The top ten stooges of 2016

Time again, kids, for our annual top-ten list. As before, these aren’t necessarily the worst human beings we covered last year; they’re people whose deplorable activities stood out in some way or another. One more thing: this time around, we’ve decided to forego the old cranks and creeps and focus instead on relatively youthful stooges – young-to-middle-aged characters who are especially worth keeping tabs on because their most high-profile and influential stoogery probably lies ahead of them…alas. Anyway, here goes:

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Max Blumenthal

To quote Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Max Blumenthal “is quite simply one of the most biased, anti-Semitic, terrorist-defending, Israel-has-no-right-to-exist haters out there.” And here’s what fellow leftist Eric Alterman had to say about Max’s 2013 anti-Israel screed Genesis: “this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club.” The vile spawn of ethically bankrupt Clinton lackey Sidney Blumenthal (one of the slimiest operatives ever to set foot inside the Washington Beltway), Sonny Boy routinely equates the Jewish state with Nazi Germany; this year he praised a massacre of IDF soldiers by Hamas commanders. In short, he’s as low as they go – and a dyed-in-the-wool chip off the old block.

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Nick Dearden

In 2016, while other fans of chavismo hid in shame as the system they’d celebrated brought the Venezuelan economy to its knees, British activist Nick Dearden was actually cheering what he described as that country’s “food revolution.” What on earth was he talking about? Answer: a new law that bans genetically modified seeds and prohibit the sale to corporations of “indigenous knowledge” in the field of agriculture. The result, Dearden enthused, would be “a truly democratic food system” that made the Bolivarian Republic “a beacon of hope.” Tell that to all the people who are eating their pets and breaking into bodegas to steal bread.

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Malcolm Harris

When Occupy Wall Street went bottom-up, blame focused largely on Malcolm Harrisa founder of the movement who’s been accused by fellow left-winger Mark Ames of exploiting OWS to “build his own brand.” Meaning what? Well, when leaders of Occupy Redlands in California invited Harris to give a lecture, they heard back from a speakers’ agency: the fee would be $5,000, plus travel and hotel. This year Harris wrote a piece called “Who’s Afraid of Communism?” – a call for millennials to reject capitalism and take a fresh, “nuanced” look at Mao and Stalin. When the Revolution comes, will he still be allowed to charge five grand for a speech?

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David Sirota

In June, we met chavismo enthusiast and former Bernie Sanders flunky David Sirota. Described by Newsweek in 2003 as “well schooled in the art of Washington warfare,” by the New York Times as a guy with a “take-no-prisoners mind-set” toward Republicans and centrists, and by election expert Nate Silver as a dude who plays “fast and loose with the truth,” Sirota wrote an article after the Boston Marathon bombing expressing the hope that the perpetrator was a white American. Like Dearden, moreover, Sirota has cheered Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” Of course, the only “economic miracle” in Venezuela is that the country, despite its massive petroleum resources, now has to import oil. 

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Colin Kaepernick

On August 26, San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick protested racism in America by refusing to stand up for the National Anthem before a game. This started a trend that has spread to a variety of sports at every level. Whatever one thinks of it, one part of this episode is unambiguously contemptible: at his press conference that day, Kaepernick wore a T-shirt covered with pictures of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. The message was clear: the U.S. is a contemptibly racist nation and Cuba a model of racial harmony. Pure Communist propaganda, of course: in reality, aside from being a totalitarian state, Cuba is a country where intense racial prejudice is still a fact of life. Too bad Kaepernick is so ill-informed – and that his ignorance has given rise to such a divisive movement.

Five more tomorrow.

 

Josef who?

You may never have heard of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. But if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably want to know about it, for it’s an institution that seeks to address a profound need that lies very close to the heart of our own efforts: namely, the extraordinary ignorance of the brutal reality of Communism in today’s America, especially on the part of young people.

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Josef Stalin: only 18% of US millennials know who he was

The extent of that ignorance was underscored on October 17 by the foundation’s own annual report on American attitudes toward socialism and Communism. The executive director of VOC, Mario Smith, summed those findings up as follows: “An emerging generation of Americans have little understanding of the collectivist system and its dark history.” While older generations are aware of the evils of Communism, millennials (born between 1982 and 2002) aren’t. This makes sense, of course. The fall of the Iron Curtain occurred before they were born or when they were small children. They’ve been taught about the evils of Nazism, but little about Communism. They know about the Holocaust, but probably not about the Gulag.

The VOC’s sobering numbers confirm this ignorance. According to the study, only 18% of American millennials can place the name of Josef Stalin; the comparable figures for Lenin and Mao Zedong are 42% and 33%. The inevitable result of this profound ignorance of Communism is a disturbingly benign attitude toward it. While 91% of older Americans and 80% of baby boomers view Communism negatively, only 55% of millennials do. Fully 25% of millennials who recognized the name of Lenin actually view him favorably.

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Joseph McCarthy: the real #1 Cold War villain

This sympathy for Communism surely owes a lot to baby-boom teachers or professors who, when they have touched on Communism, have actually treated it sympathetically. Instead of underscoring the fact that the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were equally totalitarian, many of those supposed educators have drawn sharp distinctions between Nazism and Communism, pronouncing the former as unqualifiedly evil but depicting the latter as a beautiful dream that perhaps got just a wee bit out of control. In recent decades, school syllabi touching on Communism have focused less on the horrors of life in the USSR and more on the purported victimization of American Communists during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. In this formulation, the villain of the piece is not Stalin but Senator Joseph McCarthy.

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
George W. Bush: deadlier than Stalin?

Consequently, almost 45% of millennials actually say they would vote for a socialist president – a statistic that might have been surprising before the Bernie Sanders campaign, but perhaps isn’t so surprising now. Fully 32% of millennials actually believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Stalin. (The figure for Americans generally isn’t much better: 25%.)

Much of the millennial sympathy for socialism and Communism can be attributed to the widespread use, in high-school and colleage history courses, of a single book entitled A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1922-2010). We’ll get to him tomorrow.

Amsterwhat?

“When I first found out I was going to Amsterdam, I thought I had been there before, even though I hadn’t, because I’m not very good at geography, and I thought Amsterdam was in Belgium. It’s not. It’s in the Netherlands.”

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Sally Kohn

That’s a direct quote from an article that jejune CNN pundit Sally Kohn wrote last year for a travel website. Her honesty about her ignorance is almost charming. But the ignorance itself is so staggering, on the part of somebody in her position, that it totally cancels out the charm.

This is, after all, as we saw yesterday, a commentator who’s been described as one of “the 100 most influential pundits on television” and as “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Her professional background, as we further observed yesterday, has been entirely in activism and political commentary. As far as we can tell from her CV, she has spent little or no time studying such topics as history or (as she herself admitted in that travel article) geography.

nethThe thing is this: if Kohn didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, imagine how much else she doesn’t know. It’s one thing not to be able to explain the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, or between Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. But Amsterdam and the Netherlands play a central role in modern history, in Western history, and – indeed – in American history. If she didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, that means that there’s a whole swath of basic Western historical fact that must be a total mystery to her.

sally8Put it this way: if you don’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, then you can’t possibly have even a vague awareness of the crucial role of the Netherlands in the settling of the New World and the founding of the United States. You can’t possibly be aware of the place of the Dutch Republic in the rise of modern freedom, modern capitalism, and modern commerce – at least not aware enough to deserve a job spouting opinions on CNN. Because if you want to even start to try to understand how the world works today, and why some parts of it work so much better than others, and how things came to be this way, you need to know enough history to be aware, at the very least, that Amsterdam is, in fact, in the Netherlands.

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Belgium?

This is not to suggest that Kohn is alone at the top in her woeful ignorance. All too many young (and not so young) reporters and pundits nowadays seem to know remarkably little about what happened in history before they were, say, in high school. (Kohn’s CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer, for example, is a certified buffoon who put in one of the most humiliating performances ever on a dumbed-down celebrity edition of Jeopardy.) But even in this crowd, Kohn seems to be a special kind of ignorant. In July, she tweeted angrily about “white guys with AK-15s conducting mass shootings.” When some of her followers pointed out that there’s no such thing as an AK-15, she insisted it was a typo and doubled down on the ranting.

In May, Kohn wrote an article for Time complaining about what she called the “Bernie Bros” – in other words, male Bernie Sanders enthusiasts who were being unruly at public events. She couldn’t figure out why Bernie boosters, most of whom by definition, in her view, have “a deep commitment to non-violence,” should be conducting themselves in such a barbaric fashion. After all, she argued, it’s the Donald Trump camp that is “not entirely but definitely largely based on implicitly violent denigration of Mexicans and Muslims.”

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Kohn tweeted this picture in April when she endorsed Sanders’ White House bid

How can a person in her position be so historically unaware? Before the Sanders campaign fizzled out, Kohn was an all-out supporter of the senator from Vermont – a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who’s repeatedly praised the Castro regime in Cuba, who’s hailed the Chávez and Maduro governments (and refused to comment on their utter destruction of the Venezuelan economy), and who, so deep was his faith, even honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The nature of Sanders’s convictions is, and has been throughout his political journey, crystal clear. But instead of recognizing the simple fact that the tenets of Sanders’s ideology have always been utterly inextricable from the most monstrous kind of violence, Kohn embraced in her Time article the absurd claim – which that ideology has always made for itself – that it is ardently anti-violence.

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One of the “Bernie Bros” being arrested

So ideology-bound is Kohn, in other words, that in her piece for Time she simply couldn’t put leftism and violence together and make it compute. So what did she do? She reached for the closest ideologically acceptable explanation for the violence of the “Bernie Bros,” and attributed it to that comfortable bogeyman, “white male anger.”

Here’s how she put it: “in the past and present of America it is impossible to disentangle white male anger from gender and racial bias and resentment.”

Ah, there we go. How sweet, to feel that tension dissipate! How easy, when you consistently place ideology above reality, to be able to sweep away the plain and simple facts with the same old comforting, reassuring lies!

But we’ve only begun to plumb the depths of Sally Kohn’s superficiality. More tomorrow.

Hating Israel: Ben Norton

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Ben Norton

Yesterday we started acquainting ourselves with the work of Babyface Ben Norton, whose career as a pundit started three years ago but who’s already compiled a copious oeuvre. Much of it, as we’ve seen, consists of savage criticism of the U.S. and enthusiastic cheerleading for socialism.

Even more intense than Norton’s hatred for America is his animus toward Israel. In his articles for Salon and other outlets, young Ben has routinely repeated familiar anti-Israeli canards, echoed the propaganda of such vile groups as CODEPINK and Adalah and Jewish Voice for Peace, given ample and super-friendly coverage to the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement, accused Israel of war crimes (while ignoring Palestinian atrocities), described Israeli teenagers as “violently racist,” promoted the idea that Israeli Muslims live under an apartheid system, and accused Israel of torturing and raping Palestinian children.  

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Steven Van Zandt performs live on stage during the second day of Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park on July 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)
Steven Van Zandt

This past March, he gave Bernie Sanders a thumbs-up for heeding a call by Max Blumenthal and Roger Waters to skip the pro-Israel AIPAC conference. When Steven Van Zandt, the Springsteen guitarist and Sopranos actor, criticized supporters of the BDS movement as “politically ignorant obnoxious idiots,” noting that “Israel is one of our two friends in the Middle East,” Norton strung together the nastiest anti-Van Zandt tweets he could find into an article for Salon.

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Paris, the night of the November 2015 terrorist attacks

As much as he despises Israel, Norton loves Islam – and is quick to skewer any critic of it as a bigot and racist. He routinely cites the ridiculous “hate crime” statistics put out by the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Brotherhood front group that he invariably identifies as a “civil rights organization.” While “reporting” on allegedly far-right and neo-Nazi violence against Muslims in Europe, Norton has steadfastly ignored the far more prevalent problems of jihadist terrorism and other acts of Islamic brutality on that continent.

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Norton appearing on Al Jazeera

The only exceptions to this habit of silence about European jihad have been articles like “Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Have Tripled in the U.S. since the Paris Attacks,” which mention acts of jihad only to focus on the supposed anti-Muslim backlash, and (even worse) articles like “After Paris, let’s stop blaming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves,” in which he sought to shift attention from anti-Western jihad to the killing of fellow Muslims by ISIS, the Saudis, and others. (In the latter article, while neglecting to say a word in sympathy with the victims and their loved ones, Norton fretted that too much preoccupation with the Paris massacre would only benefit right-wingers like Marine Le Pen.) 

Similarly, while keeping mum about the terrorist attacks in such U.S. locations as Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando, Nelson managed, back in May, to find a case of a white American woman who had purportedly assaulted a hijab-clad woman outside a Washington, D.C., coffee shop. Norton got a whole Salon article out of this incident.

Still more tomorrow. 

Ben Norton, baby-faced Bolshevik

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Ben Norton

Is there a far-left media institution with which he doesn’t have a connection? Although only three years into his career as a pundit, baby-faced Ben Norton, a young American dude based in New York City, has already written hundreds, if not thousands, of articles for such noxious websites as the anti-Zionist Mondoweiss, The Intercept (run by the notorious Glenn Greenwald and pro-Castro scribe Jeremy Scahill), Eric Alterman‘s AlterNet, Middle East Monitor (pro-Hamas), Electronic Intifada (pro-Palestinian), FAIR (Marxists pretending to be objective media critics), Muftah (a Muslim hangout), and the Center for American Progress’s ThinkProgress (where he worked as an intern in 2014). Most prominently, Norton is a regular contributor to Salon. In addition, he blogs frequently at his own website and tweets constantly. As a result, there’s already a massive amount of material out there that proves definitively that Ben Norton is one of the top useful stooges of his generation.

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Obama at Hiroshima

Where to begin? For one thing, Norton is no fan of America, which he’s called a “rogue state.” (“[T]he real American exceptionalism,” read one of his headlines, “is selling the most weapons in the world by far.”) He wrote approvingly about a UN official’s charge that America is an “apartheid state.” (“The US is indeed horribly repressive,” Norton commented, “and its police force is incredibly racist.”) When Obama went to Hiroshima, Norton wrote that America “should apologize for its criminal atomic bombing” of Japan and “stop its nuclear escalation.”

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Noam Chomsky

A corollary of his contempt for America is his disdain for “neoliberalism” and affection for socialism. He pays tribute on a regular basis to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Noam Chomsky. This spring, he was a passionate tub-thumper for the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders; in May, when Sanders made public his ridiculous list of picks for the Democratic Party platform committee – race hustler Cornel West (who’s also one of Norton’s icons), enviro-hustler Bill McKibben, Israel-hater James Zogby, Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (who’s cozy with such Islamist front groups as CAIR, the Muslim American Society, and the Islamic Society of North America), and Native American activist Deborah Parker – Norton gave it a standing ovation.

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An image of Palestinian women tweeted by Norton on International Women’s Day 2016

There’s more. On International Women’s Day this year, Norton celebrated the holiday as “an important symbol in communist, socialist, anti-imperialist, and other liberation movements” (although he lamented that a day of commemoration founded by socialists had been “co-opted by large corporations like Microsoft in order to celebrate the increasing diversity of the ruling class”). “U.S. politics today,” he suggested in April, “demonstrates just how correct early-20th-century socialist economist and revolutionary heroine Rosa Luxemburg was when she famously declared that society faces two options: socialism or barbarism.” This statement would seem to reflect a remarkable ignorance of – or indifference to? – the history of the twentieth century, in which socialism proved, in one nation after another, to be the very gateway to barbarism.

More tomorrow.

Shameless: David Sirota

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David Sirota

Yesterday we met David Sirota, an ardent supporter of Hugo Chávez and former spokesman for Bernie Sanders. As of 2013, Sirota was singing hosannas in Salon about what he described as Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” The next year found him working as an editorial staffer for Pando, a new website intended to be “the site of record for Silicon Valley.” In June 2014, however, Sirota and Ted Rall, the far-left cartoonist (who’d been working for the site for less than a month), were both abruptly dismissed without explanation.

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Friend: Bernie Sanders

By July 2015, Sirota was doing political coverage for the International Business Times – and being criticized for his failure to disclose his ties to Sanders, whom he had described on Twitter as a “friend,” even though many of his contributions to IBT were critical of Sanders’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. Sirota, wrote one observer, made “little pretense of either accuracy or objectivity.”

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Target: Chris Christie

For example, a report by Sirota claiming that the U.S. Attorney in Newark was investigating then Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie – a claim that was readily picked up by the AP, ABC News, New York Magazine, and the Rachel Maddow Show blog – proved to be without basis. Sirota’s modus operandi, noted the observer, was to “publish an attack on a Republican, centrist or anyone not following the progressive agenda closely enough, and then create an echo chamber, regardless of the facts. Once the story has begun to take hold – in spite of inaccuracy – the damage is done.”

In other words, the fact that Sirota turns out to have been disastrously wrong about chavista economics hasn’t exactly imbued him with humility. Certainly he hasn’t issued any mea culpas for his inane, know-it-all gushing over the Venezuelan “economic miracle.”

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Marian Tupy

But if he’s tried to drop that chapter of his life down the memory hole, others remember. In May, Marian Tupy of the Foundation for Economic Education noted that thanks to the chavista economics that Sirota was applauding so recently, babies are dying in Venezuelan hospitals. Tupy quoted a recent New York Times account:  

By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died… The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans.

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A pediatric ER in Venezuela

Tupy didn’t let Sirota go easily. Remembering Sirota’s snide claim, in his 2013 article, that when socialist countries go belly-up, critics of socialism “laugh [it] off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics,” Tupy rejected this “glib” view, stating that his response to the Venezuelan crisis was not laughter:

I do not find dying children laughable. But then, I did not laugh when I read about starving Ukrainians eating their children during Stalin’s Holodomor. I did not laugh when I read of Khmer Rouge soldiers shooting infants off their bayonets in communist Cambodia. And I certainly did not laugh when I saw with my own two eyes children reduced to starvation by the Marxist dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. In fact, there is nothing laughable about the almost incomprehensible degree of suffering that socialism has heaped upon humanity wherever it’s been tried.

As much as I would like to enjoy rubbing Sirota’s nose in his own mind-bending stupidity, I cannot rejoice for I know that Venezuela’s descent into chaos – hyperinflation, empty shops, out-of-control violence and the collapse of basic public services – will not be the last time we hear of a collapsing socialist economy. Looking into the future, it is safe to predict that more countries will refuse to learn from history and give socialism “a go.” And, I am equally certain that there will be, to use Lenin’s words, “useful idiots,” like David Sirota, who will sing socialism’s praises until the moment when the last light goes out and time comes for them to move on and find something else to write about.

Amen.

Malcolm Harris’s Soviet nostalgia

Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris sits in the courtroom before a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court stemming from his arrest in a protest march over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Malcolm Harris

In late April, the New Republic – which until recently was the flagship of liberal anti-Communism in America – published a reprehensible piece, “Who’s Afraid of Communism?,” by Malcolm Harris, a young editor at a website called New Inquiry and a frequent contributor to Al-Jazeera. The essay, an apologia for Communism, began with Harris mocking Hillary Clinton for her praise of NATO, which she’d called “the most successful military alliance in probably human history.” Harris dismissed this as “a bizarre assertion,” maintaining that NATO has only conducted a few “major military operations.” How, then, he sneered, could it be called successful?

Um, how about its four decades of success at keeping the USSR from overrunning western Europe as it had eastern Europe?

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But don’t tell Harris anything negative about the Soviets. He’s quick to remind us that in World War II the USSR “lost the most people, 50 times as many as America did.” He doesn’t mention that while members of the Red Army were fighting to defend their own homeland after it was invaded by Hilter (prior to which their own dictator, Stalin, had been allied with Hitler), America, by contrast, was fighting to rescue fellow democracies from totalitarian conquest by Germany – and, after the war, joined with those democracies in NATO to prevent totalitarian conquest by the USSR.

It’s outrageous to even have to remind anyone of these facts.

Lenin_CLHarris does at least admit that it was America that won the Cold War. But for him, what won was not democracy but capitalism, that ugly thing. For Harris, the USSR was not truly an evil empire but a “bogeym[a]n.” For Harris, U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War wasn’t a matter of the U.S. feeling compelled to align itself with certain less-than-admirable authoritarian regimes in the cause of long-term victory over a far worse totalitarian enemy; no, it was a matter of the US being the villain, and the USSR the hero, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere. For Harris, not only were the Soviets heroic, but American Communists were, too, in the fight against Jim Crow; ditto Cuban Communists, in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. To view things in any other way, claimed Harris, was sheer “bullshit” – an attempt to continue to repress the glorious “story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy.”

maoNone of this would matter, of course, except that – as Harris himself points out – his own perverse view of things is widely shared among young Americans today. “A new poll of adults under 30,” he wrote, “found that 51 percent ‘do not support capitalism.’” A disproportionate number of those who showed up to cheer socialist Bernie Sanders at his rallies were quite young indeed. What young Americans need, Harris insisted at the conclusion of his piece, is “a more nuanced version of the Cold War narrative.” No. These are kids who’ve already been sold a whitewashed picture of Communism by the media, their schoolteachers, and their college professors; what they desperately need is a thorough, honest education in its barbaric history.