Communism? Peachy! Oscars mixup? A horror!

Shirley MacLaine

“Legendary screen star reveals that they are both ‘still processing the horror of it.’” The headline appeared in the Daily Mail in March. The “screen star” referred to is Shirley MacLaine. The other person embraced by the word “both” is her brother, Warren Beatty, who of course is also a screen star.

Here’s the actual quote from MacLaine: “I think we’re all processing the horror of it. I’m still dealing with it.” She added: “We know how difficult it was for him, but it was also for me.” The reporter, Chris Spargo, reports that “MacLaine could be seen gasping, covering her mouth in shock and then clutching her chest.”

Warren Beatty in “Reds”

What “horror” were they still processing?

Now, as it happens, we’ve written about both MacLaine and Beatty on this site. MacLaine, as it happens, was one of the few Americans to gain access to Communist China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. This was in 1973, at which point that nightmarish chapter of history had been going on for seven years. It involved the murder by the authorities of millions of people who were considered, for some reason or other, to be counter-revolutionaries. During the entire period, all but a tiny minority of the Chinese people lived in a constant state of terror. Who would be the next victim? Would the men come knocking at our door in the middle of the night and take one of us away forever? Which one?

Mao Zedong

MacLaine was there in the midst of it all. Filming what she saw. And she returned to the U.S. with a documentary that might have been made by Mao himself – or by Leni Riefenstahl. It was as splendid a work of propaganda for Maoism as one could imagine. Entitled The Other Side of the Sky, it tried to demonstrate certain propositions in which MacLaine actually believed – namely, that Chinese women were more liberated, more equal, than American women; that China lacked “social friction” and was awash in a sense of “brotherhood”, that everyone there was committed “to working for the common good.” The film won an Oscar nomination.

Vladimir Lenin

Beatty has also promoted totalitarianism. The 1981 movie Reds, which he directed, co-wrote, and starred in, was described by one reviewer as an “homage, of sorts, to the Russian Revolution.” A trailer represented it as the story of a “fight for freedom” and a timely challenge to “conservative politics” – the point being that Lenin, alongside Reagan, was benign. Reds, which celebrated a regime that killed more people than any other in human history except for the one applauded by his sister in The Other Side of the Sky, nabbed Beatty an Oscar for Best Director.

So obviously MacLaine didn’t consider Maoism a horror. And Beatty wouldn’t use that word to describe Leninism, either. So what “horror,” then, was MacLaine referring to in that Daily Mail article?

The horror! The horror!

Why, it was that moment of confusion at the end of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, when Beatty and Faye Dunaway at first mistakenly presented the Best Picture statuettes to La La Land rather than to Moonlight. Days after the mixup, MacLaine was still pondering it. “I’m basically a mystic,” she told the Mail. “And I’m wondering what was that all about? And I am not sure yet. I have to think about it some more.” One wonders how much thought she’s ever given to that slightly bigger mixup for which she was primarily responsible – namely, the representation of Mao’s China in a major film as a paradise rather than a hell on earth.

The untrustworthiness of Uncle Walter

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Walter Cronkite at his anchor desk

He wasn’t evil, really, but he was immensely influential, often in very counter-productive ways. In fact, when his career was at its height, few people anywhere wielded the kind of power he did to shape the way in which Americans thought about the world around them. No single person today, in a time when the news media are so highly fragmented, comes close to having as much influence as he did.

His name was Walter Cronkite, and for almost twenty years, from 1962 to 1981 – though it feels like longer – he was the anchorman and managing editor of the CBS Evening News.

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Cronkite (far right) during World War II

It was an era when almost every American’s main source of information about the world was one of the three evening network news shows. And of the three, CBS, during the reign of Cronkite, was the undisputed champion. It had the biggest budget and the highest viewership. And it had Cronkite, who, year after year, was voted the most trusted man in America. It was long before the Internet, which helped people around the world to understand just how foolish it was to place their unreflecting trust in any single news source.

©Globe photos / lapresse 18-07-2009 Washington, USA varie È morto Walter Cronkite, leggenda del giornalismo Usa Aveva 92 anni. Racconto' agli americani i piu' importanti eventi del secolo scorso Walter Cronkite, il celebre anchorman della CBS che per il pubblico televisivo americano fece la cronaca di eventi storici quali lo sbarco sulla luna, l'assassinio di John Kennedy e lo scandalo Watergate, e' morto all'eta' di 92 anni Only Italy WALTER CRONKITE ©DM/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC.
Reporting on Vietnam

To careful observers, it was clear that Cronkite (who, born and raised in Texas, had been a war correspondent in Europe and spent several years at CBS before taking over the evening news) admired John F. Kennedy and favored Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. His reporting during the latter campaign was manifestly intended to reinforce LBJ’s message that Goldwater was a dangerous right-wing war hawk who might well plunge the nation into nuclear war.

Later, Cronkite played a pivotal role in shifting public attitudes toward the Vietnam War. After the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was really a U.S. victory, Cronkite spun it as a U.S. defeat, calling the war itself “unwinnable” and suggesting that American troops be withdrawn. President Lyndon Johnson famously said that by losing Cronkite, he had lost America. There’s no way to know what course the war might have taken had Cronkite stuck to reporting the news instead of commenting on it, but his verdict on the war caused millions of Americans to view it fatalistically and led many government officials to think not in terms of how to win but of how to back out honorably.

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In Vietnam

Similarly, in the early 70s, Cronkite’s relentless attention to the story of the Watergate break-in (he had always hated Nixon) helped to turn it into the political scandal of the century. Indeed, the glorifying of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by the movie All the President’s Men served to downplay the role of Cronkite and CBS in bringing down the Nixon administration. (After all, few Americans outside of the Beltway read the Washington Post.) In this instance, too, Cronkite may have affected the course of history.

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In 1985

Throughout his years at CBS, Cronkite – known affectionately to the nation as “Uncle Walter” – carefully maintained his pose as an impartial, hard-working reporter, digging for the truth and fearlessly following it wherever it led. After his retirement, he dropped the act and made clear his far-left leanings. Among much else, he attacked President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada and his plans for a so-called “Star Wars” weapons system (which, in fact, actually ended up helping to bring down the Soviet Union). Cronkite was also an early eco-hysteric, reporting seriously on “expert” predictions that the planet was on the verge of environmental catastrophe. (Even so, as one critic has noted, “he thought nothing about hopping on the gas-guzzling supersonic Concorde.”)

In his later years, when he gradually morphed into a far-left crank, Cronkite said that he had always considered fear of the Soviet Union ridiculous and overblown, and called for a United Nations-run world government that would strike a balance “between capitalism and communism.”

And that’s the way it was. Alas.

Revising his life: Howard Fast

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Howard Fast

After leaving the Communist Party in 1957, writer Howard Fast went on to even greater professional success. The 1960 film version of his novel Spartacus was a huge hit and remains a classic. He wrote a series of highly popular historical novels. Even after he left the Party, his work continued to be shot through with heavy-handed politics. He wrote a draft screenplay for Spartacus, but Kirk Douglas, the star and producer, rejected it, calling it “a disaster, unusable” because “[i]t was just characters spouting ideas.”

Fast also published not one but two accounts of his involvement with Communism. What is striking are the differences between the two books. In his 1957 Saturday Review piece he had written that while the U.S. was not perfect, “it is a land where the individual, in his work and in his rights, is recognized and defended”; the Communist Party however, was “a prison for man’s best and boldest dreams.”

godIn his book The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party, published the same year, Fast continued to take this line, describing Communism as being rooted in “naked terror, awful brutality, and frightening ignorance” and saying that Communists had sold their souls when they joined the Party. Thirty-three years later, however, he wrote another book, Being Red, in which – to quote a review by Gerald Meyer – he covered “much of the same material, but from a very different perspective and for a very different purpose.”

red1That’s putting it mildly. As Meyer himself put it, “Being Red describes Fast’s membership in the Party as the best years of his life.” Dropping The Naked God down the memory hole, Fast “insisted that the Party was not dominated by the Soviet Union,” praised the USSR for having vanquished Hitler and saved “three million Polish and Ukrainian Jews,” maintained that the Daily Worker “never compromised with the truth as it saw the truth,” and resumed saying, as he had during his Party days, that he and his fellow Reds were “priests in the brotherhood of man” and members of “the company of the good.” Meyer summed it up this way: “Without ever mentioning The Naked God, in Being Red Fast refuted the damning criticisms of the Party he made in the earlier memoir.” He even made up at least one story out of whole cloth. (This was far from the only lie he told about his career in later years. At one point he even claimed that Ronald Reagan had applied to join the CPUSA in 1938 but had been rejected as “too stupid” – a tale that was sheer invention.) Significantly, the list of “Books by Howard Fast” in the front of Being Red omitted The Naked God. “Clearly,” wrote Meyer, “The Naked God is something Fast wanted to forget, and amazingly the reviewers of Being Red have allowed it to be forgotten.”

Why did Fast revise the story of his life? Meyer got it right: he was 85 (he would die three years later) and “wanted to be remembered as a man of the Left.” While The Naked God had been a good career move in 1957, enabling him to resuscitate his career as a mainstream novelist, Being Red was an equally good career move in 1990, when the most honorable items a writer could have on his CV, in the eyes of the literary establishment, were a stint in the CPUSA and a period on the Hollywood blacklist. Historian Ron Capshaw’s summation seems fair enough: “Howard Fast, among the writers attracted to communism, emerges as the worst example for the CPUSA: simultaneously dupe and careerist, a propaganda merchant and a groupie.”

Raising Kaine

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Tim Kaine

We have to admit that until Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia was not on our radar. Yet a look back at various articles about him over the years has helped mightily to bring him into focus. Our attention was drawn, in particular, to the story of his youthful sojourn in Honduras.

A 2005 profile in the Washington Post put it this way: “teaching at a fledgling Jesuit school in El Progreso gave his life direction, inspiring him to public service and rekindling his devotion to Catholicism.” In a 2010 CNN interview, Kaine told Candy Crowley that he “was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” So he “took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.”

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Their new book

New York Times article by Jason Horowitz that appeared this past September 2 focused entirely on Kaine’s Honduras episode. Headlined “In Honduras, a Spiritual and Political Awakening for Tim Kaine,” the article, in familiar Times fashion, painted America as the bad guy (“Around him, the United States-backed military dictatorship hunted Marxists and cracked down on the Catholic clergy for preaching empowerment to peasant farmers.”) and Kaine’s Jesuit friends, who were devotees of liberation theology, as heroes:

Honduran military leaders, American officials and even Pope John Paul II viewed liberation theology suspiciously, as dangerously injecting Marxist beliefs into religious teaching. But the strong social-justice message of liberation theology helped set Mr. Kaine on a left-veering career path in which he fought as a lawyer against housing discrimination, became a liberal mayor, and rose as a Spanish-speaking governor and senator with an enduring focus on Latin America.

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Ken Blackwell

An article by Ken Blackwell that appeared in The Hill on September 9 helped put the egregious Times spin into perspective. Blackwell – a former mayor of Cincinnati, Secretary of State of Ohio, and ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights – summed up liberation theology very succinctly: its advocates preached peace, but ran guns. As Blackwell noted, documents since uncovered in the Soviet and East German archives have made it clear that liberation theology was nothing more or less than a cynical Kremlin tool, its purpose being to undermine papal influence among the Latin American masses and thus render them more susceptible to Communist belief.

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Father Jim Carney, 1982

One champion of liberation theology was too radical even for the other members of the radical religious community to which he belonged in pro-Soviet Nicaragua. Blackwell identifies this radical priest as an American Jesuit named Father Jim Carney. This is the same man who, as the Times explained, was such a hero to Kaine that the future senator “hopped off a bus in northern Nicaragua, walked miles to Father Carney’s remote parish and spent a memorable evening listening to the priest describe ‘both getting pushed around by the military and getting pushed around by the church.’”

What, exactly, made Carney a hero to the likes of Kaine? The Times, eager as it was to paint a picture of a noble liberal politician whose conscience was forged amidst the religious conflicts of Reagan-era Central America, delicately avoided the uncomfortable details. Blackwell didn’t. He spelled out the hard facts:

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Jose Reyes Mata

In 1983, Carney was part of a 96-man unit that invaded Honduras to bring the Nicaraguan Communist revolution there too. The insurgents were Cuban and Nicaraguan trained and led by Jose Reyes Mata, Cuban-educated, and Honduras’ top Marxist. Reyes Mata had previously served with Che Guevara in Bolivia.

Lest it be forgotten exactly what kind of masters Carney was serving, let us point out that Nicaragua was governed at the time by the Sandinistas – a group founded by KGB man Carlos Fonseca and funded lavishly by the Kremlin, Castro, and East Germany. As Blackwell vividly explained, moreover, the insurgency in which Carney took part was ruthless:

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Carlos Fonseca

Some prisoners were executed by being hacked to death, or by being flayed alive. Others had family members sexually assaulted in front of them. By every measure, the atrocities the Sandinistas committed were far worse than the dictatorship they had replaced.

What blocked them from total victory was the Reagan administration and the Catholic Church.

This, then, was the man whom Kaine was determined to befriend – and whom he has continued, throughout his political career, to cite as a personal moral exemplar and spiritual guide.

The 20-year-old scourge of Brazil’s stooges

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Dilma Rousseff

In recent days we’ve been observing how Brazil – which, a few years ago, looked as if it was on the verge of becoming a prosperous, developed First World-style nation – has rapidly declined, during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, into an economic disaster zone. Meanwhile, the most massive corruption scandal in the country’s history has brought down one member of her administration after another. In the months after her re-election in October 2014, Rousseff dropped from an 80% to an 8% approval rating. Millions are now calling for her impeachment.

Among the most prominent of them is Kim Kataguiri, who turns 20 years old today.

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Kim Kataguiri, with a laptop reading “Less Marx, More Mises”

Just over two years ago, when he was an obscure college student, Kataguiri attended a history class in which the teacher attributed Brazil’s economic success – which would soon evaporate into nothingness – to the welfare-state policies pursued by Rousseff and her predecessor (and Workers’ Party colleague) Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva.

That just seemed wrong,” Kataguiri said in an October 2015 interview with Time Magazine, which named him one of the year’s most influential teenagers. To Kataguiri – a grandson of Japanese immigrants – it was obvious that Brazil’s growth was a result of “the commodities boom and our relationship with China.” In recent years, China had become Brazil’s #1 trading partner, with the value of trade between the two nations climbing from $2 billion in 2000 to $83 billion in 2013.

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The Free Brazil Movement’s logo

Kataguiri responded to his teacher’s sunny socialism with a You Tube video in which he spoke up for the free market. The video went viral. He followed it with other videos, in which, as Yahoo News has reported, he and a group of like-minded friends, who call themselves the Free Brazil Movement, “often don wacky costumes and dress up as political figures such as Fidel Castro.”

The Free Brazil Movement’s positions are clear. It calls for the introduction of a free-market system, with lower taxes, a smaller government bureaucracy, and complete privatization of publicly held companies. It also demands the impeachment of Rousseff, whose Workers’ Party Kataguiri (now a college dropout) views as “the nemesis of freedom and democracy.” His heroes? Politicians Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, and economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises.

 

As Brazil’s economy faltered, and then, with terrifying rapidly, spiraled down into the dustbin, Kataguiri and his movement became increasingly popular. On March 15 of last year, when over a million Brazilians attended anti-Rousseff rallies, Kataguiri spoke to an audience of 200,000 at a protest in São Paulo.

CCbJYzSWgAAfp64Pointing out that he had himself “emerged through the Internet,” Kataguiri told Time that he has

a great hope that the internet can have a serious effect on the political world and can bring change. It can improve knowledge, participation and transparency in politics. Now, politics in Brazil looks very bad. Everyone steals. But I have hope that in 20 years things can be different. I have hope that our generation can change the ways things are done.

Joe Stiglitz’s war on inequality

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Joseph Stiglitz

During the last couple of days, we’ve been pondering the career and views of big-government economist Joseph Stiglitz, who, among much else, is a fierce critic of American-style capitalism, an ardent fan of the U.N., a proponent of an international tax system (!), and a “point man” for George Soros, the gazillionaire bag man for the American far left. 

One of Stiglitz’s fixations, as we’ve mentioned, is income inequality. He sees it as the root of virtually all economic problems. Last April, Mark Hendrickson did a good job of putting Stiglitz in his place when it comes to this topic. Writing in Forbes, Hendrickson pointed out that Stiglitz is so down on income equality that “he looks more favorably upon the Great Depression, with its greater poverty but lower measures of inequality, than the 1980s, with its significant improvements in standards of living for the non-rich accompanied by higher measures of inequality.”

We’re reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s famous November 1990 retort in the House of Commons to a Liberal Democrat MP who complained about the rise in income inequality during her years as prime minister: “What the honorable member is saying is that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich….So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. You do not create wealth and opportunity that way. You do not create a property-owning democracy that way.”

Stiglitz’s preoccupation with income inequality leads to some bizarre pronouncements. For instance, he attributes post-World War II prosperity to that era’s highly progressive tax code; Hendrickson replies, quite sensibly, that “I know of no accepted economic theory that high taxes create prosperity,” and ascribes postwar prosperity, more logically, to the “huge decline in federal spending after the war” that sparked “a flood of pent-up demand.” Similarly, while Stiglitz blames today’s greater economic inequality on the less progressive tax codes that were introduced during the Reagan era, Hendrickson retorts that “there is a much more obvious cause” for this inequality, namely government growth. Hendrickson sums up his differences with Stiglitz as follows:

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Mark Hendrickson

Joseph Stiglitz’s diagnosis is flat-out wrong when he argues that the middle class is declining because the rich are getting richer. That zero-sum view is atavistic mercantilist nonsense….for him to blame the rich instead of government for today’s problems reflects a partisan and ideological bias rather than objective economic analysis.

Indeed. In the next couple of days, we’ll take a closer look at Stiglitz’s partisan and ideological biases. Hold on to your hats.

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.

 

Sullying the ivory tower

Campus Beauty shotsA few decades ago, American university campuses were arguably the freest places in the country – oases of liberty where even the most challenging and unorthodox ideas could get a fair hearing and be earnestly and vigorously debated. In recent years, however, that freedom has been eroded by “speech codes” supposedly intended to protect members of certain groups from offense. Speakers whose views are considered politically incorrect have been disinvited. During the last year or so, many students have complained about what they call “microaggressions” – gestures or statements that unintentionally give offense on an admittedly minor level but that nonetheless, they argue, need to be silenced.

All this policing of speech on American campuses has helped make them considerably less free than they used to be, and has been widely criticized. But another threat to the freedom of American universities – and their British counterparts, too – has drawn somewhat less attention. We’re talking about the morally questionable ties that college administrators, eager to rake in foreign money, have forged with undemocratic governments around the globe.

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Shaun Tan

Three years ago, Shaun Tan, who at the time was an International Relations student at Yale, published a highly illuminating article, aptly entitled “Dangerous Liaisons,” about this phenomenon. The article should have appeared in a high-profile place like the New York Times Magazine, and should have sparked national debate; unfortunately, it was posted at The Politic, a website written by and for students at Yale.

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Sir Howard Davies

Tan served up a raft of eye-popping anecdotes. In 2011, for example, Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics, “resigned in disgrace” when the media uncovered lucrative deals he’d made on behalf of the LSE with the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Tan noted that LSE, sniffing out the possibility of a big payday, had accepted Qaddafi’s son Saif as a Ph.D. student “despite his poor English skills and weak academic record,” and had accorded him “special privileges, including special assistance from professors and permission to use a personal assistant to help him with his thesis.”

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Anti-Qaddafi protest at LSE

In return, LSE cashed in, receiving “a $2.5 million donation from the Gaddafi Foundation in 2008, as well as a $3.5 million contract for a special exchange program to train Libyan bureaucrats.” LSE even hosted “a live video-link conference” with Colonel Qaddafi himself, who

took the opportunity to denounce the Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication” of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, whilst the LSE moderator addressed him as “Brother Leader” and “the world’s longest-serving national leader.” At the end of his speech, Gaddafi was presented with a LSE baseball cap as a gift.

But we’re just warming up. More tomorrow.

Castro, Kushner, the Khmer Rouge: The Nation from the ’60s to 9/11

Professor Noam Chomsky of Linguistics and Philosophy. photo: Donna Coveney/MIT
Noam Chomsky

We’ve been taking a look at the history of The Nation during the Cold War, when it was, as the phrase went, “anti-anti-Communist.” Practically speaking, to be sure, there was little if any difference between The Nation‘s “anti-anti-Communism” and robust advocacy for (or, at the very least, defense of) Communism. Routinely, The Nation‘s editors and contributors wrote about the U.S. and USSR as if their people had, quite simply, chosen different systems, just as you might order a Coke and your best friend might order a Pepsi. And while The Nation tended to dance around the question of whether the Soviet system was inherently oppressive, it had no qualms about stridently denouncing the supposedly intrinsic evils of American capitalism – and supporting America’s enemies, the more tyrannical, it sometimes seemed, the better. In the 1970s, for example, it ran Noam Chomsky‘s defense of the Khmer Rouge from charges of genocide and supported the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Jesse Jackson with Fidel Castro

Among the other postwar-era low notes reprinted in The Nation ‘s special centennial issue: in a 1988 editorial, the Nation actually endorsed world-class shakedown artist and Castro crony Jesse Jackson for president of the United States – this, in the midst of Jackson’s public enthusiasm for Jew-baiting, gay-bashing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (whom Malcolm X’s own relatives publicly accused of complicity in his assassination) and in the wake of Jackson’s own disgusting reference to New York City as “Hymietown.”

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Tony Kushner

Then there’s gay rights. The Nation presents itself today as having always been at the forefront of the struggle for gay equality; but for years, in fact, its contributors were consistently, fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of what they considered gay “assimilation” into bourgeois institutions. In their view, the proper socialist objective was not to achieve equal rights for gay people in mainstream capitalist society, but to marshal marginalized gay people as far-left storm troopers in the battle to overthrow mainstream capitalist society. The anniversary issue reprints part of a typically jejune 1994 article by Tony Kushner that sneeringly rejects gay marriage and calls for gay people to be true to utopian socialist ideals of “liberation. (It is instructive, by the way, to compare the complete original article – which can be found here – to the expurgated version served up in the anniversary issue.) The bottom line about The Nation and gay rights is that Kushner and other gay stalwarts at the magazine fought tooth and nail against the social changes that have enabled gay Americans to live and thrive openly with far less difficulty than they could a generation ago; yet now the magazine happily, and deceitfully, takes a big chunk of the credit for those very changes.

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Mikhail Gorbachev

When the Iron Curtain fell, millions of Eastern Europeans wept with joy and rushed to embrace capitalism and democracy. But the folks at The Nation – like other stateside comrades of the Kremlin – offered no mea culpas and exhibited no shame. Quietly, they more or less dropped their longtime enthusiasm for the Kremlin down the memory hole. But they didn’t revise their poisonously anti-American attitudes, revisit their fierce hostility to the NATO policy of containment, or rethink their resounding contempt for the unapologetic pro-freedom rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher, which they had repeatedly denounced as vulgar and dangerous. No, they just kept preaching their same old ideology, as if it had not been thoroughly discredited. They even allowed Mikhail Gorbachev, in a 2009 interview with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and hubby Stephen F. Cohen, to cast himself as the hero of the end of the Cold War – and to depict the whole conflict, in the same old way, as a clash between two morally equivalent regimes. Entirely removed from the picture was the monstrous injustice and intrinsic evil of the Communist system, and the fact that that system ultimately came crashing down precisely because of its injustice and evil.

And what about 9/11 and its aftermath? We’ll move on to that disgraceful chapter of The Nation‘s history next time.

Chomsky & co.

We’ve seen how some of Vladimir Putin’s Western apologists belong to the “yes, but” brigade. They’re quick to acknowledge that he’s a pretty vile character, and yet they feel moved to defend the guy – or even, as in Peter Hitchens‘s case, claim to like him.

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Noam Chomsky

There’s no “yes, but,” however, for Noam Chomsky, the World’s Leading Intellectual©. He’s all in for Putin, and then some. Writing in May 2014 about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Chomsky was quick to “contextualize” it, in his own unique way, by bringing in the “era’s most extreme international crime, the United States-United Kingdom invasion of Iraq.” For Chomsky, the latter “crime” more than excuses the former. Yes, the US and UK took down one of the most murderous tyrants of all time, while Putin invaded a country that had just undergone a democratic revolution, but such distinctions have never mattered to Chomsky: the suffering of people here and there around the globe doesn’t interest him unless he can find a way to pin that suffering on America.

Chomsky mocked the idea that Russia’s move on Ukraine should be viewed as a crisis. After all, as so many of his fellow Putin apologists have pointed out, Ukraine is in Russia’s “neighborhood.” He also helpfully cited polls supposedly indicating that people all over the planet overwhelmingly consider the U.S., not Russia, a “pariah state” and “the greatest threat to world peace.” So there.

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Paul Craig Roberts

Chomsky, of course, is in a category all his own. But when it comes to standing up for Putin, the guy who puts even him in the shade is almost certainly Paul Craig Roberts. An economist who once worked as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, Roberts has since gone off the deep end, contributing regularly to Counterpunch – the journal of the loony, Jew-hating far left – and routinely siding with Putin against the U.S. Indeed, “Putin apologist” is far too feeble a term for Roberts; he’s a hard-core propagandist, pure and simple, serving up breathtaking, bald-faced claims that are almost always the very antithesis of the truth.

Here’s just a sampling. In Roberts’s lexicon, the people running the Ukraine are “Washington’s stooge government in Kiev”; the Eastern European countries who’ve joined NATO to protect themselves from being re-incorporated into the Kremlin’s empire are “NATO’s vassals.” The U.S., charged Roberts in July 2014, “is at work through its Kiev proxy murdering citizens in eastern and southern parts of present-day Ukraine that once were part of Russia.”

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Vladimir Putin

Meanwhile Putin’s the good guy, standing up alone to “Washington’s crimes against humanity” and striving in vain “to find a peaceful settlement” that would help “the Ukrainians who are being attacked” on orders from Washington. Putin’s only fault, in Roberts’s eyes? His failure “to realize that his reasonableness is not reciprocated by Washington.” Summing up: “Putin has done what he can to avoid conflict. Now he needs to do the right thing, as he did in Georgia and Crimea.”

If Roberts isn’t on the Kremlin payroll, he should be; he’s doing a PR job for Putin that should be the envy of any Hollywood publicity mill.