Catching up with Russell Brand, comedian turned socialist sage

How time flies! It was over two years ago that we wrote about Russell Brand, whom we were about to describe as a “British comedian” before we realized that it’s been a long time since we actually heard him say anything funny.

Russell Brand

No, Brand has long since transcended mere comedy. As we noted on June 8, 2015, he’s been more comfortable the last few years “posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System.” His 2014 stand-up show was entitled Messiah Complex, for which this world-class egomaniac should at least get credit for truth in advertising. The show was a tribute to some of his heroes, among them Che Guevara. And the book he published the same year was called Revolution, in which he expanded upon his enthusiasm not only for the “morally unimpeachable” Che but also for Fidel Castro.

Sharing pearls of wisdom from his latest masterpiece at Carlton House Terrace, London, October 14, 2017

Lately Brand has been busy plugging a new book about his history of addiction. The book’s publisher describes it as a collection of lessons learned from “fourteen years of recovery” from addiction to “heroin, alcohol, sex, fame, food and eBay.” The author himself calls it a “manual for self-realization,” adding, with an uncharacteristic touch of what sounds like – can it be? – humility, that his “qualification” to offer up these life lessons “is not that I am better than you but I am worse.”

The Sermon on the Mount?

But don’t worry: that quote notwithstanding, Brand appears to be as much of a crusading know-it-all as ever, no less convinced than before that – despite his admitted inability, over a period of years, to stay on track and keep his own house in order – he takes a back seat to no one when it comes to diagnosing the planet’s ills. In other words, while he’s escaped dependency on booze and drugs, he’s still hooked on himself. And the media, perversely, can’t kick the habit of reporting on his every pearl of wisdom. On October 25, for example, the BBC’s website carried a story headlined “Russell Brand: Society is collapsing.” (It’s not every day you see a headline like that on any website’s “Entertainment” section.)

“People,” Brand told BBC scribe Steven McIntosh, “are starting to recognise that the reason they feel like they’re mentally ill is that they’re living in a system that’s not designed to suit the human spirit.” They’re frustrated over having to “work 12 hours a day,” over having to “live in an environment that is designed for human beings from one perspective but not from a holistic perspective,” over the fact that they’re “[b]reathing dirty air, eating dirty food, thinking dirty thoughts.”

The people Brand is apparently talking about are those who live in the Western world today; and the system in question is therefore democratic capitalism. Given Brand’s heavily documented enthusiasm for Castro, Che, and other Communists, we can only suppose that he is unfavorably comparing life in the West today with life under various Communist countries, past and present. Donald Trump’s recent speech to the South Korean parliament drew a striking contrast between the freedom, prosperity, and respect for the individual that characterize life below the DMZ with the deprivation, fear, and despair of life under the tyranny of the Kim family regime. Brand’s comments to the BBC are apparently a through-the-looking-glass version of Trump’s speech. Yes, the British funnyman appears to be saying, South Korea may look okay enough “from one perspective,” but life in places like Cuba and North Korea is better holistically. Got that?

Two Brand heroes: Corbyn and Chávez

Brand told McIntosh that he had no intention of going into politics, but that determination didn’t keep Brand from penning a Huffington Post paean last May to Labour Party chieftain Jeremy Corbyn. Now, Corbyn is a guy whom even many Labour stalwarts consider to be way over the line. Corbyn, an enemy of NATO and fan of Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, is a Communist in all but name; but for Brand, he’s a man who combines “principles” with “common sense and compassion,” who has kept his “integrity perfectly preserved,” and who is, all in all, a “caring socialist leader” who has kept it together despite being the target of a “hegemonic narrative singularity.” No, we don’t know what that means either.

Catching up with tyranny-loving Karl Vick

Karl Vick

Where to start with longtime Time magazine fixture Karl Vick?

With his breathtaking enthusiasm for Cuba’s Castro regime? As we noted in August 2015, this is a guy who, in describing the political system on that island, prefers to say “security state” rather than “police state” or “dictatorship” or “totalitarian prison.” Of all the idiots who find Cuba’s crumbling buildings and deteriorated infrastructure appealingly exotic, he’s one of the most high-profile and outspoken, celebrating the old cars and lousy plumbing in one of the stupidest cover stories ever to be run by a major newsmagazine. When he gushed in a radio interview over Havana’s “decaying glory,” his interviewer asked how decay could be glorious, and Vick, bubblehead that he is, fumfered around, finally answering the question with a synonym: “faded grandeur.”

Moderate?

Or should we focus on Vick’s consistently starry-eyed take on all things Islamic – his thumbs-up for the “Arab Spring,” his insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are moderate – and his equally consistent hostility toward Israel? For a 2010 cover story arguing that Israel is anti-peace, he won a “Dishonest Reporting Award” from Honest Reporting (HR) and was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for echoing the stereotype that Jews are preoccupied with money. In later articles, Vick stuck to his guns, absurdly depicting Palestinians (in HR’s words) as “Gandhian acolytes” and describing Hamas’s commitment to the destruction of Israel as only “[n]ominal.”

Donald Trump: the truth hurts

In short, he’s a fool. And nothing has changed. For now, just one example. Last December, after Donald Trump’s election but before the inauguration, he warned that the president-elect was “making terrorist attacks more likely.” How? By taking a “them-against-us” approach. You’ve likely heard this argument before: when we’re honest about the nature of the jihadist enemy, we alienate “moderate Muslims,” perhaps even turning some of them into mass murderers. Vick quoted a Darmouth professor and former State Department grind who warned that ISIS was “now in a much better position to make the case that the West really is determined to destroy Islam.” Vick praised George W. Bush for having said, less than a week after 9/11, that “Islam is peace.”

ISIS, Trump: two sides of the same coin?

Does Vick think this is true? He doesn’t say. His argument is that, true or not, if you’re a president you’d better say such things. One is reminded of the familiar joke: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say otherwise, we’ll kill you. In a classic example of moral equivalency, Vick essentially cast Trump and ISIS as two sides of the same coin, both determined to drive Muslims and non-Muslims apart. Vick served up what should by now be a long-discredited canard that jihadist “extremism” is driven by “feelings of aggrievement.” No, it’s driven by a determination to conquer that is rooted in Islamic texts.

After the terrorist attack on Breitscheidplatz square in Berlin, December 19, 2016

Vick slammed Trump for reacting to last December’s terrorist attack in Berlin – the one that involved a truck and took 12 lives – by making the purely factual statement that “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.” In Vick’s view, apparently, if we want peace with Islam, we’ve got to keep mum about what is being done to Christians in the Middle East in the name of Allah. The one “glimmer of hope” (to use Vick’s own words) in the article was that “Trump may be educable.” In other words, he may yet learn from the MSM and Foggy Bottom hacks to tell supposedly strategic untruths.

Is America going Commie?

Is it true or not? We don’t know. But we thought it might be worth passing on, as a glimpse into the American Communist mindset, with the proviso that there is no way of knowing whether there’s even a grain of truth in it.

Emile Schepers

Here it is: the American Communist Party publication People’s World claimed on April 19 that “Communist Party membership numbers [are] climbing in the Trump era.” In fact, the article reporting this development was not original with People’s World – it was copied out of the international edition of the Cuban daily Granma, which of course, like all media on that island prison (other than a handful of surreptitious Samizdat blogs), is under the thumb of the Castro regime. But the article was an interview with a People’s World hack, Emile Schepers, who aside from writing regularly for that publication is also International Secretary of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

Here’s the gist of Granma‘s interview with Schepers: the CPUSA “has been receiving membership requests ever since Donald Trump was elected President.” At the moment, to be sure, its numbers are, um, modest: 5,000 members nationwide out of a total U.S. population of over 300 million, or about 0.0017%. But hey, as Granma helpfully explained, this sad showing is a result of “Cold War repression,” or, as Schepers put it, “the phantom of the McCarthy era.”

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Yes, the McCarthy era – the firing of a few State Department Communists, the brief imprisonment of American citizens who were serving a foreign enemy, and the execution of two people who did nothing less than help provide the USSR with the secrets of the atomic bomb. As opposed, of course, to the Castro era, during which countless people were shot by firing squads for being gay, for being dissident writers or artists, or for having connections (of whatever kind) to the Batista government. Because of McCarthy’s Senate hearings and/or the House Un-American Activities Committee, a few rich Hollywood screenwriters flew to Paris or London to work there until the whole thing blew over; because of Castro, over a million Cubans took their lives in their hands to make their way to Florida – and freedom – on small boats or rafts.

Fidel Castro

Schepers, a South Africa-born anthropologist who grew up in various places around the U.S. and now lives in Virginia (just like the Soviet spy family in the Netflix series The Americans), acknowledged to Granma that “the United States is in no way experiencing a pre-revolutionary situation in the communist sense.” But, on the upside, “capitalism is showing terminal signs worldwide.” Schepers believes Bernie Sanders, if nominated by the Democrats, would have defeated Donald Trump. But a big problem remains: that of “organizing workers and trade union structures” in America “around defending the rights of the most vulnerable workers.” The article then mentioned that the CPUSA has been a strong supporter of the chavista movement in Venezuela. The irony that even the “most vulnerable workers” in the U.S. are far better off than their counterparts in today’s Venezuela – not to mention Cuba – seemed lost on the editors at both Granma and People’s World.

The adorable Maoist: Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart

She was a fire-breathing left-wing radical who championed revolutionary violence and gave aid and comfort to Islamic terrorists. But when Lynne Stewart died on March 7 at age 77, many obituarists in the mainstream media strove to soften her image. Not all of them, to be sure. The article sent out by the Associated Press, to its credit, made a point of mentioning that Stewart’s clients “included members of the Black Panthers, Weather Underground leaders, a former hit man and a man accused of trying to kill nine police officers,” that Stewart “was a longtime believer in armed struggle as a way of fostering political revolution,” and that she had described “the killings of police officers…as ‘a deterrent’ against the killings of unarmed civilians by police.” Brief though it was, the AP obit provided a pretty good picture of the kind of woman Lynne Stewart had been.

By contrast, while telling much of the truth about Stewart, Joseph P. Fried, writing in the New York Times, seemed determined to avoid some of the most damning facts about her and to whitewash others, all the while stirring in as many heartwarming and humanizing details as possible: “A former librarian and teacher, she had taken up the law in the cause of social justice after seeing the squalor in the area around the public school in Harlem where she taught. She built a reputation for representing the poor and the reviled, usually for modest, court-paid fees.” And then there was this: “Belying the image of a dangerous radical, Ms. Stewart, a short, round-faced woman, often arrived at court wearing a New York Mets cap and a floral-print housedress, dangling a cloth tote bag rather than the lawyer’s typical briefcase and inevitably drawing a clutch of news photographers.” Adorable!

Neither the AP nor the Times mentioned Mao. They should have, for it is important to know that Stewart was a convinced, passionate Maoist. She spoke affectionately not only about Mao but also about Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh. There appears to be no record of her ever expressing concern about the millions of people murdered by Mao, or about the lower but still impressive death tolls racked up by Castro and Ho. “I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous,” she said in 2002. The road to utopia, after all, is a bloody one.

Nor did the AP or the Times mention Stewart’s take on 9/11. She defended the terrorists’ actions. She called the atrocity an “armed struggle.” The closest she came to criticizing any aspect of it was when she opined that the Pentagon was a better target than the World Trade Center. But she wasn’t making a moral judgment – just a strategic one.

More tomorrow.

Debra Messing’s favorite Maoist?

This week we’ve been covering the life of Bob Avakian, longtime head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP). An ardent promoter of the ideas of Stalin and Mao, he’s been a staple of the left ever since the 1960s.

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Bob Avakian with Cornel West at Riverside Church

And he’s still out there slugging. In November 2014, Avakian broke with his longtime secretiveness to appear onstage with his good buddy Cornel West, the former Princeton and Harvard professor and frequent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher. The event took place at Riverside Church in New York City and was billed as a discussion about “Revolution and Religion.”

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Carl Dix

In fact, there was less discussion than there was haranguing by Avakian. After being introduced by his underling Carl Dix, who told the audience that the RCP leader had “brought forward a new synthesis of Communism,” Avakian – in the windy oratorical tradition of Fidel Castro and any number of other Communist dictators – stood at a lectern and ranted for two hours straight without saying anything particularly interesting or original. (Israel, he charged, is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”) Then he and Cornel West sat down together and talked for almost two more hours, with Avakian, again, taking up most of the time pontificating. The RCP paid $70,000 for a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the event.

mao-zedong1In June 2015, a student journalist at Harvard, Gram Slattery, probed the RCP, which drew his interest because of its bookstore in Harvard Square. Despite efforts to arrange an interview with the Dear Leader, he didn’t get to meet Avakian, but did get a sit-down with another party leader who, echoing RCP doctrine, dismissed the “narrative that Mao was a mass murderer, that he was personally responsible for 50 to 100 million deaths,” and asserted that Avakian “has dedicated himself to looking at what actually happened” in Mao’s China. Avakian, stated the RCP member, is “precious for humanity.” The RCP, reported Slattery, clung fast to “its reverence for Mao” and its defense of Stalin. (In the party’s view, “the Soviet Union went downhill once Khrushchev took over.”) Slattery also pointed out that the RCP, for a long time, had regarded Peru’s Shining Path terrorists – who “executed thousands of peasants and even took to torturing deviant Marxists in the early ’90s” – as role models.

inthenameofhumanityposter17x22-600-enAvakian ain’t down yet. He and his party have made a big splash since the election of Donald Trump. It was the RCP that was behind a widely published campaign to stop a Trump presidency before the inauguration.The centerpiece was an ad headlined “We REFUSE to accept a Fascist America!” It was signed by (among others) actor Ed Asner, activist Bill Ayers, comedian Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, actress Debra Messing, novelist Alice Walker, and (of course) Cornel West. One wonders how  many of them knew they were part of an initiative run by unreconstructed Maoists.  

To promote the campaign, West and RCP co-founder Carl Dix appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News on January 5. You can watch the interview below. Perhaps the highlight was when Dix likened Trump to Hitler. Interesting words indeed from a representative of a party that still celebrates the glorious legacies of Stalin and Mao.

Which, by the way, brings us to the question: what is Carl Dix’s story? We’ll get to him tomorrow.

The man who’s even too radical for The Nation

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Bob Avakian

Yesterday we met septuagenarian Bob Avakian, who’s spent his adult life as a Communist radical. Since 1975, he’s been head of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), which holds aloft the torch of Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong – and, not least, of Avakian himself, who has striven to make himself the center of a personality cult modeled on those of Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and the Kims in North Korea.

Cornelius Pettus, owner of Payless market, throws a bucket of water on the flames at next-door business Ace Glass on 4/30/1992. Hyungwon Kang / Los Angeles Times.
An image from the 1992 L.A. riots

A high point for the RCP was the 1992 race riots in L.A., in which party members – who had relocated from Massachusetts to southern California for the purpose – sought to stir up racial discontent and transform it into full-fledged revolution. That’s not all. One reporter has conclude that in the 1990s, the RCP probably “penetrated the underground punk rock world” and even “owned a punk rock club in Houston.” In a 1994 interview with SPIN, Tom Morello, the lead guitarist of Rage against the Machine, apparently recommended an RCP bookstore and “vigorously” defended Shining Path – leading one to wonder whether Morello had fallen under the influence of Avakian and company. Another punk group, Outernational, featured RCP spokesman Carl Dix in a music video. The cultivation of celebrities and the effort to develop a personality cult around the founder are among the things that can make the RCP look very much, at least from some angles, like Scientology.

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Michelle Goldberg

After a period of relative quiescence, the RCP jumped back into action after 9/11, becoming a major behind-the-scenes player in such antiwar groups as Not in Our Name and ANSWER. One antiwar group, The World Can’t Wait, appears to have been “entirely a creation of the party.” All these groups, notes Gram Slattery, “managed to rise to prominence in large part because few people actually knew of their affiliation with the revolutionary left.” Even a columnist for The Nation, Michelle Goldberg, had harsh words for the RCP, writing in 2002 that its members “aren’t just extremists in the service of a good cause – they’re cheerleaders for some of the most sinister regimes and insurgencies on the planet.”

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Todd Gitlin

Goldberg wasn’t alone in her criticism: over the years, Avakian gradually came to be viewed by many on the left at as something of a relic, an oddball, and an embarrassment to the movement. A decade or so ago, Todd Gitlin, the prominent sociologist and former SDS leader, cited him as an example of “the ludicrous feebleness of the unreconstructed left.” But while Avakian may be a bit of a clown, he’s no fool: a few years back he managed to get plenty of well-known academics to sign a New York Review of Books ad defending his right to free speech – even though nobody was trying to deprive him of free speech.

The top ten stooges of 2016

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

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Max Blumenthal

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

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Nick Dearden

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

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Malcolm Harris

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

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David Sirota

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

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Colin Kaepernick

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

Five more tomorrow.