Angela and Ilhan: birds of a feather

Angela Davis in her youth

In June 2016, as we reported here at the time, Angela Davis was celebrated by a feminist art center at the Brooklyn Museum for being “first in her field.” What field would that be? Diehard Communism? As a young woman she joined the American Communist Party and studied at Humboldt University in what was then the Soviet puppet state of East Germany, and has remained a devotee of Marx and Engels ever since. Or is her field domestic terrorism? In the incident that made her famous, she bought a bunch of guns that were used several days later by some pals of hers who invaded a courtroom, took the judge, prosecutor, and three jurors hostage, and ended up in a shootout with cops in which the judge was killed, the prosecutor paralyzed for life, and one of the jurors injured – the perpetrators’ goal having been to compel the release of Angela’s then husband, a Black Panther, Communist, and armed robber named George Jackson, from Soledad State Prison.

Arrested for her role in this atrocity, Davis, despite massive evidence against her, was acquitted by a jury that was plainly swayed by dishonest propaganda that painted her as a victim of racial prejudice.

Angela and Fidel

Thus began her career as a public figure – specifically, as a full-time critic of democratic capitalism, booster of Communism, and outspoken anti-Semite. She palled around with Fidel Castro in Cuba and accepted the Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow. She publicly supported the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Twice in the 1980s, she ran for Vice President of the United States on the Communist Party line. Meanwhile she pursued an academic career, and the American university having undergone a political sea change in the 1960s and 70s, her hard-line Communist credentials only helped her advance: from San Francisco State, where she taught Ethnic Studies, she proceeded to UC Santa Cruz, where she taught in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies departments and was appointed to the UC Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies. The website of Santa Cruz, where is now listed as a “Distinguished Professor Emerita,” provides a sugarcoated version of her criminal past and calls her “a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era.” Nor has her fanatical Communism kept her from being a darling of the American left, which has promoted her tirelessly as a heroine of rights for women and black people.

She stood with Fidel. She stood with Brezhnev. Now she stands with Ilhan.

Which brings us to her latest activities. On April 30, Davis joined “scores of other black women” at a Capitol Hill rally in support of Ilhan Omar, the hijab-wearing, Somali-born freshman Congresswoman from Minnesota. As the website of the left-wing TV/radio program Democracy Now put it, Omar had “been at the center of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office.” Translation: since her election in November, Omar had made a series of chillingly anti-Semitic comments, and a great many decent-minded people had had the audacity to take offense. There had been an effort to pass a resolution condemning her, but members of her own party had circled the wagons and rewritten the resolution so that it made no explicit mention of Omar and was at least as much a statement about “Islamophobia” as about anti-Semitism. Speaking to Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, Davis maintained that Omar had been “targeted because she is an immigrant, because she is Muslim, because she is a courageous, bold black woman who speaks out in defense of Palestinians.” She added: “I am extremely proud that finally we’ve elected someone to Congress who speaks out in such a powerful way on behalf of black women, on behalf of Palestinians, on behalf of all people who are oppressed.” Birds of a feather flock together.

Angela (gray hair) seated behind Ilhan at the big rally

Davis’s support for Omar made headlines. The Huffington Post, describing Davis as a “civil rights icon,” whitewashed the comments that had gotten Omar in trouble and took Omar’s word for it that she had received a mountain of death threats. At The Nation, one Rebecca Pierce celebrated Davis and her confreres for creating “a force field of support” around Omar “in the face of Islamophobic incitement from the Trump White House.” UPI bought the death-threats claim too, running a piece under the headline “Activists rally in support of Rep. Ilhan Omar after death threats.”

As for the rally itself…well, stay tuned. We’ll get to that on Thursday.

The man who was America’s “most dangerous Communist”

Herbert Aptheker

Very few members of the general public remember him now, but in his time Herbert Aptheker (1915 – 2003) was a very big deal indeed, and to this day he is a revered figure in the academy. He is considered a pioneer in the historical study of slavery in America – more broadly, in the general history of black Americans, and, more narrowly, in the history of slave revolts.

But he was not just a scholar. He was a devout Communist. David Horowitz called him “the Communist Party’s most prominent Cold War intellectual.” J. Edgar Hoover once said that the FBI considered Aptheker “the most dangerous Communist in the United States.” In 2015, Harvey Klehr, the historian of American Communism and of Soviet spying in the US, described him as “an ideological fanatic who squandered his talents as a historian, gave slavish devotion to a monstrous regime, and lacked the intellectual courage to say publicly what he wrote privately.”

Harvey Klehr

Indeed, as Klehr noted, Aptheker “joined the American Communist party (CPUSA) in August 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact, just as thousands of other disillusioned Jewish Communists were leaving.” And good Stalinist that he was, he parroted Uncle Joe’s calls for peace with Germany and, when the Nazis violated the pact in 1941 by invading the USSR, immediately reversed his position, calling for the US to fight shoulder to shoulder with the USSR and UK.

Aptheker’s whole adult life revolved around the CPUSA. As a student he was active in CPUSA front organizations, taught at the CPUSA’s New York Workers School, and was a regular reader of the CPUSA’s Daily Worker and New Masses and a contributor to other CPUSA rags. After the war, in which he fought on the European front, Aptheker settled in the American South, becoming an “education worker” (which is something like a “community organizer”) and working for yet another CPUSA front. From 1948 to 1953 he was a staffer at the CPUSA’s literary journal, Masses and Mainstream; from 1953 to 1963 he edited the CPUSA’s ideological monthly, Political Affairs; and from 1957 to 1991, he was a member of the CPUSA’s national committee, on which he was considered was the party’s leading “theoretician.”

Aptheker, Hayden, and other Hanoi travel companions

While the USSR lasted, nothing shook his devotion to it. He was always prepared to defend Stalin’s atrocities, and when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956, he wrote a book justifying the invasion. He also penned a defense of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. If the Kremlin was incapable of doing anything of which Aptheker would not approve, the U.S., in his view, could do no right. For him, the Marshall Plan amounted to “renazification.” And of course the Vietnam War was, in his eyes, a pure act of imperialist aggression. In 1966 he and Tom Hayden – the California radical who was then Jane Fonda’s husband – made “solidarity” trips to Hanoi and Beijing.

Eldridge Cleaver

In 1966, while remaining a CPUSA stalwart, Aptheker ran for Congress as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, whose candidate for president of the U.S., two years later, was Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther leader and convicted rapist who would later become involved in a shootout with Oakland police and flee the country to escape a murder rap.

Eugene Genovese

Under the pro-Marxist dispensation on post-Vietnam American campuses, Aptheker’s academic career thrived: he taught at Bryn Mawr, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, at CUNY, at Yale, at Berkeley, and at Humboldt University in Berlin. Yet he should never have been considered a serious historian: he consistently twisted or suppressed or invented facts to suit his ideological purposes. (Recall that a habit of focusing on the worst of America, including its history of slavery, was a key CPUSA activity.) Klehr acknowledges that “Aptheker deserves credit as a pioneer in the field of African-American studies,” but notes that “his work later came under sustained attack by far more accomplished historians who argued that he had overemphasized the significance of slave revolts and misjudged the militancy of most slaves. Even his fellow Marxist, Eugene Genovese, who praised Aptheker and sought to integrate him into the historical profession, offered a devastating critique of his thesis.”

Bettina Aptheker

Aptheker did not quit the CPUSA until after the Soviet Union had fallen, leaving him without a lodestar. To be sure, once the USSR was dead, and exposed to the world as, indeed, an Evil Empire, he felt obliged to cough up a few public recriminations, admitting, for example, that the CPUSA (contrary to his decades-long claims) had always been controlled and funded by the Kremlin. “In short,” wrote Klehr, “he confirmed much of what the ‘right-wing reactionaries’ had said about the CPUSA and the Soviet Union for decades.”

There was more. After his death, in 2003, it emerged that this man who had spent most of his life celebrating a monstrous tyranny had himself, in his private life, been a monster: his daughter, Bettina, in a memoir, revealed that he had sexually abused her from the time she was a three-year-old toddler until she was thirteen years old.

Evil takes a variety of forms.

The Avakian cult invades UCLA

UCLA

As if America’s colleges – especially those in the University of California system – weren’t already in the grip of far-left political ideas, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party of America targeted UCLA earlier this month with an aggressive recruiting campaign. As Arik Schneider reported at Campus Reform, they descended upon the campus dorms, where they “set up signs, handed out flyers, and wrote out chalk markings.” They ignored orders to cease and desist, staying at the dorms for hours spreading their call for “an actual overthrow of the system” through an armed “proletarian revolution” and replacement of the current government a “New Socialist Republic of North America.”

Bob Avakian

Of course if you’re a regular reader of this site you know who would be in charge of that “socialist republic”: Bob Avakian, who, as we’ve seen, started his career as a Stalin- and Mao-loving community organizer in northern California, where he tried to win workers over to Communism. In 1968, he and some pals founded the Revolutionary Union, which a few years later, under his sole leadership, became the RCP. Avakian is the real deal: visiting China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, when millions were being executed by the state for the crime of ideological impurity, he pronounced it “wondrous”; in the decades since Mao’s death, Avakian and his party have persistently proclaimed Mao’s – and Stalin’s – greatness and, bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union and the watering-down of Chinese Communism, have declared that they, the RCP, are Communism’s true torch-bearers, and that Bob himself is Stalin’s and Mao’s natural heir.

Ed Asner

If it sounds like a creepy personality cult, that’s because it is. RCP members are typically worshipers at Bob’s throne, proclaiming the urgency of armed insurrection one minute and the greatness of Avakian the next. Yet Bob isn’t just some marginal clown who has given a bunch of losers somebody to look up to and persuaded them to spend their time barging onto college campuses and handing out his flyers. He has friends and admirers whose names you know. A couple of years ago, when he placed an ad in major newspapers protesting Trump’s “Fascist America,” the signatories included actors Ed Asner and Debra Messing, comic Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, and novelist Alice Walker. Cornel West is a buddy of Bob’s, and Michael Eric Dyson is a fan.

Avakian with Cornel West

How did the recruiting effort at UCLA go? The good news is that even many left-leaning students at UCLA, including some for whom Marxism is an attractive concept, recognize RCP for what it is and want nothing to do with it. “I’m a Democrat and I absolutely cannot stand the Trump/Pence administration but these people are out of their minds!” a sophomore biochem major, Jenai Blazina, told Schneider. But she added, rather unsettlingly: “I want to think they’re harmless fools but they keep recruiting more and more people.” One wonders how many new members the RCP found at UCLA. Never underestimate the degree to which ideas that seem to you insane and extreme can gain the allegiance of people whom you think of as intelligent and sensible. Today’s laughable crackpot can be tomorrow’s dictator.

A “nice Jewish girl”…who loves Iran

Medea Benjamin

Code Pink’s occupation of the Venezuela Embassy in Washington, D.C., about which we’ve written a couple of times, naturally drew our attention to the group’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who had somehow managed to fly under our radar until this current escapade. Who, we wondered, is this woman? And did her parents name her for Medea – a Greek mythological figure who, in the play Medea by Euripides, kills her children in revenge – or did she take the name herself?

Medea at the OAS

The answer to the name question was easy enough to find out. Medea Benjamin’s birth name is Susan. She has described herself as a “nice Jewish girl from Long Island.” She took the name Medea while in college, which was also when she joined the radical group Students for a Democratic Society. During the Vietnam War she supported the Viet Cong. Later she lived in Cuba, where she felt, she said, “like I died and went to heaven.” Alas, she was expelled from Eden after she wrote an article criticizing Cuban censorship. As much as she cottoned to Communism, she apparently didn’t fully grasp the concept at the time.

Medea in Iran

In 1983 she moved to San Francisco, where she worked for an leftist group that is believed to have sent aid to the Sandinistas. (Her daughter is named after a Sandinista rebel.) She co-founded the radical group Global Exchange in 1988, co-founded Code Pink, a feminist response to the War in Iraq, in 2002, and co-founded Iraq Occupation Watch in 2004. Over the years, often in cahoots with out-and-out Communist groups such as the Workers World Party or with funders of jihadist terror, she’s engaged in a great deal of disruptive behavior around the world, racking up an impressive number of arrests on several continents. She’s also disrupted speeches by both Obama and Trump. Global Exchange organized riots against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and Benjamin was a leader of protests that resulted in Starbucks introducing “Fair Trade Certified” coffee.

On Capitol Hill

Naturally, she’s an Israel hater, having taken part in the 2008 protests against Israel’s invasion of Gaza and in the 2011 Gaza flotilla. She’s also a longtime fan of the Castro regime in Cuba and of the chavistas in Venezuela – hence her occupation of the embassy. Under Hugo Chavez, she has said, Venezuela was “the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.” She’s also had at least one friendly meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and collaborated on one of her initiatives with agents of the North Korean government. In 2014 she took part in an anti-Israeli conference in Tehran that was organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry and that featured panels on “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat, “Zionist Fingerprints on the 9/11 Cover-up,” “9/11 Truth Movement Strategies and the Zionism Issue,” “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public Myths,’” and “Islam as Authentic Universal Religion vs. Zionist Memes of Islam.”

How, you may wonder, has Benjamin managed financially to spend her life traveling the globe denouncing capitalism and waving homemade signs in the faces of politicians and diplomats? Answer: family money. She’s funded her one-woman war on capitalism with the proceeds of her father’s capitalist endeavors.

The Code Pink embassy takeover continues

A back door of the embassy

When we last checked in on the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 2, it was being illegally occupied by the radical leftists of Code Pink, who support the socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó, recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Also in the building are members of other far-left groups such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Popular Resistance, and Black Alliance for Peace. Most if not all of the occupiers are Americans with no apparent connection to Venezuela other than their ideological alliance with the country’s destructive, despotic chavista regime. Their goal, they said, was to keep the embassy from being entered by any of Guaidó’s people or by U.S. officials. To that end, reported the Washington Post, they “padlocked the front entrance and secured other doors with chains.”

Juan Guaido

Outrageously, these extremists are still occupying the embassy. Meanwhile, hundreds of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans who oppose the embassy takeover – and many of whom have experienced firsthand the dire consequences of so-called Bolivarian rule – have continued to gather outside the embassy day and night, protesting the protesters and doing their best, as one of them told the Post, “to prevent further trespassers from entering our building.” They have also tried to prevent anybody from getting food supplies to the occupiers. There have been scuffles – and an episode or two that rose to the level of dangerous violence – between the occupiers and the protesters outside, and at least one of the Venezuelan demonstrators, Naylet Pacheco, was hospitalized after being attacked without provocation by several men from inside the embassy, one of whom has been arrested.

Medea Benjamin

The evening of May 8 brought a new development: as the sun set over the leafy Georgetown neighborhood, the lights inside the embassy went off. While Code Pink protested that the embassy’s electric bill had been fully paid by the Maduro regime, Pepco, the local power company, replied that it had shut off the juice to the embassy at the request of the U.S.-backed Guaido government. The cutoff not only meant no lights – it also meant that the Code Pink misfits would no longer be able to recharge the computers and cell phones that they’d been using to send out tweets, videos, and the like to the world. Though the protesters outside expressed the hope that this new turn would drive the occupiers out, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who herself left the embassy over a week ago and has been prevented by the protesters outside from re-entering it, vowed that her cohorts were determined to stay. “They’re saying, ‘No matter what happens, you can cut off the electricity, you can cut off the water, we’ll still stay here,’” she told the Post. “Even if they have to be without eating.” Many observers savored the deliciousness of the irony that the embassy occupiers now have at least some idea of what life has been like for people in Venezuela who have lived for months, in some cases years, without adequate meals or reliable power supplies. As one demonstrator, Daniela Bustillos, put it: “They’re getting a little taste of what Venezuela has been experiencing.”

One detail in the Post’s May 9 account seemed puzzling. On the previous evening, according to the report, “police cordoned off 30th Street NW to allow several neon-shirted men down a manhole in the middle of the street. Code Pink said it showed police are taking sides, though a spokeswoman for the Secret Service said the agency is committed to protecting both sides’ “right to protest.” The right to protest is one thing – but are the police and Secret Service actually behaving as if the clowns of Code Pink have a right to occupy an embassy?

“Democratic socialist”? Nonsense.

Bernie Sanders

It was never a secret that Bernie Sanders was a socialist. In college he belonged to the Young People’s Socialist League. After graduating he lived on an Israeli kibbutz that flew a red flag and was founded by Stalinists. During his unsuccessful 1970s runs for the U.S. Senate and for Governor of Vermont, he called for the nationalization of all banks and utilities. Later he produced “radical film strips,” i.e. propaganda, for distribution to schools and made a hagiographic documentary about Socialist icon Eugene V. Debs.

Noam Chomsky

Finally managing to get elected to public office, he served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989, during which time he openly identified as a socialist, established price controls, hosted a foreign-policy speech by Noam Chomsky, made life difficult for local business people with his chronic hostility to free enterprise, worked with the Soviets and East Germans to defeat Reagan’s military build-up, went to Nicaragua to attend a celebration of the Sandinista government, visited Cuba, publicly praised Fidel Castro, and honeymooned in the USSR.

In 1990 he ran for the U.S. House on the Socialist ticket and won, becoming the only Socialist in Congress. During most of his tenure in the House and then in the Senate, he was a voice for radical-left ideas but, until his run for present in 2016, maintained a relatively low national profile, although he did promote and support measures to cut the U.S. intelligence budget, praised the socialist regimes in Venezuela and Ecuador, and became the first U.S. Senator to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Fidel Castro

Yet despite his radicalism, and despite his lifelong acknowledgement that he is a socialist, Sanders has always called himself a “democratic socialist,” a term which is plainly intended to distinguish him from out-and-out Communists. At a TV forum in April, he told a questioner that he never supported the Soviet Union. For anybody who is even superficially familiar with his personal history, this seemed a highly dubious claim. It became even more dubious, however, when, just a couple of days later, a film emerged of a 1986 lecture in which Sanders praised the Cuban Revolution. In the lecture, given at the University of Vermont while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, he recalled “being very excited when Fidel Castro made the revolution in Cuba,” adding that “it seemed right and appropriate that poor people were rising up against ugly rich people.” In the same speech, Sanders also said that he had been disgusted by President Kennedy’s anti-Communism.

John F. Kennedy

Reporting on the film, which was posted on Twitter, the Daily Mail noted that this was “not the first time that 30-year-old clips have surfaced showing Sanders making controversial remarks about American foreign policy toward communist countries in Latin America.” During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2015-16, recalled the Mail, somebody had dug up a 1985 video “in which Sanders is seen heaping praise on Castro,” celebrating the dictator’s “policies on education, health care and society in general.”

Needless to say, such video evidence makes it hard to take seriously Sanders’s insistence on qualifying the socialist label, when applied to him, with the word “democratic.” There was, after all, nothing democratic about Fidel Castro. No lover of freedom who knew the truth about Castro and his regime could possibly admire him. And no freedom-lover could possibly have responded to JFK’s hard line on Soviet totalitarianism with anything but approval. That Sanders, a man with such a manifest and enduring affection for Communist tyranny, could be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States is reason for alarm.

The Code Pink chavistas

The Venezuelan embassy on Tuesday

This week, in Venezuela, lovers of liberty have been courageously taking to the streets in an effort to oust their illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro. Meanwhile, in a free country to the north – specifically, on 30th Street N.W. in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. – members of the far-left group Code Pink, a gaggle of mostly American women who, yes, believe it or not, fanatically support the Marxist tyrant’s brutal effort to cling to power, faced off at the Venezuelan embassy against actual Venezuelans who support the attempt by Juan Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and over fifty other countries as their homeland’s legitimate president, to oust the former bus driver and restore democracy to that long-beleaguered country.

Juan Guaido

For the past several weeks, it turns out, Code Pink has illegally occupied the Venezuelan embassy, which should by rights have been handed over to the Guaido camp after President Trump announced America’s backing for him. On Tuesday, while the citizens of dozens of Venezuelan cities braved gunfire and armored tanks to publicly declare their support for Guaido, freedom-loving Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in the Washington area made their way to their country’s embassy in hopes of being able to take back their embassy from the far-left American interlopers. Giuliano Gandullia, a Venezuelan-American, told Alex Pappas of Fox News that “We want to enter. We want to take over. And demonstrate that it belongs to us.”

Nicolas Maduro

But Code Pink wouldn’t budge. Police closed the street and Secret Service officers formed a barrier between the Code Pink activists and the Venezuelans. Signs and banners at the embassy, and posts on the radical group’s Twitter account, spelled out their take on the issue. No, they insisted, it wasn’t socialist economic policies that, first under the late Hugo Chavez and then under his protégé, Maduro, had steadily transformed one of the world’s richest countries into one of its poorest. The cause of this drastic decline was – what else? – Trump. No, they don’t do a very good job of explaining how Trump had managed to destroy Venezuela, or why he would want to. Nor do they take into account the fact that Venezuela was already sliding downhill fast well before Trump became president. But no matter. Forget the facts: in the ideologically rooted view of Code Pink, the collapse of Venezuela and the movement to transfer presidential authority from Maduro to Guaido are nothing more or less than part of a cynical effort by the Trump administration to steal Venezuelan oil.

A Venezuelan supermarket

The motives of the Venezuelans who gathered outside the embassy were also clear. “Venezuela wants Democracy…not another Cuba” read one sign. The whole thing was striking: at the heart of the action by the Code Pink women was the claim that Trump was a bully out to impose his will on Venezuela. In fact it was the Code Pink women themselves who were the bullies in this situation. They had taken over the embassy of a country that most of them had probably never been to and with which they had no particular connection, and they were denying entry into it by actual citizens of that country. It is ironic to note that, according to the academic identity hierarchies to which Code Pink surely subscribes, these American women (most of whom, to judge by photographs, were white) were privileged members of an ethnic oppressor class who, like their imperialist, colonialist ancestors, were subjugating members of a recognized victim class. Clemente Pinate, another Venezuelan-American who spoke to Pappas outside the embassy, expressed appropriate ire at the intrusion of the Code Pinkers into Venezuelan affairs. “They are communists, socialists with Maduro,” he said. “I’m anti-Maduro. And I’m here representing my people.”

How to improve New Orleans? Copy Cuba!

Some of New Orleans’ housing stock.

New Orleans has a load of problems. It’s a city whose economy is based largely on letting tourists drink beer in the street and urinate in public. It has one of America’s highest poverty levels and one of the world’s worst murder rates. Property taxes and home insurance costs are prohibitive. Much of the housing stock is very rundown. Public transit is crap. The streets are filled with potholes and the sewage system is so inadequate that the place floods every time there’s a serious rainstorm. The schools are lousy. Political corruption is endemic. High local taxes and excessive regulations discourage business development. There are no major art museums and there’s no real high-culture scene to speak of. Rats, roaches, and termites abound. In short, the Big Easy is in desperate need of a massive influx of business activity that would provide jobs and fund civic improvements, but it’s not going to experience that kind of renaissance unless it makes itself more attractive both to established corporations and small start-ups.

The mayor.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell knows what NoLa needs. So where did she travel in early April in order to pick up tips on economic development? Give up? Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. According to press secretary LaTonya Norton (yes, the mayor is named LaToya and her press secretary is named LaTonya), Cantrell flew to Havana to “see firsthand how [Cuba’s] history has produced unique opportunities and challenges in the areas of economic development, trade, health care, education and other quality of life issues.” Accompanying Cantrell was a group of 35 people, including both public officials and private citizens. Among her planned stops during the trip were a medical school, the Literacy Museum, and the University of Havana, because the mayor and her crew have, like many American progressives, bought into the propaganda about Cuba’s wondrous achievements in medicine and education. Indeed after arriving in Cuba, Cantrell told her hosts that New Orleans’s maternity mortality rates are up, and she was therefore eager to learn the secrets of Cuba’s first-rate community health care. Of course, anyone in the know could have told Cantrell that while Cuban elites do enjoy pretty good health care, the hospitals for ordinary Cubans are backward, with severely limited supplies, primitive equipment, and a narrow range of available treatments.

The mayor at a Havana hospital

To its credit, the editors of the local paper, the Times-Picayune, raised questions about the junket. “Mayor LaToya Cantrell didn’t even try to explain why she’s in Cuba this week,” they wrote in an editorial. “She didn’t announce the trip at all.” Nor did city officials “provide an itinerary or the cost of the trip.” Noting that this wasn’t the first time Cantrell had taken major action without informing the public beforehand, the editors concluded: “The lack of transparency of this administration is astounding. In fact, it’s a lot like Cuba.”

This one’s of Havana.

Commenting on the trip, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and longtime critic of the Castro regime, pointed out that “learning about ‘quality of life’ from a place that saw multiple times as many desperate people die trying to escape it, as died trying to escape over the Berlin Wall, sounds like shameless click-bait, or even a Saturday Night Live or Monty Python skit.” Fontova reminded readers that Cantrell’s hosts “converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants, and workers who enjoyed the 8th highest industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians….and in the process jailed and tortured the most and longest-suffering BLACK political prisoners in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.” True enough. But such facts, it seems, will never overcome the illusions of certain starry-eyed folks who’ve been seduced by Cuban propaganda.

Baba Wawa & Fidel: a love story?

Okay, so she’s not a full-fledged, 100%, dyed-in-the-wool stooge. As we noted in a posting in December 2016, Barbara Walters was one of perhaps two of the upscale Manhattan guests at Leonard Bernstein’s 1970 Black Panthers fundraiser – the one that Tom Wolfe made famous in Radical Chic – who didn’t drool all over the thugs in a repulsive display of limousine liberalism and nostalgie de la boue. While glamorous folks like high-society bandleader Peter Duchin and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers oohed and aahed over the Panthers’ plans for an armed revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, Walters actually asked a sensible question: “I’m talking as a white woman who has a white husband, who is a capitalist, or an agent of capitalists, and I am, too, and I want to know if you are to have your freedom, does that mean we have to go?” No, she didn’t give them a dressing-down and then storm out of the party, but at least she stood apart from fellow guests who looked at the gun-toting gangsters and, somehow, saw angels about to usher in a golden utopia.

Similarly, when she interviewed Fidel Castro in 1977, she at least – to her credit – said on the record that she disagreed with him on “the meaning of freedom.” But that statement came at the end of a nauseating puff piece in which Walters did a marvelous job of presenting the murderous dictator as a world-class charmer. She interviewed him again in 2002. And over the years she spoke frequently about her encounters with the Caribbean tyrant, her main point invariably being that he was, as she told Harpers Bazaar in 2014, “very charismatic – very charming and funny.” (Following his death, she said the same thing:“The word ‘charismatic’ was made for him.) Once her 1977 interview with Fidel was in the can, she recalled, “Castro took us into his kitchen and made us grilled cheese sandwiches.” Walters laughed. “That’s an experience you don’t have anymore.” Adorable! During the same Cuba trip, Walters and Castro “dined outdoors on roast pig and Algerian wine at Castro’s mountain retreat.” It’s good to be the dictator. That night, at least two people in Cuba ate well.

As the Harpers Bazaar writer observed, “One thing that seemed clear to everyone was the chemistry between Walters and Castro.” Walters herself said: “People did tease me after that, asking if this was a romance.” When he dropped her at the Havana airport, “I reached up to kiss him on both cheeks, and he all but pushed me away. It was a friendly European goodbye, but I was in Cuba, not France.” We checked with a couple of friends who’ve been interviewed by major newspapers and TV networks. They say that the reporters who interviewed them didn’t lean in for a smooch at the end of the interchange – not once! Interesting that Castro seemed to understand, as Walters didn’t, that, under such circumstances, osculation (European or not) was unprofessional.

“Cuba is a very different country because of Fidel Castro,” Walters told Harpers Bazaar, “and I don’t know what he is proudest of or what he wishes he could have accomplished.” Proudest of? Accomplished? What planet has this woman been living on for the past half century? Even to think along such lines is to buy into this despot’s propaganda. Looking back on her meetings with Fidel, we’d have loved to see her lean over with a smile, put a hand on his knee, and coo confidentially: “What’s your favorite prison?” or “Whose execution made you happiest?” We certainly wouldn’t expect this fatuous talking head – this purported feminist media pioneer who long ago gave up any pretense of being a real journalist and has spent the last few decades lobbing softballs at airheaded celebrities and chatting about the latest gossip on morning TV – to actually interrogate somebody like Fidel, confronting him boldly about his monstrous crimes, his outrageous hypocrisy, and his blatant propaganda. Instead, Walters parroted his propaganda, echoing the oft-repeated claim that he’d given his people first-rate health care and education. Lies, lies, lies. And although she did, yes, admit that he was an autocrat who’d robbed his people of their freedom, nobody has given Fidel and his regime better press in the U.S. than this silly, overrated woman.

Che as Jesus?

Everyone’s favorite psychopath.

We’ve been working the Useful Stooges beat for a few years now. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that you might imagine that we’re no longer remotely capable of being shocked by the high levels of self-delusion, evil-worship, and all-around moral depravity of which some of our fellow homo sapiens are capable. On the contrary, even we do the occasional double or triple take.

Kunzel’s book

Consider this story, courtesy of Arik Schneider at Campus Reform. On April 4, David Kunzle, a professor emeritus in art history at UCLA, gave a talk under the auspices of that university’s Department of Religion. In the talk, based on his book Chesucristo: The Fusion Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ, Kunzle described Che as a “hero of the Cuban Revolution” and a “quasi-divine cosmic force.” Sharing various artworks in which Che is depicted in Christ-like fashion, Kunzle said that “Che Guevara, once the epitome of armed struggle, has evolved to an avatar of justice, peace, and love, as Jesus always was but no longer is exclusively.” Both Jesus and Che, maintained Kunzle, were leaders of “armed guerilla struggle[s].” Kunzle further stated that “[a]s God created light – is light – Che is radiance” and that his nickname, Che, is a “sacred trinity of letters.”

Still a bestseller.

Now, the fact is that in the half century since his death, images of Che Guevara actually have become iconic. We don’t deny that this makes the topic a legitimate subject of study for historians, social scientists, and students of art. Kunzle might have performed a genuine and multifaceted public service if he had been thoroughly honest about the life, ideology, and actions of Che Guevara, a bloodthirsty murderer who was dedicated to promoting a totalitarian dictatorship, and had provided a legitimate scholarly account of his posthumous transmogrification, on millions of t-shirts, posters, and other objects, into “an avatar of justice, peace, and love.” It doesn’t sound, however, as if Kunzle brought to his UCLA discussion very much in the way of aesthetic judgment, moral perspective, or historical objectivity. Yes, we gather that Kunzle realizes that there is at least some degree of tension between this image and the original reality. But the term “armed struggle” is so insufficient as a means of summing up the totality of Che’s career that it amounts to sheer whitewash. Did Kunzle, one wonders, use the word torture? Did he mention summary executions? Did he say anything whatsoever to indicate an awareness of Che’s profound sadism, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he butchered innocents by the score? Apparently not, especially given that his presentation “was followed by a thirty-minute Q&A period, where some of the attendees mentioned their own visits to Cuba and one faculty member ruminated on his experiences personally meeting Guevara.” The audience, reported Schneider, “appeared to approve of the depiction of Jesus and Guevara, going so far as to call the latter individual a ‘martyr’ in some of their own remarks in the Q&A portion.” It sounds, in short, like a lovefest, a fan club meeting, an exercise in nostalgia for the early days of the Castro Revolution.

The catalog for Kunzle’s 1997-98 exhibition

Schneider writes that “Kunzle seems to have hosted the talk at least once before, in 2011.” In fact it turns out that his interest in – obsession with? – this topic goes back a long way. Over two decades ago, in 1997-98, the Fowler Museum at UCLA held an exhibition curated by Kunzle under the title Che Guevara: Icon, Myth, and Message. And more than two decades before that, in 1975, Art in America ran an article by Kunzle about Che posters. As for Kunzle’s other writings, their topics include murals celebrating the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, art associated with Chilean Communist guerrilla movements, and Soviet film posters. Are you sensing a theme? Then there’s the fact that, in articles and reviews written before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Kunzle, in accordance with preferred Soviet and Maoist usage, routinely referred to Communist tyrannies as “revolutionary” societies and to the nations of the Free World as “bourgeois countries.” His politics, then, are clear enough. And his decades-long attraction to the idea of Che as Jesus is manifest – and, yes, even after all these years, shocking in its utter abhorrence.