Venezuela continues its descent toward the ninth circle of socialist hell

Protesters in Caracas

In the wake of the March 29 dissolution of Venezuela’s National Assembly, an act that was widely condemned as a coup by President Nicolás Maduro, the economy of that poor, socialism-ravaged country has continued to circle the drain even as opponents of Maduro have taken to the streets day by day to demand their nation back, shouting “No more dictatorship!” Hundreds of thousands of protesters have filled the streets of Caracas and other cities; on Wednesday of last week, which saw the country’s largest protests in years, over 300 protesters were arrested, and pro-Maduro cops, gangsters, and soldiers have caused several deaths. (As of last Friday, the number of fatalities had risen to at least twenty.) Increasing, the capital has resembled a battle zone, with protesters setting up “burning barricades in several neighborhoods” and the military patrolling the night streets in “light-armored vehicles.”

Nicolas Maduro

Maduro himself, who has rejected the idea that the dissolution of the legislature constituted a coup, has said that, on the contrary, the protests against him – which in any free country, of course, would be protected by the right of assembly – amounted to a coup attempt. Vice President Tarek El Aissami has called Maduro’s opponents “terrorist leaders” and accused their followers of “fascist violence.” Another recent Maduro move was barring Henrique Capriles, the top opposition leader, whom Maduro has called “trash,” from running for public office.

Henrique Capriles

Late last week, engineering student David Marval, one of the protesters in Caracas, told Bloomberg News: “Everyone is asking what the plan is….For me, you have to paralyze the entire city.” Informed observers ventured that “Maduro’s grip on power is weakening.” At a press conference, opposition legislator Freddy Guevara said: “Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born.” Raquel Belfort told Time Magazine: This is the moment….People are sick of this….we’ve touched rock bottom. I think if we take to the streets every day we’ll end this government.”

Yet in an April 21 article for The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry suggested that an end to Maduro’s tyranny is not yet in sight. Venezuela, Gobry lamented, “cannot wake up from its socialist nightmare.” Maduro, he maintained “increasingly looks like a ‘Bolivarian’ version of Vladimir Putin, holding power through corrupt patronage, fear, and the smothering of alternative voices and power centers.”

Father of the revolution: Hugo Chavez

Gobry served up a welter of chilling statistics about Venezuela’s “rotting” economy: “The economy shrank by 18 percent last year, with unemployment at 25 percent, and inflation slated to be 750 percent this year and 2,000 percent the next.” The very real human toll of this socialist disaster is reflected in the fact that during the past year, “74 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of nearly 20 pounds each.” Also, “children are suffering from malnourishment for the first time in the country’s modern history” and “hospitals are running out of even basic drugs.” On April 20, the Wall Street Journal reported that many Venezuelans are, quite simply, too hungry to join in the protests. 

Among the recent casualties of the economic free-fall was an announcement on that same date that General Motors, in reaction to a government seizure of one of its factories, was withdrawing entirely from the country, where it has thousands of employees. Oh, and let’s not forget that Caracas is now “the murder capital of the world.” All this in a country with extraordinary human and natural resources that was once, hard as it may now be to believe, on the verge of having a First World economy.

Berkeley’s mayor is a radical anarchist, too

Yvette Felarca

This week we’ve been examining the ugly antics of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a California-based “anti-fascist” group whose members carry out violent protests at which they behave like a bunch of fascists. We’ve been focusing especially on BAMN leader Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley middle-school teacher, and on the group’s successful attempt on February 1 last to close down a scheduled lecture by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, BAMN caused about $100,000 in damages on the UC Berkeley campus and about four or five times that much damage in downtown Berkeley.

Milo Yiannopoulos

One of the questions that were widely raised after BAMN’s Berkeley hijinks was why the police stood down during the whole thing. Videos taken in the midst of the violence showed Berkeley police officers standing nearby but staying completely out of it, allowing thugs to take over the city streets in which they are pledged to keep the peace. There was a total of one arrest. Police officers asked by reporters about their failure to intervene replied by suggesting that the matter be taken up with the mayor and chief of police. Obviously they had been ordered not to interfere with BAMN.

Arreguin being sworn in as a City Council member

Attention turned, then, to Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguin, whose public response to the incident was to call Yiannopoulos – falsely – a “white nationalist” and to say that he was not welcome in Berkeley. Some very interesting answers have since emerged. On April 21, the Heat Street website reported that Arreguin is a member of BAMN’s Facebook page. Yes, that’s right: the mayor of Berkeley belongs to the violent anarchist group – a group identified by the FBI and State Department as a terrorist organization – that did hundreds of thousands of damage in his own city. He and Felarca are also Facebook friends. An activist interviewed by Heat Street described BAMN as being “like a cult.”

Arreguin and Che

As it happens, Arreguin’s entire career has been in local Berkeley politics. After attending UC Berkeley, he served on many local government boards, including the Rent Stabilization Board, from 2004 to 2008. For the next eight years, he was a member of the City Council. He has only been mayor since December 1, 2016. Arreguin’s own Facebook page, by the way, features a picture of him with his cat. The cat is named Che.

Yiannopoulos with Ann Coulter

Yiannopoulous isn’t the only speaker to have been targeted lately by the punks at Berkeley. Conservative author Ann Coulter, who has written a dozen or so New York Times bestsellers, was invited by the College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation (YAF) to give a speech on campus. It was originally scheduled for today; campus officials, using the excuse of security concerns, canceled the event, but after an international outcry offered to let her give a talk on May 2, during a week known at Berkeley as Dead Week because everybody’s busy studying for final exams. Coulter insisted she would come today as planned; meanwhile the College Republicans threatened to sue the college if it didn’t come up with a suitable venue. Yesterday, however, Coulter announced that she would not be coming to Berkeley after all, because the College Republicans and YAF, also citing security concerns, had changed its mind about hosting her. “Everyone who should believe in free speech fought against it or ran away,” Coulter lamented.

Though Yvette Felarca’s looking glass

On February 1, Berkeley middle-school teacher Yvette Felarca directed what can fairly be called a paramilitary action by her “anti-fascist” group, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), on the campus of UC Berkeley. It succeeded in its objective: to get university authorities to cancel a speech by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yvette Felarca

The officials cited security concerns. They issued a condemnation of “the violence and unlawful behavior” of BAMN. So far, so good. But then the officials expressed “deep regret” that BAMN’s “tactics” would “now overshadow the efforts to engage in legitimate and lawful protest against the performer’s presence and perspectives.” Just to make their point crystal clear, the officials spelled out the fact that “Yiannopoulos’ views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to our own.” What exactly, one wondered, was the antecedent of the word “our” there? The entire administration of Berkeley? Everybody at Berkeley? Were the officials suggesting that absolutely nobody at the college agreed with Yiannopoulos about anything?

Milo Yiannopoulos

Given that this episode followed a period of several months during which Yiannopoulos had appeared at dozens of colleges around the U.S. and drawn large and enthusiastic crowds of students who very obviously liked virtually everything he said and were entertained and energized by the way he said it, this claim seemed dubious, to say the least. What was represented as a denunciation of BAMN by Berkeley officials read, on closer examination, like a pro forma slap on BAMN’s wrist, a slamdown of Yiannopoulos, and a between-the-lines suggestion that the best way to deal with the likes of Yiannopoulos was for the whole campus to act in lockstep by engaging in peaceful protest.

In any event, the actions by Felarca and her henchmen on that day didn’t affect her job. On the contrary, it resulted in plenty of national media appearances. On February 13, she turned up on the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News, saying that Yiannopoulos “should not be able to speak in public to spread his racist, misogynistic and homophobic lies.” In fact Yiannopoulos is himself gay, is a white man who has had black boyfriends, and, while a fierce critic of the radical, male-hating aspects of third-wave feminism, has many female fans and is a firm believer in sexual equality.

When Felarca called Yiannopoulos a fascist, Tucker asked her to define the word. “A fascist,” she replied, “is someone who’s organizing a mass movement that’s attacking women, immigrants, black people, other minority groups in a movement of genocide.” She further charged Yiannopoulos with violence. When Carlson challenged these claims, she started babbling about how Yiannopoulos was “trying to be the youth face and token that other people who are organizing violence try to hide behind” and had “whip[ped] up a whole lynch mob mentality.” Carlson’s quiet observation that Yiannopoulos had never called for rape or genocide was ignored by Felarca, who repeated that people like him had to be “shut down.”

After her Carlson appearance, a spokesman for BUSD said that Felarca wouldn’t be punished for her extracurricular activities because of her “free speech” rights. How exceedingly ironic that BUSD decided that Felarca’s violent efforts to keep Yiannopoulos from exercising his own free-speech rights amounted to an act of free speech.

More tomorrow.

Thugs at Berkeley

Yvette Felarca

Yesterday we met Yvette Felarca, a leader of the California-based violent radical group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), which calls itself anti-fascist but whose own rhetoric and tactics are right out of the fascist playbook. Last June, she led a violent BAMN action in Sacramento that would have lost her her middle-school teaching job if the district administrators had any backbone. But that event pales alongside BAMN’s biggest operation ever, which took place on February 1 of this year. It was on that date that BAMN, employing physical violence and destroying property, succeeded in closing down a planned speech at UC Berkeley by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.

Milo Yiannopoulos giving one of his campus speeches in drag

“This is not about free speech,” Felarca told her followers before the big event. She described Yiannopoulos and his crew as “not people who are interested in any genuine debate. They hide behind that hypocritically to try to shut up and put in our places women or Muslims or minorities or oppressed groups. But what they are really trying to do is they’re trying to assert their power, threaten us, intimidate us, rape us, kill us.” For those unfamiliar with Yiannopoulos’s standard act, it may be necessary to say that he and his cohorts are not out to rape or kill anyone – they are out to restore some semblance of sanity to a largely campus-based subculture that has been infected by the kind of demented rhetoric in which Felarca specializes, smearing anyone who disagrees with her fanatical views as Nazis, fascists, racists, and so on.

These and following pictures: the Berkeley riot

“This is real,” she continued. “This is life and death…. We can shut this fucker down, we can get rid of Donald Trump….when the Nazis tried to kill some of us, after we recovered, some of them threatened me and students at my school and tried to get me fired. But they didn’t succeed, and the students and the parents and the community rallied together and not only got me my job back but we’re stronger now, so we have got to stay united.”

There ensued – at the flagship campus of the University of California system – a spectacle out of warn-torn Beirut or Sarajevo. Felarca’s disciples behaved like storm troopers. Destruction was rampant. The image of the free exchange of ideas at an American college being shut down by jackbooted thugs was chilling.

As one news source put it: “Those who came to hear Yiannopoulos speak were beaten fists and flag poles by protesters, who also doused attendees with pepper spray….Several folks at the event posted videos online highlighting the violence, as well as protesters yelling ‘fuck you racists’ and other profanities. Others, wearing masks and dressed in all black, hurled Molotov cocktails, smashed out windows at a student center where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak, threw fireworks and rocks at police, blocked traffic, and caused other mayhem.” CNN wrote: “The violent protesters tore down metal barriers, set fires near the campus bookstore and damaged the construction site of a new dorm. One woman wearing a red Trump hat was pepper sprayed in the face while being interviewed by CNN affiliate KGO. She was able to respond that she was OK after the attack.”

More tomorrow.

BAMN: the “anti-fascist” fascists

A BAMN protest

The organization’s full name is a mouthful: “The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.” It’s generally referred to “By Any Means Necessary” or by the acronym BAMN. Founded in California in 1995, reportedly as a “front group for an obscure Detroit-based Trotskyist political party called the Revolutionary Workers League,” it’s spent most of the years since then participating in protests and litigation in defense of affirmative action. At times it has gone beyond mere protesting to physical violence and vandalism, disrupting government meetings.

Outside the Sacramento State Capitol after the BAMN action

During the last couple of years, however, nationwide awareness of BAMN has soared – largely owing to the increasing scale and aggressiveness of its activities. In December 2014, in collaboration with Black Lives Matter, it blocked traffic on Interstate 80 in the Bay Area – a mass action that led to the arrest of 210 people. At a June 2016 outside the California State Capitol in  Sacramento, brutal BAMN members sent ten people to the hospital with stab wounds. Both the FBI and the Defense Department have described BAMN as being involved in terrorism.

The Berkeley riot

On February 1 of this year, BAMN made what were probably its biggest headlines yet when it organized an out-and-out riot at UC Berkeley that succeeded in closing down a scheduled speech by conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. During that rampage, the university and city police stood down while about 150 BAMN thugs dressed in black behaved brutally, destroyed college, city, and private property both on campus and off, and threw “rocks and incendiary devices” at cops.

Yvette Felarca

One of BAMN’s more high-profile leaders is Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School. At the above-mentioned Sacramento rally, Felarca was reported by the San Jose Mercury-News to have “shoved a man to the ground and instigated a brawl.” Also, a video showwed her at the Sacramento rally, punching a man in the stomach and yelling “Get the fuck off our streets.” When the news of her conduct spread, thousands of outraged Berkeley parents signed a petition demanding her dismissal. In response to the complaints, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) put her on paid leave and launched an “investigation” – one of those things that academic administrators do to make it look as if they’re doing something.

Six weeks later she was back on the job. BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan served up one of the most jaw-dropping excuses of all time. “It’s one thing if it was during a school day, but she is on vacation,” Coplan said. “We don’t have any authority or business to judge what an employee does in her off time.”

And so on February 1 there she was in Berkeley, orchestrating yet another BAMN riot.

More tomorrow.

Trump evil, CAIR good: the world of Bethany Allen

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

This week we’ve been exploring the world of Foreign Policy assistant editor Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who appears to have begun making a successful career for herself as a slick apologist for even the most extreme aspects of Islam. She did this recently by painting Georgetown University’s Jonathan A.C. Brown, who defended sharia law’s acceptance of slavery, as a victim of Islamophobia. Christmas before last, she performed a similar service for her Muslim husband, celebrating her parents’ Thanksgiving-dinner capitulation to his religion’s strict dietary laws as a triumph over cruel anti-Islamic bigotry.

She’s still at it. On a February 9 of this year, Allen-Ebrahimian wrote an article for the Washington Post in which she worried about the prospects for Muslim life in America under Trump – who, she charged, hates Muslims, and is surrounded by people who share that hatred. She noted that after 9/11 American Muslims “didn’t know where to turn for help….They had almost no political, social or cultural capital.” They were helpless, she lamented, when “Muslims and Muslim charities were targeted in terrorism investigations.” She omitted to mention, however, that these investigations found many Muslims, including supposedly peaceful imams and activists, to have intimate links to terrorists, and discovered that many Muslim “charities” were, in fact, fronts for terrorist groups. Mosques, too.

Ghassan Elashi, a CAIR leader convicted of funneling money to Hamas

But American Muslims, she reported, are no longer powerless. “American Muslims have learned to arm themselves, not with weapons but with the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution….Muslim society in the United States has undergone a stunning transformation.” There are two Muslims in Congress, and plenty of groups such as “the Muslim Legal Fund of America, the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, the Alliance for an Indivisible America 2020, WORDE, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Michigan, Ta’leef Collective in California, the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation and many others.”

She highlighted “the nation’s premier Muslim civil rights advocacy organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR),” which in recent years has “vastly expanded its footprint and now operates 30 offices nationwide.” Again, she omitted to point out that CAIR has been shown to be closely tied to Hamas; that it has given aid to, and expressed support for, terrorist atrocities; and that it is, essentially, a front for a coalition of radical Islamic groups.

Ahmad Saleem (left, with lawyer), arrested last year on child-trafficking charges

But Trump, Allen-Ebrahimian freeted, may undo all of this. She quoted a speaker at CAIR’s annual banquet last December: “A nightmare that we have been fighting in this country for the past 15 years is now in the White House.” Many Americans – indeed, many people throughout the West – would say that the nightmare we have been fighting for the past 15 years is something called Islamic terrorism, which has taken thousands of lives in barbaric acts in New York, Paris, London, Madrid, San Bernardino, Orlando, Boston, Brussels, Mumbai, Bali, and numerous other places. In her Post article, and throughout all the work of hers that we’ve looked at, Allen-Ebrahimian only mentions these horrible actions in the context of complaining about reasonable actions intended to prevent more of them.

Bethany Allen: whitewashing totalitarian religion

Yesterday we took a look at Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s Christman 2015 Washington Post article about how her Christian family went all halal at Thanksgiving time in order to please her grumpy Muslim husband. We were disturbed by the article but impressed by many of the reactions in the Post‘s online comments field.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahamian

To be sure, many readers congratulated Allen Ebrahimian’s family for their welcoming spirit. Others, however, were more critical. One reader was put off by Allen-Ebrahimian’s statement that American Islamophobia had made her cry: “I bet the families of the San Bernardino victims burst into tears occasionally too.” Another reader didn’t appreciate the Trump bashing: “So you and your friends have a problem with Donald Trump because he wants to put more scrutiny to identify potential terrorists. Say that to the families who lost their loved ones in San Bernardino and Paris.” Another pointed out that Allen-Ebrahimian had married into a religion that punishes apostates with death and allows men to have up to four wives. Yet another was “sick and tired of the seemingly endless procession of Islamophobia articles and editorials by the Washington Post….Muslims are safer here than probably any other place in the world.”

The San Bernardino terrorists

A couple of readers zeroed in on Allen-Ebrahimian’s husband – and his family: “What kind of a grown up is he when he doesn’t want to talk to your family because he was not served halal food[?]” Also: “I would be very interested to know the accommodations offered to you by your husband’s family.” Another reader had the same thought: “you (and your family) assimilated into his culture and started eating halal. What has he done to assimilate into yours?” Indeed, what’s missing from Allen-Ebrahimian’s essay is any sign of recognition on her part that she and her family have, unthinkingly or otherwise, accepted the idea that such accommodation should go only one way.

Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen and his wife

Another reader made essentially the same point: “When she was a child and her enlightened family took those global travels to broaden the kids’ minds, did they feel ‘isolated’ because nobody in Nairobi or Vienna served up Thanksgiving turkeys?…When she moved to China, did she expect people to Americanize their holidays for her benefit? On the contrary – by her own reckoning she did everything she could to leave Texas behind, and learn about, celebrate, and adapt to the traditions of her host country. Somehow in the United States, though, the progressive narrative deems that Americans are insensitive for celebrating their own traditions, and that people who move here voluntarily are victims when locals aren’t sufficiently speedy at rewriting traditions on their behalf.”

We might add that it’s especially unsettling to discover that Allen-Ebrahimian, raised in a free country, was drawn to a tyrannical Communist one (China) and, raised in a family that practiced a tolerant and loving version of the Christian faith, has now found herself whitewashing a totalitarian religious ideology.