More idiocy from Joe Stiglitz

How do you destroy a country’s economy? Well, here are a few ideas. Hike taxes. Overregulate. Ratchet up government spending. Increase welfare entitlements. Make it your goal not to achieve greater prosperity for everyone but to achieve greater income and wealth equality.

Joseph Stiglitz

This, after all, is how the chavistas ran Venezuela, once one of the world’s most prosperous nations, into the ground. And, believe it or not, these are the prescriptions offered by economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom we profiled here at some length in October 2015 and whom we’re revisiting now because of a characteristically wacky article by him that appeared in the Guardian on May 30.

But first, a reminder: this, as we noted four years ago, is a man who has taught at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; who served as chief economist at the World Bank; who was a top advisor to the United Nations; who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine; and who, yes, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Paul Krugman

How, you may ask, did a man with such cockeyed economic ideas win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics? Well, remember, Paul Krugman won one too. And Yasir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every decision they make in Stockholm or Oslo is a brilliant one.

If you think it’s unfair to compare the economic philosophy of a Nobel laureate with the cockeyed socialist ideas that ruined Venezuela, consider this: Stiglitz is a socialist – an actual member of the Socialist International who, in 2008, headed up a Socialist International commission charged with figuring out a solution to the global financial crisis. He’s an enemy of the nation-state and particularly of American-style democratic capitalism, and would replace the current world order with a socialist global government, complete with a new global currency and a global income tax.

Georg Papandreou

But while we still have nation-states, Stiglitz isn’t above profiting from some of the more poorly run ones in ways that call into question his professional integrity. For example, he weighed in repeatedly in places like Time magazine on the Greek financial crisis, which he blamed entirely on Germany, not on Greece; what he failed to mention was he was a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou. In 2014, when New York judge Thomas P. Griesa ordered Argentina to pay its creditors, Stiglitz badmouthed the judge, called the creditors “vultures,” pronounced that “America is throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” and passionately defended Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner; again, he omitted to inform his readers that he had long been on the Kirchner payroll, supposedly serving as an economic advisor, although to many observers it certainly looked as if he was selling his name and reputation to whitewash a kleptocracy.

Cristina Kirchner

Which brings us to Stiglitz’s recent piece for the Guardian. There’s not really anything new in it; what’s remarkable is the timing. Here’s the headline: “Neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried. Where next?” And here’s the subhead: “For decades the US and others have pursued a free-market agenda which has failed spectacularly.” An incredible thing to say at a time when the American economy is stronger than it has been in decades and is the world’s most competitive, with record employment and income levels for pretty much every population group and every category of job.

Donald J. Trump

Many people credit President Trump for this extraordinary boom. Not Stiglitz. He not only pretends that the boom isn’t happening; he smears Trump as an avatar of “far-right nationalism,” which to him is even worse than plain old neoliberalism or the “centre-left reformism” of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In Stiglitz’s view, all three of these approaches should be junked in favor of a “radically different economic agenda” that he calls “progressive capitalism,” under which free markets would be a thing of the past and state-run economies would be the order of the day.

Stiglitz’s picture of what “progressive capitalism” would look like and how it would work is heavy on abstractions and light on specifics. “Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets…. government [should take] a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes.” Yet by the end of the article it’s clear what he‘s calling for. To be sure, he’s careful not to use the word Communism or even socialism, but those are the generally accepted names for what he prefers to call “progressive capitalism.”

Again, how weird to encounter a brief for socialism at a time when the chavistas’ Venezuela is dying and Trump’s America is thriving! But that’s old Joe for you.

Richard Falk’s war on Israel

Richard Falk

Richard Falk (b. 1930) is a famous Princetonian, although his fame doesn’t derive primarily from his connection to Old Nassau. Rather, his worldwide celebrity is rooted mainly in his nefarious activities in association with the UN.

Now a professor emeritus at Princeton (as well as a research professor at UC Santa Barbara), Falk boasted the grand-sounding title of Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council from 2008 to 2014. His job, specifically, was to look into “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967.”

John Bolton

The Rapporteur became a subject of controversy even before he got around to issuing his first report. Jewish groups opposed his appointment, as did the Israeli ambassador to the UN. A former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was outspoken about the selection, complaining that Falk had been picked “not to have an objective assessment” but “to find more ammunition to go after Israel.”

What was it about Falk that gave Bolton such an impression? Well, let’s just say that Falk had a long track record. He started teaching at Princeton in 1961, by which time he’d already publicly identified himself as Communist, expressed his hostility to the concept of nation states, and declared his fealty to world government. He’d been a big macher in such groups as the American Movement for World Government and the World Federalist Institute.

Ayatollah Khomeini

In 1973 he’d served as defense counsel for an activist who had bombed an army research lab at the University of Wisconsin, killing one and injuring four; in the murderer’s defense, Falk stood up for the use of violence by war resisters. In 1979, after visiting the Ayatollah Khomeini in France, Falk wrote a New York Times op-ed declaring that the widespread “depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false.” On the contrary, Khomeini was surrounded by a “moderate, progressive” entourage” and would likely provide Iran with a “model of humane governance.”

George W. Bush

Years later, he’d compared America’s 2003 intervention in Iraq to the Nazis’ actions in World War II. In 2004, he’d written an introduction to a book claiming that George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks. In 2008, he’d suggested that American neoconservatives might have helped plan those attacks. During much of this time, Falk had served on the editorial board of The Nation and written for Al Jazeera and for that kookiest of radical rags, CounterPunch.

And he’d made clear, over and over again, that he was one more Jew who despised the State of Israel. Only a year before his appointment by the UNHRC, he had written an article, “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust,” in which he used the word “Holocaust” to describe actions by Israel.

Ben-Gurion Airport

He assured his critics that he’d be objective. But Israeli authorities weren’t fooled – especially after he publicly declared their blockade of Gaza a “flagrant and massive violation of international human law.” Falk went on and on about the subject, while remaining silent about Palestinian actions. A few days later, when he flew to Ben Gurion Airport on the first leg of what was supposed to be his first UN fact-finding mission to Gaza and the West Bank, Israel threw him out of the country. And banned him from coming back.

The New York Times and other major media had conniption fits. How could Israel subject such an august personage, dispatched by such an unimpeachable organization, to such abominable treatment? Never mind that the UNHRC has been dominated from its inception by countries considered “unfree” by Freedom House and that, as of 2008, when Falk took up his UN job, those members included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Zambia, Senegal, Mali, Qatar, Pakistan, and several other countries whose names, when it comes to human rights, do not even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Israel.

More tomorrow.

Celebrating Africa, demonizing Israel: Chika Okeke-Aguru

Chika Okeke-Agulu

We’ve been looking at a recent New York Times article by Chika Okeke-Aguru, a professor of African Art at Princeton who fretted over the fact that rich Sotheby’s customers were snapping up artworks from the Dark Continent that should, in his view, remain publicly owned parts of Africa’s own cultural heritage.

Noting that most Africans have little access to the work of artists from their own continent – and that Lagos, for example, doesn’t have a single museum that exhibits a famous Nigerian artist – Okeke-Aguru whined: “This is no small problem.”

To which we asked yesterday, and will ask again now: compared to what?

GDP per capita, 2015

Compared to the fact that most of the 55 countries in Africa are considered “Not Free” by Freedom House, that most of the others are considered “Partly Free,” and that only ten – Senegal, Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Tunisia, Sao Tome and Principe, Mauritius, and Cape Verde – are considered “Free”? Compared to the fact that in a world map of countries that have been colored according to gross domestic product, on which GDPs below $5000 are bright yellow and richer countries are marked in ever-darkening shades of olive, almost the entirety of Africa shines out like the sun?

A neighborhood in Lagos

Nigeria, the country in which the aforementioned city, Lagos, Africa’s largest, is located, is actually one of the continent’s richest nations, with a per capita GDP of $2,640. Africa also jumps out on a map showing worldwide life expectancies, with most countries having an average age at death between forty or and sixty, while the corresponding ages in virtually the whole rest of the world range between seventy and ninety.

The University of Cape Town, considered the best university in Africa by the London Times, comes in at #148 in the world on the Times’s 2017 list

Want more? Look at the corruption statistics. The rape statistics. Gay rights? Forget about it. And how about the prevalence of primitive practices unheard of elsewhere on the planet – such as the murder of women suspected of witchcraft and the amputation of limbs from albino children by superstitious illiterates who think they bring good luck? How about the lack of a single decent university anywhere on the continent, with the exception of a few institutions in the Republic of South Africa?

This 2006 work by Yinka Shonibare also raked in the big bucks at Sothebys

Honestly, compared to all this, how important is it that a sculpture made of old bottle caps won’t be readily available for in-person scrutiny by the artist’s fellow Ghanaians? Yes, yes, as Okeke-Agulu puts it, “art is an important resource with which societies imagine their world.” And so on – blah, blah, blah. Any longtime reader of the New Your Times could quickly develop that point into a paragraph not so very different from the one in Okeke-Agulu’s actual article.

One wonders: if it’s so important that Africans be intimately familiar with their own continent’s artworks, why is Okeke-Agulu wasting his vast knowledge of the subject on the student body of Princeton University? Why isn’t he on the faculty of the University of Ghana, or the University of Ibadan, or the University of Nairobi?

Well, part of the reason is that Okeke-Agule doesn’t spend all his time teaching courses in African art. He also puts a lot of effort into an activity for which an Ivy League campus is the perfect setting: anti-Israeli activism. He calls Israel an apartheid state and a practitioner of ethnic cleansing. He supports academic boycotts of Israel. He has agitated on behalf of Palestinian terrorists who are currently incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

Benjamin Netanyahu

According to the Canary Mission website, he “tweets articles from Mint Press News, a ‘super anti-Israel’ website that frequently compares Israel to ISIS.” In a 2014 article, he “minimized the terrorist actions of Hamas” and criticized Israel for responding to those actions by destroying the terrorists’ “attack tunnels.” He has smeared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a racist and participated in a campaign to get Princeton to divest from companies with Israeli ties.

Okeke-Aguru (second right) at a Princeton ceremony where he won an award

It is interesting – though hardly surprising, in these twisted times – that a professor who teaches about African art at Princeton would appear to have little or nothing to say about the drastic poverty, severe lack of freedom, abominable human-rights records, primitive quality of education, rudimentary sanitation, massive corruption, and savage cultural practices that still reign in most of Africa, but is able to sheds crocodile tears over the purchase by rich white Americans of a few Ghanaian art works made of bottle caps. Add to that the fact that this Africa-centric fool, while blithely ignoring the multitudinous ways in which Africa is a holy mess, finds it useful to contribute to the demonization of the State of Israel – a world-class model of individual liberty, cutting-edge scientific and technological progress, and so on – in short, a land that’s far more advanced, in any way you can think of, than any of the 55 nations on the African continent.

Africa’s biggest problem? Art auctions!

Chika Okeke-Agulu

Let’s start with an article by Chika Okeke-Agulu, a professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University, that appeared in May in the New York Times. In his piece, Okeke-Agulu reported that Sothebys, “the granddaddy of auctioneers,” had recently raked in almost $4 million at its first-ever auction of modern and contemporary African art. “The star of the sale,” Okeke-Agulu wrote, “was the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s sculpture made from discarded aluminum bottle caps and copper wire that went for about $950,000.”

“Drifting Continents,” artwork by El Anatsui

Of course one might expect that an Ivy League expert on African art would consider this news a cause for celebration. How wonderful that Americans are willing to pay such big bucks for African artworks! Surely if the auction had turned out to be a big bust, Okeke-Agulu, or somebody else in a similar position, would have written a piece for the Times, or some equally important mainstream publication, complaining about the West’s lack of appreciation for African art. Perhaps the word “racism” would even have popped up.

But since all this stuff sold so well, what to say? Well, to begin with, Okeke-Agulu did acknowledge an upside. The $4 million take, he surmised, “most likely signals the beginning of a more serious interest” in African art “from Western museums, which may finally start to consider such work worthy of inclusion in their permanent collections.” Which, he admitted, is a good thing.

El Anatsui

And yet…

Well, it goes without saying that Okele-Aguru had a “yet.” And this was it: “In this inexorable march to the mainstream, I am tempted to think of contemporary African art as akin to an urban neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Now that it is seen as high culture, the art and artists are gaining value, investors are jostling to get a piece of the action, and private collections are growing in Africa and around the world.” While this development may yield tidy profits for some of the “African modernists…who set out to create new art for independent Africa during the mid-20th century,” it will amount to a terrible loss for others.

Sotheby’s New York

Who? Why, “the continent’s masses,” naturally. “They will be denied access to artworks that define the age of independence and symbolize the slow process of postcolonial recovery.” Alas, lamented Okeke-Agulu, “whole countries in Africa cannot boast of a single art museum of any renown.” For example, consider Lagos, which despite being “one of the world’s largest cities” has no museums containing “the work of a big-name Nigerian artist.” Okeke-Aguru’s verdict: “This is no small problem.”

Compared to what? We’ll pick this up tomorrow.

Three rich boys turned Hollywood Stalinists

Ring Lardner, Jr.

Some of the Hollywood Ten were from humble backgrounds. Not Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000), who, himself the son of a famous writer, went to Andover and Princeton. He was also an earlier convert to socialism than several of his fellow traitors. At Princeton he was active in both the Socialist Club and the Anglo-American Institute of the University of Moscow, a Kremlin propaganda organization based both in the U.S. and the U.K. By 1937, he had become a writer in Hollywood and a member of Communist Party. Soon he was also active in various Soviet front groups, among them the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Hollywood Writers Mobilization Against the War. In 1943 he won an Oscar for co-writing the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn hit Woman of the Year. Four years later, 20th Century Fox made him one of Hollywood’s best-paid writers – and HUAC called him to testify. A prison term ensued. His long post-Blacklist rehabilitation climaxed with a 1970 Oscar for writing the film M*A*S*H.

John Howard Lawson

John Howard Lawson (1894–1977), too, came from New York money. After Williams College, he drove an ambulance in Italy during World War I. Later he simultaneous wrote agitprop Broadway plays and Hollywood scripts. Although not as important a screenwriter as some of the other Hollywood Ten members (his major efforts included the Charles Boyer vehicle Algiers, a Bogart drama called Sahara, and a Susan Hayward weepie, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman), he was the central figure in the group, co-founding the Screen Writers Guild, serving as its first president, and acting, according to one source, as “the Communist Party’s de facto cultural commissar in Hollywood, particularly as it affected writers.” Among his duties was the enforcement of Party ideology and discipline among his sometimes recalcitrant fellow scribes. After his appearance before HUAC, he decamped to Mexico, wrote scripts under pseudonyms, and ended up as a university lecturer.  

Samuel Ornitz

Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957) was also the scion of a wealthy New York family. He was an active socialist by age 12, giving speeches on street corners. Working briefly as a social worker, he soon became a successful Manhattan playwright and novelist. He went to Hollywood in 1928, where he spent the next two decades writing mediocre pictures for RKO and Republic (perhaps the most prominent item on his CV is a shared four-way writing credit on a John Wayne flick, Three Faces West) and telling everyone who would listen just how wonderful Stalin was. The Hollywood Reporter claims that he was “one of the most outspoken political figures in Hollywood”; another source says that his “doctrinaire, party-line communism alienated many of his liberal colleagues and friends, such as his dogged insistence that there was no anti-Semitism in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.” After his encounter with the House Un-American Activities Committee, he quit scriptwriting and resumed writing novels, including a now-forgotten 1951 bestseller, Bride of the Sabbath. 

So there we have it: three men, born with silver spoons in their mouths, who enjoyed their richesse even as they embraced an ideology dedicated to the coldblooded murder of people with bank accounts just like theirs. 

We’ll finish up with this crew tomorrow.

The despicable Van Jones

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Van Jones

When news of Van Jones’s Communist background came to light in 2009 – shortly after he’d been named the Obama White House’s “green czar” – Kyle Smith of the New York Post called out the New York Times for ignoring the story. (Note: weirdly enough, the 2009 New York Post story linked to above is misdated at the Post‘s own website as being from 1999.) “The Times purposely ignored” Jones’s Communist history, wrote Smith, “because it was hoping that the story would go away, because it likes people like Comrade Jones and was hoping he wouldn’t be forced out.”

021804 Former Post employee,Kyle Smith, pictured here at Langan's has written a book called Love Monkeys which is loosly based on his time at the paper. The book includes several scenes in a bar that is based on Langans. And with no doubt Steve Dunlevy plays a role in the novel.
Kyle Smith

What was the Times‘s excuse for not reporting on the story? It claimed that Jones himself wasn’t important enough to merit such coverage. This was transparent hogwash. The New Yorker had profiled Jones at length only a few months earlier, and the Times’s own Thomas Friedman had devoted “four breathless fanzine pages” to him in a recent book. As Smith put it: “The Times continues to treat communism as a cute campus peccadillo like pot smoking or nude streaking.”

Also in 2009, it emerged that Jones had signed a letter suggesting that 9/11 was an inside job by top U.S. government officials. He had also engaged in race-war rhetoric, accusing “the white polluters and the white environmentalists” of “essentially steering pollution into people of color because they don’t have a social-justice framework.”

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Bill O’Reilly

Jones felt obliged by the media pressure to leave his White House job in order to keep the heat off of President Obama and his environmentalist colleagues. At the time, however, he did not renounce Communism. Not until 2011, when he was working at both the Center for American Progress and Princeton, did he have a lawyer, Joseph E. Sandler, send a “cease and desist” letter to Fox News demanding that Fox hosts Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck stop referring to him as a Communist. Sandler insisted that Jones had long since ceased being a Communist and was now “firmly pro-market.”

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Sean Hannity

The Fox hosts had also called Jones a 9/11 Truther; Sandler denied this. Finally, the Fox hosts had aired a video of the Oakland event on September 12, 2001, and had noted the vile sentiments expressed by Jones and his fellow participants. How did Sandler respond to this? “Mr. Jones,” he wrote, “was one of many speakers at a small gathering in Oakland on Sept. 12th 2001 convened to express shock and horror at the atrocities committed on 9/11.” To watch the video is to recognize this as a flagrant misrepresentation of the emotions expressed at that event.

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Glenn Beck

“Mr. Jones,” Sandler went on, “does not agree with the hateful, misguided sentiments of some of the attendees featured in this clip and has never endorsed or adopted any such sentiments. His comments at the rally were for all people to eschew violence and pursue change through peaceful means.” Again, this is a lie: Jones had spoken explicitly of revolution.

“As with any political figure,” wrote Sandler, “he is often forced to share the stage with people with whom he strongly disagrees.” But nobody was forcing Jones to be on that stage. He spoke last. Any decent American would either have walked away from that event after hearing the other speakers – or would have explicitly denounced their disgusting remarks on the spot. Van Jones did neither.

The conclusion is simple: whether or not he is still a Communist in his heart, Jones was, as recently as 9/11, an avowed revolutionary who on the day after that monstrous attack on his country willingly consorted with the worst kinds of America-haters; and as of 2011, when his lawyer wrote that letter, he was still prepared to lie about it.

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.

bob-avakian-and-cornel-west-in-harlem
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.

Professor Cohen’s latest pro-Putin project

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Stephen F. Cohen

There’s no keeping up with the multitudinous mischievous machinations of veteran Kremlinologist Stephen F. Cohen. Russia’s thug-in-chief, Vladimir Putin, has no more high-profile apologist anywhere in the Western world than the 76-year-old NYU and Princeton prof. Every time we turn around, Cohen – almost invariably in league with his moneybags wife, Nation publisher/editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – has come up with some new stunt, some new angle, some new scam designed to pump up ol’ Vlad’s image in the West.

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Cathy Young

In mid October, Cathy Young reported at the Daily Beast on one of Cohen’s latest capers. It appears that back in the Cold War days, Cohen helped found something called the American Committee on East-West Accord (ACEWA), one of those groups that, in the name of peace, “consistently urged U.S. trade, foreign policy and arms control concessions to the USSR.” Established in 1974, the ACEWA was shuttered in 1992, in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now Cohen, along with some allies, appears to be reviving the ACEWA – kind of. The name of the new organization, the American Committee for East-West Accord, is almost exactly identical to that of the old one – the only difference is that “on” has been replaced by “for.” (The change, Cohen explains, reflects his desire to be “more proactive.”) The group, whose stated objective is to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations and ensure “a conclusive end to cold war and its attendant dangers,” had its formal launch in Washington, D.C., on November 4.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) Former US Senator and NBA player Bill Bradley speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios March 25, 2007 in Washington, DC. A former Democratic presidential hopeful, Bradley spoke about his new book, "The New American Story." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
Bill Bradley

As Young notes, the whole thing “couldn’t sound more benign.” The seven-member board includes some soothing, solid establishment names: Bill Bradley, the former U.S. Senator from New Jersey; Jack Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union; and John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.

But Cohen is one of two official co-founders, and this is plainly his baby. The other co-founder is something of a wild card: he’s Gilbert Doctorow, whom Young describes as a “Brussels-based U.S. expatriate and self-styled ‘professional Russia-watcher.’” Vanden Heuvel, though not officially affiliated with the ACEWA, is a major player, promoting the venture in The Nation and “mentioning the group’s activities to her contacts in Congress.” Also heavily involved is vanden Heuvel’s dad, former UN ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel: he’s on the group’s board, was identified as the group’s president in its incorporating papers, and has allowed the address of his philanthropy, the Melinda and William J. vanden Heuvel Foundation, to be listed as the ACEWA’s Manhattan address.

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William and Melinda vanden Heuvel

To our surprise, Cohen, in a conversation with Young, actually tried to walk back some of his own more outrageously Putin-friendly statements – though not very effectively. He admitted that when discussing Putin’s invasion of Crimea on TV, he’d been “insufficiently critical of Russia’s contribution to the crisis,” but maintained that he’d taken a strong pro-Putin line as a “conscious strategy” intended to counter what he saw as the mainstream media’s excessively anti-Putin spin. “Russia’s side of the story was not being told, and I knew I was going to get grief for trying to tell it as I understood it,” Cohen insisted. He added that if he’d been insufficiently nuanced, it was, well, because his TV time is always so brief. In response to his claim, Young pointed out that Cohen has been just as uncritical of Putin in his articles for the Nation, where his wife gives him enough space to be as nuanced as nuanced can be.

Cohen’s efforts at backpedaling are, it must be said, rather entertaining. But the major accomplishment of Young’s article is to draw our attention to Doctorow, Cohen’s co-founder. Unlike Cohen, Doctorow has virtually no profile in the U.S. He maintains his own blog, writes for an obscure Russian news and opinion website, and last year contributed an article on Putin to the Nation. There’s pretty much only one reason he’s worth paying attention to – and that reason is that, as Young puts it, he’s even “more pro-Kremlin” than Cohen.

How pro-Kremlin? We’ll get into that tomorrow.

NYU: The Big Apple of academic sleaze

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John Sexton

In his devastating 2012 article “Dangerous Liaisons,” about the moral and intellectual compromises that major American universities have made in order to squeeze money out of rich foreign autocrats, Shaun Tan devoted a few paragraphs to NYU president John Sexton. If virtually all of America’s major universities have been known to sell out their principles as long as there’s enough cash on the table, NYU is arguably the most notorious offender in this regard. Often it seems to be a money-making enterprise first, a real-estate operation second, and a university (at best) third. And when it comes to licking the boots of creeps with deep pockets, the suits at NYU are especially quick to drop to their knees.

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NYU’s Bobst Library

But even for those familiar with NYU’s history of sleaze, the story of Sexton’s sellout to Arab fat cats is a head-turner. First, get a load of this, from a 2008 New York magazine article by Zvika Krieger entitled “The Emir of NYU”:

John Sexton’s office, which sits on the top floor of NYU’s Bobst Library and boasts an impressive view north to Washington Square Park, has recently begun to resemble a shrine to Abu Dhabi. The university president has installed a massive Oriental rug, a gift from the crown prince, on one entire wall. On another hangs a framed portrait of the sunglasses-clad founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In the center of the room is a large framed photograph of an Emirati woman, hand covered in a henna tattoo, gazing provocatively from behind a sequined veil.

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The reason for this nauseating display? Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, had plunked down $50 million to establish NYU-Abu Dhabi, which, on its opening in 2010, became “the first liberal arts college outside America.” Bankrolled completely by the Abu Dhabi government, NYU-Abu Dhabi was, in Tan’s words, “Sexton’s brainchild, conceived through his mad obsession with dethroning what he calls ‘the holy trinity’ – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – from their perch at the pinnacle of American education.”

Back to Krieger’s 2008 piece: Sexton “has taken the thirteen-hour flight to the desert emirate four times over the past two years to personally broker the deal with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He refers to his trips there as a ‘spiritual experience’ and sees the project as honoring his late wife.” Sexton even planned to teach a course of his own in Abu Dhabi, flying back and forth every other weekend:

“I can’t wait to teach my class over there,” he exclaims, his face flushed with excitement as he throws his feet up in the air and falls back in his chair.

Don’t worry. There’s more.

Chris Hedges, legend in his own mind

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Chris Hedges

He was a New York Times reporter for 15 years, and for four of those years he was the paper’s Middle East bureau chief. But he couldn’t pose as an objective journalist forever, and eventually, in 2005, he left the Gray Lady to write opinion pieces for The Nation, for the Truthdig website, and for other left-wing outlets. Soon the former Timesman became known for his extreme anti-American views – as well as for his self-righteous posturing and over-the-top rhetoric. As Christopher Ketcham noted last year in the New Republic, Chris Hedges “has secured a place as a firebrand revered among progressive readers.” 

Here, from 2007, is a sample of the kind of stuff he churned out after leaving the Times: 

I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran. I realize this is a desperate and perhaps futile gesture. But an attack on Iran – which appears increasingly likely before the coming presidential election – will unleash a regional conflict of catastrophic proportions. This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d’êtat that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.

In a 2011 interview on a program broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the host, Kevin O’Leary, called Hedges a “left-wing nutbar.” And last December, in an article entitled “ISIS – the New Israel,” Hedges provided a fine example of the kind of writing that has led people like O’Leary to view him as a nutbar: 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is our Frankenstein. The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture. It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East.

hedges5It’s easy to sum up the thrust of Hedges’s work these days. It is, quite simply, this: that pretty much every bad thing that happens on this planet it ultimately the fault of the U.S. – which, he insists, is, in its own way, as much of a totalitarian power as Nazi Germany or Stalin’s USSR ever were. Specifically, Hedges subscribes to the proposition, advanced by political scientist Sheldon Wolin, that the U.S. is developing a form of government that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” And if the U.S. is a totalitarian tyranny, what does that make Hedges? Why, of course, it makes him a courageous soul who dares to utter the dark truth about America while the rest of the nation’s journalistic community, as he depicts it, meekly echoes the U.S. government’s lies about itself and promulgates the pretense that American society is free.

hedges6Of course, to call the present-day U.S. a totalitarian state is to dismiss or trivialize the brutal day-to-day reality of despotism in countries like North Korea, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, China, Eritrea, and Cuba; and to pose as a gutsy hero who risks untold danger to speak truth to power is to insult the genuinely brave men and women who stand up to the Kims and Castros. Hedges’s demonization of the U.S. government has led to teaching gigs at Princeton and Columbia universities and won him the Pulitzer Prize and other awards; for him to present himself as the moral equivalent of human-rights activists in genuinely totalitarian or authoritarian countries – where many of them end up being arrested, tortured, imprisoned, or murdered – is the height of arrogance.

But this is just the beginning of the case against Chris Hedges. More tomorrow.