Labour’s Madame Mao

We’ve already written here about the head of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who’s a fan of Hugo Chávez’s disastrous socialist “revolution” in Venezuela, and about the party’s recently appointed spokesman, Seumas Milne, who (to put it mildly) has a soft spot for Stalin.

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Diane Abbott

Well, here’s another high-profile Labourite for whom the label of useful stooge is manifestly appropriate: Diane Abbott, an MP since 1987 and currently Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Abbott was Britain’s first black female MP, and has long been notorious for her incendiary comments about race. In 1988, for example, she told an audience in the U.S. that “the British invented racism.” And eight years later, she complained that a hospital in her “multicultural” district had hired nursing trainees from Finland. Why? Because, she said, the “blonde, blue-eyed” Finns had probably “never have met a black person before, let alone touched one,” and were therefore incapable of handling black patients. “The hospital,” she maintained, “should have taken on Caribbean staff – they know the language, British culture and institutions.”

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Ian Bruce

Abbott’s remarks outraged one of her Tory colleagues, Ian Bruce, who said: “I have never heard such racist rubbish from an MP in recent years….Most Finnish girls are dark-haired,” he noted, and all of the Nordic nations “have people from African and Caribbean countries living there.” The Royal College of Nursing reacted too, issuing a statement to the effect that Abbott’s comments seemed intended to “set nurse against nurse.” The story even made the news in Finland, where Katri Luukka, head of a nursing school in Helsinki, called Abbott’s statement “[r]eally thick, even for an MP.” The Spectator pointed out that some nursing trainees from Finland were, in fact, black, and that the then-reigning Miss Finland was also black.

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Andrew Neil

Did Abbott learn from that misstep? Nope. On a BBC TV program in 2010, she said that “West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children” – in response to which the host, Andrew Neil, asked: “So black mums love their kids more than white mums, do they?” The next year, in another TV appearance, she called David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the then leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties respectively, “two posh white boys.” And the year after that, she stated in a tweet that whites “love playing ‘divide and rule.’ We should not play their game.”

MP for Stratford on Avon Nadhim Zahawi adjusts his glasses during a discussion on 'The United Kingdom in Action' during the second day of the Conservative Party Conference at the ICC, Birmingham.
Nadhim Zahawi

After that tweet, there were calls for her to resign. Iraqi-born Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi said, “If this was reversed, I guarantee a white politician would have to resign their frontbench post or be sacked.” But Abbott, in a live TV interview with Sky News (see the first video below), held firm, insisting that the problem was not with her views but with people who’d interpreted her words “maliciously.” Her tough stand didn’t last for long, however. During the Sky News interview, her cell phone rang. The caller was Ed Miliband, who at the time was the Labour Party leader. While the TV cameras continued to roll, he gave Abbott “a severe dressing down,” ordering her “to apologise unreservedly” for her tweet. She obeyed – kind of. “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people,” she said in a statement released after the interview. “I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”

But none of these foolish remarks was quite as disgraceful as a claim that Abbott made on a TV chat show (see video below) back in 2008 – and that the Spectator reminded us of in a recent item. Michael Portillo, sitting beside her on the show, observed that Prince Harry had been widely criticized for wearing an SS uniform to a party – but “had he worn a Mao outfit, nobody would have blinked.” When host Andrew Neil asked why this was the case, Abbott chimed in: “I suppose that some people would judge that on balance Mao did more good than wrong. We can’t say that about the Nazis.” 

Exactly what good did Mao do, in Abbott’s view, that would outweigh his murder of tens of millions of people? Abbott’s answer: “He led his country from feudalism, he helped to defeat the Japanese, and he left his country on the verge of the great economic success they are having now.”

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Mao Zedong

Well, let’s break that down. On her first point: yes, Mao led the Chinese from feudalism…to totalitarianism. On her second point: no, Mao didn’t help defeat the Japanese; Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang did. Third, while Taiwan, under the Nationalist Chinese, was becoming a developed nation, the Chinese economy under Mao remained undeveloped. Even now, four decades after Mao’s death, when China is considered an economic powerhouse, its per capital GDP, at around $7,000, is still only a fraction of Taiwan’s, at $32,000. In short, Mao didn’t pave the way for his country’s economic success – his imposition of brutal totalitarian rule prevented his people from attaining Western-style prosperity.

Of course, even if Abbott’s assertions about Mao’s supposed accomplishments were absolutely true, her belief that they somehow outweighed or legitimized or made up for his annihilation of tens of millions of his own people is reprehensible, and should have resulted in her immediate forced resignation from Parliament. But no: she’s still there, and seems to have no plans to leave anytime soon. 

Neil Clark’s “unpeople”

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Klaus with Putin, 2006

This week, we’ve been pondering the transformation of former Czech president Václav Klaus from a “champion of liberty” (to quote the head of the Cato Institute) into an apologist for Vladimir Putin. Many of Klaus’s former admirers have been dismayed by his seemingly inexplicable metamorphosis. One person who’s perfectly happy, however, is Neil Clark, a British journalist who’s written for many of that country’s major newspapers and political journals, including The Guardian, The Express, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, and The Spectator. He’s also, not irrelevantly, a regular talking head on Russia Today. 

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Neil Clark on Russia Today

In September of last year, The Spectator ran an admiring profile of Klaus by Clark, who called him “possibly the West’s last truly outspoken leader.” Forget the fact that Klaus’s star has dimmed in many quarters: Clark insisted that his outspokenness “doesn’t seem to have done him much harm in the popularity stakes.” As for Klaus’s current opinions, Clark liked what he heard: “Listen to Klaus in full flow on the absurdities of the EU and it’s hard to think why any sane individual — on left or right — would want their country to stay in it.”

But what about Ukraine? Klaus did mention to Clark his “reservations…about the Ukrainian crisis,” but Clark didn’t probe further. Instead, Clark readily agreed with Klaus that the discomfort some people in the West feel over Klaus’s Ukraine “reservations” is a “worrying trend,” a threat to Western freedom. This statement made no sense whatsoever, and Clark didn’t make any effort to explain what he meant.

vladimir-putin_416x416It’s hard not to wish him well,” Clark said in closing, calling Klaus a “conviction politician” – a “throwback to the days when our leaders did stand for something and weren’t afraid to speak their minds.” It didn’t seem to bother Clark at all that Klaus’s chief conviction, these days, is a slobbering loyalty to the thug of the Kremlin.

Which might be puzzling, if you didn’t know anything about Clark’s own politics. Not only is he a useful stooge; he seems to be doing his level best to become the #1 useful stooge of our time.  In a November article for Russia Today’s website that read like something out of The Onion, he spoke up for what he called “the unpeople” – whom he defined as “human beings whose views don’t matter to Western Democrats.” Among those who fall into this category, he explained, are the following – and we quote:

* The millions of Syrians – perhaps a majority – who support their government, or at least regard it as preferable to the alternatives.

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Ahmadinejad: his fans don’t get no respect

* Iranians who voted for Ahmadinejad in the 2009 Presidential election.

* Belarusians who support President Lukashenko.

* Libyans who did not support the violent NATO-backed “revolution” against Muammar Gaddafi.

* People who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe and who thought there were positive aspects of life under communism.

* Ukrainian citizens who did not support “EuroMaidan.”

* Venezuelans who voted for Chavez and Maduro.

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According to Neil Clark, democracy apparently means giving a thumbs-up to this

* Russians who support United Russia or the Communist Party.

Get it? Supporters of tyranny and totalitarianism are today’s victims of intolerance. Clark explains: 

A belief in democracy should mean respecting the idea that all peoples’ views are equal. However, that’s not the way it works in today’s so-called “democracy.” Today, those who have the wrong views (i.e. views which don’t align with the interests of Western elites) are treated as if they don’t exist.

That’s a pretty interesting conception of democracy – that it obliges one to equate democratic ideas with non-democratic ones, such as Communism, Nazism, Juche thought, Baathism, jihadism, you name it. Speaking of Juche thought, how did Clark manage to leave enthusiasts for the North Korean regime out of his list of those who’ve been cruelly disrespected by Western democrats? How about the folks who cheered ISIS’s terror attacks in Paris? Aren’t they victims, too? 

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Václav Havel

Given his eagerness to defend supporters of the worst thugs on the planet, and his enthusiasm for the pro-Putin Václav Klaus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when Václav Havel died four years ago, Clark rushed into print with a repulsive attack on that hero of freedom:

Havel’s anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women’s rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.

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Cristina Odone

Cristina Odone, replying to Clark in the Telegraph, put it perfectly: “Havel above all would have enjoyed the irony that Clark, with his maverick views and pleasure in the sound of his own voice, would have been among the first to be taken out and shot (or maybe locked up in a mental institution) by the Soviet regimes he’s now an apologist for.”

Or, at one reader commented succinctly at Clark’s vile blog: “You really are a buffoon.”

 

Seumas Milne: geopolitics first, people second

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Seumas Milne

Okay, so let’s see what we’ve got so far. Labour MP Tom Harris, citing his party’s new chief spokesman Seumas Milne‘s relativization of the coldblooded jihadist murder of Lee Rigby and celebration of Iraqi terrorists as freedom fighters, described him “contemptuous of traditional working class attitudes to Queen and country.” Michael Moynihan of the Daily Beast commented: “Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne…to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense.” Alex Massie, in the Spectator, noted that Milne’s oeuvre includes “defences of, or explanations and occasional justifications for, inter alia, Joe Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Iraqi Baathists attacking British troops, and much else besides.”

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Oliver Bullough

There’s more. Even Oliver Bullough, a firm Labourite and Corbyn supporter, considers Milne a bridge too far. A specialist in the former USSR, Bullough knows the region well. “And yet, when I read what Milne writes about it, I slip into a parallel universe.” Bullough cited Ukraine, where last year the people overthrew a Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovich, whose palace garage was piled with treasures: “icons, carved ivory, Picasso ceramics, ancient books….He’d had nowhere to put them.” Bullough described the revolution as “pure people power: the street reclaiming democracy from a thuggish kleptocrat.” Whereupon the bully next door, Putin, moved in and annexed Crimea.

A good liberal, suggested Bullough, should have no trouble telling the good guys in this story from the bad ones.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15: Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet Jimbelung the koala before the start of the first G20 meeting on November 15, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. World leaders have gathered in Brisbane for the annual G20 Summit and are expected to discuss economic growth, free trade and climate change as well as pressing issues including the situation in Ukraine and the Ebola crisis. (Photo by Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia via Getty Images)
In Milne’s view, ever the innocent victim

And yet Milne’s response, he noted, was to serve up a full-throated defense of Vlad the Impaler. Describing Ukraine’s crisis as “a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s,” Milne slammd the Western alliance for pushing NATO “up to Russia’s borders.” Given such a provocation, argued Milne, who could blame Russia for acting “to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp”? Who, he demanded, could fail to see Putin’s Crimea annexation and his support for rebels in the eastern Ukraine as anything other than “defensive”?

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Jeremy Corbyn

Responding to this nonsense, Bullough pointed out Milne’s (characteristically) fast-and-loose approach to the facts: (a) the USSR’s dissolution, Milne to the contrary, wasn’t the result of outside coercion or some Versailles-like treaty; (b) since NATO founding member Norway borders on Russia, so has NATO since its inception; and (c) on what planet is invading a powerless, unthreatening neighbor “defensive”?

But Bullough wasn’t focused on these factual errors so much as on the things that, he said, really matter here – namely, the lives and hopes of people in Eastern Europe, which don’t appear to concern Milne at all. Those Eastern Europeans joined NATO of their own free will, in order to defend their freedom; to Milne, those people’s freedom – and their fervent interest in preserving it – are apparently invisible.

Seumas-MilneIn short, as Bullough put it: “For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West’s to blame.” He cited chapter and verse from Milne:

Why did a group of psychopaths attack a magazine and a supermarket in Paris? “Without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly couldn’t have taken place.”

Why did Anders Breivik slaughter 77 people? “What is most striking is how closely he mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives.”

Why did two maniacs in London decapitate an off-duty soldier? “They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others.”

Appalling. We’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

Useful Stooge Hall of Fame: Malcolm Caldwell

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Malcolm Caldwell

In a recent – and fascinating – piece for The Spectator, James Bartholemew bemoaned what he called the “socialist indoctrination” provided by British universities to foreign students who then return home, rise to positions of power, apply what they’ve learned, and as a result do a lot of damage to their nations’ economies. A current example: Yanis Varoufakis, who as Greece’s financial minister earlier this year turned what had actually been an expanding economy into a total disaster. In passing, Bartholemew noted that while most of the British professors responsible for converting foreign students to bad economics “remain comfortably” in the U.K., “uninvolved in the misery they have sown overseas,” there has been one striking example to the contrary: Malcolm Caldwell.

We have to admit that we were unfamiliar with the Caldwell case, so we looked into it. It turns out to be quite a story. In the 1970s Caldwell, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, was a prominent British voice against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. An open Communist, he chaired the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and despised America. Caldwell, Michael Ezra has written, “was most in his element when writing about ‘the demonstrated strengths of the communist system.’” Five years ago, in an article for a Guardian, Andrew Anthony provided a glimpse into Caldwell’s politics:

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Kim Il-Sung

It’s not that Caldwell was lost in bookish abstraction, for he did visit the various communist regimes he extolled. It was more that when he got there he was all too willing to accept state propaganda as verified fact. For example, he praised the “magnitude of the economic achievements” of Kim Il-Sung’s impoverished North Korea and, returning from a trip to the highly secretive state, he wrote that the country was “an astonishing tribute not only to the energy, initiative and creativeness of the Korean people, but also to the essential correctness of the Juche line.”…About the totalitarian surveillance and ruthless political repression, Caldwell said nothing.

ca. September 1978, Phnom Penh, Cambodia --- Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot a few months before Vietnam installed a new government in Cambodia, in January 1979. Between 1976 and 1979, he was the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea. --- Image by © Richard Dudman/Sygma/Corbis
Pol Pot

Caldwell wasn’t just a fan of the North Korean regime. He also admired Pol Pot, the Communist ruler of Cambodia whom he apparently viewed as having devised a new and wonderful form of totalitarianism. As Ezra puts it, Caldwell “shamelessly regurgitated the propaganda provided by Pol Pot’s regime.” Caldwell was, of course, far from alone in this enthusiasm. Most Western “experts” in southeast Asia cheered the rise of Pol Pot’s vicious and violent Khmer Rouge, which ran Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During those four years, about two million of that country’s seven million people died – a million in executions, and another million from starvation, forced labor, and other such causes. Yet most Western “experts,” Caldwell included, strenuously denied reports that Pol Pot was committing atrocities. What distinguished him from Pol Pot’s other defenders in the West was that he actually went to Cambodia and met his hero.

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In Cambodia, December 1978, left to right: Michael Dudman, Elizabeth Becker, a member of the Khmer Rouge, Malcolm Caldwell

This was in December 1978, less than a month before Pol Pot was driven from his capital by Vietnamese troops. For two weeks, Caldwell and a pair of American journalists, Elizabeth Becker of the Washington Post and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, were shown around Cambodia by Khmer Rouge handlers. It was a transparent Potemkin-village sideshow, but Caldwell fell for every bit of it; as Becker later recalled, Caldwell “didn’t want to know about problems with the Khmer Rouge.” Convinced that the world was on the verge of famine, he saw Pol Pot as having the answer: the use of forced collectivization and slave labor to increase rice production. As Anthony explains, however, “owing to the shortage of technicians and experts (who were killed as class enemies) and lack of peasant support, production fell well short of targets.” The result was – yes – famine, which Pol Pot blamed on “spies and counter revolutionaries” who soon found themselves in torture camps. Cambodian refugees had brought with them to the West these and other horrifying facts about Pol Pot’s regime. But Caldwell, the truest of true believers, didn’t buy any of it. 

Which brings us to the night of December 22, 1978. Caldwell, recounts Anthony, 

was taken in a Mercedes limousine to see Pol Pot. The setting for the meeting was the former Governor’s Palace on the waterfront, built during the French colonial period. In a grand reception room replete with fans and billowing white curtains, the two men sat down and discussed revolutionary economic theory….

The perennially shabby academic and the fastidious dictator must have made for an odd couple. In any case, Caldwell left the meeting a happy man. He returned to the guest house he was sharing with Becker and Dudman, full of praise for Pol Pot and his political outlook.

What happened next? We’ll get around to that on Monday.

R.I.P. Robert Conquest: #1 scourge of useful stooges everywhere

Robert Conquest, the Anglo-American historian whose works on the Soviet Union, most importantly The Great Terror (1968), confronted useful stooges on both sides of the Atlantic with facts that severely hobbled their efforts to whitewash Stalin, is dead at 98. From his London Times obituary“The leftwingers who denied the crimes of Stalin did so, Robert Conquest always maintained, because the truth of his terrible purges was “beyond the capacity of their provincial imaginations.”

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Robert Conquest in 2006

The Spectator today reprints a 1961 essay in which Conquest, responding to a letter to the London Times from many bien pensant British cultural types who were exercised about the recent Bay of Pigs invasion, wrote, in his powerfully understated way, “There is something particularly unpleasant about those who, living in a political democracy, comfortably condone terror elsewhere.” And the New York Times quotes Stanford University historian Norman M. Naimark: “His historical intuition was astonishing….He saw things clearly without having access to archives or internal information from the Soviet government. We had a whole industry of Soviet historians who were exposed to a lot of the same material but did not come up with the same conclusions. This was groundbreaking, pioneering work.”

The New York Times also cites a limerick that Conquest wrote in reply to those critics who, accepting his verdict on Stalin, still sought to salvage the heroic image of Lenin and to paint Uncle Joe as a deviation from Leninism:

There was a great Marxist called Lenin

Who did two or three million men in.

That’s a lot to have done in,

But where he did one in

That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

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Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush

Here, from his 1999 book Reflections on a Ravaged Century, is a passage that exemplifies the effectiveness of his cool, analytical approach to the mentality of the useful stooge:

For a useful, almost classical demonstration of the revolutionary mind-warp, the motivation behind acceptance of a totalitarian Idea, we turn to an interview given by the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm on “The Late Show,” 24 October 1994….When Michael Ignatieff asked him to justify his long membership of the Communist Party, he replied: “You didn’t have the option. You see, either there was going to be a future or there wasn’t going to be a future and this was the only thing that offered an acceptable future.”

Ignatieff then asked: “In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?”

Hobsbawm answered: “This is a sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible. Erm … I don’t actually know that it has any bearing on the history that I have written. If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, `Probably not.'”

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In 2010

Ignatieff asked: “Why?”

Hobsbawm explained: “Because in a period in which, as you might say, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous, they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I’m looking back at it now and I’m saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I’m not sure.”

Ignatieff then said: “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”

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In Moscow

Hobsbawm immediately said: “Yes.”

It will be seen that, first, Hobsbawm accepted the Soviet project not merely on the emotional ground of “hope” but on the transcendental one of its being the “only” hope. Then, that he was justified because, although it turned out wrong, it might have turned out right (and it was not only a matter of deaths, but also of mass torture, falsification, slave labor). Finally, that he believes this style of chiliastic, absolutist approach to reality is valid in principle.

R.I.P. Robert Conquest: scourge of useful stooges everywhere.

South of the border

We’ve met some of the corrupt characters who made up Hugo Chávez‘s inner circle – most of whom are today part of (or very close to) the government of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

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Hugo Chávez

A few months after Chávez’s 2013 death, the consequences of his and his cronies’ corruption were deftly described in the British Spectator by James Bloodworth. Under the headline “Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor,” he summed up these leeches’ dubious achievement:

While Brazil is on the verge of global power status…15 years of “21st century socialism” has left Venezuela with one of the world’s “highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity,” according to former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim. The country is also a more dangerous place to live than Iraq….

The real shame is that Hugo Chávez is no longer around to witness the Venezuelan masses pay for his government’s idiocy.

Michael Moynihan, writing last year in the Daily Beast, had a few questions for Western chavistas. To begin with: how would they react if the U.S. president, say, arrested an opposition leader, or shut off the Internet in politically unreliable cities, or had demonstrators murdered, or jailed a judge who ruled against his intelligence operations? How long would Americans allow their president “to run up massive inflation?” Or:

How long would it be considered reasonable – and not the president’s responsibility – to preside over 23,000 murders in a country of just under 30 million people, a rate that would horrify the average resident of Baghdad? How long could supermarket shelves remain bare of basic staples like bread and milk before The Nation or The Guardian would gleefully decide that America was a failed, kleptocratic state? Or if Bush or Obama’s economic policies meant that toilet paper could no longer be found on the open market?

Every word, as they say, is true. And then some. Yet there’s been no shortage of “cheerleaders” (as Bloodworth put it) willing to set the facts aside and sing the praises of what Bloodworth (quite properly) calls Chávez’s “clownish revolution.”

Consider these excerpts from a piece that ran on CNN’s website, no less, after the caudillo’s death:

Hugo Chávez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chávez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.

An honest man from a humble background ….Chávez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people…

President Chávez made those dreams come true.

The author concludes by recalling a statement by Chávez to the effect that he was “just a soldier.” Her comment:

Yes, Chávez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.

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Eva Golinger

The piece – with its over-the-top, Pyongyang-style encomia for the Dear Leader, its mastery of the good old Stalinist cult-of-personality style – precisely exemplifies the kind of rhetoric about Chávez that his own regime promoted. No surprise, then, that its author, Eva Golinger, turned out to be a longtime professional chavista – a policy adviser to the Venezuelan government, editor of a newspaper published by the Venezuelan government, and a former head of the New York-based Venezuela Solidarity Committee.

But what is surprising – or should be – is the number of people who presumably aren’t on the government payroll but who, despite the disastrous repercussions of Chávez’s rule, have persisted in praising him. Among them are reliable Hollywood lefties Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore.

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Hugo Chávez, Oliver Stone

We’ve seen how Stone – a writer and director of considerable talent but staggeringly poor political judgment – made not one, not two, but three documentaries in praise of Fidel Castro; as it happens, he’s also directed two pictures about Chávez, South of the Border and My Friend Hugo, the latter of which was released last year on the first anniversary of the dictator’s demise. The New York Times reported that the problems with South of the Border

begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez’s rise. As “South of the Border” portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.

But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.

The Times’s Stephen Holden called South of the Border a “provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism”; Entertainment Weekly called it “rose-colored agitprop.” Confronted with a series of discrepancies between the historical record and the film’s account of it, Stone’s co-writer, Tariq Ali, explained: “We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. [Our goal] was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.”

Yes, whether the facts warranted it or not.

stone_chavez2Time film critic Richard Corliss’s review of South of the Border was headlined “Oliver Stone and Hugo Chávez: A Love Story.” Commenting that Stone “sees the geopolitical glass as all empty (the U.S. and its world-banking arm, the International Monetary Fund) or all full (Chávez and his comrade Presidentes in South America),” Corliss summed up the film as follows:

Every step of the way, Stone is by, and on, on the President’s side. He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International’s 2009 report on Venezuela: “Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country.” Referring to the 2006 election in which Chávez won a third term, Stone tells viewers that “90% of the media was opposed to him,” and yet he prevailed. “There is a lesson to be learned,” Stone says. Yes: support the man in power, or your newspaper, radio station or TV network may be in jeopardy.

The good news about South of the Border? It tanked in – guess where? – Venezuela. “Despite round-the-clock promotion on Venezuelan state television and government-subsidized screenings in the capital of Caracas,” Stone’s nauseatingly hagiographic pic “grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens in the 12 days after its June 4 debut.”

stone_chavez3(By comparison, at around the same time, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It took in $2.1 million from Venezuela audiences.)

Not that this poor showing dampened Stone’s outsized cariño for Chávez. When His Holiness kicked off, Stone eulogized him as follows: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place….Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history.”

Yeah. Just like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.