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How to Justify Russian Aggression

RIA Novosti/Reuters

Sure, Viktor Yanukovych might have murdered protesters and Vladimir Putin might have invaded a sovereign country. But what about Hiroshima? And the genocide of Native Americans?

Readers of a certain vintage will likely recall the oleaginous, Brooklyn-accented Vladimir Pozner, an American citizen domiciled in Moscow who regularly popped up on television in the waning days of the Cold War, propagandizing on behalf of the Kremlin. Pozner was a rather impressive practitioner of whataboutism, the debate tactic demanding that questions about morally indefensible acts committed by your side be deflected with pettifogging discussion of unrelated sins committed by your opponent’s side.

Venezuela's Useful Idiots

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Defenders of the Venezuelan regime would never allow the White House to arrest opposition leaders and shut down unfriendly media outlets. So why the double standard?

At the southernmost point of Central Park, on a small strip of sidewalk abutting 59th Street, hundreds of Venezuelans swarmed a statue of Simon Bolivar, the Caracas-born liberator of South America and a figure now most commonly associated with the bolivarian revolution of Hugo Chavez and his rechristened Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. But it’s an association that when mentioned in this crowd produces furrowed brows and narrowed eyes, quickly followed by a rapid-fire recapitulation of Chavez’s many crimes.

No Mas Democracia

Cristian Hernandez/AFP/Getty

The arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez exposes Venezuela’s Potemkin democracy and Hugo Chavez’s poisonous legacy.

A few days after Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez expired, his body saturated with cancer he believed was implanted in him by the CIA, I sat on an MSNBC panel encircled by academics sympathetic to the dead autocrat. Vastly outnumbered by halfwits and fellow travellers, I reached for the most conciliatory point available. “Chavez was no democrat," I muttered, after viewing clips of various silly pundits denouncing him as a dictator, "but words mean things.

Breaking: Jihadis Hate Art

The Daily Beast

They haven't gone away. If you draw the Prophet or insult his teachings, you might wind up dead

Remember the days of post-9/11 civilizational war, of weltkampf between Islam and Christendom? You might recall the braying mobs, with their misspelled signs and limitless supply of Danish flags, burning embassies and murdering their co-religionists because some octogenarian in Århus sketched Muhammad.Man, those were the days, when many mobilized in defense of free speech and many more intellectuals and politicians went weak-kneed in the face of threats, deciding that the possibility of murder and mob violence was reason enough to caution against “abusing” certain rights.

Bob Dylan’s 115th Sellout

via YouTube

The internet convulsed with outrage that Bob Dylan, star of a Super Bowl car commercial, had "sold out." It's an accusation he's been hearing since 1964.

According to everyone on the internet, the 1960s ended with a whimper on Sunday, when Bob Dylan rasped and gasped through a Chrysler commercial, barely an hour after his song “I Want You” played in the background of a Greek yogurt ad. Cue the inevitable and stupendously dumb Twitter storm, during which musicians, journalists, and assorted know-nothings insisted that Robert Zimmerman--who famously wasn’t so keen on racism and nuclear weapons--had sullied his legacy by plumping for a car company.

Free Speech Kills!

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According to the enemies of free speech, "offensive" language can cause emotional distress and physical trauma. So it's time to ditch the First Amendment, right?

With the rest of civilized America prepared to be gloriously uncivilized during the Super Bowl, I somehow found myself stuck reading a 1919 Supreme Court opinion, Schenck v. United States, in which an overweening government gleefully prosecuted one Charles T. Schenck, general secretary of the Socialist Party in Philadelphia, for distributing leaflets urging Americans to resist intervention in the First World War. With the benefit of a century’s worth of hindsight, it’s clear that Schenck was providing Philadelphians with good counsel for bad reasons, but Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his majority opinion that his agitating against mass slaughter of the Western Front “will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent.

Nobel Nomination Nonsense

Thousands of officials are allowed to nominate Peace Prize laureates. Just like Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange's nominations, Edward Snowden’s nod should be ignored.

If you have a paper thin skin (as I do) and are paid to comment on the news (this, for some mysterious reason, also applies to me), it’s advisable to fully disengage from writing about the Edward Snowden saga. After the initial leaks, I offered a cautious piece, urging against the instant beatification of the former NSA contractor. We knew little about him, I argued, so let’s wait for it to play out, and we’ll be better situated to determine if he was more Pentagon Papers than Pumpkin Papers.

Seeger and Stalinism

Gai Terrell/Redferns/Getty

Pete Seeger’s love of Stalinist ideals endured through the nightmare of pogroms and purge trials in the Soviet Union. His totalitarian sympathies should not be whitewashed.

Along with countless other sensible people, I have often bristled at the mindless deification of Pete Seeger, the nonagenarian folk singer who died yesterday at age 94. I have no doubt that Seeger was a lovely man (a mutual friend, who became a dedicated enemy of Seeger’s far-left politics, once assured me that he was), nor can one argue with his outsized influence on American music. And we all remember good-but-overpraised songs like If I Had a Hammer and the treacly classic Where Have All the Flowers Gone?But as the encomiums threaten to overwhelm, it’s important to remember that Seeger, once an avowed Stalinist, was a political singer devoted to a sinister political system--a position he held long after the Soviet experiment drenched itself in blood and collapsed in ignominy.

Free Speech

Can a Tweet Put You in Prison?

Elaine Thompson/AP

Tweeting racist or otherwise libelous bile can land you in jail in the UK, but the victim, as ever, is not the target of the tweet but free speech.

When Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman briefly melted down in a post-game interview Sunday, shouting something about his superior skills as a football player and the relative insignificance of a player on the opposing team, the Internet did what the Internet does best: In high dudgeon, it sputtered, typed in all caps, and excreted hundreds of witless tweets. Well, most of it was witless. Some of it, predictably, was racist. A young lad named Travis Ozegovich, representing the latter category, tweeted “Richard Sherman = typical nigger.

PROPAGANDA

On Blaming Nazi Space Aliens

The Daily Beast

Did you know North Korea has schools that rival Eton? That Nazi space aliens are running D.C.? Propaganda peddled by Russian and Iranian state media is shocking—and absurd.

In the bad old days of the Cold War, those Americans sympathetic to Moscow could purchase clumsy Kremlin propaganda at various radical bookstores, stocked with glossy magazines and turgid tracts about collective farms and Stakhanovite iron output. (A friend recently recalled buying the complete works of Stalin—in a handsome, if slightly flimsy, edition—at a Communist Party bookstore in New York’s Union Square). But the spread of capitalist technology has greatly benefited state-run propaganda, allowing them to reach the stupid and credulous with much greater efficiency, but with a predictable lack of nuance.

Massacre

No Country for Old Nazis

Jeremy Horner/LightRocket, via Getty

In 1944, the Nazis slaughtered the 642 residents of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. Now the trial of an accused perpetrator has prompted the tired and specious argument that it’s time to forget the past.

It was a conflict during which acts of barbarism were so frequent, so wanton and public, that, 70 years later, the events at Oradour-sur-Glane rarely provoke recognition. It didn’t rival Nanking, it wasn’t a charnel house like Belsen, nor was it a waypoint on a death march. But in 1944, just a handful of days after the D-Day invasion began the dismantling of Nazi Europe, this tiny hamlet in central France was the scene of an especially ghastly mass killing.

Disneyfied

Our Nostalgia Addiction

Bruce Davidson/Magnum

Forget the reduced crime of Bloomberg—de Blasio’s mayoral inauguration was suffused with a longing for uglier, more ‘authentic’ times. And this irrational forgetfulness is everywhere.

I flipped on the television on New Year’s Day, bleary-eyed and head throbbing, to discover something dreadful. New York City had become a Dickensian nightmare. Gangs of feral, ragged children tugged at the hems of billionaires, who were too distracted by their glistening new condos to pay any heed. Remember those quaint ethnic communities, once teeming with stickball games and eggplant-shaped old women wielding rolling pins? All bulldozed by developers, eager to satiate the needs of the rich and foreign.

Annus Horribilis

Worst Columns of the Year

Henrik Sorensen/Getty

Outraged scribbling on ‘Duck Dynasty,’ Miley Cyrus, and Paula Deen are all off-limits—but a misanthrope could find plenty of horror this year from Russell Brand, Salon, and The Nation.

2013 was, to lift a phrase from Queen Elizabeth, a year I shall not look back on with undiluted pleasure. It was an annus mirabilis for the hideous (Putin, Assad, Cyrus), an annus horribilis for just about everyone else. Indeed, if the year didn’t imbue you with a deep and abiding dislike of politicians, pundits, and pop stars, then you weren’t paying attention, had long ago determined that they were all loathsome anyway, or just might consider lowering your Klonopin dosage.

Is This the Face of a Reformer?

KCNA/Reuters

Snap out of it, folks—tyrants don’t change their stripes. North Korea’s murderous boy king should crush that misguided hope forever.

Here is what we know about Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s fatheaded boy tyrant: he studied in Switzerland, is a fan of the Chicago Bulls, and excels at purging disloyal apparatchiks from his politburo (a required skill for every Juche dauphin). These minor biographical details were vigorously picked over when Kim replaced his father in 2012, with those first two data points—a love of basketball and a European education—frequently offered as evidence that the most illiberal society on Earth just might turn towards a path of liberalization.

’I’m No Angel’

Nelson Mandela Doesn’t Need a Halo

Rob Croese/AP

He will be forever linked with the abolition of apartheid, but he was also a friend of Gaddafi and Castro, and we must accept his shortcomings to truly fathom his accomplishments.

We will hear much in the coming days about Nelson Mandela’s surplus of saintly qualities, of which there were indeed many. And we will be treated to the interminable and drippy encomiums of pundits and celebrities who couldn’t differentiate the ANC from the BBC, wouldn’t know Joe Slovo from Slobodan Milosevic. We can be snide about it, but they’ll all start with the correct premise: Mandela was a man of unique bravery who designed the dismantling of a political system of unique evil.

About the Author

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Michael Moynihan

Michael Moynihan is cultural news editor at The Daily Beast.

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