Sheila Jackson Lee: The ultimate useful idiot?

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Sheila Jackson Lee

As we’ve pointed out before on this blog, some useful stooges are simply too smart to refer to as useful idiots. But some of them definitely are idiots. Case in point: Sheila Jackson Lee, who has been a congresswoman from Texas since 1995.

First, her stoogery.

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Bashar al-Assad

During a 2003 “fact-finding mission” to Europe and the Middle East, Jackson Lee met Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and returned home saying she’d been “impressed” by him and had invited him to America to speak – even though Syria was a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism and rogue nation. “He’s a 39-year-old president who even gave us a picture of him and his children,” Jackson Lee told a reporter, in a daffy, head-scratching non-sequitur of a sort she has long specialized in.

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Hugo Chávez

Jackson Lee was the first House member to visit Hugo Chávez after his 2007 re-election as president of Venezuela, and despite his relentless, poisonous anti-American rhetoric, she described herself as a “friend” of his and called for “an immediate repairing of the relations between the United States and Venezuela.” She even insisted that the U.S. help Chávez strengthen his military – even though his clearly stated purpose in building up his military was to prepare for war with the U.S.

As for her idiocy:

In 1997, Jackson Lee – who at the time was a member of the House Science Committee and of the subcommittee that oversees NASA – asked a question which made it clear that she thought Neil Armstrong, in 1969, had walked on Mars, not the Moon. In 2010, she said: “Today we have two Vietnams, side by side, North and South.” Of course, South Vietnam had been absorbed into North Vietnam in 1976. In 2011, she suggested that repeal of Obamacare would violate the Constitution, a claim that made no sense whatsoever. In 2014, she said that the Constitution was 400 years old. (She was off by over a century and a half.) In an interview this past October, she vociferously denounced Wikipedia – she meant to say Wikileaks.

When called out on gaffes like these, Jackson Lee has often replied with charges of racism. She has made a habit, in fact, of calling people racists. In 2005, she complained that the names given to hurricanes were too “lily white” and insisted that they should also be given more black-sounding names like Keisha and Jamal. She also maintained that racism (directed at President Obama) was the reason why House Republicans refused to raise the debt limit. She even accused a 2011 Super Bowl commercial for Pepsi-Cola of racism.

Oh, and on top of her stoogery and idiocy, she’s also an extremely unpleasant creature who has repeatedly been named the meanest member of Congress.

Putin’s Italian bromance

Yesterday, October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’re spending a few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world. Today: the one and only Silvio Berlusconi.

putinberlus8When it was reported in late July, the news doubtless caused some people to scratch their scalps in wonderment. Vladimir Putin, it emerged, had invited Silvio Berlusconi – the 79-year-old media tycoon and three-time Italian prime minister – to become Russia’s economy minister.

No, Putin didn’t expect Berlusconi to accept, and Berlusconi had no intention of doing so. The offer was just a private joke, intended as a gesture of solidarity and friendship at a time when both men are on the outs with almost every other Western head of government – Putin because of his military adventurism and saber-rattling and Berlusconi because of his sordid scandals and court cases involving underage sex, corruption, tax evasion, and so on.

putinberlus2But the cameraderie between the two men isn’t new. Putin and Berlusconi are old buddies. A recent article in an Italian daily was headlined “Berlusconi and Putin: An Enduring Love.” Their “bromance,” as Adam Taylor called it in a recent Washington Post article about the relationship, “was cemented in the summer of 2002 when Putin’s two teenage daughters spent a month at Berlusconi’s summer residence in Porto Rotondo. The following year, Putin’s entire family visited.”

putinberlus9Since then they’ve socialized frequently, vacationed together on the Black Sea, in Sardinia, and elsewhere, exchanged lavish presents, partied, skied, strolled, and sung à deux, pulled schoolboy pranks on each other, played host to each other’s spouses and kids, frolicked with each other’s pets, and praised and defended and applauded each other in the media when everyone else in the Western world’s executive mansions and foreign offices was piling on.

putinberlus6Berlusconi, who has been described as having a “strange fascination for Putin,” has called Putin a “macho” guy and a “good boy” and a “godsend” to the people of Russia; Putin has expressed admiration for Berlusconi’s reputation as a ladies’ man, saying, when Berlusconi was on trial two years ago on sex charges, that if his Italian chum “were homosexual, no one would lay a finger on him.” Each of them has cut short meetings or changed appointments with powerful international personages in order to hang out with or take a call from the other. It’s that kind of friendship.

putinberlus4What’s the secret of their mutual attraction? Taylor cites their shared “pro-business, pro-power outlook” as well as their similar personalities: they’re “manly men on a continent of gray, dull eurocrats.” Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Center in Moscow puts it a tad differently: “They’re corporate, ruthless, willing to screw principles.” In early 2009, Ronald Spogli, then U.S. Ambassador to Italy, wrote a nine-page memo about the curious bond between the two, observing that Berlusconi “admires Putin’s macho style of governing and sees in his Russian friend a ‘fellow tycoon.’”

putinberlus1Their friendship is, of course, also a power alliance. While Berlusconi was PM of Italy, he personally made all government decisions relating to Russia, repeatedly leaving his own diplomatic corps entirely out of the loop. After Putin’s annexation of Crimea, Il Cavaliere was quick to stand up for him and to call the G8 “reckless” for banning him from their sodality; this past June, he promised his pal that the Forza Italia party (of which he remains capo di tutti capi) would fight to lift Western sanctions on Mother Russia.

Not unsurprisingly, the unusual intimacy of this adorable twosome has occasioned a good deal of international chn-scratching. In a 2010 article in Der Spiegel, appropriately entitled “Macho Friends,” Gregor Peter Schmitz wrote that the two men’s “close relationship” was “a source of unease for the US State Department.” In cables made public by WikiLeaks, American diplomats described Berlusconi as “increasingly the mouthpiece” of Putin in Europe.

putinberlus3In addition, those cables raised the possibility that the two mates might also share clandestine business and financial ties. According to one dispatch by Spogli, many Italian politicians and foreign diplomats were convinced, during Berlusconi’s years in office, that he was “profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia.” A Georgian ambassador to Italy suggested that Putin had promised his Italian buddy a “percentage of profits from any pipelines” developed jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s Eni.

But, hey, what’s a little graft between friends?