Birth of a baby chavista

On May 16, Tucker Carlson welcomed a guest on his Fox News TV show who looked as if he was about twelve years old. He was, in fact, a 19-year-old college student named Dakotah Lilly who was there to defend chavismo in Venezuela and to deny that any of that country’s current problems – including the collapse of food supplies and medical services – were caused by socialism.

In the interview (which begins at about the thirty-minute mark in the video below), Carlson asked Lilly to address the fact that wherever socialism has actually been tried, it has been a disaster. Sidestepping Carlson’s list of Soviet bloc countries whose modern histories prove his point, Lilly simply parroted Maduro administration propaganda. “What Venezuela is currently facing right now,” said Lilly, “is terrorism at the hands of the opposition” – an opposition that, he insisted, is deliberately destroying “the progress Venezuela has made over the past few years.”

From beginning to end, Lilly’s portrait of Venezuela today was Alice-through-the-looking-glass stuff. The real victims of violence in the country, he charged, are supporters of the Maduro government. The real causes of Venezuela’s economic problems are (a) sanctions by the United States and (b) “hoarding by multinational corporations.” He even defended the Supreme Court’s closing, on Maduro’s orders, of the National Assembly. Carlson asked whether Lilly could speak Spanish or if he had actually ever been in Venezuela, but never got an answer to either question.

Dakotah Lilly

Who is Lilly? He’s currently a student of political science at Eugene Lang College (a unit of the New School in New York City) and a member of Students and Youth for a New America (SYNA), whose website makes it clear that it’s basically a bunch of junior Communists. Lilly isn’t the only SYNA member who has drunk the Kool-Aid on Venezuela: the group’s site features an article in which one Caleb T. Maupin (a frequent contributor to Iran’s Press TV) sneered at the idea that the downfall of the Venezuelan economy confirms “clichés [Americans] heard in elementary school about how ‘Communism just doesn’t work.’” Maupin claimed that, on the contrary, “millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process.”

Cindy Sheehan giving a hug to everyone’s favorite race hustler and shakedown artist, Jesse Jackson

As for Lilly’s own oeuvre, in September 2015, Cindy Sheehan (a famous antiwar activist during the George W. Bush administration who all but disappeared from the media once Barack Obama became president) posted on her website a “guest article” by Lilly entitled “Socialism, A Love Story.” Excerpts: “Capitalism isn’t working and it never has….Capitalism is a system that has run its course, much like slavery and feudalism. The future however is optimistic and a new system is on its way to being established, that system is Socialism.” As to the argument that socialism “never works in practice,” Lilly confidently asserted: “This could not be farther from the truth. Humans are naturally co-operative beings and to suggest that exploiting each other for valueless paper is somehow embedded in our genes is ludicrous.”

Caleb T. Maupin

What about China or the USSR? These weren’t really socialist countries, argued Lilly, although “Socialist elements of the USSR and Cuba, have led to the launching of the Sputnik and the eradication of homelessness and hunger. Imagine what the potential of Socialism is in a nation as rich and developed as the USA.” At the time he wrote that article, Lilly was, according to his contributor’s note, the 17-year-old “leader of Lehigh Valley Youth Democratic Socialists” whose “first mass action was joining Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox and other organizations in March in WDC for Spring Rising; in his spare time he likes smashing patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism and defending the oppressed.”

Those now-iconic empty Venezuelan grocery-store shelves

Why would such a callow and obscure character as Lilly be invited on Carlson’s show in the first place? The answer, one suspects, is that all the heavy hitters who were standing up for chavista economics as recently as a couple of years ago have either changed their tune or changed the topic. You might suggest that the best way to respond to the puerile views of a Dakotah Lilly is to ignore him; but this is the sort of person who, in a couple of years, will be out of college and in a first-rung position at some think tank or NGO or congressional office in Washington, D.C., or some other power center, using his twisted opinions to help set the nation’s future agenda. Best to be aware of these people as soon as possible, and to remember to track them as they move from the classroom into positions of authority. 

Adeste fideles

(FILES) In this 04 September1999 file photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro discusses his request to the president of the International Olympic Committee in Havana for an investigation into the treatment of certain Cuban atheletes. Castro said the communist nation is not afraid of dialogue with the United States -- and not interested in continued confrontation with its powerful neighbor. The comments came as a group of US lawmakers visited Cuba this weekend to try to end nearly half a century of mutual distrust and amid reports that President Barack Obama was planning to ease economic sanctions on the island, including travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans. "We're not afraid to talk with the United States. We also don't need confrontation to exist, like some fools like to think," Castro, 82, said in an article on the Cubadebate website on April 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE /FILES (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images) Original Filename: Was672139.jpg

Yesterday we lamented the New York Times‘s nauseating Castro obit. Unsurprisingly, the Times wasn’t the only newspaper to praise the old thug. While the Washington Post, in the headline of its obituary, honestly – and admirably – labeled Fidel a “dictator,” a slew of other mainstream media honored him with the title of “president” (Bloomberg, Daily Mail) or “leader” (CNN, PBS, Daily Mirror). The BBC went with “icon.” And while U.S. President-elect Donald Trump frankly called Castro a “brutal dictator,” other eminent figures around the world queued up to ooze praise. A quick round-up:

NA-TRUDEAU-EDBOARD5 The editorial board met with Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau on April 5, 2013. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR
Justin Trudeau

Jill Stein. The Green Party presidential candidate tweeted: “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!”

Justin Trudeau. Applauding Castro’s “love for the Cuban people,” Canada’s PM said that the tyrant’s demise caused him “deep sorrow,” noted that his father (late PM Pierre Trudeau) “was very proud to call [Castro] a friend,” and mourned “the loss of this remarkable leader.”

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Jean-Claude Juncker

Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU Commission president tweeted: “With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.”

George Galloway. The former British MP tweeted: “You were the greatest man I ever met Comandante Fidel. You were the man of the century.”

Michael D. Higgins. Ireland’s president gushed that “equality and poverty are much less pronounced in Cuba than in surrounding nations” and that Castro stood not only for “freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

June 26-27, 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Jesse Jackson smokes Cuban cigars with Fidel Castro during a controversial visit to Havana in June 1984. Jackson, a candidate for President of the United States, caused a stir in the U.S. government and press by visiting with the Communist leader. --- Image by © Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS
Jesse Jackson with Castro, 1984

Jesse Jackson. The veteran shakedown artist cheered  Castro the “freedom fighter,” “poor people’s hero,” and “liberator.”

Jimmy Carter. The retired peanut farmer wrote: “Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people….We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country.”

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Ban Ki-Moon

Ban Ki-Moon. The UN honcho professed to be “saddened” by the death of Castro, whom he credited with “advances…in the fields of education, literacy and health” and touted as “a strong voice for social justice.”

Jeremy Corbyn. The head of the British Labour Party hailed Castro as a “champion of social justice.”

MANDATORY CREDIT People in Miami celebrate the death of Cuba's Fidel Castro in front of Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, early Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Within half an hour of the Cuban government’s official announcement that former President Fidel Castro had died, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at age 90, Miami’s Little Havana teemed with life - and cheers. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)
Celebrating in Miami

Obscene, all of it. Any reader who is tempted to believe these plaudits need only watch TV coverage of the exultant celebrations by Cuban exiles in the streets of Miami. In those crowds are people who have firsthand knowledge of Castro’s evil. Many of them, because of Castro, have experienced cruelty, brutality, and suffering beyond description. Castro robbed their freedom, their homes, their land. And, in many cases, imprisoned, tortured, or executed their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters.

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Reynaldo Arenas

If viewing those videos isn’t enough to make the truth sink in, read one or more of the better-informed obits, such as this one in the Independent and this one in the Miami Herald. Or buy the haunting, masterly memoir Before Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas. No man or woman of conscience can peruse these writings and emerge with the belief that Castro was anything but one of the great totalitarian monsters of the last century, or that his passing is anything but a welcome end to a nightmarish chapter of human history.

Eulogizing Fidel

fidel-castro-obituary-slide-p9cb-superjumbo-v6When Fidel Castro first came on the scene more than half a century ago, the New York Times famously disgraced itself by serving as his chief PR tool. When he died a few hours ago, the Times again brought shame upon itself with a jaw-droppingly fawning obituary headlined “Fidel Castro, Cuban Leader who Defied U.S., Dies at 90.”

Let’s make this clear: Castro wasn’t a “leader”; he was a totalitarian dictator. But the Times, alas, has plainly never gotten over its schoolgirl crush on him. The first paragraphs of its obit, which carried the byline of Anthony DePalma, were studded with the kind of words customarily used to eulogize heroes and saints. Castro was a “fiery apostle of revolution.” He was “a towering international figure.” He was a man who “dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.”

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The Times’s caption: “Mr. Castro with Mr. Guevara in Havana in January 1959.”

DePalma’s account of the events of that day fifty-seven years ago was nothing less than nauseating – useful stoogery at its purest:

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Accompanying all this laudatory prose were photographs (we’ve reproduced them here) that seemed to have been selected with the objective of showing Fidel at his most glamorous, rugged,  and heroic.

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The Times’s caption: “Mr. Castro with other rebel leaders at a secret base in June 1957 including Che Guevara, the guerrillas’ physician, second from left, and Mr. Castro’s brother Raúl, kneeling in the foreground.”

To be sure, DePalma went on, after his first dozen or so (long) paragraphs, to acknowledge the negative aspects of Castro’s rule. But these obligatory doses of truth about what was, in fact, a thoroughly monstrous regime were brief, grudging, and muted. Every mention of something less than admirable, moreover, was paired with yet more sickening – and baseless – words of praise. For example: “His legacy in Cuba and elsewhere has been a mixed record of social progress and abject poverty, of racial equality and political persecution.” Social progress? Racial equality? Utter hogwash. For the zillionth time, furthermore, the Times served up the ubiquitous, ridiculous lie that Cuba, under Castro, has undergone astounding strides in education and health care. 

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Anthony DePalma

It’s not really surprising to see the Times serving up nonsense like this. It is rather unexpected to see Anthony DePalma signing his name to it. DePalma who left the Times in 2008, and presumably filed a draft of this obit some time before that  is the author of  The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba and Herbert L. Matthews of The New York Times, in which he doesn’t pull any punches about Castro being a bloodthirsty tyrant – and about the key role the Times played in making him an international icon. One wonders how much editorial tweaking DePalma’s piece has undergone since he first filed it.    

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The Times’s caption: “Mr. Castro, speaking on July 26, 2003, lived to rule a country where the overwhelming majority of people had never known any other leader.”

Once upon a time, people referred to the New York Times – with a straight face – as “the newspaper of record.” Now, that phrase is increasingly likely to be uttered with a smirk. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Times‘s publisher and executive editor felt compelled to express public regret – sort of – for its appallingly slanted coverage of the recent U.S. presidential election and to promise “to report America and the world honestly.” But this obit oozes dishonesty – an eagerness to whitewash Communism and lionize dictators that, unfortunately, seems to be written into the Times‘s DNA. DePalma’s article should go down in the record books as a classic in useful stoogery.

UPDATE, November 30: The Times has actually posted a whole feature about the history of its Castro op-ed. It turns out, indeed, that many hands other than DePalma’s were involved.

Asner’s Castro connection

Actors Ed Asner, John Newton, Alice Evan and Peter Jason, took a break from their Nov. 29, 2006 tour of the Pentagon to pose the Defense Department's podium in the briefing room. The group was in town to promote the movie and Hallmark's "Cards for Troops" program and had spent time visiting with wounded servicemembers at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesday and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Ed Asner

Actor Ed Asner, who turns 87 today, has been a longtime fan of Fidel Castro, 90, and has been active in a number of organizations and campaigns designed to shore up the Castro dictatorship. Among them: the International Peace for Cuba Appeal and the Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. (The Cuban Five, whom we’ve discussed briefly on this site, were spies who were imprisoned in the U.S. for several years.) Routinely, Asner has blamed America for Cuban Communism, his argument being that the U.S. embargo forced Fidel into the arms of the Kremlin. (Don’t try to explain to him that he’s reversed cause and effect.)

Not that he seems particularly bothered by Castro’s Communism. In 1998, visiting Cuba with Muhammed Ali, the American TV star had a friendly meeting with the Caribbean dictator; there is no record of his having breathed a word in criticism of the system Fidel had imposed on his people.

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Ever the good guy

On the contrary, Asner has more than once twisted himself into rhetorical knots in an effort to defend that system. Discussing the Cuban situation in 2003 on MSNBC, Asner was asked about Castro’s imprisonment of his critics. Asner didn’t hesitate to stand up for this practice, maintaining that Fidel had been compelled by (once again) the U.S. embargo of Cuba to resort to such “excesses.” When Pat Buchanan, his interlocutor, requested that Asner explain the connection, Asner asserted that Castro “feels the imminent threat of the Bush administration.”

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
Ever the villain

Did this mean, Buchanan inquired, that Asner seriously believed Bush intended to invade Cuba? Asner, while not replying with a direct and unequivocal yes, warned darkly that George W. Bush was “beginning to lower the crunch on Castro.” As evidence for this claim, Asner noted that the president had “just canceled student scholastic trips and museum trips to Cuba.” Buchanan proceeded to remind Asner that Fidel Castro had “persecuted his own people” and “denied them free elections for forty years” and that he was, in fact, “an unelected dictator who puts people in prison on his own.” Asner’s comeback, which demonstrated that the actor had long since accustomed himself to engaging in reflexive moral equivalence, was that America hadn’t had a free election in 2000, either.

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Asner in Elf

In 2003, a group called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-America Hollywood protested the casting of the pro-Castro Asner as Santa Claus in the movie Elf, then in production. “If he dislikes the country that has afforded him the lifestyle and luxury that his earnings as a celebrity have afforded him,” asserted the group’s leader, “then maybe he should see how wonderful Cuba really is. I doubt he would be able to enjoy the freedoms he has here were he under Castro’s rule.” The campaign failed, and Asner has in fact played Santa several times now.

Age hasn’t withered Asner’s devotion to his cigar-chomping pal in Havana. Three years ago, in a letter addressed to donors to a Cuba-friendly group, he invited them to join him on a delightful trip to Fidel’s tropical prison. “This is a great chance,” he wrote, “to experience for yourself the lively, inspiring and creative people-to-people exchange the right wing is trying to block.”

Oh, and let’s not forget this: Asner was also hugely supportive of Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela, signing a 2004 letter calling chavista Venezuela “a model democracy.” Chávez’s policies have since destroyed the Venezuelan economy, of course, but if Asner has issued any expression of regret for having encouraged all this, we haven’t been able to find it.

But that’s not all. More tomorrow. 

Happy birthday, Fidel!

FILE - In this July 26, 2006 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro pauses as addresses a crowd of Latin American students gathered in Pedernales, in Holguin province, Cuba, for the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks. As Fidel Castro gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday on Aug. 13, 2016, many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say time has proven that Castro’s economic ideas do not work. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano, File)
Fidel Castro, in a photo accompanying the Atlantic Monthly’s report on his 90th birthday

When Fidel Castro turned 90 on August 13, some of the leading news organs in the English-speaking world took the opportunity to commemorate the occasion. How? By recalling his decades of tyranny, torture, and terror? Nope. Mostly, they chose to portray Fidel as “the great survivor” – which, as it happens, was the title of Will Grant‘s piece for BBC News, for which Grant journeyed to Fidel’s hometown to collect cozy stories about the Great Man’s childhood.

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This heroic image accompanied the New Yorker’s 90th birthday tribute

It was dismaying, but hardly surprising, to witness the readiness of one major news organization after another to whitewash Fidel’s brutality and to pretend that he’s actually accomplished anything positive for his freedom-deprived people. Take CBS News, whose Portia Siegelbaum provided us with the adorable information that Fidel spends most of his birthdays “sharing a cake with young children.” Cuban TV, she noted, had recently been broadcasting “a massive class in Cuban history” every night; it seemed not to have occurred to her that this offering by the state-run media might be less history than propaganda.

Siegelbaum also told us that “most Cubans feel Fidel Castro has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” What was her evidence for this claim? She didn’t say. How do you perform a scientific survey of such questions in a country where the people risk being imprisoned and tortured if they whisper a single word in criticism of their leaders? (One thing’s for sure: very few of the 1.5 million Cubans who’ve fled their island prison to live in the U.S. feel the nonagenarian dictator “has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” Not to mention the opinions of the long-dead victims of Che’s firing squads and those who perished in Fidel’s prisons.)

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Fidel with Che Guevara, in a photograph for the New York Times – his revolution’s #1 international propaganda tool

Concluding her piece, in what was apparently meant as some sort of affectionate salute to Fidel’s enduring influence, Siegelbaum actually called him “the man who for more than five decades set the political discourse on what life should be like on the largest of the Caribbean islands.”

Um, yeah, Portia – that’s called dictatorship.

Then there was Jon Lee Anderson‘s Fidel piece for the New Yorker, in which the word dictator appeared exactly twice – not to label Fidel, but to describe, first, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and, second, Fidel’s predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. Anderson summed up the purported highlights of Fidel’s rule – the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hundreds of alleged CIA attempts to kill Fidel – but there was no mention of the soul-crushing, economy-destroying Communist system itself, or of Fidel’s mass incarceration, torture, and murder of thousands of his own subjects.

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The Guardian, in illustrating its Fidel-turns-90 piece, went with this touching shot

Calling Fidel an “elder statesman” in “the twilight of his life,” Anderson reflected that the ongoing changes in Cuba “must be deeply poignant” for the old man, accepted with credulity the claim that Fidel’s chief concerns nowadays are with “the risks posed by arms proliferation, global warming, and food scarcities,” and stated, in a sentimental concluding flourish, that Fidel, at the most recent Party Congress, “reaffirmed his faith in Communism, in the future of Cuba, and the legacy that he believed Cuba’s Communists had forged.” As if this “legacy” were anything other than pure, unadulterated evil.

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann made one of the most curious choices of all, putting front and center the hundreds of supposed murder attempts that Fidel supposedly survived over the decades. Fidel, Oppmann wrote, “has lived much of his long life in the spotlight – and much of it in the crosshairs – surviving a half century of assassination plots.” (It seemed highly likely that the authors of several of these birthday pieces were working from the same official Havana press release.) No mention, naturally, of the number of people Fidel managed to bump off during that half century. Oppmann cited Fidel’s “reputation as a cheater of death” – never mind, again, his longtime career as a dealer of death.

castro1Instead of acknowledging, moreover, that the overwhelming majority of those who wanted Fidel dead were freedom-loving Cubans, many of whom had been tortured by Castro’s henchmen and forced to flee their beloved homeland, Oppmann painted Fidel as the victim in a struggle against (who else?) the Mob: “Few had as much reason to want Castro dead as the American mafia.”

In short, a shameful showing by the Western media. But of course we should have expected that the 90th birthday of Cuba’s vile old despot would bring the useful hack-journalist stooges crawling out of their ratholes. 

A “football voice on social issues”?

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Colin Kaepernick

Colin who? For those who are not fans of American football, the name of Colin Kaepernick was, until recently, entirely unknown.

That changed on August 26, when the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand up for the National Anthem at a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.

His explanation: the U.S. oppresses black people. Kaepernick, whose biological father was black and biological mother white, was raised in Wisconsin by adoptive white parents who took him into their family after losing two children to heart defects.

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At a 2014 game, Kaepernick stood for the anthem

Pretty much everybody in the football world had an opinion about Kaepernick’s action. So did countless politicians and commentators. Most acknowledged the obvious fact that Kaepernick has a right to his opinion and a right to decide not to stand up for the National Anthem. Views differed, however, on whether his opinion was correct.

Some compared him favorably with Muhammed Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. Writing in The Guardian, Les Carpenter described Kaepernick as “a rare, strong football voice on social issues.” Others echoed these judgments.  

Alejandro_Villanueva_(American_football)
Alejandro Villanueva

Then there were those like Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who served in the Army in Afghanistan, and who in response to Kaepernick’s action told ESPN that the U.S. is the best country in the world. “I just know that I am very thankful to be an American. I will stand very proudly, and I will sing every single line in the national anthem every single time I hear it,” he said. “I will stop whatever I am doing, because I recognize that I have to be very thankful to be in this country.” Kaepernick’s birth mother spoke up against him, too, tweeting that “there’s ways to make change w/o disrespecting & bringing shame to the very country & family who afforded you so many blessings.”  

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Kaepernick’s house

Critics were also quick to point out that the country whose anthem Kaepernick refuses to honor has made him rich. Photographs of his 4600-square-foot San Jose mansion, which he bought in 2014 for $2.7 million, appeared all over the media. Accusations of hypocrisy and ingratitude swirled. And anger mounted among gridiron junkies. How could a man to whom his country had given so much treat its flag with such disrespect? Had he given no thought to the innumerable members of the American military who were no longer able to stand for the anthem because they’d lost their legs on the battleground fighting under that flag?  

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Nessa Diab

The story seemed about to die down when more information materialized. In a widely quoted story, sports blogger Terez Owens wrote that it was actually Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab (known popularly as Nessa), a devout Muslim, Berkeley grad, and You Tube star turned MTV personality, who had talked him into staying seated for the anthem. Football experts offered another theory: Kaepernick is a third-string QB whose performance on the field has been less than stellar; was his anthem sit-down a desperate effort to force the front office to keep him on the roster, for fear that firing him might be construed as punishment for his opinions?

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Kaepernick in his Castro T-shirt

Then there was the T-shirt. Kaepernick held a locker-room press conference after his fateful action. He was wearing a T-shirt. And not just any T-shirt. This one featured several pictures of Fidel Castro with Malcolm X.

Apparently, then, Kaepernick is a fan of the murderous Cuban dictator. Like a considerable number of other people in the Western world, he would seem to have a rosy – and deeply misinformed – picture of Cuban life under Castro. The preponderance of immediately available evidence suggests that he is one of many millions, indeed, who have bought the Cuban line that the Castro regime, among many other magnificent accomplishments, has created a colorblind society. Alas, that is a lie. A big one. In fact, official racism is fierce in Cuba. President Obama even mentioned it in his Havana speech last March. The other day, Mark Hemingway, in a piece about Kaepernick, cited a 2013 New York Times article whose headline says it all: “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.”

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Castro with Malcolm X

(Of course, to the extent that the headline hints that Cuba’s revolution has benefited anybody other than Cuba’s elite, that’s a problem. But it’s also a blog entry for another day.)

So it goes. Colin Kaepernick won’t stand up for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the National Anthem of the democratic nation in which he lives and thrives far beyond the imagining of most people on this planet. But he wears with apparent pride an item of clothing celebrating a man who has oppressed an entire country for over half a century, denying its citizens even the most basic elements of freedom and human rights, all the while cruelly punishing dissenters with imprisonment, torture, and even execution.

We can only hope that Kaepernick will soon supplement his athletic skills with a more sophisticated and comprehensive understanding of the very real differences between the U.S. and Cuba. And that, if he doesn’t, the young people who look up to him as a sports hero will know better than to adopt his benighted political views.   

Eulogies for a Stalinist

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Alexander Cockburn

As we’ve noted, Alexander Cockburn‘s death unleashed a torrent of praise from the mainstream media, most of which pretended that he’d been something of a classical liberal. The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg didn’t play that game – in fact, he admitted that Cockburn’s politics had been morally offensive – but he sought to put those politics into, shall we say, some kind of larger context. Emphasizing style over substance, personality over ideology, Hertzberg recalled “the dazzle of [Cockburn’s] charisma in the eyes of a certain cohort of bohemian and would-be bohemian youth” back in the 1970s. Hertzberg exulted: “what style! Cockburn was a rare bird, a peacock among the scowling mudhens of America’s humor-challenged Nixon-era New Left. He was a combative Fleet Street Oxbridge dandy, a prolific, lightning-fast writer, often laugh-out-loud funny, with a rich store of obscure (to us provincials) historical allusions and a knack for deploying a tone of elaborate courtesy in the joyful delivery of delicious insult.”

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Hendrik Hertzberg

He was a Stalinist, in short: an apologist for the Gulag, the Moscow show trials, the Holodomor, and much else. But oh, what sense of humor! What charm! What wit! And there was more: “Cockburn’s speaking voice was as seductive as his wit was sharp. He was good-looking, too, in the angular, joli laid way of certain British star performers. A bit of Jagger, a bit of Peter O’Toole.” 

Yes, a Peter O’Toole in the service of the Kremlin. 

One person who didn’t try to obscure the straightforward facts about this man was the distinguished historian Ronald Radosh, who quite rightly called Cockburn “the true successor of Walter Duranty, a man who wrote to serve the enemies of the United States and to glorify what he saw as the great achievements of the Bolsheviks and their successors.”

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Ronald Radosh

Radosh noted that when he, Radosh, favorably reviewed former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares’s memoir Against All Hope – a book that, as Radosh put it, revealed “the truth about the torture state that Fidel Castro had created in Cuba, thereby making the public aware for the first time in our country of the reality of how Castro treated his country’s political opponents” – Cockburn responded by disseminating the Havana regime’s lies, smearing the valiant Valladares and dismissing his accounts of torture as counterrevolutionary lies.

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Armando Valladares

In a letter to The Nation protesting Cockburn’s reprehensible effort to discredit Valladares, Radosh observed that the only reasonable conclusion one could come to after reading it was that Cockburn supported Castro’s torturing of his opponents. Cockburn, in his reply, derided Radosh as “a professional anticommunist, with the tunnel vision that goes with that trade,” and again denied that Castro’s government engaged in torture.

Given the kind of information to which Cockburn had ready access, it is impossible to interpret his statements about Castro and Radosh as anything other than the most cynical and heartless of lies.