One of the most liberal newspapers in America recently mocked "celebrities making asses of themselves...hanging out with the world's most notorious dictators and other authoritarian figures."

One such a-a-actor, Sean Penn, who has actually written for the paper in question, struck back Monday by calling the outlet "lame-brain," "desperate," and having "become Mad Magazine for small-minded cowards and former writers of substance."

Marvelously, both Penn and the paper were right!

With that as pretext, our sordid tale began Thursday when that bastion of socialism on the West Coast, the San Francisco Chronicle, curiously published an article harshly critical of folks like Penn who suck up to despots the paper typically reveres (emphasis added):

CBS photo of Fidel CastroDictator-groupies Sean Penn, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover are at it again. They are among the “artists, scholars and performers” calling themselves “representatives of the cultural sphere in the US,” who sent a letter to President Bush asking him to “end the travel ban,” allowing a cultural exchange between nations.

Most troubling is the group did not address Cuba's lack of freedom and limited their travel demands to Cuba's “artists and scholars.” That wasn't a mistake. As faithful fans of the Cubano Dear Leader, they don't care about all Cubans' ability to travel, just those carefully-selected Party-approved “artists and scholars." Under heavy guard, of course, to avoid more embarrassing defections.

The December 1 Post-Chronicle, an online paper, excerpted the letter (bold mine):

Actor/director/thinker Sean Penn in Dictator-groupie Sean Penn told Australia's The Age that Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez is “much more positive for Venezuela than he is negative” and the Chavez-crafted constitution is “a very beautiful document.”

Yes, that's the same leader who is a student of the Robert Mugabe School of Economics, shut down a TV station that criticized him and just installed himself El Presidente for life. 

But hey, Venezuelans, relax! Actor/director/humanitarian Sean Penn isn't concerned that Chavez is on his way to becoming a dictator. So, stop worrying that Chavez will confiscate your home or business and force you to sew “I Heart Holocaust-Deniers” onto his custom-made Commie-red button downs.

Left-wing activist/actor Sean Penn rejected David Letterman's characterization that Hugo Chavez, the anti-U.S. President of Venezuela, is “nuts” and, asked about suppression of free expression, Penn used that as a hook to ridicule Fox News as run by “loons.” Penn appeared on Monday's Late Show to promote his new movie, Into the Wild. Letterman noted Penn's visit with Chavez and related how he understands Chavez “is nuts” and “wacky.” Penn retorted that “if people have oil under their ground they're called wacky”and asserted he's done “incredible things for the 80 percent of the people that are very poor there.” When Letterman raised how Chavez is “talking about nationalizing the media,” Penn defended Chavez for closing a television station before rejecting Letterman's premise: “The idea that, that there's no freedom of expression, I mean the loons on Fox News are broadcast there every day.”

Video: The Late Show with David Letterman Web site features streaming video of this exchange (on its “Big Show Highlights” page, click on “Hanging with Hugo Chavez”).

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As Sean Penn gushed over despot Hugo Chavez Thursday, a former Miss Venezuela and previous co-star of the activist actor's was telling the Associated Press she hopes Penn "comes to his senses and he realizes that he's being used."

Movie lovers likely remember Maria Conchita Alonso as Robin Williams' girlfriend in "Moscow on the Hudson," and Arnold Schwarzenegger's in "The Running Man."

With that in mind, the Associated Press reported Thursday (emphasis added throughout):

Is it the pinnacle of an anti-American, socialist actor's career to be praised by an anti-American, socialist dictator?

If so, Sean Penn is on quite a high today -- which of course is nothing unusual -- as the so-called president of Venezuela -- the lovable Hugo Chavez -- had wonderful things to say about the actor made famous as a pot-smoking surfer in the teen movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

As reported by the Associated Press (emphasis added throughout, h/t Dan Gainor):