Cleveland’s favorite son is Beijing’s golden boy

Hong Kong protesters

The ongoing spectacle of rich American athletes and powerful sports organizations spitting on the democratic capitalist system that made possible their free and privileged lives – all the while giving succor to the prison wardens who govern Communist China – has been nothing less than chilling to observe. One can hardly stop wondering: are these people as cold-heartedly craven as they sound, gladly accepting the big payouts they get from Beijing because a whole lot of Chinese people happen to love American basketball while caring nothing at all for the armies of Chinese workers of China the profits from whose underpaid labor enables Xi & co. to buy their loyalty? Or are these U.S. sports stars just plain ignorant, possessed of some vague notion that the Chinese system is pretty much the same as America’s, or that the differences between them are just cosmetic distinctions that only a racist would focus upon?

Charles Barkley

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve written about hoop heroes like Charles Barkley who’ve rushed to stand by China. Now it’s time to turn to LeBron James, who has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and L.A. Lakers, and is considered by many observers to be the greatest basketball player ever. In response to one of the very few good guys in this story – namely, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who’d dared to express his solidarity with the freedom fighters of Hong Kong – James sneered that Morey “wasn’t educated” on the topic and should have kept silent. By way of explaining his remark, James told reporters that comments like Morey’s could harm some people “not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually.” A curious angle indeed, given that all Morey had done was to stand shoulder to shoulder with people who, by standing up for their liberty against a brutal totalitarian system, were risking their very lives. What seemed to concern James was that bringing up the harsh monstrous reality of the Chinese system could hurt the feelings of his NBA confreres while they’re on their way to the bank to cash their checks from China. It’s hardly irrelevant here that LeBron himself has an exceedingly profitable lifetime endorsement deal with Nike, many of whose sneakers are manufactured in Chinese sweatshops by slave laborers, some of them children.

“King James”

James even went on to complain, in one tweet, that Morey’s support for Hong Kong had caused the Lakers to have a “difficult week” during a recent China tour. Many of his Twitter followers pointed out that the demonstrators in Hong Kong and the Uighurs, a Muslim group over a million of whose members are at present religious prisoners in China, have also been having a “difficult week.” Indeed, ever since China went Communist seventy years ago this month, untold hundreds of millions of its people have led highly difficult lives, and tens of millions have been subjected, at the orders of Mao and his successors, to brutal and violent deaths for their deviations from official ideologies. James also had some choice words for those who cheer on the Hong Kong inhabitants’ fight for freedom of speech, and who have defended Morey by pointing to his freedom of speech: “Yes,” wrote James, “we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.” Let’s just close with that one — and try to imagine the mental operations that can lead an American to say such a thing in all seriousness.

Nike: selling shoes, selling Communism

Hong Kong protests, June 16, 2019

There is no more powerful beneficiary of the useful stoogery of various Americans than the increasingly powerful Xi regime in Communist China. As we’ve seen in recent days, while hundreds of thousands of brave people in Hong Kong are risking their lives in protests against Beijing’s growing effort to crush that city’s freedoms, shameless creeps in the NBA and at ESPN, aware that China pays big bucks to broadcast American basketball games, have variously condemned the Hong Kong protests, chosen to stay silent about them, or played moral-equivalency games, equating America’s failings with those of a totalitarian dictatorship that imprisons millions of its political enemies and religious minorities.

Steve Kerr

On October 11, Tucker Carlson devoted much of his hour-long Fox News evening program to the NBA apologists for China. The focus was largely on Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, who is apparently well known for the predictable PC opinions that he shares on Twitter and elsewhere. Kerr, noted Carlson, routinely acts as if his reflexive echoing of received elite opinions makes him some kind of fearless hero of the oppressed. But when asked at a recent presser what he thinks about China, which actually does oppress on the largest scale ever known to man, and which Carlson quite properly called “the largest police state in the history of the human race,” Kerr hedged. When first asked about China, Kerr dodged it; the second time around, however, he opted for a bit of moral equivalence, suggesting that America’s “record of human rights offenses” was comparable to China’s. Only a fool or a shameless liar could say such a thing. Guesting on the same episode of Carlson’s show, John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist pointed out that Kerr’s brother is a China scholar – so it’s not as if the coach is clueless about the true nature of the Beijing regime.

Mark Cuban

As Carlson put it, the NBA is “beholden to China.” The league has actually banned its own players from speaking about China while on tour in that country. Carlson also noted another dog that hasn’t barked: Mark Cuban, the billionaire who owns the Dallas Mavericks and who is famously outspoken, has stayed mum on the question of China.

Jason Whitlock

Carlson brought on a guest, radio host Jason Whitlock, who made a fascinating argument: the ultimate problem, he said, doesn’t lie with the NBA; it lies with Nike, the sneakers company whose products are cheaply manufactured in Chinese sweatshops by veritable slaves, worn and advertised by NBA stars who have lucrative promotional contracts with the shoe manufacturer, and sold at handsome prices around the world, with China, of course, being one of its largest markets, if not the largest. “Basketball exists to sell shoes,” charged Whitlock, who maintained further that “Nike is control of basketball.” Hence the refusal of everybody connected to Nike to breathe a negative word about totalitarian China.

Now it’s ESPN’s turn to bow to Beijing

A Taiwanese flag emoji

The bowing and scraping to China doesn’t stop. Last week we wrote about how Apple has removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from IPhones sold in Hong Kong. We mentioned that Google and Microsoft, as everybody knows by now, happily jigger their products in accordance with Chinese censorship. Then there’s Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, who, when he dared to express solidarity on Twitter with the freedom protesters in Hong Kong, saw his whole world came crashing down on him. His team owner, the NBA, the Chinese Basketball Association, a Chinese broadcaster with which the NBA has a lucrative deal, and a bunch of Chinese companies that manufacture NBA-branded clothing – all of them, shamefully, took Morey to task for giving freedom a thumbs-up.

ESPN’s China map

Next thing you knew it was ESPN’s turn. On October 9, the show SportsCenter, which is aired on that network, showed a map of Communist China that included within its borders the island of Taiwan, part of the Philippines, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The map also included the notorious “nine-dash line,” whereby Communist Chinese maps indicate its utterly unfounded claims to the South China Sea. When called on its use of this map, ESPN refused comment, as did the Disney Organization, its principal owner.

Let’s look at this disgraceful episode piece by piece. Of course, Communist China officially claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has never renounced its supposed right to take the island by force, although Taiwan is in fact an independent – and a free – country, and no map other than one produced in Communist China would include it as part of Communist China.

The red line indicates China’s South China Sea claims.

As for the South China Sea, Communist China has been more and more aggressive about it in recent years, treating much of it as its own property even though if you look at a map – a real map, not a Chinese map – you’ll see that the sea stretches far south of China, and is bordered on the east by the Philippines, on the west by Vietnam, and on the south by Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia. In order to bolster its territorial claim to most of this body of water – which is comparable to the U.S. claiming the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea – China has actually created artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that contains settlements and military establishments owned by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei.

Xi Jinping

And what about those bits of the Philippines and India? What exactly is on the minds of the bullies of Beijing? No wonder the countries of east Asia are trembling at China’s increasing pushiness. That ESPN map was no mistake, any more than the maps of the Middle East put out by Muslim countries that just happen to omit Israel. Indeed, looking at that bogus China map, it is hard not to be reminded of the way in which the Third Reich, after it had attained a certain level of power, began to grab one chunk of neighboring territory after another, painting more and more of Europe a bright red, with a big swastika right smack in the middle. Make no mistake about it: Chairman Xi and his crew plainly want to paint their neighborhood red too. And when it happens, don’t expect the cowards at ESPN to object.

What is happening in Hong Kong?

This is our 800th post here at Useful Stooges. It is a landmark for our site, and consequently we have decided to devote this post to an especially crucial ongoing development in the never-ending history of the human struggle for freedom.

The handover, 1997

Ever since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the onetime colony’s spectacular success as an international financial hub and robust center of corporate activity has obscured the fact that it is, in fact, ultimately subject to the authority of the world’s most powerful and dangerous totalitarian regime.

Hong Kong’s history is rich in irony. Its acquisition by Britain in the early nineteenth century was, frankly, an imperialistic land grab. But by the mid twentieth century, it was, thanks to that land grab, a tiny outpost of democratic capitalism and individual liberty on the coast of the planet’s most populous Communist country. Its population was overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese, but they were ethnic Chinese who were glad to be living in a free and wealthy enclave under British rule rather than under Red China’s heavy tyrannical thumb.

Hong Kong

Yet the fact that people in Britain – and, by extension, Hong Kong – lived in freedom while people in China did not was hardly dispositive. As China’s power grew, it began to demand that Britain give up control of this wealthy jewel. Fearing that China might retake Hong Kong by force, the British government agreed in 1984 to return it in 1997 on the proviso that its people would be permitted to keep living in liberty until the year 2047. This was the famous “one country, two systems” agreement.

Hong Kong Olympic team, 2012

The result has been a often uneasy hybrid. On the one hand, Hong Kong’s legal system differs from China’s. It belongs to the WTO, issues its own passports, and sends its own team to the Olympics. There remains a tight customs border between Hong Kong and the rest of China, and Chinese citizens are not permitted to move to Hong Kong. On the other hand, the city is policed by the People’s Liberation Army – a fact that has been of crucial importance in recent weeks, when all of Hong Kong, it seems, has risen up in protest against the bullies of Beijing.

2019 protesters

It started with a proposed law that would permit the extradition of people from Hong Kong who are wanted for crimes on the mainland. Until now, rather remarkably, there has been no extradition agreement between China and Hong Kong – yet another indication of the degree to which Hong Kong has remained a separate entity. Such a law, of course, if applied aggressively, could spell an end to Hong Kong’s distinctive Western-style freedoms. Protests began in March of this year and grew in scale and violence over the course of the spring. Quite rapidly, the focus of the demonstrations broadened; they weren’t just about the bill but about Beijing’s authority generally. So it was that on the day after the bill was suspended on June 15, a massive protest took place; July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, occasioned another large-scale public display; August 5 saw a general strike and yet another huge demo.

Airport sit-in, 2019

At first, Beijing held back, not wanting to do anything that the world would compare to the Tienanmen Square massacre, which took place exactly thirty years ago, in 1989. But police gradually grew more aggressive, and yet another full-scale protest on August 18 took aim at police brutality. Meanwhile, from August 12 to 14, a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport all but closed it down. On August 23, protesters formed a human chain 50 kilometers long that stretched across much of the metropolis. As of October, the people of Hong Kong were still coming out in force, with a number of violent protests occurring on the first of the month, which marked the 70th anniversary of the PRC’s founding.

Protesters jam the streets, 2019

Sensible people in the free world should recognize the extraordinary, months-long exhibition of love of liberty and hatred of tyranny by the people of Hong Kong as a reminder of their own good fortune, a reminder that free societies are the product of centuries of struggle and development, a reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted and sometimes needs to be fought for. The brave and inspiring actions by the people of Hong Kong should also shame the leaders of Silicon Valley tech empires who blithely adapt their products to conform to Chinese censorship laws. American politicians, retired politicians, and their family members who are willing to lobby for the tyrants of Beijing in exchange for impressive cash payoffs should also have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror. Indeed, it’s fair to say that most of us in the Western world, while snapping up Chinese imports at cheap prices, have given far too little thought to the factory workers who manufacture those products and who can fairly be described as slave labor. Nor have we reflected sufficiently upon our own roles, as bargain-happy consumers, in helping Chairman Xi and his crew to build up their wealth and power to such an extent that their autocratic empire now represents a serious economic and military threat to the U.S. and its free allies.

Trump vs. Beijing

There are many ways of measuring the advance of the Chinese economy in comparison with that of the United States. But one of them is this: in 2019, for the first time, the number of Chinese companies on the Forbes Global 500 list exceeded the number of U.S. firms.

When the rulers of China decided to turn their country into an international economic powerhouse, there was a widespread assumption that the adoption of capitalism by the world’s largest country would inevitably result in a transition from Communism to democracy.

Xi

That hasn’t happened. China has gotten rich – and a few million managerial-class Chinese people have gotten rich, too – by exporting cheaply made goods to the West and by using sky-high tariffs to keep out Western products. But at the same time it has remained resolutely totalitarian, and its blue-collar workers – you know, those proletarians whose welfare is theoretically at the heart of the entire Marxist project – continue to be drastically underpaid in comparison to their Western counterparts, which of course is why China can sell its manufactured goods so cheap.

In any event, the fact that a Communist country, for the first time in history, either has the planet’s largest economy or is close to it, should be a cause for deep concern throughout the free world.

Trump

It isn’t. Not yet. Not really. President Trump, who has tried to rein in the Chinese dynamo by raising U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports – although those tariffs are almost nothing compared to the Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods – has been accused of waging a trade war. In fact he’s simply making a modest effort to come somewhere near evening out what has for all too long been a very uneven situation.

Anyway, China has thrived. Which would not be a bad thing if not for the fact that, as Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon putitin a September appearance on The Mark Levin Show, Chinese President Xi Jinping has turned his country into a “communist nightmare.”

Gertz

Gertz, who has written a new book entitled Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy, told Levin that Xi “has his eyes set on global hegemony, he wants China to be the dominant superpower in the world, and in order to do that, he has to diminish the power of the United States.”

Some Americans in positions of authority recognize that. Most do not. Too many of them are distracted by thoughts of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the vodka-addled population is taking a nosedive and the economy is no bigger than that of Texas.

On the Levin program, Gertz praised Trump for taking on China – not only by fighting for fair trade but by “cracking down on China” when it comes to “law enforcement, intelligence gathering, and spying.” Gertz didn’t claim to have a crystal ball, but he contended that just as the USSR collapsed, so might China: “with a little bit of pressure” of the sort being exerted by Trump, “the whole thing could come crumbling down in Beijing.” Which would be a magnificent development for the oppressed, brutalized, and painfully unfree people of China, and would also make the whole free world breathe a good deal more easily.

Beijing good, Trump bad: lessons from James A. Millward

Before the fall: a 1988 Soviet stamp commemorating Marx

On Tuesday we pondered the fact that Karl Marx, who would have turned 200 on May 5, has been getting awfully positive press lately in the Western media. We cited a recent New York Times op-ed whose author, a philosopher named Jason Barker, looked forward breathlessly to a golden future time when some government actually puts Marx’s ideas into practice – as if most of the large-scale human tragedies of the last century weren’t a result of precisely such efforts.

Barker’s piece, as it happens, was nothing new for the Times, which during the last year or so has been using the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution as an excuse to regularly run op-eds that put a pretty face on Soviet Communism.  It has been difficult, indeed, not to conclude that the Gray Lady, in her dotage, seems to be going through a period of nostalgia for the grand old days of that master apologist and Pulitzer winner Walter Duranty

James A. Millward

Although it didn’t mention Marx, another recent Times op-ed took as blinkered a look at Marxism as Barker’s. On the very day before Marx’s birthday, China scholar James A. Millward (who teaches in the school of Foreign Service at Georgetown University) celebrated China’s current “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which involves the development of “highways and a string of new ports, from the South China Sea through the Indian Ocean to Africa and the Mediterranean,” on a scale that surpasses “even the imagination of a sci-fi writer.” Breathlessly, Millward cheered “China’s economic progress over the past century,” noting that it had lifted “hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty.” One might have expected Millward to acknowledge that the same government that lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty also murdered a similar number of its people. But presumably Millward didn’t consider this little detail revelant to his topic.

Mao Zedong

Yes, Millward did admit in passing that China is flexing its muscles and challenging U.S. global dominance. “To the cynical,” he stated, the cultural elements of the One Belt, One Road program are “just so much propagandistic treacle.” But he wasn’t about to be cynical. China, he argued, “is stepping up to be a global good citizen concerned about the economic well-being of its neighbors.” One Belt, One Road “invests China’s prestige in a globalist message that sounds all the right notes – peace, multicultural tolerance, mutual prosperity – and that rhetoric sets standards by which to hold China accountable.” Millward contrasted this sweetness and light with – what else? – “the protectionism and xenophobia displayed by President Trump and emerging nationalistic ideologies in Europe, India and elsewhere.” Yes, that’s right: Millward favorably compared a Communist regime to the democratic governments of the U.S., India, and various European countries that are too “nationalistic” for his tastes. Yet even as Millward provided Xi and his henchmen in Beijing with this terrific piece of free P.R., he omitted to so much as mention the word “Communism.”

Kerry Jang: “agnostic” about Communism

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The Chinese flag flying outside the statehouse in Olympia

It’s considered a matter of courtesy to fly another country’s flag when one of its representatives is visiting. That doesn’t mean people have to like it. Last year, when Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai flew to Olympia, Washington, to meet with that state’s governor, Jay Inslee, the Chinese flag was hoisted outside the State Capitol – only to be pulled down by a group of private citizens who found its presence there disgraceful. A few days ago, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Czech Republic, Chinese flags lined the route from the airport into Prague. As in Olympia, citizens pulled a couple of the flags down and replaced them with Tibetan flags.

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The Vancouver ceremony

Also this month – specifically, on October 1 – a Chinese flag was raised outside the City Hall in Vancouver, Canada. But it was not because some Chinese dignitary was in town. No, it was done in recognition of China’s National Day. The flag-raising ceremony was organized by a group calling itself the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations. And the flag wasn’t the whole of it: two of the speakers at the event, a Vancouver Councilman and third-generation Chinese-Canadian named Kerry Jang and a Member of Parliament named Joe Peschisolido, wore red scarves, which were part of the uniform worn by the cruel Red Guards during Mao Zedong’s so-called Cultural Revolution.

This spectacle didn’t sit well with many locals. Peschisolido himself later claimed that he was unaware of the significance of the red scarves, and said that his remarks outside City Hall had included affirmations of “the importance of human rights, the importance for democracy, the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of one’s faith.”

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Kerry Jang

But Jang was unrepentant. Describing himself as “agnostic” about Chinese Communism, he attributed initial criticism of the event to “ignorance and racism.” But its most vocal critics turned out to be his fellow Chinese-Canadians. Meena Wong, a local politician who had been a child in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, said she was “dumbfounded” at the sight of “my city councillor in my city hall raising the flag wearing the symbol of loyalty to communism.” On October 6, a Chinese-American group called the Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values – which, as we saw yesterday, had recently opposed a Maoist concert in nearby Richmond – held a public protest against the Vancouver flag ceremony and demanded Jang’s resignation.

jang_thumbDuring the last decade, charged the group’s head, Louis Huang, the Beijing government had vastly expanded its influence in Canada – “not only in our government organizations, but also in the hundreds of Chinese associations in Canada.” This development, Huang warned, represented a threat to “the foundation of our freedom and democracy, the loyalty to our country and our national security.”

As a result of the protest, Vancouver authorities said they were re-examining their policies regarding displays of foreign flags. And Jang, while repeating  his claim that many critics of the ceremony “just hate all Chinese,” also sought to slough off responsibility for wearing a red scarf, maintained that someone else had tied it around his neck and that he was scared to remove it lest he cause an “international incident.” Now there’s the kind of character, principle, and resolve you want in an elected leader.

Putin’s Chinese fans

On October 7, Vladimir Putin celebrated his sixty-third birthday. To commemorate this occasion, we’ve spent the last few days here at Useful Stooges looking at Putin – and at a few of his benighted fans around the world.

This one is particularly depressing. Apparently it’s time to add a new wing to the Putin fan gallery. A huge wing. For, as it turns out, Vladimir Putin is a superstar in China.

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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

While people in other countries have cooled on Vlad since he sent troops into Ukraine, in China his numbers have soared. A biography of him was a bestseller last fall. After Russia annexed Crimea, his approval rating hit 92%. A 2014 article in a Chinese publication referred to “Putin fever.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jeremy Page provided the context in an article that appeared last October: in recent years, he noted, the governments of China and Russia have grown closer, united by their contempt for democracy in general – as represented by pro-freedom protests in Hong Kong and Kiev – and for the U.S. in particular, which is seen as instigating such protests.

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Bestseller: millions of Chinese book buyers want to read about Putin

Chinese president Xi Jinping has said that the two countries have the world’s “best great-power relationship.” In September, Putin said:  “Russian-Chinese ties have reached probably their highest level in history and continue to develop.” Last year, Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian that Xi and other Chinese leaders, who “grew up under Chairman Mao,” look up to Putin because they love “the idea of another non-western leader standing up to the capitalist and imperialist west.”

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Mao: he killed 50 to 80 million people, but oh, that charm!

Indeed, Mao may be history and China may have become a top-flight capitalist power, but the PRC’s government remains firmly Communist – and its people are still taught from infancy to respect, and even fear, authority. While Putin, as Page notes, has “overseen a gradual rehabilitation of Joseph Stalin,” Xi has done much the same for the memory of Mao. Even though millions of Chinese citizens unquestionably crave democracy, long for greater freedom, and are active in reform movements, millions more, like generations of their ancestors before them, reflexively esteem tyrants. Or, as they might prefer to put it, they admire leaders who have power and aren’t afraid to use it boldly to benefit their own countries.

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“Very big muscles”

Uninspired by Obama, they’re galvanized by Putin. They’re impressed by his bullying moves against Georgia and Ukraine. As one Chinese journalist has said, they’re attracted by Putin’s “strong ’emperor’ quality.” They view him as “a leader with character” who “strikes back when the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is invaded.” To quote a commenter at an online Chinese forum: “Chinese people approve of Putin for the same reasons that they reminisce about Chairman Mao.”

Since Page’s article appeared, the Chinese enthusiasm for Putin has only intensified. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that China’s “adulation” of the Russian president had “reached dizzying new heights” thanks to “a slick propaganda video lavishing praise” on him. The video includes comments by Chinese people praising Putin for his “very big muscles” and calling him “a big handsome man!” How can freedom compete with that?

They still love Putin

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Polina Gagarina, who represented Russia in the 2015 Eurovision contest

The other day, watching the Eurovision Song Contest – Europe’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, only with bad songs instead of a football game – we reflected on how odd it was to see performers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland taking the same stage as an act from Russia. This was, after all, going on at a time when the people living in the countries on Russia’s Western border have serious, growing, and thoroughly legitimate concerns that Vladimir Putin, any day now, may order Russian troops to march across their borders. As one observer noted a couple of weeks ago, the Baltics may be “model states for democracy, respect for human rights, and transparency,” may “have the highest standard of living among the former states of the Soviet Union,” and may be the only former Soviet states in the Eurozone, but “the mood in all three countries is dark.”

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Elina Born & Stig Rasta, who represented Estonia in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest

Consider this: in a single week earlier this month, NATO military exercises were held in Poland, Lithuania, Georgia, Estonia and the Baltic Sea. Such is the air of menace Putin has created in his neighborhood, reported the Guardian in May, that “[e]ven Sweden and Finland have started musing aloud about joining NATO.”  

Monika-and-Vaidas
Monika and Vaidas, who represented Lithuania in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest

Missing from Eurovision this year was Ukraine, which already has Russian troops on its soil. (In fact, the financial challenges caused by the conflict in eastern Ukraine were reportedly the reason why Ukraine pulled out of this year’s Eurovision.) One is reminded of the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics, at which countries soon to go to war with one another engaged in “friendly” athletic competition under the very eyes of Hitler; only the comparison would be even more apt if the Berlin Olympics had taken place not in the summer of 1936 but three years later, after the Anschluss and Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland.

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A new statue of Putin, depicted as a Roman empire, near St. Petersburg

Putin has been rattling sabers for months. According to recent reports, he’s informed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that if he wanted, he could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest” within two days. He also told European Commission President José Manuel Barroso: “If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks.” In mid May, the heads of the Baltic countries’ armed forces asked NATO to station on their territories “a new unit similar to the Berlin Brigade that was stationed in Germany during the Cold War.” The danger is real.

And yet even as things heat up along Russia’s western border, Putin’s apologists in the West hold firm.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 9:  In this handout image supplied by Host photo agency / RIA Novosti, Actor Steven Seagal attends the military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, May 9, 2015 in Moscow, Russia. The Victory Day parade commemorates the end of World War II in Europe. (Photo by Host photo agency / RIA Novosti via Getty Images)
Steven Seagal attending Putin’s VE-Day speech

Take action-film heavyweight Steven Seagal, who not only calls Putin a pal but considers him “one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader alive.” This month, when Putin held a celebration of Russia’s World War II victory – at which he gave a speech accusing the U.S. of seeking “to create a unipolar world” – Seagal was there in the audience, cheering him on. We’ve already noted Seagal’s curious friendship with Putin, but recently there have been some fresh tidbits of news from that front. It was reported in April, for example, that Putin, back in 2013, asked the U.S. to recognize his movie-star buddy as an “honorary consul of Russia” who would act as “a potential intermediary between the White House and the Kremlin. (The U.S. response, according to one unnamed official, was: “You’ve got to be kidding.”) Although U.S. and European officials boycotted Putin’s VE-Day anniversary event in protest against his actions in Ukraine, Seagal was able to rub shoulders at the shindig with some of Putin’s other international comrades – including Raul Castro, Robert Mugabe, and Xi Jinping.

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Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Even some people who don’t really seem to be full-fledged Putin fans have been infected by those fans’ disingenuous rhetoric. Take British journalist David Blair. He doesn’t appear to possess any great affection for Putin, but in a recent article, after snidely mocking Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves for having grown up in New Jersey and for speaking English with an American accent (horrors!), Blair actually characterized Ilves’s distaste for Putin as rooted not in an understandable concern about Kremlin belligerence, but in an indignancy over Putin’s disregard for post-World War II international rules (and, by extension, his disrespect for post-Cold War American hegemony).

American hegemony. Yes, in the lexicon of Putin’s Western fans, that’s what this is all about. Not the reality of Russian aggression, but the fiction of “American hegemony,” a nonsense term used to make a good thing – the banding together of democracies for mutual protection against a warmongering tyrant – look like a bad thing.

Blair went on to note that even though the Baltic countries are full NATO members, no American or NATO soldiers are permanently defending the Baltics.” If Putin invaded, “these countries could not protect themselves” and “NATO would not be able to reinforce them. But while Ilves calls for NATO to put permanent NATO troops in the Baltics, Blair warned against it, maintaining that Russia would regard this as a grave escalation.” Again, Blair doesn’t seem to be a Putin fan, but he’s speaking their language – referring to a purely defensive measure as if it were an act of aggression. Nobody, including Putin, seriously believes that NATO would station troops in the Baltics with an eye to invading Russia. That being the case, the word “escalation” is utterly out of place here.

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Ashot Gabrelyanov

The hypocrisy factor in all this is through the roof. How many of the Western politicians, journalists, and others who defend Putin would want to ply their trades in Russia? Even one of Putin’s top domestic media stooges, it turns out, no longer lives in Russia but – guess where? In the U.S., naturally. We’re talking about Ashot Gabrelyanov, who, with his father, has “built a tabloid empire” and is believed to “wor[k] closely with Russia’s intelligence services” to promote the Putin regime and defame its enemies. A few months ago, as Mashable reported on May 1, the younger Gabrelyanov, founder of Russia’s top news (or “news”) site, LifeSite News, moved to New York City – and ever since then he’s been busy on social media gushing over the same country he routinely demonizes on his website. “NYC is incredible,” he enthused on Instagram. Meet the new poster boy for hypocritical Putin fandom. 

Loving Putin’s “traditional values”

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Oliver Stone

We’ve seen how far-left filmmaker Oliver Stone admires Kremlin gangster Vladimir Putin for his “new authoritarianism” that, in his view, gave Russians their “pride back.” Stone is far from the only Western cultural or intellectual figure who has a soft spot for the former KGB thug, but he’s something of an exception to the rule: most of Putin’s fans in the West, as it happens, aren’t left-wingers like Stone who like Putin because he reminds them of Fidel Castro but social conservatives who like Putin because they see him as a hero of “traditional values.” Indeed, all he has to do is say the words “traditional values” and they start salivating.

Never mind that Putin’s “traditional values” are pre-democratic and pre-modern; never mind that they’re part and parcel of all the worst chapters of both Tsarist and Soviet history – the pogroms, the Gulag. Putin’s disdain for gay rights and other such Western phenomena – a disdain shared and applauded by the likes of Pat Buchanan – is nothing new; contempt for Western “decadence” was a staple of Soviet propaganda from 1918 to 1989. What Putin is encouraging with his “traditional values” rhetoric is the perpetuation, and even revival, of a self-destructive, pathological culture whose hallmarks are maudlin self-pity, dictator-worship, a love of cruelty and physical brutality, rampant alcoholism, and the often violent oppression of Jews and other minorities.

Christopher Caldwell
Christopher Caldwell

But you’d never know that to read apologists like Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, who in September 2011, while not quite admitting that he himself celebrated Putin, was eager to provide reasons why others might do so: “he saved the country from servility”; he “[f]lout[ed] western norms”; he has “address[ed] real problems.” Caldwell dismissed Western critics of Putin, such as Le Monde, as “harsh” and “condescending.” And he suggested that if Putin is less than a saint, well, it’s largely the fault of NATO, whose “moralistic adventure in Kosovo humiliated Russia and its Serbian allies unnecessarily.”

As for Putin’s offenses, they were relegated by Caldwell to the “yes, but” category: yes, “the west can deplore” Putin’s imprisonment of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his invasion of Georgia, and his assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, “but it cannot ignore the reality of Russian sentiment.”

In his 2011 piece, Caldwell seemed hesitant to praise Putin too overtly; this hesitancy pretty much disappeared in an article he published this February, in which he scorned Obama, Hollande, and Cameron for their “ostentatious” boycott of the Sochi Olympics while praising the “level-headed” decisions of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and Turkey’s Islamist despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend the games. Caldwell dismissed attention paid to “alleged corruption around Olympic construction” as “obsessive,” calling it “a local story.” Besides, he argued, haven’t other Olympic games also been corrupt? He offered a good deal of this sort of argumentation: yes, Putin has introduced undemocratic laws, but haven’t other governments done the same?

Caldwell was more critical of the gutsy anti-Putin protesters of Pussy Riot, whom he criticized for interrupting worship at a church, than he was of the punishment Putin meted out to them. He expressed less concern about Putin’s assault on Russian freedom, as exemplified by his brutal crackdown on gays, than about rulings by U.S. judges in favor of same-sex marriage. He even trivialized Putin’s persecution, torture, and ten-year imprisonment of billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, calling it a cause “beloved of western elites.”

(FILES) A file picture taken on July 20,
Pussy Riot

In short, a disgraceful performance by a guy who’s often viewed as a relatively moderate conservative and whose work appears in places like The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly.

But, as we’ll see, Caldwell is far from alone on the right.