Last idiots standing?

In his lifetime, Hugo Chávez was a hero. After his populist, anti-gringo rhetoric won him the Venezuelan presidency, he rivaled the Castro brothers as an international symbol of socialism – and as a desired chum for chuckleheaded American celebrities eager to boost their coolness factor.

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Danny Glover and Hugo Chávez

We’ve previously discussed some of Chávez’s Hollywood conquests. One of them, Danny Glover, visited Chávez several times; they were so close that El Presidente actually arranged financing for a couple of movies Glover planned to make about Simón Bolivar and Touissant L’Ouverture. Nor did Glover’s enthusiasm for chavismo die with Hugo himself: in 2014, he led a list of showbiz luminaries – among them Oliver Stone and Tom Hayden – who signed a letter to the U.S. Congress in support of the caudillo‘s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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Sean Penn con el caudillo

Another big-name A.D.H. (amigo de Hugo) was Sean Penn, who after Chávez’s death in 2013 tweeted “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it [sic] never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion….Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Maduro.”

Not long after Maduro took over, of course, the chickens came home to roost. (Which is actually not the best metaphor in this case, because in reality chickens, and most other foodstuffs, all but disappeared. Earlier this year, a video was posted on You Tube showing a mob of starving Venezuelans who’d stopped a truck on a highway and pulled live chickens out of their cages.) 

As we noted  last May, one side effect of the social and economic collapse now underway in Venezuela is that the celebrities who once cheered Chavez’s policies have been keeping their distance now that the Venezuelan people are being forced to live – or try to live – with those policies’ calamitous results.

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Dan Kovalik

We did point out that a couple of foreign fans of chavismo seem to have hung in there. As of last December, anyway, Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh was still claiming that Chavez’s policies worked; in March of last year, Greg Grandin of NYU, writing in The Nation, complained that the shortage of basic goods in the Bolivarian Republic was being sensationalized, and approvingly quoted another far-left fool who proposed that the solution to Venezuela’s problems was even more socialism (for example, Stalin-style collective farms).

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Lukas Hass and Jamie Foxx with the First Couple of Venezuela

But while a few clowns in academia may still cling to chavismo, almost all of the film stars who once celebrated the Bolivarian Revolution have lost Nicolás Maduro’s phone number. With two exceptions. As the Associated Press reported a few days ago, Jamie Foxx, who won the 2004 Academy Award for his impersonation of Ray Charles, had just dropped in on Maduro in Caracas in order to “support the country’s socialist revolution and attend the signing of an agreement between Venezuela and its allies for the construction of houses for the poor.”

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Lukas Haas in Witness

Accompanying him was actor Lukas Haas, who three decades ago played the little boy in Witness and has since turned up in movies like Woody Allen’s Everybody Says I Love You and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. At the Fusion website, Manuel Rueda provided a couple more details of this visit, informing us, for instance, that Foxx had sat in on “a strange and tedious ceremony where the Venezuelan leader signed construction contracts with a Jordanian housing firm.” In other words, Soviet-style entertainment. A video of this event confirms that it was indeed strange and tedious:

Then there’s this news clip, in which Maduro can be seen meeting the actors and showing them a couple of the historical treasures in the Miraflores Palace:  

Fusion posted a number of tweets by Venezuelans who were furious at Foxx for providing their incompetent leader with positive PR. (Sample: “you should’ve asked Maduro to take you to the public hospitals in Caracas where people are dying because of the medical scarcity.”) And Fox News Latino quoted an opposition leader who wondered how much public money had been spent on these high-profile shenanigans at a time when Venezuelans are literally starving to death. As of this writing, meanwhile, neither Foxx nor Haas has issued a public explanation of their friendly call on the detestible Maduros.  

Weisbrot’s friends

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Mark Weisbrot

We’ve devoted this week to Mark Weisbrot, who for years has served as an economic advisor to and ardent defender of the most notorious, incompetent, and corrupt regimes in South America. Since he’s the founder and grand poobah of something called the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), it’s not unreasonable to ask a few questions. For example: who, exactly, is providing the funds to pay Weisbrot’s salary and keep his “center” afloat? And who are the other powerhouses who make up this “center,” which represents itself as a hotbed of serious economic analysis?

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Walden Bello

Well, as it turns out, most of CEPR’s staffers and directors have more of a background in organized left-wing activism on issues like global warming and women’s rights than in economics. No fewer than three members of CEPR’s small staff (John Schmitt, Deborah James, and Alexander Main) used to work for the “Information Office” of the Venezuelan government – which isn’t exactly famous for its world-class economic acumen. As for CEPR’s “board of directors,” it includes Filipino congressman Walden Bello, a critic of capitalism and globalization who’s written such books as Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (2013). In a piece on free trade, Bello put the word “free” in scare quotes. In November 2010, Bello called Néstor Kirchner “remarkable,” “an exemplary figure in the Global South when it came to dealing with international financial institutions.” Pronounced Bello: “Along with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Kirchner was one of several remarkable leaders that the crisis of neoliberalism produced in Latin America.”

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Danny Glover

Also on the CEPR’s board is Julian Bond, an activist and former NAACP head who’s compared the Tea Party to the Taliban. Neither Bello nor Bond is a trained economist. The most familiar name on the list is Danny Glover – yes, that Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, whose love for Hugo Chávez, for Fidel Castro, and for Communism generally we’ve already discussed on this site. Needless to say, Glover isn’t an economist either.

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Dan Beeton

Then there’s CEPR’s International Communications Director, Dan Beeton. In August 2014, he wrote a paean to Cristina Kirchner’s newly appointed Minister of the Economy that read less like the work of a sober economist than of an overly gushing publicist. Excerpt: “Alex Kicillof, the telegenic economy minister famous for his Elvis-style sideburns, has emerged on the international stage as a heroic figure championing the Argentine people. Kicillof is perhaps reminiscent of another bold, young economy minister in a different South American country: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, whose public sparring with the World Bank in 2005 helped to launch his political career.”

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Robert Naiman

Finally, check out CEPR staffer Robert Naiman, who, after Néstor Kirchner’s death, eulogized him at the Daily Kos website for “defying Washington and the International Monetary Fund.” Naiman also recommended Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border, which represented Kirchner as a hero – and which, as we’ve seen, was written by Weisbrot. Who’s Naiman? In addition to his work at CEPR and his writing for sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, he’s served as Policy Director for a website called “Just Foreign Policy,” and as head of the board of the “progressive” news website Truthout, as a member of the steering committee of Gaza’s Ark (which is all about repeatedly violating Israel’s sea blockade of the Palestinian territories).

Back to Weisbrot tomorrow for a wind-up.

Hugo’s fans: where are they now?

The headlines don’t mince words. “Socialism in Venezuela: No toilet paper, TV, or long distance call service.”  Venezuela nearing total ‘collapse.’”  “Venezuela’s Collapse Brings ‘Savage Suffering.’” “Venezuela has a crazy new plan to save electricity.” (The “plan” is to change the country’s time zone.)

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Nicolás Maduro

It was only a couple of years ago – but seems much, much longer – that celebrity fans of chavismo in the U.S. were still proudly proclaiming their support for the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Consider the March 2014 letter written by a bunch of Hugo’s stateside admirers to members of the U.S. Congress, chiding them for the passage of H.R. 488, a bill expressing support for Venezuelans “as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence.” The letter fiercely defended the chavista government, stating that it “may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining” many opposition members, and accused the U.S. Congress of “politicization of human rights.” In a classic change-the-subject gambit, the letter asked why the Congress was exercised about human rights in Venezuela and not, say, in Colombia or Peru? And in conclusion, the letter warned that “Congressional resolutions steeped in hyperbolic rhetoric that portray Venezuela as a repressive government or even a dictatorship threaten to undermine the integrity of the U.S. Congress in the eyes of our Latin American neighbors.”

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Hugo with Danny Glover

Who were the signatories of this missive? The big names were actor Danny Glover, director Oliver Stone, and aging hippie Tom Hayden. But there were also several academics, some of them pretty big names in their fields – George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel; Arturo Escobar, an anthropologist at Chapel Hill; Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Miguel Tinker Salas, a historian at Pomona; Sinclair Thomson and Greg Grandin, both historians at NYU; John Womack, Jr., a retired Harvard historian and economist; Gilbert M. Joseph, a historian at Yale; and Gerardo Renique, a historian at CUNY.

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Dan Kovalik

Where are these champions of chavismo now? Where, c’est-à-dire, are the schmoes of yesteryear? A few quick Google searches suggest that, of all these admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution, Kovalik is one of the two or three buffoons on the above list who’ve weighed in most recently on Venezuelan affairs. And what did Kovalik have to say? Scribbling in the Huffington Post in December, he lamented the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “Ultimately, it is the impoverished people of Venezuela who suffered the biggest loss in the recent elections, for the Chavista revolution has been focused on improving the once-neglected poor of Venezuela.” Kovalik was, at that point, still making great claims for the economic results of chavismo: “the Chavista government has done a laudable job in greatly reducing poverty and in reducing economic inequality.”

Then there’s Grandin. We’ll get around to him tomorrow. 

Danny Glover’s annual Castro fix

danny-glover-cubaLast August, we profiled action-movie star Danny Glover, with a focus on his chummy relationship with the late Hugo Chávez and his even chummier camaraderie with the not quite late Fidel Castro. Unlike some other celebrities who’ve befriended the Cuban autocrat, Glover doesn’t skirt around the unpleasant little fact that his bosom Caribbean buddy is a totalitarian dictator. On the contrary, Glover has said explicitly that the reason he likes Castro so much is that he “admires Havana’s Communist regime.”

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With Castro on an earlier visit

And the affection, we noted in August, is mutual: Glover has been a frequent guest on Castro’s prison island, where he’s been presented with awards and feted at film festivals. In 2012, he told a “reporter” for the Cuban government’s propaganda apparatus that the Castro Revolution is characterized by “an extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” This chillingly deluded utopian rhetoric about “new” this and “new” that is, of course, part of the stale old rhetoric of Marxism, a mark of the True Believer who’s neither able nor willing to let go of the Big Lie. Glover’s devotion to the Castro regime is warmly reciprocated: he’s been an honored guest at several film Cuban festivals and has been presented with a number of Cuban awards.

Glover’s latest visit to Castro’s prison island, which took place in November, was breathlessly recorded by “reporters” for the official Cuban “news media,” one of whom praised Glover’s “commitment to truth and justice” and noted that the actor had been making the pilgrimage to Cuba for some twenty years, each time returning “with an open heart,” prepared “to listen, to learn, and to grow.”

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With Gerardo Hernández

During his visit, Glover was reunited with one of the Cuban Five, the “hero” Gerardo Hernández. Who? Quick flashback: the Cuban Five were a quintet of Cuban spies who, sent to Florida to infiltrate Cuban-American groups, were arrested in 1998, found guilty in 2001 of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder, in addition to a couple of dozen other charges, and put behind bars. The Castro government originally denied vociferously that they were spies; two years later it admitted that they were. One of the five was released in 2011, another in 2013; the remaining three, including Hernández, were finally shipped back to Cuba in 2014 as part of President Obama’s efforts to improve relation with Cuba. By that time the five spies had become another terrific anti-American propaganda tool for the Castro government, whose official line on them was – and is – that they “served long and unjust sentences…for warning their country” against anti-Cuban terrorist acts that were purportedly being planned in the U.S.

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Glover at a 2014 event to free the Cuban Five

Glover, who’d visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell, noted on his arrival at Havana’s José Martí Airport that he’d also had the honor of belonging to the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five (which is linked in the U.S. to the far-left group ANSWER). He spoke with admiration of the five admitted spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity.” He’d seen in them, Glover declared, “the bridge to the world of justice and equality that we want to build.”

That wasn’t all. According to one of the Cuban “reporters” who met him at the airport, Glover enthused over “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places” and praised “the helpfulness of the services provided by Cubans to the Latin American nations.” Either the official Cuba press was putting words in the Hollywood star’s mouth, or else Danny Glover has done a first-rate job, over these last two decades, of learning to speak the Orwellian language of Communist totalitarianism.

Maduro’s descent into madness

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Nicolás Maduro

Over the last few months, we’ve seen that a whole gallery of American celebrities are fans of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro. Last year Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s oldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy II, who’d lent his name to some Massachusetts power-supply initiative (presumably to burnish his image in his family’s home state), effusively thanked Maduro (who’d made a token contribution to the effort in order to burnish his image in America’s bluest state), for “answer[ing] our call to provide heating assistance to the poor.” Also last year, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Tom Hayden, and several other clueless Hollywood luminaries signed a letter to the U.S. Congress singing Maduro’s praises.

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Maduro with Danny Glover

Why are we serving up this reminder? Because of a Daily Beast article in late September whose headline asked a head-turning question – namely, “Has Venezuelan President Maduro Gone Insane?” Maduro, wrote Jeremy Kryt, “has grown so erratic some are calling him ‘the South American Hitler.’” In the course of a few weeks, he’d “come to the brink of war” with both Colombia and Guyana. He’d turned Venezuela into “an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highest inflation rate in the world,” not to mention rampant violence, crime, and kidnappings, and shortages that are “so severe that it’s sometimes impossible to buy a roll of toilet paper in Caracas.” He’s told the media in all seriousness that he receives “advice from the deceased Chavez via a talking bird” – a claim that brings to mind the off-the-wall statements by the victorious leader of a coup d’êtat in a fictional Central American country in Woody Allen’s 1971 comedy Bananas. (“From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish.”) 

Maduro’s paranoia has led him to jail popular opposition leader Leopoldo López. It’s led him to order “the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.” Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told Kryt, “If he believes a lot of what he’s saying about the conspiracy theories against him, then he’s not the sanest man in the world….Internationally there’s no trust of Maduro at all….He says things that aren’t true, and he’s quite erratic….Something very ugly could happen in the next few months.”

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Maduro and his wife, Cilia

To top all this off, on November 10, Haitian officials arrested two nephews of Maduro’s wife and turned them over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which flew them to New York for arraignment on charges of drug trafficking. Longtime observers of chavismo weren’t surprised: in today’s Venezuela, the principal activities of the leaders and their families are raiding the treasury, laundering money, and selling narcotics.  

But were Kennedy, Glover, Stone, and Hayden surprised? Have any of them said anything about any of this? Not that we know of. As far as we’re aware, they’re all still in Maduro’s corner. What, one wonders, would it take to shake their faith in the caudillo? The mind reels. For such people, it’s clear, ideology will always trump reality.

Poisonous Waters

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Hilary Swank collecting her paycheck in Grozny

It’s a weird, upside-down planet we live on. Consider this. Around the globe, there are almost too many savage, monstrous regimes to keep track of. They steal their people blind. They employ death squads. They imprison, torture, and murder members of the political opposition. They harass and kill independent journalists. They execute gays and persecute Christians. And so on.

And world-famous stars clamor to entertain them and eulogize them. As we’ve seen on this site, Hollywood actors like Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme have traveled to Chechnya to praise and perform for Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet president.  Jermaine Jackson has fawned all over Yahya Jammeh, the brutal dictator of Gambia.  A boatload of luminaries – among them Steven Seagal, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke – have partied with Putin himself. Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte palled around with Hugo Chávez. And soccer great Lionel Messi has cozied up to Gabon’s child-murdering dictator, Ali Bongo. 

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Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified child

And yet which country on earth is the sole target of an organized campaign to pressure show-business figures into turning down invitations to perform within its borders? Israel, of course – the only democracy in the Middle East.

The BDS movement – the letters stand for “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” – has a wide reach. It’s not just concerned with entertainers. It’s out to cut off Israel as fully as possible, in every way possible, from the rest of the world. But the effort to break cultural ties is particularly high-profile – and alarmingly successful. In February, several hundred British artists signed a statement announcing that they would “not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel,” meaning that they would “accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government. Among the artists were Palme d’Or-winning film director Ken Loach; Mike Leigh, the Oscar-nominated director of the 2004 movie Vera Drake; and musician Brian Eno.

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Roger Waters

A number of entertainers have been outspoken in their support of the BDS movement. But few of them are as ardent as musician Roger Waters, formerly of the band Pink Floyd. For Waters, there are apparently no gray areas when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: consistently, he not only condemns Israel but also defends terrorists. He’s called the Israeli government a “racist apartheid regime” and accused it of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” He’s slammed what he calls the “Jewish lobby” in the U.S. and Israel’s “propaganda machine.” He’s accused Israel’s rabbis of viewing Arabs as “sub-human.” And he’s mocked Israeli concern about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, calling it a “diversionary tactic.”

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Waters’s pig balloon

In the summer of 2013, his concerts featured “a pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” In December of that year, he explicitly compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews. “The parallels with what went on in the 1930s in Germany are so crushingly obvious,” he told an interviewer. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, a noted American author and public speaker, offered a memorable reply to these remarks. We’ll get around to that tomorrow.

Jane Fonda’s doublethink

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Fonda in North Vietnam

Yesterday we explored Jane Fonda‘s 1972 sojourn in North Vietnam, during which she was famously photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft battery – and did much else that was equally deplorable but far less famous. As we noted, that visit was only a single episode in a long life of useful stoogery, which has also attracted far less notice than it should have. Indeed, it could be argued that those pictures of her with that North Vietnamese weapon have been something of a lightning rod for all these decades, helping to draw attention away from everything else she’s done to promote totalitarianism and fight freedom.

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Fonda not in North Vietnam

Certainly to anyone who cared to listen, it was clear from early on that Fonda wasn’t just a liberal or left-wing activist but an out-and-out revolutionary Communist – or at least wanted, for whatever reason, to be seen as one. In 1970 she told a college audience, “If you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would some day become communist.”

The next year she told another audience: “We’ve got to establish a socialist economic structure that will limit private profit-oriented businesses. Whether the transition is peaceful depends on the way our present governmental leaders react. We must commit our lives to this transition.” The historical record is full of such statements made by Fonda over the years to various newspaper reporters, in various TV and radio interviews, and from various stages and platforms.

5572832 (9053) USA, Las Vegas, 14.08.1964: Hochzeit von Roger VADIM, französischer Regisseur und Jane FONDA, amerikanische Schauspielerin [SPERRVERMERKE BEACHTEN | PLEASE CHECK RESTRICTIONS!Nutzung nur im redaktionellen Kontext und nur gegen Honorar, Beleg, Namensnennung und zu unseren AGB. Weitergabe und Archivierung nur mit schriftlicher Genehmigung. Honorare an: KEYSTONE Pressedienst,HASPA, BLZ 200 505 50, Kto.1235130877] 1965 by KPA
Fonda with first husband, French film director Roger Vadim, 1964
Certainly she’s spent much of her life agitating for socialist change. Years before going to Vietnam, she was a staunch supporter of the Black Panthers. Shortly after 9/11, she urged Americans to “try to find the underlying cause” of the attacks. In 2005, she joined the execrable Saddam crony George Galloway on an antiwar speaking tour of the U.S. In 2007, she spoke at a Marxist-led antiwar rally in Washington, D.C., telling the audience that she hadn’t attended any such rally in 34 years out of concern that “the lies…spread about me and that war” would “be used to hurt this new antiwar movement.” (In fact, as we’ve seen, the person who’s been spreading lies about Jane Fonda’s activities during the Vietnam War is Fonda herself.) In 2009, she joined fellow useful stooges Danny Glover, David Byrne, John Pilger, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, and Howard Zinn in signing a letter protesting the “Israeli propaganda machine.”

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Jane Fonda with third husband, Ted Turner

Yet can it really be said that Fonda has heeded her own call to “commit our lives” to a transition to socialism? Let’s not forget that in addition to be a useful stooge for totalitarianism, she’s also been a world-class hypocrite. From 1991 to 2001, this self-styled revolutionary Communist was married to multibillionaire media mogul Ted Turner, who, at the time, was the largest landowner in the United States, his real-estate holdings adding up to an empire larger than Rhode Island and Delaware put together. Years before their marriage, moreover, Fonda had established her own massive business empire, hawking workout books and videos that sold in huge numbers for years, helped kick off the baby boom’s fitness craze, and made her untold millions. Has any useful stooge’s hypocrisy factor ever been so high?

workoutThe striking thing about Fonda is that she’s been carrying on this doublethink for so long – living the life of a stupefyingly successful capitalist while continuing to spout socialist slogans – and seems never to have paused to question it. Is she the fool that she seems to be, or is she, in fact, some kind of supremely cynical genius? As we’ve seen over and over again on this site, some useful stooges for totalitarianism are authentic true believers, plainly out to change the world. But Fonda has always seemed perfectly comfortable with her contradictions. Her enthusiastic talk about socialism has never seemed to have the slightest connection to her own reality, and has rarely if ever been accompanied by even a hint of meaningful action to advance her purported cause. The more one ponders her life, the more her activism seems to be about seeing glamour in revolution and about seeking attention. A 2011 biography by Patricia Bosworth quotes her as saying that her “biggest regret” was that she “never got to fuck Che Guevara.” Maybe that inane statement sums up the nature of her political “commitments” as well as anything else.