More NBA toadying

Hong Kong protests, June 16

And on it goes. In recent posts we’ve contrasted the courage of Hong Kong protesters – who are putting their lives on the line to risk the growing encroachments on their freedoms by the government in Beijing – with the readiness of American individuals and firms that do business with China to sell out the idea of liberty for a buck.

Sam Wachs and his wife before being ejected from the arena

Since American sports are so big in the PRC, many of these latest stories of cravenness and cowardice have had to do with athletics. We’ve seen that the NBA and ESPN have both been lightning-quick to sacrifice any pretense of principle in order to avoid offending Xi’s tyrannical regime. Well, here’s more. On October 10, Reason magazine’s Eric Boehm reported that two different sports arenas in the U.S. had ejected fans protesting the Communist Chinese attempt to crush liberty in Hong Kong. On October 8, it happened at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, where Sam Wachs and his wife, who had bought tickets to a preseason game between the Philadelphia 76ers and a visiting Chinese team, the Guangzhou Loong Lions, displayed small signs reading “Free Hong Kong.” Security guards were quick to give the Wachses the heave-ho.

Protesters in DC

The next night, the same Chinese team were in Washington, D.C., for another game, in this case against the Washington Wizards. This time there were several protesters. They wore t-shirts bearing slogans in support of the Hong Kong protesters and unfurled a “Free Hong Kong” banner. When the banner was confiscated, they waved a homemade sign reading “Google Uighurs,” a reference to the current internment by the Communist Chinese government of more than a million adherence of that Muslim minority. That effort, too, was quashed.

Adam Silver, NBA boss

As Boehm pointed out, the NBA’s aggressive treatment of what was frankly a small number of protesters at a couple of U.S. basketball game has only served to draw attention to China’s perfidy and to the NBA’s eagerness to do China’s bidding. On October 10, the New York Post ran an op-ed by one of the Washington protesters, Jon Schweppe, who explained that he and some friends had decided to stage a protest at the Washington game after reading about what happened to the Wachese in Philadelphia. The sight of NBA thugs “groveling to a totalitarian regime and censoring…fans” in Philadelphia, of all places, “home of the Constitutional Convention and the Liberty Bell,” had gotten his dander up. Would the NBA, he wondered, dare to treat supporters of freedom the same way in the nation’s capital?

That tiny Uighurs sign that was too much for the NBC bigwigs

The answer came quickly. When he and his pals unfurled their banner, they were told by NBA reps: “We respect your freedom of speech, but…we don’t have any stance on [Hong Kong]. So we’re just asking not to have any signage related to that in here tonight.” The little sign about the million-plus imprisoned Uighurs didn’t please the NBA bosses either. “My friend,” writes Schweppe, “pleaded that we were simply seeking to educate some of the NBA officials, coaches and players, many of whom had expressed ignorance about the issue. It was in vain: The supervisor still confiscated the sign and told us that if we continued to disrupt the game, we would be ejected.” Instead, Schweppe and his friends just chose to leave. Good for them for standing up for freedom. Shame on the NBA for putting its profits first.

Now it’s ESPN’s turn to bow to Beijing

A Taiwanese flag emoji

The bowing and scraping to China doesn’t stop. Last week we wrote about how Apple has removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from IPhones sold in Hong Kong. We mentioned that Google and Microsoft, as everybody knows by now, happily jigger their products in accordance with Chinese censorship. Then there’s Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, who, when he dared to express solidarity on Twitter with the freedom protesters in Hong Kong, saw his whole world came crashing down on him. His team owner, the NBA, the Chinese Basketball Association, a Chinese broadcaster with which the NBA has a lucrative deal, and a bunch of Chinese companies that manufacture NBA-branded clothing – all of them, shamefully, took Morey to task for giving freedom a thumbs-up.

ESPN’s China map

Next thing you knew it was ESPN’s turn. On October 9, the show SportsCenter, which is aired on that network, showed a map of Communist China that included within its borders the island of Taiwan, part of the Philippines, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The map also included the notorious “nine-dash line,” whereby Communist Chinese maps indicate its utterly unfounded claims to the South China Sea. When called on its use of this map, ESPN refused comment, as did the Disney Organization, its principal owner.

Let’s look at this disgraceful episode piece by piece. Of course, Communist China officially claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has never renounced its supposed right to take the island by force, although Taiwan is in fact an independent – and a free – country, and no map other than one produced in Communist China would include it as part of Communist China.

The red line indicates China’s South China Sea claims.

As for the South China Sea, Communist China has been more and more aggressive about it in recent years, treating much of it as its own property even though if you look at a map – a real map, not a Chinese map – you’ll see that the sea stretches far south of China, and is bordered on the east by the Philippines, on the west by Vietnam, and on the south by Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia. In order to bolster its territorial claim to most of this body of water – which is comparable to the U.S. claiming the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea – China has actually created artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that contains settlements and military establishments owned by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei.

Xi Jinping

And what about those bits of the Philippines and India? What exactly is on the minds of the bullies of Beijing? No wonder the countries of east Asia are trembling at China’s increasing pushiness. That ESPN map was no mistake, any more than the maps of the Middle East put out by Muslim countries that just happen to omit Israel. Indeed, looking at that bogus China map, it is hard not to be reminded of the way in which the Third Reich, after it had attained a certain level of power, began to grab one chunk of neighboring territory after another, painting more and more of Europe a bright red, with a big swastika right smack in the middle. Make no mistake about it: Chairman Xi and his crew plainly want to paint their neighborhood red too. And when it happens, don’t expect the cowards at ESPN to object.

The NBA: a fully owned subsidiary of the PRC

Writing on Tuesday about the courageous stance of the people of Hong Kong, who have taken on the totalitarian tyrants of Beijing in the name of personal liberty, we concluded with the observation that sensible people in the Western world, who were lucky enough to be born in freedom, should look upon the bravery on display in Hong Kong with respect and humility.

Daryl Morey

Well, somebody admired the folks of Hong Kong. The other day, Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, tweeted “Stand with Hong Kong.” But the owner of the team, one Tilman Fertitta, rushed to Twitter to say that Morey wasn’t speaking for the team. Former Houston Rocket center Yao Ming, who now heads the Chinese Basketball Association, suspended its relationship with the Houston team. Several Chinese companies that churn out merch for the NBA, including athletic wear manufacturer Li-Ning, also expressed outrage at Morey’s tweet. Ditto Tencent, a Chinese firm that has paid the NBA $1.5 billion to broadcast its games for the next five years. The NBA itself was quick to distance themselves from Morey’s anti-totalitarian sentiments, with league honcho Mike Bass lamenting that Morey’s tweet had “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.” Bass added that “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”

Tilman Fertitta

In the end, Morey deleted his pro-freedom tweet and feebly assured all and sundry that he had not meant to offend anybody. “I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China,” Morey tweeted on Monday. “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.” Could any of this be more pathetic? Yet this is the world we live in, where a Communist tyranny wields such power that an American citizen dare not speak up for freedom for fear of outraging Beijing. Sports like basketball and baseball are all tied up in a lot of people’s minds with American patriotism. But to the people who run the NBA, it’s clear, the greenbacks they get from Beijing are more important than the red, white, and blue.

Yao Ming

Nor is this cowardly, craven attitude restricted to the NBA. On October 7, it was reported that Apple had removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from the newly updated keyboards of iPhones sold in Hong Kong and Macau, China’s other so-called “special administrative region.” Did Apple do this on its own initiative, or was it following orders from Beijing? Whatever the case, as the Quartz website put it, when viewed “against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, the move exemplifies continued corporate subservience to the Chinese government.” The Quartz article further noted that Google and Microsoft, which earn zillions in income from everywhere else in the world, are so greedy that they, too, happily bow to Beijing – in their case, producing Chinese versions of their technologies that accord with the censorious dictates of Xi Jinping’s regime. In short, Chinese money talks. And American freedom be damned.

What is happening in Hong Kong?

This is our 800th post here at Useful Stooges. It is a landmark for our site, and consequently we have decided to devote this post to an especially crucial ongoing development in the never-ending history of the human struggle for freedom.

The handover, 1997

Ever since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the onetime colony’s spectacular success as an international financial hub and robust center of corporate activity has obscured the fact that it is, in fact, ultimately subject to the authority of the world’s most powerful and dangerous totalitarian regime.

Hong Kong’s history is rich in irony. Its acquisition by Britain in the early nineteenth century was, frankly, an imperialistic land grab. But by the mid twentieth century, it was, thanks to that land grab, a tiny outpost of democratic capitalism and individual liberty on the coast of the planet’s most populous Communist country. Its population was overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese, but they were ethnic Chinese who were glad to be living in a free and wealthy enclave under British rule rather than under Red China’s heavy tyrannical thumb.

Hong Kong

Yet the fact that people in Britain – and, by extension, Hong Kong – lived in freedom while people in China did not was hardly dispositive. As China’s power grew, it began to demand that Britain give up control of this wealthy jewel. Fearing that China might retake Hong Kong by force, the British government agreed in 1984 to return it in 1997 on the proviso that its people would be permitted to keep living in liberty until the year 2047. This was the famous “one country, two systems” agreement.

Hong Kong Olympic team, 2012

The result has been a often uneasy hybrid. On the one hand, Hong Kong’s legal system differs from China’s. It belongs to the WTO, issues its own passports, and sends its own team to the Olympics. There remains a tight customs border between Hong Kong and the rest of China, and Chinese citizens are not permitted to move to Hong Kong. On the other hand, the city is policed by the People’s Liberation Army – a fact that has been of crucial importance in recent weeks, when all of Hong Kong, it seems, has risen up in protest against the bullies of Beijing.

2019 protesters

It started with a proposed law that would permit the extradition of people from Hong Kong who are wanted for crimes on the mainland. Until now, rather remarkably, there has been no extradition agreement between China and Hong Kong – yet another indication of the degree to which Hong Kong has remained a separate entity. Such a law, of course, if applied aggressively, could spell an end to Hong Kong’s distinctive Western-style freedoms. Protests began in March of this year and grew in scale and violence over the course of the spring. Quite rapidly, the focus of the demonstrations broadened; they weren’t just about the bill but about Beijing’s authority generally. So it was that on the day after the bill was suspended on June 15, a massive protest took place; July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, occasioned another large-scale public display; August 5 saw a general strike and yet another huge demo.

Airport sit-in, 2019

At first, Beijing held back, not wanting to do anything that the world would compare to the Tienanmen Square massacre, which took place exactly thirty years ago, in 1989. But police gradually grew more aggressive, and yet another full-scale protest on August 18 took aim at police brutality. Meanwhile, from August 12 to 14, a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport all but closed it down. On August 23, protesters formed a human chain 50 kilometers long that stretched across much of the metropolis. As of October, the people of Hong Kong were still coming out in force, with a number of violent protests occurring on the first of the month, which marked the 70th anniversary of the PRC’s founding.

Protesters jam the streets, 2019

Sensible people in the free world should recognize the extraordinary, months-long exhibition of love of liberty and hatred of tyranny by the people of Hong Kong as a reminder of their own good fortune, a reminder that free societies are the product of centuries of struggle and development, a reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted and sometimes needs to be fought for. The brave and inspiring actions by the people of Hong Kong should also shame the leaders of Silicon Valley tech empires who blithely adapt their products to conform to Chinese censorship laws. American politicians, retired politicians, and their family members who are willing to lobby for the tyrants of Beijing in exchange for impressive cash payoffs should also have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror. Indeed, it’s fair to say that most of us in the Western world, while snapping up Chinese imports at cheap prices, have given far too little thought to the factory workers who manufacture those products and who can fairly be described as slave labor. Nor have we reflected sufficiently upon our own roles, as bargain-happy consumers, in helping Chairman Xi and his crew to build up their wealth and power to such an extent that their autocratic empire now represents a serious economic and military threat to the U.S. and its free allies.

Castro in Vietnam: A forgotten chapter

Recently, author Jamie Glazov reposted a 2016 article of his about one of the lesser-known chapters of Communist history: the involvement of Cubans in the torture of American prisoners of war in Vietnam. On the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death, Glazov called attention to what he called “the direct and instrumental role Castro played in the torture and murder of American POWs in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.” As Glazov noted, America’s mainstream news media – which have tended to soft-pedal the evil of Castro’s regime and more than a few of which (as we’ve pointed out at this website) have celebrated Communist Cuba for the supposed quaintness and charm of its broken-down buildings and infrastructure – have virtually ignored this dark episode.

Fidel Castro

We’re not talking here, mind you, about a couple of Cubans who were sent over to Vietnam to help run POW camps. No; in fact, at the height of the Vietnam War, the number of Cubans in North Vietnam numbered in the thousands, and at least some of them were part of what Castro called the “Cuban Program” at the Cu Loc POW camp in Hanoi, which came to be known to inmates as ‘the Zoo.’” Among the goals of the “Cuban Program” was “to determine how much physical and psychological agony a human being could withstand.” For this purpose, Castro’s minions picked out US servicemen as “guinea pigs” to be worked on by a torturer, who like his comandante was named Fidel, and who was “trained in psychology and prison control in Russia or Europe.” Among the victims of Fidel’s brutality was a F-105 pilot, Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil, an F-105 pilot, whom a fellow POW, Col. Jack Bomar, described as follows:

Lt. Col. Earl Cobeil

The man could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe. The man’s head was down; he made no attempt to look at anyone. . . . He stood unmoving, his head down. Fidel smashed a fist into the man’s face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of black rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man’s face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. His failure to react seemed to fuel Fidel’s rage and again he whipped the rubber hose across the man’s face. . . . Again and again and again, a dozen times, Fidel smashed the man’s face with the hose. Not once did the fearsome abuse elicit the slightest response from the prisoner. . . . His body was ripped and torn everywhere; hell cuffs appeared almost to have severed the wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest, back, and legs.

Barbara Walters

Cobell died. So did many others. Of course, no one who is remotely familiar with the systematic, sadistic violence perpetrated by Che Guevara and others on behalf of the Castro regime could be terribly surprised that Castro was capable of arranging such a violent project. At the same time, one never quite gets accustomed to the fact that a popular current presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, is a lifelong Castro fan; ditto the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain; that the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, honeymooned in Havana; that Barbara Walters, the longtime host of American housewives’ favorite TV show, The View, had a cozy relationship with Fidel, whom she described as “charming”; that network reporter Lisa Howard had a veritable romance with him. It is one of the enduring, and sick, facts of life that some people who are lucky enough to live in liberty are capable of an irrational attraction to totalitarian tyrants.

Trump vs. Beijing

There are many ways of measuring the advance of the Chinese economy in comparison with that of the United States. But one of them is this: in 2019, for the first time, the number of Chinese companies on the Forbes Global 500 list exceeded the number of U.S. firms.

When the rulers of China decided to turn their country into an international economic powerhouse, there was a widespread assumption that the adoption of capitalism by the world’s largest country would inevitably result in a transition from Communism to democracy.

Xi

That hasn’t happened. China has gotten rich – and a few million managerial-class Chinese people have gotten rich, too – by exporting cheaply made goods to the West and by using sky-high tariffs to keep out Western products. But at the same time it has remained resolutely totalitarian, and its blue-collar workers – you know, those proletarians whose welfare is theoretically at the heart of the entire Marxist project – continue to be drastically underpaid in comparison to their Western counterparts, which of course is why China can sell its manufactured goods so cheap.

In any event, the fact that a Communist country, for the first time in history, either has the planet’s largest economy or is close to it, should be a cause for deep concern throughout the free world.

Trump

It isn’t. Not yet. Not really. President Trump, who has tried to rein in the Chinese dynamo by raising U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports – although those tariffs are almost nothing compared to the Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods – has been accused of waging a trade war. In fact he’s simply making a modest effort to come somewhere near evening out what has for all too long been a very uneven situation.

Anyway, China has thrived. Which would not be a bad thing if not for the fact that, as Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon putitin a September appearance on The Mark Levin Show, Chinese President Xi Jinping has turned his country into a “communist nightmare.”

Gertz

Gertz, who has written a new book entitled Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy, told Levin that Xi “has his eyes set on global hegemony, he wants China to be the dominant superpower in the world, and in order to do that, he has to diminish the power of the United States.”

Some Americans in positions of authority recognize that. Most do not. Too many of them are distracted by thoughts of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the vodka-addled population is taking a nosedive and the economy is no bigger than that of Texas.

On the Levin program, Gertz praised Trump for taking on China – not only by fighting for fair trade but by “cracking down on China” when it comes to “law enforcement, intelligence gathering, and spying.” Gertz didn’t claim to have a crystal ball, but he contended that just as the USSR collapsed, so might China: “with a little bit of pressure” of the sort being exerted by Trump, “the whole thing could come crumbling down in Beijing.” Which would be a magnificent development for the oppressed, brutalized, and painfully unfree people of China, and would also make the whole free world breathe a good deal more easily.

Congratulations, Venezuela! Your inflation rate is down to 135,000%!

Havana

Over the years, we’ve written a good deal here about the western hemisphere’s cozy Commie tag team. We’re referring, of course, to the so-called Republic of Cuba and the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, each of which, through various actions, helps keep the other’s totalitarian system in place. Now, however, both of these tyrannies are undergoing dramatic changes. On September 13, Reuters reported that Cuba was experiencing a fuel shortage. “Cubans,” wrote Nelson Acosta, “queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long.”

PDVSA headquarters

The Cuban government blamed this crisis on the Trump Administration’s enhancement of U.S. efforts to block imports into Cuba – including oil shipments from Venezuela – and Trump’s new sanctions on Venezuela’s famously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. Acosta noted, however, that it can’t all be blamed on Trump: Venezuelan oil imports into Cuba have been on the decline for years, obliging the Havana government to ration energy. Which means, among other things, shutting off streetlights and reducing “the use of electricity in state-run institutions,” whatever that entails.

Nicolas Maduro

Meanwhile, what’s up in Venezuela? According to a September 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, the Maduro government has responded to that country’s economic death spiral – a consequence of socialist policies introduced by the late Hugo Chavez – by “quietly and cautiously begun implementing free-market policies” in order to “correct an economic contraction worse than America’s Great Depression.” That’s putting it mildly: the situation in Venezuela makes The Grapes of Wrath look like Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

What exactly has the Maduro regime done? It’s “scaled back its once frenzied printing of money, nearly ended frequent salary hikes, and largely stopped enforcing the price controls that had led to dire food shortages and a thriving black market.” As the Journal ‘s Kejal Vyas observes, these are significant actions “for a government that has publicly championed its state-led, socialist economic model as the country’s only salvation from greedy capitalists.”

Venezuelans in a supermarket queue

In any event, the new policies are having an impact – kind of. The hyperinflation rate, wrote Vyas, has dropped “from seven to six figures.” To be specific, “Inflation has fallen from a peak 12-month rate of 2.6 million percent in January to 135,000% in August.” Now, that kind of inflation rate is still terrifying, but, okay, it’s better than seven figures. Just like it’s presumably better to be hit by a car going 60 miles an hour than by a train going 200.

To be sure, it’s news that the Maduro gang is finally seeing the light – sort of. It remains to be seen whether this implicit acknowledgment of the power of the free market will lead to changes in the regime’s rhetoric. Somehow we doubt it. Maduro has been rhapsodizing over chavista ideology so ardently for so many years that it’s hard to imagine him actually admitting that he’s been wrong all along.

Sergi Lanau

In any event, Vyas quotes Sergi Lanau of the Institute of International Finance in Washington to the effect that Maduro’s new measures aren’t exactly leading Venezuela out of the woods. “Is this a turning point? I would say no, definitely not,” said Lanau. “Who knows in a few months if the decision will be ‘Well, we need money again. Let’s print some more.’” In any event, despite the significant drop, Venezuela’s inflation rate remains the world’s highest. Even as America’s economy goes from strength to strength, the economies of the two totalitarian enemies on its doorstep continue to be basket cases.

They’re still cheering Che

In a recent article for a website called CubaArchive, a woman named Maria C. Werlau recounted an experience that we thought worth passing on. It’s a single anecdote, but it’s a telling one, illustrative of the ideological poison infecting American mass culture in these days when an unsettling percentage of young people have been led to think that socialism is just dandy and certainly preferable to capitalism. Writing on September 8, Werlau explained that on the previous Thursday, she had walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Coral Gables, Florida, and espied, before anything else, a prominently placed stack of books about Che Guevara that had been placed in the reference section.

The B&N display table

They were copies of Che: A Revolutionary Icon by Luis Enrique Martínez. It was published last year by New York-based Chartwell Books, which, a little googling reveals, specializes in books for children and teenagers. So this was, apparently, a work intended for young people. And what did Werlau find when she opened the book? “Page after page,” she wrote,

tells a selective and glorified story of Guevara under subtitles such as “The legend is born,” “The messenger of love,” “A revolutionary adventurer,” “The price of glory,” “Che lives forever,” with many glossy photos from many phases of his life. I found no subtitles such as “The killing machine,“ “the butcher of La Cabaña,” “terrorist,” “aristocratic racist,” or other less laudatory labels also used to describe him.

Of course, we’ve discussed Che at this site many times. And with good reason. For those who seek to further the fortunes of socialism in the United States, he remains a useful tool. That one famous picture of him, which in the eyes of certain observers makes him out to be glamorous, has somehow managed to sweep away his bloodthirstiness, his enthusiasm for violence, his love of killing, his eagerness to commit innocents to prison or send them to the executioner. Perhaps more than anyone in the Western hemisphere during the twentieth century, he was the very embodiment of the totalitarian mind at its most ruthless. And yet even now the Che industry, which glorifies his memory with movies, books, and t-shirts and other paraphernalia, continues to thrive.

The book

Coral Gables is a town in Miami-Dade County, which is famously home to a large Cuban-American community. Coral Gables itself is more than half Latino. Nearly all of these Cubans are living in south Florida for one reason: they, or their forebears, managed to escape the evil regime that Che Guevara helped plant and that he watered with the blood of innocents. Werlau made it plain in her article that while she is devoted to American freedoms and therefore no fan of censorship, she wondered why a bookstore in that part of the Sunshine State would want to put such a piece of shameless propaganda on display and to offer it up as, of all things, a reference book. She spoke to the manager, who told her that “he was born in Cuba but had left as a young child and knew nothing about Guevara.” Not surprising, alas.

Werlau looked up the author of the Che book. Martinez, she read, was born in Venezuela but has moved to Britain to escape the “violence and crime” prevalent in his homeland. You would think a writer who had to flee one socialist nightmare would be loath to celebrate another one. But no: Martinez, she read, had been “fascinated by Che Guevara since he was a boy when he had a poster of the revolutionary on his bedroom wall.” There it is in a nutshell: for at least one writer, the glory of that iconic image still outweighed the villainous reality of Che’s life.

The Cuba-chavista connection

Hugo Chavez

For those fans of the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who have denied that chavismo is basically a Spanish word for Communism, the intimate ties between the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez – and, subsequently, of his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro – with the frankly totalitarian Castro regime in Cuba has always been something of a stumbling block. In a recent article for Reuters, Angus Berwick provided a fascinating new trove of information that substantiated that nefarious link. “The Cuban government has relied on Venezuela for economic and political support for two decades,” Berwick wrote. “In return, Cuba has provided Venezuela with training and support that has allowed Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro to keep a tight grip on the military — and on power.”

Fidel Castro

Berwick revealed that in 2007, when Chavez lost a referendum that would have allowed him to keep running for re-election, he turned for advice to “a close confidant” – namely, Fidel Castro, who told him that if he wanted to stay in power indefinitely, whatever the results of elections, he should assume “absolute control of the military.” Chavez listened, and as a result ordered that Venezuelan troops be spied on. With the help of advisors supplied by Castro, Chavez oversaw the refashioning of a government agency that now goes by the name Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), and that had previously been tasked to spy abroad, into an organization whose primary mission was to conduct espionage within Venezuela’s own armed forces.

Nicolas Maduro

To this end, members of Cuba’s armed forces were brought into Venezuela to restructure the military and train spies. Under the instruction of its Cuban tutors, the DGCIM “embedded agents…within barracks,” tapped the phones of senior officers, put together “dossiers on perceived troublemakers,” and reported “any signs of disloyalty.” Non-chavista officers and enlisted men were duly arrested, imprisoned, tortured; one organization says that the number of former military personnel now in detention as a result of DGCIM investigations is over 300. Since its transformation, the DGCIM has been “accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained navy captain.”

Juan Guaido

For years, Cuban and Venezuelan officials have denied that the relationship between their militaries was anywhere near this intimate. But they were lying. While Venezuelan oil kept Cuba’s economy going, Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military has kept the chavista government in power. It’s because of this arrangement, this deal between devils, that Juan Guaido’s bid to replace Maduro – a key factor of which was his expectation that many members of the armed forces would take his side – failed so ignominiously. Military officers and enlisted men who might indeed have been supporters of Guaido have long since been culled from the ranks, with the help of Maduro’s ruthless Cuban allies.

Sanders: praising China

The other day we wrote here about a prominent psychiatrist who, in an interview on CNN, maintained that President Trump is worse than Mao, Stalin, or Hitler. As we observed, to make such comparisons is irresponsible beyond measure, because it diminishes the scale of those tyrants’ destructiveness at a time when many Americans – especially young people – are poorly educated about twentieth-century totalitarianism.

Bernie Sanders

A few days later, a far more famous person than that psychiatrist made an equally outrageous statement. In a late August interview with The Hill, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, while acknowledging that China is growing “more authoritarian” in many ways, claimed that the Communist dictatorship has “made more progress in addressing extreme poverty than any country in the history of civilization.”

Mao Zedong

Is this true? Well, first of all, let’s make two things clear: China is a massive country (it’s by far the most populous on earth, and has been for a very long time) and it has long been a very poor country as well. Yes, it has undergone a major economic transformation. But because it started at almost zero, in the wake of Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution, even achieving a middling level of prosperity per capita would have been a big deal. Yes, thanks to its gigantic population, China has managed in the course of a few decades to develop an economy that rivals the size of America’s; but that still means that the average inhabitant of China is nowhere near as affluent as his counterparts in the West.

Deng Xiaoping

In any event,what exactly changed? Well, let’s recall, to begin with, that Bernie Sanders loves Communism, and that when he celebrates Chinese accomplishment he is implicitly cheering on Communism. But China has experienced an economic boom not because it has clung to its Communist ideology and systems of social control but because, under Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, it abandoned its fierce devotion to Marxist economics and introduced elements of capitalism even as it remained a Communist dictatorship. It helped enrich itself, furthermore, by underpaying factory workers and selling its products abroad at dirt-cheap prices. This policy, which continued under Deng’s successors, was aided by the refusal of Western countries to impose tariffs on Chinese imports – a refusal that resulted in profound damage to large portions of the industrial base of the U.S. and other countries and great suffering on the part of blue-collar Western workers. China’s success also owed a great deal to its currency manipulation and its shameless theft of intellectual property from Western countries. Oh, and it also killed a lot of poor people, which of course is one easy way of eliminating poverty.

Xi Jinping

Hence, yes, poverty in China has declined to a considerable degree. Thanks to the spectacular growth of Chinese industries, the country now has a great many more very rich people than it had a few decades ago. But while its biggest cities now teem with gleaming skyscrapers and its richest citizens travel the world and send their kids to Harvard and Oxford, tens of millions of people in rural areas continue to live at a level of poverty that brings to mind the 1931 Pearl Buck novel The Good Earth. Indeed, the changes that Sanders so enthusiastically extols have resulted in what may well be the most formidable case of economic equality – a topic he frets over endlessly when talking about the American economy – in the history of human civilization. And let’s not forget this small detail: everyone in China is still unfree.

Nicolas Maduro

But of course that doesn’t matter to Sanders. He was a fan of the USSR. He loves Castro’s Cuba. Until recently, anyway, he was defending the Maduro regime in Venezuela. As Jim Geraghty noted in National Review, this is a presidential candidate who in 1985, while the USSR was still around, commented: “It’s funny, sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is, that people are lining up for food. That is a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food: The rich get the food, and the poor starve to death.” Well, the fact is that in cities like Shanghai and Beijing and Guangzhou, the new Party-connected super-rich managerial class enjoys a whole lot of first-class cuisine, while out in the sticks there are still millions who are, yes, starving.