Bill de Blasio, Che fan

Bill de Blasio

What can you expect of a mayor who honeymooned in Havana?

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about Senator Bernie Sanders, former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and current candidate for President of the United States. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The mayor we’re referring to here, who also happens to be running for President, is Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City.

De Blasio, whose politics are basically socialist, is not popular in New York City; many citizens feel that he’s begun to undo the successes of his two immediate predecessors, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who made the metropolis safer and cleaner and restored its economy. His critics accuse de Blasio not just of misguided policies; they charge him with incompetence and neglect.

Che Guevara

As if to affirm the charge of neglect, de Blasio has spent much of the last few weeks outside of the city he’s supposed to be running. Instead of attending to his mayoral duties, he’s been on the campaign trail, trying to secure the Democratic nomination for president. That’s why he was in Miami on June 27 when, addressing an audience of striking workers at the airport, he actually quoted from the Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara. “The eyes of the world are on this airport, the eyes of the world are on Miami-Dade,” he said, concluding his remarks with Che’s most famous line: “Hasta la victoria siempre.”

Marco Rubio

When his Che quote, predictably enough, met with criticism from Miami residents – many of whom are refugees from Castro’s Cuba or the children or grandchildren thereof, and therefore not exactly fans of Che Guevara – as well as from Sunshine State politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio and State Senator Jose Javier Rodríguez, de Blasio claimed not to have known that the line was identified with Che. He actually maintained that he was simply expressing, in Spanish, his hope that the airport workers’ strike would be successful. But there are many ways to convey that sentiment in Spanish. “Hasta la victoria siempre” would not be the first combination of words to occur to an English speaker wishing to communicate that thought. Far from it. It would have been far more likely for someone in his position to say, for example, “Buena suerte con la huelga” – good luck with the strike. Is his claim, then, at all credible? In a word, no.

He loved to kill.

We’re speaking, after all, about a longtime socialist who helped raise money for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and who, as noted above, honeymooned in Havana (and violated U.S. law to do so). He’s precisely the kind of guy who knows very well that “Hasta la victoria siempre” is a Che line. It’s quite simply beyond comprehension that this hard leftist, this admirer of Castro, is ignorant enough not to have known he was quoting Che. Our guess, rather, is that he’s fatuous enough to have thought that, even in a city known for its large Cuban refugee population, most of the Spanish-speaking airport workers would respond positively to an allusion to Che Guevara. Because the plain fact is that, for a man with de Blasio’s politics, Che is a hero – never mind Che’s history of sadistic abuse and torture, his establishment of concentration camps, and his summary executions of tens of thousands of political enemies, gays, artists, journalists, and business people (plus fellow revolutionaries whom he perceived as rivals). De Blasio simply can’t imagine working-class Latinos not sharing his own outsized admiration for the bloodthirsty Argentinian butcher.

A Hobsbawm hagiography

E.J. Hobsbawm

Back in 2016 we spent five full days on the British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, who had died four years earlier at the age of 95. As we noted then, Hobsbawm’s demise was followed by a tsunami of praise. In the Guardian he was described as “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind”; the New Yorker called him “refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged,” a man who “was in it to change the world.” The Independent told its readers that he was “one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century.”

The obituarists for these and other prominent media did not ignore the fact that Hobsbawm was a lifelong Communist – a passionate admirer and fierce defender of Stalin who even, in a 1994 TV interview, expressed support for Stalin’s murder of millions. What they did was find ways to minimize it, or excuse it, or even praise it. One necrologist spoke of Hobsbawm’s “Marxist ideals.” Another depicted him as a victim of anti-Communist prejudice. Can you imagine any of these publications referring seriously to “Nazi ideals” or “anti-Nazi prejudice”?

A.N. Wilson

The novelist A.N. Wilson was almost alone in explicitly condemning Hobsbawm for his politics, pointing out that “if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews….We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public.” But what happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? As we wrote in 2016: “His career soared. He was offered (but rejected) a knighthood. Later he accepted from Tony Blair the title Companion of Honour. Oxford gave him a prize worth half a million pounds. As Hobsbawm got older, the media increasingly described him as the country’s greatest living historian. All this despite the fact, as Wilson pointed out, that Hobsbawm never learned the lessons of the century he had lived through.” Nor was he even a good historian: his books, as Wilson bluntly put it, were Communist propaganda. He “quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40.” He was silent on the Katyn massacre, in which the Soviets murdered 20,000 Polish soldiers. And he “deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties” and “the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945.”

Richard J. Evans

If we’re returning now to the subject of Hobsbawm, it’s because another famous historian, Richard J. Evans, FBA, FRSL, FRHistS, FLSW, has published an 800-page biography of him. Evans is best known for his three-volume history of the Third Reich – which has been described as definitive – and for his court testimony defending a writer’s characterization of David Irving as a Holocaust denier. In all his writings on Hitler’s regime, Evans has made it clear that he is not a fan. He sees Nazism for the evil that it is. He does not buy into the notion that, in writing about a Nazi, you can set aside his Nazi beliefs, or contextualize them or relativize them, depicting them as just a minor or incidental part of his personal makeup. You can’t conclude that, his Nazi convictions notwithstanding, the most important thing about him is that he was a devoted husband and father, a good friend and neighbor, a man who loved his pets and was, as the British say, clubbable. No, a Nazi is, first and last, a Nazi. Evans understands that.

David Pryce-Jones

Confronted with the case of Hobsbawm and Hobsbawm’s Communism, however, Evans is able to take a totally different approach. In a blistering review of Evans’s book for the June issue of the New Criterion, yet another historian, David Pryce-Jones (who, as it happens, is also an FRSL), laments that Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History makes Evans “look either a dupe or a fool of the higher sort, in any case earning him a reputation no historian would want to have.” Describing Hobsbawm as “the foremost Communist apologist in the Britain of his day,” Pryce-Jones observes that if Hobsbawm had been a Nazi, “Evans surely would have thrown his doctrine back into his face. Instead, he defends the indefensible with this hagiography.” Although Hobsbawm, after joining the Communist Party as a student at Cambridge, “never deviated from the Party line,” Evans “can still write this utter absurdity: ‘there was no sense in which [Hobsbawm] was an active or committed member of the Party.”

Josef Stalin

As for Hobsbawm the man, Pryce-Jones, who is now 93 and who actually knew Hobsbawm, provides a valuable corrective: “In my experience, Hobsbawm was nothing like the genial and popular figure depicted by Evans.” At one dinner they both attended, Hobsbawm sang the praises of Castro’s Cuba; another dinner guest, a former British ambassador to Cuba, demurred, providing chapter and verse on Cuban perfidy, but to no avail. “All American propaganda, according to Hobsbawm.” There was more: Hobsbawm and Pryce-Jones just happened to be neighbors in a certain Welsh village, where, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hobsbawm, like any half-mad local crank, “would stop to tell me at the top of his voice with expletives in front of surprised farmers how superior Communism was to the nationalism that replaced it.” Pryce-Jones concludes by underscoring a point that is somehow missed by people like Evans and the writers of Hobsbawm’s admiring obituaries: namely, that this was a man who, if the Soviets had conquered Britain and given him the power to do so, would have ordered them all sent to their deaths.

Those adorable Communists

In late June, when the Guardian sent a reporter to cover the annual convention of the Communist Party USA, the article that resulted was surprisingly sympathetic. No, let’s revise that a bit: the level of sympathy would have been surprising had the piece appeared in some other British newspaper – say, the Telegraph or the Times. But it would probably be naïve to be surprised by a friendly account of a CPUSA clambake in the Guardian.

Written by one Eric Lutz, the article said nothing particularly negative about the party or its ideology. On the contrary, Lutz seemed to strive to present the CPUSA as a longtime victim of unfair prejudice. The subhead, for example, noted that the party had been “derided and feared for 100 years.” The first sentence called the party “one of American politics[’] biggest historical bogeymen.” Lutz quoted, without comment, a line from a CPUSA official’s convention speech in which he assured America that “the [C]ommunist [P]arty isn’t out to hurt you….It will set you free.”

Moreover, Lutz seemed pleased to be able to state that the party was looking to “a brighter future…at a moment in American politics in which democratic socialism and progressive ideas are increasingly finding a home in the mainstream of the Democratic party.” And when he reported that convention delegates “sought to send the message that their party has been the most consistent champion of [progressive] ideas [and] has been on the right side of some of the most consequential ideological battles of the last hundred years,” there was no indication whatsoever that Lutz wasn’t totally convinced. Neither he nor his editors found it necessary to remind readers of the hundreds of millions of human lives snuffed out by murderous twentieth-century Communist regimes. In a time when the vast majority of mainstream news media in the U.S. and Britain seem incapable of reporting on Donald Trump or the Republican Party or Brexit voters without a condescending sneer, there was not a whiff of skepticism in Lutz’s report on the American Communists.

Far from it. Apparently to show that Communists have been in the vanguard of the advancement of black Americans, Lutz noted that the father of one convention speaker, Pepe Lozano, had “rallied Mexican and Puerto Rican voters to support Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor” in the 1980s. Lutz went on to quote, again without a hint of doubt or dispute, Lozano’s claim that the CPUSA had played a major role in “profound American struggles for democracy.” For anyone who knows anything about the subject, the very idea that American Communists ever sought to advance democracy is obscene on the face of it. Whole books – extremely well documented books, some of them based on Soviet archives – have vividly shown just how thoroughly controlled the Cold War-era CPUSA was by the Kremlin and just how determined the party was to crush liberty and destroy its enemies. For the Guardian to drop all these facts down the memory hole is disgraceful.

“Communism,” wrote Lutz, “has long been regarded with fear in the US, viewed as antithetical to American values and democracy.” The implication here, of course, is that Communism isn’t antithetical to American values and democracy. What to say about the fact that a sentence like this could appear, in the year 2019, in a major British daily? Is Lutz a fool or a liar? “[I]t can be striking,” he observed, “to hear Americans openly discuss their support for communism.” Not “appalling”; not “disgusting”; not “vomit-inducing” – no, “striking.” Imagine a writer for any major conservative newspaper reporting on a neo-Nazi rally in this way. Nazism is – as it should be – beyond the pale. Why does Communism – an equally evil totalitarian ideology, and one that caused even more deaths than Nazism did – still get this kid-glove treatment?

Another grubby payday for Nicki Minaj?

Nicki Minaj

UPDATE: Not long after we posted this story, the New York Times reported that Minaj had cancelled her Saudi Arabia gig.

We last wrote about at length about Trinidad-born songstress Nicki Minaj in 2015, when she was paid $2 million for a single concert in the dictatorship of Angola. As we noted at the time, half of the people of Angola earn so little money that they’d have to work two million days – about 5500 years, which would take you back to the Bronze Age, the very beginning of writing systems, and the introduction of the wheel beyond Mesopotamia and environs – to bank $2 million. Although the Angolan government rakes in a great deal of money from selling oil, munch of that money ends up in the pockets of the ruling family and its cronies; meanwhile, one of the country’s dubious claims to fame is that it has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under the age of five.

Mariah Carey

To be sure, these grim facts didn’t keep Mariah Carey, who’s notorious for taking this kind of dirty money, for accepting a million-dollar fee in 2014 from Angolan strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos. And although Carey got such bad press for that ethically tinged payday that she ended up apologizing profusely, it didn’t keep Minaj, two years later, from taking an even better deal. Even when human-rights groups challenged her beforehand about having agreed to do the concert in Angola, she went Biblical: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment,” Minaj tweeted, “shall be condemned.”

In fact she doubled down: after she reached Angola, she took an Instagram photo with the president’s daughter, Isabel, who, like other relatives of other dictators, has accumulated a fortune by, well, doing not much of anything except being related to the guy at the top. The illicit source of Isabella’s wealth was either lost on Nicki or a matter of indifference to her, because her take on the subject, as expressed in her distinctive manner on Instagram, was as follows: “she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world….GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Motivates her to do what? Become a head of state and fleece her subjects? This is, let it be noted, a woman who, given her sales figures – she’s had seven singles simultaneously on Billboard’s US Hot 100 – must be swimming in so much dough that $2 million can’t possibly be anything more to her than pocket change. Yet, for all the criticism, and despite her efforts to burnish her image by identifying with AIDS and children’ charities, Minaj took dos Santos’s cash.

Mohammed bin Salman

Afterwards, the criticism continued. But the raunchy rapper didn’t learn her lesson. A few weeks ago it was announced that Minaj, at the invitation of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, planned to perform on July 18 at the Jeddah World Fest alongside Steve Aoki, an American DJ, and Liam Payne, a former member of the British boyband One Direction. In a five-page open letter written in response to this news, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation explained to Minaj in some detail the human-rights violations committed by the Saudi regime and urged her to withdraw from the event as an act of solidarity with the Saudi people.

Will Minaj listen this time? Stay tuned.

Roger Waters, liar

Roger Waters

The case of Roger Waters, the former front man for the rock group Pink Floyd and outspoken hater of Israel, illustrates a couple of important points. First, it’s possible to be a very gifted artist and a clueless fool at the same time. Second, some human beings are put together in such a way as to render them completely impervious to the plain facts, however often and however effectively they are presented with those facts.

Schmuley Boteach

Of course, we’ve written about Waters before. A lot. In November 2015 we wrote about the “pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David,” that was a feature of his concerts. In response to Waters’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach penned an article reminding him that German Jews “did nothing to invite the aggression against them. Indeed, they were loyal citizens of a country that many of them had fought for courageously just 20 years earlier in the First World War. They did not blow up buses for political purposes. They did not send terrorists into schools to murder children. They did not preach that killing German children would get them virgins in heaven. They lived lives of humanity and decency and were murdered for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews.”

Did Waters listen? Of course not. So along came Israeli author Lilac Sigan, who in her own plea to Waters wondered how it was that at a time when other countries and terrorist groups across the Middle East were carrying out “senseless and brutal” slaughter, Waters remained obsessed with Israel.

Robbie Williams

Did Waters listen to her? Nope. Instead, he wrote an open letter begging Robbie Williams to cancel a planned gig in Israel – where, he insisted, the government views Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed.” Williams went ahead with the concert. Soon afterward, Waters tried the same thing with Dionne Warwick, whom he accused of being “profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.” She didn’t listen either.

Now it was film director Mark Blacknell’s turn to try to knock some sense into Waters’s head. In an open letter, he reminded Waters that Israel’s neighbors included Hezbollah, “Assad the Butcher,” ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the “Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen,” the “jihad-plagued, complete insanity of Sudan,” the “ultra-religious, feudalistic Mecca of Islam, Saudi Arabia,” and the “’end of days’ cult of the Ayatollah in Iran.” Many of these fun folks treated Palestinians terribly. Why, Blacknell asked, didn’t Waters ever get exercised about them?

Bon Jovi

No reply. No change. Instead Waters went after Bon Jovi, writing an open letter that was even more accusatory than his earlier ones. In response, Bon Jovi said, quite simply: “I’m coming to Israel and I’m excited to come.” Only moments before Bon Jovi’s Tel Aviv concert, a terrorist attack hit Jerusalem.

Last year we caught up with Waters, noting that at the Jumbotrons at one of his recent performances had featured the slogan “Resist Israeli anti-Semitism” and that Waters, it now turned out, was one of the rich people who’d invested heavily in some shyster’s sleazy effort to shake down Chevron. In March of this year, we reported that during a concert in Brazil, he’d called Jair Bolsonaro (who was then a presidential candidate, and is now president) a fascist, and that, in response to the recognition by the U.S. and other countries of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, called Venezuela under Maduro a “REAL DEMOCRACY.”

Linda Sarsour

Waters hasn’t backed off. In May, along with hijab-wearing “feminist” Linda Sarsour (whom we’ve also covered here at length), he appeared on a panel about Israel at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he told a story about remarks he’d made at a 2006 concert in Tel Aviv, before he’d started boycotting Israel. According to him, 60,000 of his Israeli fans had responded negatively when he called for peace with Palestinians. When David Seidenberg of the Times of Israel examined an audio of the event, it turned out that Waters was lying through his teeth – the audience, in fact, had cheered. “Since at least 2017,” wrote Seidenberg, “Waters has been repeating this lie. He told it to an interviewer from the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest dailies. He told it to Liberation News, a socialist newspaper. He told it at a Vancouver event in October 2017 to promote Canada’s participation in BDS.” Plainly, Waters is not to be trusted: he will say anything, true or not, to demonize Israel and idealize Hamas.

Nicolas Maduro

As for Venezuela, even as conditions in that country have gone from bad to worse, Waters has stuck by his pal, the dictator. On June 15, he announced in a Facebook post that Maduro had sent him a cuatro, a four-string guitar, a gift for which, he wrote, he was “deeply moved.” Good to know that even as his people are starving, Maduro has the time to keep his top-seeded foreign propagandist happy. “Thank you President Maduro for your kind gift and message,” the old rocker wrote. “I shall continue to support the people of Venezuela, and continue to oppose U.S. interference in your country, particularly the illegal and inhumane monetary sanctions that seek to make life intolerable for your people.” Appalling.

Our turn

During the past few weeks, we’ve been covering the brief but crowded and fascinating history of Twitter bans. We’ve noted that while Twitter, when asked to explain a user ban, cites its impartial-sounding “Twitter Rules” and “Terms of Service,” the rules seem to work, politically speaking, in only one direction.

As we’ve seen, a flamboyant, wisecracking opponent of identity politics got kicked off Twitter – while the terrorist group that fomented violence to prevent him speaking at Berkeley has kept its Twitter account.

Similarly, a virulently anti-Semitic freshman Senator has retained her coveted “blue check” – while a Twitter user who pointed out her anti-Semitism got the boot.

Now, as we’ve already reported, it’s our turn. In mid February, one of us opened up our Twitter account to find a big red banner informing us of our suspension.

All our tweets had been removed. Nearly four years’ worth. It was not possible to post new ones.

We wrote to Twitter Service, appealing our suspension. The reply read, in part, as follows: “We typically suspend accounts for violations of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) or Terms of Service (https://twitter.com/tos).”

We then wrote back, asking to know the specific reason for our suspension. Twitter Support’s answer? “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”

Not banned: Antifa protesters, Berkeley, 2017

We responded with an e-mail stating that our suspension “seems unfair, given that there was no warning or mention what the violation was.” We then received an e-mail chiding us for trying “to update a case that has been closed” and telling us to “submit a new case.”

We did so. Once again, we were informed that “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”

What do you call it when a social-media platform bans you without telling you? As we’ve previously discussed, it’s called a shadow ban. But Twitter doesn’t shadow ban! It must be true, because it says so on Twitter’s own company blog.

Let’s make one thing clear. Here at Useful Stooges, we’re believers in democratic capitalism. We understand the argument that Twitter, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is a private company and has a right to permanently suspend whichever users it wants to.

Then again, Con Edison, which provides energy to residents of New York City and environs, is also a private company. It’s also traded on the NYSE. Does it have a right to deny electricity to users whose opinions it disapproves of?

What about your local phone company? Does it have a right to turn off your phone service if it doesn’t approve of your voting record?

These aren’t idle questions or ridiculous comparisons. The fact is that over the last few years Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, has become a major site of public debate on the issues of the day. Once these platforms have attained a certain level of importance, they can no longer be considered private in the same way they once were. They’re part of the public square. They’re more important than even the largest newspapers and network news operations.

The tweeter-in-chief

The President of United States famously uses Twitter to react to news developments in real time. Is it fair to deny Twitter access to U.S. citizens who want to know what their President has to say?

Some observers have argued that Twitter and other social-media platforms qualify under US law as public accommodations – which would mean that in at least some jurisdictions it would be illegal for them to ban users because of their political views.

What now? Well, we’re not giving in. Because it’s not just about us. And it’s not just about Twitter. It’s about this whole social-media landscape which, for good or ill, is where we have a great many of our important conversations nowadays. For the gatekeepers of this territory to close that space off to people whose politics they don’t like is scary stuff. It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-American. It doesn’t bode well for our future, and our children’s future.

We here at Useful Stooges have done a lot of writing in recent years in the cause of freedom. It’s time, apparently, for us to do more than write. It’s time for us to act.