“Chaebol sniper” or chaebol masseur?

 

Kim Sang-jo

Last January, the Economist offered an optimistic forecast of the future of South Korea’s economy under Kim Sang-jo, that country’s newly appointed antitrust czar. Kim’s task, during his three-year term, was to “tame the chaebol,” those massive, family-run corporate conglomerates that were the engines of South Korean economic growth after since the Korean War but that in recently decades have increasingly served as a hindrance to further growth – and, in particular, to the establishment and successful development of small businesses. (The Korean language even has a word – gapjil – for the way in which the chaebol bully more modest-sized enterprises.) Moreover, the chaebols, which were once universally admired for having led South Korea out of Third World status, are now more and more the objects of public resentment because of their top leaders’ chronic corruption and impunity.

Moon Jae-in

At the time of his appointment, Kim, a former activist for the rights of shareholders, enjoyed the strong backing of President Moon Jae-in as well as of the great majority of his countrymen, who refer to him as the “chaebol sniper.” All these months later, has he lived up to that nickname? How much, exactly, has he accomplished?

For a close reader, the article in the Economist contained a few hints that Kim might, in fact, prove to be something less than a bull in the chaebols’ china shops. “The sniper,” we read, “would rather his targets surrender willingly and is encouraging ‘voluntary’ reform.” Some sniper! Indeed, the Economist admitted that some critics of the chaebols “carp that Mr Kim now seems to be more chaebol sympathiser than sniper,” though the Economist was quick to assure us that this view of Kim was “unfair.”

Hanjin Group headquarters, Seoul

Fast forward five months. Kim, reported the Korean media, was accusing the Hanjin Group, the parent company of Korean Air, of “breaching market rules.” At a press conference marking the end of his first year on the job, the “chaebol sniper” lamented the standard practice by chaebols of doing business with, say, real-estate firms and ad agencies that are affiliated with them rather than dealing with independently owned firms in those same sectors. “I honestly ask conglomerates,” said Kim, “to sincerely review if it necessarily needs these businesses that are owned solely by their controlling families.”

Wow, tough talk!

Samsung headquarters, Seoul

Kim said his agency had “tried to work on encouraging conglomerates to change their…management practices.” Tried? Encouraging? “We’re seeing positive changes,” he said, but “we still have a long way to go.” He said he regretted “not being able to bring changes that the public can actually feel,” and admitted that some observers might feel that his achievements thus far had fallen “short of expectations.”

No kidding. Is this a sniper or a masseur?

Fighting the Jewish state from the Golden State

We’ll spend this week surveying a few of the more egregious useful stooges in the Golden State. We’ll kick off our tour with the faculty members of four northern California institutions.

Jess Ghannam

Jess Ghannam has a curious combination of academic posts. While serving as a professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine, he’s also UCSF’s Chief of Medical Psychology. But in addition, bizarrely, he’s a professor of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU). An official of several fiercely anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups, he supports the so-called BDS movement, which seeks to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. He considers Israel an apartheid state, has accused it of genocide and ethnic cleansing, champions an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and serves on the executive committee of a group, Al-Awda, that calls for Israel’s eradication. He’s a vociferous supporter of Samer Issawi, a member of a terrorist group called the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is currently serving time in an Israeli prison for manufacturing pipe bombs and attempting to kill Israeli civilians during the second Intifada. In 2010, according to the Canary Mission website, he “signed a petition to have an Israeli scholar ejected from an academic conference in Los Angeles.”

Sunaina Maira

Over at UC Davis, Sunaina Maira, a professor of Asian American Studies, is “an international leader” of the BDS movement as well as a co-founder of both Pakistanis for Palestine and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In recent years she has lent her support to a French boycott of Israeli products, advocated the shuttering of UC’s Israel Abroad program, called for an Israeli scholar to be thrown out of an L.A. academic conference, and publicly condemned the chancellor and provost of UC Davis for not opposing Israel. She’s complained about the “Israel lobby” in the U.S. While defending vile and violent anti-Israeli demonstrations as “peaceful,” she’s routinely leveled baseless accusations of brutality against peaceable Israel and Israelis. In one article she referred to jihadists, harmlessly enough, as “international aid activists” and She denies that the Jews are indigenous to Israel, calls Israelis “our enemies,” and has described Israel’s security fence as an “apartheid wall.”

Magid Shihade

Among Maira’s colleagues at Davis is her husband, Magid Shihade, a research fellow in Middle East/South Asia Studies. He is also, notably, on the faculty at Birzeit University on the Gaza Strip. Canary Mission describes Birzeit as “a hotbed of Jew-hatred” – in 2014 it ejected a fiercely anti-Zionist Haaretz reporter, Amira Hass, from a conference “for being an Israeli Jew”; in 2015 and 2016, terrorist Bilal Barghouti, who is currently in prison for his involvement in suicide attacks (and is famous for masterminding the Sbarro cafe bombing), became Honorary Chairman of its student council. Like Mairi, Shihade has denied the Jews’ historic ties to Israel (or, at least, to Hebron); he has spread Hamas propaganda and has used virulently anti-Semitic materials in his courses; and he has urged Palestinian to boycott U.S. products. In a 2006 essay, he wrote: “I was among many Palestinian-Israelis who cheered for Iraq whenever a scud missile hit Israel.” In a 2012 post for the Economist blog, originally headlined “The Auschwitz Complex,” he mocked Israel’s concerns about Iran’s determination to destroy it. Like his wife, he has told students and other audiences bald-faced lies about the history of Israel and Palestine, representing Israel, for example, as the aggressor in ever war it has fought and as “a violent state by nature.”

Hellman’s charmed afterlife

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Lillian Hellman

If she had supported Hitler, she’d have had no career whatsoever once the war was over, and would have been remembered posthumously as a reprehensible aider and abetter of murderous totalitarianism. But since the murderous totalitarian favored by playwright Lillian Hellman was Josef Stalin, her death in 1984 occasioned rhapsodies throughout the major media.

And in the years that followed, the praise kept flowing. There were several biographies, a couple of which treated her poisonous politics and perpetual prevarication seriously but most of which sought to find excuses for her and even to demonize her critics. There were plays about her, and a TV movie – described by one critic as “fawning” – about her relationship with mystery writer and fellow Stalinist Dashiell Hammett.

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The TV movie, with Judy Davis as Hellman and Sam Shepard as Hammett

In 2001, the PBS series American Masters celebrated Hellman as “a woman who stood against an unjust government and was able to maintain her dignity and artistic vision.” How did PBS handle her lie-ridden memoirs? Like this (emphasis ours): “Though criticized for inaccuracies, these books were influential not only for their depiction of an exceptional and exciting artistic time, but for their tone, which many associated with the beginnings of the feminist movement.”

Not only was she a pioneering feminist, she was a serious political player: “her political involvement was integral in the fight against fascism at home and abroad.” Really?

In sum, PBS’s Lillian Hellman was “a woman who could overcome the hurdles of her time and succeed on her own terms.” Maureen Corrigan seconded the claim for Hellman as a feminist, calling her “an icon for women of my generation, coming to feminist consciousness in the 1970s,” and praising her for remaining “a bold creature of the 1920s long after Betty Boop became domesticated into June Cleaver.”

Better, apparently, to be a “bold” Stalinist than just another Fifties housewife.

pentimentoAnd so it went. Lesley McDowell, writing in The Independent in 2010, excused her lying with the argument that all writers “make myths out of people’s lives, especially their own.” In 2011, Sarah Churchwell spun Hellman’s chronic mendacity by saying that her memoirs “helped to usher in the era of postmodern autobiography that…reflects on memory, truth, authenticity and fact: instead of confident assertions of mastery over her own experience, Hellman’s autobiographies are unstable, shifting, questioning.”

In other words, to view her lies as lies is so old-fashioned; rather, we should see her as exploring “the tricks that memory and consciousness play.”

In a 2012 tribute entitled “Profile in Courage,” The Economist focused not on her Stalinism and prevarication but on her crucial function as “a role model to feminists in the 1970s” and her noble belief that “it was the duty of engaged citizens to fight racism, alleviate poverty and protect civil liberties.” Here’s how The Economist dealt with the Stalinism and lying: “She made some foolish choices [our emphasis], but Lillian Hellman was often on the right side of history.”

hellman9Balderdash. This is a woman who spent the first part of her adult life promoting one of the most bloodthirsty monsters in human history and who spent the second part of her adult life rewriting the story of the first part.

Let it never be forgotten, moreover, that the Stalinism and the deception were of a piece: elaborate misrepresentation (such as the establishment of fake “peace organizations” and the holding of fake “peace conferences”) and the systematic rewriting of history are fundamental elements of Stalinism. So is the habit of viewing one’s political opponents as enemies and of seeking not just to defeat them in elections but to bring about their utter ruin. To quote Carl Rollyson: “She presented herself as an independent woman, but what independence is there in a political position that amounts to fealty to the party of a foreign power?”

One woman’s conscience

She’s been called “the most famous American female playwright of the 20th century” and “the first woman to be admitted into the previously all-male club of American ‘dramatic literature.’” She was also a diehard Stalinist.

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Lillian Hellman

Born in New Orleans in 1905 and raised there and in New York, Lillian Hellman attended Columbia and NYU, then worked briefly at a Manhattan publishing house before marrying a young PR guy and heading out to Hollywood with him. Finding a job as a reader at MGM, she lost no time in organizing her colleagues into a union. When she met the mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, a fellow Stalinist, she left her husband for him. It was Hammett who urged her to start writing plays, and who helped her to write them.

During the 1930s and 40s she wrote a series of plays, among them The Little Foxes (1939) and Watch on the Rhine (1941). At the time most of them were Broadway hits – and several of them were made into successful movies – but their mixture of over-the-top family melodrama and heavyhanded political moralizing hasn’t worn well. They were masterpieces, however, alongside The North Star (1943), a crude piece of work that is described on its Wikipedia page as “an unabashedly pro-Soviet propaganda film.” 

Meanwhile Hellman was an active member of the Communist Party. As The Economist has noted, “she joined the party after the worst of Moscow’s purges and show trials.” She later claimed not to have been aware of the trials, in which political rivals of Stalin were falsely convicted of treason (most of them were ultimately executed); but in fact she signed two statements, published in the Party newspaper The Daily Worker in 1937 and 1938, that defended the second and third Moscow show trials as having been entirely fair.

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Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine in the 1961 film version of Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour

Indeed, her defense of Stalin’s reign was absolute and unwavering: she called Stalinist Russia “the ideal democratic state”; visiting Moscow in 1944, according to The Spectator, she “seems wilfully to have ignored evidence that artists and writers were being killed off. Years later she stood by the Russian government’s cover stories and even made up some of her own. She was given rare access to the front lines when the Russian army was camped outside Warsaw, and never described what she saw there.”

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Paul Johnson

As historian Paul Johnson puts it in his 1988 book Intellectuals, “she did everything in her power, quite apart from her plays and scripts, to assist the CP’s penetration of American intellectul life and to forward the aims of Soviet policy.” She was active in CP front groups, attended at least one CP national conventional, helped fund a “pro-CP propaganda film,” berated a New York Times correspondent who refused to toe the Moscow line about Spain, and supported the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland, saying, “I don’t believe in that fine, lovable little Republic of Finland that everyone gets so weepy about. I’ve been there and it looks like a pro-Nazi little republic to me.” (In fact, Hellman almost certainly never went to Finland.) After Stalin died and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, gave his famous speech condemning Stalin’s brutality, Hellman actually upbraided Khrushchev for his disloyalty.

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Bette Davis in the 1941 film version of Hellman’s play The Little Foxes

Called in 1952 to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she published a letter in the New York Times saying she was willing to discuss her own political views and activities but refusing to turn in other Stalinists.I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions,” she famously wrote. Other high-profile American Communists had taken the Fifth, too, and become anathematized; by spinning her own silence in this way, Hellman managed to turn herself into an international symbol of conscience.

unfinishedwomanShe liked that. And in later years, when the victims of the Hollywood blacklist became heroes, Hellman wrote a series of memoirs – An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976) – from which she emerged as the most toweringly courageous of them all, a stirring moral heroine who, it turned out, had not only written anti-fascist plays but also put her life on the line in the life-or-death struggle against Hitler. Even if you deplored her Stalinism, you had to admire her valor. John Hersey, reviewing Scoundrel Time in the New Republic, called her “a moral force, almost an institution of conscience.”

There was only one little problem: virtually everything of consequence that she wrote in her memoirs was a lie.

More tomorrow.

Apocalypse no?

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Mark Weisbrot

Yesterday we began taking a long look at Mark Weisbrot, whose enthusiasm for chavista economics appears to know no bounds. In November 2013, he ruled out the possibility of a “Venezuelan apocalypse” of the kind that is now well underway. Then came last December’s parliamentary elections, when, as we’ve seen, the Venezuelan electorate registered its loathing for President Nicolás Maduro’s incompetent handling of the economy, his increasing restriction on civil rights, and other outrages. But Weisbrot hadn’t given up the fight. In an article  headlined “What Next For Venezuela?”, he started out by trying to put a good face on the people’s verdict. For one thing, he applauded Maduro for accepting the results of the vote. (In short, he praised the prez for doing the right thing and not violating the constitution; one might, in the same way, give somebody a pat on the back for not committing murder or rape.) For another, he attributed the heavy anti-Maduro tally to the opposition’s supposedly greater financial resources and to media support. 

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Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López

Weisbrot strove throughout, in fact, to paint the chavista regime as responsible, law-abiding, and prepared to work harmoniously with its critics to fix the economy; meanwhile, he depicted those critics as violent, polarizing extremists who, unreasonably, refused to cooperate with the government in the interest of bringing the economy around. He also persisted in his now utterly ludicrous claim that life in the Bolivarian Republic had “changed substantially for the better” under Chávez and Maduro. Yes, he felt obliged to acknowledge the current economic crisis; but what he wouldn’t admit was that it was the predictable result of policies he himself had supported and helped devise. Nor did his pretty picture of the Maduro regime take into account such violations of human rights as the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner gestures as he arrives for a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Government Palace in Buenos Aires, June 17, 2008. Kirchner's wife Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's image deteriorated further in June as a nasty dispute with the farm sector entered its fourth month, according to a poll released on Tuesday. Her center-left government raised soy export taxes in mid-March, sparking farmer protests that have caused occasional food and fuel shortages. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci (ARGENTINA)
Late Argentine President Nestor Kirchner

All right. So who is Mark Weisbrot? He’s an economist who’s associated with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Sounds impressive, right? But his pronouncements on Venezuela and Argentina make it clear that Weisbrot is just about as far from the consensus on these nations’ economies as possible. Serious, objective members of his profession have been warning for years that Chávez, Maduro, and the Kirchners were leading their countries down the garden path. In September 2014, for example, The Economist ran an article about Venezuela subtitled “Probably the World’s Worst-Managed Economy.” It began: “A big oil producer unable to pay its bills during a protracted oil-price boom is a rare beast. Thanks to colossal economic mismanagement, that is exactly what Venezuela, the world’s tenth-largest oil exporter, has become.” A few months earlier, the same periodical ran a piece headlined “The Tragedy of Argentina: A Century of Decline.” A sampling: “Its standing as one of the world’s most vibrant economies is a distant memory….it trails Chile and Uruguay in its own back yard…. It has shut itself out of global capital markets…Property rights are insecure….Statistics cannot be trusted.”

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Cristina Kirchner

Such, more or less, is the verdict of virtually all respected economists on these two countries. But Weisbrot sings a different tune. In 2007 – five years after Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt – he toasted Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s victory in that year’s election, calling it “not difficult to explain” given her husband’s glowing performance in office during the previous four years. In 2011, with the country’s inflation rate hovering at around 25%, Weisbrot – under the headline “Cristina Kirchner and Argentina’s Good Fortune” – assured readers of the Guardian that Argentina under Cristina, who was then running for re-election, was doing “remarkably well” and undergoing a “remarkable expansion.”

And then? More tomorrow.

Trumbo crosses the pond

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Bryan Cranston as Trumbo

Last week, we examined reviews of the new movie Trumbo, which purports to tell the story of Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter of films like Spartacus and Roman Holiday. Critic after critic, we noted, failed to challenge Trumbo‘s benign view of what it means to be a Communist.

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John Goodman in Trumbo

Perhaps the most egregrious offender was veteran showbiz scribe Rex Reed, who despite having lived through Stalinism apparently believes that Communism is somehow not incompatible with democracy. On Friday we focused on a couple of prominent reviewers who actually got it right – Godfrey Cheshire, for example, who points out that Communists like Trumbo “were hoping for a revolution to overthrow American democracy.”

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Helen Mirren in Trumbo

As it happens, a postscript is in order. Trumbo, which opened in the U.S. on November 25, didn’t open in the U.K. and Ireland until this past Friday. And several of the notices in major publications on the British isles, gratifyingly, have proven to be far better informed than the reviews in places like Time and the Boston Globe and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Writing in the Mirror, David Edwards mocked a scene in which Trumbo explains his politics to his young daughter by telling her “that Communism is the same thing as sharing her packed lunch with a classmate who has nothing to eat.” This scene, Edwards charged,

suggests that we, the viewers, are as naive and uncomprehending as a six year old. And in its attempt to make Trumbo a misunderstood hero, any mention of his support for Joseph Stalin and other murderous dictators is deliberately but jarringly avoided. Instead we’re given a portrait of a man of unimpeachable integrity whose biggest fault is boozing in the bathtub and ignoring his family.

Donald Clarke, in the Irish Times, makes the same point. The film, he complains, doesn’t give us “any convincing investigation of Trumbo’s politics,” instead portraying him “as as a democratic socialist in the mode of Bernie Sanders.” All this, says Clarke, reflects a “gutlessness…that suggests the mainstream is still not quite comfortable with the red meat of radical politics.”

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Diane Lane and Cranston in Trumbo

The Economist‘s anonymous critic noted that despite the film’s overblown rhetoric “about the blacklist years being ‘a time of fear’ and ‘evil,’” there’s barely a glimpse of any of this in the picture itself:

Even after being blacklisted, the hero’s main complaint is that he is in such great demand that he is too busy to celebrate his daughter’s birthday….At his lowest ebb, he pockets $12,000 for three days’ script-doctoring, most of which he does in the bath while sipping Scotch. Not much of a martyr. Then comes the farcical moment when Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger bump into each other on his front porch as they beg him to work on Spartacus and Exodus. Trumbo is less an indictment of Hollywood’s cowardice than a jobbing screenwriter’s wildest fantasy.

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Goodman, Mirren, and Cranston at Trumbo premiere

Even Peter Bradshaw of the left-wing Guardian called the film on its Communist apologetics. While Bradshaw felt that Trumbo‘s story “needed to be told,” he still criticized it for failing “to challenge Trumbo’s unrepentant communism, a culpable naivety in the light of the gulags.” (Bradshaw also suggested, interestingly, that a biopic about actor Edward G. Robinson or director Elia Kazan, both of whom “named names” to the House Un-American Activities Committee, would have been more of a challenging choice.)

The readiness of many stateside reviewers of Trumbo to buy into its whitewashing of Communism remains depressing. But it’s heartening to know that at least some film critics know better.

Meet Labour’s new pro-jihad spokesman

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Seumas Milne

His name is Seumas Milne, and he’s the new head of communications for Jeremy Corbyn, who in September was named head of the Labour Party in Britain. We’ve already taken a look at Corbyn himself, who’s a big fan of Vladimir Putin and an admirer of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. As we’ve seen, the ascent of such a far-left character to his party’s top job occasioned considerable unease among Labourites and Tories alike.

Milne, it turns out, is even worse. Son of a former director of the BBC, he’s an alumnus of Winchester College, of Balliol College, Oxford, and of Birkbeck College, London University. He served as business mananger of a Stalinist monthly called Straight Left. Later, he spent three years at The Economist (it’s interesting, by the way, to learn that The Economist had no problem hiring a Stalinist). Then he moved to The Guardian, where he reported from around the world and then, for several years, edited the paper’s comments section.

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Jeremy Corbyn

These days, Milne might not call himself a Stalinist, but his politics speak for themselves. Briefly put, he despises capitalism, hates the U.S. and Israel and deplores Britain’s alliance with both, and is a reliable apologist for Communists and jihadists everywhere. In piece after piece, he’s warned against equating Stalin with Hitler, against reducing the USSR to Stalin, and against reducing Communism to the USSR. He’s eager to make the point that just became the USSR did some bad things and ended up on the ashheap of history doesn’t mean that Communism itself is, by its very nature, undesirable or unworkable. Repeatedly, he’s argued that Stalin’s abuses were no worse than those committed by the British Empire, and that today’s jihadist assaults on British targets are defensible payback for today’s British (and American) imperialism.

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Osama bin Ladin, Guardian op-ed contributor

Tom McTague, reporting on Milne’s apppointment in the Daily Mail, noted that Milne had once published a speech by Osama bin Ladin on the Guardian‘s website, running it under the terrorist’s byline as if it were an ordinary op-ed. Two days after 9/11, Milne wrote that Americans “can’t see why they’re hated” and that they were “reaping a dragons’ teeth harvest they themselves sowed.” At a 2014 anti-Israel rally, he expressed the view that Israel has no right to self-defense but that Palestinians do. “It isn’t terrorism to fight back,” Milne maintained. “The terrorism is the killing of citizens by Israel on an industrial scale.”

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Fusilier Lee Rigby

Milne’s appointment brought cries of outrage from many quarters. In the Telegraph, former Labour MP Tom Harris described him as “a hate figure for the right of the Labour Party” who is “contemptuous of traditional working class attitudes to Queen and country.” Harris cited with disgust Milne’s statement that the brutal May 2013 murder, in London, of Fusilier Lee Rigby by two jihadists “was not terrorism in the normal sense of an indiscriminate attack on civilians” because “Rigby was a British soldier who had taken part in multiple combat operations in Afghanistan.” On the contrary, Rigby’s killing was the “predicted” (and thus, one gathered, permissible) “consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries.” Elsewhere, noted Harris, Milne served up “glowing descriptions of Iraqi insurgents attempting to blow up [UK] voters’ sons and daughters wearing British army uniforms.”

Others shared Harris’s revulsion. We’ll move on to them tomorrow.

Putin’s Labour honcho

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: Britain’s new Labour Party leader.

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Corbyn not singing “God Save the Queen”

There’s a lot that can be said about Jeremy Corbyn, the politician from Islington whose recent ascent to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party has sparked (to put it mildly) immense controversy. After his election to the top post on September 12, he proudly belted out “The Red Flag” – a dusty old Commie tune, long popular among politically active and revolutionary-minded workers, that Tony Blair and New Labour tried to shelve back in the 1990s because of its radical-left associations – but, attending a Battle of Britain memorial service shortly after his election, Corbyn famously refused to sing “God Save the Queen.” The Economist, in a commentary headlined “Backwards, comrades!”, called his rise to power “a grave misfortune” for Britain; Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice, wrote that if Corbyn were to become Prime Minister, it would represent “a direct threat to the security of our country, the security of our economy and the security of every family….The country would face economic chaos.”

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Vladimir Putin

That’s not all. He’s also a big Putin fan. An August 12 headline at the International Business Times website didn’t pull punches: “Is Jeremy Corbyn Putin’s latest ‘useful idiot’ in Europe?” Reporter Tom Porter noted that Corbyn, writing in March 2014, had “oppose[d] providing Ukraine with military support in the wake of the Maidan revolution, and echoe[d] Russian claims that it was Nato scheming that lay at the heart of the crisis.” In comments that might have been written by Putin himself, Corbyn complained that Ukraine had been “put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and Nato military orbit” and sought to paint the Maidan revolution as “far-right and racist.” Instead of acknowledging Putin’s own saber-rattling, Corbyn acted as if NATO was the aggressor: “Nato has sought to expand since the end of the Cold War. It has increased its military capability and expenditure. It operates way beyond its original 1948 area and its attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”

jeremy-corbyn-poll-lead“To any viewers of Kremlin-owned news and propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT),” observed Porter dryly, “these views will be familiar.” Indeed, as Porter pointed out, “Corbyn has appeared as a guest on RT, and in a tweet urged followers to watch the station, arguing it provides a more ‘objective’ coverage of world affairs than Western media.” A few days before Porter’s column came out, Anne Applebaum, the brilliant historian of Soviet Communism and author of the sobering and meticulous Gulag: A History, said straight-out that Corbyn is a useful idiot, “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by Nato, rather than by the ‘separatists’ who have invaded eastern Ukraine and are paid, trained and organised by Russia itself.”

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Anne Applebaum

Journalist James Bloodworth agreed, describing Corbyn as “remarkably good at proffering apologetics for dictatorship and tyranny,” including that of Vladimir Putin. Writing in the Telegraph, also in August, political editor Michael Wilkinson and Russia correspondent Roland Oliphant quoted Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, who is “considered very close to the Russian foreign ministry,” as saying that “Russia would certainly be pleased to see [Corbyn] as the head of either major party.”

Indeed, after Corbyn’s election, this remarkable sentence appeared in the Huffington Post: “The Russian embassy has given Jeremy Corbyn its support amid the Conservative Party attacking the new Labour leader over being a threat to national security.” Does one laugh or cry?

Putin’s boys in Budapest

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrates his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending today and the next few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: a couple of Hungary’s top dogs.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his speech during the meeting the Professiors' Bathyany Group in Budapest on September 7, 2010. At home at least, the popularity of Hungary's new Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who secured an historic two-thirds majority in general elections in April, remains unbroken. With the government marking its 100th day in power opinion polls show support for the charismatic leader still at an astonishing 64 percent, making the 47-year-old the country's most popular premier ever. AFP PHOTO / FERENC ISZA
Viktor Orban

It’s not every day that a prime minister publicly declares his determination to turn his country into an “illiberal” state. Granted, more than a few heads of government, as we’ve seen on this site, are working hard toward that very goal, but they usually don’t go out of their way to advertise it. Yet that’s precisely what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban did last year. And the reason he gave for wanting to make Hungary “illiberal” was that, in his view, Vladimir Putin has done such a terrific job of making Russia an “illiberal” success story.

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Orban with his hero

Orban, you see, is a big fan of Putin. In fact, to quote the Telegraph, he’s done such an effective job of “harassing civil liberty groups, clamping down on the press and entrenching his grip on power” that critics have called him a “little Putin.” In February, the Russian president visited Orban in – as the Telegraph put it – “an attempt to show the world he still has a friend in the EU despite East-West tension over Ukraine.” The visit was marked by a sizable protest one of whose organizers warned that Hungary, which in the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed like a solid democracy and U.S. ally in the making, is “getting ever closer to the Russian model and farther from the European one.” In short, Orban’s plans are working.

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At a joint press conference

Orban announced his country’s new direction in a speech given on July 26 of last year. “The new state that we are building in Hungary today,” he declared, “is not a liberal state. It doesn’t deny liberalism’s basic values such as freedom but doesn’t make it a core element. It uses a particular, nationalist approach.” As Tim McNamara explained in Policy Review not long after the speech, Orban’s “populist nationalism” peddles the concept of Hungarian exceptionalism, depicts the EU and US as enemies, demonizes opponents of his ruling Fidesz Party, works to close down foreign-funded civil-society groups, and uses a combination of methods (described by McNamara as “remarkably similar…to what has happened in Russia”) to intimidate, bankrupt, buy off, seduce, or just plain crush opposition media. Yet leaders of the European Union (which Hungary joined in 2004) have been pretty much silent about this systematic violation of purported EU values. 

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Gábor Vona

And what about NATO, of which Hungary has been a member since 1999? In a time when other countries in Russia’s neighborhood are uneasy about Putin’s saber-rattling and are begging for a stronger NATO presence within their borders, how can Orban’s government possibly be seen as a reliable partner in the defense pact and not as the likely ally of a potential aggressor? As Keith Johnson wrote about Hungary in Foreign Policy last November, “While Europe and the United States are trying to build a common front to push back against Russian aggression…one member of the team seems to be switching jerseys.”

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Vona with Aleksandr Dugin

This April, the Economist brought what might have seemed like hopeful tidings: “a row with America over corruption, Mr Orban’s cosying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the flashy lifestyles of some Fidesz leaders” were eroding the ruling party’s support among the Hungarian electorate. But in fact it looks more as if Hungary is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire: for as Fidesz falters, more and more Hungarian voters are turning to another party, Jobbik, which has its own “paramilitary wing” and a platform that makes Fidesz look like Amnesty International. Jobbik doesn’t try to hide its savage contempt for (among much else) gays, Jews, and Israel. And let’s not forget the U.S., which, according to party leader Gábor Vona, is engaged in the vile business of “spread[ing] a subhuman culture” around the world.

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Vona and a colleague at the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament

Meanwhile, guess whom Vona is cozying up to? In the last couple of years, he’s lectured in Moscow on invitation from Putin intimate Aleksandr Dugin – who calls for “the restoration of the Russian Empire through the unification of Russian-speaking territories” and seeks to “hasten the ‘end of times’ with all out war” – and praised Putin’s Russia as a “Eurasian power that could spearhead a real political, economic and cultural resistance against the Euro-Atlantic block.” (It’s no coincidence that Vona was head of the Hungarian-Russian friendship group in the Hungarian Parliament.) Writing last year in Foreign Affairs, Mitchell A. Orenstein stated flatly that “Putin has taken the Jobbik party under his wing.”

What more do we need to know? The facts are clear: barring some thoroughly unforeseen development, Hungary will in all likelihood either continue to be governed by Fidesz during the next few years or pass into the hands of Jobbik. Which means that this strategically located member of the EU and NATO seems destined to become more and more of a satellite (and Xerox copy) of Putin’s Russia.

It’s a sad prospect for the Hungarian people – and a dangerous one for Europe and the West. In other words, just what Putin wants.