Taking on Trump: Xavier Becerra

Some of us never imagined we’d ever see such a thing happening in the United States: last Thursday, Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, warned employers in that state that if they assist federal officials who are looking for illegal immigrants, they will be prosecuted.

Xavier Becerra

More on that later. But first, who is Xavier Becerra? Born in Sacramento to Mexican immigrants, he went to college in Spain before earning a B.A. and J.D. from Stanford. After working in a private law practice, he went into politics, serving, in turn, as an assistant to a California state senator, as the state’s Deputy Attorney General, as a member of the State Assembly, and as a member of Congress. California Governor Jerry Brown named him state Attorney General on January 23 of last year. He is the first Latino to hold that position.

Becerra to Trump: “Be careful!”

His ideological agenda was clear from the start. A sympathetic profile of Becerra in the Atlantic began with the news that he was “issu[ing] a warning to the President of the United States:

“Be careful,” he said in a singsongy voice. “Be careful!” A wicked smile appeared.

Becerra, wrote Atlantic reporter Michelle Cottle, “clearly relishes his role as a burr in Donald Trump’s backside.” What business does a state Attorney General have issuing warnings to Presidents or being burrs in their backsides? Why was the new Attorney General of America’s largest state focused on challenging the newly elected President’s politics rather than on prosecuting people arrested for committing crimes in his (frankly) crime-ridden state?

Becerra’s ideologies allies

When talking to Cottle, Becerra had nothing to say about such matters – which are, after all, the appropriate province of a state Attorney General. No, what he was interested in was using his new position to push California, and thus the U.S., even further to the left, especially on the issue of illegal immigration. “Becerra sees California playing a special role by virtue of its size and ‘forward leaning’ politics,” wrote Cottle. As Becerra told her: “Sometimes it takes a generation, but we pull the country in certain directions.”

More Becerra allies

His first major action as Attorney General was to join a lawsuit that managed to put the kibosh on President Trump’s January 27 presidential directive that sought to restrict travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim countries that were deemed to represent dangers to American security. When Trump issued a new order on September 24, seeking to limit travel from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, North Korea, Venezuela, and Iraq, Becerra again leapt into action, accusing Trump of pushing “a political agenda rooted in fear and bias” and insisting that California would “continue to welcome and embrace people of goodwill from all backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities.”

More on Thursday.

Anna Louise Strong, devotee of Stalin

We spent the last three days examining the life of Maurice Strong, the Canadian tycoon who concocted the global-warming scare as a rationale for subordinating democracies to a UN elite with dramatically enhanced sovereign powers.

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Anna Louise Strong

One name that popped up briefly in our investigations into Strong’s life was that of his distant relative Anna Louise Strong. We’d never heard of her before, so we decided to find out about her. What we discovered was that she was a useful stooge of the first water.

Born in small-town Nebraska in 1885, the daughter of a Congregational minister and missionary, she attended Bryn Mawr and Oberlin and earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Chicago. Moving to Seattle, she became active in local progressive politics and began writing newspaper articles in support of the Russian Revolution, which had just taken place.

In 1921, after attending a lecture about the Russian Revolution by journalist Lincoln Steffens (who was famous for saying about the USSR: “I have seen the future, and it works”), she went to Russia and began writing glowing books about Bolshevism in action. In The First Time in History (1925), which carried a preface by none other than Leon Trotsky, she described Russia as

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Around 1912

the only place in the world where I get a feeling of hope and a plan. With hundreds of thousands of people living for that plan and dying for it and going hungry for it, and wasting themselves in inefficient work for it, and finally bringing a little order out of chaos for it. America seems cheerful and inconsequential after it. Europe, – the insane nightmare of Europe, – seems impossible to endure….

In Russia when they speak of the Revolution, they don’t mean one grand and horrible upheaval; that was merely the “October Overturn,” the taking of power. Now comes the using of power to create a new world through the decades.

Anna_Louise_Strong_NYWTSThere have been many revolutions in history, each with its tragic dignity, its cruelties, its power released. But never has there been a great organisation, in control of the economic as well as of the political resources of a nation, planning steadily through the prose of daily life a future embracing many lands and decades, learning from mistakes, changing methods but not aims, controlling press and education and law and industry as tools to its purpose….This is Common Consciousness in action, crude, half-organised and inefficient, but the first time in History.

stalinStrong spent thirty years in Russia, where she pronounced herself “greatly stirred by the building of the first socialist state in the world.” She “wrote hundreds of articles about it and some fifteen books,” and almost annually “went to America to lecture and make contacts with publishers,” invariably stopping “in other countries on the way.”

Her books on Russia, along with articles for such high-profile publications as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and The Nation, made her a pretty big name. She lunched with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She met with Stalin and Molotov. She was a founder of the first English-language paper in Russia, The Moscow News. 

But after years of gushing in print about Soviet Communism, the USSR, for Anna Louise Strong, turned out not to be utopia. That, she found elsewhere. Tune in tomorrow. 

Evo’s Hollywood amigos

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Bolivian president Evo Morales presents Pope Francis with a “hammer and sickle” Cross

Bolivian president Evo Morales doesn’t often make front-page headlines in the U.S., but his image was all over the Internet in early July when he presented the visiting Pope Francis with a bizarre gift: a “cross” made out of a hammer and sickle. The message could hardly have been less subtle. In the weeks preceding their encounter, to be sure, Francis had spent a lot of his time savaging capitalism, but he hadn’t yet hoisted a Soviet flag over St. Peter’s Square or hung up a picture of Lenin in the Sistine Chapel. Morales’s gift seemed to make the pontiff at least somewhat uncomfortable, although it was unclear whether he disagreed with Evo’s apparent equation of Communism and Christianity or whether he was uneasy about being seen by the entire world accepting a potent symbol of that equation.

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Evo with Fidel Castro

What’s the deal with Evo? Well, first of all – like the Castros in Cuba, the Kirchners in Argentina, and Nicolás Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) in Venezuela – he’s a card-carrying member of Latin America’s hard-left club. He’s presided over South America’s poorest country since 2006, and is its first president with an indigenous background; during his tenure in office, he’s alienated whites and mestizos with his “discriminatory government policies and Hugo Chávez–style power grabs, not to mention rampant corruption.” (According to Transparency International, Evo’s regime isn’t quite as corrupt as those in Venezuela or Paraguay, but it’s on a par with Argentina’s, which is awful enough.) A 2009 Atlantic Monthly article described Evo as “deploy[ing] a rhetoric studded with racial references aimed at his [white] opposition.” Last year, reports Human Rights Watch, Bolivia became “the first country in the world to legalize employment for children as young as 10.”

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Evo with Benicio del Toro

Nonetheless, like his counterparts in Havana, Buenos Aires, and Caracas, Evo has made his share of amigos in Hollywood. Among them: Benicio del Toro, who in 2007 visited Evo, who “gave him a charango, an Andean string instrument, and several books.” Two years later, del Toro, who played Che Guevara onscreen, said that he shared many of Che’s values – and that he was sure Che would’ve been delighted to see Bolivia governed by somebody like Evo. We’re sure Che would delighted too: Evo, an outspoken Che fan whose aggressively socialist policies have eroded human rights, damaged the country’s already feeble economy, and sent foreign investors fleeing, would have been right up Che’s alley. 

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Evo with Oliver Stone at Lincoln Center

Another Evo enthusiast, unsurprisingly, is our old friend Oliver Stone, the far-left director whose 2009 propaganda film South of the Border was a gushing, inane paean not only to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez but also to Morales, with whom he held an obsequious interview at the presidential palace in La Paz. During his visit with El Presidente, Stone reportedly “kicked a soccer ball and chewed coca leaves” with him. Later, Evo traveled to New York, where he spoke alongside Stone and Chávez at a Lincoln Center event held in connection with the documentary’s premiere.

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Evo with Jude Law

Then there’s actor Jude Law, who  went to Bolivia this past February as part of a deal to promote the country’s annual Carnival. While in La Paz, Law met with Evo, who presented him with a poncho and a book about Latin American history. News reports on Law’s visit didn’t indicate how much money he was paid to plug the Carnival and didn’t even hint that there was anything remotely inappropriate about his taking money from Evo’s regime or holding a chummy meeting with the authoritarian leader; the Daily Mail, for its part, was more interested in covering Law’s new hairline and his growing family.

“Who cares?”

Even though many of Vladimir Putin’s Western apologists – notably Noam Chomskywould surely identify themselves as ardent anti-imperialists, for them, as we’ve seen over and over again, the old imperial notion of “spheres of influence” is still very much alive.

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Vladimir Putin

Consider an exchange that took place on a German TV talk show early last year. A Ukrainian journalist who was standing up for her country’s right to freedom and self-determination told Klaus von Dohnanyi, a German Social Democratic politician: “I don’t feel particularly good about how you speak about Ukraine, as though the country didn’t even exist.”

She couldn’t have put it more correctly: Americans and Western Europeans who are eager to “understand” Putin’s motivations and his supposed feeling of insecurity over being “surrounded” by NATO are deplorably quick to reduce Ukraine – a nation of 45 million people – to a chess piece, a bargaining chip, a buffer zone without any rights or will or mind or its own.

(As we saw last time around, right-wing British opinion columnist Peter Hitchens – not to be confused with his late, great brother, Christopher – had a succinct answer to concerns about Russia’s moves on Ukraine: “Who,” he sneered, “now cares about squalid Ukraine….?” Back in 1938, certain British commentators wrote similar things about the Sudetenland.)

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Klaus von Dohnanyi

Dohnanyi’s response to the Ukrainian journalist was nothing short of disgraceful: “You can’t simply remove yourselves from a zone of influence,” he lectured her.

Has Dohnanyi forgotten that the eastern part of his own country was, until not very long ago, a part of the USSR’s “zone of influence”? As writer Ralf Neukirch put it in Der Spiegel, “the Ukrainians…are being sacrificed on the altar of sympathy for Russia.” Or, rather, sympathy for Putin, whom his midguided apologists see not as a tyrant but as a victim – even as they view 45 million Ukrainians as troublemakers whose very existence is a problem and whose longing for freedom only adds insult to injury.

Another such apologist for Putin’s designs on Ukraine is Atlantic Monthly‘s Russia columnist Jeffrey Tayler, who, in March 2014, argued that Putin was right to view with a gimlet eye U.S. aid to that country under the 1992 Freedom Support Act.

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Jeffrey Tayler

American efforts under this act, of course, have been aimed at helping a people liberated from Communism to develop democratic institutions; instead of lauding this noble goal, Tayler urged his readers to sympathize with Russians who see the program as insidious, and himself described these aid efforts as “aggressive steps…to reduce Russia’s influence.” By seeking to help Eastern Europeans develop free institutions and economies, the U.S., in Tayler’s view, is expanding its “hegemony” – and is doing so “at Russia’s expense.”

Some of us might suggest that what’s increased “at Russia’s expense” is the freedom and prosperity of its former subject peoples. But Tayler is less concerned about those millions of free people along Russia’s borders than he is about poor Putin, who, he maintains, is convinced – and quite reasonably so – that he’s “locked in a struggle not only for Russian dominance in its near-abroad, but for the future of his government — and even, possibly, for his life.”

Yes, his life. Tayler omits to mention the arrest, imprisonment, torture, and assassination of countless Putin adversaries, but he does raise the absurd specter of the US taking out Putin – for it’s apparently just a short step, in Tayler’s view, from mischievously encouraging the spread of liberty in Putin’s backyard to ordering his assassination.

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John Pilger

In Britain, the Guardian is home to several scribes who, it appears, can see Ukrainian freedom only through Putin’s eyes. John Pilger calls the 2014 Ukrainian revolution “Washington’s putsch in Kiev”; for him, Putin’s Russia isn’t an anti-democratic menace but an innocent victim of “provocation and isolation” by a U.S. government whose actions against it are “right out of Dr. Strangelove.” Fellow Guardian writer Seumas Milne agrees, calling Putin’s invasion of Crimea “clearly defensive” and expressing satisfaction that, thanks to Putin, “the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by Nato or the EU.” Yes, you read that right: a columnist for the Guardian views NATO, not Putin, as a bully out to “swallow up” eastern Ukraine. Jonathan Cook, a former Guardianista, puts it like this: “Russia is getting boxed in by an aggressive Nato policy on its doorstep.” Again, everything’s upside-down: NATO’s the aggressor, Russia the prey.

Let’s wind up our overview of Putin’s apologists with a look at Daniel Larison, who’s been a regular contributor to the flagship paleocon journal American Conservative since 2004. Back in 2007, Larison published a piece in Taki Magazine (another paleocon sheet) entitled – no kidding – “Persecuting Putin.” In it, Larison – who was then a grad student in Chicago – condemned the “savage criticisms of Putin and his regime” by “putative” Western conservatives, whom he accused of a “lingering post-Cold War suspicion of Russia” and a “not-so-latent Russophobia.” If Westerners distrust Putin, Larison charged, it’s because “a relatively strong, assertive Russia poses an unacceptable threat to the ability of Washington and Brussels to dominate their desired spheres of influence in post-Soviet space.”

What about, um, the freedom of the countries in that “post-Soviet space”? Larison wrote so condescendingly about the spread of liberty to former Soviet republics and satellites that we found ourselves wondering exactly how old he is. We discovered that he got his Ph.D. in 2009. One suspects, then, that Larison is too young to remember the Cold War – too young to have ever set foot behind the Iron Curtain and experienced the genuine terror that was Soviet totalitarianism. Surely no American of conscience, we submit, could have lived through the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain and be able, in 2007, to write (as he does) about the freedom of Eastern Europeans as if it were simply a question of “spheres of influence” and of unsavory efforts by U.S. and European leftists to impose social democracy on people who belong, by nature, in the Kremlin’s orbit.

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Daniel Larison

Larison, we’ll repeat, wrote that piece way back in 2007. He hasn’t changed his tune, however. Like his American Conservative colleagues Pat Buchanan and William S. Lind, he’s written one piece after another making it plain that he sees Putin’s Russia as a bastion of the “conservative” values that the U.S., in the paleocon view, has brutally betrayed. As James Kirchick observed last year in the Daily Beast, “Larison is a dependable Putin apologist no matter how egregious the Russian president’s behavior.”

Alas, that statement could be made about all too many of Putin’s useful idiots in the West, whose dependability is matched only by their moral dereliction.