The Real News Network - Independent News, Blogs and Editorials

The Real News Network - Independent News, Blogs and Editorials

Facts role in the modern news business and a bad bipartisan bill

Welcome to Informed Rant, our first interview is with Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, one of over 150 groups targeted by a new and little known group called PropOrNot. Yves Smith discusses what is the responsibility of the Washington Post in publishing what amounts to rumor and smears without doing any other reporting. Then, we moved onto our second interview where we look at the 21st Century Cures Act with the Nation magazine’s Zoe Carpenter. The 21st Century Cures Act has passed the house in a rare bipartisan vote but has raised concerns among both liberal and conservative watchdogs. Strong opposition has come from the senate from both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders; yet, the White House shows its encouragement for the bill by stating, “the Senate should promptly pass this bill so that the President can sign it.” Our third interview is with independent journalist Zach D. Roberts, whom discusses the role of facts in the era of Facebook and how we maintain a vibrant press in an era of social media. Thank you for listening and please enjoy.

Photo Credit: Nicolas Nova flickr

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Politics of Refusal

By Vijay Prashad. This article was first published on Frontline.

The times demanded popular change. Donald Trump had an appeal to crucial voters in essential States who had been bludgeoned by the trade deals favoured by globalisation.

FROM NEW YORK CITY TO LOS ANGELES, protests greeted the news that Donald J. Trump had won the United States presidential election. Chanting “Not My President”, the crowds blocked highways and major streets. They came with equal measures of grief and anger—young and old people, from all kinds of backgrounds, united in a sense of disbelief. How could it be possible that Trump had won the election? All the media outlets, all the polls, all the political consultants and most of the political elites had suggested that Hillary R. Clinton’s ascension to the presidency was utterly given. The mood was dour at a gathering of political consultants in Denver, Colorado, after the election. “It was impossible to conceive of an incoming President Trump,” said Margie Omero of PSB Research. It is this impossibility that is now reality.

To be fair, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by something like a million votes out of the 120 million-odd votes cast. If the election were to be decided merely by who got the most votes, then Hillary Clinton would be the President-elect. Democracy in the U.S. is managed between the will of the majority and the interests of the States. The Electoral College system gives each State a certain number of electors, who then cast their own vote according to the voting pattern in the State. States with high populations have a greater number of electors, but these are not sufficiently proportionate to prevent the kind of problem the U.S. faced in 2000 and in 2016. In both elections, the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer—Al Gore and Hillary Clinton—won the popular vote but lost the election.

Fault lines were cultural

The election campaign—all of 598 days—opened up deep social wounds in the U.S. The fault lines were not economic per se but cultural. This is one of the great mysteries of the U.S.—how economic inequality in the country does not appear always as a class question but can just as easily be seen as a question of race. White workers who have been hit hard by the policies of globalisation are likely to frame their discontent against immigration, affirmative action and political correctness, rather than against what the Occupy movement called the “One Per cent”. Trump’s slogan—Make America Great Again—is not as innocent as it sounds. It suggests that America had been great, but does not say when: perhaps when racial apartheid was in place? It suggests that someone has made America less great: perhaps Barack Obama, America’s first black president. The slew of hate crimes in the aftermath of the election suggests that there is now an army of Trump supporters who believe that it has the licence to make America Great Again by attacking those whom it sees as the problem. “Make America White Again,” says graffiti in the University of Florida library. It is a more blatant rendering of Trump’s campaign slogan.

In 2008, President Obama inherited a country that was in the midst of at least two major wars (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and which had plummeted into a serious recession. Not long after his election, vitriolic protests took hold across the country in the name of the Tea Party. These protests rejected the results of the election, suggesting that Obama was not really an American and that he would sell the country to some combination of terrorists and socialists. Racism against the first black President certainly drove these protests but so too did a populist hatred of “Washington”—namely of the political class itself. Trump, then merely a billionaire businessman, joined this rebellion. He earned his spurs in that early opposition to Obama. When Obama moved an agenda to reform the way Americans buy health insurance, he was pilloried as a socialist. It was “Obamacare” that mortally wounded the Obama presidency. It allowed the Republican Party to win the Senate from the Democratic Party and consolidate itself as the party of refusal. It was this stance of uncompromising opposition that hardened the edge of the right-wing base.

Trump was the inheritor of that politics of refusal. None of the establishment Republicans or the anointed liberal who ran for the presidency this year found an easy way to undermine Trump. No rational argument was enough. His is a politics of emotion and trust. “Believe me,” he says of his agenda, which was not spelled out. Trump’s nastiness counted as a plan. His machismo was sufficient to prove that he would stand up to the powers that be to repeal Obamacare, tear up the Iran deal, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and ban Muslims from entry into the U.S. These are oddball proposals with no real argument about how they would tackle the real problems of tens of millions of “forgotten Americans”. No elaborate plan was necessary. Trump’s appeal lay in his persona.

It bears repeating that Trump lost the popular vote. He won no landslides in any State except the hardened Republican ones that he was fated to win. Strikingly, Trump’s open misogyny did not deter the majority of white women from voting for him rather than for the first woman running for President. Other parts of their identity drove them at the polls. Trump was able to hold the well-heeled suburban voters and the evangelical conservatives. None of them abandoned the Republican ticket despite the fact that Trump’s vulgarity and his lack of religiosity suggested that he might have alienated these sections.

Large sections of the white working class, including the miners of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, had already decamped from the Democratic Party—largely driven into the arms of the Republicans on issues of guns, God and race. Trump was guaranteed to get a large part of the votes from these Reagan Democrats. His own coalition drew from the “outspoken epicentre of the revolt against globalisation”, says Mike Davis, author of Prisoner of the American Dream. “The defection of the white working-class Obama voters to Trump,” Davis says, “was a decisive factor” in the region around Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania “which are experiencing a new wave of job flight to Mexico and the U.S. South”. Trump zeroed in on a Carrier air-conditioner factory from Indianapolis (Indiana), which is moving to Monterrey (Mexico). “All you have to do is take a look at Carrier Air Conditioner,” Trump said in the first debate with Hillary Clinton. “They fired 1,400. They’re going to Mexico. So many hundreds and hundreds of companies are doing this, and we cannot let it happen.” It was Trump’s emphasis on this “forgotten America” that earned him their loyalty.

Voters bludgeoned by globalisation

Hillary Clinton could not summon the energy to outflank Trump’s populism. Her long career in government was littered with her commitment to a kind of globalisation that had hollowed out places such as Indiana and Ohio. It was this that made her vulnerable in the Democratic primaries to the 74-year-old socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders understood that the mood in the country did not support continuity but favoured change. Sanders pointed his finger at income inequality and proposed—unlike Trump—concrete measures such as free college and higher taxation on the wealthy as the means to ease the suffering of the population. “The hunger of hope and change that Obama awakened remained,” said Nikhil Singh, author of Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy. Yet, Singh told me: “Democratic voters were told that they needed to bring back these scandal-tainted, now well-heeled plutocrats as the best leadership that the party had to offer.” The Sanders challenge, Singh said, revealed Hillary Clinton’s weakness not only with the base “but in terms of the zeitgeist”. The times wanted populist change. Trump—despite the fact that he is a billionaire with no plan—had an appeal to crucial voters in essential States who had been bludgeoned by the trade deals favoured by globalisation.

Reliable Democratic voters—African Americans and Latinos—did not come to the polls with the same enthusiasm that they had brought for Obama. Hillary Clinton’s dithering on issues of police violence and on immigration did not fire up her base. That she picked a conservative Democrat—Tim Kaine—as her running mate rather than a Latino or an African American leader or indeed a white working-class leader also made a difference. Such figures could have lifted the spirits of the black, Latino, Asian and white working class, dispirited and divided by this election. It is of course the case that this is the first election that took place after the U.S. Supreme Court diluted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Voter suppression is an art in the U.S. It was on display this year. But voter suppression does not explain why fewer people turned out to vote for Hillary Clinton than had voted for Obama or why Trump was able to make gains among African Americans and Latinos despite his openly racist associations and statements. That African American and Latino workers are also hurt by globalisation should be under consideration. As some black voters said to me over the course of the campaign, they would rather not vote than vote for either Trump, whom they considered a racist, or Hillary Clinton, whom they considered part of the establishment that has made them more vulnerable.

A fifth of Trump’s voters—namely 12 million people—said that they had an unfavourable opinion of him. Their vote for him was as much a vote against Hillary Clinton.

What will Trump now do?

Trump’s closest adviser is the white supremacist Stephen Bannon. His influence on Trump should not be underestimated. They promise to conduct “the type of continuous low-intensity race and gender war that became the style of his campaign”, Singh tells me. Raids on undocumented immigrants will come alongside attacks on dissenters with the police given licence to go into urban areas to conduct full-scale warfare against the population. If Trump decides to moderate his own views as far as state institutions are concerned—which is unlikely—his supporters will still believe that they have the licence to act with impunity. The Southern Poverty Law Centre said that in the first week after the election they counted 437 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation. Many of these took place in schools, where children are coming in and telling other children that they will be deported. It is this kind of violence that provoked the high school walkouts against the Trump presidency.

Since the Great Recession of 2007, the U.S. has added 11 million new jobs. Of these, 8.4 million went to people with college degrees, 3.1 million went to those with associate degrees, and only 80,000 went to those with only a high school degree. Trump has promised those who have no college degree a better life. The trajectory of growth in the U.S. suggests that in the absence of a radical transformation there will be few jobs for them. No such radical move is visible from Trump. His promise to repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement and levy a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports will spark trade wars and isolate the U.S. It will not easily bring manufacturing jobs into the U.S. Sparks will fly, but smokestacks will remain unlit. Which is why it is likely that Trump will fail his constituency, who will then turn, angrily, against those who they see as the problem, namely racial and sexual minorities. This is the danger that Trump’s incoherent populism promises.

Even Trump’s isolationism is incoherent. He campaigned against wars of aggression and pilloried Hillary Clinton for her record on Iraq and Libya. Threats to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation came alongside warm words for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. At the same time, Trump promised to allow Israel to fully annex the Occupied Palestinian Territory and said that he would tear up the Western deal with Iran. On the one side, promises of pullback and on the other side, promises of more U.S. force.

Trump is not allergic to U.S. military adventures. What he suggested in his comments is that he does not like them to be half-hearted. He would commit more troops, sell more weapons to U.S. allies and push for a renewed American preponderance in the world. It is an illusion to see Trump as somehow less belligerent than Hillary Clinton. How the U.S. will be able to concentrate on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in which Iran is a necessary ally, while it tears up the Iran deal is hard to fathom.

After Trump’s election, Mike Davis, an editor at New Left Review, reflected on the violence of Trump’s populism. “On the night before the 1972 election,” he said, “a girlfriend and I managed to sneak into the final Nixon rally, a Nuremberg-like affair at the Ontario [California] airport. We chanted ‘Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh’ a couple of times as the Reagans and Nixons walked down the red carpet. Of course we were immediately pummelled and tossed on our duffs. What has haunted me since, however, was not the reactionary anger and hatred—which we had all experienced so many times before—but rather the repulsive ecstasy of the mob before their deities. It reminded me of a description I had once read of the sentimental fellow feeling induced amongst cannibals as they feasted together on their enemies: that is to say, us.”.

Eve Ensler, the playwright who wrote The Vagina Monologues and the founder of StopHateDumpTrump, told me that “we are in the fight for our lives”. She listed a great many arenas where Trump will move a dangerous agenda. But then, she said: “I am also strangely hopeful that we will see a uniting of the progressive Left, coming out of our silos in unity. We will perhaps marshal our forces with new strategies and tactics, and hopefully see the emergence of either a reconstituted Democratic Party or a new party altogether.”

The progressive Congressman Keith Ellison is the favoured candidate to take over the Democratic Party. His ascension, with backing from Bernie Sanders, will certainly provide an opportunity. “The demonstrations and protests,” continued Eve Ensler, “have been very powerful. It is the first time I can remember that we are all there together marching with our various issues, but marching as one.”

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The Dark Side Of Jewish Consciousness: Manufactured Anti-Semitism

By Lillian Rosengarten.

I dedicate this essay to Hajo Meyer (1924-2014)  anti-Zionist , political activist, Auschwitz  survivor and hero in the struggle for Palestinian freedom.  His words continue to inform me and his actions comfort  my sorrow.

“An anti-Semite used to be a person who disliked Jews. I am not anti-Jew. I am anti-Zionist”

“Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism. “

Zionism has always equated any criticism with anti-Semitism, delegitimization or worse.  It serves as propaganda to maintain the illusion of Jews as “victims.”  Ultra Nationalists who believe in their moral superiority create political terror in order to silence and deny.

Who could imagine in 1945 following the defeat of Nazi Germany, there would be within a few short years a bizarre escalation, a toxic spread of anti-Semitism inflamed in part by a country with two faces. One face claims to be “the only Democracy in the Middle East” while the other face engages in an agenda embracing a genocidal occupation that spans across three generations of Palestinian children born in captivity. This is the face of Zionism with its dream of a Jewish State for Jews only, “Palestinians not allowed.” There is an alter ego where truth breaks through all forms of denial. A painful  truth that many are still unable to accept as a viable reality.  It is the agenda of Israeli Zionism that inflicts the horrors of disenfranchisement and genocide onto an entire population of Palestinians, unwanted, hated and considered “inferior.” It is impossible for this German Jew to avoid a comparison between Israeli Zionist’s unwillingness to embrace the humanity of  Palestinians as human beings like themselves with aspects of the Nazi quest for a racially pure Germany.

Who would have imagined following the end of World War 2,  how  once again emotional manipulation akin to  domestic terrorism, could successfully create  a new culture of fear and hysteria  strategically targeting  Jews ? What is tapped is deeply imbedded hysteria that lives dormant within  Jewish consciousness. It is here where fears of annihilation and victimization wait once again to be ignited.  Zionist intention is to gather Jews from around the world to support and live in the “ Jewish State “ using this powerful message of indoctrination. We have heard it spoken:  a  Jewish state is the  only place on earth where Jews can be safe  and no longer  victims.

I cannot be this Jew. As a refugee I identify with the homeless  displaced Palestinians, refugees forced to flee from their land and homes to be occupied,  destroyed  and surrounded by prisons, walls, checkpoints armed soldiers and illegal settlements.  Because Zionism in 1948 was founded on a racist ideology of the superiority of “chosen people, ” I must raise some obvious questions

Do Jews who have themselves been victimized, have the moral  right  to occupy and disenfranchise another people? Why have they learned nothing?  More pressing for the moment, how could it happen that anti-Semitism is used to defend the Zionist agenda? There exists deep psychological implications  to be explored, studied, written about and discussed openly in order to bring light to an unbearable moral abyss.

We who are Anti- Zionist and not anti-Jewish ( and/or) Jewish ourselves must resist  dangerous attempts to discredit opposition by promoting a “false”  anti-Semitism while attempting to blur the reality of  unending racist violence  against Palestine and Palestinians. This form of domestic terrorism uses not only Holocaust guilt but lies in order to justify  and /or  maintain an illegal, brutal occupation. I believe to argue whether anti-Semitism exists or does not exists is a spurious  issue lest we fall into a trap  and lose our focus. The rise of anti-Semitism is real. There is a part that disturbs me deeply, that is its use to obscure the truth about a violent unhinged regime  that has created the Palestinian Nakba. That is not to pretend there is no true anti-Semitism. It is spreading along with Islamophobia.  Perhaps Zionism itself is anti- Semitic for it discrimates against Semites and includes Jews themselves. Zionism is not a religion but a political movement.  Working for justice and the end of the occupation is not anti-Semitic.

I want to discuss an incident that recently occurred at Bard College, in order to exemplify my previous discussion. I have written a response to an   article in Mondoweiss, “ Israel supporter refuses to share Bard stage with Dima Khalidi and sites stereotypes about Jews smelling bad”  by Phil Weiss on Oct 24, 2016 . . .

Hannah Arendt, for whom the Bard Center for Intellectual Inquiry is named, stated that free speech is at the heart of political discourse. She added that only in the freedom of our speaking on the topic for discussion, does the world emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides.

Was the organizer of “Real Talk,” Roger Berkowitz  not aware  he was suppressing free speech  and an intellectual exchange when he failed to stand up  against the  outlandish demand  by Kenneth Marcus to not appear together with  Dima Khalidi?  Why? Someone who supports BDS must be an anti-Semite?  Markus has shown us once again the face of hatred recycled over and over again by propaganda and the racist agenda of Zionism.

What would it have taken for Prof Berkowitz to break the silence, to say “no, this is not acceptable?”  What stopped him, fear?  The response of wealthy Jewish donors?  I am offended at the disgraceful behavior of Kenneth Marcus. This is the antithesis of everything Arendt believed in.

It is ironic and bizarre that Marcus founded the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law several years ago to combat anti-Semitism. He states he is an advocate for free speech. Disingenuous  and dangerous   are his  assertions  that  undermine  the powerful non violent BDS movement with cries of anti-Semitism to squelch and destroy.  Meant to inflame he compares  BDS  to the(“pre extermination” Marcus’ words) Nazi boycotts of Jewish stores in the 1930’s a truly ludicrous comparison used to inflame fear.  Kenneth Marcus shows the true face and ugliness of Zionism and in this case, his utter contempt and distortion of  Dima Khalidi,  a Palestinian woman, lawyer and activist for Palestinian human rights. Marcus succeeded to stop all discussion as cries of anti- Semitism were once more recklessly thrown about.

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What About the Black Working Class?

By Tanzina Vega. This article was first published on Portside.

Amid all of the talk about economic populism this election cycle, one group has been largely left out: working class Americans of color.

The focus has been on the white working class, with the narrative of a forgotten America where rural whites once held steady factory jobs with decent wages. The economic anxiety facing black and brown workers, while arguably more profound, has been largely left out of the conversation.

In fact, in a CNN/Kaiser poll taken before the election, 63% of white working class respondents said they were satisfied with their personal financial situation compared to just 40% of black working class respondents. Both groups were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the country's economic situation.

The disparities make sense considering the vast racial wealth gap in the U.S. White families, on average, tend to have 13 times more wealth than black and Latino families, according to the Pew Research Center.

Blacks and Latinos also tend to be paid less than whites and they are also more likely to have higher rates of unemployment than whites do. They are also more likely to live below the poverty line than whites.

One study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that black employees with more experience and education were still paid less than their white counterparts. Another study by the Corporation for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies said if current trends persist, it would take 228 years for black families and 84 years for Latino families to accumulate the same amount of wealth as whites.

Yet, the focus remains on the problems of white working class Americans.

"In general there is a tendency to not talk about blacks as workers. This hurts the whole dialogue," said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and an economics professor at Howard University. Instead, black and brown workers are considered "underclass" as opposed to working class and "lazy" instead of hardworking, said Spriggs. And yet, they too have worn overalls and lost factory jobs.

"The notion of the white working class implicitly embodies a view of white privilege," said Spriggs, "It implies that things are supposed to be different for them, that they aren't the same, that they aren't going to face the same pressures."

There is no official definition of the working class. Some define it by education level or job sector, others by income. John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution calls these voters "economically marginalized" because they often fall somewhere between the poor and the middle class.

"The realities of race in our society and in our economy benefit white Americans over communities of color," Hudak said.

President-elect Donald Trump promised to address some of the economic issues facing black voters with his New Deal for Black America, which he released in October. The ten-point plan includes a series of economic proposals that some experts say fall short of their intended goal.

In it, Trump calls for tax reforms including lowering the business tax from 35% to 15% and imposing a "massive" middle class tax cut and child care tax deductions.

Assuming tax cuts will help communities of color is "foolish," said Hudak. "We didn't see massive employment creation in the 2000s following those tax cuts," Hudak said. "What we did see is massive wealth accumulation of the top earning of Americans, but we didn't see a trickle down effect."

Reverend Starsky Wilson, the president and chief executive of the Deaconess Foundation, a non-profit serving the children of St. Louis and a member of the Ferguson Commission, said a better way to spur economic growth would be through raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. "Those aren't asset building strategies, those aren't income building strategies," Starsky said of the Trump's tax plan.

According to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor statistics, 3% of white, Asian and Latino workers earned the federal minimum wage or less, compared to 4% of black workers.

Trump also called for a "tax holiday for inner city investment," which Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and an organizer for the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter chapter, called "code for gentrification." She said such tax holidays allow investors to build amenities that typically attract mostly wealthier, white residents, thereby pushing poorer, working class people of color further away from city centers.

In his plan, Trump also calls for financial reforms to expand credit and support new job creation, including making it easier for African-Americans to get credit to start businesses.

"Credit is debt," said Starsky. "The community is talking about building assets, you're talking about building more debt. Who benefits when you offer more credit? The banks. We've seen that story before," said Starsky, referring to the housing boom when blacks and Latinos were the prime targets of subprime loans.

Trump also called for new investments in infrastructure as a way to create jobs, something that Democrats have had on their agenda.

Hudak said Trump's proposal was "a very good idea that would have meaningful effects in both white and non-white communities," but he was concerned about the emphasis on public and private partnerships to achieve that goal. "Roads are not private, ports are not private," Hudak said. "I don't know if the President-elect would use tax incentives in order for private companies to take over public infrastructure."

Abdullah was also concerned about this point. "Any time we see the term public-private partnership we should wake up. It means diverting public dollars to private corporations," she said.

Trump also proposed canceling "all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations," and using the estimated savings of $100 billion over 8 years to fund urban infrastructure.

"If you were interested in the water systems of the inner city you wouldn't be talking about dismantling the EPA," said Starsky of the Ferguson Commission. "The rebuilding of infrastructure is the responsibility of government."

Representatives for Trump did not return requests seeking comment.

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Fidel Castro’s Wild New York Visit

By Evan Andrews. This article was first published on
Fidel Castro, United Nations
Credit: Jochen Blume/ullstein bild via Getty Images

One of the stranger state visits in U.S. history began on September 18, 1960, when Cuban leader Fidel Castro touched down in New York City to address the United Nations. Castro’s revolutionary government was already at odds with the Eisenhower administration, and he only added to the tensions after he stormed out of his swanky Midtown hotel, relocated to Harlem and held court with the likes of Malcolm X and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The headline-grabbing visit later culminated with a marathon speech at the U.N., where Castro launched a scathing attack against American foreign policy. Take a look back at the trip that signaled the onset of decades of friction between the United States and Cuba.

Fidel Castro had previously visited New York in April 1959, just four months after he led his victorious guerilla army into Havana and took charge of Cuba. The trip was part of Castro’s victory lap after toppling the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and he’d made the most of it by hiring a top public relations firm and touring the city with all the swagger of a rock star. News cameras had stalked the young revolutionary as he held babies, ate hotdogs and tossed peanuts to elephants at the Bronx Zoo. At one photo-op, he was pictured next to a group of American schoolchildren wearing fake Castro-style beards. There had been a few whispers about his suspected political leanings—he still hadn’t declared himself a communist—but many reporters were taken in by his fiery speeches and rugged military uniforms.

fidel castro
Castro with school kids in fake beards in 1959. (Credit: Getty Images)

The mood was not so lighthearted when Fidel returned to New York in 1960 for the United Nations General Assembly. By then, Castro had nationalized U.S. business interests in Cuba, banned land ownership by foreigners and cozied up to the Soviet Union. Fearing Cuba was creeping toward communism, the United States had issued blanket sanctions including cutting sugar imports and restricting petroleum sales. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had even approved a secret plan to overthrow Castro’s regime.

The tensions appeared to weigh on Castro as he stepped onto the tarmac at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) on September 18. He was clad in the same olive fatigues he’d worn during his cheery 1959 trip, but this time he hardly cracked a smile as he greeted journalists and took in the sea of gathered supporters. The cigar-chomping leader seemed particularly annoyed by the large American security detail assigned to him. Unlike his previous visit, when he’d had free reign to wander, a suspicious U.S. State Department had now restricted his travel to the island of Manhattan.

After saying he would save any remarks for the U.N. meeting, Castro headed for the plush Shelburne Hotel in Midtown and disappeared into his rooms. The controversy began just a few hours later, when he stormed into the hotel’s lobby and announced that he was leaving because of unfair treatment. According to Castro, the Shelburne’s management had asked for an “unacceptable” cash advance of $10,000—allegedly to cover any damage his Cuban delegation might cause to their rooms. Convinced he was being harassed on the orders of the U.S. government, Castro immediately drove to the United Nations to complain. He even threatened to pitch camp in Central Park if need be. “We are mountain people,” he told reporters. “We are used to sleeping in the open air.”

fidel castro
Crowds outside the Hotel Theresa. (Credit: Getty Images)

Ignoring an offer of free lodgings at the nearby Commodore, Castro and his delegation eventually cruised to Harlem and checked into the Hotel Theresa, a decaying inn that doubled as a meeting place for New York’s African American politicians. Critics labeled the switch a publicity stunt, but Castro claimed to feel more at home among Harlem’s majority black population. He spent his first night giving exclusive interviews to African American newspapers and welcoming activist Malcolm X into his suite. A more controversial caller appeared the following morning, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev strode up to the Theresa for his first ever face-to-face meeting with Castro. Afterwards, Khrushchev assured associates that the Cuban would turn communist, but added that he was “like a young horse that hasn’t been broken. He needs some training.”

A Cuban flag was soon hoisted above the Theresa, and the streets outside filled with thousands of curiosity seekers and journalists. Pro- and anti-Castro protestors came in droves, occasionally tossing eggs at one another or duking it out with fists and baseball bats. Tabloid papers also began printing wild—and most likely fictional—stories about the Cuban delegation’s rowdy behavior. There were rumors of prostitutes plying their trade in the Theresa, and a myth was born that Castro had been kicked out of the Shelburne for keeping live chickens in his hotel room.

Outside of occasional forays to the floor of the U.N., Castro spent the next few days laying low in the Theresa and rubbing elbows with the likes of poet Langston Hughes and Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (who supposedly asked about the Cuban Revolution’s stance on marijuana). When President Eisenhower excluded him from a September 22 luncheon for Latin American leaders, Castro held his own banquet in the Theresa’s ballroom and invited “the poor and humble people of Harlem” to join him.

fidel casto, nikita khrushchev, united nations
Castro and Khrushchev share a hug at the U.N (Credit: Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The Cuban premier’s antics struck a chord with many Harlem locals, but some black commenters considered them nothing more than propaganda. “The Negro (U.S.) gets a kick, a big bang out of any embarrassment his Government suffers because of the race problem,” read an editorial in the New York Amsterdam News, a prominent African American paper. “But Castro’s stomping at the Theresa is not the answer to his problem.” The Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Greater New York, meanwhile, issued a letter denouncing “any attempts by Fidel Castro to make the Harlem community a battleground for his ideologies.”

Castro would find a better ideological battleground at the United Nations General Assembly, where he finally spoke on September 26. After assuring the gathered world leaders that he would “endeavor to be brief,” the 34-year-old launched into a searing monologue that clocked in at 4-and-a-half hours—a U.N. record that still stands today. The speech included a stern condemnation of the United States’ foreign policy toward Cuba and other small nations in Latin America and Africa. Castro then went on to accuse American leaders of plotting his government’s destruction and supporting “imperialist” and “monopolist” forces around the world. To the sound of applause from Khrushchev, he also praised the Soviet Union and warned that Cuba would not stand alone if provoked.

Castro during his marathon U.N. speech.
Castro during his marathon U.N. speech.

Two days after throwing down the gauntlet at the U.N., Castro checked out of the Theresa and prepared to return to Havana. A final bit of drama unfolded at Idlewild Airport, where his delegation learned that their planes had been seized over non-payment of debts to American creditors. Castro was furious, but he found an alternative ride home from Khrushchev, who was all too happy to lend the Cubans a luxury Soviet airliner. “The Soviets are our friends,” Castro told reporters in broken English. “Here you took our planes—the authorities rob our planes. Soviet gave us plane.” At that, he disappeared inside the hammer-and-sickle stamped aircraft and took off.

Castro wouldn’t officially declare himself a “Marxist-Leninist” until a year later, but Cuban-American relations continued to deteriorate in the wake of his riotous New York trip. The United States instituted a partial trade embargo on Cuba in October 1960, and later severed diplomatic relations entirely in January 1961. The years that followed brought a seemingly endless series of controversies and Cold War close calls including the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even stranger was Operation Mongoose, a covert CIA program aimed at assassinating Castro and undermining his Soviet-aligned government. But despite repeated attempts to remove him, Castro remained Cuba’s leader until 2008, when he voluntarily stepped down at the age of 81. He also made several more trips to the United Nations in New York—including two more stopovers in Harlem in 1995 and 2000.

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