Death and desperation in Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro

The weeks go by, and Venezuela continues to plunge toward toward chaos. One reads the stories and looks at the pictures, and things can hardly seem to get worse; and yet they keep getting worse. Last month, President Nicolás Maduro dissolved the National Assembly, leading to day after day of street protests by outraged citizens some of whom called Maduro “a ‘Bolivarian’ version of Vladimir Putin” and accused him of engineering a “socialist nightmare.” On April 28, we quoted The Week to the effect that “the economy shrank by 18 percent last year, with unemployment at 25 percent, and inflation slated to be 750 percent this year and 2,000 percent the next.” Chavismo has taken a particularly big toll on the nation’s health: according to The Week, “children are suffering from malnourishment for the first time in the country’s modern history” and “hospitals are running out of even basic drugs.”

May 3, 2017 in Caracas: in the foreground, Bolivarian National Guards; in the background, anti-government protesters

Now come reports that anti-government protesters are being tried by military tribunals, where they may be sent to prison for up to 30 years. In the city of Coro, noted the Associated Press, medical students and music students who were guilty of nothing but public assembly had been thrown in a military jail even though they are all civilians – a violation of the Venezuelan Constitution. As of May 10, over 250 protesters had reportedly been brought before military courts during the previous week (although some sources said the number was much higher).

Luisa Ortega

Maduro has defended the use of the military courts as “emergency measures” that are necessitated by what he describes as an effort by foreign powers (guess who?) to bring down his socialist government. “Some opposition leaders,” reported the AP, “believe the use of the military tribunals reflects Maduro’s weakening grip on power and a desire to circumvent someone who’s become a surprising irritant: Venezuela’s semi-autonomous chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has shown signs of unusual independence.”

On May 11, Agence France Presse brought even more sobering news. In 2016, 11,466 infants under the age of one died in Venezuela, as compared with 8,812 the year before – a 30% increase. This crisis has occurred during a time when the collapse of that country’s economy has resulted in a drastic shortage in basic items required by hospitals. (To quote AFP, Venezuelan doctors say that “hospitals have only three percent of the medicines and supplies that they need to operate normally.”) At the same time, the country experienced a 76% rise in malaria – the raw number of cases being no less than 240,000.

In the meantime, on May 10, CNN reported that Maduro’s three stepsons had gone skydiving with our professional athletes, Amy Chmelecki, Mike Swanson, Jon DeVore, and Noah Bahnson, who are sponsored by Red Bull and whose escapade with the Maduro boys was paid for by an outfit called SkyDive Caribbean.

In the midst of all this horror, the destruction by protesters of a statue of Hugo Chavez was cited as an illustration of the fact that the Venezuelan people’s rage is, in many instances, overcoming their fear. The only thing that’s sure here is that this story is not yet over.

Thugs at Berkeley

Yvette Felarca

Yesterday we met Yvette Felarca, a leader of the California-based violent radical group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), which calls itself anti-fascist but whose own rhetoric and tactics are right out of the fascist playbook. Last June, she led a violent BAMN action in Sacramento that would have lost her her middle-school teaching job if the district administrators had any backbone. But that event pales alongside BAMN’s biggest operation ever, which took place on February 1 of this year. It was on that date that BAMN, employing physical violence and destroying property, succeeded in closing down a planned speech at UC Berkeley by conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos.

Milo Yiannopoulos giving one of his campus speeches in drag

“This is not about free speech,” Felarca told her followers before the big event. She described Yiannopoulos and his crew as “not people who are interested in any genuine debate. They hide behind that hypocritically to try to shut up and put in our places women or Muslims or minorities or oppressed groups. But what they are really trying to do is they’re trying to assert their power, threaten us, intimidate us, rape us, kill us.” For those unfamiliar with Yiannopoulos’s standard act, it may be necessary to say that he and his cohorts are not out to rape or kill anyone – they are out to restore some semblance of sanity to a largely campus-based subculture that has been infected by the kind of demented rhetoric in which Felarca specializes, smearing anyone who disagrees with her fanatical views as Nazis, fascists, racists, and so on.

These and following pictures: the Berkeley riot

“This is real,” she continued. “This is life and death…. We can shut this fucker down, we can get rid of Donald Trump….when the Nazis tried to kill some of us, after we recovered, some of them threatened me and students at my school and tried to get me fired. But they didn’t succeed, and the students and the parents and the community rallied together and not only got me my job back but we’re stronger now, so we have got to stay united.”

There ensued – at the flagship campus of the University of California system – a spectacle out of warn-torn Beirut or Sarajevo. Felarca’s disciples behaved like storm troopers. Destruction was rampant. The image of the free exchange of ideas at an American college being shut down by jackbooted thugs was chilling.

As one news source put it: “Those who came to hear Yiannopoulos speak were beaten fists and flag poles by protesters, who also doused attendees with pepper spray….Several folks at the event posted videos online highlighting the violence, as well as protesters yelling ‘fuck you racists’ and other profanities. Others, wearing masks and dressed in all black, hurled Molotov cocktails, smashed out windows at a student center where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak, threw fireworks and rocks at police, blocked traffic, and caused other mayhem.” CNN wrote: “The violent protesters tore down metal barriers, set fires near the campus bookstore and damaged the construction site of a new dorm. One woman wearing a red Trump hat was pepper sprayed in the face while being interviewed by CNN affiliate KGO. She was able to respond that she was OK after the attack.”

More tomorrow.

Van Jones, 9/11 traitor

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Van Jones

If you’ve ever watched CNN, you almost certainly know who Van Jones is. He’s a regular contributor to the network who has also served in the Obama White House, taught at Princeton, and worked at John Podesta’s Center for American Progress. Born in small-town Tennessee to a schoolteacher mother and a school principal father, he attended the University of Tennessee and Yale Law School. During the years that followed his 1993 graduation from the latter institution, he worked for, founded, or co-founded a wide range of NGOs, activist groups, grassroots organizations, advocacy projects, initiatives, social enterprises, and the like. His causes have ranged from “racial justice” to “environmental justice” to “economic justice.”

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President Trump addressing Congress

As presented on sites like Wikipedia, his career comes off as that of an admirable liberal who has spent his life crusading for the betterment of American society. On CNN, he comes off as a hardcore man of the left but also exhibits a charm and humor that take the edge off his politics. After Donald Trump’s address to Congress in March, Jones earned the ire of some of his Democratic friends and colleagues when he praised the speech and – in reference to remarks that Trump addressed to the widow of a Navy SEAL – said that Trump “became President of the United States in that moment, period.” It seemed a moment of laudable honesty that transcended ideology and partisan rancor.

But there’s more to Jones than meets the eye. Arrested in 1992 as part of a San Francisco mob protesting the acquittal of the cops who’d beaten Rodney King, he was jailed alongside Communists and anarchists. “This is what I need to be a part of,” he thought. Next thing he knew, he was a Communist. In 1994, he founded a Marxist collective called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM.

He was involved in STORM for a decade. Then he moved on. Soon he was in the mainstream. Was he still a Communist? Hard to say. On the one hand, he no longer publicly identified as one. On the other hand, he never explicitly renounced Communism.

On September 12, 2001, in Oakland, Jones took part in a “solidarity” gathering for “people of color”– solidarity, that is, not with the victims of 9/11, but with Arab and Muslim Americans who during the previous 24 hours had supposedly been subjected to a massive wave of bigotry and violence all over the country. (This, of course, was either a conscious lie or a fantasy.)

9-11There could hardly have been a more revolting event that day anywhere in the U.S. Instead of reviling the terrorist attacks, the speakers condemned the U.S. government for its internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, for its historic mistreatment of blacks and American Indians, and for its bombing and abuse of people in Kosovo, Palestine, Iraq, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere around the globe. The people at the World Trade Center, said one speaker, died “because of our government’s inhumane foreign policy.” Another speaker expressed “satisfaction” at the attack on the Pentagon. Jones was the last to speak. “It’s the bombs that the government has been dropping around the world that are now blowing up inside the U.S. borders,” he said. “We’ve got something stronger than bombs. We’ve got solidarity. That dream of revolutionary solidarity is stronger than bombs.”

By 2008, Jones was identifying not as a Communist radical but as an environmental activist. In an interview that year, he explained that for him, the green movement’s demand for “eco-capitalism” was just a small step on the way to eradicating all “systems of exploitation and oppression.” In other words, for Jones, as for many other environmentalists, the green movement seems to serve as a useful, popular means of fighting democratic capitalism without being burdened by the unpopular label of “Marxist” or “Communist.”

More tomorrow.

Top ten stooges, part two

Yesterday we revisited five of our top ten useful stooges of 2016. Here are the other five, who happen to have one thing in common: a readiness to defend Islam, the premier totalitarian force of our time. 

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Ben Norton

He hates Israel, calls the U.S. a “rogue state,” celebrates the legacy of the Black Panthers, and reflexively responds to each new act of terrorism by fretting about anti-Muslim backlash and smearing critics of Islam. He’s boy scribe Ben Norton, who when he’s not writing for Salon – an execrable enough venue – can be found at such vile pro-jihad sites as Electronic Intifada and Middle East Monitor. Instead of condemning the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015, Norton slammed the victims as racists. Instead of writing about the massacres in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando (media attention to such events, he argues, only boosts bigotry), he penned an entire article about a white lady who’d jumped a hijab-clad woman on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk.

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Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny was born into a prosperous family (both her parents were lawyers), went to a posh English public school, studied at Oxford, and was soon a highly successful journalist and author. But she’s still (as she constantly whines) a victim of sexism, a member of an “oppressed class.” And every man’s an oppressor – except, note well, for those Muslim males who act on the permission their religion gives them to beat, rape, and even kill women with impunity. So it was that when gangs of “refugees” committed mass rape in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, Penny turned her ire not on the rapists, but on the “racists” who responded to this crime by criticizing Islam. 

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Sally Kohn

It sounds like a set-up for a bad joke: a Jewish lesbian defending sharia law. But it’s no joke – it’s Sally Kohn, who after holding a series of jobs as a sleazy political operator and PR flack is now a CNN talking head. Even worse than her utter lack of a decent education is her utter lack of embarrassment about it: when an editor commissioned her to write about Amsterdam, she admitted she didn’t even know what country it was in – but that didn’t keep her from visiting it for a few days and banging out a piece accusing the natives of (what else?) Islamophobia.

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Owen Jones

“Modern capitalism is a sham,” advises British lad Owen Jones, and “democratic socialism is our only hope.” A Guardian columnist, Oxford grad, and son of Trotskyite parents, Jones is a consistent whitewasher of Islam who turns every act of jihadist terror into an excuse to denounce critics of Islam.

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Will Smith

Finally, there’s movie star Will Smith, who this year called for “cleans[ing]” America by eliminating Trump supporters. (He didn’t say how we should do it.) He also condemned America’s “Islamophobia” and extolled Dubai, which, he claimed, “dreams the way I dream.” Never mind that the UAE, where Dubai is located, is a sharia-ruled country where you can get stoned to death for being gay: Smith, a self-styled “student of world religion,” claimed that if Americans have a bad image of the place, it’s entirely the fault of Fox News.

Happy New Year!

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.

Raising Kaine

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Tim Kaine

We have to admit that until Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was not on our radar. Yet a look back at various articles about him over the years has helped mightily to bring him into focus. Our attention was drawn, in particular, to the story of his youthful sojourn in Honduras.

A 2005 profile in the Washington Post put it this way: “teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism.” In a 2010 CNN interview, Kaine told Candy Crowley that he “was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” So he “took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.”

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Their new book

New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that appeared this past September 2 focused entirely on Kaine’s Honduras episode. Headlined “In Honduras, a Spiritual and Political Awakening for Tim Kaine,” the article, in familiar Times fashion, painted America as the bad guy (“Around him, the United States-backed military dictatorship hunted Marxists and cracked down on the Catholic clergy for preaching empowerment to peasant farmers.”) and Kaine’s Jesuit friends, who were devotees of liberation theology, as heroes:

Honduran military leaders, American officials and even Pope John Paul II viewed liberation theology suspiciously, as dangerously injecting Marxist beliefs into religious teaching. But the strong social-justice message of liberation theology helped set Mr. Kaine on a left-veering career path in which he fought as a lawyer against housing discrimination, became a liberal mayor, and rose as a Spanish-speaking governor and senator with an enduring focus on Latin America.

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Ken Blackwell

An article by Ken Blackwell that appeared in The Hill on September 9 helped put the egregious Times spin into perspective. Blackwell – a former mayor of Cincinnati, Secretary of State of Ohio, and ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights – summed up liberation theology very succinctly: its advocates preached peace, but ran guns. As Blackwell noted, documents since uncovered in the Soviet and East German archives have made it clear that liberation theology was nothing more or less than a cynical Kremlin tool, its purpose being to undermine papal influence among the Latin American masses and thus render them more susceptible to Communist belief.

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Father Jim Carney, 1982

One champion of liberation theology was too radical even for the other members of the radical religious community to which he belonged in pro-Soviet Nicaragua. Blackwell identifies this radical priest as an American Jesuit named Father Jim Carney. This is the same man who, as the Times explained, was such a hero to Kaine that the future senator “hopped off a bus in northern Nicaragua, walked miles to Father Carney’s remote parish and spent a memorable evening listening to the priest describe ‘both getting pushed around by the military and getting pushed around by the church.’”

What, exactly, made Carney a hero to the likes of Kaine? The Times, eager as it was to paint a picture of a noble liberal politician whose conscience was forged amidst the religious conflicts of Reagan-era Central America, delicately avoided the uncomfortable details. Blackwell didn’t. He spelled out the hard facts:

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Jose Reyes Mata

In 1983, Carney was part of a 96-man unit that invaded Honduras to bring the Nicaraguan Communist revolution there too. The insurgents were Cuban and Nicaraguan trained and led by Jose Reyes Mata, Cuban-educated, and Honduras’ top Marxist. Reyes Mata had previously served with Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Lest it be forgotten exactly what kind of masters Carney was serving, let us point out that Nicaragua was governed at the time by the Sandinistas – a group founded by KGB man Carlos Fonseca and funded lavishly by the Kremlin, Castro, and East Germany. As Blackwell vividly explained, moreover, the insurgency in which Carney took part was ruthless:

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Carlos Fonseca

Some prisoners were executed by being hacked to death, or by being flayed alive. Others had family members sexually assaulted in front of them. By every measure, the atrocities the Sandinistas committed were far worse than the dictatorship they had replaced.

What blocked them from total victory was the Reagan administration and the Catholic Church.

This, then, was the man whom Kaine was determined to befriend – and whom he has continued, throughout his political career, to cite as a personal moral exemplar and spiritual guide.

Sally Kohn teaches you about sharia

The tweet appeared on August 16:

Hey @realDonaldTrump, many *progressive Muslims* — the ones we should support in ideological fight against extremism — believe in Sharia!!

Sally Kohn headshot-studio lighting.
Sally Kohn

The purpose of this tweet was clear. Trump had publicly criticized sharia; Sally Kohn was out to defend it. Yes, the Jewish lesbian CNN commentator was speaking up for a legal system that subordinates women to men, subjects Jews to Muslims, permits men to beat (and even kill) their wives and daughters, punishes rape victims, orders the execution of gays, and much else.

One of her Twitter followers asked: “@sallykohn would you like to live under Sharia law? Please. I’m waiting….” Kohn replied: “Well since NONE of the 40 Muslim majority nations in the UN have instituted ‘sharia law’ where exactly do you mean?”

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Trump on the stump

On the contrary, there’s an entire Wikipedia page about the application of sharia law in today’s Muslim countries. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and Mauritania, “sharia applies in full.” In several other countries, including most of the Maghreb, Levant, and east Africa, “sharia applies in personal status issues (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody).”

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Sharia in the Muslim world. Green: no sharia. Yellow: marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, etc., governed by sharia. Purple: sharia applies in full. Orange: regional variations

Another Twitter follower asked Kohn: “When exactly did you become an expert in Islam @sallykohn?” Kohn replied: “Uh, I’m not. But I’ve taken time to understand what sharia really is – not just swallow right wing fear mongering.” In response to another challenge, Kohn insisted: “You do realize there are gay feminist Muslims who BELIEVE IN SHARIA?!????? Really.” She also tweeted a photo of two men kissing at a gay event and commented: “FYI these Muslims celebrating gay pride ALSO believe in sharia.”

sally7Now, it may be that Kohn has been at the receiving end of a whole lot of taqiyya – in other words, Islamically sanctioned lying. There are, indeed, innocuous aspects of sharia, and when Muslims who wish to mislead ignorant left-wing infidels go about “explaining” sharia to them, they focus exclusively on those aspects, omitting all the ugly stuff. So maybe Kohn was just breathtakingly misinformed. Or else she knew better and was just plain lying. In either case, given the massive human-rights violations that have occurred around the world in recent years owing to sharia law, Kohn’s effort to whitewash it, whether out of ignorance or deceit, was inexcusable. Naturally, some of Kohn’s followers tried to correct her misperceptions (or misrepresentations):

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Some of Kohn’s fellow admirers of sharia

@sallykohn As a lesbian, you would be put to death under Sharia. Why would you support such an ideology.

Liberal Muslim intellectuals focused on religious reform have been executed under Shari’a regimes. But whatevs. [sic]

Meanwhile, others served up some well-deserved mockery:

Apparently @sallykohn thinks Sharia is a progressive and forward thinking ideology. Great hire there, @CNN

I’m convinced now @sallykohn doesn’t believe what she tweets at this point because it’s so ridiculous.

burakHow did Kohn respond to those who tried to set her straight about Islamic law? By employing a familiar left-wing dodge. She switched the topic from sharia to right-wing American homophobia:  

All the right wingers freaking out about how all Muslims supposedly oppose LGBT rights have an underdeveloped sense of irony.

No, Ms. Kohn: you have an underdeveloped knowledge of history, geography, international affairs, and much else. As for Islam, whether you’re as appallingly ignorant of it as you seem to be, or are simply, like many others on the left, dedicated to covering up the horrific truth about it – and, in effect, spitting on the corpses of all the gays, Jews, women, and others who have been murdered in its name – isn’t entirely clear. But one thing’s for sure: you’re a rising star in the constellation of contemporary useful stooges.