Shameless: David Sirota

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David Sirota

Yesterday we met David Sirota, an ardent supporter of Hugo Chávez and former spokesman for Bernie Sanders. As of 2013, Sirota was singing hosannas in Salon about what he described as Venezuela’s “economic miracle.” The next year found him working as an editorial staffer for Pando, a new website intended to be “the site of record for Silicon Valley.” In June 2014, however, Sirota and Ted Rall, the far-left cartoonist (who’d been working for the site for less than a month), were both abruptly dismissed without explanation.

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Friend: Bernie Sanders

By July 2015, Sirota was doing political coverage for the International Business Times – and being criticized for his failure to disclose his ties to Sanders, whom he had described on Twitter as a “friend,” even though many of his contributions to IBT were critical of Sanders’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. Sirota, wrote one observer, made “little pretense of either accuracy or objectivity.”

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Target: Chris Christie

For example, a report by Sirota claiming that the U.S. Attorney in Newark was investigating then Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie – a claim that was readily picked up by the AP, ABC News, New York Magazine, and the Rachel Maddow Show blog – proved to be without basis. Sirota’s modus operandi, noted the observer, was to “publish an attack on a Republican, centrist or anyone not following the progressive agenda closely enough, and then create an echo chamber, regardless of the facts. Once the story has begun to take hold – in spite of inaccuracy – the damage is done.”

In other words, the fact that Sirota turns out to have been disastrously wrong about chavista economics hasn’t exactly imbued him with humility. Certainly he hasn’t issued any mea culpas for his inane, know-it-all gushing over the Venezuelan “economic miracle.”

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Marian Tupy

But if he’s tried to drop that chapter of his life down the memory hole, others remember. In May, Marian Tupy of the Foundation for Economic Education noted that thanks to the chavista economics that Sirota was applauding so recently, babies are dying in Venezuelan hospitals. Tupy quoted a recent New York Times account:  

By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died… The economic crisis in this country has exploded into a public health emergency, claiming the lives of untold numbers of Venezuelans.

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A pediatric ER in Venezuela

Tupy didn’t let Sirota go easily. Remembering Sirota’s snide claim, in his 2013 article, that when socialist countries go belly-up, critics of socialism “laugh [it] off as a harmless and forgettable cautionary tale about the perils of command economics,” Tupy rejected this “glib” view, stating that his response to the Venezuelan crisis was not laughter:

I do not find dying children laughable. But then, I did not laugh when I read about starving Ukrainians eating their children during Stalin’s Holodomor. I did not laugh when I read of Khmer Rouge soldiers shooting infants off their bayonets in communist Cambodia. And I certainly did not laugh when I saw with my own two eyes children reduced to starvation by the Marxist dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. In fact, there is nothing laughable about the almost incomprehensible degree of suffering that socialism has heaped upon humanity wherever it’s been tried.

As much as I would like to enjoy rubbing Sirota’s nose in his own mind-bending stupidity, I cannot rejoice for I know that Venezuela’s descent into chaos – hyperinflation, empty shops, out-of-control violence and the collapse of basic public services – will not be the last time we hear of a collapsing socialist economy. Looking into the future, it is safe to predict that more countries will refuse to learn from history and give socialism “a go.” And, I am equally certain that there will be, to use Lenin’s words, “useful idiots,” like David Sirota, who will sing socialism’s praises until the moment when the last light goes out and time comes for them to move on and find something else to write about.

Amen.

Loving Mugabe

Zimababwe's President Robert Mugabe chants Zanu PF slogans with supporters gathered at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare, Wednesday May 3, 2000. Mugabe launched the Zanu PF's election manifesto which bears the slogan "Land is the Economy and the Economy is Land". (AP Photo/Christine Nesbitt)
Robert Mugabe

Yesterday we noted that the admiration of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro by his American fans shows no sign of having been dimmed by reports of his apparent descent into madness – and his transformation of his country into what one observer has called “an Orwellian dystopia.” Today we thought it might be appropriate to wonder aloud whether the American aficionados and collaborators of another tyrant, Robert Mugabe, who’s been running Zimbabwe since 1980, have been unsettled at all by his latest moves.

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Dan Och

Among Mugabe’s stateside enablers, as we’ve previously seen, is New York hedge-fund king Dan Och, whose shady deals with Mugabe provided the despot (whose profligate government had run out of funds) with enough cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” Och, as one account put it, “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Och can’t claim he was acting out of ignorance: he knew very well that his payments to Mugabe – which led to investigations by both the Department of Justice and the SEC – would be used to fuel the systematic, savage abuse of Mugabe’s own people.

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Bill de Blasio

Then there’s Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, who during his tenure in the City Council took part in a tribute by that body to Mugabe, who gave a speech and was fêted at a cocktail reception. The man who organized that event, as we’ve seen, was former Black Panther Charles Barron, who at the time was a City Council member and is now a state assemblyman.

De Blasio and Barron represent themselves as progressive heroes. What, then, do they have to say about Mugabe’s late September speech to the General Assembly of United Nations, in which he concluded an inane rant condemning international efforts to address his human-rights abuses by insisting: “We are not gays!”

“We are not gays!” The subject of homosexuality has been a longstanding preoccupation of Mugabe’s. Gays in Zimbabwe face fines, prison, beatings by the police, and worse. (“Even Satan wasn’t gay!” Mugabe growled when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.)

Councilman Charles Barron fights with CUNY Trustee Jeffrey Weisenfeld at Groundbreaking ceremonies for CUNY's new $259 Million Fiterman Hall. The original Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001.
Charles Barron

Of course, Zimbabweans don’t need to be gay to feel deprived of freedom, security, and prosperity: Mugabe’s presidency is, by all reasonable accounts, a “reign of terror,”  his government a “murderous kleptocracy,” his nation a land of “bloodthirsty depravity” that is characterized by cartoonish levels of corruption, is patrolled by a thuggish secret police that spreads “dread in the cities,” is guilty of “torture on an industrial scale,” and has undergone a precipitous economic decline that The Economist has described as “the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country since Weimar Germany.”

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Marian Tupy

The very fact that Mugabe was allowed to speak at the UN was a disgrace. But it’s hardly a first. Officials of international organizations, in the face of demands by human-rights activists and other right-thinking people that Mugabe be banned from international conclaves, have routinely given in to demands by Zimbabwe and its African neighbors that it be included. As Marian Tupy wrote in the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2007, European Union officials – who’d recently fallen for Zimbabwean propaganda depicting Mugabe as a victim of Western propaganda and/or succumbed to African leaders’ boycott threats – were responsible for the ethically challenged decision to welcome Mugabe to an EU summit in Lisbon.

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Thabo Mbeki

But African leaders, noted Tupy, were also deeply culpable: under Mugabe, Zimbabwe had become a terror state, but many leaders of neighboring countries had responded to the nightmare he was creating for his people by “clos[ing] ranks” around him. The most guilty party of all, in Tupy’s view, was South African President Thabo Mbeki, who, given Zimbabwe’s economic dependence on his nation, was “in a position to force change or end Mr. Mugabe’s reign overnight,” but who’d in fact “done more than any other African leader to help Mr. Mugabe hang onto power.”

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Jacob Zuma

Alas, Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, has proven to be even more supportive of Mugabe, saying earlier this year that economic cooperation between the two countries “has never been stronger.” Peter Godwin, a white Zimbabwean who now lives abroad, explained this seemingly inexplicable state of affairs a couple of years ago: these various African regimes came to power in anti-colonial revolutions, and they’re all still in power, and “it’s not in the interest of any of them to let any of the other ones lose power.” Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand, commenting in 2008 on Mbeki’s refusal to criticize Mugabe, made essentially the same point: “People expected statesmanship. But at the end of the day, he didn’t have the guts to stand up to a fellow liberation movement leader.”

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Rick Salutin

But why is any Westerner eager to be an apologist for Mugabe? One word: imperialism. Or, if you prefer, colonialism. In the eyes of certain Western leftists, who subscribe to a political philosophy that sees the West (especially America) as invariably evil and racist, and the rest of the world (especially Africa) as its helpless victims, Mugabe, no matter what horrors he may be guilty of, is still a good guy, a casualty, a hero, an innocent.

Such is the case, apparently, with Toronto newspaper columnist Rick Salutin, who, as Jonathan Kay of the National Post noted a few years back, had slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for, in Salutin’s words,

piling onto Zimbabwe…for its “fraudulent election” and “illegitimacy.” He showed no sense of perspective: that the U.S. held a fraudulent election in 2000, or illegitimately tortures in Guantanamo, and that his own government continues to permit the Americans to practise on Canadian Omar Khadr.

NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO // PST053007 - Toronto - Jonathan Kay poses for a headshot, mugshot, portrait, head furnature. STAFF PHOTO: (Tyler Anderson/National Post)
Jonathan Kay

We’ll close with Kay’s highly apropos comment:

Ah yes – “perspective.” Who among us does not remember those pitiful scenes from the 2000 U. S. election, when Republican storm troopers went door-to-door in Florida’s left-leaning counties, burning alive the children and wives of Democratic activists? Or Al Gore’s pitiful concession speech in which he pled (unsuccessfully) for Dick Cheney to spare the lives of DNC election observers being held at South Beach concentration camps?