On Tuesday, we examined the 1963-64 meeting, mutual seduction, and unconsummated hotel-room encounter between ABC News reporter Lisa Howard and Fidel Castro. It was, as they say, hot stuff. Today, our focus will be on what Howard did back home in the U.S.: publicly, on ABC News, she did her best to improve Castro’s image in America; secretly, as Politico reported recently, she served as a channel between Castro and JFK, and then between Castro and LBJ, urging both U.S. presidents to sit down with Castro and soften their line on his dictatorship.
When a ten-page letter to JFK got no response, she turned it into an article urging negotiations. She huddle with Adlai Stevenson and one of his U.N. flunkies in an effort to win Kennedy’s approval for a meeting between the flunky and Cuba’s U.N. guy. That ended up happening – at Howard’s own residence, which “became the hub for secret communications between the U.S. and Cuba.”
When she finally managing to put together a phone call between a high-level American official and a Castro sidekick in Havana, she confided to her diary: “At last! At last! That first halting step. Contact has been established!…A long, frustrating, tension-filled, but exciting experience lies ahead.” More than once in Politico‘s article on the Castro-Howard connection, one gets the distinct impression that serving as a diplomatic go-between was positively aphrodisiacal for the ABC talking head.
She later did a TV special from Cuba – which, from Politico‘s description, sounds exactly like every mainstream TV report about the island prison that has been aired in the decades since: “Howard and her crew traipsed around Cuba with the energetic Castro, filming him playing baseball, visiting a cattle farm and interacting with peasants. As much as Howard believed Castro was a dictator, the overwhelming public adoration he generated impressed her. ‘They mob him, they scream ‘Fidel, Fidel,’ children kiss him, mothers touch him,’ she wrote. ‘They are awed, thrilled … ecstatic, but mostly passionate. There is no doubt in my mind that the emotion Fidel inspires in all women is sheer undiluted sexual desire. He is the most physical animal man I have ever known.’”
This time when they went to bed, they went all the way. She later described it as “thrilling and ecstatic—as much as anything I have ever experienced.” Even so, she recognized that “so much of what he was doing was truly evil.”
What’s a poor girl to do? Well, in this case, she kept pushing the White House to talk to Castro. Nothing came of it. (The LBJ aide she lobbied was no dummy: he concluded that it was “likely” she was getting it on with the cigar-chomping Comandante.)
But again Adlai pitched in, and Howard was sent as a secret emissary to Cuba, where “Castro arranged for Howard to stay in one of the confiscated mansions that now served as a protocol house. The house came with a Cadillac and chauffeur, a butler and cook, air-conditioned bedrooms and a sunken bathtub.”
Next thing she knew, however, Howard was discarded as a U.S.-Cuba bridge. Frustrated, she “seized on the visit of Che Guevara” to the UN to restore her bona fides: she “shepherded Guevara around town—together they attended a premiere of a new documentary film commemorating the life of Kennedy—and organized a soiree for him at her New York apartment.” She offered to arrange a meeting between Che and some LBJ honcho, but her days as a power broker were over. So was her TV career: largely because of her positive portrayal of Castro, ABC fired her. On July 4, 1965, age 39, she died of a drug overdose, having loved a brutal tyrant not wisely but too well.
The Genesis Prize, according to its website, “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” The prize, first given in 2014 and often called the “Jewish Nobel,” is awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation and comes with a $1 million check. Winners have included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and sculptor Anish Kapoor. This year’s laureate is – or was – actress Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for Black Swan and more recently played Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the movie Jackie. On its website, the Foundation also noted her humanitarian work with FINCA, a microfinancing program, and WE, a charity that “empowers youth.”
The award was to be presented to Portman in June. But on April 19 came news that the prize ceremony was off. Portman had announced that she would not attend the event – because she refuses to set foot in Israel. This is particularly interesting news, given that Portman was born in Jerusalem and is a joint American and Israeli citizen. Her explanation: “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” Therefore “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Portman did not specify which events caused her distress, although the United Nations and the European Union recently called for investigations into the use of live ammunition by Israel’s military following clashes along the border with Gaza that have left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.”
Portman’s action seemed unusual, given her record. In 2009, she stood up agains anti-Israeli calls for a boycott of the Toronto Film Festival. She wrote, directed, and starred in a 2015 Hebrew-language film adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, which deals in large part with the founding of Israel. After it was announced that she would be receiving the Genesis Prize, she expressed gratitude and pride in her “Israeli roots and Jewish heritage.” She has nothing but contempt, however, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has called a “racist.”
After Portman’s turndown, Israel’s cultural minister, Miri Regev, stated what seemed to be obvious: Portman, she said, has “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of the BDS movement supporters.” In a reference to the title of Portman’s film version of Oz’s memoir, Regev lamented that Portman was “joining those who treat the story of the success and the miracle of Israel’s revival as a tale of darkness and darkness.” In response, Portman claimed that her refusal to go to Israel had nothing to do with the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement; she maintained, rather, that she didn’t want to share a platform with Netanyahu, who was scheduled to speak at the award ceremony. And then what happened? Tune in on Thursday.
Yesterday we lamented the New York Times‘s nauseating Castro obit.Unsurprisingly, the Times wasn’t the only newspaper to praise the old thug. While the Washington Post, in the headline of its obituary,honestly – and admirably – labeled Fidel a “dictator,” a slew of other mainstream media honored him with the title of “president” (Bloomberg, Daily Mail) or “leader” (CNN, PBS, Daily Mirror). The BBC went with “icon.” And while U.S. President-elect Donald Trump frankly called Castro a “brutal dictator,” other eminent figures around the world queued up to ooze praise. A quick round-up:
Jill Stein. The Green Party presidential candidate tweeted: “Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!”
Justin Trudeau. Applauding Castro’s “love for the Cuban people,” Canada’s PM said that the tyrant’s demise caused him “deep sorrow,” noted that his father (late PM Pierre Trudeau) “was very proud to call [Castro] a friend,” and mourned “the loss of this remarkable leader.”
Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU Commission president tweeted: “With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.”
George Galloway. The former British MP tweeted: “You were the greatest man I ever met Comandante Fidel. You were the man of the century.”
Michael D. Higgins. Ireland’s president gushed that “equality and poverty are much less pronounced in Cuba than in surrounding nations” and that Castro stood not only for “freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”
Jesse Jackson. The veteran shakedown artist cheered Castro the “freedom fighter,” “poor people’s hero,” and “liberator.”
Jimmy Carter. The retired peanut farmer wrote: “Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people….We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country.”
Ban Ki-Moon. The UN honcho professedto be “saddened” by the death of Castro, whom he credited with “advances…in the fields of education, literacy and health” and touted as “a strong voice for social justice.”
Jeremy Corbyn. The head of the British Labour Party hailed Castro as a “champion of social justice.”
Obscene, all of it. Any reader who is tempted to believe these plaudits need only watch TV coverage of the exultant celebrations by Cuban exiles in the streets of Miami. In those crowds are people who have firsthand knowledge of Castro’s evil. Many of them, because of Castro, have experienced cruelty, brutality, and suffering beyond description. Castro robbed their freedom, their homes, their land. And, in many cases, imprisoned, tortured, or executed their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters.
If viewing those videos isn’t enough to make the truth sink in, read one or more of the better-informed obits, such as this one in the Independent and this one in the Miami Herald. Or buy the haunting, masterly memoirBefore Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas. No man or woman of conscience can peruse these writings and emerge with the belief that Castro was anything but one of the great totalitarian monsters of the last century, or that his passing is anything but a welcome end to a nightmarish chapter of human history.
Yesterday we met Nick Dearden, head of an anti-capitalist British group called Global Justice Now and frequent contributor to the Guardian. As recently as January of this year, Dearden described Venezuela as a “beacon of hope.” He’s also blamed the poverty of countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo on American “vulture funds.”
The word vulture appears frequently in Dearden’s work. In a 2011 piece, he wrung his hands over the economic plight of Argentina, which, again, he blamed not on the Kirchner regime’s massive corruption and financial irresponsibility but on the creditors who actually dared to expect the Buenos Aires government to honor its debts. Dearden gave a thumbs-up to Argentina’s 2001 default (which “was undoubtedly the right thing to do”) and slammed creditors (a.k.a. “vulture funds”) for refusing to walk away meekly and let Kirchner & co. screw them over. He further accused Argentina’s main creditor, NML Capital, of “harassing” Argentina – by which he meant that NML, in order to try to collect the money it was owed, had had to take the Kirchner government to court .
Meanwhile, the closest he would come to admitting the deep, endemic problems afflicting the Kirchner regime was to say that “Everything is not perfect in Argentina to this day.” He acknowledged that Argentina shouldn’t have borrowed such massive sums in the first place – but instead of criticizing the Kirchner regime for taking out loans, he blamed the banks for making them. Fighting poverty, Dearden asserted, requires profound systemic change: “The financial system…needs to be directed for the benefit of people everywhere.” And part of this change is that “[c]reditors must accept the downside when investments go wrong just as they happily accept the upside when they go right.” Meaning, apparently, that when debtors choose not to pay their debts, creditors should just shrug and walk away.
We’ve written at length about Joseph E. Stiglitz, the economist, who, among other things, is a big U.N. booster, championing the idea that the U.S. and other countries should effectively hand over their sovereignty to the international organization. Dearden is in the same camp, contrasting the G8 – which he views as a gang of imperialist, colonialist bullies that “should by rights be dead and buried” – with the U.N. itself, which he see as a compassionate force for the world’s poorer and less powerful countries.
In a 2009 article for the Guardian, Dearden cited Stiglitz approvingly and at length on the need for thoroughgoing “reform” of “the international trade and financial system,” including extensive debt cancellation, a “new reserve currency to replace the dollar.” Dearden also quoted, with hearty agreement, the then-president of the General Assembly, Nicaraguan priest Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, to the effect that “[t]he anti-values of greed, individualism and exclusion should be replaced by solidarity, common good and inclusion” and that our “profit-centred economy” should give way to “a people-centred economy.”
Presumably like the terrific, robust one in Nicaragua. Or Venezuela, that “beacon of hope.”
Yesterday we revisited our old pal Robert Mugabe, the brutal Zimbabwean dictator, and learned about a remarkable accolade, the Confucius Peace Prize, that was founded in China in 2010 as an affronted response to the selection of jailed dissident poet Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, and that was awarded to Mugabe this October. Earlier, as we noted, it had been presented to that other great man of peace, Vladimir Putin.
And who won it last year? Why, none other than Fidel Castro, that’s who.
The jury’s statement explained that Fidel, as president of Cuba, “never used any violence or force when faced with problems and conflicts in international relations, especially in Cuba’s relationship with the United States.” True, Castro didn’t invade the U.S.; neither, for some unfathomable reason, did any of his equally formidable Caribbean neighbors, such as Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica. It’s not that Fidel couldn’t have conquered the U.S., of course; he was just so busy oppressing his people, executing dissidents, and torturing gay people that he never quite got around to it.
So what about Mugabe? What did the Chinese have to say about their reasons for paying tribute to him? Their citation praised him for “working tirelessly to build the political and economic stability of his country, bringing peace to the people of Zimbabwe, strongly supporting pan-Africanism and African independence, and making unparalleled contributions for the renaissance of African civilisation.” Coincidentally, Mugabe’s victory was announced on the same day that he gave his instantly famous speech at the United Nations in which he ringingly affirmed that he and his Zimbabwean compatriots “are not gays.”
Qiao Wei, identified in the New York Times as “a poet and the president of the judging committee of the peace prize,” told that newspaper that “Mugabe is the founding leader of Zimbabwe and has been trying to stabilize the country’s political and economic order ever since the country was first founded. He brought benefit to the people of Zimbabwe.”
Not everybody in Zimbabwe agreed. In an irate article, Gorden Moyo, secretary general of the People’s Democratic Party of Zimbabwe, said that his party was “disgusted” by the accolade. “Mugabe as we know him…is a war-monger, a bellicosist [sic] and a sadist who delights in the misery of the people,” wrote Moyo, who added that the 1980s, which the committee had described as Mugabe’s best years,
were actually the worst years in the history of Zimbabwe. It was that “lost decade” which saw Mugabe presiding over ethnic cleansing which left over 20 000 innocent lives of Ndebele speaking people-women and children from Matabeleland and Midlands provinces losing their precious lives…..Homesteads were torched down, property destroyed, schools shut, and opposition leaders and supporters hunted down like wild animals by Mugabe’s private army….In fact the rule of Mugabe is paved with blood, violence, arson and cruelty….If the Organisers of the Prize have any iota of moral rectitude,then they should hang their heads in shame for rewarding murderers who masquerade as peace makers.
In short, “the Confucius Peace Prize…is an insult to the people of Zimbabwe.” We agree, of course – though we know Charles Barron doesn’t, and we’re not too sure about Bill de Blasio.
Next week and the week after, in honor of Vladimir Putin’s sixty-third birthday, we’ll be examining some of his most ardent European fans – among them a Dutch rapper, a former Italian prime minister, a British billionaire, and a Norwegian historian. Today, however, we’ll be taking yet another look at a fellow whom we’ve discussed here several times before, and who may be Putin’s most stubbornly loyal cheerleader in the whole U.S.A.
We’re talking, of course, about Stephen F. Cohen, a veteran academic luminary (Princeton, NYU) who, back in the day, was considered a top expert on the Soviet Union and is now increasingly recognized as one of the current Kremlin regime’s most aggressive and shameless apologists.
If we keep bringing up Cohen on this site, it’s because he keeps bringing up Putin – almost invariably in the pages of The Nation, the weekly rag owned and edited by his rich lefty wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Our subject today: his latest propaganda effort, a June 30 piece entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities.” It’s full of passages calculated to paint the Ukrainian government as a pack of savages, to depict pro-Russians living in the eastern Ukraine as helpless victims, and to cast Putin in the role of the peaceful leader who’s displaying exemplary restraint in the face of a brutally violent enemy:
Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” tactics have created a reign of terror in the targeted cities. Panicked by shells and mortars exploding on the ground, menacing helicopters and planes flying above and fear of what may come next, families are seeking sanctuary in basements and other darkened shelters….an ever-growing number of refugees, disproportionately women and traumatized children, have been desperately fleeing the carnage….By mid-July, roads and trains [to Russia] were filled with refugees from newly besieged Luhansk and Donetsk, a city of one million and already “a ghostly shell.”
Throughout his piece, Cohen defends the Kremlin’s thug-in-chief (“however authoritarian Putin may be, there is nothing authentically fascist in his rulership, policies, state ideology or personal conduct”) while repeatedly flinging the word fascist at democratic Ukrainian leaders and groups and parties. In short, he’s perpetrating good, old-fashioned Stalin-era-style Nation journalism, taking us back to the days when, in the Marxist-soaked minds at that publication, the Soviets were the real heroes in the struggle against fascism, and the Western Allies (at best) Johnny-come-lately amateurs who reaped the rewards of victory in World War II and hogged the credit. Cohen finds it important, for example, to point out that Putin’s “brother died and [his] father was wounded in the Soviet-Nazi war” (yes, that’s right, “the Soviet-Nazi war”) and to warn us that “tens of millions of today’s Russians whose family members were killed by actual fascists in that war will regard…defamation of their popular president [i.e., any suggestion that he’s a fascist] as sacrilege, as they do the atrocities committed by Kiev.” So there.
On July 24, in Slate, the Russia-born American journalist Cathy Young, who is a contributing editor at Reason, gave Cohen precisely what he had coming to him for this most recent boatload of disinformation.
First Young made a few telling points about Cohen’s background: during his years as a “Soviet expert,” he befriended some Soviet dissidents, though they were usually “of the democratic socialist or even Marxist persuasion.” During the Gorbachev period, he and vanden Heuvel co-authored Voices of Glasnost, a collection of interviews with “proponents of top-down change to bring about a kinder, gentler Soviet socialism.” Then the USSR fell, the result, in most people’s view, of “the system’s internal rot,” although Cohen blamed it on “Boris Yeltsin’s power-grabbing, aided by the pro-Western ‘radical intelligentsia’ that ‘hijacked Gorbachev’s gradualist reformation.’”
Putin’s rise won Cohen’s cheers – and Putin’s brutal regime, as we’ve observed repeatedly on this site, has won Cohen’s unwavering praise. But this newest article by Cohen, as Young puts it, “hits a new low.” Cohen sums up his thesis as follows: “the pro-Western Ukrainian government, aided and abetted by the Obama administration, the ‘new Cold War hawks’ in Congress, and the craven American media, is committing ‘deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not done so already.’” Young notes that while Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.N. have reacted to the fighting in the Ukraine by raising concerns of the sort that they routinely, and properly, raise about any and every armed conflict, none of them have suggested that Ukraine is guilty of war crimes.
She further points out that while these organizations have documented acts of rape, kidnapping torture, and murder by “the insurgents whom Cohen calls ‘resisters,’” he “entirely omits these inconvenient facts, conceding only that the rebels are ‘aggressive, organized and well armed—no doubt with some Russian assistance.’” No doubt indeed. Cohen also argues that “calling them ‘self-defense’ fighters is not wrong,” because “their land is being invaded and assaulted by a government whose political legitimacy is arguably no greater than their own, two of their large regions having voted overwhelmingly for autonomy referendums.” Really? Here’s what Young has to say about those “referendums”:
Is Cohen the one person in the world who puts stock in the results of the Donetsk and Luhansk “referendums,” which even Russia did not formally recognize? Pre-referendum polls in both regions found that most residents opposed secession; they were also, as a U.N. report confirms, kept from voting in the presidential election by violence and intimidation from the insurgents. Nor does Cohen ever acknowledge the known fact that a substantial percentage of the “resisters” are not locals but citizens of the Russian Federation—particularly their leaders, many of whom have ties to Russian “special security services.” Their ranks also include quite a few Russian ultranationalists and even neo-Nazis—a highly relevant fact, given that much of Cohen’s article is devoted to claims that Ukrainian “neo-fascists” play a key role both in the Kiev government and in the counterinsurgency operation.
Young goes on to catalogue the factual mistakes – or outright lies – in Cohen’s piece, which she describes as “so error-riddled that one has to wonder if The Nation employs fact-checkers.” She rightly dismisses his absurd “claims about the ‘mainstreaming of fascism’s dehumanizing ethos’ in Ukraine,” which, she points out, “rely heavily on Russian propaganda canards.” Then there’s this:
In a downright surreal passage, Cohen argues that Putin has shown “remarkable restraint” so far but faces mounting public pressure due to “vivid accounts” in the Russian state-run media of Kiev’s barbarities against ethnic Russians. Can he really be unaware that the hysteria is being whipped up by lurid fictions, such as the recent TV1 story about a 3-year-old boy crucified in Slovyansk’s main square in front of a large crowd and his own mother? Does Cohen not know that Russian disinformation and fakery, including old footage from Dagestan or Syria passed off as evidence of horrors in Ukraine, has been extensively documented? Is he unaware that top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin himself, have publicly repeated allegations of war crimes that were quickly exposed as false, such as white phosphorus use by Ukrainian troops or a slaughter of the wounded in a hospital? But Cohen manages to take the surrealism a notch higher, earnestly citing the unnamed “dean of Moscow State University’s School of Television” (that’s Vitaly Tretyakov, inter alia a 9/11 “truther”) who thinks the Kremlin may be colluding with the West to hush up the extent of carnage in Ukraine.
Yes, eastern Ukraine is undergoing a human-rights crisis. As Young notes, every bit of evidence indicates that it’s “overwhelmingly the responsibility of the Russia-sponsored militants.” But for the likes of Stephen F. Cohen, his devoted spouse, and their comrades at The Nation, what are mere facts alongside a fealty to the Putin line that’s every bit as deeply seated as their forerunners’ determination, back in the days of Stalin, to be reliable cogs in Uncle Joe’s monstrous mendacity machine?
It won’t be news to readers of this website that Kim Jung-un presides over a country that can fairly be compared not just to a prison – that’s far too mild an analogy – but to an extermination camp. Terror and torture, arbitrary arrests and executions, the total denial of civil rights and absence of any kind of freedom, a society perpetually starving, thoroughly saturated in propaganda, utterly cut off from the outside world, and armed to the teeth, its mad leader constantly rattling his saber: this is North Korea today. There’s only one way, of course, to bring an end to this nightmare: bring in Gloria Steinem.
On May 24, the feminist icon led a group of 30 or so women on a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas, starting in the north and crossing to the south. “Our purpose,” she told the Washington Post, was “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” She and her fellow activists were going to North Korea “to listen and learn, to say we care by being physically present” because there’s “no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are” and “conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together.”
Yes, that’s the way to solve the North Korea dilemma: we need to “sit down” with Kim’s henchmen so we can “listen and learn.” Learn what? Asked whether she planned “to address women’s/human rights issues” while in North Korea, she replied: “Yes, we will say what our experience is and ask what their experience is and hope that one informs the other.” As if any North Koreans were free to say anything honest about “their experience”! Could Steinem’s entire premise be more naive, more misguided? “It’s hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings,” she said about the DMZ – as if the root problem were the division itself, and not Kim’s totalitarianism.
The title of Lizzie Crocker’s article in the Daily Beast asked the right question: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Crocker noted that Steinem and her co-leader in the “walk for peace,” Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, were “calling on the UN to broker a peace treaty between the North and South, and asking the U.S. to lift sanctions against the North,” but had said nothing about the “executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement” for which the Kim regime is responsible; indeed, Steinem’s statements had “been decidedly anodyne.”
But Ahn was even worse. Lots worse. We’ll get to her tomorrow.