Top ten stooges, part two

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

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Ben Norton

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

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Laurie Penny

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

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Sally Kohn

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

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Owen Jones

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

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Will Smith

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

Happy New Year!

Will Smith loves Dubai – and Dubai loves him!

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In Dubai in 2014, Will Smith donned Arab garb with his singer pals Tyrese and Maxwell

We’ve been talking about Will Smith‘s recent promotional trip to Dubai. It’s important to note that it wasn’t his first time there. Far from it: as one local news report explained, he “visits Dubai all the time.” He first set foot in Dubai “about 15 years ago.” In 2014, he went there to celebrate the birthday of a singer friend who goes by the name of Tyrese.

He loves the place. At the press conference about his new picture, Suicide Squad, he praisedDubai’s golf courses. He hailed its WiFi. He gushed over its movie theaters and skydiving. 

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Smith at his Dubai presser

He was quick to point out, moreover, that his kids (and fellow superstars) Willow and Jaden share his love for the United Arab Emirates. They performed there last year. And Willow went back “just a couple of months ago.” On that trip, “she FaceTime’d me from out in the desert on a camel.” Will volunteered that he thought “the cross of modern technology and the region’s ancient mode of transportation” exemplified by her using FaceTime while perched atop a dromedary was “beautiful. Really beautiful.”

Smith explained that, in addition to promoting his movie, one reason for his Dubai visit was his disgust over Islamophobia in America. He made it clear that he regards some Americans’ concerns about Islam as ignorant and misinformed. “I’m in Dubai and I’m having fun and I’m tweeting and I’m showing pictures,” he said cheerily. “Hey, doesn’t look like they hate me, does it?”

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Dubai

No, they sure don’t. Not as long as he’s ready, willing, and eager to provide the United Arab Emirates with such stellar PR.

But seriously: the man is so narcissistic, apparently, that his test of a country’s moral compass is how it treats him. Him. Not anyone else. Him. Period. 

One question, though. Is this self-styled “student of world religion” as ignorant as he appears to be about the horrific reality underlying the shining towers of Dubai? Or is it just that he doesn’t give a damn about how Dubai treats others, so long as it treats him like a prince?

dubai2The big news that came out of Smith’s press conference was this: he’s so fond of Dubai that, as one local journalist put it, “he hopes to soon make a movie in the Middle East about the Middle East.” Smith himself said that he “had a couple of ideas” for pictures and admitted that he’d met “a few times” with Dubai’s film commission. “I love it here,” he effused, “and I’d love to be a part of the mining of stories from this region.”

But his main reason for wanting to make a film in Dubai, he emphasized, is not personal but educational. As one Emirates reporter put it, “he wants to help teach his home country more about the region.” Or, to quote Smith’s own words: “The Middle East can’t allow Fox News to be the arbiter of its imagery. Cinema is a huge way to be able to deliver the truth of the soul of a place to a global audience.”

That wasn’t all. He had even more to say about the wonders of Dubai. “Dubai,” he pronounced, “dreams the way I dream.” 

Meaning what? We’ll finish up tomorrow.

Marinated in ideology: Sally Kohn

sally4She’s one of America’s most prominent commentators, and in late August she lit the Twitterverse on fire with what at least one website called “the dumbest tweet ever.” The tweet in question was directed at Donald Trump, and it slammed him for criticizing sharia law. Yes, she actually defended sharia law – a system of jurisprudence under which she, a Jewish lesbian, would be subject to the death penalty for any number of reasons.

kohnnnnThis was, to be sure, scarcely the first time Sally Kohn, now age 39, revealed her colossal ignorance of something that she, as a regular pundit on CNN, should know more about. But we’ll get around to those episodes – and, of course, to the sharia fracas itself – in good time.

First, let’s look at who this woman is – and where she came from.

Kohn’s climb up the media ladder has been swift. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she studied psychology at George Washington University, then got a joint Master of Public Administration and JD at NYU. During her student years she was also (in turn) an intern at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), a “Vaid Fellow” (named for radical lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid) at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), an intern (briefly) at the Legal Aid Society, and director (again briefly) of something called the Third Wave Foundation, which she apparently founded herself (and of which we haven’t been able to find any trace on the Internet).

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Kohn on Fox News

Kohn went on to work at the Ford Foundation, the Center for Community Change (a “progressive community organizing group”), and the Movement Vision Lab (which, according to its website, “makes the world safe for radical ideas”). At these jobs, according to her own LinkedIn page, Kohn spent her time building “the capacity of grassroots organizations…to articulate their ideas and build creative strategies to advance their agendas,” leading “a grassroots think tank to articulate and enliven a bold, progressive vision,” and the like.

Five years ago she entered the public eye as a political commentator for Fox News and a contributor to the Daily Beast. Two years ago she moved from Fox to CNN. Meanwhile she’s become a sought-after speaker at colleges and elsewhere and (apparently) a successful “media and public speaking consultant.” As her website brags, the gay newsmagazine The Advocate has called her “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Mediaite named her “one of the 100 most influential pundits on television,” and in 2014 she made its list of the “Top 9 Rising Stars of Cable News.”

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Kohn on CNN

She is, indeed, a star – and, yes, a remarkably influential one. Which raises a couple of questions. First, what qualifies her to occupy such a powerful position? Second, what is the nature of the views she spouts to her ever-widening audience?

In addressing the first question, what one notices, upon looking through her résumé, is that her experience has been almost entirely with hands-on social activism. She’s never pursued a remotely serious study of, well, anything, other than law. (Do we really want to count undergraduate psychology?) She’s certainly never seriously studied any kind of history – cultural history, political history, social history, whatever. She’s clearly innocent of economics. She’s never been a reporter. She’s never clerked for a judge. Perhaps most important, until she went into the pundit business, she never held anything remotely resembling a real job in a profit-making enterprise.

In short, she doesn’t have an especially clear idea of how the real world works.

sally8No, whatever special wisdom she may have to offer is derived almost exclusively from years and years of living in a small, claustrophobic bubble of left-wing activism – years, that is, of being entirely devoted to the building of “creative strategies,” the advancing of dynamic agendas, and the articulating of “bold, progressive vision[s]” on behalf of various community groups, victim groups, interest groups, and the like.

kkkkkkAdmittedly, there are certain skills and certain kinds of knowledge that one can develop as a result of being wholly immersed in such activities. But we’re not talking here about the sort of background that’s designed to deepen an individual’s historical knowledge or enrich her cultural perspective. On the contrary, it seems fair to say that Kohn has spent her adult life doing one thing: marinating in ideology – and learning, above all, how best to package it, promote it, and market it. As far as we can tell, she’s involved herself in absolutely nothing – zilch, zero, nada – that might have had the effect of (horrors!) challenging her ideology. For a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue like Kohn, a fact that causes one to re-examine one’s ideology isn’t something to mull over, take into account, and learn from; it’s something to ignore, reject, repel, conceal, distort. 

As for the nature of her views – well, tune in tomorrow. There’s lots more to come.

CNN and tyrants: access at all costs

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Ted Turner

We’ve devoted a good deal of time here at Useful Stooges to Ted Turner, the founder of CNN who’s made billions through capitalism but has a very soft spot for Communism. This is a dude who’s insisted that North Korea is peaceable and called Fidel Castro a “great guy.” He owns over two dozen homes and is America’s second-largest landowner, but he demands that the ordinary proles should tackle global warming by reducing their carbon footprints. As for Islamic terrorism, he’s explained that 9/11 happened “because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don’t have any hope for a better life.”

He’s often spoken of CNN as if it were his child. Well, in this case, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. The received wisdom is that of the three major cable-news operations, Fox News is conservative and MSNBC liberal, while CNN is in the middle, serving up objective, balanced reporting and treating both sides fairly.

Balderdash.

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Peter Arnett

When it comes to oppressive regimes – the type that shutter opposition media and imprison honest journalists – CNN’s policy has routinely been to retain access at all costs. Back in 1991, during the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett was the only Western TV reporter in Baghdad, and, as such, according to Newsweek, provided “rare glimpses from inside Iraq,” even as he “provoked criticism that he and his network [were] being used as a conduit for Iraqi propaganda.” Arnett denied the charges vehemently: “Are we conduits for propaganda? It’s information….[The Iraqis] aren’t requiring me to report information; I’m not told what to write. I feel that what we are doing is giving a view which is not complete but is helpful, hopefully, for Americans and [people] elsewhere.”

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Eason Jordan

CNN’s access-at-any-price policy gained widespread attention again after 9/11, when many critics pointed to CNN’s unique ability to keep its reporters in Baghdad and attributed it – correctly – to the network’s systematic refusal to report on the dark side of Saddam’s regime. In a 2003 New York Times op-ed, “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” CNN news exec Eason Jordan admitted that on 13 trips to Baghdad over the previous dozen years, he’d seen and heard “awful things” that his network hadn’t reported. But instead of acknowledging that CNN had stayed mum to retain access, he took the line that it had stayed silent to protect “the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff.”

In the op-ed, Jordan told of an Iraqi CNN cameraman who’d been arrested and tortured by the secret police; he recalled the time Saddam Hussein’s son Uday confided in him plans to kill two of his relatives; and he noted that henchmen had once pulled an aide’s front teeth with pliers just to keep him in line. But CNN reported on none of these things. “I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me,” Jordan claimed. But it was his decision to maintain CNN’s presence in Iraq nonetheless – resulting in reportage that every single day whitewashed the reality of life under Saddam.

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Christiane Amanpour

When the U.S. and its allies did finally invade Iraq, CNN continued to be reluctant to criticize Saddam’s regime – though it didn’t hesitate to go after the American government and military, and (especially) after news operations that weren’t so cozy with Saddam’s regime. The network’s own Christiane Amanpour actually smeared Fox News as being the Bush administration’s “foot soldiers” – in response to which Fox issued the statement saying, “It’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.”

Sting’s Uzbekistan sellout

Our recent coverage of Nicki Minaj‘s nauseating performance for Angola’s thug-in-chief reminded us that there are other celebrities who belong to the same club but to whom we hadn’t yet accorded the attention we gave to Minaj.

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Sting

Take Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE. The British musician and songwriter, formerly of The Police, has won 16 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, three Oscar nominations for Best Song, and is said to be worth several hundred million dollars. For many years, moreover, he’s presented himself as a world-class champion of humanitarian causes, associated himself with groups like Amnesty International, and made himself the face of such high-profile environmental causes as saving the Brazilian rain forests.

Nonetheless, in October 2009 he decided he couldn’t do without an additional million or two dollars. That’s the sum he accepted to perform in a show arranged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Islam Karimov, the monster who runs Uzbekistan. If you don’t know about Karimov, here’s a fun fact, courtesy of Fox News: Karimov “burst upon the international scene in 2005 when his troops opened fire on protesters in the city of Andijan,” killing up to 5000 people, largely women and children.  

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Sting with Gulnara Karimova

Sting managed to keep his Uzbek deal from blowing up in the British media – but only for a few months. When Marina Hyde reported on it in the Guardian the following February – noting that Karimov had been accused of “boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour” – Sting felt obliged to issue a statement. Acknowledging that he’d given the concert, he added that “I believe [it was] sponsored by Unicef.” The Guardian checked out this claim; Unicef, it turned out, had had no connection whatsoever with the event.

Sting went on to say that, while “well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment,” he’d chosen to accept Karimova’s invitation because “I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.” Ka-ching! 

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Islam Karimov

The Guardian had a good answer to Sting’s apologia: “Even if you accept Sting’s live performances as ‘ideas and art,’ you can’t really help but question this notion of ‘open commerce,’ considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.” Craig Murray, former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, called Sting’s response “transparent bollocks,” adding:

He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?…I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, s[i]t next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.

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Karimov with Putin

Writing in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson asked: “Does Sting really think that the President of Uzbekistan doesn’t care what or who his daughter spends two million dollars on?” Karimova, Davidson pointed out, is “not just some apolitical fashionista but is also a member of the government” and her father’s presumed successor, and thus “deeply, deeply implicated” in his evildoing. 

Musician Sting performs on the opening night of his Symphonicity Tour, which features the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio, in Vancouver, British Columbia June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Andy Clark (CANADA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

In Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein weighed in: “I’m not going to pretend pop-music fame is easy, but here’s a handy maxim for future crooners to keep in mind: Don’t do private concerts for tyrannical rulers who reportedly boil people alive. Just sayin’.” Weinstein also pointed out that, Karimov’s brutality aside, Gulnara Karimova is “a piece of work in her own right,” who “reportedly runs several state-owned business concerns cobbled together from Western assets seized in Uzbekistan, which are occasionally backed by shadowy military contractors who might be involved in assassinations. She’s also listed as one of the 10 richest women in Switzerland. Let that sink in for a minute.”

Does it even take a minute? Clearly, Sting knew exactly what he was getting into – and didn’t care, not for a second.  

The “Peace Troubadour” meets…ISIS?

They call him the “Peace Troubadour.” Or at least that’s what he calls himself. 

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James Twyman

His name: James Twyman. His website says he’s written 15 books, produced seven music CDs, and made five movies. He’s credited as the writer of Indigo, a 2003 film that, according to its Wikipedia page, “deals with the supposed phenomenon of ‘indigo children’ – a set of children alleged to have certain ‘special psychological and spiritual attributes’.” Indigo “was distributed primarily to New Thought churches,” which teach that all illness is psychological in origin and that the right kind of thinking can heal sickness. The film was released through “the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a DVD club that mails spiritually themed films to subscribers each month.” The film’s Wikipedia page cites precisely one review, which called it “crass and alienated beyond belief.”

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The cover of one of Twyman’s books

In 1994, according to Twyman’s site, he “put the peace prayers from the 12 major religions to music and began traveling the world as ‘The Peace Troubadour.’” That’s not all. He’s also “the founder of The Beloved Community, a network of spiritual peace ministers around the world.” The network’s website, which looks just like Twyman’s personal website, quotes a thirteenth-century “Cathar Prophesy” as saying:

The Beloved Community has no fabric, only understanding.

The Beloved Community has no membership, save those who know they belong.

The Beloved Community has no rivals, because it is non-competitive.

The Beloved Community has no ambition, because it seeks only to serve.

The Beloved Community knows no boundaries, for nationalisms are unloving.

twyman(The Cathars, by the way, were Gnostic Christians who thrived in southern Europe from the 12th to 14th centuries.)

Twyman’s site further informs us that he founded something called the Seminary of Spiritual Peacemaking, “which has graduated and ordained over 500 ministers.” It, too, has a website, which explains:

Our goal is to train thousands of dedicated people to serve the world as Peace Ministers in the Beloved Community, being the front line in a profound movement toward lasting peace. In the program we assist people in celebrating their unique gifts,finding their path of service and in identifying ministries where they may best BE Peace.

twymanbookIn other words, Twyman is, or at least represents himself as being, a New Age macher.

Frankly, we hadn’t heard of Twyman before. That changed earlier this month, when he made international headlines. Here’s the beginning of the story at Fox News:

An Oregon folk singer plans to leave next week to serenade the Islamic State, and he intends to bring the black-clad barbarians a prayerful message of peace – despite a warning from the State Department that his life could be in danger.

One of Twyman’s CDs is called God Has No Religion. That should be popular with ISIS.

The Fox story continues:

James Twyman, of Portland, Ore., told FoxNews.com he feels a “calling” and believes he can soften the hearts of the Islamist army known for beheading Westerners, throwing gays off of buildings and summarily executing innocent women and children.

twymancd“It’s going to be pretty powerful,” Twyman said, referring to his plan to have those attending and others around the world sing and pray for peace at the same time. “When people come together and focus on something in a positive way…there’s scientific evidence that it can change things for the better.”

A report in the Daily Beast added further details. Twyman would fly to Italy on January 20. After a weekend there, he’d head to Tel Aviv. From there, it’s on to the Majdal Shams, a town near the Israeli-Syrian border. Which means he’s probably arriving there…about now.

We’ll be staying tuned to see what happens.

Ted Turner: capitalism for him, Communism for the masses

In a 2001 interview with Ken Auletta of the New Yorker, Ted Turner articulated his principle of world diplomacy: “Just about everybody will be friendly toward us if we are friendly with them.” This is the kind of naivete with which Turner approaches the world.

Last week we looked at Turner’s career, with a special focus on his ardent defense of two of the world’s remaining Communist regimes, those of North Korea and Cuba. Today we’ll wrap up our report on Turner with a few additional observations and quotations.

turner13 (2)In July 2015, Cristiane Amanpour of CNN interviewed Turner on a range of subjects. It was clear that his naivete was still fully intact. On Castro: “He had a lot of courage to tackle the United States.” On his own first trip to Cuba: “I flew home with a whole new desire to understand more about other cultures and political systems and to increase communication and dialogue between nations.” Turner told Amanpour that he seeks to “build bridges between nations” – and, as an example of this bridge-building, cited the Goodwill Games, which he founded, and which took place five times between 1986 and 2001. Turner has actually asserted that it was the Goodwill Games, apparently in combination with CNN, that brought down the Iron Curtain: “I thought, between sports and news and television and friendship, that you could end the Cold War and, by God, we did.” In the Amanpour interview, he also called for “total nuclear disarmament,” saying of the world’s nuclear arsenals that “we’ve gotta get rid of them” – as if this were as easily done as said.

turner11 (2)The more Turner talked about “understanding” political systems and “building bridges,” the more obvious it was that he somehow just doesn’t grasp that some “systems” are cruel, oppressive, and bellicose and therefore need to be challenged and resisted, not “understood.” He plainly doesn’t understand that when dealing with aggressive ideological adversaries, being “friendly” is simply perceived as weakness and will be exploited. Nor does he recognize that nuclear weapons are more dangerous in some hands than in others. Back in 2001, Auletta summed up a few of what he called Turner’s “contradictions”:

Ted-Turner_1He successfully opposed unionization at his company, yet he rails against élites. He has called himself “a socialist at heart” and a fiscal “conservative.” Turner speaks out on behalf of the rights of women but refuses to denounce Islamic states that suppress women’s rights. He has compared Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Fox network, to Hitler, yet when he is asked if he thinks Saddam Hussein is evil he says, “I’m not sure that I know enough to be able to answer that question.” And though he preaches tolerance, he has uttered some intolerant words; for example, on Ash Wednesday, seeing the black smudge on the foreheads of some CNN staff members, he asked them whether they were “Jesus freaks.”

turner14 (2)And here are some more of Ted Turner’s opinions. 9/11? “The reason that the World Trade Center got hit,” said Turner a few months after the terror attack, “is because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don’t have any hope for a better life.” Asked if he would let some of these desperately poor people live on his own land – which at the time was larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together – he answered: “Can I live in your home with you? We believe in private property in this country.” Or, to put it more correctly, Ted Turner believes in private property for himself, but not for the people of Cuba or North Korea. 

turner10Israel and the Palestinians? “The Israelis…they’ve got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists?”

Global warming? “There’s too many people. That’s why we have global warming. We have global warming because too many people are using too much stuff. If there were less people they’d be using less stuff.” If we don’t act now, the world will be “eight degrees hotter in 10, not 10, but in 30 or 40 years, and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals.” Still, he has one of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world and spends much of his time burning jet fuel as he flies from one of his 28 homes to another.

Free speech? After John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan to impress Jodie Foster, whom he’d just seen in Martin Scorsese’s movie Taxi Driver, Turner delivered an impassioned editorial on CNN. Scorsese and the others responsible for the making of Taxi Driver, he declared, were as much to blame for Hinckley’s assassination attempt as was Hinckley himself. Turner called for Congressional action to ban the production of such films.

Bottom line: the man doesn’t understand the first thing about freedom. Or the first thing about tyranny. Aside from that, he’s a genius.