The ACLU: not only leftist, but dishonest about it

As we saw last Thursday, the celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz, an old-style liberal and former ACLU board member, has charged that organization with no longer being what it used to be – namely, a politically neutral, thoroughly objective defender of freedom of speech. Instead, he maintains, the ACLU is more fixated on opposing Trump than on standing up for the First Amendment.

Susan Herman

Predictably, ACLU officials dismissed Dershowitz’s claims. “I do not personally have any concern that our staff is acting in a partisan manner,” said ACLU president Susan Herman. “We have opposed partisan gerrymandering, for example, whether by Republicans in Wisconsin or Democrats in Maryland.” David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, defended the ACLU by going on the attack, accusing Dershowitz of focusing “virtually all of his energy on defending the asserted rights of the most powerful man in the U.S. and his personal lawyer.” Neither Herman nor Cole, however, had anything to say about their organization’s curious lack of involvement in one case after another involving the systematic repression of non-leftist speech on American college campuses.

David Cole

Moreover, only weeks after Herman and Cole insisted that the ACLU’s mission remained unchanged, the New Yorker reported, in its issue of June 8, that the organization was, in fact, “getting involved in elections — and reinventing itself for the Trump era.” Having been “fastidiously nonpartisan” for almost a century, the ACLU was now planning “to spend more than 25 million dollars on races and ballot initiatives by Election Day, in November.”

Alan Dershowitz

This announcement could not be seen as anything other than proof that Dershowitz was right – and that Herman and Cole were trying to have their cake and eat it too. As Dershowitz wrote in a June 11 article, today’s ACLU “wears only one shoe, and it is on its left foot….The only dispute is whether it supports the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or its more centrist wing. There is little doubt that most board members today support the progressive wing, though some think that even that wing is not sufficiently left. There is no longer any room in the ACLU for true conservatives who are deeply committed to neutral civil liberties. The litmus test is support for hard-left policies.”

Anthony Romero

We’ve heard from the ACLU’s “president” and from its “national legal director.” It also has a “director.” The man’s name is Anthony Romero, and Dershowitz describes him as a “radical leftist” who “refers to those of us who favor the ACLU traditional mission as ‘the old guard.’” In his June 11 piece, Dershowitz cited another critic of the 2018 version of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, who served as the group’s director from 1978 to 2001 and who now says that the ACLU’s course change “has the capacity to destroy the organization as it has always existed.” That seems to be a mild way of putting it. Dershowitz notes Glasser’s concern that a left-leaning ACLU would ignore violation of civil liberties by fellow leftists – even though, as Dershowitz puts it, “some of the greatest violations of civil liberties throughout history” have come from that quarter, notably FDR’s wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans.

As it happens, Dershowitz and Glasser aren’t alone in pointing out – and lamenting – the ACLU’s left turn. More on Thursday.

 

Just what New York needed – another socialist!

She’s accused Israel of committing massacres of Palestinians. She’s called for the abolition of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), charging that it’s on its way to becoming a “paramilitary” organization. She’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a former organizer of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run.

The candidate and her supporters at the moment of victory

Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she’s 28 years old, and on June 26, in America’s biggest electoral upset since the 2016 presidential election itself, she won the Democratic primary in the race for New York State’s 14th Congressional district, defeating ten-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, who is head of the House Democratic Caucus, who had not faced a primary challenge since 2004, who was widely expected to replace Nancy Pelosi next year as Minority Leader, and whose seat pretty much everybody thought was safe. Since the district is heavily Democratic, it’s expected that she will sail to victory in the general election in November, becoming the youngest woman ever to sit in Congress.

Nixon’s the one!

Calling her victory “stunning” – she won by 15 points, after having been 36 points behind in the polls only three weeks earlier – the editors of New York Post suggested that it might signal that “the Democratic Party in New York is moving hard left.” The editors noted that Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City actress who is mounting a radical-left primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo, has supported Ocasio-Cortez and “plans to use every opportunity to link their campaigns in the public eye.”

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

As for Ocasio-Cortez herself, she instantly became, in the words of John Cassidy in The New Yorker, “a national political sensation.” Never mind her radical views. Never mind that she’s in bed with the far-left group Move On and the deep-pink Working Families Party (which in turn is cozy with the Communist Party USA) and that she wants to impeach Trump. Never mind that during the campaign she sold herself as a working-class girl from the Bronx when, in fact, although born in that borough, she is the daughter of an architect and actually grew up, from age five onward, in the affluent Westchester community of Yorktown Heights.

Joe Crowley

No, in today’s mainstream American culture, far-left – and even borderline Communist – views have become normalized, while opinions (such as a belief in strong borders) that only a decade or two ago were taken for granted as reasonable on both sides of the aisle are now widely smeared as inhuman.

So it was that two days after her victory Ocasio-Cortez turned up on Stephen Colbert’s show, where the host – who, of course, makes a career of mocking everything the President says and does – slathered her with praise. Even before Colbert explained that she identifies as a “Democratic Socialist,” the audience responded to her account of her victory with several bouts of fervent, mindless applause, it appearently being enough for them, in these days when identity labels trump all else, that she was young, female, and Latina. (And pretty.)

But then, as noted, Colbert mentioned the “Democratic Socialist” label, and asked her what those words mean to her. She proceeded to answer the question with a Sanders-like laundry list of free stuff that everybody should get from the government, and with each new item, the audience rewarded her with yet another round of eager applause and cheers. Colbert told her that her list was a worthy one, and then proceeded to wax sarcastic – not about Ocasio-Cortez herself, heaven forbid, but about – who else? – President Trump, whose tweet about Crowley’s loss he read aloud. Trump’s take was that Crowley should have “been more respectful to his president.” Do you, Colbert asked Ocasio-Cortez, plan to be respectful to Trump? Her reply: “I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.” Lusty cheers all around. Welcome to 2018 America, where an ever-growing percentage of the population thinks socialism is just plain peachy keen.

“The white Jeremiah Wright”

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Fr. Michael Pfleger

Yesterday we met Father Michael Pfleger, a prominent Chicago priest and ally of Barack Obama’s who has been celebrated in The New Yorker and elsewhere as a crusading civil-rights hero. As we noted, he’s also a close friend of Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan.

“You can think of Father Michael Pfleger as the white Reverend Jeremiah Wright,” wrote Daniel Greenfield in 2008. “Not only does Father Michael Pfleger have a longstanding association with Wright and his Church, he has longstanding ties to Louis Farrakhan.” Indeed, Pfleger has said the following about Farrakhan:

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Pfleger enjoying a friendly moment with Farrakhan

I’ve known the minister both as someone who I have great respect for as a prophetic voice, as a mentor but also as a friend and as a brother. We’ve become very close friends over the years. Our families have been close; he’s shared dinner at my house as I have at his many, many times. He has preached from our pulpit here at this church on three different occasions.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In 2015, Pfleger wrote on Facebook:

Looking forward to getting on the bus tomorrow night to go to DC for the Anniversary of the Million Man March….and hearing my Brother Minister Louis Farrakhan….There is no leader in America who can draw the attention and hearts of millions of people seeking Justice and Truth like him……I thank God for his friendship and his Prophetic and courageous Voice….we never needed it more than right now…….Love my Brother.

In 2010, Pfleger, Wright, and Farrakhan came together on a single stage. The occasion: the presentation to all three of them of “Living Legends” awards. Who gave out the awards? Wright himself. Yes, he gave himself an award – just like some tinpot African dictator.

Of course, Wright and Farrakhan aren’t Pfleger’s only friends. He has a lot of them – many of whom are quite famous. In 2015, Matt C. Abbott called Pfleger a “well-known instigator who often panders to liberal politicians and celebrities.” And the celebrities who call Pfleger a friend are nothing less than multitudinous. Among those to whom Pfleger has gladly played host are the race hustler Al Sharpton and the radical singer Harry Belafonte (who, like Pfleger himself, took to Pfleger’s pulpit to blame the U.S. for 9/11). Kareem Irfan, a leading Chicago imam who has excused terrorist beheadings and has close links to terrorists, was also invited to speak at Pfleger’s church – on a 9/11 anniversary, no less.

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Pfleger leading an anti-gun protest

What else is there to say about Pfleger? Well, one thing is that the list of protests he’s led would fill a small book. In 2002, he “led a rally at the Dirksen Federal Building condemning the destruction of [Yasir] Arafat’s compound” in Gaza. Once he led a gun-control protest outside a gun shop, telling the shop owner: “We’re gonna find you and snuff you out.” (He also said he’d “snuff out” politicians who oppose gun control.) In 2014, he led his parishioners in a street protest against violence – not against the gang murders that have made Chicago the murder capital of America, mind you, but against the Chicago police, whom Pfleger accused of “genocide.”

Arthur Miller’s crucible

Yesterday we started exploring the life and career of the late playwright Arthur Miller, who continues to be viewed by mainstream American cultural commentators as a pillar of principle – and who, since his death in 2005, has been shown to have been an active Communist.

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Arthur Miller in 1966

Indeed, historian Ron Capshaw has shown that Miller, even after becoming a famous writer, was careful to alter his political views in accordance with changes in Party orthodoxy. To sum up these changes briefly: during the 1930s, the CPUSA rejected all non-proletarian literature (i.e., literature that did not center thematically on the oppression of the workingman by the capitalist system); in 1944, under Earl Browder, the Party became more tolerant, accepting certain kind of non-proletarian writing as legitimate; a year later, however, after Browder was replaced as head of the Party by William Foster, “Browderism” became heresy. Through all these shifts in policy, Miller kept one finger firmly in the wind, dutifully reflecting the pronouncements of the Party bosses in his plays and other writings.

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Later, he would write The Crucible as an outraged reaction to the execution for treason of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose crime was nothing less than having helped pass the secrets of the atom bomb to the Kremlin. What’s interesting is that while he opposed the Rosenbergs’ execution, in 1949, participating in a New Masses symposium, he expressed the opinion that the American poet Ezra Pound, who had lived in Italy during the war and delivered crackpot radio speeches in support of Mussolini, should be shot. In short, while Miller viewed fascist treason as a capital crime, then, he did not see Communist treason in the same way.

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The original 1953 production of The Crucible

For Miller, indeed, Communism was no treason at all. In a 1996 article in The New Yorker, he explained that he had written The Crucible because he recognized certain experiences as universal: just as people in colonial Salem had turned the other way when their neighbors were arrested for witchcraft, and gentiles in Nazi Germany had turned away when their Jewish neighbors had been arted off to Auschwitz, so in the 1950s “the old friend of a blacklisted person” could be seen “crossing the street to avoid being seen talking to him.”

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Senator Joseph McCarthy

Note that Miller here equated Communists not with Nazis but with the Jewish victims of Nazis; the Nazis he equated with Joe McCarthy and HUAC. Four years later, writing in the Guardian, he revisited his reasons for writing The Crucible, this time ridiculing the belief, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, “that a massive, profoundly organized conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labor activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government.”

Miller treats this “belief” as an absurdity. On the contrary, the existence in midcentury America of a large-scale intellectual conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government is an irrefutable historical fact. Indeed, it is a fact that has become increasingly well substantiated in recent years as more and more incriminating documents from the Soviet archives have come to light.

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Nine of the Hollywood Ten

And this fact, as has often been noted, points to the central problem with The Crucible and its supposed relevance to what (thanks to Miller) came to be called the anti-Communist “witch hunt”: in seventeenth-century Salem, there were no witches; in mid twentieth-century America, there was an underground network of would-be Communist revolutionaries, and Miller was an active member of it. The executed “witches” of Salem were innocent victims; the Rosenbergs were anything but innocent, and neither were the Hollywood Ten, all of whom have been shown to be card-carrying Communists. And neither was Miller himself.

(Another failed parallel should also perhaps be pointed out: while the Salem “witches” were put to death, the Communists that HUAC and McCarthy uncovered were deprived of work by the Hollywood studios for a few years, with a few being jailed very briefly for failing to turn over subpoenaed documents. Whether or not one considers their questioning by Congress or their punishment by the studios to have been just, the fact is that most of them were extremely well-off people who did not suffer materially for having been found out as Communists.) 

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Inge Morath

Yesterday, we began our brief look at Arthur Miller by noting his image as a man of profound social conscience. One closing detail. Miller and his third wife, photographer Inge Morath, had a son, Daniel, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1966. Inge wanted to keep the baby, but at Miller’s insistence he was put away in an institution near their home, which, according to one former employee, “was not a place you would want your dog to live.” Inge visited Daniel weekly; Miller never saw him – not once. He refused to talk about Daniel, and in his autobiography, Timebends, which came out in 1987 (by which time Daniel had moved into a group home), Miller dropped the boy entirely down the memory hole. Still later, apparently under pressure from his son-in-law, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Miller agreed to meet his son, who by then was doing very well and living on his own. But when Inge died, Miller told the Times obituarist that they had only one child together, their daughter, Rebecca. This from a man whose most admired play, Death of a Salesman, concludes with a famous speech in which a character, speaking at the grave of Willy Loman, passionately insists that “attention must be paid” to the life of even such an apparently insignificant person as this just-deceased salesman.

Such, then, was the moral hypocrisy of Arthur Miller – whose private morality could not have been more thoroughly inconsistent with his glorious public image as a world-class bulwark of social conscience.

Happy birthday, Fidel!

FILE - In this July 26, 2006 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro pauses as addresses a crowd of Latin American students gathered in Pedernales, in Holguin province, Cuba, for the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks. As Fidel Castro gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday on Aug. 13, 2016, many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say time has proven that Castro’s economic ideas do not work. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano, File)
Fidel Castro, in a photo accompanying the Atlantic Monthly’s report on his 90th birthday

When Fidel Castro turned 90 on August 13, some of the leading news organs in the English-speaking world took the opportunity to commemorate the occasion. How? By recalling his decades of tyranny, torture, and terror? Nope. Mostly, they chose to portray Fidel as “the great survivor” – which, as it happens, was the title of Will Grant‘s piece for BBC News, for which Grant journeyed to Fidel’s hometown to collect cozy stories about the Great Man’s childhood.

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This heroic image accompanied the New Yorker’s 90th birthday tribute

It was dismaying, but hardly surprising, to witness the readiness of one major news organization after another to whitewash Fidel’s brutality and to pretend that he’s actually accomplished anything positive for his freedom-deprived people. Take CBS News, whose Portia Siegelbaum provided us with the adorable information that Fidel spends most of his birthdays “sharing a cake with young children.” Cuban TV, she noted, had recently been broadcasting “a massive class in Cuban history” every night; it seemed not to have occurred to her that this offering by the state-run media might be less history than propaganda.

Siegelbaum also told us that “most Cubans feel Fidel Castro has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” What was her evidence for this claim? She didn’t say. How do you perform a scientific survey of such questions in a country where the people risk being imprisoned and tortured if they whisper a single word in criticism of their leaders? (One thing’s for sure: very few of the 1.5 million Cubans who’ve fled their island prison to live in the U.S. feel the nonagenarian dictator “has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” Not to mention the opinions of the long-dead victims of Che’s firing squads and those who perished in Fidel’s prisons.)

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Fidel with Che Guevara, in a photograph for the New York Times – his revolution’s #1 international propaganda tool

Concluding her piece, in what was apparently meant as some sort of affectionate salute to Fidel’s enduring influence, Siegelbaum actually called him “the man who for more than five decades set the political discourse on what life should be like on the largest of the Caribbean islands.”

Um, yeah, Portia – that’s called dictatorship.

Then there was Jon Lee Anderson‘s Fidel piece for the New Yorker, in which the word dictator appeared exactly twice – not to label Fidel, but to describe, first, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and, second, Fidel’s predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. Anderson summed up the purported highlights of Fidel’s rule – the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hundreds of alleged CIA attempts to kill Fidel – but there was no mention of the soul-crushing, economy-destroying Communist system itself, or of Fidel’s mass incarceration, torture, and murder of thousands of his own subjects.

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The Guardian, in illustrating its Fidel-turns-90 piece, went with this touching shot

Calling Fidel an “elder statesman” in “the twilight of his life,” Anderson reflected that the ongoing changes in Cuba “must be deeply poignant” for the old man, accepted with credulity the claim that Fidel’s chief concerns nowadays are with “the risks posed by arms proliferation, global warming, and food scarcities,” and stated, in a sentimental concluding flourish, that Fidel, at the most recent Party Congress, “reaffirmed his faith in Communism, in the future of Cuba, and the legacy that he believed Cuba’s Communists had forged.” As if this “legacy” were anything other than pure, unadulterated evil.

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann made one of the most curious choices of all, putting front and center the hundreds of supposed murder attempts that Fidel supposedly survived over the decades. Fidel, Oppmann wrote, “has lived much of his long life in the spotlight – and much of it in the crosshairs – surviving a half century of assassination plots.” (It seemed highly likely that the authors of several of these birthday pieces were working from the same official Havana press release.) No mention, naturally, of the number of people Fidel managed to bump off during that half century. Oppmann cited Fidel’s “reputation as a cheater of death” – never mind, again, his longtime career as a dealer of death.

castro1Instead of acknowledging, moreover, that the overwhelming majority of those who wanted Fidel dead were freedom-loving Cubans, many of whom had been tortured by Castro’s henchmen and forced to flee their beloved homeland, Oppmann painted Fidel as the victim in a struggle against (who else?) the Mob: “Few had as much reason to want Castro dead as the American mafia.”

In short, a shameful showing by the Western media. But of course we should have expected that the 90th birthday of Cuba’s vile old despot would bring the useful hack-journalist stooges crawling out of their ratholes. 

Eulogies for a Stalinist

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Alexander Cockburn

As we’ve noted, Alexander Cockburn‘s death unleashed a torrent of praise from the mainstream media, most of which pretended that he’d been something of a classical liberal. The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg didn’t play that game – in fact, he admitted that Cockburn’s politics had been morally offensive – but he sought to put those politics into, shall we say, some kind of larger context. Emphasizing style over substance, personality over ideology, Hertzberg recalled “the dazzle of [Cockburn’s] charisma in the eyes of a certain cohort of bohemian and would-be bohemian youth” back in the 1970s. Hertzberg exulted: “what style! Cockburn was a rare bird, a peacock among the scowling mudhens of America’s humor-challenged Nixon-era New Left. He was a combative Fleet Street Oxbridge dandy, a prolific, lightning-fast writer, often laugh-out-loud funny, with a rich store of obscure (to us provincials) historical allusions and a knack for deploying a tone of elaborate courtesy in the joyful delivery of delicious insult.”

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Hendrik Hertzberg

He was a Stalinist, in short: an apologist for the Gulag, the Moscow show trials, the Holodomor, and much else. But oh, what sense of humor! What charm! What wit! And there was more: “Cockburn’s speaking voice was as seductive as his wit was sharp. He was good-looking, too, in the angular, joli laid way of certain British star performers. A bit of Jagger, a bit of Peter O’Toole.” 

Yes, a Peter O’Toole in the service of the Kremlin. 

One person who didn’t try to obscure the straightforward facts about this man was the distinguished historian Ronald Radosh, who quite rightly called Cockburn “the true successor of Walter Duranty, a man who wrote to serve the enemies of the United States and to glorify what he saw as the great achievements of the Bolsheviks and their successors.”

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Ronald Radosh

Radosh noted that when he, Radosh, favorably reviewed former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares’s memoir Against All Hope – a book that, as Radosh put it, revealed “the truth about the torture state that Fidel Castro had created in Cuba, thereby making the public aware for the first time in our country of the reality of how Castro treated his country’s political opponents” – Cockburn responded by disseminating the Havana regime’s lies, smearing the valiant Valladares and dismissing his accounts of torture as counterrevolutionary lies.

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Armando Valladares

In a letter to The Nation protesting Cockburn’s reprehensible effort to discredit Valladares, Radosh observed that the only reasonable conclusion one could come to after reading it was that Cockburn supported Castro’s torturing of his opponents. Cockburn, in his reply, derided Radosh as “a professional anticommunist, with the tunnel vision that goes with that trade,” and again denied that Castro’s government engaged in torture.

Given the kind of information to which Cockburn had ready access, it is impossible to interpret his statements about Castro and Radosh as anything other than the most cynical and heartless of lies. 

Rousseff: round two

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Dilma Rousseff

We’ve been looking this week at Brazil, where, under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who served as its president from 2003 to 2010, the country’s economy boomed. Then his chief of staff, an apparatchik named Dilma Rousseff, was elected to succeed him – and everything started going down the drain.

Not that Rousseff is fully to blame for this decline. It’s clear that its seeds were sown under Lula, when the president and his ideological allies managed to convince themselves that Brazil owed its new prosperity to their welfare programs, rather than to a massive increase in trade with China. But it was Rousseff who was in charge once growth started to falter. Not understanding how economies worked, she responded to her nation’s calamity by doubling down on taxes, bureaucracy, and tariffs – a disastrous formula that guaranteed increasing stagnation. Nor did it help that the massive government and Workers’ Party corruption set in system under Lula only got worse, if anything, on her watch.  

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At a campaign event

Despite the bad choices of her first term, Rousseff was re-elected (by a very close margin) in October 2014. Comments by her supporters left the impression that she’d won despite her handling of the economy, not because of it. (One voter, Natascha Otoya, while admitting that Rousseff’s government had been involved in “corruption,” “embezzlement,” and “white collar crimes,” said that “as a woman, a feminist and a socialist, I am very glad that Dilma has won! 4 more years for the left, I can only be happy about that.”) According to one source, Rousseff was re-elected only because a law requiring Brazilians to vote had guaranteed a big pro-Dilma turnout in poor regions, where people “feared losing their social programs.” 

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Ronaldo Caiado

Unsurprisingly, her victory was celebrated in places like the New Yorker, where John Cassidy called it a win “for the world’s financial markets.” Brazil, insisted Cassidy, was “no basket case.”

Not yet, perhaps. But after Election Day, things got a lot worse – and did so very fast. “There is a process of economic, social and moral collapse under way,” said Senator Ronaldo Caiado, an opposition politician, on March 15, a mere two and a half months into Rousseff’s second term.

Then came the Petrobras scandal. Petrobras is Brazil’s national energy company. From 2003 to 2010, Rousseff, in addition to her other positions under Lula, had served as chair of Petrobras. Operation Car Wash, a probe into the firm’s operations from 2004 to 2014, began in 2014. It soon uncovered evidence that about $2 billion in company funds had been stolen during that decade by Petrobras officials, construction companies, and politicians – Rousseff included.

More on that probe – and the results thereof – tomorrow.

Mickey Rourke’s price tag – and other Putin purchases

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Sophia Loren and Putin at a 2012 event

Yesterday we discussed a December 2010 benefit at which stars like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke gleefully rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin.

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Paul Anka obviously enjoying himself

That was bad enough. But it gets worse. Guess what? The benefit, it turned out, hadn’t really been a benefit at all: not a single hospital or clinic or other such organization ended up receiving so much as a ruble as a result of it. Yet that didn’t keep Putin’s pals from organizing a similar event the following year – and, astonishingly, it didn’t prevent another gaggle of famous folk from turning up.

Among them: Chris Noth of Sex and the City, Sophia Loren, Steven Seagal, Andrea Bocelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Jeremy Irons – and Isabella Rosellini, who, according to the New Yorker, had been informed that morning that she was involved in a scambut was unfazed by it.”

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Mickey Rourke in Putin t-shirt

Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, writing about these shenanigans recently in Buzzfeed, provided information about Seagal’s trips to Russia – which they described as “frequent” – that was new to us. In 2007 he visited Kalmykia, a majority-Buddhist province, and promised its leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to produce and star in a movie about Genghis Khan; when that project failed to get green-lighted, Seagal blamed “the Jews”: “There are no Buddhists among the people who finance movies,” he explained. Another tidbit from Buzzfeed: last August, while Russian troops were pouring into Ukraine, Mickey Rourke, in exchange for a $50,000 Kremlin payment, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt. (Rourke had previously said that he purchased the t-shirt of his own accord and solely for reasons of private sentiment: “I have a Russian girlfriend.”) 

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Woody Allen shaking the hand of Roman Abramovich, whom Putin has described as a “son”

Finally, as recently as this June – while Poland and the Baltic republics were begging NATO to beef up their defenses in case of a possible Russian invasion – Woody Allen was spotted in Russia again, this time attending the opening of a new art museum owned by billionaire – and Putin intimate – Roman Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova. Other guests at the opening included George Lucas, Harvey Weinstein, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Salma Hayek. Was Allen, we wonder, paid to be there – or was he, perhaps, fishing for Russian financing for a future project? As for Putin, is he courting these people, who’ve already provided him with positive press in the West, in hopes of developing some larger-scale, longer-term connection with some of the Tinseltown powers-that-be? Who’s better at propaganda, after all, than Hollywood?