Cathy Areu, pinheaded pundit

Cathy Areu

Who is Cathy Areu? “From debating Bill O’Reilly about the ‘war on women’ to discussing border issues with Anderson Cooper,” her website trumpets, “Cathy has been analyzing the hottest topics of the day, on the best cable TV news shows in the U.S. and beyond, for over a decade.” In other words, she’s a cable-TV talking head, who for years now has appeared frequently on the Big Three: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. She’s also the editor of Catalina Magazine, founded in 2001 “to break the stereotypes of Hispanics in the US media and entertainment.”

Nancy Pelosi

She’s celebrated the misbegotten, indefensible Diversity Visa Program, which allows immigrants into the U.S. essentially at random. Opposition to the program, she has charged, is “anti-American.” She’s also argued that 77-year-old Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi should stay on as Democratic leader in the House for no other reason than that Pelosi is a woman.

In recent months Areu has been a staple on the Tucker Carlson Show. In one exchange with Carlson, she held forth on “toxic masculinity,” for which she blamed mass shootings. “Women are better,” she stated flatly. “We are not the murderers in our society…Men are not as good as women.” Women are “the better gender.” As for men, “maybe we’re just not raising them right.” Asked whether there is such a thing as toxic femininity, she said no: “Women can do no wrong….We’re just the smarter gender.” In other words, she feels the same way about her sex as Hitler felt about his ethnic group.

White supremacy in action

On another episode, Carlson took on a professor’s accusation in a magazine article that when Westerners practice yoga, they are being racists. Areu agreed that they were. In the West, she stated, yoga is practiced mainly by white women (“not Latinos, not immigrants”) who have appropriated an activity with a rich cultural history that they don’t know about or care to understand. It’s “white supremacy,” she explained. When Carlson asked whether, by the same token, it would be wrong for people outside the West to use the Internet, a product of Western civilization. No, she said, because the Internet lacks the long, rich history that yoga has.

What, Carlson asked, about another product of Western civilization – namely, democracy, which does have a long, rich history? Areu dismissed his argument, contending that “yoga was a way for the Indians to show their colonizers that they were intelligent.” Carlson laughed: “Where do you get your history? Yoga predates the British by quite a bit.”

Areu enjoys posing for pictures backstage at her media appearances

But the whole point of Areu’s ideology is that real history is irrelevant. As Carlson himself has explained to viewers, he is presenting Areu on his show as a guide to the Brave New World in which we now live. It’s a world in which all kinds of actions or statements that a few years ago would have been considered innocuous are now virulently condemned as racist or sexist; a world in which all men are potential rapists and women, by definition, “can do no wrong”; a world, in short, in which the rules of the road have changed entirely and in which history can be rewritten at will to conform to the new rules. Areu’s entire schtick is that she’s internalized those new rules to a remarkable extent, and can defend even the most ridiculous of them without the slightest sign of intellectual embarrassment. It’s quite an accomplishment.

More on Thursday.

Linda Sarsour, sharia apologist

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The Women’s March, January 21

On January 21 of this year, the Women’s March took place in cities around the world. The premise of the event was that Donald Trump, who had been inaugurated president of the United States the day before, is hostile to women and represents a threat to their success and well-being. Millions of women took part in the protests; the official list of speakers in Washington, where the main march took place, included such high-profile names as feminist Gloria Steinem, actress Scarlett Johansson, and TV talking head Melissa Harris-Perry.

But there was at least one speaker in Washington who wasn’t a household name. We’re referring to Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn-born Muslim who was one of the four national co-chairs of the event. Sarsour is also the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and a spokesperson for the National Network for Arab American Communities.

Sarsour, who wore a hijab at the march, began her speech with the words “as-salāmu ʿalaykum.” She then told the crowd: “I stand here before you unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian American.” Her audience cheered. “Sisters and brothers,” she continued, “you are what democracy looks like!” More cheers. She then said: “I will respect the presidency, but I will not respect this President of the United States of America.” Trump, she explained, “won the election on the backs of Muslims” and other groups. “The Muslim community,” she charged, “has been suffering in silence for the past fifteen years.” Since, that is, 9/11.

Not that she mentioned 9/11. In fact she didn’t mention any of the acts of Islamic terror that have occurred since 2001, both in America and around the world. For her, the history of the last fifteen years has been a history not of one barbaric mass murder after another performed in the name of Islam, but of a silent epidemic of cruel, soul-crushing Islamophobia.

She elaborated on this view on a recent episode of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. Muslim children, she maintained, are being killed in the U.S. She offered no evidence or examples, and Maddow did not ask for any. Sarsour also complained that proposed anti-sharia laws in various U.S. states would “prevent Muslims from practicing their faith.” Maddow did not ask her to elaborate on this claim, either. On the contrary, Maddow essentially confirmed Sarsour’s dystopic picture.

Sarsour presents herself as a progressive, a supporter of democracy and freedom, of women’s equality and LGBT rights. But her own record belies this self-representation. Some time before the Women’s March, as it happens, Sarsour deleted innumerable tweets that she had written over the years. Fortunately some of her critics have archived the tweets. They make it clear that she’s not the freedom-lover she pretends to be. Instead, she’s a firm supporter of Hamas and Saudi Arabia. She has tweeted that Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women “puts us [the United States] to shame.” She’s defended Saudi Arabia’s record on women by pointing out that there are women in the Saudi parliament.

And there’s more. Tune in tomorrow.

Asner’s Castro connection

Actors Ed Asner, John Newton, Alice Evan and Peter Jason, took a break from their Nov. 29, 2006 tour of the Pentagon to pose the Defense Department's podium in the briefing room. The group was in town to promote the movie and Hallmark's "Cards for Troops" program and had spent time visiting with wounded servicemembers at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesday and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Ed Asner

Actor Ed Asner, who turns 87 today, has been a longtime fan of Fidel Castro, 90, and has been active in a number of organizations and campaigns designed to shore up the Castro dictatorship. Among them: the International Peace for Cuba Appeal and the Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. (The Cuban Five, whom we’ve discussed briefly on this site, were spies who were imprisoned in the U.S. for several years.) Routinely, Asner has blamed America for Cuban Communism, his argument being that the U.S. embargo forced Fidel into the arms of the Kremlin. (Don’t try to explain to him that he’s reversed cause and effect.)

Not that he seems particularly bothered by Castro’s Communism. In 1998, visiting Cuba with Muhammed Ali, the American TV star had a friendly meeting with the Caribbean dictator; there is no record of his having breathed a word in criticism of the system Fidel had imposed on his people.

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Ever the good guy

On the contrary, Asner has more than once twisted himself into rhetorical knots in an effort to defend that system. Discussing the Cuban situation in 2003 on MSNBC, Asner was asked about Castro’s imprisonment of his critics. Asner didn’t hesitate to stand up for this practice, maintaining that Fidel had been compelled by (once again) the U.S. embargo of Cuba to resort to such “excesses.” When Pat Buchanan, his interlocutor, requested that Asner explain the connection, Asner asserted that Castro “feels the imminent threat of the Bush administration.”

030114-O-0000D-001 President George W. Bush. Photo by Eric Draper, White House.
Ever the villain

Did this mean, Buchanan inquired, that Asner seriously believed Bush intended to invade Cuba? Asner, while not replying with a direct and unequivocal yes, warned darkly that George W. Bush was “beginning to lower the crunch on Castro.” As evidence for this claim, Asner noted that the president had “just canceled student scholastic trips and museum trips to Cuba.” Buchanan proceeded to remind Asner that Fidel Castro had “persecuted his own people” and “denied them free elections for forty years” and that he was, in fact, “an unelected dictator who puts people in prison on his own.” Asner’s comeback, which demonstrated that the actor had long since accustomed himself to engaging in reflexive moral equivalence, was that America hadn’t had a free election in 2000, either.

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Asner in Elf

In 2003, a group called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-America Hollywood protested the casting of the pro-Castro Asner as Santa Claus in the movie Elf, then in production. “If he dislikes the country that has afforded him the lifestyle and luxury that his earnings as a celebrity have afforded him,” asserted the group’s leader, “then maybe he should see how wonderful Cuba really is. I doubt he would be able to enjoy the freedoms he has here were he under Castro’s rule.” The campaign failed, and Asner has in fact played Santa several times now.

Age hasn’t withered Asner’s devotion to his cigar-chomping pal in Havana. Three years ago, in a letter addressed to donors to a Cuba-friendly group, he invited them to join him on a delightful trip to Fidel’s tropical prison. “This is a great chance,” he wrote, “to experience for yourself the lively, inspiring and creative people-to-people exchange the right wing is trying to block.”

Oh, and let’s not forget this: Asner was also hugely supportive of Hugo Chávez’s regime in Venezuela, signing a 2004 letter calling chavista Venezuela “a model democracy.” Chávez’s policies have since destroyed the Venezuelan economy, of course, but if Asner has issued any expression of regret for having encouraged all this, we haven’t been able to find it.

But that’s not all. More tomorrow. 

Who is Malcolm Harris?

Yesterday we examined a recent New Republic piece in which a writer named Malcolm Harris, who’s connected with an online rag called New Inquiry, strove to pull off a one-man rehabilitation of Communism.

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A photo from the Times profile of New Inquiry (Harris is not in the picture)

Who, we wondered, is this audacious fool? And what, for that matter, is New Inquiry? Well, the New York Times provided an answer to the latter question back in November 2011, when (for reasons we cannot begin to fathom) it ran a full-length profile of the “scrappy” Upper East Side “literary salon” cum online journal whose members, all recent college grads, uniformly came off as obnoxious, privileged brats. One of them whined about not getting a job “at a boutique literary agency”; another (“an aspiring novelist who graduated magna cum laude from Cornell in 2009”) resented having to work at a real job (sweeping movie theaters); yet another had actually secured a job at the New Yorker only to walk away from it in boredom. Harris, then 22, was described as a young man who’d been “sifting through grad-school rejection notices a year ago” but had since “written for N + 1 and Utne Reader.”

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Malcolm Harris

The Times didn’t mention it, but to many observers Harris is best known not an aspiring littérateur but as an early leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a September 2012 postmortem on OWS, Mark Ames, a veteran of MSNBC and The Nation – in other words, a solid left-winger – waxed cynical about the movement, whose failures he attributed largely to Harris, whom he mocked as a self-seeking “twenty-something hipster” and poster boy for a certain “brand of marketing-concocted ‘anarchism.’” Wrote Ames: “one look at Malcolm Harris – his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses – and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.”

10/10/11 New York Broadway and Liberty AV . .A protest on Wall Street is in 4 weeks, with more people showing up every day. The group is still working on its message, and it doesn't really have any demands. But the protesters say they are tired of struggling to make a living while the big banks get help from the government. Original Filename: Wall st Protest 21.JPG
OWS, October 2011

Ames provided some bio: Harris’s father was a “Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.” As for Harris himself, he “was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.” Only a month after OWS got off the ground, it turns out, Harris signed up with a speakers’ agency; when a California branch of the movement, Occupy Redlands, asked him to come address its members, Harris’s agent replied “that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses.” The news that an OWS “anarchist” was trying to squeeze five-grand payments out of allied groups around the country spread like wildfire, apparently, and did not exactly make Harris a movement hero.

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Harris in court, December 2012

Then came the lawsuit. In December 2012, after denying for over a year that he and other OWS activists hadn’t been warned by police to stay off the Brooklyn Bridge during an October 1, 2011, march – and hinting through his lawyer that, on the contrary, police had deliberately lured protesters onto the bridge – Harris’s own tweets from that day, which he’d fought to keep secret but which Twitter had provided to the court, showed that he was lying. Facing trial on a charge of disorderly conduct, he pleaded guilty. Even his lawyer was reprimanded for having played fast and loose with the facts.

Harris has continued writing prolifically – and in a thoroughly predictable vein. In January he contributed an article to Al Jazeera’s website entitled “Wealthy Cabals Run America”; in February the same site ran a piece of his entitled “Hooray for Cultural Marxism.” He’s also contributed plenty of articles to Jacobin, “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” That there are nasty corners of the Internet prepared to give space to this mendacious young stooge is hardly surprising; but it’s depressing that The New Republic, once known for its staunch liberal anti-Communism, should welcome him into its pages.

Bashing NATO: Stephen F. Cohen

Time to check in again with Stephen F. Cohen, the NYU prof (and hubby of limo-lefty Nation publisher Katrina van den Heuvel) who is America’s most prominent Kremlinologist – and Vladimir Putin’s most ardent and assiduous champion in the U.S.

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Stephen F. Cohen

Over the last few months, we’ve spent a good deal of time probing Cohen’s reprehensible views. One example: instead of denouncing Russia’s antigay laws, Cohen has condemned Western gays for complaining about them. Surely Cohen, a card-carrying member of the leftist establishment, is a fan of the Freedom Riders who went to the American South to march for black civil rights; surely he supported folks who traveled to South Africa to protest apartheid; and without a doubt, like the rest of the Nation gang, he cheers Westerners who go to Gaza to savage Israel. But Western gays calling for gay rights in Russia? “How is that our concern?” Cohen asked a Newsweek interviewer, his irritation palpable. “Why is it America’s job to go over there and sort out the gay problem when 85 percent of Russians think they should have no rights?”

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Gilbert Doctorow, co-founder of ACEWA

The last time we looked in on Cohen, back in November, he was busy co-founding a pro-Russia propaganda scam called the American Committee for East-West Accord. Think of it as a 21st-century version of all those Cold War-era international “peace organizations” and “peace congresses” that were actually Soviet fronts and you’ll get the idea. Cohen is, after all, a guy who, in Soviet days, wasn’t just a Kremlin expert but a Kremlin fan, the sort of leftist who blamed the downside of Soviet life on Stalin (not Communism itself, which he defended) and blamed the Cold War on America.

So what’s the latest with Cohen? In a February interview with his favorite TV channel, Putin’s own RT America (formerly Russia Today), Cohen went on a rant about NATO. Hardly the first time, to be sure. But this interview – conducted by Ed Schultz, the former MSNBC hack who’s now on Putin’s payroll – was particularly worth listening to, given that it provided a tidy summing-up of Cohen’s thinking on the topic. Sample: NATO – that means Washington and that means Obama administration – has decided to quadruple its military forces on Russia’s borders or near Russia’s borders.” This equation of NATO with the U.S. speaks volumes: for him, NATO isn’t a group of sovereign nations that have pulled together in the cause of common defense; it’s an instrument of American imperialism, period.

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Ed Schultz

“The last time there was this kind of Western hostile military force on Russia’s borders,” complained Cohen, “is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941.” Yes, there it was: a comparison of NATO to the Nazis. Cohen went on: “During the 40-year Cold War there was this vast buffer zone that ran from the Soviet borders all the way to Berlin. There were no NATO or American troops there. So this is a very radical departure on the part of the administration.” Some euphemism: “buffer zone”! Of course, Cohen’s referring to the countries of Eastern Europe that the Red Army overran at the end of World War II and turned into Communist satellites. Those countries were no “buffer zone”; they were captive nations, their people unfree, their governments Kremlin puppets. When Hungary tried to break away in 1956, it was invaded by Soviet tanks. Ditto Czechoslovakia in 1968.

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Cohen with his wife (and publisher) Katrina van den Heuvel

Today, those countries are free. All of them, at the first opportunity, rushed to join NATO – not, as Cohen implies, because they wanted to subject themselves to another imperial master, but because they wanted to protect their freedom in the face of what they recognized as the continued Kremlin threat. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which had been absorbed into the USSR during World War II and which gained their independence after it dissolved, joined NATO too. And Putin’s actions against Georgia in 2008, plus his later intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, made it clear that these nations’ concerns were well-founded.

Not in Cohen’s world, however. “Russia is not threatening any country on its border,” he told Schultz. Yes, he said, there is a threat – but it’s coming from the U.S., which had sparked “a new Cold War” beginning with “the proxy American-Russian war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008.” Yes, Cohen actually rewrote Russia’s bullying of Georgia into a “proxy…war” with the U.S. And he went on to call NATO activity “very dangerous and reckless” because under “Russian doctrine,” born of “their weakness after the end of the Soviet Union,” the Kremlin has committed itself to “use tactical nuclear weapons” in response to any threat by “overwhelming conventional force.” So we should view Putin’s apparent readiness to use nukes – yes, nukes – as a legitimate response to the “threat” represented by NATO defense preparations.

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Just a reminder: these two are the Boris and Natasha of our time

In Cohen-land, in short, reality is turned upside down: it’s not Russia that’s rattling sabers at its neighbors and former vassals, thus compelling them to participate in a mutual-defense pact; it’s the U.S. that’s brandishing the dogs of war in the form of countries that, Cohen would have us believe, are not free and sovereign nations but American vassals – thus compelling Putin to risk playing the nuclear card. Got that? Of course you do. Believe it? Of course you don’t. Only among the type of people who read the Nation does such twisted nonsense pass muster as legitimate geopolitical analysis. 

Celebrating treason in the Big Apple

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
Rosenberg sons Robert and Michael Meeropol, hold the proclamations, flanked by Daniel Dromm and Gale Brewer, outside City Hall

It’s only been a few days since we finished up our three-parter on the Rosenbergs, but we’ve got to return to them today because New York City’s City Council has done something truly remarkable. On Monday, September 29, which would have been Ethel Rosenberg’s 100th birthday, the City Council issued an official proclamation honoring her “life and memory,” praising her “bravery,” and describing her as having been “wrongfully” executed. The man behind this initiative was Daniel Dromm, a Democrat who represents the neighborhoods of Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, and Woodside in Queens. At the same time, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, also a Democrat, issued a separate proclamation, declaring September 29 the “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”

The putative reason for this official tribute to Ethel Rosenberg is that she was a pro-union activist who took part in a 1935 strike. But the real reason, which neither Dromm and Brewer sought to disguise in their remarks at a public ceremony outside City Hall, was to portray both Rosenbergs, in time-honored fashion, as innocent victims of American anti-communist hysteria.

When the Rosenbergs were executed, said Dromm, “it was a time of Jew-baiting, it was a time of McCarthyism, a time of anti-Communist hysteria.” These are familiar words. For certain people on the left, even all these decades later, it’s McCarthyism, not Stalinism, that was the real horror of the early postwar years. They still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless “hysteria.”

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Ethel Rosenberg

Then there’s Dromm’s reference to “Jew-baiting,” which is, of course, a total diversion. The Rosenbergs weren’t targeted because they were Jews; they were arrested, prosecuted, and executed because they were consciously betraying their country, and threatening its security, on behalf of a totalitarian enemy.

Fortunately, some savvy observers called Dromm and Brewer out on their reprehensible actions. “In these days of progressive ascendancy in New York,” wrote Seth Barron the other day in City Journal, “the Left is in charge, and thus responsible for the humdrum management of trash pickup and school curricula. But that stuff is boring when you’ve been raised on the mythos of class struggle and the glory of violent martyrdom. Today’s leftist leaders can’t help but be wistful for a time when their side was losing and their fight was noble. They cherish the ideals of their revolutionary forebears because it makes them feel like warriors for the oppressed.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, received a proclamation (pictured) from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.

The editors of the New York Post were disgusted, too.  The City Council, they charged, had “yet again proved itself one of New York’s biggest political embarrassments.” The City Hall ceremony, they aptly put it, was “the latest installment in the left’s decades-long drive to pretend Ethel and her husband Julius didn’t spy for Moscow.”

But Dromm and Brewer weren’t alone in celebrating the Rosenbergs – and condemning their executioners. At Raw Story, Katie Halper, a contributor to such outlets as The Nation, MSNBC, Jezebel, and Russia Today, rhapsodized over Julius and Ethel and confessed that Ethel’s farewell letter to her sons had made her “cry on live radio.” This is the famous letter in which Ethel lied to her kids, insisting that she and their father were innocent and perversely representing their devotion to Stalin as a commitment to “freedom.” The City Hall ceremony was attended by members of the Rosenberg family, including the traitors’ granddaughter Rachel and her seven-year-old daughter. “The execution left two children orphaned,” we were solemnly reminded at the ceremony. But it wasn’t the fault of America that those two boys grew up without parents; Julius and Ethel made the conscious choice to put their allegiance to a monstrous, bloodthirsty tyrant above their duty to their children.

Harry Belafonte, “unreconstructed Stalinist”

harry-belafonte1Harry Belafonte, now aged 88, is one of those maddening souls for whom the noble cause of civil rights is inextricable from its ignoble opposite – the enthusiasm for unfree societies and totalitarian ideologies.

Belafonte was a protégé of the great singer Paul Robeson – who, similarly, saw no contradiction between his activism on behalf of racial equality in the U.S. and his devotion to Stalinist tyranny in the USSR.

For a long time Belafonte seemed to many a reasonable, admirable figure. He was active in the U.S. civil-rights movement and spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington. But as the years went by, he became increasingly outspoken in his support for tyrants. During the Cold War, he allowed himself to be used as a tool by the East German government. He’s also been a key player in the Africa-aid racket, raising billions in the West – supposedly to feed the poor – that have ended up in the pockets of dictators.

Historian Ronald Radosh has rightly called Belafonte an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” Last year Mona Charen called him “a die-hard communist” who “never met a communist government he didn’t like, including the genocidal regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia.” Indeed, when Belafonte had a twenty-minute conversation with Mengistu in 1985, they talked mostly about human-rights violations in South Africa – which, horrendous though they were, could not hold a candle to Mengistu’s atrocities. 

Left to right: Fidel Castro with Harry Belafonte
Belafonte with Fidel Castro

He’s also frequently praised the Castro regime, saying in one 2002 interview that “there’s much about the Cuban government, the Cuban people and what they have achieved that many of us here are still trying to achieve.” At one Havana appearance, he condemned American “censorship.” And he’s raised money for a fund, named for the Soviet atom spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, that claims to provide “for the educational and emotional needs of children of targeted progressive activists, and youth who are targeted activists themselves.” Addressing a 2000 rally in Cuba honoring the Rosenbergs, he praised the Castro regime as exemplary of “the principles the Rosenbergs fought and died for.”

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Belafonte with Hugo Chávez

He loves the current Venezuelan government, too. During a 2006 visit to Venezuela, he called George W. Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” and told Hugo Chávez on a national broadcast that “[n]ot hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution.”

Not long after President Obama’s re-election, Belafonte told Al Sharpton on MSNBC that Obama should behave “like a Third World dictator” and put his opponents “in jail.” All this, and still he’s routinely fêted as a humanitarian and social activist; indeed, the older he gets, the more honors he accumulates, and the more the media are inclined to treat him as a pillar of wisdom and virtue.

Stella McCartney: partying with “Fidel” and “Che”

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The first pages of Vogue‘s notorious March 2011 profile of Asma al-Assad

It was back in March 2011 that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, ran a long, gushing profile of Asma al-Assad, the First Lady of Syria. In addition to painting her as a glamorous, sophisticated “Rose in the Desert” – the title of the piece – author Joan Juliet Buck served up a flattering picture of her subject’s hubby, dictator Bashar al-Assad, who came off as a charming and down-to-earth family man. Wintour was manifestly shocked when this piece of inane propaganda sparked worldwide outrage; within days the piece had disappeared from the magazine’s website.

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Stella McCartney

No, you can’t expect people in the fashion business to be world-class models of social awareness. On the other hand, you might at least think they’d have learned a lesson from that episode. Nope. In early June, fashion designer Stella McCartney – Paul’s daughter – held her annual garden party in New York. The theme: “Cuba Libre.” There were “chocolate cuban cigars, Coco Rico, Cerveza Hatuey, special rum cocktails, and various hors d’oeuvres, like vegetarian Cuban sandwiches.” And one more thing: while models showed off McCartney’s new collection, the guests mingled with actors dressed up as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Adorable.

We’ve scoured the Internet for any indication that any of McCartney’s high-profile guests – among them Alicia Keys and Maggie Gyllenhaal – found Stella’s party theme distasteful. Nothing. The media, for the most part, also responded with a hearty thumbs-up. Note this passage from the Hollywood Reporter‘s account of the event:

From the stilt-walkers in colorful costumes to the multicolored ribbons streaming from the trees, attendees agreed that the party indeed matched McCartney’s exuberant ideas. “When you walk around Havana, it really is like this, music and life in the streets,” said Alan Cumming….he was happy to get into the spirit of the event: “I was just in a Fidel and Che sandwich,” he joked of posing with the actors impersonating Castro and Guevara.

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This and the following pictures were all taken at Stella McCartney’s party

Explaining the party’s theme, McCartney gushed: “I simply wanted to have a fun party, and I think Cubans know how to do that.” She recalled that she’d “visited Cuba over 20 years ago, when Cuba was really Cuba” (a statement she didn’t explain) and called her collection “a celebration of spring: new life, color, hope, energy and fun….Cuba is just to have some fun. Fun on top of fun!” Commented Fashion Week Daily: “McCartney is fun on top of fun; we have to thank her for reminding everyone that fashion is as well.”

stella8We’ve looked at a couple of dozen fashion websites that reported on McCartney’s party; with a single exception – which we’ll get to in a moment – none of them so much as hinted that its theme was in poor taste. Style magazine titled its cheery article Cuba Libre! Liv Tyler, Amber Valletta, and More Turn Out for Stella McCartney’s Colorful Garden Party.” Calling the bash “a colorful nod to Cuba,” Style quoted attendee Liv Tyler‘s words of praise for Stella: “I always learn something new from her.” The Fashionista website was also ebullient, congratulating McCartney for “manag[ing] to bring the feel and flavor of Cuba to Nolita” by transforming “a garden on Elizabeth Street…into a lively, Cuban-themed fiesta, complete with street performers on stilts, rum cocktails and cigars passed on trays, Che Guevara lookalikes playing dominos as models looked on, and a live band with salsa dancers on hand to set the groove.”

stella4Nor was there a trace of criticism in Women’s Wear Daily, which described the fête matter-of-factly as “a nod to Cuba, complete with costumed characters on stilts, a live salsa band and dancers, and two men who looked remarkably like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro enjoying a beer and chocolate cigars at a picnic table with some models.” In sum: “a cheeky, festive and timely photo-op.” Even Vogue seemed not to have learned from its own Syrian misadventure: “Stella’s world,” concluded its account, “is always sweet.” Elle UK enthused, too: “Stella McCartney knows how to throw a good party….don’t you wish you were there?”  Not even The New York Observer saw anything unsettling about the theme of the fiesta, which it dubbed “the garden party of the century.”

stella9At least the feminist website Jezebel got it. Reproducing several tweets that included photos taken at the party, Jezebel commented:

Guests included big names like Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr, Liv Tyler, and—most noteworthy of all—two men posing as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Not present: anyone who’s suffered through Castro’s half-a-century-long dictatorship. How fun!

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New York Magazine‘s Instagram post, later removed

Jezebel suggested themes for future McCartney parties: “Sensual Stalin! Kim Jong’s Krazy Korea!” The Yahoo news site, to its credit, also recoiled, noting that “McCartney famously heralds cruelty-free clothing, while Guevara and Castro aren’t exactly, uh, pacifists—the former leading execution sweeps and training Congo rebels; the latter denying many of his citizens basic civil liberties.” Yahoo noted that New York Magazine had posted a picture from McCartney’s shindig on its Instagram account, only to remove it later after commenters expressed disgust at the apparent homage to a half-century of tyranny.

We mentioned earlier that we found exactly one (1) fashion writer who was actually appalled by the theme of McCartney’s soirée. The writer in question: Anna Quintana, who, quoting a bubbleheaded, self-flattering statement made by McCartney at the event – “I’m just too global for my own good” – suggested that “McCartney was not ‘global’ enough to understand the complex and sensitive nature of the Cuban story, especially given that she had men dressed up as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro mingling and playing dominoes with the guests and models.” Quintana added:

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Anna Quintana

As a Cuban-American, I find it hard to process how a designer I have long admired, and one who prides herself on being ethical when it comes to her cruelty-free designs, could feature a garden party with walking caricatures of Castro and Che Guevara, two figures that many, if not all, in the Cuban-American community would consider to be the epitome of cruelty.

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Humberto Fontova

Bingo. Another Cuban-American writer, Humberto Fontova, also castigated McCartney – and, in addition, made this highly salient observation:

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara…made it a criminal offense for their Cuban subjects to listen to Stella’s Dad’s music. During the mid ’60’s Castro and Che’s ever-vigilant STASI-trained secret police was very scrupulous in ferreting out the counter-revolutionary crime of listening to the Beatles. The hapless Cuban youths detected in this crime were herded into forced labor camps at Soviet bayonet point.

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Collier Meyerson

Finally, there’s MSNBC journalist Collier Meyerson. She was offended by the party’s theme, too – but for another reason: in her view, McCartney’s capitalistic “commodif[ication]” of “the iconic faces” of the Cuban people’s “struggle” – she was referring, of course, to Castro and Che – showed “disrespect” for those two great socialist revolutionaries.

And having quoted that, what more can we say?