benedicte Bull

Another sap: Benedicte Bull, a researcher at the University of Oslo. She now supports the Venezuelan opposition, but not long ago she was praising Chávez for working towards “a more egalitarian society and democratic government institutions” and condemning Norwegian critics of the caudillo for their supposed ignorance and lack of “nuance.”

Then there’s Peter M. Johansen of the national Communist daily Klassekampen, who had repeatedly depicted Chávez, and then Maduro, as waging a heroic struggle against what he described as a “cryptofascist oppisition directed from Washington.”

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Dave Watson

One Norwegian enthusiast for chavismo who has yet to jump ship is Dave Watson (no, the name doesn’t sound too Norwegian to us, either), who belongs to something called the Latin America Group in Bergen. In an article written in May, five months after the Venezuelan opposition scored a victory in last December’s parliamentary elections, Watson blamed the Bolivarian Republic’s economic disaster largely on the ruling party’s opponents, whom he accused of “undermining, destabilizing, and sabotaging” chavista efforts to bring about utopia.

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Leopoldo López

Instead of criticizing Maduro for incarcerating opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López, moreover, Watson actually condemned the Venezuelan opposition for using its new majority to try to free these political prisoners. (Yes, you read that right.) Similarly, instead of recognizing that the country’s grocery shelves were empty because of the colossal failure of chavista economics, Watson suggested that the “mysterious disappearance” of staples from the stores was the product of a corporate conspiracy to bring down Maduro. All of which goes to show that some dreams – some self-delusions – never die.

Venezuela: don’t mention socialism!

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The key word is “hambre” (hunger)

A June 19 article by Nicholas Casey of the New York Times painted a vivid picture of the crisis in Venezuela:

With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation’s food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

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“My country is hungry”

Casey spelled it all out: dozens of food riots; people marching on supermarkets, “screaming for food”; mass looting; businesses destroyed; at least five deaths. “A staggering 87 percent of Venezuelans say they do not have money to buy enough food,” he wrote. Thanks to the decline in value of the Venezuelan bolívar, he explained, the average family needs at least 16 minimum-wage salaries to feed itself. People are literally dying of starvation.

TOPSHOT - A woman with a sign reading "We starve" protests against new emergency powers decreed this week by President Nicolas Maduro in front of a line of riot policemen in Caracas on May 18, 2016. Public outrage was expected to spill onto the streets of Venezuela Wednesday, with planned nationwide protests marking a new low point in Maduro's unpopular rule. / AFP / FEDERICO PARRA (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)
“We’re dying of starvation”

Casey recalled that when Hugo Chávez was first running for president, he said that Venezuela’s inability to feed its people was the reason why the country needed a socialist revolution. But now, Casey noted, things are possibly even worse than they were then. In response to the current crisis, reported Casey, Chávez’s hapless successor as president, Nicolas Maduro, has “put most food distribution in the hands of a group of citizen brigades loyal to leftists, a measure critics say is reminiscent of food rationing in Cuba,” where friends of the government get fed first, others perhaps not at all.

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“There’s no food”

But why has all this happened? Why is one of the world’s major oil-exporting nations the one with the very worst economy on earth? Other, more honest American newspapers have published analyses that explicitly trace this nightmare to chavista economic policies – in short, socialism. Not The New York Times. The Venezuelan government, wrote Casey, “blames an ‘economic war’ for the shortages. It accuses wealthy business owners of hoarding food and charging exorbitant prices, creating artificial shortages to profit from the country’s misery.” Casey gave no indication that this is a transparent lie. Casey also cited low oil prices; he did not bother to point out that other oil-producing countries are still doing very well indeed.

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“Venezuela will be free”

As Thomas Lifson observed at The American Thinker in a commentary on Casey’s article, “in over 1,500 words on the situation, there is no mention whatsoever of socialism as a root cause….there is no mention of the price controls, the demonization of business owners, the seizures of businesses, the decline in oil production thanks to state management, or any of the other socialist policies that make Venezuela the only oil producer in the world to see mass starvation in the wake of the oil price decline.”

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“There’s nothing in Venezuela”

Even the left-wing Guardian ran a fairer account of the Venezuelan mess. (The Guardian even included mention of the high level of government corruption.) Meanwhile The Nation predictably assured its readers that the crisis in Venezuela is “deep but not cataclysmic” (or, later in the piece, “dire, but not apocalyptic”) and that “mainstream US media have consistently exaggerated the extent of it.” Nation hack Gabriel Hetland even found “sparks” of hope in the rise of private and communal vegetable gardens and of the practice of bartering the goods produced by these gardens. Chavismo, one gathered from Hetland’s report, may end up giving rise to the purest and most beautiful kind of revolution – namely, a total rejection of the money-based economy in favor of prehistoric-style direct trade in agricultural products.

Lifson’s conclusion is that “the leftist media are busily engaged in covering up the evils perpetrated by socialism.” It’s hard not to agree with him.

Cheering Chávez: John Pilger

This week we’re discussing Australian-born, Britain-based journalist John Pilger, whose decades-long oeuvre is one long attack on the Western democracies and love letter to various despots around the world. Among the objects of his affection is Hugo Chávez, whom Pilger unabashedly depicted, in a 2006 documentary, War on Democracy, as a hero of freedom.

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John Pilger

Pilger was still at it in February 2015, when he described Venezuela in an interview as “a source of inspiration for social reform in a continent ravaged by an historically rapacious United States.” What about, um, Venezuela’s ongoing economic collapse? Wasn’t that the fault of its misguided socialist “reforms”? No, Pilger explained: it was caused by (what else?) American “quislings and spies” and by the U.S. government’s sordid “machinations”: “Washington wants to get rid of the Venezuelan government because it is independent of U.S. designs for the region and because Venezuela has the greatest proven oil reserves in the world and uses its oil revenue to improve the quality of ordinary lives.” The U.S., Pilger maintained, was driven by a mad compulsion to bring down the Bolivarian Republic, because the latter represents “the threat of a good example”: Venezuela, you see, was prospering, and this was something the U.S. simply could not forgive.

pilger_venezuelaIn another interview, given this past March – by which time it was even clearer that Venezuela’s economy was circling the drain – Pilger continued to laud chavismo. Sounding for all the world like Lincoln Steffens oohing and aahing over the Soviet Union, Pilger gushed nostalgically about the glories of life under the late, great Hugo. “Venezuela was undergoing imaginative, historic, even epic changes,” he recalled. “Children were learning about history and the arts for the first time; Venezuela’s literacy programme was the most adventurous in the world….What struck me was the pride ordinary people felt – pride in their revitalised lives, and in the previously unheard of possibilities that lay ahead and in their government, especially Hugo Chávez.” What bliss it was in that dawn to be alive!

Ah, Chávez, Chávez, Chávez! Pilger is one of those Western intellectuals who, from the safe distance of their own free countries, adore alien despots who tyrannize people other than themselves in countries far, far away. “I have never known a national leader so respected and held in such affection as Chávez,” Pilger said. “He was an extraordinary man, who never seemed to sleep, who was consumed by ideas.” (Ideas such as shuttering Venezuela’s largest TV network for being insufficiently deferential to him – an action, by the way, that our “Journalist of the Year” lustily applauded.)

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Clement Attlee

In his March interview, Pilger went on to make a curious comparison. Venezuela during those early days of chavismo, he claimed, “bore similarities to Britain under the reforming Attlee Labour government of 1945-51.” Indeed it did: that “reforming” Attlee government, like the chavista regime, ultimately proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster: while West Germany, which had been almost leveled during the war, pursued a free-market policy and soon enjoyed an economic boom, Attlee nationalized one-fifth of the U.K. economy, vastly expanded the welfare state, and hiked taxes dramatically – thus subjecting Britons to continued scarcity, austerity, and rationing.

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Hugo Chávez

You might think that the lesson here would be not to copy Chávez’s or Attlee’s policies. Not in Pilger’s world. He likes socioeconomic systems that produce what he sees as virtuous poverty instead of pernicious wealth. Not, again, that he wants to live under those systems himself – he’s stayed put in nasty old Britain since 1962 and has raised both of his children there, sending his daughter to study alongside the scions of evil capitalists and imperialists the University of London (where she did a Ph.D. “on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists”) and his son to the University of Sussex and (surprise!) to the University of Michigan, in beautiful, execrably privileged Ann Arbor, in the heart of the Great Satan itself. No, it seems clear that Pilger wants the world’s rabble to live under the ideologically laudable systems of places like Cuba and Venezuela and China and Saddam’s Iraq, while he and his long-suffering progeny are forced to endure the burdens and terrors of the always despicable West.

Rewriting Rwanda: John Pilger

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John Pilger

Who is John Pilger? Born in Australia in 1939, he worked as a reporter for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, then relocated in 1962 to Britain, where over the years he made a name for himself as a foreign correspondent, TV journalist, documentary maker – and, not least, as one of a small number of prominent scribes (among them Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, and Howard Zinn) who are famous for their anti-Western rancor. As is so often the case with such figures, his anti-Western rancor hasn’t kept Pilger from receiving honorary doctorates from several leading Western universities and from collecting a long list of major Western awards – an Emmy, a Peabody, a BAFTA, two nods for “Journalist of the Year,”multiple prizes from the UN, an award from Reporters without Borders, and a human-rights prize from Norway, among others.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein yells at the court as the verdict is delivered during his trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Sunday Nov. 5, 2006. Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentence him to die by hanging. (AP Photo/David Furst, Pool)
Saddam Hussein

We saw yesterday that even after 9/11 Pilger couldn’t see Americans as ever, ever being victims. That atrocity and its aftermath evoked some of Pilger’s most wretched writings. It’s one thing to consider the whole “War on Terror” misguided or botched, and to deplore the collateral damage caused by coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; it is quite another to look upon the utter savagery of Saddam or of Taliban jihadists, as Pilger did, with apparent indifference. (Indeed, Pilger openly declared that he was on Saddam’s side.) For him, as one critic wrote,

the people of Iraq, the terrorists, the psychopathic death squads, only exist in the dim and distant background. If they are mentioned at all…they are products of Western policy. They lack all agency. To all intents and purposes they are the absent party. They are non-persons; hapless nobodies…..There’s obviously a kind of racism at play here: only Westerners matter; and only then if they can be blamed.

It gets worse. In 2010, Pilger endorsed a book, The Politics of Genocide, in which Edward S. Herman and David Peterson denied the monstrous 1994 annihilation of the Tutsi in Rwanda by the Hutu majority. According to Herman and Peterson, the shoe was on the other foot: the Tutsi, in fact, had massacred the Hutu. Pilger called the book a “brilliant exposé of great power’s lethal industry of lies.” As one former admirer of Pilger commented: “In the Rwandan context, this is the equivalent of asserting that the Nazis never killed Jews in death camps – indeed, that it was really Jews who killed Germans.”

In Pilger’s view, we weren’t even the good guys in the Cold War: complaining in one 2005 essay about the history syllabi then in use at Oxford and Cambridge, he mocked the references to Soviet “expansionism” and the “spread” of Communism and protested the fact that “there is not a word about the ‘spread’ of rapacious America.”

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

Of course he loves Cuba, which he first visited in 1967. In a 2011 article, he depicted that initial exposure to the Castros’ island as a fun, colorful, fiesta-like experience. The Cubans he met were uniformly delightful and friendly – but, he added, “the hardship of their imposed isolation left smiles diminished and eyes averted once the music had stopped.” And whose fault was that isolation? One guess. America’s, naturally. In fact, everything that went wrong with the Castro Revolution, it turns out, was America’s fault: the increasing poverty, the decrease in food supplies, the crumbling of infrastructure, etc., etc. Also, while America’s relations with the rest of the world are driven by a sheer lust for power, don’t you know, Cuba’s international relations are motivated by pure altruism: the “revolution,” Pilger maintained, echoing the Castros’ ludicrous propaganda, “sends tens of thousands of doctors across the world for the sole purpose of helping other human beings: an epic internationalism.”

And he was at least as fond of Hugo Chávez as he is of the Castros. More on that tomorrow.

John Pilger’s “great game”

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John Pilger

How better to introduce John Pilger than to quote from a notorious piece he published in The Guardian in July of 2002? The piece in question, we hasten to point out, isn’t much more appalling that many of the other things he’s written during his more than half-century-long career. But it certainly is representative, and it spells out his worldview with considerable – and disgusting – clarity.

“It is 10 months since 11 September,” he wrote

and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the ‘war on terrorism’ – when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them….There is no war on terrorism; it is the great game speeded up. The difference is the rampant nature of the superpower, ensuring infinite dangers for us all.

Those sentences pretty much sum up Pilger’s worldview. Everything that happens in the world can be explained by a single, overarching, black-and-white narrative: the West, with the U.S. at its helm, is an evil force, poisoned by cutthroat capitalism, bloodthirsty imperialism, and an abiding illusion of freedom (Pilger refers to America and its allies as “societies that call themselves free”) and motivated by an unflagging lust to overpower and control the rest of the planet.

johnpilgerThis is the aforementioned “great game.” Every non-Western nation is a victim of this game; every non-Western people is virtuous; every non-Western culture is superior to the West.

All the tensions in the Middle East, therefore, are the fault of Israel, which is nothing more or less than a terrorist outpost of the West, run by the likes of “supreme terrorist Ariel Sharon.” (“[T]he Zionist state,” Pilger has written, “remains the cause of more regional grievance and sheer terror than all the Muslim states combined.”) Hamas, Hezbollah, all of them, are only reactive forces, lashing out in defensive response to the West’s vicious assaults.

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With Hugo Chavez

In the same way, Castro is a hero, and Cuban freedom fighters are terrorists. Today’s Japan is “very ultra-nationalist…the kind of Israel of Asia, for the United States,” while today’s Communist China is an innocuous country that seeks only to develop its economy without Western interference. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua were saints; their opponents were demons. When it comes to sheer wickedness, the worst Taliban fanatics, in Pilger’s view, have nothing on “the Christian Right fundamentalists running the plutocracy in Washington.” Ukraine’s 2014 democratic revolution was “Washington’s putsch in Kiev,” and it turned Ukraine “into a CIA theme park right next to Russia.”

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Ho Chi Minh

On and on it goes. Ho Chi Minh was a good guy; the U.S. waged the Vietnam War not just against North Vietnam but against all of Vietnam, “north and south, communist and non-communist.” (No mention, of course, of Ho’s epic brutality, of the pernicious role of China, or of the dark reality of Communism in postwar Vietnam.)

Even Osama bin Laden himself was not so horrible compared to the real bad guys: “Al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan,” wrote Pilger, “were kindergartens compared with the world’s leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia.” Yes, he actually wrote that. All too often, his stuff reads like some kind of parody of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. 

Who is this clown? We’ll dig deeper tomorrow.

Those krazy Kirchner krooks

DYN15, BUENOS AIRES 04/09/06, EL SECRETARIO DE OBRAS PUBLICAS, JOSE LOPEZ DURANTE LA 1(TM) SESION PLENARIA DEL XV CONGRESO INTERNACIONAL "LOS LIMITES DE LA RESPONSABILIDAD SOCIAL DE LA EMPRESA", ESTA MA-ANA EN LA FACULTAD DE CIENCIAS ECONOMICAS DE LA UNIVERSIDAD DE BUENOS AIRES (UBA).FOTO:DYN/LUCIANO THIEBERGER.
José Francisco López

Okay, this one is kind of funny. But first you need to know who José Francisco López is.

Who is he? He’s a civil engineer and a longtime member of the sleazy Kirchner circle in Argentina. In 1991, when Nestor Kirchner became governor of the state of Santa Cruz, he put López on the administrative board of the state’s roads authority. Later he named López to executive positions in other state agencies. When Kirchner was elected president in 2003, he took López with him to Buenos Aires, appointing him to serve as the federal Minister of Public Works. As such, López was the “right-hand man” of the notorious Julio de Vido, the Minister of Federal Planning.

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De Vido, Cristina Kirchner, and López

In this position, which López retained under the presidency of Kirchner’s wife, Cristina, he wielded enormous power, had control of massive amounts of money, and was (along with de Vido) an object of widespread suspicion. Both were accused of a range of corrupt acts, such as pressuring construction firms for bribes and kickbacks and using federally funded construction projects to reward friends or punish enemies. One of de Vido’s and López’s associates, Ricardo Jaime, was eventually arrested, tried, and imprisoned for stealing evidence.

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Wads of cash in the trunk of López’s car

Which brings us to what happened this past June 14. On that day, in a district of Buenos Aires known as General Rodriguez, López was arrested while in possession of approximately $7 million dollars in cash in a range of denominations, including U.S. dollars, euros, and yen. The money was distributed among six large plastic bags, a suitcase, and the trunk of López’s car. In addition, López had on him an unidentified amount of jewelry, a receipt from a Beijing bank, and several high-end watches, including Rolexes and Omegas.

Oh, and he was packing a gun.

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After his arrest, López was fitted out with a helmet and bulletproof vest for his protection

There’s more. According to reports, López tried to hide the bags of money at a convent called Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima; it was, in fact, the resident nuns who fingered him, phoning the cops and reporting that (no kidding) some man was throwing plastic bags over their convent wall. When officers arrived at the scene, the ever-intrepid López tried to hide in the convent, where he endeavored in vain to persuade the nuns, who were obviously no fools, that he’d brought all that dough to donate it to them and that the police were trying to steal it.

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A still from The Sound of Music. Just in case you don’t know what a nun looks like.

It was unclear from news reports whether López also claimed to have intended to give the nuns the jewelry and watches.

In any event, the nuns didn’t buy it. When the cops turned up, López offered them bribes. That didn’t work, either.

Anyway, so it goes in Argentina in these immediate post-Kirchner days. Another day, another name added to the long roster of Kirchner functionaries being investigated for money-laundering –Néstor and Cristina’s favorite indoor sport.

The callow Kirchnerite: Ben Norton

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Ben Norton

This week we’ve been perusing the writings of highly prolific Salon contributor Ben Norton, who in a career that is now barely three years old has established himself as a leading American champion of Islam and hard-core socialism and a major detractor of the U.S., Israel, and “neoliberalism.”

Before we say goodbye to Norton, let’s take a quick look at another frequent topic of his work – namely Latin America. Unsurprisingly, he’s heaped praise on socialist leaders – such as Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Cristina Kirchner in Argentina – who’ve damaged economies, arrested opponents, and suppressed civil liberties (after all, their hearts are in the right place!), while predictably demonizing “neoliberal” leaders who’ve brought their countries freedom and prosperity. Citing such far-left sources as Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald, Norton has referred to the impeachment of Brazil’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, as a “right-wing coup.” In May, he attacked New York Times editorial-board member Ernesto Londoño, who in a recent article had done two things of which Norton disapproved.

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Glenn Greenwald

What two things? First, Londoño had committed the unpardonable act of “bashing Venezuela’s elected leader.” In fact, what Londoño had done was simply to criticize the human-rights violations committed by the government of President Maduro – who, as Londoño truthfully noted, had become “a petty dictator.” Second, Londoño had praised the man Norton referred to as “Argentina’s new right-wing [read: non-socialist] President Mauricio Macri,” whom Norton criticized for having “capitulated to vulture funds” and for “forcing through brutal neoliberal cuts.” In reality, Londoño, in commenting about Marci, had merely noted with obvious admiration Macri’s longstanding criticism of chavista human-rights abuses.

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Ernesto Londoño

What about those “vulture funds” – the Kirchner crowd’s disparaging term for the U.S. hedge funds to which Argentina owned billions of dollars, but that Cristina Kirchner refused to pay a single peso, preferring instead to vilify her creditors and let her country default on its sovereign debt for the second time in fourteen years? Londoño hadn’t said a word about those funds; but Norton apparently couldn’t forgive Macri for having decided to pay his country’s debts and move beyond Cristina’s disastrous default. As for those “brutal neoliberal cuts”? Londoño hadn’t mentioned them, either. Of course, to Norton, neoliberalism is a dirty word, and budget cuts are by definition brutal. But the plain fact is that Macri – who appears to understand economics a good deal better than Norton does (and better, for that matter, than Chávez or Maduro or Kirchner or Rousseff) – is simply trying to keep Argentina from heading down the same road that has led Venezuela to utter economic ruin.

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Mauricio Macri

But what does Ben Norton know or care about such realities and responsibilities? Or about the long-term impact of capitalist vs. socialist economics on the everyday lives of ordinary people? Or, again, about the reality of day-to-day life in free, democratic societies vs. day-to-day life under putatively progressive autocrats or Islamic totalitarians? Again and again, he has shown that the lessons of the twentieth century are lost on him. He seems to bang away at his articles in a child’s little corner of world, sheltered from the ugly, distant realities of theocracy and despotism and clueless about how fortunate he is to be living in a free, prosperous country that he’s been taught to regard as the planet’s chief purveyor of evil. In every word that he writes, in short, Ben Norton comes across as an utter naif – which is to say that he is every bit as callow about the way the great world operates as he appears to be in his photographs.