Robert De Niro: slamming the U.S. in Dubai

Robert De Niro

For a long time, nobody thought of Robert De Niro as an American thinker, great or otherwise. For over a quarter century, however, he was unquestionably a great American artist – a remarkably versatile and extraordinarily compelling actor who created immortal characters in such films as The Godfather, Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, and Casino. He was nominated for several Oscars, and won two. In short, a cinematic treasure.

De Niro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern

In recent years, however, De Niro has become what some uncharitable observers might describe as a sellout. You might have gotten a few laughs out of Analyze This and Analyze That, but nobody will ever confuse them with The Godfather, Part I and II. You can say one thing about those two comedies – they look like Preston Sturges masterpieces alongside Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers. And the movies have just gotten worse and worse: The Intern, Dirty Grandpa, and The Comedian gave new meaning to the word lightweight. He’s obviously decided to stop going with the best scripts and instead grab at the biggest paychecks.

With Obama at that 2012 fundraiser

Of course, he’s entirely within his rights. What’s interesting to us is that while De Niro the artist has shriveled, another creature has risen up from the murk: De Niro the political commentator. In 2012, he spoke at an exclusive Obama campaign event in New York – attended by such left-wing showbiz luminaries as Harvey Weinstein and Whoopi Goldberg – at which he put race at the heart of the matter. “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney,” he said. “Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” It was obviously meant as a joke, but what’s the joke?

But that was nothing. In October 2016, a month or so before the presidential election, he made headlines by releasing a video in which he urged the electorate not to vote for Donald Trump. “He’s so blatantly stupid,” De Niro said, appearing to channel one of his gangster characters. “He’s a punk. He’s a dog. He’s a pig. He’s a con.” It went on – and got nastier from there. “He’s a national disaster. He’s an embarrassment to this country.” De Niro concluded by saying he’d like to punch Trump in the face.

The video was notable for its utter lack of anything resembling a serious argument. It didn’t so much as touch on a single real issue. It was pure name-calling. Days later, while in Dubai to promote investment in Antigua and Barbuda, where he was involved in a resort development (could it be that he and Trump have more in common than he realizes?), De Niro told an interviewer that Trump “does not have a clue about what goes on in the rest of the world.”

He was still at it this past January, when, standing at the lectern at the National Board of Review awards ceremony, he delivered what one news source accurately called “an expletive-filled rant” about Trump. “This f***ing idiot is the President,” De Niro said, and went on to call Trump a “f***ing fool” and “the jerkoff-in-chief.” Once again, he had nothing of substance to say about Trump. Once again, it was just name-calling – which he (quite mistakenly) appeared to consider amusing.

The other day, De Niro was back in Dubai, this time to attend the World Government Summit. He was there “to help combat climate change.” In a speech at the summit, he unfavorably compared the U.S., which he called “a backward country,” to the United Arab Emirates, which he described as “an example to the rest of the world.” Under Trump, he charged, Americans were suffering from “temporary insanity.”

De Niro in Dubai

Reading his remarks, one wondered who, exactly, was insane; who, exactly, was an embarrassment to his country; who, exactly, was clueless “about what goes on” in the world. There he was, praising as a role model a country that’s governed under sharia law – a country that denies its citizens many basic human rights, that carries out floggings and stonings, that restricts freedom of speech and of the press, that punishes apostasy, adultery, and homosexuality with death, that permits men to beat their wives, and that treats not rapists but rape victims as criminals.

Two pieces of advice for Robert De Niro. Go back to making good movies. And stick to the words in the script.

Sorry, New York Times: there’s nothing cute about Communists

Deirdre Griswold on a WWP placard

On Tuesday we met Deirdre Griswold, a leader of the Workers World Party who didn’t let the fall of the Soviet Union end her love of Communism and her deep regard for the USSR. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times – home of this website’s poster boy, Stalin apologist Walter Duranty – didn’t let Griswold’s admiration for the monsters who created the Gulag keep it from publishing a cozy profile of her in 2004.

David Hafetz

Entitled “Last of the True Believers” and written by David Hafetz, the profile was precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from the newspaper that made Fidel Castro a hero. Here’s Hafetz’s opening: “Most New Yorkers, Deirdre Griswold concedes with a smile, probably think Marxism is, as she puts it, ‘finished.’ It’s enough to make an aging Socialist revolutionary chuckle.” Get the point? This is no dour apparatchik out of some crude anti-Communist fantasy. She smiles. She chuckles. Also, she’s not a Stalinist but a “Socialist,” a devotee of “Marxism.”

Hafetz went on: “The Soviet Union collapsed and other radical leftists may have grown disillusioned, but as she sips tea and dips into a fruit plate at a diner on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, Ms. Griswold exudes the impregnable optimism of a true believer.” Note the homey details. And hey, how can you not appreciate optimism? How can you not admire a “true believer”?

Griswold (left) at a rally

Hafetz then mentioned Workers World, which “reports the news with a Marxist-Leninist twist and a dash of Stalinism.” A twist! A dash! Adorable. (Imagine a Times reporter writing the words “a Hitlerian twist” or “a dash of Nazism.”) Workers World, stated Hafetz, “often roars in protest,” but Griswold herself, “now 67, with reading glasses that dangle past her white hair, doesn’t exactly look ready to man the barricades.” Au contraire, she “speaks with a schoolteacher’s practiced patience and sounds as enthusiastic parsing the imperialist nature of the United States’ involvement in World War II, not to mention the war in Iraq, as discussing where to find good granola on the Internet.”

We kept waiting for Hafetz to use the word “grandmotherly,” but he didn’t have to: the point was made.

On and on it went. Hafetz itemized some of Griswold’s contradictions – she despises private ownership but owns an apartment, hates the U.S. government but accepts social security, abhors capitalism but likes window shopping – but he treated these contradictions as if they were cute. “She’s only human, she says.” Yes, a human who spent most of her life serving totalitarian masters.

Katherine Stapp

Hafetz interviewed Griswold’s daughter, Katherine Stapp, who revealed that “her mother believes deeply in the possibility of a better world.” Hafetz, for his part, was certainly eager to paint the old gal as humane: “She has marched against imperialism and police brutality, and in favor of the rights of groups like gays, the transgendered, immigrants and black plumbers.” You could hardly find a more classic example of the way in which the Times soft-soaps Communists, depicting them not as cheerleaders for tyrants and murderers but as super-liberals whose only crime, perhaps, is excessive idealism. Hafetz concluded his piece with a quote from the lady herself: “Our goal is to have a revolution so people don’t have to work three jobs….We want the workers to get a rest, to live a little. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

No. She has spent her life fighting for the cause of bloodthirsty dictatorship. For the kind of police state in which people lie awake at night in terror of a knock on the door, a sham trial, a summary execution. She has spent her life spitting on freedom.

She loves North Korea!

Deirdre Griswold (left) with WWP colleagues in Pyongyang

Who is Deirdre Griswold? Surely this was a question that more than a few of Tucker Carlson’s viewers asked on the evening of February 12, when Ms. Griswold, a feisty, white-haired woman of a certain age, was a guest on Carlson’s Fox News TV show. She was there because she’s an admirer of North Korea. She’s also a shameless fount of disinformation. Vociferously, she denied that North Koreans are forbidden access to information about the world. When Carlson said that North Koreans aren’t allowed to watch foreign movies, she accused him of making it up. She hailed North Korean literacy and medical care and insisted that, contrary to Carlson’s claim, North Koreans aren’t “living in some kind of jail.” When Carlson asked why North Koreans aren’t permitted to leave their country, Griswold shook her head and said: “People go back and forth all the time.”

Who is this woman? Carlson identified her as a member of the Workers World Party (WWP). And what, you ask, is the Workers World Party? It’s a solidly Communist organization, founded in 1959 by a group of comrades who split from the somewhat better known Socialist Workers Party (SWP) because they supported Mao’s revolution and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, both of which the SWP opposed. In other words, they formed the WWP because the SWP wasn’t radical enough for them. (As it happens, the SWP was itself a splinter group, formed by Trotskyites who’d been expelled from the pro-Stalinist American Communist Party.)

Griswold’s dad, Vincent Copeland, addressing an audience some time in the early 1980s

Griswold isn’t just any member of the WWP. Her stepfather, Vincent Copeland, was one of its founders and was also the founding editor of the party’s newspaper, Workers World. Griswold succeeded him as editor over five decades ago, and still holds the position to this day. In 1980, she was the party’s candidate for President of the United States, receiving about 13,000 votes.

The Soviet Union collapsed over a quarter century ago, but Griswold remains a fan. On the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution she gave a speech affirming her abiding loyalty to the totalitarian empire that gave us Lenin and Stalin, the Gulag and the Holodomor. While many on the left, she told her comrades, were so “stunned” by the fall of the USSR that they “abandoned Marxism,” the WWP did not.

For Griswold, what matters is not that the Kremlin regime was toppled but that it hung on as long as it did. “The fact that the Soviet Union lasted for 74 years despite everything the imperialists did to destroy it,” Griswold declared, “is an incredible testament to the strength of the working class and the struggle for socialism.” This endurance, she added, “proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a state based upon the working class and formerly oppressed peoples with a planned economy is vastly superior to capitalism.”

No decent person, obviously, could regard this woman’s politics as anything other than reprehensible. One major American newspaper that profiled her 14 years ago, however, did its best to depict her as charming and deeply humane. Which paper? Well, if you’re a regular reader of this site you can probably guess. But we’ll tell you all about it on Thursday.

In Hollywood, rage + PR = $$$

Tessa Thompson

On Tuesday we discusses the politically engaged actress Tessa Thompson and her definitive movie project, Dear White People (2014), a story about black students at an Ivy League college that Time Out hailed for its “rage.”

Needless to say, Dear White People was a story of oppression. The only real difference between 12 Years a Slave and Dear White People, you see, is that college takes only four years. 

Tessa, the thinker

The Chicago Tribune pretty much agreed with Time Outs praise for the movie’s rage, but put it more simply: “Dear White People isn’t perfect. And yet the flaws really don’t matter.” Of course not – not when you’re dealing with racial rage! Toss out the critics’ notepads, bring on the awards! Neatly skirting the question of aesthetic merit, A.O. Scott of the New York Times took a similar line, instructing his readers: “You want to see this movie, and you will want to talk about it afterward, even if the conversation feels a little awkward. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.” (Scott didn’t promise – note well – that readers would actually enjoy the movie.) Not to be outdone by these other outlets, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post gave a thumbs-up to the film’s celebration of dormitory segregation, an arrangement that, Hornaday maintained, provides “solidarity and protection.” 

Tessa in a $12,500 Gucci dress (“available at select Gucci stores nationwide and gucci.com”)

As noted, Tessa Thompson loved Dear White People. In 2016, she told The Cut that it was “an indictment of Hollywood,” where young black actresses often get cast as “the sassy black friend.” Never mind that the film was distributed by Lionsgate, a major Hollywood player. In any event, while Thompson felt she was rebelling against Hollywood, she wasn’t interested in rebelling against Hollywood-style PR: for the article in The Cut, she posed in a $3,200 Marc Jacobs sweater, a $2,208 Marc Jacobs skirt, an $11,500 Michael Kors dress, a $3,590 Ralph Lauren dress, and a $12,500 Gucci dress. Talk about overcoming!

Thompson has continued to fight the intrepid fight against The Man – not only in the name of blacks but in the name of women. In October 2017, she told the New York Daily News that she’d pitched “an all-female Marvel movie” to the head of Marvel Movies. In January, she celebrated the Time’s Up campaign against sexual abuse by posting on social media a picture of herself with such female stars as Laura Dern and Brie Larson.

Lena Dunham (dress price unavailable at press time)

And that’s where the trouble started. Also in the picture, as it happened, was Lena Dunham, who until recently was the very personification of young American women’s empowerment. But in these Reign of Terror-like times, when today’s feminist heroine can tomorrow be sent to the gallows, Dunham had become persona non grata in the Time’s Up crowd after she defended a writer of her TV series, Girls, from rape accusations. When Dunham, too, shared the picture on social media, it was Thompson who called her out, telling the world that while she and the other women in the photo had spent two months working on the Time’s Up campaign, Dunham had played no part in their activities. The plain implication was that Dunham was trying to take credit for other women’s feminist labors.  

Sweater, $3200; skirt, $2208

After receiving some backlash for her assault on the previously untouchable Dunham, Thompson apologized. Then, after a number of women spoke up on Thompson’s behalf, many of them complaining that the women’s movement still privileges white women, Thompson revisited her apology, saying that she hadn’t really meant to apologize for calling out Dunham but had intended rather “to re-center the conversation” around the fact that many women of color “don’t feel safe and seen.” 

The Dunham dustup made a lot of news, but it wasn’t even Tessa’s biggest event  in January. Also in that month, Variety featured this spectacular headline: “Jane Fonda, Gloria Allred, Tessa Thompson Slam Trump at Sundance Women’s Rally.”

Jane Fonda at the Sundance Women’s Rally

Forget her acting career: Thompson has made it into the Holy Trinity of Twenty-first Century Feminism, along with Hollywood’s favorite multiple Oscar-winning socialist billionaire (Fonda) and California’s leading anti-patriarchy shakedown artist (Allred). Eat her dust, Dunham! Tessa’s the new reigning princess of Hollywood feminism. Why, after all, should the face of feminism be white?

This, of course, is what happens when group identity takes center stage: as sure as night follows day, the white woman shaking her fist on the anti-male barricades is destined to be knocked off her perch by a woman of color. But after that, how long will it take before she, in turn, is dethroned by a black lesbian or a disabled Muslim grandmother? Stay tuned.

Tessa Thompson, actress — and activist!

Tessa Thompson

Born in L.A. to an Afro-Panamanian father and a Euro-Mexican mother (these adjectives, which we’ve never seen before, are taken from her Wikipedia page), Tessa Thompson, age 34, has become a big star in recent years. After appearing on TV series like Cold Case, Grey’s Anatomy, and Heroes, she was in the big-budget movies Selma (2014), Creed (2015), and the Marvel comic-book feature Thor: Ragnarok (2017). She’s won acting awards at the American Black Film Festival, the Black Reel Awards, and the African-American Film Critics Association.

And like many other young Hollywood actresses, she’s into politics. Just ask Natalie Portman, who recently told Elle that Thompson is “someone you can go dance with or laugh with, or talk about politics.” How wonderful! Who doesn’t want to talk about politics with a Hollywood actress?

A promotional photo for Dear White People

So far, the defining picture of her career would seem to be Dear White People, a 2014 comedy-drama about black students at an Ivy League college. Just to be clear, these kids are going to an Ivy League college, and we’re supposed to see them as oppressed – and to see the film as some kind of inspired statement about racial relations in America. Thompson herself certainly thought so when she perused the script. She told Elle that after reading it, she “had a burning to be involved.”

With Teyonah Parris (right), promoting Dear White People

A brief detour into Dear White People, just so you have an idea of what kind of acting jobs get Thompson excited. In this movie, she played the heroine, Sam, a campus radical who “causes a stir” by “criticizing white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester.” What kind of racist transgressions? Well, let’s just say that the film’s climax centers on a group of white students who decide to throw a party in blackface.

Thompson at Sundance

Yes, blackface. Now, you may ask: at what Ivy League college in this day and age would white students actually hold a blackface party? Don’t pose such questions. What are you, a racist? And don’t dare to suggest that Dear White People, which was (predictably) a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, is, from start to finish, an example of racial grievance-mongering gone amok. No, you’re supposed to echo the Hollywood line that stuff like this, however stale and poorly made, is actually courageous and pathbreaking.

That’s certainly the line that most of the high-profile reviewers took. Even as it admitted that the film was a total mess, Time Out praised it for, well, making all the right victim-group noises: “The plot meanders, the characters don’t come into focus until fairly late in the game, and the script’s tunnel-visioned unwillingness to wrestle with the class and gender issues inherent in its story can be disappointing. But where it scores big is its wealth of ideas – visual, emotional, cultural – and its deep well of bitter, voice-of-experience rage.”

Rage! That’s the ticket. Forget plot, characters, theme: a “deep well” of racial rage can overcome any flaws.

More on Thursday.

Lily Allen, rape apologist

Lily Allen

On Tuesday we took a brief look at Lily Allen, the British pop star who is, perhaps, known almost as well for her opinions as for her music. In late 2016, as we’ve seen, she sharply criticized her country’s government for not opening its gates to a flood of refugees, and made a public promise to take at least one of them into her Notting Hill home. Well, that never happened. By Christmas of that year she was making noise – and headlines – over that very residence. As it turned out, she had rented it to an Italian couple, and on December 4 she complained on Twitter that she was about to be homeless for the holidays: “Meant to be moving back into my flat this week, but my tenants just dropped that they can’t find anywhere to go up to their standards. Then they said they’re diplomats and have diplomatic immunity and there’s nothing I can do about it. So, who fancies a family of 3 for Xmas?”

Maria and Luca Bilotta

It all turned out to be a lie. The Italian couple, Luca and Maria Bilotta, were simply taking a bit longer than expected to get all their stuff moved out, and had asked for two extra days to do so. “We are diplomats,” said Maria. “But I don’t want to make trouble to [sic] our embassy. This is so stupid. I can’t believe this.” The fracas caused widespread reaction. Why, asked some Brits, had Allen rented out her property to rich foreigners instead of filling it with refugees? “Thought she’d given up her home to refugees and they were actually diplomats!” cracked one Twitter wit. “I’m always making that mistake!”

Yes, she actually wrote it

Now, any one of the incidents we’ve mentioned would have caused an ordinary human being to be so paralyzed with embarrassment that he or she would disappear forever from social media and never again make a public statement about anything. Not Lily Allen! She has continued to spout off with the same breathtaking self-assurance. In January of this year, for example, she came up with a sort-of-defense for the so-called “grooming gangs” that raped over 1400 British girls and that are made up almost exclusively of Muslim men. Allen’s response to this catastrophe was to shift the focus to sexual assaults by non-Muslims: there are, she pointed out on Twitter, plenty of white British men who “have sex with their stepdaughters twice a week for years at a time.” The assailants aren’t just stepfathers, she added: they’re “neighbors, uncles, gardeners, priests, fast food restaurant managers that do it over and over again.” In fact, she tweeted, “there’s a strong possibility” that the girls raped by the grooming gangs “would have been raped and abused by somebody else at some point. That’s kind of the issue.”

When she was called out far and wide for her “vile,” “sick,” and “repugnant” attempt to deflect guilt away from Muslim men, Allen deleted her comments and apologized – sort of. “Being able to accept responsibility and apologize is a strength, not a weakness,” she insisted, ever impressed with herself.

Presenting Lily Allen: rich brat, pop star, & social justice warrior

Lily Allen

Lily Allen is not terribly famous in the U.S., but in her homeland she’s quite the star. Born into a well-to-do showbiz family in London in 1985, she attended a series of posh schools which she was kicked out of for smoking and drinking. She became a drug dealer, got a record contract through family connections, and ended up hitting it big by posting her songs on My Space. Since then she’s pursued a busy recording and performing career – and insulted a long list of fellow artists and assaulted more than her share of paparazzi. But she’s also found time to lecture her inferiors about world affairs.

Hillary Clinton at the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen

On her Wikipedia page, one sentence after another is a head-scratcher. “On 1 October 2009, Allen and several other musicians released the world’s first digital musical petition aimed at pressuring world leaders attending the December 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen.” Digital music petition? What? “During the London assembly and mayoral elections in April 2016, Allen announced that she would be giving ‘half her vote to the Women’s Equality Party’ – by voting for them on the London-wide Assembly list but voting Labour elsewhere.” Who asked? “On 15 June 2017, Lily Allen became involved in a controversy over the number of deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire.” What kind of expertise does a dropout pop star have in such matters?

Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire

We looked that last one up. In an interview on Britain’s Channel 4 news the morning after the fire, Allen actually accused the government and media of lying about the number of fatalities, which at that moment was up to seventeen. Newsreader Jon Snow had to explain to her that, as is the case with many such tragedies, the figure being broadcast represented the number of bodies recovered so far, and that the death toll would surely rise significantly in the hours and days to come. But Allen didn’t back down: as far as she was concerned, there was a conspiracy afoot and she was a brave, lone truth-teller.

Allen in Calais

There’s more. In 2016, Allen visited the migrant camp in Calais, on the French side of the English Channel. The migrants are camped there because they want to cross the channel and settle in Britain, even though, as has been widely pointed out, they have no right under international law to enter the U.K. But that didn’t stop Allen from apologizing to one of the migrants, a teenage Afghan named Shamsher Sharin, on Britain’s behalf “for what we’ve put you through.” When a TV reporter challenged her during an October 2016 interview to, in effect, put her money where her mouth was, Allen said that “if these children are being displaced, of course, there’s room for people in my house. I’m going to take them in.” She backed the promise up with an Instagram post promising to take a refugee into her £2 million home in Notting Hill. When asked in January 2017 whether she had made good on her promise, however, she refused to answer. Soon after, the post on which she had made the promise disappeared from her Instagram feed.

To be sure, she had an excuse. Was it a good one? We’ll scrutinize it on Thursday.