College Don’t Make You Smart

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This column has often drawn attention to the ignorance of our supposedly educated classes. A remarkable instance of the phenomenon was provided by Tim Kaine, J.D., Harvard, in his speech on the day following the defeat of his campaign for vice president. The performance was elaborately worked up, loaded with dreadful foreboding (about Republicans), light-hearted optimism (about Democrats), and a heavy-footed quest for applause lines that suggested he had already formed seven Voluntary Committees for his own attempt to seize the White House.

Kaine, who had trouble getting even 75 people at rallies during the climax of this year’s campaign, obviously needed some way to work up emotions about himself. He chose the Happy Warrior, Chin Up, We Won After All approach:

I’ll just say this: Hillary and I know well the wisdom and the words of William Faulkner, he said, “They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.” They kilt us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.

Because we know that the work remains. We know that the dreams of empowering families and children remain. And in that work, that important work that we have to do as a nation, it is so comforting, even in a tough time, to know that Hillary Clinton is somebody who, until her very last breath, is going to be battling for the values that make this nation great and the values we care so deeply about.

Everything is wrong about that — and wrong in a way that anyone of any intelligence should be able to see. What in the hell would it mean to “empower” children? Or “families,” for that matter? Who in the world pictures Hillary Clinton as a battler for “values”? And by the way, what exactly are those values that Kaine believes are implicit in our nation? I’m sure there are some — tell us what they are.

Kaine, who had trouble getting even 75 people at rallies during the climax of this year’s campaign, obviously needed some way to work up emotions about himself.

The business about empowering children creates quite a picture. I see Dick and Jane taking a break from their coloring books to plot the policy of the Federal Reserve or our strategy in Syria. But what really makes me laugh is the image of Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton poring over the works of Faulkner and swapping sapient glances about the wisdom of killing and whupping. The remark on whupping is reported to have incited frenzies of emotion among Democrats throughout America.

Well, William Faulkner did write something like that, but while he was responsible for the words, they do not express his wisdom. The connection is itself absurd, as if wisdom ever lived apart from words. The big problem, however, is that the words were written, not in the author’s voice, but in that of Wash Jones, a character in one of Faulkner’s novels. That book, Absalom, Absalom!, is a magnificent literary achievement, in which Wash is the least magnificent character. He is the creepy white servant and abject worshiper of the great plantation owner Thomas Sutpen — otherwise known as “the demon,” a man of ruthless energy whose great purpose is to establish a slave kingdom in Mississippi. This is an odd place to look for an inspiring quotation — an odd place for anyone to look, but most of all for apparatchiks of a party devoted to the supposed needs of minority (chiefly African-American) voters.

The occasion for Wash Jones’ remarks is Colonel Sutpen’s drunken mourning over the fate of the Confederacy. Wash, the novel says, would

put him to bed like a baby and then lie down himself on the floor beside the bed though not to sleep since before dawn the man on the bed would stir and groan and Jones would say, “Hyer I am, Kernel. Hit's all right. They aint whupped us yit, air they?" — this Jones who after the demon rode away with the regiment . . . would tell people that he “was looking after Major's place and niggers” even before they had time to ask him why he was not with the troops and perhaps in time came to believe the lie himself, who was among the first to greet the demon when he returned, to meet him at the gate and say, “Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?"

A touching scene! A drunken Confederate colonel, falsely consoled by a miserable subject, after a disastrous attempt to maintain black slavery. I can imagine other perorations that the functionally illiterate Mr. Kaine might have larded with stuff from online lists of quotations (entitled, probably, Comfort in Defeat). He could have quoted Satan in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” And nobody in his audience would have known the difference.

I see Dick and Jane taking a break from their coloring books to plot the policy of the Federal Reserve or our strategy in Syria.

Now let’s go from the sublimely ridiculous to the merely ridiculous. During the campaign, I was amused by the complete lack of either literary or folkloric knowledge of Democratic hack Austan Goolsbee — a man who, I can’t resist observing, looks exactly like his name. Goolsbee, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an interview on Fox News (July 25), regarding disunity within the two major parties: “We’re all eatin’ a little humble crow.” The host did not, of course, ask Goolsbee what a humble crow might be, although that’s certainly interesting to think about. But what had happened was that Goolsbee (I love to repeat that ridiculous name, so perfect for its owner) had heard the expression “humble pie,” and he had also heard the expression “eat crow,” and he had put them together (why not?), spiced them with the faux-proletarian eatin’, and served them up to an oblivious audience.

Now that Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Harvard, has scrambled somewhere near the top of the Democratic heap, I’m sure I will have many more occasions to discuss dumb people who think they’re smart. But since Warren is also the Senator from the New York Times, it’s fair to introduce that paper’s post-election statement, which Donald Trump and others construed as an “apology” for getting everything wrong about the campaign. We all know that this was true; the Times did get everything wrong — everything from the temper of the populace to the character (or lack of character) of the Democratic candidate to the nature of the Times’ own mission, which it somehow interpreted, not as reporting the news, but as presenting daily Masses for the success of Democratic candidates. Yet when you actually read the “apology” you discover several things.

One is that the Times is still one of the nation’s most dependable sources of bad writing. Look at the first sentence:

When the biggest political story of the year reached a dramatic and unexpected climax late Tuesday night, our newsroom turned on a dime and did what it has done for nearly two years — cover the 2016 election with agility and creativity.

Turned on a dime? What Harvard seminar teaches you to write like that? Probably all of them, but this is no excuse. There doesn’t need to be a New York Times Book of Clichés; the content appears in every issue. But let’s follow up on this particular cliché. Turned on a dime — from what? From bad reporting and bad writing? No, no; that’s impossible. The Times never could have published anything it had to turn away from, and in fact, nothing of the kind is mentioned. What we are supposed to picture is the Times turning on a dime and also doing what it had done for nearly two years. I give up; I can’t picture that. I also give up on what it means to report the news with creativity, unless it means making stuff up, a charge that the Times always haughtily ignores.

The host did not, of course, ask Austan Goolsbee what a "humble crow" might be.

This is the second thing one notices: the “apology” is just one more service of thanksgiving for the wonderfulness of the New York Times, now “rededicating” itself, as the “apology” goes on to say, to the glorious public mission that the august journal has continuously fulfilled: “We aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor,” blah, blah, blah. That’s not exactly what the Times’ “public editor,” Liz Spayd, had in mind when she wrote about the failings of the paper’s agile and creative performance — but she has a mind, and the Times, for all its alleged erudition, does not.

The Times was not alone in its unmerited self-esteem; the ability to criticize oneself was in remarkably short supply almost everywhere this year. Republicans seemed incapable of reflecting on the huge majority that Trump might have had if he’d hesitated to make an absolute fool of himself on countless occasions. Democrats could not really imagine that anyone not a bigot or a dumbass tool of bigots could possibly have voted for Trump. In this delicate moral situation, I find the Republicans less guilty than the Democrats, who not only refused to consider their own failures but violently projected them onto others.

Of course I’m referring to the wave of hysteria, ordinarily self-induced, that is still sloshing back and forth in modern-liberal America — hysteria about the actions of Trump, who so far has taken no action, not yet being in office. It is striking that demands for tolerance and diversity should be voiced by mobs in the streets, by employers persecuting employees who voted the wrong way, and even by merchants rejecting the business of customers who became part of the wrong ideological formation. I don’t like to give Freud any credit, but his idea of projection does seem appropriate. I don’t know how else to explain the passionate intensity of people who violently denounce all who disagree with them, because of the latter’s vicious intolerance.

I once, in a minor way, was an organizer of demos against the Vietnam War. There were many angry shouts from our crowd, but I don’t remember any shouts being directed against angry shouting. Now we have people spewing grossly obvious hate against their opponents, because they consider their opponenst “haters.” This isn’t how the Civil Rights Movement got its way; it’s specifically the tactics that Martin Luther King refused to adopt; and it isn’t a tactics that will work now. I just wish it were funnier.

The “apology” is just one more service of thanksgiving for the wonderfulness of the New York Times.

The entertainment personalities who vowed to combat the haters by moving out of the country — they were funny. I’m not sure they were funny because, as someone aptly remarked, they all promised to move to Canada, Australia, and other such places, never manifesting their anti-racism by contemplating a move to Mexico. But it was hilarious to find such deep thinkers as TV actress Lena Dunham denouncing people who noticed that promisers like her weren’t keeping their promises. The Washington Times quoted Dunham’s Instagram:

And for those demanding I move to Canada based on something I said when this man [Trump] seemed like a steak salesman with a long shot at the presidency: stay busy reveling in your new regime . . .

I will go many places during my lifetime, surrounded by kindreds on a mission to spread justice and light. I can’t wait for all of this, and for the change to come, as we use what we’ve been given to protect those who can’t protect themselves. . . . What are you living for?

I wonder what she thinks “kindreds” means. I also wonder what she means by “light” — of which she is shedding a lot, even now, before the start of her “mission” — but only on herself, not on the benighted souls who don’t know what they’re living for.

For hardcore fans of farce, the 2016 campaign was lots of fun, and for them the fun will continue, as long as there are Lena Dunhams. I’m not that hardcore, but I do have good things to say about the campaign. Though it was long on illiteracy, it was short on idol worship — at least when compared with the idolatry of the various Kennedy campaigns, the idolatry eventually lavished on Ronald Reagan, or the posthumous idolatry accorded Harry Truman. (In the 1948 campaign, Truman was generally regarded as an accidental president, an embarrassment to his party. At the start of the 1952 campaign season, when he expected to run for reelection, he received no, zero, nada support from the party, and dropped out.) We did have some idolatrous statements about Trump the Builder, Trump the Man of Action, and even (gasp!) Trump the Seer, but I doubt that many of his supporters took any of that seriously.

A little bit of cynicism would have been a relief, considering the constant, shrieking moralism of American politics this past 30 — or is it 50? — years.

Clinton fared better in the mindless flattery department, because she had many more paid sycophants — not to mention people who, like President Obama, rightly detested her but still associated their political legacy or future employment with the claim that, in Obama’s words, Hillary Clinton was “the best qualified person ever to run for the presidency.”

If that statement makes you wonder what planet you’re living on, try the following expression of Clintonolatry, provided by Liberty’s Managing Editor, Drew Ferguson, who suggests (and I think he is right) that no one can top it. The author is Virginia Heffernan, Ph.D., Harvard:

We don't have to wait until she dies to act. Hillary Clinton's name belongs on ships, and airports, and tattoos. She deserves straight-up hagiographies and a sold-out Broadway show called RODHAM. Yes, this cultural canonization is going to come after the chronic, constant, nonstop "On the other hand" sexist hedging around her legacy. But such is the courage of Hillary Clinton and her supporters; we reverse patriarchal orders. Maybe she is more than a president. Maybe she is an idea, a world-historical heroine, light itself. The presidency is too small for her. She belongs to a much more elite class of Americans, the more-than-presidents. Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander Fucking Hamilton.

Hillary Clinton did everything right in this campaign. . . .

Well, now you know.

In general, however, the political writers of 2016 decided that they had to make the best of a bad deal and dwelt entirely on the evils of the opposing side, evils that were never hard to find. If the Clinton people, especially, had left it at that, I would not have been distressed. A little bit of cynicism would have been a relief, considering the constant, shrieking moralism of American politics this past 30 — or is it 50? — years. But no. Virtually no one except Doug Schoen, the Democratic commentator, admitted that he was being cynical, and even he repented and departed, miffed, from the Hillary side. After her defeat, we are left with the Sean Hannitys of this world, endlessly muttering about the greatness of Donald Trump — a candidate who won because people couldn’t stand him but could stand his opponent even less — and the armies of professors, Democratic office holders, “advocates for,” social justice warriors, guff-addicted leftists, university “students,” and other people who have lots of time on their hands, all huddling in well-advertised terror from the wave of fascism that succeeded Trump’s election.

The exemplary fact is this: in 2012 Obama carried one of the counties in which Youngstown, Ohio, is located by about 28%; in 2016 Clinton carried it by about 3%. In 2012 Obama carried the other county by about 22%; in 2016 Trump carried it by about 6%. Look up the history of Youngstown, which has less than half the population it had in 1970, and you’ll see why. Alleged “hate” has nothing to do with Youngstown and its vote. Lack of real jobs, regulation of every puny detail of life, insults to local culture delivered by high-paid snots in Washington, the perception that Hillary Clinton is a low-level crook who wouldn’t be welcome at a family dinner — those things are sufficient to explain the change. Invoking the sudden “racism” of former Obama voters is just going to turn the 25 or 28% difference into something like unanimity.

The bad, in fact awful, aspect of Trump’s distinctiveness is hard to analyze, because it’s hard to pay attention to.

So much for solemn words. Friends have asked me if Clinton’s defeat isn’t a blow to this column. In a way it is. She and her friends were always available to exemplify some grave linguistic sin. Trump isn’t so easy to write about. His performance is distinctive, in ways that are hard to describe. In his tweets, as in the interviews in which he used to make fun of media mushrooms like Rose O’Donnell (last seen speculating on whether Trump’s son Barron is autistic), he sometimes hits a tone of mischievous naiveté that is uniquely right. One example is his comment on the New York Times’ supposed violation of an agreement for an interview of him:

I cancelled today’s meeting with the failing @nytimes when the terms and conditions of the meeting were changed at the last moment. Not nice

This bluntness is refreshing. Who else would say “the failing @nytimes” as if it were the formal name of the publication? Or add the childish “Not nice,” which somehow manages to suggest that it’s the Times, not Trump, that is childish? That’s an effective combination, but it’s hard to say why. As an analyst, you have to do more work on Trump than you do on Clinton, who was never an effective communicator in any way.

The bad, in fact awful, aspect of Trump’s distinctiveness is also hard to analyze, because it’s hard to pay attention to. I refer to his amazing, startling, unbelievable incoherence, which is one of the world’s great bores. If Trump has a draft of his inaugural address, it probably begins like this: “Hey! It’s great to see you all! This is incredible. I mean it, incredible. All these American people, men and women, people — simply incredible. It’s incredible. You know, just a couple days ago, I saw, and this is unbelievable. You’re not gonna believe it. But when you look at employment. I saw the figures. Folks, it’s a disaster. But we’ll do it. It’s gonna be done. Depend on it. 100%. You can depend on it. A complete disaster. But there’s gonna be a wall. I promise you. There’s gonna be a wall, and it’s gonna be an incredible wall. You’re gonna like it, I promise you. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. ”

Had enough? Me too.




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Castro Agonistes

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“You know you’re speaking to a dead man.”
                                                                      —Fidel Castro talking to Cuban artist Kcho

Fidel (Hipólito Casiano) Alejandro Castro Ruz died on November 25. He was born on August 13, 1926 on his father’s sugar plantation in Biran, near Mayari, in what was then Oriente Province, Cuba.

When it came to Latin dictators, he was second to none, ruling autocratically for over 56 years (if you count the time he shadowed Raul after formally retiring); longer than Porfirio Diaz, Alfredo Stroessner, Anastasio Somoza, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Rafael Trujillo, and Francisco Franco. However, as a murderous dictator, he was definitely second-class. He eliminated nowhere near as many as the 20th century’s truly heavy hitters, Mao Tse-tung (70 million), Joseph Stalin (40 million), Adolf Hitler (depends on how they’re tallied), Pol Pot (2 million) — or a slew of other, lesser killers. He did, however, kill more people than Augusto Pinochet.

Castro’s kill tally has always been a bit uncertain and somewhat controversial. Nonetheless, the late Dr. Armando Lago, a Cuban economist, attempted to document all deaths attributed to Castro in what he called the Cuban Archive Project. In it, Dr. Lago distinguished two major categories: #1, those directly killed by the regime, and #2; those whose deaths were an indirect consequence of Castro’s power. The majority of category #2 cases are mostly collateral damage from Fidel’s foreign adventures in places such as El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, etc.

When it came to Latin dictators, he was second to none, ruling autocratically for over 56 years. However, as a murderous dictator, he was definitely second-class.

To be counted in the first category, as one directly killed by the Castro regime, each candidate victim must have a name and address and have his death corroborated by two independent sources. This category includes people executed with or without a trial, those killed in prison directly or by premeditated neglect, uncooperative campesinos summarily executed during the revolution, counter-revolutionaries killed in battle after the revolution, balseros murdered adrift while attempting to leave Cuba, and a few other unfortunate souls in various other categories.

Notably, the first category also includes Cuban soldiers — both conscripts and volunteers — killed in combat abroad, mostly in Angola and Ethiopia. Dr. Lago’s tally of deaths directly attributed to Castro tops 115,000, with the balseros alone constituting over 60% of the killed, and about 5,000 casualties of the Angolan intervention. With such stringent criteria, there are doubtless more. Bear in mind that as a percentage of Cuba’s modest population, 115,000 is a notable plus or minus 2%. Dr. Lago’s second category tally tops 500,000.

* * *

Like most absolute dictators, Castro lived his life as if the world revolved around him. He kept his own idiosyncratic hours, rising late and pursuing the business of state long after midnight and well into the dawn. He’d summon underlings peremptorily at all hours of the night for orders, consultations, or dressing-downs, and keep journalists and visitors waiting indefinitely for promised interviews.

Castro’s kill tally has always been a bit uncertain and somewhat controversial.

Though loath to admit it, he had much in common with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. At the time Fidel was born, Cuba had been independent of Spain for only 25 years. In fact, Castro’s father, Angel Castro, had been a young Spanish soldier stationed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After Spain’s defeat, he decided to stay and try his hand at growing sugarcane in the newly US-controlled island. Although he was illiterate, it didn’t take long for the ambitious and enterprising Castro père to acquire vast tracts of land through a combination of extreme luck — he won Cuba’s biggest lottery jackpot twice — and thrift.

In Cuba, all families retained strong atavistic links to the Old World regions from which they hailed: European descendants to their home provinces and African descendants to their tribes. These took the form of clubs or associations that met often to promote old regional ties and values. Fidel’s father hailed from Galicia, the old Celtic province on the northwest coast of Spain fronting the Bay of Biscay. Galicians still play their bagpipes. (Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s inscrutable conservative prime minister, is also Galician.)

Franco too was Galician. Both were very gallego: bull-headed and inflexible, with a dedication to idealism, whatever the stripe. Vain, reserved and austere, with strong characters and personality, neither Francisco Franco nor Angel Castro had a well-developed sense of humor.

Jose Ignacio Rasco, a classmate of many years, says, “(He’s) completely lacking in a sense of humor. [He] doesn’t know how to laugh at himself. A solemn gravity is his ordinary conversational tone. [He’s] uncomfortable with small talk during which he’s given to hyperbole and suspense . . . and lying.” What little sense of humor Castro possessed was forced out at the conclusion of the Elian Gonzales saga when Fidel hosted a public conference to reflect on the event and its meaning. On the way to the podium he stumbled and fell. The audience froze. Fortunately, little Elian saved the day. When the boy started giggling, Castro loosened up and the participants thawed. Some almost laughed.

Fidel’s vanity was a strong, albeit eccentric undercurrent of his demeanor. His own best PR man, he was obsessed with his image and, by extension, the Revolution’s. In public he was always meticulously outfitted in handmade black leather boots, impeccable olive green rebel fatigues, or, in recent years, a tailored business suit. After the Revolution, he never shaved his beard — it had become a symbol of everything he stood for. However, he had no interest in finery, jewelry, or elegance — though he ate well — or the acquisition of things; and he forbade any visible signs of a personality cult, such as statues of himself or the naming of streets or plazas after him.

On the other hand, in his private person, he was not just unshaven but usually unwashed and unkempt. Before coming to power he often insisted that close family members cut his nails and attend to his laundry. Fidel’s vanity, when coupled with his humorlessness, would become a contributing factor in his own death (as I will discuss below), and more than his own death: it cost General Arnaldo Ochoa his life.

He had no interest in finery, jewelry, elegance, or the acquisition of things; he forbade any visible signs of a personality cult, such as statues of himself or the naming of streets or plazas after him.

Ochoa was a hero of the Revolution, the African wars, and many of the Latin American interventions. An easygoing and irreverent Afro-Cuban — affectionately known as “el negro” — he rose to prominence from humble origins. Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, heir apparent, head of the armed forces, and the brains behind Cuba’s economic survival after the loss of Soviet subsidies, depended on Ochoa as an uninhibited sounding board. He was Raul’s best friend and drinking buddy. At the time of his death, Ochoa was arguably the third most popular man in Cuba.

On a fishing trip with el maximo lider, Ochoa crassly joked about Fidel’s unflattering swimming trunks. It was the beginning of Ochoa’s downfall. In a severe test of his brother’s loyalty, Fidel insisted that the popular general be court-martialed on trumped-up drug charges. Convicted, he was subsequently executed before a firing squad. When Raul faced Cuba’s military elite to justify and make sense of the brutal murder, he was visibly distraught. He wore a bulletproof vest and helmet. Halfway through, he broke into tears. Many suspect he was drunk — a not uncommon condition for him.

The opposite of his brother Raul, Fidel seldom drank or socialized in groups. He had a deep-seated drive to control all situations and always be the center of attention. In some ways Fidel was much more gallego than Cuban. The suspicion lingers that he had absolutely no sense of rhythm as no one ever saw him dance, beat time to music, sing, or hum along with a tune. Juan Reynaldo Sanchez, Castro’s personal bodyguard of 17 years, says in his book, The Double Life of Fidel Castro, that Fidel couldn’t dance and had no interest in music.

Castro’s anger was cold and withdrawn. In those 17 years, Sanchez saw him lose his temper only twice. When his daughter Alina defected, “Fidel went mad with rage . . . [H]is gestures resembled those of a capricious child in the middle of a tantrum: standing up, he stamped his feet on the ground while pointing his two index fingers down to his toes and waving them around.” The second time was when his mother-in-law — a dedicated tippler, bon vivant, and accomplice to one of Fidel’s wife’s infidelities — finished off a bottle of his favorite scotch.

Like Franco, Castro was not particularly out for personal gain, nor could he be characterized as a cynic. So when Forbes magazine alleged that his Swiss bank accounts made him one of the world’s richest men, it hit a nerve like nothing else, except being called a caudillo, the Spanish term for Führer — usually reserved only for Franco. On a fairly recent visit that Castro paid to Spain, the Galician premier suggested that Fidel, when he “retired,” should consider living out his last years in Galicia. Fidel studiously ignored the suggestion. But like Franco, he admired autarky. One of his very first edicts, on Christmas of 1959, was to outlaw imported Christmas trees, suggesting that palm trees ought to grace the holiday.

The suspicion lingers that he had absolutely no sense of rhythm as no one ever saw him dance, beat time to music, sing, or hum along with a tune.

Franco, like Fidel, died after a prolonged illness of the gut. Their illnesses and deaths were clouded by much rumor and speculation, because many thought their regimes’ survival depended on their own survival. Contrary to irresponsible rumors, both men are still dead. As to Castro’s regime, it’s on life support.

* * *

Fidel Castro’s ideological journey began at La Salle, the Catholic Christian Brothers’ primary school he attended, with the inculcation of boilerplate catechism, the virtues of sacrifice, and a strong empathy for the poor. Afterward, in high school, the Jesuits added an intellectual dialectic that probably undermined his religious faith — though he still retains a soft spot for liberation theology. As a child growing up in the sugarcane plantations of Oriente, he was struck by the disparities between the US-owned sugar refineries and the kowtowing of the local producers to their sometimes arrogant whims, including arbitrary price fixing and social segregation. When he learned how the American refiners entrenched themselves — during the turmoil of the US occupation after the Cuban War of Independence and the Spanish-American War — about the shabby treatment meted out to Cuba’s independence rebels by the American expeditionary forces during and after that conflict, and about the imposition of the Platt Amendment (whereby the US Congress retained the right to veto Cuba’s foreign policy), he developed a strong anti-US and anti-imperialist streak.

At the university, attaining power for its own sake became his main focus, according to his sister Juanita and many other sources. Initially, ideology was irrelevant as long as it fitted his temperament — radical, action-centered, and decisive — so he shunned the moderate center and gravitated toward political extremes. At the time this meant gun-toting, gangsterish fringe groups — not uncommon in Cuba’s then-claustrophobic political milieu — such as the Revolutionary Insurrectional Union, which he duly joined.

He admired men of action, particularly Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Lenin. During his first years in law school, he was drawn to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera’s Spanish Falangism, the ideology behind Francisco Franco’s movement. Padre Llorente, one of Fidel’s teachers at Belen, later recalled breaking into spontaneous, rousing choruses of Cara al Sol, the Falangist anthem, with the young Castro. A bit later, he came to admire Benito Mussolini’s Fascism.

In 1948 General Fulgencio Batista, who had ruled Cuba in one form or another from 1933 to 1944, returned from his self-imposed US exile. Castro finagled an introduction to the strongman from his new brother-in-law, Rafael Diaz-Balart, who had become a prominent member of Batista’s inner circle. Overstepping every boundary of propriety, Fidel insinuated himself into a tête-à-tête with the ex-president and tried to convince the man to launch a coup d’état. His presumption was rebuffed in the iciest of terms.

Ideology was irrelevant as long as it fitted his temperament — radical, action-centered, and decisive — so he shunned the moderate center and gravitated toward political extremes.

So Castro moved to the center, joining the progressive, reformist Orthodox Party later that same year. Unfortunately, he was constitutionally incapable of working as a member of a team and was distrusted by the party’s ruling elite, who thought him an unprincipled gangster. Still, he decided to run for the lower house of Congress in the 1952 elections.

Unwilling to subject himself to the messy business of Cuban political sausage-making, Batista did in fact launch a coup in 1952, seizing power and canceling the elections. Fidel would probably have won his seat in Congress, but by then he’d lost all confidence in the democratic process, particularly as it was practiced in Cuba.

Exactly when Castro became a Communist has been a point of contention ever since the triumph of the Revolution. The fact that he actually never joined the party before seizing power and always kept his ideological cards close to his chest so as not to imperil his chances complicates the issue. During his congressional campaign Fidel used Raul as his intermediary with Communist Party members, who backed him but whose public support would have been detrimental. In a 1975 interview, Raul Castro confirms that it was Fidel who first introduced him to Marxism, back in 1951 when Fidel had given him Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Raul read it twice and experienced something of a Pauline conversion.

In early 1953 Fidel sent Raul to a Kremlin-sponsored international youth conference in Vienna. Raul made quite an impression, particularly on Nikolai Leonov, a young KGB operative, who befriended the Cuban. Leonov later went on to become the KGB’s top Latin America specialist. After the conference, Raul was invited to spend a month in Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

Later on, while in prison after their first botched attempt to seize power, both brothers took advantage of their enforced respite to deepen their understanding of Marxist-Leninist doctrine, reading, among other works, Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. In a December 2, 1961 speech Fidel Castro declared that he was already a Marxist when he launched his coup on July 26, 1953 by attacking the Moncada army barracks: "Various people have asked me whether back during the Moncada thing I thought then the way I think now. I've told them: 'I thought then very similarly to the way I think now. On that date, my revolutionary thinking was completely formed.’ What's more, I believed absolutely in Marxism back on January first [of that year]" (emphasis Castro's). Ideologically, if not through actual party membership, Fidel Castro had been a communist for a decade before the triumph of the Revolution.

Exactly when Castro became a Communist has been a point of contention ever since the triumph of the Revolution.

President Dwight Eisenhower was well aware of Castro’s ideology and ordered the CIA to overthrow him — a project bumblingly attempted with hired Mafia hitmen, exploding cigars, and other Rube Goldberg expedients. John F. Kennedy, when he became president, continued the operation, by then codenamed Mongoose. Between 1961 and the time of Kennedy’s assassination, there were eight separate CIA attempts on Castro — if you don’t count the one by the unlikely troika of the exiled Batista, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (whom Castro had once tried to overthrow), and Jimmy Hoffa, who may have been helping out mob friends fearful that Castro would close their Cuban operations. Instead of eliminating the problem, the attempts became high-caliber ammunition in the increasingly serious propaganda war developing between Cuba and the US.

* * *

Fidel Castro loved adulation and power and wallowed in their perks. As a leader of men, he was second to none, being able to inspire and cajole nearly anyone into anything. Though he was perceived as having the gift of gab, this was a talent he studiously developed in his years at Belen, one of Cuba’s best Jesuit high schools. There he joined the forensic society and practiced his diction, delivery, and organization of thoughts interminably — in private and before a mirror. He had to. Growing up on a sugarcane plantation in the province of Oriente, he spoke a colorful guajiro vernacular, the Cuban equivalent of the backwoods Arkansas hillbilly dialect. Later, his ability to switch back and forth between the colloquial and the educated became a potent rhetorical device that forged a deep connection with his fellow Cubans.

It is no exaggeration to say that he has spoken more words on the public record than any political leader in history. He could hold audiences rapt for hours, Führer-style. Even those who hated him would tune in for his hours-long harangues. During his first 25 years in power he delivered over 2,500 formal speeches — that’s two per week, every week. The longest on record, in January 1968, was 12 hours long — fortunately, with an intermission. He still holds the record for the longest speech — at four-and-a-half hours — ever delivered at the United Nations. “As you may well know,” he said in November 1993, “my job is to talk.”

Fidel was a “big picture” man. He could size up a man or a situation in seconds, and strategize many moves ahead in nearly any circumstance. As a political strategist and propagandist he was unequalled. But as a tactician and organizer, he was a disaster.

Between 1961 and the time of Kennedy’s assassination, there were eight separate CIA attempts on Castro's life.

When he stepped onto the pages of history on July 26, 1953 with his attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago, he tripped. Never mind that Batista had been in power for only one year and that, in Marxist terms, a “revolutionary situation” just did not exist. This first attempt to overthrow President Fulgencio Batista proved suicidal for most of the participants. Not only did they meet stiff resistance (which Castro should have expected), but all his planning had been little more than careless wishful thinking coupled with impromptu expediency (some rebels even had to ride public buses to the assault). One participant remembers Castro running around screaming hysterically, shouting orders that made no sense. Pure luck saved him. Those who weren’t killed in the strike were soon rounded up and shot in cold blood by the soldiers. A few, such as Fidel and his brother, lay low for a few days and then turned themselves in after pleas for clemency from well-connected family members made surrender a possibility.

The survivors were tried in a civil tribunal. At the trial, Castro acted as his own lawyer and summed up his defense with what would later become his most famous speech, “History will absolve me.” A sympathetic judge, Manuel Urrutia Lleo, voted for leniency. (Castro was grateful and later appointed Urrutia Provisional President after the triumph of the Revolution; he lasted only six months.) The Castro brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment on the Isle of Pines.

Fidel described his incarceration as a “necessary and welcome vacation.” In a letter home he wondered “how much longer we’re going to be in this paradise” and compared the accommodations to those of the Hotel Nacional, Cuba’s premier luxury hotel and, later, the residence of El Maximo Lider. Compared to the prison conditions his regime would impose, the Isle of Pines was a Caribbean vacation. Castro was allowed twice-monthly visits, including the conjugal sort. His cell bordered a large patio and remained open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. He was never subject to roll calls or regimentation and could rise or retire at will. The prison had a well-stocked market where Fidel, the gourmand, could buy delicacies and prepare them in his kitchen; alternatively, he could enjoy a fine meal at the small prison restaurant. He wrote home, “I take two baths a day due to the heat . . . [L]ater in the small restaurant available, I dine on calamari and pasta, Italian bonbons, fresh drip coffee and an H. Upmann #4 cigar.”

But prison wasn’t all vacation. Castro read voraciously, contributing many tomes to the Raul Gomez Garcia prison library, and ran classes for fellow inmates at the “Abel Santamaria Ideological Academy,” both of which he founded and maintained.

Two years later, again following pleas for clemency from his sympathizers — but over the strenuous objections of his ex-brother-in-law, Rafael Diaz-Balart, who knew him well and was a member of Congress — President Batista pardoned Fidel Castro. He and a handful of men left for Mexico to regroup and train to return to conquer Cuba.

Eric Shipton, the great British mountaineer, once said that if a man couldn’t organize an expedition on the back of an envelope, he wasn’t up to the task. Fidel seemed to belong to the back-of-the-envelope-expedition-planning school, but he was no Shipton. Though somewhat of a mountaineer, he was decidedly no sailor, and, as the disastrous Moncada attack had shown, he was thoroughly out of his element when faced with detailed and complex planning. When he finally set out to invade Cuba, he nearly trumped his Moncada failure.

On November 24, 1956, Fidel Castro launched from the Mexican port of Tuxpan with 82 men (many again arriving via public bus) aboard the critically overloaded 60-foot yacht Granma. They sailed with barely enough food, water, and fuel to reach Cuba; without medicine, charts, maps, or navigational aids (except for the built-in compass); and in the face of gale-force winds at the tail end of the Caribbean hurricane season. Blown off course, their landfall was a deliverance but also a total mystery — no one knew whether they’d landed in Jamaica or Cuba.

One participant remembers Castro running around screaming hysterically, shouting orders that made no sense. Pure luck saved him.

The men waded through chest-deep water and came ashore in a swamp whose tangled vegetation lacerated them. Solid ground was no reprieve. Batista’s air force and troops had been tipped off. They surrounded the men in a canefield and slaughtered all but a dozen, reporting back that Castro had been killed and his entire band wiped out.

What little equipment Fidel had brought on board was lost in the confusion of the disastrous landing. Miraculously, the surviving dozen were able to make their way deep into Oriente province’s Sierra Maestra Mountains to regroup and heal their wounds — including Guevara’s shot in the neck. In less than a month the Rebel Army was reduced to nine men. Luckily, no one was looking for them.

The disastrous voyage must have precipitated a massive depression in Castro, for it led to the realization that he was an organizational and management failure — no easy thing for Fidel to admit. So he promoted his brother Raul to captain just before landfall. This proved to be the best decision he ever made. Ironically, Fidel’s principal weaknesses as a leader were his brother’s greatest strengths. Raul would later rise to become the tactical mastermind not only of the conquest of the island but also of the remarkably successful Angolan and Ethiopian military interventions and, finally, of Cuba’s economic salvation when the Soviet Union imploded.

During the two-year-long insurrection, Fidel Castro remained in the Sierra Maestra strategizing and propagandizing, while Raul coordinated, organized, and managed the details of the revolution. Field Commanders Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos advanced, fought the battles, and won the victories. But they also had outside help.

At the time, Castro’s 26th of July Movement was not the only armed resistance to Batista, but it was the key one. Alongside it, the Students’ Revolutionary Directory organized urban hits, while the Escambray Front and Second Escambray Front both waged guerrilla war from the Escambray Mountains in Camaguey province near the center of the island.

Blown off course, their landfall was a deliverance but also a total mystery — no one knew whether they’d landed in Jamaica or Cuba.

On New Year’s Day 1959, Santa Clara, the capital of Las Villas province, fell to a rebel pincer movement coordinated with the combined forces of the Escambray Fronts. One thousand demoralized government troops surrendered. The following day, Guevara and Cienfuegos, at the head of their victorious armies, entered Havana. The capital went wild. But Batista had already fled on New Year’s Eve; and Fidel, ever the showman, delayed his triumphant entry until January 8. Then the world went wild.

The two-year war had been relatively bloodless, with only 867 casualties on both sides. But Castro soon made up for it with firing squads. As Grayston Lynch, one of two CIA operatives present in the Bay of Pigs invasion, states, “In the first three months of his regime, Castro topped the 867 figure with room to spare. More than 5,000 Cubans would meet their death at the paredon, the firing wall.”

* * *

Fidel’s family tree is messily complex. He himself was not the son of his father’s wife, Maria Luisa Argota, but rather of his father’s 19-year-old live-in lover, Lina Ruz — Angel Castro and Maria having separated years before and taken up new mates. At the time, both in Cuba and in Spain, illegitimacy was a harsh burden, branded on the offspring with the mother’s surname instead of the father’s. Castro’s father did not marry Lina Ruz until the boy turned 17, at which time he became Fidel Castro instead of Fidel Ruz. He would forevermore hold social conventions in contempt. Fidel had six full brothers and sisters — in order, Angelita, Ramon, Fidel, Raul, Juanita, Enma, and Agustina — and two siblings from his father’s first wife: Lidia and Pedro Emilio.

Initially, Angel Castro spent little time with Fidel, foisting him off on Haitian tutors in far-off Santiago at the age of four to begin his proper education. At the time, he was much too busy managing the family ranch, and he believed, as was common then, in the benefits of a boarding school experience. Fidel hated it, complaining that “these people don’t care for us, they don’t feed us, we’re always hungry, the house is very ugly, the woman is lazy and we’re just wasting time here.” Much later — perhaps out of guilt or regret — Fidel became his father’s favorite son and was spoiled rotten by him. Like many overindulged children, Fidel bullied younger playmates and threw tantrums when he didn’t get his way. He was a bad loser.

On the one hand, Angel Castro wanted, more than anything else, for at least one son — Fidel — to achieve a university education. On the other hand, Fidel lacked his family’s entrepreneurial bent and showed no inclination toward or talent for earning an honest living. The boy was a brilliant dilettante. So, Angel provided money and powerful contacts to his son well into adulthood. Nonetheless, father-son dynamics played out their strange minuet with, at best, Fidel becoming ambivalent about his father and, at worst, deploring him. Juanita Castro, in her memoirs, quotes Fidel as saying, at news of their father’s death, “There’s no time for mourning; we need to prepare for worse things,” while both Ramon and Raul wept unselfconsciously.

Promoting his brother Raul to captain proved to be the best decision Castro ever made. Fidel’s principal weaknesses as a leader were his brother’s greatest strengths.

There were many reasons for the ambivalence. Fidel and his father both shared similar, very gallego personalities, which clashed. Both had an inflexible drive to dominate, untempered by any vestige of wit. And both had a strong sense of social justice, which nonetheless led them to clash ideologically. Angel’s was more noblesse oblige, while Fidel rejected what he perceived as rightful entitlements dependent on the charitable whims of any one man. The Castro compound in Biran just wasn’t big enough for both egos. Finally, Fidel, the ultra-nationalist Cuban chauvinist who would rise to avenge all the injustices — real and imagined — that were ever imposed on the Pearl of the Antilles, couldn’t stomach the fact that his father had fought against Cuban independence, never regretted it, and didn’t become a Cuban citizen until 1941, at the ripe old age of 66.

Playing no favorites and exercising his inflexible streak of dogmatism, Fidel confiscated all the Castro family lands after the Revolution (though he warned his family to sell their herd before the Agrarian Reform edict went into effect).

Castro’s middle names are both revealing and a source of controversy. The first, Hipolito, was given by the Haitian foster family under whose care he lived while attending grammar school in Santiago de Cuba, Oriente. As more-or-less godparents, they had the privilege of conferring a middle name. No one knows the origin of Casiano. The only source for the name is a Cuban government secondary school diploma issued in September 1945. Alejandro, on the other hand, is self-endowed, a tribute to Alexander the Great, one of Fidel’s long-time heroes. It replaced Hipolito and Casiano; and became the given name for three of his sons: Alexis, Alejandro, and Alex.

Castro’s family name speaks volumes. The word comes from the Latin castrum, meaning castle. In Asturias and Galicia whence it originates as a family name, it refers to a pre-Roman fortified hill site — one that has stood its ground interminably. Fidel, of course, is from the Latin for loyal.

Fidel’s love life was even more Byzantine. In 1948 he married his teenage sweetheart, Mirta Diaz-Balart, a woman whose family were intimates of Fulgencio Batista and whose brother would soon become a minister in his government. Flush with a $10,000 gift from his dad, Fidel bought a blue Lincoln, shipped it to Miami and drove to New York for their honeymoon. They had one son, Fidelito. But differences — in aspirations, in politics, in families, and in fidelity (in spite of his name, Fidel was el maximo philanderer, being nicknamed El Caballo — The Stallion — by Benny Moré, the popular entertainer [by contrast, Batista was a dedicated family man]) — soon undermined the marriage. He didn’t marry again until 1980; but the number of his affairs and assignations rivaled the length of his speeches.

In his Sierra Maestra redoubt he took up with Celia Sanchez, the woman who would later become what Juanita Castro described as “the right hand, left hand, both feet and beard of Fidel.” Meanwhile, at the triumph of the Revolution, Castro wallowed in female adoration. Yanez Pelletier, a confidante who’d once saved him in prison from poisoning, became his procurer. He was known as “minister of the bedroom,” a nickname coined by Raul. When Pelletier fell from grace, Celia Sanchez became his intimate executive secretary, moving into Fidel’s quarters with him. Though now severely circumscribed, the assignations still continued. When Celia Sanchez died in 1980, Fidel was bereft.

Fidel couldn’t stomach the fact that his father had fought against Cuban independence, never regretted it, and didn’t become a Cuban citizen until the ripe old age of 66.

Still, less than a week after her death, he married Dalia Soto del Valle, the mystery woman with whom Fidel had shared his life since 1961. As if reinforcing the myth that the Revolution was his only mistress, Castro imposed such a low profile on her that Brian Lattell, a CIA analyst, says that “[she] and her sons might as well have been consigned to a witness protection program, so elaborate are the security precautions that surround them”. She never attended any of his public appearances (unless in disguise) and did not accompany him on official functions, diplomatic receptions, or foreign trips. During the latter, his mistresses included Juana Vera, “Pili” Pilar — both interpreters — and Gladys, a Cubana airline flight attendant. All told, at least five different liaisons, relationships, and marriages produced nine to twelve children. He was coy about it. Asked in 1993 how many children he had, Castro replied, “Less than a dozen . . . I think.” (Wikipedia and Juan Reynaldo Sanchez, his bodyguard, tally nine and ten, respectively.) Like their mothers and his siblings, some are with him, some are against him, and some have come to terms with the status quo.

* * *

Fidel Castro couldn’t really be characterized as a psycho- or sociopath, though he had a well-developed sense of vengefulness. And he wasn’t all-consumed by the suspicious mistrust and cruelty that absorbed Stalin and Mao. Unlike most of the other 20th-century tyrants, he was tall, athletic, and handsome. His Jesuit education and law degree inspired a thoughtful, intellectual sophistry that made him an absorbing confabulator, gifted with a glib tongue. But the world didn’t see this side during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Instead it saw an aggrieved adolescent. Fidel Castro had a streak of brinksmanship, an uncontrollable desire to “play chicken,” come what may. Jose Rasco recounts an episode of the young Fidel making a bet with a classmate, Luis Juncadella, that “he [Castro] was capable of crashing, head first, on a bicycle at full speed, against a concrete wall in full view of the entire school. And he did it, at the cost of cracking his head and ending up unconscious in the infirmary.”

Arnaldo Aguila, a recent biographer, gives this analysis:

Right here, from his youngest years, Fidel’s personality all comes together: an illegitimate social origin; an authoritarian father, brusque and of strong character, hard, without affection, indifferent; an excellent physical constitution that permits him to best others easily; a memory so outside the norm that no other student comes even close and an egoistical self-denial that impels him against every type of wall (including social impediments and Yankee Imperialism) coupled with a deep-seated passion to excel, to make bets to demonstrate that he can realize what others won’t even attempt, that he’s better than everyone else, perhaps to impress/defeat his father.

When Nikita Khrushchev provided China with nuclear weapons technology and missiles in the late 1950s, he was unaware of Mao’s absolute disdain for human life. He assumed that Mao’s long relationship with the USSR made him trustworthy. He soon learned otherwise and, by 1960, withdrew all technical nuclear assistance to China.

Two years later, when Castro requested nuclear missiles, Khrushchev jumped at the opportunity. But burned once, he didn’t fully trust Fidel (despite his name). So he complied only on condition that the Soviet Union retain absolute control over them. Though Castro agreed, it infuriated him. That fury was further aggravated when he was left out of the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations and subsequent missile removal that defused the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Castro had a streak of brinksmanship, an uncontrollable desire to “play chicken,” come what may.

The Missile Crisis was precipitated by the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in mid-October of that year and by President Kennedy’s ultimatum that they be removed. The crisis consisted of the threat that failure to do so would precipitate armed attack. In anticipation, the US mobilized the navy to blockade the island. On October 26 Castro informed Khrushchev that “the Soviet Union ought never to permit circumstances in which the imperialists could launch a first nuclear strike…and that if they invade Cuba that would be the moment to eliminate forever such a danger — no matter how hard and terrible that solution may seem . . .”

On October 30, Khrushchev responded to Castro: “In your cable . . . you proposed that we be the first to launch a nuclear strike against the enemy. You do understand the consequences of this. This wouldn’t be a single strike, instead . . . the start of a thermonuclear world war . . . Evidently, in such a case the US would suffer great losses, but the USSR and the entire socialist camp would also suffer much. As to Cuba and the Cuban people . . . at the start of the war Cuba would burn . . .”

The next day Castro confirmed to Khrushchev that he well understood the consequences: “I knew . . . Do not presume that I ignored . . . that [the Cubans] would be exterminated . . . in case of a thermonuclear war…”

It’s good that no one was paying attention to him: he had made it quite clear that he would not have backed down whatever the consequences. Perceiving the entire event as an unpardonable breach of Cuba’s sovereignty, he soured on Khrushchev, and relations with the USSR worsened. China and Mao Tse-tung’s more uncompromising brand of communism became his new best friends.

* * *

Fidel Castro’s drive to prove that he’s better than everyone else drove him to eliminate his immediate competition — anyone whose charisma and popularity threatened to overshadow his, as in the case of General Arnaldo Ochoa. After his accession to power, Castro set his sights on Huber Matos, leader of one of the independent Escambray Fronts. By luck or design, he managed to kill two birds with one stone.

Matos had sent a letter to Fidel resigning his position because of ideological differences. Since Fidel brooked no ideological differences, he declared Matos in rebellion and sent Camilo Cienfuegos, second in popularity only to Fidel, to arrest him. After meeting with Matos, Cienfuegos advised Castro that there was really no rebellion; that in fact, Matos was simply resigning. That night, the plane carrying Camilo Cienfuegos back to Havana mysteriously crashed. The second officer dispatched to arrest Matos did not question Castro’s orders. Matos, however, got off easy. Due to his own very public and principled defense, Cienfuegos’ mysterious death, the ensuing publicity over the whole affair, and pleas from foreign governments and NGO’s, Matos kept his life but spent the next 20 years in prison, after which he emigrated to the US. Huber Matos died in 2014.

Castro took it personally (as well he might). So he sent Guevara along with about 100 Cubans into the very heart of darkness — the Congo.

Che Guevara was next. The Argentine had captured the world’s admiration and affection with his idealism and boyish good looks. He appeared as an Argentine selflessly risking his life in a foreign country for a Robin Hood morality; a slight, asthmatic waif, barely able to grow a beard, brandishing a Thompson sub-machine gun and puffing a big cigar, with a refreshing but unpredictable tendency “to call shit, shit.”

Soon after taking power Fidel had to transition his confidants from military duties to civilian appointments. During one brainstorming session, he asked who among them was a dedicated economist. Che Guevara, for some unknown reason, heard “dedicated communist.” His arm shot up and Castro appointed him minister of industries, then finance minister, and finally president of the national bank. In September 1960, Che nationalized the banks. Then, in a quick sleight-of-hand move, he announced a new currency, convertible only in limited amounts. Most Cubans’ life savings suddenly disappeared. Che’s idealism, when coupled with Castro’s unwillingness to share the spotlight, would cost him his life.

When Guevara published an article in 1965 criticizing the disparity between the lives of the Revolution’s elites and those of the common people, Castro took it personally (as well he might). So he sent Guevara along with about 100 Cubans into the very heart of darkness — the Congo, where the remnants of Patrice Lumumba’s forces were mired in the hopeless task of trying to regain power. It wasn’t the beginning of Fidel’s foreign adventurism, a policy of exporting socialist revolution around the world. That had begun back in June 1959, with his disastrous attempt to invade, first, the Dominican Republic to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo, and then the following month his attack against Haitian dictator “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Nearly all the men on both attempts perished.

Before leaving, Guevara, in private, wrote his will, renounced his Cuban offices and citizenship and compared Castro to Stalin. In a fit of pique, Castro made the documents public. When Mobutu Sese Seko consolidated power, the Cubans admitted defeat and returned to Cuba — all that is except Guevara. But Congo did not become El Che’s grave. Uncomfortable about returning to Cuba, he bided his time in Dar-es-Salaam and Prague until duty again beckoned.

Castro hit the mark when he then sent Guevara to Bolivia. There he was to organize the peasants and overthrow the government. Daniel Alarcon, Che’s second-in-command, recalled, “Fidel accorded with the USSR and the Bolivian Communist Party sending Che to die in the jungle,” where he was ignominiously executed on October 9, 1967.

Soon thereafter Castro decided to get serious about exporting revolution. At the end of the ’60s he established Punto Cero de Guanabo, a 64-square-kilometer training camp 15 miles east of Havana for Marxist guerillas. The list of recruits trained at Punto Cero is a Who’s Who of ’70s and ’80s radicals: from Colombia — the FARC, the ELN, and M19; from Peru — the Shining Path and MRTA; from Chile — the Patriotic Front of Manuel Rodriguez, from Nicaragua — the FSLN (Sandinistas); from El Salvador — the FMLN; from Spain — ETA (the Basque separatist movement); from Northern Ireland — the IRA; from Palestine — the PLO; from Western Sahara — the Polisario Front; from the US — the Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Macheteros; from Venezuela — Carlos the Jackal; from Mexico — Sub-Comandante Marcos; and an unnamed group from Guatemala.

Thanks to Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have buried their dead in the most unlikely corners of the earth. Perhaps the most absurd intervention El Maximo Lider ever undertook was in the Ethiopia-Somalia war. Somalia, a Soviet client state ruled by the iron fist of Mohamed Siad Barre, coveted Ethiopia’s Ogaden region under the guise of creating a greater Somalia. Mengistu Haile Mariam, absolute ruler of Ethiopia — also a Soviet client state — would have none of it. Castro, fancying himself an honest broker, decided to mediate. He counseled peace. When Siad Barre ignored his counsel and Somalia attacked Ethiopia, Fidel intervened by sending Cuban troops and materiel to Ethiopia, effectively giving Mengistu the upper hand.

* * *

Fidel Castro’s star shone brightly in the fall of 1979. His lifelong quest for glory and power had achieved its zenith: against all odds, he won his first and only election — and on a global stage, at that — for president of the non-aligned movement, consisting of those countries that professed neutrality in the Cold War. The victory was all the more remarkable because of Cuba’s $6 billion a year Soviet subsidy. There was no denying that he was firmly embedded in the Soviet camp.

The list of recruits trained at Castro's Punto Cero Marxist guerrilla camp is a Who’s Who of ’70s and ’80s radicals.

The Cuban army had been active in Africa as early as 1961, with aid to Ahmed Ben Bella’s liberation movement in Algeria. It later intervened in conflicts in Congo-Brazzaville and Guinea-Bissau. By 1979 Cuban troops were four years into the 16-year Angolan intervention, which later secured the victory of the Marxist regime. Forty thousand were to remain to guarantee it. They had met the South African army on the battlefield and were besting them. The Cuban intervention involved the air and sea transport of 60,000 troops over 6,000 miles despite the obstacle of limited or nonexistent forward international bases. This resulted in long journeys aboard old aircraft with overworked pilots. While Cuban soldiers’ pay averaged only 71 US cents per month, the Angolan government reimbursed the Cuban government 40 US dollars per soldier per day — a nifty profit for Fidel. Castro himself ran strategic and tactical operations from Havana after Soviet advisors in the field proved inept.

Another ten to fifteen thousand troops were stationed in Ethiopia propping up Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Communist government. Now they were contemplating intervention in neighboring Sudan. In his own backyard, Castro had been crucial in boosting to power Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Maurice Bishop in Granada. Everywhere, the Cubans had fought with great ferocity, upholding their commander-in-chief’s uncompromising demands. It was a staggering accomplishment for a country of 10.5 million.

In contrast, the US was mired in the throes of “Vietnam syndrome” and had just survived Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. For Fidel, things couldn’t be better. In October 1979, he traveled to New York to address the United Nations demanding: “We want a new world order based on justice, equality and peace to replace the unfair and unequal system that prevails today…” Never again would the stars align so propitiously for Fidel.

And then, on Christmas Eve, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, precipitating Castro’s long descent into failure and irrelevance. The invasion proved beyond the pale even for the corrupt, authoritarian, and sycophantic left-wing governments that comprised most of the non-aligned movement. Unable to justify the invasion on non-aligned principles, Castro capitulated to the USSR: “We [are] not going to place ourselves on the side of the United States and so we [are] on the side of the Soviet Union.” For the rest of his three-year term as president of the non-aligned movement, he was a lame duck.

While Cuban soldiers’ pay averaged only 71 US cents per month, the Angolan government reimbursed the Cuban government 40 US dollars per soldier per day — a nifty profit for Fidel.

The invasion and reversal of fortune was a devastating blow whose consequences rippled throughout Cuban society and into the very bowels of the Kremlin. Economic problems had worsened considerably while Fidel had been preoccupied with his international feats. On April 1, 1980, a group of Cubans crashed the gates of the Peruvian embassy seeking political asylum. Thinking that there were only a disaffected few, Castro urged any and all who wished, to leave. To his surprise and embarrassment, 10,000 desperate Cubans from all over the island stormed the embassy, occupying every inch of space, perching on tree limbs and roofs. Even policemen deployed to maintain order joined the throngs. Humiliated, Castro decided to shift the problem to the US. He opened Mariel harbor to unlimited emigration for four months. The Dunkirk-style evacuation freed 125,000 refugees; including murderers, rapists, psychopaths, and the criminally insane, whom he’d surreptitiously thrown in for good measure.

For the Soviet Union, the Afghan war proved a burden too heavy for a bankrupt system already on the verge of collapse. In the crisis beginning in 1989, Soviet Communism capitulated to the popular will, the Union dissolved, the ruble became worthless, and Cuba’s subsidies disappeared.

* * *

Motivated by socialist values, Fidel Castro outlawed and stamped out all private economic enterprise — except whenever Cuba’s economy bottomed out. At those points, emulating Lenin’s New Economic Policy, he’d legalize small, tightly regulated — and exorbitantly taxed (sometimes at more than 100% of gross receipts) — entrepreneurial initiatives. Once Cuba’s economy was back on its bound feet, he’d outlaw them again.

When the Soviet Union fell and Cuba’s subsidies were cut, it took more than family restaurants and B&B’s to float the island. So Fidel reached for a new paradigm: he launched what may be called CASTROS (Capitalism, Apartheid, and Socialism To Restore Our Solvency). Here’s how it worked. The Cuban government, employer and investor of first and last resort (Socialism) created joint partnerships with foreign firms to create profits (Capitalism). The profits provided — and still do — the lion’s share of Cuba’s income. The joint partnerships, mostly developed as resorts for foreign tourists, employed a handful of Cubans. No other Cubans were allowed on or near the resorts or their clientele (Apartheid). The resort economy has its own currency, tightly controlled and unavailable to regular Cubans. Following an earlier Chinese model, the authority for the joint partnerships resides in the army, headed by Raul Castro. The joint partnerships are now a bigger source of foreign reserve than sugar, which, ever since nationalization, has underperformed.

Having grown up on a farm, Castro considered himself something of an agricultural expert. His first big program was island-wide agrarian reform. At first, this mostly meant the confiscation and nationalization of all the big sugar plantations and refineries. But later, every cow, pig, and chicken became state property. Not a few campesinos paid the ultimate price for slaughtering their backyard animals for a meaty meal without permission. After Soviet tractors and parts became unavailable, draft oxen replaced 90% of mechanized farm labor.

Inevitably shortages ensued and the government instituted rationing. Even sugar was rationed. Cuban cuisine suffered without olive oil, cooking sherry, capers, ham, chorizo, pimentos, and other essential ingredients. With cattle being retained from the abattoirs and trained as draft animals, beef all but disappeared. But el maximo dietician came to the rescue. Production of comestibles turned organic and “sustainable” — out of necessity, not health concerns. Salads, previously considered nothing more than “grass and water,” became a de rigueur staple, topped with eggless mayonnaise, something considered by Cubans America’s worst invention. And roadside kiosks, once a staple of innumerable meat goodies, now sell previously exotic “pizzas” of dough, tomato sauce, and cheese.

Having grown up on a farm, Castro considered himself something of an agricultural expert.

Fidel raised the intellectual level of the sugar harvest by drafting primary, high school, and university students and faculty members to “voluntarily” wield machetes to bring in each season’s cane crop. No doubt these were welcome physical sabbaticals for overworked brains. Another of his innovations was the expansion of the coffee crop from steep, well-drained mountainsides down to low, water-logged flatlands. Coffee production bottomed. But his real genius lay in tobacco cultivation. A previously dedicated cigar smoker, he left that alone.

Fidel was also, however, a medical innovator. Although back in 1953 Cuba had more doctors per capita than France, Holland, or the UK, Castro perceived a problem. Today, Cuba’s healthcare system of free universal coverage is the envy of every well-intentioned, ill-informed humanitarian. True, it’s absolutely free to the patient; the Cuban government picks up all the costs — in money, anyway. Trouble is, the government’s intentions are bigger than its pocketbook, so extreme shortages and rationing result. For expedited attention, an under-the-table gratuity is expected. In hopes of fat tips, underpaid doctors moonlight as taxi drivers for rich tourists. True also that everyone is covered — about as well as a dishcloth covers a king-size bed; only those in the center get complete coverage.

Fidel’s countless economic failures are due not just to his doctrinaire Marxism but also to a remarkable talent he was born with: a photographic memory. He discovered the trait as a student when faced with exams for which he hadn’t cracked a book and for which he was forced to cram at the last minute. The photographic memory — allowing him to memorize entire books, including the page numbers of particulars — saved him. But he always confused memory with a critical understanding of actual knowledge. This, coupled with his absolute lack of humility, prevented him from realizing that he was incapable of wisdom.

Time after time, after reading a single book on the subject du jour, Fidel would talk expertly about the marvelous economic benefits of some half-baked new scheme: how Cuba would overflow with milk once Pangola grass was planted to feed the dairy herds; how every Cuban would eat steak every day once Holsteins and Zebus were crossed (a project he pursued on the fourth floor of his downtown Havana residence with the help of a construction crane to lift and lower livestock); how the Zapata swamps would feed not only all of Cuba but much of the entire world, once they were drained and planted with a new strain of rice — how whatever new invention of his would cause manna to fall from the sky.

* * *

Fidel’s skills as an advocate were at their postmodern, post-ironic best when confronting the long-running US trade embargo. When the US first declared an embargo on the regime, it was a boilerplate, pro forma response to a worsening diplomatic situation. At the time, not only were embargoes considered rational alternatives to war (as they still are), they were actually considered effective. Today, with globalization and free trade much more in the ascendant, embargoes have become increasingly symbolic.

Castro's real genius lay in tobacco cultivation. A dedicated cigar smoker, he left that crop alone.

No one has exploited the propaganda value of the embargo better than Fidel, to the absolute embarrassment and chagrin of every US administration that prolongs it. But the truly post-ironic aspect of the embargo is the blind brinksmanship of both sides. If a US president, calling Castro’s bluff, had declared free trade with Cuba, it would have been Castro who would have invoked his own embargo against the flood of goods, traders, and tourists. After all, such an invasion would have been much more effective than any military operation. And Castro is well aware of this. Serious overtures to lift the embargo, first by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration and later by Jimmy Carter, were peremptorily rebuffed.

Relations with the United States at the end of the Fidel Castro era aren’t bad at all. The embargo, as regards trade in food and medicine has been eased. Fidel, perhaps with a little arm-twisting from his brother Raul, cooperated with the US war on terror by no longer overtly questioning the legitimacy of the Guantanamo military base and by cooperating with the enemy combatant incarceration program there. Escapees were quickly returned. And he finally cooperated with the war on drugs. Though many years ago he presided over narcotics, ivory, and tobacco smuggling operations and turned a blind eye to drug transshipments and money laundering — mostly to irritate the US and gain a tidy profit to finance his Revolution — he later purged his regime of all drug related graft. The anti-drug policy is still strictly enforced.

As an informal quid pro quo, the US refrains from any Bay of Pigs sort of enterprise and keeps close tabs on US based anti-Castro armed activity. Additionally, we’ve modified our unrestricted Cuban refugee policy; we now return any and all refugees who don’t actually make a US landing. These informal understandings, along with a desire to avoid bloodshed and maintain stability, are perceived as the basis for a post-Fidel transition.

* * *

In January of 2004, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, after meeting with Fidel Castro while vacationing in Cuba, reported that, “he seemed very sick to me.” His condition, later diagnosed as diverticulitis and aggravated by vanity, deteriorated over the course of the following two years. Unwilling to undergo the indignity of a colostomy bag, he insisted on a proper fixing up. The operation led to septicemia, which nearly killed him then, and set the stage for his ultimate demise.

If a US president, calling Castro’s bluff, had declared free trade with Cuba, it would have been Castro who would have invoked his own embargo against the flood of goods, traders, and tourists.

On July 31, 2006 — two weeks before his 80th birthday — Fidel temporarily delegated his duties to his brother Raul while he recuperated. But his close brush with death and his slow recovery finally led him — one and a half years later, in February 2008 — to retire from all his government offices, at which time Raul assumed all official duties.

It wasn’t his first brush with death. In April of 1983 he suffered his first recorded intestinal attack, which hospitalized him for 11 days, after which he convalesced for three months with no public appearances or speeches. The second attack occurred in September 1992 and was graver than the first, precipitating the initiation of transition protocols. During both events, Castro resorted to using a double who would ride the streets of Havana in his limousine, waving to passers-by to dispel any rumors that might have been leaked.

At his retirement, Castro’s fortune was estimated at $900 million, among the world’s top ten, by Forbes magazine — a revelation that irritated him no end and which he vehemently denied, claiming that he owned nothing but his nine-hundred peso monthly salary, equivalent to about $38.

But Cuba did not change, and, contrary to all expectations, Fidel Castro remained the “conscience of the Revolution,” exercising influence through his column in Granma (Cuba’s version of Pravda), hovering and pontificating over all things large and small, exerting a censorious tempering judgment over events, and merely by being alive — a condition guaranteed to put the brakes on any radical reforms. To emphasize his resurgent vigor, he was elected Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement, serving from 2006 to 2008.

Until 2011, Fidel Castro remained Chairman of the Communist Party of Cuba, in effect the guiding light of the Revolution, and a strong tempering influence on any possibility of change by his brother in the island.

He did, however, admit to some mistakes. He’d mishandled the Cuban Missile Crisis; he’d advocated nuking the US; he’d been wrong to persecute gays. Further, the “Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” He had already given up cigars back in 1985, for health reasons. And, as befits a retired pensioner, he took to wearing colorful tracksuits even during photo opportunities. Fidel’s Granma editorials ruminated on international events, sometimes striking a loud chord, especially when he berated the US policy of subsidizing ethanol, which he correctly perceived as a cause of rising food prices in the Americas; and when he warned the US not to engage in wars with Iran or North Korea after one Afghan and two Iraqi wars.

In 2012, the master of endless words — who had already corralled his thoughts from interminable logorrhea into much shorter newspaper editorials — further truncated his opinions into the severely constrained structure of the haiku, versifying on current affairs and recent history such as bemoaning Deng Xiaoping’s invention of “socialist capitalism” in three short lines. Cubans scratched their heads.

Cuba did not change, and, contrary to all expectations, Fidel Castro remained the “conscience of the Revolution,” exerting a censorious tempering judgment over events merely by being alive.

From March to November Fidel disappeared from public involvement. Since he didn’t congratulate Hugo Chavez on his October 7 reelection victory, rumors proliferated about his demise. The Miami Herald even reported that he’d suffered a debilitating stroke that left him in a vegetative state. To counter the speculation, a very frail Castro was wheeled into the Hotel Nacional to chat with the staff and provide a photo-op for the foreign press. Two days later, in a state media article ironically titled “Fidel Castro is dying,” he wrote that he was fine but that Cubans would hear even less from him in the future (shades of Franco).

When, in December 2014, US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced plans to reestablish diplomatic relations, Fidel remained silent. On the day the US Embassy was reopened, August 14, 2015 — one day after Fidel’s 89th birthday — he finally weighed in, declaring that the US owed Cuba billions of dollars in lost revenue because of the embargo. He still didn’t realize that trade is a two-way street. US Republican responses categorized the deal as a birthday present to Fidel; but judging from Fidel’s silence and petulant response, he perceived it as a slap in the face.

Castro shared one trait with former US President Richard Nixon. According to bodyguard Sanchez, Castro had a mania for recording everything. Perhaps someday the entire oeuvre of the Castro tapes will be released and the world will be able to listen to him in perpetuity.

Fidel, perhaps with a little arm-twisting from his brother Raul, cooperated with the US war on terror by no longer overtly questioning the legitimacy of the Guantanamo military base.

As of this writing, few realize that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba does not eliminate the embargo originally established by Dwight Eisenhower, strengthened by John F. Kennedy, and further fortified by Bill Clinton though the Helms-Burton Act. Only a congressional amendment or rescission of the Act can reverse the US embargo. Still, there was one dramatic change in Cuban policy: political detentions dropped to 178 in January 2015 from a monthly average of 741 in 2014.

* * *

As to Cuba, the scuttlebutt is that Raul wants to follow the China model by opening up the economy and making the peso convertible. This would allow him to retain power and, as head of the army’s joint venture programs, keep the money flowing into his coffers. Though everyone wants a peaceful transition, these “understandings” completely ignore Cubans’ — domestic and expatriate — democratic aspirations.




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The Hamilton Duel

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Experiencing the unexpected is one of the things I love about live theater, so I would love to have been in the audience when the cast of Hamilton decided to explain their position to vice-president-elect Mike Pence the weekend before Thanksgiving. (Although I would not have been happy if it had been my first experience with the play.) I support the right of the cast to exercise their free speech, and I agree with those who say they were respectful and sincere. They even silenced the booing. Sort of.

However, I wish the cast had trusted their art more. Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play. Storytelling is a powerful art form, perhaps the most powerful way of expressing a message, because it touches the heart as well as the mind. It’s the reason I’m so passionate about film. And when you add music, the power increases exponentially. The lecture simply wasn’t necessary.

I remember the night I saw Hamiltonshortly after it opened, before I had heard the music or the hype. It was a transformative experience, and I’m glad it wasn’t marred by a post-performance lecture. I stayed at my seat until the last chord of the postlude and applauded one more time. The music stayed with me as I left the theater. The play ends with an epilogue focusing on the women in Hamilton’s life and what they did to preserve his legacy and his writings after his death, and I thought about their contribution to the cause of liberty during the Revolution.

Everything they said in their speech was heartfelt and important. But it had already been said in the play.

As I walked to the train station, I contemplated the rich heritage portrayed in the play, particularly as demonstrated in the casting of ethnic minorities in all the major roles and most of the ensemble. It made me think more deeply about those revolutionaries we usually see depicted in brocade finery and speaking the king’s English, men who were actually more like the Occupy movement of our day. It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before. It also helped me understand the royalists’ position better, and how hard it must have been to give up a way of life that had been comfortable and familiar to them. Would I have been willing to sacrifice all that I have for the ideal of freedom?

In short, I got it, in my mind and in my heart, through the storytelling and the music. The audience who saw the play with Mike Pence also had an unforgettable experience, but I doubt that it was focused on the music or the story.

It made me wonder whether I would have been a royalist or a revolutionary, something I never questioned before.

Like the characters they play onstage, the actors took a risk Friday night. It wasn’t a risk to their lives but to their livelihoods. I admire their courage and their sincerity. But they weren’t the only ones at risk that night. I can only imagine the consternation of the Secret Service agents as they tried to move their charge from the crowded theater before the curtain calls were ended, as they are instructed to do. Transitions are always the most dangerous time for a Secret Service agent, so it must have been a nightmare for them when the cast invited the audience to take out their cellphones to record the speech, and everyone reached into their purses and pockets! They put everyone at risk at that moment. Fortunately Secret Service agents have better training than cops, and no one was trigger-happy. I’m sure they surrounded Mr. Pence with their bodies, ready to take a bullet rather than use one. But there could have been a tragic outcome as everyone reached for those phones.

So yes, the cast of Hamilton had every right to say what they said, just as those who argued both sides of the issue that weekend had every right to express their opinions. I just wish the cast had trusted their art to tell the story and convey the message by itself. Perhaps they could have invited Mr. Pence backstage to talk to them about his experience and their hopes in a meaningful way. They knew he was coming, so they could have arranged it ahead of time. Then the news story might have been about Mr. Pence’s response to the play, instead of everyone else’s response to the lecture.




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Weaponized Fear

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On the Sunday after the election, during the coffee hour following Mass at my Episcopal church, a parishioner went around the social hall doling out safety pins. Accompanying them were flyers telling us how comforted and loved we were supposed to feel, thanks to kind souls who — well, gave us safety pins and flyers. Just in case any of us somehow missed the point, he’d also tacked the flyers up in the hall, the narthex, and the parish house.

I declined to take one of his special safety pins. And, just because sometimes I’m ornery that way, I asked him exactly what it is we’re supposed to feel safe from. Perhaps appropriate for someone handing out safety pins, once used to fasten cloth diapers, he responded in baby-talk.

For all their supposed kindness, compassion, and moral superiority over the rest of us, the “progressives” of today are among the most hostile and aggressive people I have ever seen.

Though I tried to be polite, I’m fairly sure that my annoyance showed through. I am heartily sick of the crocodile tears of those who refuse to accept the election of Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him, but he won — and I was brought up to believe that regardless of whether they like the outcomes, adults simply accept the results of lawful elections as matters of fact. What I have a hard time accepting is Hillary Clinton’s troopers bringing their petulant “not my president” nonsense into church.

The safety pin missionary smiled his kindly Christian smile. But his eyes glazed and his jaw clenched. He clearly wanted to sock me. I must admit that at that particular moment, I didn’t feel particularly safe. For all their supposed kindness, compassion, and moral superiority over the rest of us, the “progressives” of today are among the most hostile and aggressive people I have ever seen.

It wasn’t enough to foist his magical talismans off on us during coffee hour. In the middle of a meeting of the St. Anne’s Guild — an Episcopal women’s organization — he burst in to pass them around. When they came to me, I dropped them. I confess I can’t be sure it was entirely accidental.

Am I overreacting? Is there anything wrong, at heart, with this ministry of the diaper pin? There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to comfort fearful people. I suppose I’d find these admonitions not to be afraid more comforting — not to mention more convincing — if they weren’t coming from the very people turning a blind eye to mass tantrums that degenerate into riots. In an instant, this crowd can go from speaking pabulum words of peace to screaming through a bullhorn.

Fear is the weapon of tyrants. Statists are, at the very least, tyrants-in-training.

I’d be the last to deny that fear has reached pestilential levels in our society. We see it everywhere, and it motivates more of what we do than most of us would care to admit. When our “fear” button is pressed too often, and too hard, it gets stuck in the “on” position. And an overload of fear — especially during an extended period — goads us into rage. Rage is nothing more or less than weaponized fear.

Fear is the weapon of tyrants. Statists are, at the very least, tyrants-in-training. Donald Trump has poured his share of gasoline on the fire. Not so much in what he’s said, himself, but in the hordes of supporters who, throughout his campaign, he encouraged to be angry and little else. They were angry because they were afraid, and because they were so angry they’ve made many other people afraid.

This vicious cycle won’t be stopped by people who condemn fearmongering only in those with whom they disagree, while condoning it in their political allies. I believe that Trump supporters would have been equally quick to kick, scream, and turn blue if their candidate had lost the election. Those who behave that way are certainly very likely to be afraid. But they don’t hesitate to throw their rivals into the most ungodly terror they are capable of inspiring.

The safety-pin crusade was, in itself, an act of aggression. That it masqueraded as an attempt to be comforting fooled nobody who wasn’t willing to be fooled. It was infantile, as acts of aggression usually are. If protestors against our constitutionally stipulated political process continue to behave like irrational children, they will destroy this country. And any church that doesn’t stop this nonsense from happening in what its parishioners trust to be sacred space will eventually find its entire body of believers in diapers, and nothing in the collection plate but safety pins.




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The Space Aliens Have Finally Come

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Movie reviews took a back seat at Liberty while the election dominated our pages. This was the most divisive election in recent history, with three flawed candidates being nominated by the three major parties. (Yes, I consider the LP a major party at this point, even if the chance of winning is still nonexistent.) The divisiveness only worsened after the surprise election of Donald Trump, with protests that quickly escalated into riots and derisive epithets of “Racist! Homophobe! Sexist!” that escalated into accusations (sometimes false) of personal attacks. College students, whimpering and wailing, were issued blankets, tissues, and even puppies by administrators more anxious to comfort their fears than to teach them how to cope with disappointment.

Sheesh.

As I decided to write my first review for Liberty in over a month, I wondered: which current film would provide the best opportunity to address these issues? Arrival seemed like a sure bet.

Most of us want to be kind, but we also want to know, “Why are they here?”

In this movie, 12 alien spacecraft enter the earth’s atmosphere and hover above locations around the globe, virtually knocking at the door and asking to be let in. But what is their purpose? Do they come in peace, or as galactic imperialists? That’s the question asked in every alien-oriented movie, and it was the key issue that drove Trump’s rise to the presidency. Do we build a wall — a yuge wall — to keep everyone out (at least until a thorough vetting has been performed), or do we open the doors and admit workers from Mexico, refugees from Syria, boat-people from southeast Asia, and anyone else who wants to come in? Most of us want to be kind, but we also want to know, “Why are they here?” Fittingly, that is the tagline of Arrival.

The opening moments of the film reinforced my intent to write a timely political review. I like the fact that the writers chose the neutral term “arrival” rather than the usual “invasion.” People react to the arrival of the alien ships with stunned silence and disbelief, followed by newscasters reporting riots, looting, and school closings — reminding me of what was happening not far from my movie theater in New York City. Our main character even references Fox News Channel while trying to calm her hysterical mother, saying, “Why are you watching that channel? How many times have I told you not to listen to those idiots?” She also admits to strategic lying in order to get her way: “The story isn’t true, but it proves my point, “ she mutters her sly justification.

But, as so often happens when I come to a movie already thinking about how I’m going to write my review, I soon let go of my preconceived plan and let the actual film envelop me. The film is slow for the alien invasion genre, more Close Encounters of the Third Kind than Independence Day. Leaders in the 12 nations where the spacecraft are hovering do bring in their military, but they do so cautiously. They have learned to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts, but they won’t slam the gates or start shooting the arrows until they’ve seen what’s inside this Trojan horse. What is the purpose of these uninvited arrivals?

Tension develops not so much from fear of attack as from an agonizing slowness that affects our perception of time; unnatural gravity that affects our perception of nature; a 60-beat, pulsating percussion that affects our perception of the aliens; and discordant, dissonant music that simply grates on our nerves.

People react to the arrival of the alien ships with stunned silence and disbelief, followed by newscasters reporting riots, looting, and school closings — reminding me of what was happening not far from my movie theater.

Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a respected linguist, and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a first-rate mathematician, are called in to see whether they can communicate with the beings. An academic argument ensues over which is the core of civilization, language or math, but the film does not ask us to endure a cutesy, hormone-driven competition between the two attractive academicians. This is serious business, and they are serious partners in their mission to discover why the aliens have come and whether their intent is peaceful.

Guided by thoughts of her daughter’s birth and childhood, Louise turns to such non-verbal communications as touch, eye contact, body language, and facial expressions as she and Ian work out the “Heptoid” vocabulary. She points out the ambiguity inherent in words, and the consequent importance of understanding context in order to discover intent. “The Sanskrit word for war,” she offers as an example, “is desire for more cows.” Soldiers and bullets, she suggests, are a symptom of war, not the definition of it. I couldn’t help but think of the quote attributed to Frederic Bastiat: “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” And I again thought of our president-elect and his misguided determination to limit international trade.

For a film about language and communication, there is surprisingly little dialogue. Instead, the actors are asked to communicate their thoughts and emotions to the audience in the way their characters are communicating with the aliens — through body language, movement, and facial expressions. Director Denis Villeneuve couldn’t have asked for a better actress for this task than the brilliantly talented Amy Adams. She approaches the aliens with the same wonder and engagement as she expresses in her interactions with the daughter of her thoughts. We know how she feels about language, and about these aliens, because we know what it’s like to interact with a baby or a child. Language becomes a tool and an emotion. Linguistics become exciting and engaging. And the denouement of the film is wondrous because of all this.

This is a film that surprises you with unexpected stillness, unexpected wonder, unexpected fulfillment. It asks us to embrace life, even when it includes inevitable trauma or sorrow. In the end, I discovered, it is the right film for right now. But not for the reasons I expected. Go see it before you hear any more about it.


Editor's Note: Review of "Arrival," directed by Denis Villeneuve. 21 Laps Entertainment / FilmNation Entertainment, 2016, 115 minutes.



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Silver Linings Playbook

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Never mind that the Democrat elite engineered the nomination of probably the only person in the country who could lose the presidency to a game-show host with a personality disorder . . . and outspend him two-to-one while doing it. Never mind that the same people saw to it that their party lost control of the House of Representatives for, maybe, ever; assured a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for what could be generations; ensured that their party would be denied power in most state houses and governorships, and be reduced to a level not seen since 1928. Never mind that they didn’t even notice they were losing. Never mind that they have set up the party itself for an internal catfight it might never recover from.

Never mind those things — because that very same elite, in the words of the Washington Post, has discerned what its headline describes as “A ‘silver lining’ on election night.”

What, you might ask, is this silver lining?

The rest of the headline comes right out and tells you. “First Latina elected to US Senate.” There it is. The whole ongoing catastrophe has been worthwhile because a Latina will now be bringing her third-world diversity to the Senate.

Never mind that Catherine Cortez Masto isn’t a third-world anything. She’s a third-generation American born right here in the good ole US of A. Never mind that this makes her practically Mayflower material, compared to Antonin Scalia. Never mind that she grew up in Nevada and graduated from Gonzaga, that her roots and her law degree, and her life experiences, pretty much clone those of almost every other member of the Senate. Never mind that the politically correct Democrat elite can’t even bring themselves to call her an American. The bare fact of the Latina-ness of her and her husband’s last names will add much-needed diversity to our most august deliberative body. The serape ceiling has been broken! Never mind the fact that the very same out-of-touch elite blew their . . . and her . . . chance at having any real power in the Senate, or anywhere else in the government, by not winning elections.

Here’s the actual silver lining: these clowns are too out of touch to ever figure out why they keep losing. And, with that, the Republic is really better off.




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What, Me Worry?

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“So, did your candidate win last night?”

It was 8 AM, Wednesday morning after the election. I was standing in line at the hardware store to buy paintbrushes. Prescott, Arizona — where I live — is a town and state that narrowly went for Trump. The guy behind me, a complete stranger and out of the blue, had decided to engage me.

“So you wasted your vote, eh?” The statement phrased as a question hung in the air like an olfactory assault.

Ignoring for one second the glib impertinence of the question, the implied familiarity in asking it, and the strong emotions most people invested in the election’s results, I was glad I hadn’t voted for either Clinton or Trump. A “wrong” answer might have opened a door into territory I didn’t want to explore with this hayseed. I answered, “I voted for Johnson and Weld.”

“So you wasted your vote, eh?” The statement phrased as a question hung in the air like an olfactory assault. As I mentally scrambled for an appropriate explanation (not that he deserved one) or at least a bon mot, he beat me to the punch: “I didn’t vote.”

Enough said.

* * *

I couldn’t believe the spring in my step that morning, the sunny disposition that overwhelmed my otherwise dry-verging-on-the-cynical humor, the optimism that still refuses to let go of me. Some of it was relief that it was over; but I know some of it was schadenfreude. Watching the supercilious, condescending Left eat crow is extremely gratifying — Obama’s “Men, get over your sexism and vote for Hillary” to the fore.

I’d hoped for divided government, with a narrow Clinton win and a Republican Congress, with a nod to Ted Cruz’s glimmer of hope for a reduced Supreme Court.

How do I hate thee, Donald? Let me count the ways: Trump’s nuclear triad of ignorance; his “If I get elected I’ll be richer than I’ve ever been” declaration; his “Trump discount,” whereby he withholds payment to his contractors unless they — after the fact — agree to a 10% reduction in their bill to avoid taking him to court; his treatment of Vera Coking (I’ll stop here) made him anathema to me.

Still, knowing my candidate would never win, I look for the silver lining: goodbye Obamacare, hello Supreme Court.

That night, Trump — of all people — added another tiny ray of hope. In the wee hours of that reality shifting morning, right after Hillary Clinton called to concede, Trump took to the stage to convey her concession. Approaching the podium with family in tow, I saw a side of him that I didn’t think existed, a side so out of character, so unguarded, even unbelievable, that I played it again: he and Melania were fighting back tears.

Watching the supercilious, condescending Left eat crow is extremely gratifying.

I don’t know what other folks made of this or even if they saw it. But to me it indicated a degree of humility that I couldn’t conceive in the man. He didn’t gloat, he didn’t smile — he was (dare I say it?), classy. I can’t but imagine that it was at this moment that the full realization that he’d become president of the United States sank in (though I also imagined him in a panic calling all his advisors and asking, what do we do now?).

But there’s one more glimmer of hope that I later discerned, and it came from President Rodrigo Duterte, the Filipino Trump — and, admittedly, it’s a stretch.

For the past four years Chinese ships have blocked Filipino fishermen from plying their trade near Scarborough Shoal, an incipient piece of land in the South China Sea that China claims as its own, in violation of international law. The Philippines, under President Benigno Aquino, took their case to The Hague, where an international tribunal ruled in the Philippines’ favor. China has ignored the ruling.

Souring the situation further, the US has signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines and regularly plies the South China Sea in an effort to uphold the right of free passage through what all but China consider international waters. Enter Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking, loose cannon successor president to Aquino.

I question how creative Duterte or Trump actually are, or how consciously aware of their tactics. Can either think that many steps ahead?

The Philippines hold no cards to, er, trump Chinese power, so Duterte has changed tactics from confrontational to affable. Verbally distancing himself from the US and vividly insulting President Obama (“son of a whore”), he has extended a hand of friendship to China. Last week Filipino fishermen were back fishing at Scarborough Shoal. Mind you, it has all been talk — there have been no substantive changes in Filipino-American or Filipino-Chinese relations.

Donald Trump’s sweet talk about Russia and Putin might be an analogous tactic: sweet foreplay for a more productive engagement, possibly leading to favorable results. I don’t know, and I question how creative Duterte or Trump actually are, or how consciously aware of their tactics. Can either think that many steps ahead?

And: a buffoon in charge of the Philippines is one thing; a buffoon in charge of the US, an entirely different proposition.




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Clueless to the End

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The Clinton campaign died the way it was born — completely clueless. As state after state turned against her, her friends and operatives (but is there a difference?) played endless variations on the same theme: how could this be happening?

“What the f---?” one aide said. “This wasn't part of the plan. This is making everyone nervous. I think everyone is biting their fingernails here. I don't think anyone anticipated this.”

Even Fox commentator Juan Williams, a Democrat whose intelligence and word-power I greatly respect, was silly enough to say, “How does this make sense? I mean it’s out of the blue.”

It was certainly out of the blue for Hillary Clinton, but her response was typical of the arrogance and ignorance that have always been her trademarks. Apparently unprepared to address the followers gathered in New York City for a victory party of Babylonian ostentation, Clinton was witless enough to send out a surrogate to dismiss the throng — and who was the surrogate? John Podesta, the blithering idiot whose hacked computer contributed tens of thousands of damaging emails to her rival’s campaign. Rationally speaking, could there be a less welcome emissary than John Podesta? Was Anthony Weiner the runner-up? Yet, such is the witlessness of the core Democratic Party that Podesta’s appearance was vigorously applauded.

As state after state turned against Clinton, her friends and operatives played endless variations on the same theme.

His message was: “She is not done yet” — go away, we’ll keep counting the votes, see you tomorrow. But immediately after this performance, or perhaps during it, Clinton was calling Donald Trump to surrender. So with a cheap lie did a cheap and lying campaign end.

Democrat cluelessness was mirrored, of course, by the mainstream media, all of them loudly announcing that they had been wrong but they didn’t know how. Maybe their wrongness can be traced to their inability to learn even the most elementary facts — extending, in this case, to the issue of who won the election. CNN was loyally refusing to announce that Trump was the winner, even after Clinton’s concession call, even while Trump was taking the stage to congratulate his supporters. At that moment, and not before, Wolf Blitzer intoned: “We can now project the winner of the presidential race.” Project?

So what had happened? Surprisingly, Fox News commentator Monica Crowley got it right. “This,” she said, “is a revolt of the unprotected class against the protected.”

Her comment is worth thinking about, particularly by libertarians upset about Gary Johnson’s poor showing. (But what else can you expect, when you choose a presidential candidate who is a nice guy, nothing less and nothing more, and a VP candidate who campaigns for the Democratic nominee?) It is a very libertarian comment. Libertarians have always maintained that there are two classes: those who are advantaged by government and those who are not. The ones advantaged are a protected class, and will demand further protection. They range from the crony capitalists who fund Democratic foundations and campaigns, to persons who are taught they have a “right” to welfare, to children of prosperous families who think they have a “right” to a free college education, to “refugees” who cannot be kicked out of the country no matter what they do, to the multitude of public “servants” whose major purpose is to increase the number of creatures like themselves. The unprotected are the people who are forced to pay for all of this — not just with money but also with self-esteem and dignity.

Rationally speaking, could there be a less welcome emissary than John Podesta? Was Anthony Weiner the runner-up?

Donald Trump and I have a different view of who belongs in which class. For instance, he is a protectionist when it comes to trade. But Crowley’s idea still holds. When you look at the alleged appeal of Hillary Clinton, it was all to people who want protection — protection from work (welfarism), protection from meaningful competition (CEOism), protection from disagreement (political correctness), protection from truth (the disinformation that has become a major American industry). This kind of protectionism is basically what voters were rebelling against, and their rebellion was strengthened mightily by every invasion — “petty” to the protected class — of their actual rights: rights to information, rights to guns, rights to the expression of opinion, rights to taxation that is not confiscatory.

To all of this, the Democrats have been blind. But libertarians have not. Now it’s time for libertarians to take the cue and address themselves to the unprotected class, not as alien ideologues, but as fellow sufferers. The libertarian task may be easier because — as Greg Gutfeld pointed out in a series of observations that lacked his usual perceptiveness but were acute at one point — whoever won the 2016 election would energize the other side in a mighty way: “If Trump wins, the left will do great. If Hillary wins, so will the right. Fact is it’s just easier to scream at the enemy than it is to support your own embarrassment.” Libertarians have little to be embarrassed about, and much to scream against, in both major parties.

Leftists will be generating more money out of Donald Trump than they could ever generate out of Hillary Clinton. Why shouldn’t libertarians do the same — and do it double? Libertarians can appeal both to legitimate aversion to Donald Trump and legitimate aversion to the Democrats.

What voters were rebelling against was every invasion — “petty” to the protected class — of their actual rights.

At the moment, however, the crucial political fact is the dumb astonishment of the Establishment, the institutionalized and protected Establishment, at its sad damage by the voters. Remember all that guff about how you shouldn’t vote for Trump (or anyone except the hapless Hillary) because the Europeans wouldn’t like it? Well, which Europeans do you have in mind? Europeans like the French ambassador to the United States, who couldn’t resist tweeting about Trump’s election: “After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes. Dizziness”?

When he wrote this, Ambassador Araud had no clue that his comment was absurd. Later, somebody must have told him, because he deleted the utterance. Smart man.

Almost as smart as Bush maestro Karl Rove, who until minutes before the election was sure that Trump could not win, and who amused the late hours of Fox election coverage by discussing the need for humility on the part of the winner, because he would have gained less than 50% of the vote. MSNBC made much of this too. But I count 17 presidential elections since 1828, when the modern party system was solidifying and the popular vote started to mean something decisive, in which the winning candidate received less than 50% of the vote. The lowest percentages were those of Abraham Lincoln (40), Woodrow Wilson (42), and guess who?, Bill Clinton (43). How soon these experts forget.

Also showing themselves very smart and knowing were those pinnacles of the political and journalistic Establishment, Carl Bernstein and David Gergen, who on the morning after the election spent many minutes of CNN’s airtime explaining that Hillary Clinton will be consoled in defeat by her profound religious faith, as manifested in her devotion to the Bible and to the Methodist church. Of course, nobody ever saw Clinton enter a church, except to suck out votes, and I don’t remember a single reference she ever made to the Bible. Nevertheless, these people were speaking solemnly, and on the verge of tears. Hillary, they never knew ye.




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Let’s Sing a Song About Three!

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I haven’t seen Sesame Street for years. I don’t know if they still do those counting songs to teach kids about numbers. But as this year’s election draws to a close, something like that would sure be helpful.

How is it that so many voters can count no higher than two? It seems to this third-party supporter that they could use a tutorial from Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, or The Count. If I hear one more half-witted, addle-pated admonition that I must “vote for Trump so we won’t get Hillary” or “vote for Hillary so we won’t get Trump,” I swear I’m going to scream, “Three banana cream pies!” and plaster somebody smack in the face with them.

Of course I wouldn’t actually do that. I’m a libertarian. I don’t believe in violence against my fellow Americans. But boy, sometimes I’m tempted. This year, I’ve been tempted like never before.

If I hear one more half-witted, addle-pated admonition that I must “vote for Trump so we won’t get Hillary” or “vote for Hillary so we won’t get Trump,” I swear I’m going to scream.

Why is it so hard for people to wrap their minds around the concept that they have additional choices? To me, and to other reasonable people, the suggestion comes as a welcome relief. But legions of others react to it with hostility. They recoil as if from a barrage of banana cream pies. The thought seems to cause them physical pain, as if they were being prescribed a bad case of influenza.

I’ve heard “journalists” lament the cold-heartedness of libertarians who think that giving consumers actual options in a free market is somehow a ruthless philosophy that would doom orphans and widows to starve in the streets. We’re supposedly too idiotic to run our own lives, but veritable Solomons when it comes to running the lives of others. That would require making choices, too — but don’t tell our betters that. It would only give them a headache.

I intend to go on gleefully counting to three. I’d love to deliver my lesson through the cartoon lips of the lady who used to sing it on Sesame Street. But I’ll continue challenging my fellow Americans to count higher — and aim higher — in any way I can. I’ll also keep those pies ready, just in case.




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The Case for None of The Above

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

It seems almost unfair that my fellow contributors should get such difficult assignments, while I get such an easy one. Not only do I get to write up the clear and obvious choice for liberty lovers, I also get the last word in our forum. So be it! But look back on them fondly, and remember that they did their best to scratch out a case from the most meager materials in anyone’s living memory.

On with it then: if you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president. Spend your November 8 working, or mowing the lawn, or reading poems, or just lazing about generally. If you are one of those with the pathological need to waste half of an otherwise enjoyable and productive day on a fool’s errand, then educate yourself on your state and local elections and vote in them, as your conscience leads. But when it comes to the top slot, you should vote None of the Above, or write in the fictional character of your choice.

The reason for this is simple. In our electoral system, a vote is a binary state. It’s either a 1 or a 0, a yes or a no. You may think you’re casting your vote for the lesser of two evils, but all the parties will see is that you approved of their candidate enough to bother voting for him or her. In this election, of all elections, to cast a vote for president — whether you opt for D, or R, or even L — is to assist in the euthanasia of contemporary libertarianism.

If you care in any way about freedom or a little-l libertarian society, you will not cast a vote for president.

Judging from our reader feedback, people here don’t need much convincing that Hillary Clinton should not be president. The great tragedy of her life was being born into a society with a few barriers still in place against naked political ambition; under more amenable circumstances, she’d have made a superb tinpot dictator. Her core characteristic is an absolute certainty that she is, at all times, both right and good; her preeminent political skill is surrounding herself with others who attest, at all times, to her rightness and goodness.

The defining mark of her political career to date is incompetence. In her first big assignment, she not only failed to sell single-payer health care to a Congress controlled by her own party, she also (perhaps more so than any other single person) set in motion the 1994 Republican takeover. As the junior senator from New York, Clinton voted for the military action in Afghanistan that continues to this day, for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization, and for what is so far the single greatest blunder of the 21st-century, the Iraq War Resolution. Though she claims this last, at least, was a mistake, her time as Secretary of State showed she has learned precisely no lessons about the follies of nation-building and regime change in the Middle East: she continued to advocate ever greater Afghan commitments; she spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya; she strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, likely selling them the weapons they are using now to massacre Yemeni dissidents; and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — all in the name of humanitarian intervention.

Clinton’s plans for this country are no less enlightened and benevolent. She is the candidate of the entrenched, of the moneyed, of the would-be oligarchs and autocrats, and if you are not one of them, then you are already reprobate. In any normal election, she would have been kneecapped in the primary (and could well have, if not for an outrageous campaign of slander by the DNC against Bernie Sanders), or massacred in the general — but she has the immense good fortune of facing a bumptious, bigoted buffoon. Still, while a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against Donald Trump, it is also a vote for the status quo, for every condescension and indignity visited upon the demos by its appointed betters. It’s a vote for a system of bailouts, handouts, drones, and wars — a system hermetically sealed against outside thought.

Clinton spearheaded the disastrous intervention in Libya, strengthened ties with the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia, and still today she pushes for entanglements in Syria that could well lead to outright war with Russia.

As for that buffoon: Donald Trump is a lifelong conman with a history of false dealing and shoddy investments. When individuals have stood in the way of his gaudy real estate projects, he has always turned to the power of the state to get his way. He is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him — something which happens alarmingly often for someone with designs on becoming Commander-in-Chief. Though it was fun to watch him rip into the puffy nobodies on the Republican primary stage, he embarrassed himself rising to Clinton’s bait every time out: one can only imagine how an actually capable world leader — Angela Merkel, for sure, but also Xi Jinping, or Putin himself, for that matter — would twist President Trump around their fingers.

It’s hard to know how Trump would govern domestically because, like his opponent, it appears his only constant belief is in his own abilities. Were he not the GOP standard bearer, he would likely be a Clinton donor — as he has been in the past. But in order to present himself as opposed to the milquetoast Northeast liberalism that enables failed sons like himself to play around with their parents’ money, Trump adopted the pose of a revanchist crusader, someone who could, by sheer dint of personality, restore the country to a greatness that never existed in anything like the visions he conjures.

You don’t have to take the word of Trump’s opponents to see how dangerous this is — just look at the list of those who have endorsed him: the head of the American Nazi Party; the publisher of the Daily Stormer, the central neo-Nazi newspaper; the founder of Stormfront, the largest white supremacist web community; the national organizer of the Klan-affiliated Knights Party; the founders of white nationalist websites American Renaissance, VDARE, and Occidental Dissent . . . the list goes on, and that’s before getting to more mainstream groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, whose national board has enthusiastically backed the man promising to ramp up police militarization and institute a nationwide stop-and-frisk policy. A vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary Clinton, yes, but it is also a vote for the sort of stupid, swaggering, strongman authority that is inimical to liberty — and for the conman exploiting that attitude to funnel money toward his personal brand. Trump has never in his life dealt in good faith; he isn’t doing so now, and he will not at any time in the future.

Trump is the callow oaf-king of a shabby empire, a man who blusters constantly about others’ perceived weaknesses but then bitches to anyone in earshot whenever someone gets the best of him.

Gary Johnson is a different matter. Unlike the aforementioned, he doesn’t seem to be a horrible person. Certainly he is forthcoming about his own limitations, likely to a fault. He comes off as, and may well be, a bit of a dolt; the compensation for that should involve meticulous preparation and drilling, but all too often Johnson seems taken by surprise when the spotlight’s on him — this election has exposed a particular weakness in foreign policy, especially when he could not identify Aleppo, the city at the center of the Syrian civil war, and when he could not name a single foreign head of state, let alone one he admired.

Still, he would be manifestly the best president out of the three. I made the case for Johnson in 2012, believing that his nomination represented a rare chance for the Libertarian Party to make headway in an election between two fairly unpopular candidates. So what has changed to make me retract, in a year of greater opportunity? The short answer is “Bill Weld.” The longer answer is also “Bill Weld,” but with a complete loss of confidence in Johnson’s judgment.

I have no particular beef with Weld; he doesn’t seem to have been any worse a governor than most others, and his experience and cachet should have meant instant legitimacy for a party that has struggled for it in the past. Johnson, in fact, insisted on Weld’s importance to the ticket, pleading with the crowd at the party convention, “Please, please give me Weld. Please. Please!” Whatever success the LP gained, he said, would hinge on Weld’s connections and fundraising prowess. All fine and good — until Weld started using his media appearances to, essentially, endorse Clinton.

Libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure.

By that point, the campaign had already missed its stretch goal — to poll at 15% or higher, and thus get a space in the televised debates. But since late September, the polls have dipped from a consistent 7–9% to less than 5%; if those numbers hold, then the LP will miss out on perhaps its only chance at federal matching funds for a future cycle — in which case they might as well have stuck with a vice-presidential candidate who wouldn’t sell out the party or its message. Johnson didn’t lack for choices, several of which could have shored up support with a potential future voter base. Instead it’s Weld, who would surprise nobody by returning to the Republicans (or turning Democrat) by the time 2017 rolls around. How can you expect people to cast a protest vote for a ticket whose own VP doesn’t support it?

In isolation, it seems like yet another exploitation and betrayal of LP goodwill. But it also shines a harsher light on Johnson's campaign missteps. Take his “Aleppo moment” — never mind that the press members crowing over the gaffe would themselves have had no clue about the place even a month earlier: it was an obsession of the press that week, and someone connected to the campaign should have been aware of that. If there’s no one doing that job, all the Welds in the world aren’t going to make the LP succeed on center stage. Make no mistake: in today’s US, libertarianism is a hard sell. For it to succeed, it has to be propounded by those who are both articulate and committed — or at least those who can name a single foreign leader under the mildest of pressure. The American political system is hardwired for two parties, and this wiring is reinforced by the reflexive dismissal of anything outside that central, ersatz rivalry; just look at how Trump and Clinton surrogates try to convince third-party voters that they’re actually voting for the hated enemy. A vote for Johnson/Weld endorses a libertarianism that accepts the validity of this system, and its own perpetually subordinate place within.

In this world we are surrounded and constantly manipulated by those who want to press-gang us into their schemes, as well as those who enable the press-gangers. Election Day offers one of the very rare chances to show our disgust with the entire charade. Tell them to go to hell! And make November 8 something truly worth celebrating: an average Tuesday, to do with as you like.



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The Case for Hillary Clinton

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It’s a Liberty tradition: before a presidential election we invite our authors to make the best case they can for the Democratic candidate, the Libertarian candidate, the Republican candidate, and no candidate at all. In some instances, the best case isn’t one that the authors themselves find the most convincing. C’est la guerre.

* * *

I’m taking one for the team. Somebody has to do this on behalf of Liberty, and I’m the person who has drawn the short straw. I have to make an argument for voting Democrat in 2016.

Yet this is not an impossible argument to make. The reasons may not be compelling (you decide), but they’re not difficult to find. They come in two “baskets,” as Hillary Clinton would say. First, the basket of Trump’s deficiencies; second, the basket of Clinton’s own deficiencies.

“What?” you say.

Just hold on.

The deficiencies of Donald Trump

Trump is a demagogue, on the grand scale. Like most demagogues, he sometimes blusters into the truth about particular issues. But when you look at the scale of his blustering, you see the problem. He is running on a promise to use presidential power to fix everything in America that needs to be fixed. Never mind whether it actually does. I happen to think that most of the problems he has identified are real and serious. But do you want to give anyone, especially a popular leader, the power to cure everything that ails you? Never mind whether his plans would succeed. Lyndon Johnson did not succeed in winning his War on Poverty. Nobody has, and nobody could. But look at the wreckage he left behind him.

So much for Trump. Now for:

The deficiencies of Hillary Clinton

The argument here is that Clinton’s private vices can be regarded as public virtues. After a lifetime of dishonest struggle to make herself attractive to the American people, she has succeeded in making herself loathed by most and disliked by almost all. This is a public benefit. It has taught millions of people to distrust even first ladies.

Trump is running on a promise to use presidential power to fix everything in America that needs to be fixed. Never mind whether it actually does.

Hillary and her husband discovered a way to make tons of money on intended bribes from crony capitalists and obnoxious foreign governments, but it doesn’t appear that they actually accomplished much for their would-be clients. Perhaps the Clintons simply meant to stiff their friends; more likely, they weren’t competent enough to perform any real criminality, at least on a scale that would make it necessary for James Comey to prosecute. (Admittedly, Comey is an idiot in a thousand-dollar suit, a reductio ad absurdum of the Establishment’s claims to righteousness. But this is another good thing about Hillary — the exposure of people like that.) The buffoonery of Mrs. Clinton’s attempted coverups (“Wipe? You mean with a cloth?”) has put the lie to any notion that a Sauron-like intelligence is lurking in Chappaqua, NY — and to the idea that activist politicians at least mean well for the people. They don’t, and the Clintons have contributed very materially toward dispelling that dangerous illusion.

The life of Hillary Clinton has been little more than a series of absurd scandals, punctuated by absurd attempts to do some mighty deed. Take her version of national healthcare (take it, please!). During her husband’s first administration, she proceeded in the most ridiculously complicated manner this side of Rube Goldberg to get the medical industry into her hands and “reform” it. The result was a crushing defeat for her husband in the next congressional election: another public benefit.

There is virtually no prospect of a third Clinton administration being any more successful than the first two in accomplishing the Clintons’ ostensibly progressive ends.

Mrs. Clinton’s current policy proposals would undoubtedly be scary if anybody could make sense of them. That’s what the Sanders people meant when they said she doesn’t “stand for anything.” They were right. Even when she seems to, the evidence of her private communications plainly demonstrates that she doesn’t, or that she stands for the opposite of her announced positions.

There is virtually no prospect of a third Clinton administration being any more successful than the first two in accomplishing the Clintons’ ostensibly progressive ends, and many indications that the actions of the Clinton Operation will be disastrous to itself. This is the normal fate of fanatically self-serving people, and for this we can be grateful to the divine law of retribution.

Looking into my crystal ball — which, as everyone knows, is a flawless oracle — I see Hillary Clinton crippled from the start by recurring scandals, by the well-earned distrust of her confederates, and, above all, by the distrust and disgust of the nation as a whole. If you can’t get a president who believes in liberty, at least you can get a president who is a feckless, bumbling, self-defeating statist. Can you deny that this is Hillary Clinton?




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