The Last of the Red Hot Leaders

February 23, 2008

Finally…the embargo worked!

After 49 years of rule (could it have killed him—literally—to hang on for another year for obsessive-compulsive perfectionists like myself?), Fidel Castro, last of the revolutionaries, vanguard of the coming Communist onslaught, standard-bearer for the socialist dream and the editorial board of the New York Times, is stepping down from power. The large intestine managed to do what Dwight Eisenhower, Allen Dulles, Jack Kennedy, Salvatore Giancana, Pope John XXIII, Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Hurricane Michelle, and four decades of tobacco and rum couldn’t.

Of course, one is reminded of the great philosopher Pete Townshend, who said, “Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.” Then played the synthesizer for about forty-five minutes. The new leader of Cuba is going to be Raul Castro, the current president’s brother. Analysts say they don’t expect there to be a significant change in Cuba’s governmental policy, which pretty much boils down to 1) Go to the sugar fields and help support the socialist state! 2) Boy, this rum is tasty. 3) Ha ha ha.

Granted, there’s a little bit more to it than that, mostly involving throwing olive branches at the Catholic church and expanding free speech by waiting a week before executing political journalists. But the change in power offers a small glimmer of hope to the Cubans, a sliver of light in the darkness interrupted only occasionally by papal visits and below-average health care.

Castro’s retirement—or, sorry, “retirement”—wasn’t exactly unexpected to anyone outside of Langley. He was ill for most of last year, and there was a period of time in which no one was certain whether Castro was still alive or if, in the name of the glorious socialist revolution, they had pumped him full of brine and formaldehyde and was propping him up with some plywood and running him around like Weekend At Bernie’s until his affairs—by which we mean the $900 million he has stashed in Swiss bank accounts and land holdings in Venezuela—could be properly sorted out. But after a few brief medical scares he started to make more public appearances, looking reasonably healthy for a man who spent most of his life dodging both attempts on his life and any acknowledgement that the laws of economics actually exist.

And, of course, Castro has been tutoring a tinpot-dictator-in-waiting Hugo Chavez. Once can only imagine how that particular prep meeting went:

Castro: OK, comrade, we’ve got to get you set up to be the new communist standard-bearer for the world.
Chavez. I’m ready. Hit me with it.
Castro: First off, you gotta be born looking like your mother hit you in the face with a frying pan just for being born.
Chavez: Check.
Castro: It makes you humble, like Lenin said.
Chavez: I’m pretty sure Lenin didn’t say that.
Castro: I forgot rule number two. Agree with what I say or I will shoot your mother in the head with a Russian-built Kalishnikov while I burn the remains of your grandfather over a spit.
Chavez: Got it. Be humble.
Castro: Rule three: Everything is America’s fault, up to and including the metric system and how shitty papayas actually taste despite what we’ve been telling people for a couple hundred years.
Chavez: Down with the USA!
Castro: Good lad. You’ll make it far.

It seems like I write about Castro a lot, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s mostly because I love making fun of communists, and there’s a fair few of them left to target beyond Chavew, Kim Jong Il, and the editorial board of the New York Times. Perhaps I’m also amused by the thought of a dictator managing to outsmart one of the most technologically advanced nations on the Earth. We pretty much devoted the entire Central Intelligence Agency for decades in trying to oust the guy (with occasional asides to expand the merger prospects of United Fruit) and the best they could do was increase the demand for croquetas in Dade County.

Alas, with positive change risks the chance of negative change. While political and economic freedom may be creeping in to Havana, it’s just as likely a grade-A class one four-star crackdown will be on the agenda. When you’re the lone holdout in a hemisphere, your options become largely limited to the logistics of getting dried pork rations evenly distributed amongst the conscripts in time for the soccer match.

Of course, anyone who thinks that Castro is going away is a fool. He’s still going to be around, growing new thorns with which to stick into the side of America. And on his deathbed—which, extrapolating all the information we have gathered so far, will be approximately 2068—we can safely assume that he will be damning the Americans as much as praising the valor and honor of the socialist revolution, right before he launches a tactical nuke at Sweetwater. Che would have been so proud.

Thoughtless Ideologues Of The World, Unite!

October 21, 2007

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Che Guevera’s death, where he met an untimely demise in the heat of battle, heroically defending the inside wall of the abandoned schoolhouse his arms and legs were chained to. Of course, this is only the official story of what happened to Guevera. In reality, and depending on your inclinations, he either died carrying helpless children and bread vouchers from the clutches of merciless capitalism, or lives on today housed in the basement of the DNC offices issuing decrees of faith and inspiration.

Che Guevera is the poster boy—rather literally, given the bottom line of many a leftist college bookstore—for young revolutionary gone good. With a bright future and a remarkable display of intelligence in his youth, he witnessed the widespread poverty in throughout his home region and resolved to do something about it. Betraying this intelligence, however, was the fact that he thought the best way to do this was through armed communist rebellion, a method that has been proven to work so well then and since.

While Che was a gifted leader, his actions seemed somewhat out of character given his posthumous accolades. He was initially trained in medicine, but expedited his education so he could get a move on overturning despotic regimes, a somewhat curious career path for a medic—most doctors go from being a doctor to heal people and making no money to doctor in California inserting bags of wonderfulness into certain parts of women and making boatloads of cash, quite different than going from GP to revolutionary foot soldier.

While he helped organize some of the most successful socialist revolutions in modern history, he also spent a lot of his time being not much more than a desk jockey itching to go fight, spending his time in Cuba as the Minister of Industry, carting around blueprints and creating elaborately unsuccessful plans for the industrialization of the nation instead of out sabotaging weapons shipments or executing enemies of the state. His time as the head of the National Bank of Cuba and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform also diluted his revolutionary zeal with the slightest stigma of a bureaucrat. One becomes a cultural icon of the constant revolution by leading armed insurrection against fascists, not by being co-chairman of the Fourth Annual Comintern South American Industrial Trades Expo and Socialist Revolution in Buenos Aires.

Armchair psychologists—the best kind, I might add—could have a field day. Naïve left-coast students are lovingly enthralled with his seeming indifference to rewards and glory, the only possible explanation to the fact that he was never installed as the chief executive of any nations he helped change governments in, with the possible exception of not wanting to be shot in the head by a CIA agent within moments of inauguration. On the other hand, he was an incredibly aggressive individual. Not in the let’s-go-get-’em can-do attitude inherent in many military-minded individuals, but the for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy-don’t-let-him-near-the-cat way. Of course, some of this transcended his decision-making process, and many failures were pinned on his inability to compromise when needed, such as sacrificing a position to reach a cease-fire or actually taking a bath. (No, really. The left’s most iconic hero hated bathing. It’s hardly a penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation or water sports, but it’s still kinda creepy.)

Sometimes his revolutionary fervor hindered his abilities. He suffered a bullet wound to the face during the ill-fated (for us, of course) Bay of Pigs invasion; alas, the wound appeared to be self-inflicted. A rather large portion of his rebellion attempts failed miserably, and his hubris led him to assume support where there was none, and contribute his failings to the United States, capitalism, or (one assumes) the Freemasons and international bankers (wink, wink).

Part of the Che mystique is, of course, inherent in the subterfuge necessary for a revolutionary. Much of his life he was simply missing from the public eye, supposedly in secret locations prepping local citizens in the art of sticking it to the man. People and governments would gently prod Fidel Castro for his whereabouts, and El Presidente would, as is his wont, reply with a gentle reminder that it would be in the best interests of the Communist Revolutionary Movements of the world that they display their solidarity by shoving it up their ass and spinning.

Of course, propping up the memory of a slain comrade is a tried and true tactic, one not lost on such progressive political luminaries as Castro, Hugo Chavez, and (so help us all) Jean-Paul Sartre. By remembering the capitalists he fought, and conveniently whitewashing the thousands of real and imagined traitors of the state executed Stalin-style during the regimes Che supported, it’s easy to latch onto a figure that has been sanitized into a cartoon black-on-red version of themselves.

One has to stop and wonder about it all, of course. The cult of Che hasn’t progressed because he helped further the cause of communism throughout Latin America; his value lives on because he died, a martyr to the cause of unsuccessful five-year-plans and state-run health care. But his image is mostly known because merchants have produced his likeness on silkscreened T-shirts and Rage Against the Machine lyrics, the success of which is a testament to the effectiveness of the free market system. Viva, as they say, la revolution.

Family Jewels of Denial

July 9, 2007

The Central Intelligence Agency, in its bicentennial house-cleaning, recently released over 700 pages of formerly classified documents, heavily edited for the ubiquitous “national security.” (Please note that we are using the layman’s definition of “house-cleaning” in this sense…the CIA’s definition is decidedly more aggressive.)

When the CIA released the information, it brought to light much of the information about the agency’s activities in the past few decades. And by “brought to light” I mean “stuff that every single person on the face of the earth already knew.”

These are charmingly called the “family jewels,” a phrase no doubt coined by several agents over a good hearty laugh over the water cooler between funneling cocaine to Contras and deciding which Hungarian defector will have his testicles Zippoed first.

I’ve always been intrigued by the CIA. Not sure why. I don’t believe it’s the artificial romance that is falsely portrayed in the media. There isn’t any cool-looking gadgets that slice off limbs or Russian femme fatales who defect at simply the prospect of a guy finishing the job without vomiting potatoes and vodka on themselves. I think it’s the significance of doing something as your everyday job that you wouldn’t be allowed to do in real life. We all know full well that when I’m at work, I argue all day with the dim-witted redhead in activations about who gets to use the fax machine first, and they’re sitting around a table in Langley discussing the assassination of Salvodore Allende over a box of Kripsy Kremes. I bet they get full dental, too.

The CIA’s obsession with Fidel Castro seems strikingly off. I mean, sure, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs and the commies trying to take over everything including most breakfast cereals, but it seems like had they taken the amount of effort used to kill Castro into, say, overthrowing every other nation on the earth, including the Soviet Union itself, they still would have had enough time and resources to produce all three Mission: Impossible movies within budget and without having to resort to casting Tom Cruise.

It’s actually a kind of disturbing topic, but the imaginative ways that the CIA tried to assassinate Castro are almost magnificently comic. Here’s a list of the various methods in which the spooks tried to bring down the Cuban dictator:

An exploding conch shell, strategically placed in Castro’s favorite scuba diving spot. Had it worked, we not only would have rid the world of Castro but also had the world’s first spy mission inspired from a late-show Muppets throwaway skit.

A poison cigar. And not poison as in a liquid that kills you, but poison as in LSD. That’s right, they wanted Castro to trip on live national television and make him a laughingstock of the third world. Or, at the very least, only slightly less alarming than a televised interview Farrah Fawcett.

A beard-falling-out chemical. Don’t know what it is or what it’s called, but it apparently causes your hair to fall out when placed in your…boots. I guess. Rather than assassinating him, this tactic cooked up by the agency would embarrass him right before he went to speak at the UN. I can’t imagine how this would have worked. For one thing, I can’t think of anything more awkward than addressing the UN in the first place, except possibly addressing the UN while representing Israel.

Toxins. The closest the agency got to offing the Cuban leader was when they had a poison capsule full of botulinum toxins in a chocolate milkshake. In one of the tragic consequences of history, the capsule froze against the freezer it was in, and ripped open when the waiter/gambling addict who sold his soul to Allen Dulles went to drop it in. Had he succeeded, Castro would have died drinking a milkshake, a humiliating end to a glorious fighter for the communist cause. Still, it was safer and less humiliating than eating a Grand Slam at Denny’s.

The approximately eighty thousand attempts at offing Castro aren’t the only illegal items revealed in the documents. But most of these activities are almost quaint with a touch of modern-day reflection. Some of the apparently more egregious crimes include the following:

Surveillance of Brit Hume. That’s hardly a crime, I think; about two million people engage in surveillance of him every night, though admittedly I suspect most of that is, indeed, forced. The crime here, though, is—Brit Hume??! I mean, c’mon. Was Bill O’Reilly not antiestablishment enough for Nixon?

The opening of mail intended for delivery in the Soviet Union. This is a crime? Apparently the Soviet Union has never been married.

Funding “behavior modification” techniques on unsuspecting civilians. I know the quote marks are supposed to lead us to believe they’re talking about LSD, but I’m convinced they really mean the obvious government support of Martin and Rowan’s Laugh-In, which I wholly refuse to believe stayed on the air due to the market demand of Americans. If it truly was, well, then, I think Castro might have been on to something.

Red Zeppelin

April 24, 2007

Some days, I swear, there is some vastly undiscovered rule of journalism that requires news reporters to occasionally create stories and headlines composed of randomly selected words, and there is a jovial competition as to which correspondent can build the most absurd story out of these various selected parts. Perhaps there is some prize journalists vie for, like a Pulitzer or having a pay scale above minimum wage. I can bet there’s a boiler room in the basement of the Associated Press building New Utopia, Holidayland, where a young doe-eyed stringer right now is pulling Scrabble tiles out of a velour sack and giggling over that universally euphoric joy of making shit up. I’m pretty much certain this is how we got “Jimmy Carter Get Attacked By Swimming Rabbit,” “Bill Clinton Tells Journalists He Had Astroturf in the Back Seat of His Car,” and “Evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction Found In Iraq.”

This concept seems to have recently been exorcized back to life recently, as I foolishly decided to scan the recent headlines to see what was going on in this world the other day. To my equal parts astonishment and dismay, the headline that caught my attention was “Venezuela Launches Zeppelin To Combat Rampant Crime.”

Now, there are several things inherently wrong with that headline.

Firstly, it’s about Venezuela. Venezuela is one of the more…well, shall we say, deceptively progressive communities in the Western hemisphere. Its leader, Hugo Chavez, was elected to its presidency twice now, in accordance with the fact that during these races the laws governing the definition of “election” were somewhat more relaxed than what occurs on a yearly basis down at the local AFL-CIO chapter. Presumably this is a mandate so engineered that all future elections will be foregone conclusions, assuming that the method of vote is not cast in the form of bullets purchased in bulk by the CIA or the United Fruit Company. Venezuela has managed to be a reasonably prosperous standout in a South America community beset with cyclical poverty, mostly due to its rather stable oil production. This revenue permits a rather large amount of latitude for Chavez to experiment with far-reaching communistic programs—or, more accurately, programmes—without worrying too much about the consequences. Oh, if only Havana had an operational offshore drilling rig.

As is the rather usual trajectory, however, Chavez has taken his populist mandate and slowly been carving it into a Latin American-style dictatorship, with draconian decrees and Martha-Stewart-style force of will. Part of this can be justified in the failed coup against him that occurred in 2002, but not by much. He’s also specialized in becoming kind of a third-world spokesman for anti-Americanism, an issue that has been a persistent thorn in the side of Fidel Castro, whose own legacy has pretty much been left as being a pain in the ass to the United States and perhaps the accelerated integration of major league baseball.

Chavez’s economic management has met with some resistance, however, as his largely anti-corporate stances have scared off many efficient companies and driving the economy to more resource-gathering activities, such as coffee and more Venezuelans. Thank goodness, though, that their major commodity is the largely constant cash cow of oil, assuming out any commodities that aren’t inserted into your body either nasally or intravenously.

The second question mark, and the more important one, in that whole headline is the zeppelin. I mean, a what? A zeppelin? You’re talking about the big, lumbering things that are pretty much known for nothing constructive unless it involves selling tires, hippies with mud shark fetishes, or catching on fire? Apparently, the idea is that the zeppelin will be able to more effectively patrol the streets by getting a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade view of Caracas. Its main point is to combat the major points of crime in the city, mostly looking out for rogue individuals handing out copies of The Road to Serfdom and selling Valvoline out of the trunk of their cars, or at least theoretically, if they could afford cars.

Then again, how is having a big, awkward rigid airship whose usefulness ended with the advent of fire any different than security cameras or computer chips implanted directly into your spinal cord? (Oh, like you don’t know already.) At least with a freaking blimp hovering overhead, you know that Big Brother is watching you. Who knows what the NSA is watching you do in the privacy of your own bedroom? You sick jerk. (They also keep track of what you buy at the drug store and your web site visits by volume, so don’t pretend to look so innocent.)

Still, the rather ludicrous notion that a zeppelin is an effective crime-fighting method will either be hailed as a creative way to solve the eternal problem of lawlessness, or decried as the expensive and desperate gasp of a tinpot dictator. Given the tested attributes of tinpot dictators in that region, though, we’ll have a good 40 years to find out.