The corrupt new ACLU

We used to admire the ACLU. Some of us are old enough to remember the Skokie affair of 1977. Many Western countries ban Mein Kampf and any symbols of Nazism. Not the U.S. In that year, the American Nazi Party planned a march in the village of Skokie, Illinois. The village successfully sued in Cook County court for the right to ban the event.

Nazis in Skokie

That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union entered the picture. Taking the Nazis’ side, they took the case to the state appellate court and then to the state Supreme Court. Both courts refused to overturn the county court’s decision. So the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a famous ruling ordered that the Nazis be allowed to march.

For some of us, that ruling – as well as the ACLU’s role in bringing it about – was the ultimate reflection of the greatest of America. Not, of course, because the ACLU sided with Nazis or because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nazis, but because both the ACLU and the Supreme Court stood up for the First Amendment.

By their actions, both the ACLU and the High Court made clear their recognition that the whole point of free-speech protections is that innocuous speech doesn’t need protection. What needs protection is the most extreme kind of speech. To refuse to defend the right of even the most offensive people to speak their minds is to start down the slippery slope toward banning any kind of speech that anybody, anywhere might consider inappropriate.

Alan Dershowitz

Times have changed, alas. Many of the most influential people in American society are would-be censors for whom political correctness is a higher value than freedom. The ACLU, unfortunately, has shifted its position accordingly. No less impressive a personage than Alan Dershowitz, the world-famous lawyer who identifies as a liberal and who used to be on the ACLU’s national board, said so in an April 12 article for The Hill. The headline: “For ACLU, getting Trump trumps civil liberties.” Dershowitz explained: “over the last several years [the ACLU] has turned from being a neutral civil liberties organization to a left wing, agenda-driven group that protects its contributors and constituents while ignoring the civil liberties of Americans with whom it disagrees.”

Now and then, admittedly, the organization still runs to the defense of “a Nazi or a Klansman as an easy, pretend show of its willingness to protect the free speech of the most despicable racists.” But when it comes to threats to free speech on college campuses, where far-left thugs have increasingly used violent means in an effort to silence speakers with whom they disagree, the ACLU has chosen to keep its dainty hands clean. In fact, in Dershowitz’s view, it’s gone even further, “becoming a cheerleader for the violation of the civil liberties of those on the other side of the political spectrum.”

Michael Cohen

When FBI agents “raided the law office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen,” and possibly “seized material protected by the lawyer-client privilege, including communications between President Trump and his attorney,” the ACLU sat on its hands. “[I]f a similar raid had been conducted on Hillary Clinton,” observed Dershowitz, “had she been elected and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her emails, the ACLU would have been up in arms.” Instead David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, actually described the raids as a “sign that the rule of law is alive.” Never mind the fact that, to quote Dershowitz, the raids were naked “violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.”

Why this disgraceful about-face by the ACLU? Simple: “Virtually every contributor to the ACLU voted against Trump, as I did.” And for the ACLU today, “getting Trump, trumps civil liberties.”

The ACLU, naturally, rejects these charges. We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

Meet Georges Ugeux, Wall Street’s fan of tyrants

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Georges Ugeux

At one time he was the NYSE’s senior managing director for international relations – “the face of the New York Stock Exchange outside of the United States.” But he left the Big Board, along with a couple of other higher-ups, in the wake of a controversy over compensation packages. Today, after decades at places like Morgan Stanley and Kidder Peabody, the Belgian-American investment banker Georges Ugeux runs his own store, Galileo Global Advisors, in New York.

He also contributes regularly to both Le Monde and The Huffington Post – and the first thing that needs to be said about his contributions to the latter organ (his Le Monde pieces are presumably run past an editor before they see print) is that the prose is downright execrable. It’s riddled with grammatical errors and, even when he’s apparently making a simple point, can be hard to make total sense out of.

Take a March 2014 HuffPo piece about the dust-up in Ukraine. “Does the Parliament votes [sic] to join Russia?” he wrote. “It is illegal. Will Crimea, who [sic] disposes [disposes?] of a special status, vote whether they [sic] want to be reunited with Russia or not?” There’s more: “For all its weaknesses,” he writes, “Europe has to live with borders with Russia and Ukraine. It has to resolve its neighborhoods [sic] problems. There is no need, however, for them to supersede what the Crimea’s people will decide.”

Look at those last two sentences. Presumably both “it” and “them” are meant to refer back to “Europe.” Okay. But “supersede”? What does it mean to say that Europe doesn’t need “to supersede what the Crimea’s people will decide”? None of the accepted meanings of “supersede” makes sense here. You can kind of guess what Georges Ugeux is driving at, but this isn’t a paper for a remedial high-school English class – it’s an opinion on international events delivered by a world-class thinker, a guy with a stellar CV, someone we’re supposed to take seriously as an authoritative voice on these matters. This being the case, wouldn’t you think a dude at this level would give his own prose a careful read-through before sharing it with the world? Or hire somebody competent to do so?

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To be sure, the thrust of his March 2014 piece was clear enough. In the conflict between Putin and Ukraine, Georges Ugeux stands with Putin. No, really. He also sympathizes, as he put it, with “the people of Crimea who do not want to remain under the fascists who dominate Ukraine and prohibit them from speaking Russian.” As if all that weren’t enough, he took the opportunity to smear Russia’s anti-Putin opposition as being “under the influence of extreme right and neo-Nazi groups” and to describe Putin as having been “legitimately elected.”

All of which raises the question: is a guy with this kind of political acumen and moral judgment – to say nothing of his slovenly prose – somebody you’d ever want to trust with your money?

Another example. In September 2013, Georges Ugeux weighed in on Obamacare:

The Republicans do not seem to understand that when Congress votes [sic] a law, it is the law of the land. It is sacred in a number of ways that they like. When they don’t like it, they ignore their obligations.

Yes, tea party blackmailers, the Affordable Health Act is the law. By using budget or debt ceiling to trap the credit of the United States of America, you are being in-civic.

Some writers manage – every now and then, anyway – to hit on le mot juste; Georges Ugeux repeatedly misses it by a mile. “Trap the credit”? (And this is a financial expert?) “In-civic”? And of course the law is called the Affordable Care Act, not the Affordable Health Act. He goes on:

You are guilty of not respecting the United States institutions, and the value of your own votes. This creates in turn a total discredit of congressional votes and the institution of Congress in the eyes of our citizens and the world.

Time and again, reading Georges Ugeux’s prose, you get the impression that it’s gone through at least two incompetent translations, from language A to language B to language C, before it ended up in English – or a rough approximation thereof. Think this is unimportant? Think again. Clear, coherent prose reflects clear, coherent thinking. Prose like his is the mirror of a more than moderately muddled mind.

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Georges Ugeux (center) with fellow investment bankers Yves-André Istel and Jean-François Serval

Which brings us to his financial commentaries. Georges Ugeux has written about a number of topics related to international finance, but of late he’s made a specialty of slamming the so-called “vulture funds” and the U.S. courts that have ruled in their favor in the matter of Argentina’s sovereign debt. “Are Sovereign Ratings a Legacy of Colonialism?” asked the headline of one piece he published in 2011. In another article, deploring the judiciary’s support for the “vulture funds,” he actually compared the U.S. Supreme Court to Pontius Pilate. But he reserves his real venom for Paul Singer of Elliott Management, whom he accuses of having brought grief to the Argentinian people by insisting that their government pay Elliott the entire amount owed to it.

Georges Ugeux, you see, is deeply concerned about the Argentinian people. Yet instead of getting exercised about the wholesale corruption committed by the regimes of the late President Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Férnandez de Kirchner, as well as by their shameless (and, it sometimes seems, countless) cronies – who have ripped off billions upon billions of dollars from that once-prosperous country’s hapless citizens – Georges Ugeux places the blame for Argentina’s suffering squarely on the shoulders of Singer, whose activities he condemns as “the capitalist system at its worst.” Not only is he quick to join the vile Cristina Kirchner in using the term “vulture funds”; he also calls Singer & co. “scavengers” and accuses them of “heinous behavior” – all this for the supreme offense of purchasing debt fair and square and expecting to have it paid back in full.