Great! Another movie with a Stalinist hero

When, other than under the Third Reich itself, did any major film producer ever release a movie in which the hero is a devoted Nazi? The answer, of course, is never. If any such picture ever hit the theaters, it would be universally denounced as an endorsement of totalitarianism.

Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo

But for some reason the same doesn’t apply to Communists. For decades, Hollywood has made one picture after another in which out-and-out Stalinists were treated sympathetically and their poisonous nature of their political beliefs was totally whitewashed. Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) depicted the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg not as villains but as victims. Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976) portrayed the Hollywood Ten, all of them card-carrying members of the American Communist Party who were taking orders from Stalin, as First Amendment heroes. Four years ago, Jay Roach’s Trumbo essentially turned Cold War screenwriter Dalton Trumbo – who in real life was a hard-core Stalinist ideologue, an unquestioning supporter of Uncle Joe’s Gulag, show trials, and summary executions – into something resembling a classical liberal.

The real-life Melita Stedman Norwood

The latest contribution this reprehensible genre is Red Joan, based on the life of Melita Stedman Norwood, a London woman whose secretarial job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association provided her with access to her country’s atomic secrets and who spent decades of her life working for the Soviet Union, first as an NKVD spy and later as a KGB agent. The material she passed to the Russians enabled them to produce a copy of the UK’s atom bomb. Incredibly, not until 1999 – years after the fall of the USSR – were her espionage activities publicly revealed. Also incredibly, she was never prosecuted for her crimes.

Trevor Nunn

Directed by 79-year-old Trevor Nunn (who is best known for directing plays on Broadway and in the West End), written by Lindsay Shapero, and starring Sophie Cookson (as the young spy) and Dame Judi Dench (as her older self), the movie has been shown at film festivals and will be released in the US and UK on April 19. The key point is that Nunn treats this traitor – who in the film is given the name Joan Stanley – as a hero. And reviewers have bought into it. The Hollywood Reporter called Red Joan a “good old-fashioned British spy thriller …with a bewitching female heroine.” It’s “a story of ideals and self-sacrifice that seem impossibly distant in the current day and age.” While stealing state secrets, Joan “demonstrates nothing but courage, intelligence and furious conviction.” She is “every inch a heroine.” Variety, while finding the film “flat,”also had no problem describing Joan as a heroine.

Judi Dench as “Red Joan”

In real life, Norwood was the daughter of Commies – a red-diaper baby – so loyalty to the Kremlin came naturally; the only motive she ever gave for having betrayed her country was that she was, indeed, a convinced Communist, full stop. Apparently in order to give Joan Stanley a more appealing motive for treason, Shapero’s script depicts her as being influenced, in her callow youth, by a couple of appealing friends who are German Jews and devout Communists – and whose Communism, as is so often the case in these movies, is equated with opposition to Hitler. At the same time, Shapero plays down her protagonist’s Communism, investing Joan with the belief (never held by the real Norwood) that giving atom secrets to Moscow would deprive the West of a monopoly on nukes and thus make the world safer.

After perusing the idiotic reviews in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and elsewhere, we were pleased to encounter at least one critic who had his head screwed on right. Calling the film “Operation Whitewash,” the Daily Mail‘s Guy Walters described it as “preposterously sympathetic to a woman who betrayed Britain’s most precious state secrets to Joseph Stalin, one of the most evil and murderous men who has ever lived.” Bingo. Why is this so hard for some people to see?

Trayon White: A disgrace even by the usual Democratic city government standards

Trayon White

Is he dumber than he is anti-Semitic, or more anti-Semitic than he is dumb? Your call.

First, on March 16 of this year, Trayon White, a member of the city council in Washington, D.C., posted a Facebook video of a snowfall along with a comment of his own suggesting that “the Rothschilds” are “controlling the climate to create natural disasters that they can pay for to own the cities, man.” It soon emerged that this was not the first time he had expressed the opinion that Jews run the weather.

Baron David René de Rothschild, current French chairman of N. M. Rothschild & Sons

International outrage led him to issue an apology. No sooner had the leaders of Jewish organizations accepted the apology and claimed to regard it as sincere did the City Council release video of a February 27 breakfast event at which White had accused the Rothschilds of controlling the federal government and World Bank. White apologized for this, too, writing that “Somehow, I read and misconstrued both the Rockefeller and Rothchild [sic] theories. At that breakfast, I indeed misspoke, was really misinformed on the issue and ran with false information. I think I heard other similar information before about the theory around the World Bank and put it all together.” Makes sense to us! No, seriously, let bygones be bygones. No reason to deprive the people of Washington of such a stellar intellect simply because he got a little confused.

The late Mayor Marion Barry

White, by the way, is a protégé of late Washington mayor Marion Barry, most famous for having been convicted of smoking crack. White is also a former member of the U.S. capital’s Board of Education, which to anyone familiar with public education in D.C. will not be all that surprising. He’s also donated money to Louis Farrakhan’s rabidly Jew-hating Nation of Islam. 

Anyway, after his Rothschild remarks, White, as an act of “conciliation” with the Jewish community – i.e., a PR move – agreed to take a 90-minute guided tour of the Holocaust Museum. Great idea, right? Nope.

U.S. Holocaust Museum

As the Daily Mail reported, when he saw a 1937 picture of “a woman surrounded by Nazi soldiers with a sign hanging from her neck that read: ‘I am a German girl and allowed myself to be defiled by a Jew,’ White asked, ‘Are they protecting her?’” The tour guide explained that they were not: they were marching her down the street to shame her. “Marching through,” replied White, “is protecting.” The guide, with what reads like a patience that passeth all understanding, said, “I think they’re humiliating her.”

And then, 90 minutes apparently being too much of a test of his attention span, he left the tour before it was over. He claimed to have a meeting to get to, but was later “seen walking around aimlessly outside of the museum.” Meanwhile one of his aides, who had decided to stick with the tour to the end, replied to a mini-lesson about the Warsaw ghetto by asking if it was like “a gated community.”

Rafael Shimunov

If there was anything more reprehensible than White’s unashamed display of bigotry and ignorance, it was the readiness of some members of the Washington, D.C., Jewish community to stand by him. In the Forward, Rafael Shimunov, an official of the Working Families Party, co-founder of ResistHere, and veteran of a long list of left-wing activist groups, argued that “many in the DC community and the Jewish community need to examine how easily they found themselves mocking a black man who has devoted his life to the public service of America’s most vulnerable.” Nice try, but no dice. It is preposterous that a fool and knave like White can hold high elective office in Washington, D.C. The best thing he can do to serve“ America’s most vulnerable” is to quit his job and work for the election of somebody with a minimally acceptable I.Q., education, level of intellectual curiosity, and moral compass. 

Another jihad enthusiast from Salford University

Salford University

When we saw the headline and subheads of a July 1 article in the Daily Mail about an unsettling development at Salford University, the first thing we did was look up Salford University, because we weren’t even sure which country it was in. It turns out to be in England – specifically, in Manchester. In fact, Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who took 22 lives at that Ariana Grande concert, was a student there.

The Mail story was about another Muslim student at Salford – one Zamzam (yes, Zamzam) Ibrahim, the president of Salford’s Student Union. Zamzam, a recent recipient of a Bsc degree in Business and Financial Management, was elected to her Student Union office in March. She has also been elected to a leadership position in the National Union of Students (NUS). During her campaign for the latter office, she claimed that there had been a 41% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime in the UK since the Brexit vote and opposed the “PREVENT” strategy, a UK government policy that is intended to keep terrorist events from taking place and that Zamzam calls “racist.”

Zamzam Ibrahim

But that’s nothing. The Mail discovered that during the last few years, Zamzam has shared a good many strong opinions on social media. Specifically, she has expressed a desire to “oppress white people,” has said that she considers “friendship between men and women…un-Islamic,” and has wished that everyone would read the Koran, because it would lead to “an Islamic takeover!”

After the Mail‘s discoveries were picked up by other news media, another British newspaper, the Independent, gave Zamzam space to defend herself. She argued as follows. First, she’d made the comments quoted by the Mail back in 2012, when she was only 16; they were, in other words, the “adolescent comments of a young girl” who was “struggling with my view of the world and my place in it” and “grappling with the deep injustices I could see around me and trying to figure out how I could make the world a better place.”

Second, the Mail had “twisted” her comments “to make them seem far more sinister than they ever were intended to be.” Third, she has since grown up, and the comments cited by the Mail “do not reflect my views today.”

One reader who commented on Zamzam’s article noted a couple of important details in her piece. First, an apparently deliberate error: in 2012, she was 18, not 16. Second, some of her offensive messages don’t date back to 2012 – they’re only a few months old.

Another reader noted that Zamzam, although given plenty of space by the Independent, hadn’t explicitly rejected any of the assertions she’d made in her social-media messages. Instead, she’d made use of the opportunity to slam the image of Islams served up by the “right-wing media” and to play the victim – not just any victim, mind you, but one belonging to an intersectional bonanza of officially recognized identity groups: a woman, a black, and a Muslim.

Zamzam with unidentified friend

“The question to Zamzam,” stated the reader, “is whether she has changed her beliefs in this period or she continues to hang onto them. Has she for example changed her views on whether males and females can mix in public and private places?….Does she for example still feel that Muslims are the oppressed and not the oppressors of Jews, Christians, yazidis, Armenians, converts to other religions, disabled and LGBT communities and many others living in their midst?”

Indeed, those are the questions. It seems clear even from Zamzam’s Independent article that she still views Muslims as an oppressed group. What, one wonders, did she post on social media after a student from her university committed that massacre at the Ariana Grande concert? We’ve tried to find out, but without success, because Zamzam – who, in every picture and video we can find of her, is wearing a hijab – appears to have deleted her social-media accounts.

Communism? Peachy! Oscars mixup? A horror!

Shirley MacLaine

“Legendary screen star reveals that they are both ‘still processing the horror of it.’” The headline appeared in the Daily Mail in March. The “screen star” referred to is Shirley MacLaine. The other person embraced by the word “both” is her brother, Warren Beatty, who of course is also a screen star.

Here’s the actual quote from MacLaine: “I think we’re all processing the horror of it. I’m still dealing with it.” She added: “We know how difficult it was for him, but it was also for me.” The reporter, Chris Spargo, reports that “MacLaine could be seen gasping, covering her mouth in shock and then clutching her chest.”

Warren Beatty in “Reds”

What “horror” were they still processing?

Now, as it happens, we’ve written about both MacLaine and Beatty on this site. MacLaine, as it happens, was one of the few Americans to gain access to Communist China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. This was in 1973, at which point that nightmarish chapter of history had been going on for seven years. It involved the murder by the authorities of millions of people who were considered, for some reason or other, to be counter-revolutionaries. During the entire period, all but a tiny minority of the Chinese people lived in a constant state of terror. Who would be the next victim? Would the men come knocking at our door in the middle of the night and take one of us away forever? Which one?

Mao Zedong

MacLaine was there in the midst of it all. Filming what she saw. And she returned to the U.S. with a documentary that might have been made by Mao himself – or by Leni Riefenstahl. It was as splendid a work of propaganda for Maoism as one could imagine. Entitled The Other Side of the Sky, it tried to demonstrate certain propositions in which MacLaine actually believed – namely, that Chinese women were more liberated, more equal, than American women; that China lacked “social friction” and was awash in a sense of “brotherhood”, that everyone there was committed “to working for the common good.” The film won an Oscar nomination.

Vladimir Lenin

Beatty has also promoted totalitarianism. The 1981 movie Reds, which he directed, co-wrote, and starred in, was described by one reviewer as an “homage, of sorts, to the Russian Revolution.” A trailer represented it as the story of a “fight for freedom” and a timely challenge to “conservative politics” – the point being that Lenin, alongside Reagan, was benign. Reds, which celebrated a regime that killed more people than any other in human history except for the one applauded by his sister in The Other Side of the Sky, nabbed Beatty an Oscar for Best Director.

So obviously MacLaine didn’t consider Maoism a horror. And Beatty wouldn’t use that word to describe Leninism, either. So what “horror,” then, was MacLaine referring to in that Daily Mail article?

The horror! The horror!

Why, it was that moment of confusion at the end of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, when Beatty and Faye Dunaway at first mistakenly presented the Best Picture statuettes to La La Land rather than to Moonlight. Days after the mixup, MacLaine was still pondering it. “I’m basically a mystic,” she told the Mail. “And I’m wondering what was that all about? And I am not sure yet. I have to think about it some more.” One wonders how much thought she’s ever given to that slightly bigger mixup for which she was primarily responsible – namely, the representation of Mao’s China in a major film as a paradise rather than a hell on earth.

The Rutgers prof who considers the US worse than ISIS

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Deepa Kumar

Then came the tweet.

On March 26, 2015, Deepa Kumar – a Rutgers professor of media and Middle Eastern Studies whose career we’ve been tracing this week – tweeted the following: “Yes ISIS is brutal, but US is more so, 1.3 million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan #NoToWar.”

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In previous years, she’d already taken to social media to swipe at her class enemies. In one Facebook post, she encouraged her friends to use the word douchebag “to describe rich, white entitled males and their misogynistic, racist behavior!” In another post, she smeared Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim whose campaign for the rights of Muslim women has made her a terrorist target and obliged her to have round-the-clock bodyguards. To many people, Hirsi Ali is a heroine; to Kumar, however, she is nothing more or less than an “islamophobe [sic] and native informant” – the latter apparently meaning that by shedding a light on Islamic misogyny she’s ratted on her own.

But these Facebook rants hadn’t sparked worldwide attention. Nor had Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire – the 2012 book in which she spun her views on the topic into book length, and which received glowing reviews in such venues as the International Socialist Review, the Egyptian news site Al-Akhbar, and the website of the Florida branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

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Max Abrams

But the ISIS tweet was another matter. Suddenly Kumar, whose years of defending terrorists and demonizing Islamophobia in academic journals and left-wing rags had taken place entirely under the radar of the general public, was making international headlines. The Daily Mail rounded up a few outraged responses. Max Abrams, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, expressed sympathy for Kumar’s students: “Only a complete ideologue could claim the United States is more brutal than Islamic State.” Well, as we’ve seen, Abrams was certainly right there: there are few ideologues more complete than Deepa Kumar. As Abrams noted, the U.S., unlike ISIS, “isn’t in the habit of rounding up thousands of young girls to have them raped dozens of times…or throwing homosexuals off rooftops.”

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Marion Smith

Meanwhile, Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation responded to some of Kumar’s positive tweets about Marxism, saying that no professor should be teaching young people to admire the “deadly ideology” that had taken the lives of tens of millions in China, Russia, and elsewhere. It was also noted that the previous year, Kumar had helped lead a successful movement to keep former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from speaking at Rutgers.

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Sebastian Gorka

Perhaps the most withering response to Kumar’s tweet came from Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism expert and professor at Marine Corps University whose parents had fled from Communism in Hungary – in other words, a man with no fatuous illusions about either Communism or Islam. Commenting in a TV interview, Gorka deplored Kumar’s comparison of “ISIS, which is crucifying people; which is killing children who aren’t fasting during Ramadan; that has used detonation cord to decapitate their prisoners,” with the U.S., “a nation that saved Europe twice in the last hundred years, and even in the 1990s saved the Muslims of Bosnia.”

But the dust-up ended soon enough; and Kumar remains at Rutgers, where she continues to indoctrinate students some of whose parents are paying upwards of $40,000 for the privilege.  

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.

Cherie’s turn

Tony Blair will warn of the risks to Britain of falling to Europe's margins.
Tony Blair

Thanks to author Tom Bower, whose new book, Broken Promises, is packed with devastating revelations about the post-political career of Tony Blair, we now have a rich, full portrait of a man who turned his generation’s most successful career in British politics into a formula for a massive money grab. We’ve spent the last week examining some of the more egregious examples of Blair’s stoogery.

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Cherie Blair

But let’s not forget that behind every avaricious man is an equally money-grubbing woman. Well, sometimes, anyway. So it’s appropriate that one of the Daily Mail‘s illuminating excerpts from Bower’s book is devoted to Cherie Blair’s international cash-collecting activities. Bower notes that when first accused of having dealings with the government of Qatar, Blair denied it, because he naturally didn’t want to be tied in anyone’s mind to “a corrupt dictatorship that supported extremist Muslim groups, suppressed freedom of the Press and was accused of offering bribes to win the FIFA football World Cup in 2022.”

It’s true. Strictly speaking, as far as Bower has been able to determine, Tony Blair has had no dealings with Qatar. But his wife did. Since his retirement, their careers have been in remarkable parallel. When he left No. 10, she quit her barrister job, too; while he founded two charities, she started two charities of her own, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Africa Justice Foundation. He established Tony Blair Associates; she created Omnia Strategy, through which she worked as a “consultant” to governments in the Middle East and Africa. 

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Hillary Clinton

In her capacity as doyenne of Omnia, Cherie Blair collected a handsome sum from the wife of a Qatari sheik who wished to meet with Hillary Clinton, who at the time was the U.S. Secretary of State. After Cherie had pummeled Clinton with 19 e-mails, the former First Lady agreed to meet with Cherie’s Qatari client. Ka-ching! Cherie also made money off of the Albanian government. And Rwanda, too. In the case of Rwanda, the Blairs operated as an efficient tag team. Bower tells this charming anecdote about it:

Cherie had been due to meet the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who was widely accused of being a mass murderer, to discuss the creation of a justice ministry in his impoverished country.

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Paul Kagame

But she didn’t show up to their planned dinner in London. Instead she explained she had an “emergency.” “I can’t come,” she said, “but Tony says he’d happily join you.”

At the dinner, Blair set out his stall. “You are a man with a vision, a leader I’ve always admired,” he told Kagame. “Now you need advisers to show you how to run a government, and I’m your man.”

Kagame agreed to welcome Blair’s team. In return, he was also introduced to the international circuit of leaders’ conferences across America and in Davos, where Blair presented him as Africa’s “Mr Clean.”

No one mentioned the continuing massacre of Hutus in the neighbouring Congo by militia dispatched by Kagame….

Blair’s friend won the Rwanda election in 2010 – but the beheaded corpses of leaders of the small opposition party were found strewn about the countryside.

Blair ignored all this and hailed his protégé’s success.

Nor was Cherie out of the picture. Last year, when General Karenzi Karake, the head of Rwanda’s spy service, set foot on British soil, he was arrested on an international war-crimes warrant issued in Spain. Whom did he hire to fight extradition? Why, none other than Cherie, natch. With a straight face, she walked into a courtroom and described the repellent war criminal as a “hero.” Released on bail, he was let go on a legal technicality, whereupon he quickly flew back to Rwanda, and safety.

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Karenzi Karake

Cherie had earned her pay.

In a sentence that is a masterpiece of understatement, Bower sums up the former PM’s family business: “Today, with his tangled web of charity and private interests, Blair remains at the centre of a bewildering number of enterprises.” Yet amid all this bewilderment, there’s one fact that’s beyond doubt: almost a decade after Blair left office, he and his wife are truly rich. Bower reports that they’ve “spent more than £25 million on UK property alone.” Yet, like the Clintons, “Blair cannot resist seeking new deals.” More often than not, those deals involve ignominious Third World despots and hangers-on who amass fortunes on the backs of oppressed multitudes. Blair, who once promised to rid the planet of such leeches, is now getting his big, juicy cut of their purloined pies. Somewhere, Churchill is not smiling. 

Tony and Muammar: a rewarding friendship

BlairMiddleEast_1792762cThis week, we’ve been looking over some of the spectacular revelations contained in investigative reporter Tom Bower’s book Broken Promises, which was excerpted recently in the Daily Mail. The book’s subject is Tony Blair, and suffice it to say that Blair will never look the same again. Of course, from the very beginning there were those who saw through Blair’s slick image and smarmy rhetoric and recognized a cheap, sordid creep on the make; what’s important about Bower’s book is that he establishes incontrovertibly that this fellow whom many saw, back in the day, as the man who rescued the Labour Party and, in the process, Britain itself, is pretty much every abhorrent thing he was ever accused of being – and then some.

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Tom Bower

During the past near-decade, as Bower shows, Blair has had his sticky fingers in the pockets of pretty much every tinhorn developing-world dictator and dicey international zillionaire you can think of. But even in this sorry chronicle of covetousness, his relationship with Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is a standout. Bower puts it very neatly: while to most Britons, Qaddafi was simply evil – the terrorist-in-chief who’d ordered the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 – Blair saw him as “an opportunity.” (But then again, is there anyone whom Blair hasn’t looked at without first wondering if he was beholding yet another opportunity?)

In 2004, after Qaddafi agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction in return for Western aid, Blair was quick to visit him in Tripoli. The tête-à-tête was a success – birds of a feather, etc. – and, to quote Bower, “the two remained in touch.” Two years later, when “an English judge refused to deport two Libyan dissidents back to Libya, where they faced an uncertain fate,” Prime Minister Blair took time out of his busy schedule to commisserate with his erstwhile terrorist buddy: “I am very disappointed at the court’s decision,” he wrote.

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Muammar Qaddafi

In 2007, only a few weeks before his resignation, Blair paid another visit to his desert buddy. The timing was no coincidence. Blair brought with him the chairman of BP and a top counterintelligence officer from MI6. Blair’s purpose, writes Bower, was “delicate”: he wanted to “placate” his pal “by promising the release from a Scottish jail of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted for his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.”

Blair, alas, wasn’t able to swing the mass murderer’s release. But the main question is: why would Blair want or need to “placate” Qaddafi? Plainly, because he’d already begun to transition into his post-prime ministerial career – a career in which, he perceived, with his splendid guile, his cozy ties to Qaddafi could prove profitable.

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Tim Collins

Sure enough, the next year Blair was back in Libya, introducing his chum the colonel to some folks from J.P. Morgan, who wanted a Libyan trade license. They got it. On yet another visit to Libya, Blair traveled on Qaddafi’s own jet, bringing with him an American billionaire, Tim Collins, who thought he was on a humanitarian mission. Once he and Blair were alone with Qaddafi, however, the dictator encouraged the billionaire to invest in a Libyan beach resort – and Blair, to Collins’s astonishment, metamorphosed before his eyes into a seedy salesman, urging him to buy in. “The former Prime Minister, Collins realised, was trying to earn a commission,” reports Bower. Collins was “outraged that he’d been brought to Libya under false pretences,” and later read Blair the riot act, telling him: “This guy Gaddafi is bat-s*** crazy. I’d rather go hungry than deal with a guy who’s a complete lunatic.” Collins “drove to the airport alone.”

An admirable response. For Blair, however, Qaddafi’s nuttiness was not a bug but a feature. Manifestly, he perceived Qaddafi’s lunacy as yet one more thing he could exploit to line his pockets. If there’s any sign of human character in evidence here, it’s the fact that at least he was loyal to the end to his vile comrade: when the Libyan people finally turned against their leader, Blair asked Prime Minister David Cameron to give Qaddafi safe haven. Cameron, to his credit, responded with a big, fat no, and Colonel Qaddafi was left to the mercy of the people he – and Blair – had exploited. Rebel militia killed him, put his corpse in a grocery freezer, then publicly displayed it for four days so that the victims of his oppression could know a taste of justice. There’s no reason to believe Blair owned the freezer and rented it out to the rebels, but there’s no reason not to believe it either. 

Tomorrow: Blair and Qatar.

Sleaze all the way down: Tony Blair

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Tony Blair

This week we’ve been pondering the sickening case of Tony Blair – who, upon stepping down from the job of U.K.’s head of government in 2007, was a not-so-young man in a very great hurry to accumulate the fortune he’d been fantasizing about during those ten underpaid years as (in his own words) “Britain’s most successful prime minister.” In a revelation-packed new bookBroken Vows – Tony Blair: The Tragedy of Power, which was recently excerpted in the Daily Mail, veteran investigative reporter Tom Bower maps out in detail Blair’s squalid road to riches. His tale of Blair’s shameless self-enrichment makes the history of the tirelessly acquisitive Clintons look like a children’s bedtime story.

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN13 - Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria speaks during the televised session 'De-risking Africa - Achieving Inclusive Prosperity' at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2013. Copyright by World Economic Forum swiss-image.ch/Photo Remy Steinegger
Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of Nigeria

Yesterday, for example, we saw that Blair was quick to whitewash the crimes of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev in exchange for a handful of shekels. But Nazarbayev is only one of Blair’s many thuggish paymasters. In 2010, Blair visited Nigeria, “ostensibly to offer the services of AGI and the Faith Foundation” – two of his “charities” – “to help reconcile the country’s Muslims and Christians.” What he ended up doing was performing an expert ego massage on Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, whom he persuaded to hire J.P. Morgan as manager of his nation’s sovereign wealth fund. Result: a big payday for both Blair and Morgan – which secured the lucrative job without having to make a competitive bid.

Blair’s links to some of the world’s most unfree governments and to many of its less than scrupulous global businesses are too complex to easily diagram. And there’s no apparent limit to the level of oiliness that he’s apparently able to summon up in order to grease the wheels of commerce between the two. In 2012, in exchange for a generous sum, Blair put together a meeting between the top honcho at Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trading house, and the prime minister of Qatar, the goal being to facilitate a business deal. “Although present at their hour-long meeting,” writes Bower, Blair “remained curiously silent,” leading the Glencore CEO to wonder whether “Blair’s huge fee had been a waste of money.”

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Tom Bower

Bower outlines deals so convoluted that they make one’s head spin. But never mind the details; what matters is the uniformly sleazy cast of characters, led by a host of disreputable but staggeringly flush sovereign wealth funds and a small army of cartoonishly rapacious presidents of African cesspools. When some corporation in the Persian Gulf that you’ve never heard of (but that’s swimming in money) decides to make an investment in some dodgy start-up in Indochina, the Balkans, west Africa, or South America, don’t be surprised if Blair’s right there in the middle of the whole ugly deal, scraping his 20 percent off the top.

And so it goes. As Bower writes, Blair

also popped up on the advisory panel that supervised the construction of British Petroleum’s £32 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Oddly enough, he was also paid to advise the president of Azerbaijan. In addition, his services were called in when BP was seeking new oil concessions in Abu Dhabi.

The sheikh who employed Blair privately to work for his investment fund also happened to be the head of Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council. 

One wonders how Blair can keep track of it all himself. But we haven’t yet gotten around to his Big Kahuna: Muammar Qaddafi. Tune in tomorrow.

Sympathy for the devil

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Russell Brand

A few months ago we weighed in on British comedian and actor Russell Brand, a self-identified “big fan of Castro and Che Guevara” who produced a book described by one critic as “a meandering and pretentious mélange of student politics, junk history, and goofy mysticism.” 

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One of several pictures Katy Perry posted on Instagram of her visit to Cuba

A while back, with immense fanfare, Brand married American pop star Katy Perry. They both did the talk-show circuit and prattled endlessly about how deeply in love they were. Then they promptly divorced. Not knowing much about Katy Perry, we thought that perhaps Brand’s foolish, ill-informed politics – and all-around narcissism and puerility – did the marriage in. Last month, however, Katy did something that caused us to push that theory onto the back burner: in a move that must have made her ex green with envy, she hung out at a Havana bar with Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul Castro. The supposed topic of discussion was their supposed shared interest in LGBT rights – this in a country where nobody has any rights.

To be fair to Katy, she’s only one of the latest of many American celebrities to make the now apparently obligatory trip to the island prison.

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Mick Jagger on the dance floor at Havana’s Shangri La Club

Septuagenarian British rocker Mick Jagger was also there in October, reportedly scouting locations for a Rolling Stone concert. While he was there, he also visited several nightclubs in Old Havana; the Daily Mail ran a picture of him tripping the light fantastic, apparently with some young locals of the female persuasion, on the dance floor of a place called the Shangri La Club.

Meanwhile celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz was in town, too, snapping ultra-chic pics of globally adored Barbadian songstress Rihanna at a multitude of glamorously shabby Havana locations for this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. 

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One of Annie Leibovitz’s photos of Rihanna in Havana

But let’s flash back to last February, when the slummer du jour was Celebrity Without Portfolio Paris Hilton, who flew down to Havana and did the one thing she apparently has a talent for: she partied.

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Paris Hilton posing outside the Habana Hilton

It was a busy sojourn for the aging yet enduringly ditzy heiress/celebutante. She dropped in at the 25-story, 500-room Habana Hilton, once the biggest hotel in all of Latin America. In an unfortunate case of less than impeccable timing, Paris’s great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton, built this pile just a year before Fidel, Che, and company drove Fulgencio Batista out of town; needless to say, they nationalized the thing pronto (“nationalize,” of course, being the Communist euphemism of choice for “steal”). Judging by the pictures Paris posed for outside the hotel, looking all saucy and sprightly, she would appear to have forgiven the Commies for relieving her family of its property all those years ago. 

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Paris Hilton snapping a selfie with Fidel Castro’s son

Paris also took part in Cuba’s 17th annual Cigar Festival, where – as if to confirm that there’s no hard feelings – she chummed around with Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, the son of the man who stole her great-granddaddy’s hostelry. The pictures – including selfies taken by Paris herself – would seem to testify that they both had a jolly time together. Also involved in these cheery totalitarian festivities was Naomi Campbell, a British woman who was famous for being a fashion model in the previous century.

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Naomi Campbell joins in the fun

Capitol Hill Cubans, a website devoted to “the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba,” wasn’t impressed by these high-profile folks’ visits to the home of rum, cigars, and oppression:

Under the guise of “supporting the Cuban people” – and completely aloof to the island’s brutal realities– these celebrities are enjoying the hospitality of the Castro dictatorship and supporting its repressive apparatus.

Meanwhile, innocent Cuban men, women and children are being beaten on the streets for their peaceful democracy activism, and artists imprisoned for their attempts at critical expression.

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Gloria Estefan

In closing, we’ll just take off our hats to Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, who, when asked in late October when she plans to visit Fidel’s Caribbean penal colony, supplied an unequivocal, and excellent, answer: “I’ll go to Cuba when it’s truly free, and not just open to foreigners, to celebrate with the Cuban people a new beginning.”

Happy Thanksgiving.