A Hobsbawm hagiography

E.J. Hobsbawm

Back in 2016 we spent five full days on the British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, who had died four years earlier at the age of 95. As we noted then, Hobsbawm’s demise was followed by a tsunami of praise. In the Guardian he was described as “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind”; the New Yorker called him “refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged,” a man who “was in it to change the world.” The Independent told its readers that he was “one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century.”

The obituarists for these and other prominent media did not ignore the fact that Hobsbawm was a lifelong Communist – a passionate admirer and fierce defender of Stalin who even, in a 1994 TV interview, expressed support for Stalin’s murder of millions. What they did was find ways to minimize it, or excuse it, or even praise it. One necrologist spoke of Hobsbawm’s “Marxist ideals.” Another depicted him as a victim of anti-Communist prejudice. Can you imagine any of these publications referring seriously to “Nazi ideals” or “anti-Nazi prejudice”?

A.N. Wilson

The novelist A.N. Wilson was almost alone in explicitly condemning Hobsbawm for his politics, pointing out that “if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews….We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public.” But what happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? As we wrote in 2016: “His career soared. He was offered (but rejected) a knighthood. Later he accepted from Tony Blair the title Companion of Honour. Oxford gave him a prize worth half a million pounds. As Hobsbawm got older, the media increasingly described him as the country’s greatest living historian. All this despite the fact, as Wilson pointed out, that Hobsbawm never learned the lessons of the century he had lived through.” Nor was he even a good historian: his books, as Wilson bluntly put it, were Communist propaganda. He “quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40.” He was silent on the Katyn massacre, in which the Soviets murdered 20,000 Polish soldiers. And he “deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties” and “the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945.”

Richard J. Evans

If we’re returning now to the subject of Hobsbawm, it’s because another famous historian, Richard J. Evans, FBA, FRSL, FRHistS, FLSW, has published an 800-page biography of him. Evans is best known for his three-volume history of the Third Reich – which has been described as definitive – and for his court testimony defending a writer’s characterization of David Irving as a Holocaust denier. In all his writings on Hitler’s regime, Evans has made it clear that he is not a fan. He sees Nazism for the evil that it is. He does not buy into the notion that, in writing about a Nazi, you can set aside his Nazi beliefs, or contextualize them or relativize them, depicting them as just a minor or incidental part of his personal makeup. You can’t conclude that, his Nazi convictions notwithstanding, the most important thing about him is that he was a devoted husband and father, a good friend and neighbor, a man who loved his pets and was, as the British say, clubbable. No, a Nazi is, first and last, a Nazi. Evans understands that.

David Pryce-Jones

Confronted with the case of Hobsbawm and Hobsbawm’s Communism, however, Evans is able to take a totally different approach. In a blistering review of Evans’s book for the June issue of the New Criterion, yet another historian, David Pryce-Jones (who, as it happens, is also an FRSL), laments that Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History makes Evans “look either a dupe or a fool of the higher sort, in any case earning him a reputation no historian would want to have.” Describing Hobsbawm as “the foremost Communist apologist in the Britain of his day,” Pryce-Jones observes that if Hobsbawm had been a Nazi, “Evans surely would have thrown his doctrine back into his face. Instead, he defends the indefensible with this hagiography.” Although Hobsbawm, after joining the Communist Party as a student at Cambridge, “never deviated from the Party line,” Evans “can still write this utter absurdity: ‘there was no sense in which [Hobsbawm] was an active or committed member of the Party.”

Josef Stalin

As for Hobsbawm the man, Pryce-Jones, who is now 93 and who actually knew Hobsbawm, provides a valuable corrective: “In my experience, Hobsbawm was nothing like the genial and popular figure depicted by Evans.” At one dinner they both attended, Hobsbawm sang the praises of Castro’s Cuba; another dinner guest, a former British ambassador to Cuba, demurred, providing chapter and verse on Cuban perfidy, but to no avail. “All American propaganda, according to Hobsbawm.” There was more: Hobsbawm and Pryce-Jones just happened to be neighbors in a certain Welsh village, where, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hobsbawm, like any half-mad local crank, “would stop to tell me at the top of his voice with expletives in front of surprised farmers how superior Communism was to the nationalism that replaced it.” Pryce-Jones concludes by underscoring a point that is somehow missed by people like Evans and the writers of Hobsbawm’s admiring obituaries: namely, that this was a man who, if the Soviets had conquered Britain and given him the power to do so, would have ordered them all sent to their deaths.

Those adorable Communists

In late June, when the Guardian sent a reporter to cover the annual convention of the Communist Party USA, the article that resulted was surprisingly sympathetic. No, let’s revise that a bit: the level of sympathy would have been surprising had the piece appeared in some other British newspaper – say, the Telegraph or the Times. But it would probably be naïve to be surprised by a friendly account of a CPUSA clambake in the Guardian.

Written by one Eric Lutz, the article said nothing particularly negative about the party or its ideology. On the contrary, Lutz seemed to strive to present the CPUSA as a longtime victim of unfair prejudice. The subhead, for example, noted that the party had been “derided and feared for 100 years.” The first sentence called the party “one of American politics[’] biggest historical bogeymen.” Lutz quoted, without comment, a line from a CPUSA official’s convention speech in which he assured America that “the [C]ommunist [P]arty isn’t out to hurt you….It will set you free.”

Moreover, Lutz seemed pleased to be able to state that the party was looking to “a brighter future…at a moment in American politics in which democratic socialism and progressive ideas are increasingly finding a home in the mainstream of the Democratic party.” And when he reported that convention delegates “sought to send the message that their party has been the most consistent champion of [progressive] ideas [and] has been on the right side of some of the most consequential ideological battles of the last hundred years,” there was no indication whatsoever that Lutz wasn’t totally convinced. Neither he nor his editors found it necessary to remind readers of the hundreds of millions of human lives snuffed out by murderous twentieth-century Communist regimes. In a time when the vast majority of mainstream news media in the U.S. and Britain seem incapable of reporting on Donald Trump or the Republican Party or Brexit voters without a condescending sneer, there was not a whiff of skepticism in Lutz’s report on the American Communists.

Far from it. Apparently to show that Communists have been in the vanguard of the advancement of black Americans, Lutz noted that the father of one convention speaker, Pepe Lozano, had “rallied Mexican and Puerto Rican voters to support Harold Washington, the first African-American mayor” in the 1980s. Lutz went on to quote, again without a hint of doubt or dispute, Lozano’s claim that the CPUSA had played a major role in “profound American struggles for democracy.” For anyone who knows anything about the subject, the very idea that American Communists ever sought to advance democracy is obscene on the face of it. Whole books – extremely well documented books, some of them based on Soviet archives – have vividly shown just how thoroughly controlled the Cold War-era CPUSA was by the Kremlin and just how determined the party was to crush liberty and destroy its enemies. For the Guardian to drop all these facts down the memory hole is disgraceful.

“Communism,” wrote Lutz, “has long been regarded with fear in the US, viewed as antithetical to American values and democracy.” The implication here, of course, is that Communism isn’t antithetical to American values and democracy. What to say about the fact that a sentence like this could appear, in the year 2019, in a major British daily? Is Lutz a fool or a liar? “[I]t can be striking,” he observed, “to hear Americans openly discuss their support for communism.” Not “appalling”; not “disgusting”; not “vomit-inducing” – no, “striking.” Imagine a writer for any major conservative newspaper reporting on a neo-Nazi rally in this way. Nazism is – as it should be – beyond the pale. Why does Communism – an equally evil totalitarian ideology, and one that caused even more deaths than Nazism did – still get this kid-glove treatment?

Another grubby payday for Nicki Minaj?

Nicki Minaj

UPDATE: Not long after we posted this story, the New York Times reported that Minaj had cancelled her Saudi Arabia gig.

We last wrote about at length about Trinidad-born songstress Nicki Minaj in 2015, when she was paid $2 million for a single concert in the dictatorship of Angola. As we noted at the time, half of the people of Angola earn so little money that they’d have to work two million days – about 5500 years, which would take you back to the Bronze Age, the very beginning of writing systems, and the introduction of the wheel beyond Mesopotamia and environs – to bank $2 million. Although the Angolan government rakes in a great deal of money from selling oil, munch of that money ends up in the pockets of the ruling family and its cronies; meanwhile, one of the country’s dubious claims to fame is that it has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under the age of five.

Mariah Carey

To be sure, these grim facts didn’t keep Mariah Carey, who’s notorious for taking this kind of dirty money, for accepting a million-dollar fee in 2014 from Angolan strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos. And although Carey got such bad press for that ethically tinged payday that she ended up apologizing profusely, it didn’t keep Minaj, two years later, from taking an even better deal. Even when human-rights groups challenged her beforehand about having agreed to do the concert in Angola, she went Biblical: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment,” Minaj tweeted, “shall be condemned.”

In fact she doubled down: after she reached Angola, she took an Instagram photo with the president’s daughter, Isabel, who, like other relatives of other dictators, has accumulated a fortune by, well, doing not much of anything except being related to the guy at the top. The illicit source of Isabella’s wealth was either lost on Nicki or a matter of indifference to her, because her take on the subject, as expressed in her distinctive manner on Instagram, was as follows: “she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world….GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Motivates her to do what? Become a head of state and fleece her subjects? This is, let it be noted, a woman who, given her sales figures – she’s had seven singles simultaneously on Billboard’s US Hot 100 – must be swimming in so much dough that $2 million can’t possibly be anything more to her than pocket change. Yet, for all the criticism, and despite her efforts to burnish her image by identifying with AIDS and children’ charities, Minaj took dos Santos’s cash.

Mohammed bin Salman

Afterwards, the criticism continued. But the raunchy rapper didn’t learn her lesson. A few weeks ago it was announced that Minaj, at the invitation of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, planned to perform on July 18 at the Jeddah World Fest alongside Steve Aoki, an American DJ, and Liam Payne, a former member of the British boyband One Direction. In a five-page open letter written in response to this news, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation explained to Minaj in some detail the human-rights violations committed by the Saudi regime and urged her to withdraw from the event as an act of solidarity with the Saudi people.

Will Minaj listen this time? Stay tuned.

Roger Waters, liar

Roger Waters

The case of Roger Waters, the former front man for the rock group Pink Floyd and outspoken hater of Israel, illustrates a couple of important points. First, it’s possible to be a very gifted artist and a clueless fool at the same time. Second, some human beings are put together in such a way as to render them completely impervious to the plain facts, however often and however effectively they are presented with those facts.

Schmuley Boteach

Of course, we’ve written about Waters before. A lot. In November 2015 we wrote about the “pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David,” that was a feature of his concerts. In response to Waters’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach penned an article reminding him that German Jews “did nothing to invite the aggression against them. Indeed, they were loyal citizens of a country that many of them had fought for courageously just 20 years earlier in the First World War. They did not blow up buses for political purposes. They did not send terrorists into schools to murder children. They did not preach that killing German children would get them virgins in heaven. They lived lives of humanity and decency and were murdered for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews.”

Did Waters listen? Of course not. So along came Israeli author Lilac Sigan, who in her own plea to Waters wondered how it was that at a time when other countries and terrorist groups across the Middle East were carrying out “senseless and brutal” slaughter, Waters remained obsessed with Israel.

Robbie Williams

Did Waters listen to her? Nope. Instead, he wrote an open letter begging Robbie Williams to cancel a planned gig in Israel – where, he insisted, the government views Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed.” Williams went ahead with the concert. Soon afterward, Waters tried the same thing with Dionne Warwick, whom he accused of being “profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.” She didn’t listen either.

Now it was film director Mark Blacknell’s turn to try to knock some sense into Waters’s head. In an open letter, he reminded Waters that Israel’s neighbors included Hezbollah, “Assad the Butcher,” ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the “Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen,” the “jihad-plagued, complete insanity of Sudan,” the “ultra-religious, feudalistic Mecca of Islam, Saudi Arabia,” and the “’end of days’ cult of the Ayatollah in Iran.” Many of these fun folks treated Palestinians terribly. Why, Blacknell asked, didn’t Waters ever get exercised about them?

Bon Jovi

No reply. No change. Instead Waters went after Bon Jovi, writing an open letter that was even more accusatory than his earlier ones. In response, Bon Jovi said, quite simply: “I’m coming to Israel and I’m excited to come.” Only moments before Bon Jovi’s Tel Aviv concert, a terrorist attack hit Jerusalem.

Last year we caught up with Waters, noting that at the Jumbotrons at one of his recent performances had featured the slogan “Resist Israeli anti-Semitism” and that Waters, it now turned out, was one of the rich people who’d invested heavily in some shyster’s sleazy effort to shake down Chevron. In March of this year, we reported that during a concert in Brazil, he’d called Jair Bolsonaro (who was then a presidential candidate, and is now president) a fascist, and that, in response to the recognition by the U.S. and other countries of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, called Venezuela under Maduro a “REAL DEMOCRACY.”

Linda Sarsour

Waters hasn’t backed off. In May, along with hijab-wearing “feminist” Linda Sarsour (whom we’ve also covered here at length), he appeared on a panel about Israel at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he told a story about remarks he’d made at a 2006 concert in Tel Aviv, before he’d started boycotting Israel. According to him, 60,000 of his Israeli fans had responded negatively when he called for peace with Palestinians. When David Seidenberg of the Times of Israel examined an audio of the event, it turned out that Waters was lying through his teeth – the audience, in fact, had cheered. “Since at least 2017,” wrote Seidenberg, “Waters has been repeating this lie. He told it to an interviewer from the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest dailies. He told it to Liberation News, a socialist newspaper. He told it at a Vancouver event in October 2017 to promote Canada’s participation in BDS.” Plainly, Waters is not to be trusted: he will say anything, true or not, to demonize Israel and idealize Hamas.

Nicolas Maduro

As for Venezuela, even as conditions in that country have gone from bad to worse, Waters has stuck by his pal, the dictator. On June 15, he announced in a Facebook post that Maduro had sent him a cuatro, a four-string guitar, a gift for which, he wrote, he was “deeply moved.” Good to know that even as his people are starving, Maduro has the time to keep his top-seeded foreign propagandist happy. “Thank you President Maduro for your kind gift and message,” the old rocker wrote. “I shall continue to support the people of Venezuela, and continue to oppose U.S. interference in your country, particularly the illegal and inhumane monetary sanctions that seek to make life intolerable for your people.” Appalling.

Our turn

During the past few weeks, we’ve been covering the brief but crowded and fascinating history of Twitter bans. We’ve noted that while Twitter, when asked to explain a user ban, cites its impartial-sounding “Twitter Rules” and “Terms of Service,” the rules seem to work, politically speaking, in only one direction.

As we’ve seen, a flamboyant, wisecracking opponent of identity politics got kicked off Twitter – while the terrorist group that fomented violence to prevent him speaking at Berkeley has kept its Twitter account.

Similarly, a virulently anti-Semitic freshman Senator has retained her coveted “blue check” – while a Twitter user who pointed out her anti-Semitism got the boot.

Now, as we’ve already reported, it’s our turn. In mid February, one of us opened up our Twitter account to find a big red banner informing us of our suspension.

All our tweets had been removed. Nearly four years’ worth. It was not possible to post new ones.

We wrote to Twitter Service, appealing our suspension. The reply read, in part, as follows: “We typically suspend accounts for violations of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) or Terms of Service (https://twitter.com/tos).”

We then wrote back, asking to know the specific reason for our suspension. Twitter Support’s answer? “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”

Not banned: Antifa protesters, Berkeley, 2017

We responded with an e-mail stating that our suspension “seems unfair, given that there was no warning or mention what the violation was.” We then received an e-mail chiding us for trying “to update a case that has been closed” and telling us to “submit a new case.”

We did so. Once again, we were informed that “Your account has been suspended due to multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter Rules: https://twitter.com/rules.”

What do you call it when a social-media platform bans you without telling you? As we’ve previously discussed, it’s called a shadow ban. But Twitter doesn’t shadow ban! It must be true, because it says so on Twitter’s own company blog.

Let’s make one thing clear. Here at Useful Stooges, we’re believers in democratic capitalism. We understand the argument that Twitter, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is a private company and has a right to permanently suspend whichever users it wants to.

Then again, Con Edison, which provides energy to residents of New York City and environs, is also a private company. It’s also traded on the NYSE. Does it have a right to deny electricity to users whose opinions it disapproves of?

What about your local phone company? Does it have a right to turn off your phone service if it doesn’t approve of your voting record?

These aren’t idle questions or ridiculous comparisons. The fact is that over the last few years Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, has become a major site of public debate on the issues of the day. Once these platforms have attained a certain level of importance, they can no longer be considered private in the same way they once were. They’re part of the public square. They’re more important than even the largest newspapers and network news operations.

The tweeter-in-chief

The President of United States famously uses Twitter to react to news developments in real time. Is it fair to deny Twitter access to U.S. citizens who want to know what their President has to say?

Some observers have argued that Twitter and other social-media platforms qualify under US law as public accommodations – which would mean that in at least some jurisdictions it would be illegal for them to ban users because of their political views.

What now? Well, we’re not giving in. Because it’s not just about us. And it’s not just about Twitter. It’s about this whole social-media landscape which, for good or ill, is where we have a great many of our important conversations nowadays. For the gatekeepers of this territory to close that space off to people whose politics they don’t like is scary stuff. It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-American. It doesn’t bode well for our future, and our children’s future.

We here at Useful Stooges have done a lot of writing in recent years in the cause of freedom. It’s time, apparently, for us to do more than write. It’s time for us to act.

Shame on Cambridge!

Guy Burgess

What is it about Oxford and Cambridge? England’s two great universities have had their moments of glory, but they have also played an outsized part in the history of useful stoogery. In 1933, just a week after Hitler became chancellor of Germany, the members of the Oxford Union proclaimed, by a vote of 275 to 153, that they would “under no circumstances fight for…King and country.” During the next few years, five Cambridge students – Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross – were recruited as Soviet spies, and over the succeeding two decades or so they passed a remarkable amount of sensitive information to their KGB handlers.

Mahathir bin Mohamad

Both the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union routinely invite famous figures from around the world to address them. Sometimes the guests are showbiz figures; sometimes they’re controversial leaders. In January, the Oxford Union welcomed Mahathir bin Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia. As Douglas Murray pointed out at the website of the Spectator, Mohamad, age 93, “is an exceptionally happy and virulent anti-Semite.”

Abraham Foxman

Indeed, Mohamad has said that the word “antisemitic” is “an invented term to prevent criticizing Jews for doing wrong.” Back in 1970, he wrote: “The Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” In 2010, as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League noted at the time, Mohamad “accus[ed] the ‘Jewish lobby’ of preventing the U.S. from ending the war in Afghanistan.”

“I am glad to be labeled antisemitic,” Mohamad stated in 2012. “How can I be otherwise, when the Jews who so often talk of the horrors they suffered during the Holocaust show the same Nazi cruelty and hard-heartedness towards not just their enemies but even towards their allies should any try to stop the senseless killing of their Palestinian enemies?”

Cambridge University

The Oxford Union event came and went without making major headlines. But on June 16, it was the Cambridge Union’s turn to host Mohamad. First Mohamad spoke for about twenty minutes. This was followed by an exchange with one of the student hosts, who deserves credit for challenging Mohamad. Right off the bat, he asked him about same-sex marriage, to which Mohamad, unsurprisingly, expressed opposition. Then the student queried Mohamed about his government’s past incarceration of people without trial.

Then came a question about Israel. Why did Mohamad ban Israeli athletes from an international swim meet in his country? Mohamad replied that Israel failed to show “respect” for other people. The Jewish state, he charged, had “stolen other people’s land, killed a lot of people, broken international laws, and done all kinds of things that have never been done by other countries.”

Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia

The interviewer did not let up. “Going beyond Israel,” he went on, “you’ve said some pretty hateful things about Jewish people in general.” He cited remarks Mohamad had made to the effect that the scale of the Holocaust had been “overstated” and that “Jewish people control the world by proxy.” Did Mohamad, the young man asked, still stand by those statements? Mohamad’s answer was, in effect, yes.

After a brief detour into the subject of Sudan, the interviewer returned to the subject of Jews. Was it fair, he asked, to blame all Jews for “the alleged crimes of the Israeli state”? Yes, said Mohamad, unless they explicitly distanced themselves from Israel’s actions. Confronted with his description of Jews as “hook-nosed,” Mohamed refused to apologize, explaining that it was natural to generalize about races and that only Jews seemed to resent this fact. On the positive side, Mohamad was willing to acknowledge that “not all Jews are bad” and even professed that he had “Jewish friends in Britain.” Lucky them!

Mohamad at Cambridge

Mohamad then took questions from the audience. Several topics were covered. Finally one of the audience members brought the conversation, once again, back to Jews, suggesting that Mohamad’s generalizations about Jews were unfair. Mohamad again defended his right to generalize. When the interviewer pushed him on this, Mohamad, at about forty-six minutes into the Cambridge Union’s YouTube of the event, came out with the statement that made the news. “I have some Jewish friends, very good friends,” he said. “They are not like the other Jews. That’s why they are my friends.”

And the reason this statement made the news is that the audience – or at least a sizable portion of it – laughed. Actually laughed. It did not sound like derisive laughter. It sounded like appreciative laughter.

Jeremy Corbyn

Now, imagine if the interviewee had been, say, Donald Trump, and he has said something similar about blacks: “I have some black friends. They’re not like other blacks. That’s why they’re my friends.” Would the Cambridge audience have laughed? Surely not. They would have booed, hissed, walked out en masse. But in response to Mohamad’s ugly comment about Jews, they laughed, and proceeded calmly to the next question.

Alas, it is not really all that surprising to encounter such behavior on the part of privileged young people in the Britain of 2019. This is a time and place, after all, where the head of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is, like Mahathir bin Mohamad, an outspoken anti-Semite, and where the Jew-hatred of Muslims is routinely granted a pass.

Twitter’s “shadow ban” controversy

Twitter headquarters, San Francisco

Last summer, the Vice website reported that some Twitter users were being “shadow banned” – meaning that while the users themselves could see their tweets online, nobody else could. The targets of this ban were, it appeared, mostly conservatives. Among them were several members of Congress, Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and a spokesman for Donald Trump, Jr.

“Type in the names of McDaniel, conservative members of Congress like Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, and Trump Jr.’s spokesman Andrew Surabian, for example,” noted Vice, “and Twitter’s drop-down search bar does not show their profiles.”

James O’Keefe

Soon after the Vice article appeared, President Trump tweeted about the alleged shadow banning. James O’Keefe of Project Veritas released a video in which a Twitter engineer confirmed the charge.

But Twitter denied it. In Britain, the Bible of the left, the Guardian, presented the whole thing as a right-wing conspiracy theory – “the latest iteration of an idea, bubbling away since the last election, that conservatives are being silenced by social media companies.”

Jim Jordan

To be sure, the Guardian acknowledged, Twitter had made changes in its algorithms that make “badly behaved users…less visible on the site.” Does this mean that in the Twitterverse, writing critically about Communism and bloodthirsty dictators amounts to bad behavior?

In any event, the bottom line from Jack Dorsey’s corporate headquarters was clear. “We do not shadow ban,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Guardian. And the Guardian bought it.

So, with few if any exceptions, did the rest of the left-wing media on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the website called The Verge, one Casey Newton called the very idea that Twitter was shadow banning “infuriating” and “very dumb.” Twitter “is in no way doing” this, insisted Newton.

At The Next Web, one Bryan Clark agreed that Twitter couldn’t possibly be banning conservatives because “Dorsey, by all accounts, is a smart man” and a smart man wouldn’t do such a thing. The proposition that Twitter was silencing conservatives, wrote Clark, was part of “the Republican war on truth.”

Brian Feldman

At New York Magazine, Brian Feldman dismissed the shadow-ban charged as fantasy of “the conspiracy-minded.” If prominent conservatives were having trouble with social media, he suggested, it might be because they were more likely than their left-wing counterparts to interact with fringe accounts…if not actually spread falsehoods and sensationalized outrage.”

Even Vice, in an update, wrote that “Twitter appears to have adjusted its platform overnight to no longer limit the visibility of some prominent Republicans in its search results.”

Jack Dorsey on Capitol Hill last September

One thing you might be able to say of Twitter is that as of last summer they still had a degree of plausible deniability. No more.

Since then, the Twitter bans have only accelerated – and, if anything, have seemed less and less justifiable.

On September 5, 2018, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Twitter doesn’t “consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions….Impartiality is our guiding principle.”

The very next day, Twitter permanently suspended conservative TV host Alex Jones (Infowars).

In October, Twitter permanently banned the conservative comic and pundit Gavin McInnes, supposedly for his association with the Proud Boys, a racially diverse, non-violent group that opposes identity politics and has been falsely tagged as racist and violent.

Laura Loomer

Meanwhile, as we noted earlier this week, local Antifa groups that are genuinely dangerous have been allowed to keep their Twitter accounts.

In November, conservative activist Laura Loomer was permanently banned for tweeting the following: “Isn’t it ironic how the twitter moment used to celebrate ‘women, LGBTQ, and minorities’ is a picture of Ilhan Omar? Ilhan is pro Sharia Ilhan is pro-FGM Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab. Ilhan is anti Jewish.” Every word was true.

Ilhan Omar

Of course, Omar, the new Muslim Congresswoman from Minnesota who has already been forced by House colleagues to apologize for vile tweets about Jews, still retains her Twitter account.

Yet on September 14, 2018, Slate fiercely defended Twitter from charges of bias, insisting that “conservative users…have been misleadingly accusing the platform of shadow banning and removing accounts to suppress their viewpoints.”

More idiocy from Joe Stiglitz

How do you destroy a country’s economy? Well, here are a few ideas. Hike taxes. Overregulate. Ratchet up government spending. Increase welfare entitlements. Make it your goal not to achieve greater prosperity for everyone but to achieve greater income and wealth equality.

Joseph Stiglitz

This, after all, is how the chavistas ran Venezuela, once one of the world’s most prosperous nations, into the ground. And, believe it or not, these are the prescriptions offered by economist Joseph Stiglitz, whom we profiled here at some length in October 2015 and whom we’re revisiting now because of a characteristically wacky article by him that appeared in the Guardian on May 30.

But first, a reminder: this, as we noted four years ago, is a man who has taught at Yale, Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia; who served as chief economist at the World Bank; who was a top advisor to the United Nations; who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine; and who, yes, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Paul Krugman

How, you may ask, did a man with such cockeyed economic ideas win a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics? Well, remember, Paul Krugman won one too. And Yasir Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every decision they make in Stockholm or Oslo is a brilliant one.

If you think it’s unfair to compare the economic philosophy of a Nobel laureate with the cockeyed socialist ideas that ruined Venezuela, consider this: Stiglitz is a socialist – an actual member of the Socialist International who, in 2008, headed up a Socialist International commission charged with figuring out a solution to the global financial crisis. He’s an enemy of the nation-state and particularly of American-style democratic capitalism, and would replace the current world order with a socialist global government, complete with a new global currency and a global income tax.

Georg Papandreou

But while we still have nation-states, Stiglitz isn’t above profiting from some of the more poorly run ones in ways that call into question his professional integrity. For example, he weighed in repeatedly in places like Time magazine on the Greek financial crisis, which he blamed entirely on Germany, not on Greece; what he failed to mention was he was a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou. In 2014, when New York judge Thomas P. Griesa ordered Argentina to pay its creditors, Stiglitz badmouthed the judge, called the creditors “vultures,” pronounced that “America is throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” and passionately defended Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner; again, he omitted to inform his readers that he had long been on the Kirchner payroll, supposedly serving as an economic advisor, although to many observers it certainly looked as if he was selling his name and reputation to whitewash a kleptocracy.

Cristina Kirchner

Which brings us to Stiglitz’s recent piece for the Guardian. There’s not really anything new in it; what’s remarkable is the timing. Here’s the headline: “Neoliberalism must be pronounced dead and buried. Where next?” And here’s the subhead: “For decades the US and others have pursued a free-market agenda which has failed spectacularly.” An incredible thing to say at a time when the American economy is stronger than it has been in decades and is the world’s most competitive, with record employment and income levels for pretty much every population group and every category of job.

Donald J. Trump

Many people credit President Trump for this extraordinary boom. Not Stiglitz. He not only pretends that the boom isn’t happening; he smears Trump as an avatar of “far-right nationalism,” which to him is even worse than plain old neoliberalism or the “centre-left reformism” of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. In Stiglitz’s view, all three of these approaches should be junked in favor of a “radically different economic agenda” that he calls “progressive capitalism,” under which free markets would be a thing of the past and state-run economies would be the order of the day.

Stiglitz’s picture of what “progressive capitalism” would look like and how it would work is heavy on abstractions and light on specifics. “Governments have a duty to limit and shape markets…. government [should take] a more active role than neoliberalism prescribes.” Yet by the end of the article it’s clear what he‘s calling for. To be sure, he’s careful not to use the word Communism or even socialism, but those are the generally accepted names for what he prefers to call “progressive capitalism.”

Again, how weird to encounter a brief for socialism at a time when the chavistas’ Venezuela is dying and Trump’s America is thriving! But that’s old Joe for you.

Twitter’s double standards

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey

Two weeks ago we reported here that we’ve been banned from Twitter and been given no coherent reason for it. Last week we served up a list of prominent people with strong opinions who’ve also been banned for reasons that remain obscure.

To compare this list of people – each of whom had a great many followers and whose views fall well within the mainstream of American and Western opinion – to a roster of people who’ve kept their Twitter accounts is…what shall we say? Is it puzzling? Or is it illuminating?

Banned: Tommy Robinson

Take the British activist and journalist Tommy Robinson, who in addition to being kicked off of Twitter last year was removed from Facebook recently – one day, in fact, after his BBC exposé Panodrama was posted there.

Robinson is a vigorous critic of Islamic ideology. But he is no bigot. He consistently makes distinctions between an ideology that calls for the murder of Jews, gays, and apostates and hundreds of millions of people who, while calling themselves Muslims, somehow managing to distance themselves from those monstrous teachings.

Not banned: Farrakhan

Robinson’s allies, colleagues, and supporters, moreover, come from a wide range of backgrounds. His closest friends include black Caribbeans and gay people. In any event – and here’s the big point – he doesn’t have anything remotely resembling the comprehensive record of hate that has been compiled by, say, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Farrakhan, as everyone knows, has described Jews as “satanic.” He has called them “termites.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a black scholar who heads the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard, has characterized a book by Farrakhan as “the bible of new anti-Semitism.” Of all the most famous people in America, Farrakhan is one of the vilest.

Yet although Facebook banned him in May, he still has a Twitter account that has never been even temporarily suspended.

Not banned: Sarsour

He’s far from alone. Also still tweeting away is Linda Sarsour, who claims to be a feminist but is a bosom buddy of Farrakhan, a constant wearer of hijab, and a passionate supporter of sharia law.

Also still on Twitter is BAMN, the violence-prone Trotskyite organization that both the FBI and the Defense Department consider to be a terrorist group. BAMN was behind the riot that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley in 2017. But while Twitter has banned Yiannopoulos, who never encouraged violence in his life, BAMN is a blue-check member (a status reserved for public figures and established organizations).

Not banned: Jeong

Also surviving perfectly well on Twitter, thank you very much, is that gang of vandals and thugs known as New York City Antifa. Ditto Sarah Jeong, the New York Times board member who gained notoriety last year for her prodigious use of Twitter to savage white people. And the list goes on.

Of course, allowing some perfectly horrible people to stay on Twitter is defensible. Cuba’s dictator, Raúl Castro, and dictator-in-waiting, Miguel Díaz-Canel, have blue-check accounts. But fine – it’s useful to know what’s on their nefarious minds.

Some Twitter bans are arguably defensible, too. The service has banned a number of groups and individuals on the right that practice and encourage violence. Yet at the same time it’s left any number of violent, hate-spewing users on the left entirely untouched. And that’s where the question of inequality comes in.

More next week.

Ilhan’s friends

Ilhan Omar

On April 30, outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a group of protesters consisting largely of black women held a rally based on a false premise: that Ilhan Omar, the hijab-wearing Muslim Democrat who was elected to Congress last November from a district that includes Minneapolis and some of its suburbs, is the victim of racism and sexism on the part of President Trump, most of right-wing America, and even a few members of her own party. In fact, as we discussed on Tuesday, Omar is a virulent anti-Semite who, ever since her election, has been digging herself a deeper and deeper hole by saying in public what she thinks about Jews. Other prominent Muslims who have also been inculcated with hatred of the Jews do a better job of hiding their bigotry; in a perverse way, perhaps Omar deserves a degree of credit for being incapable of dissembling on the subject. In any event, she is no victim; a refugee from Somalia, she found refuge in America, a country that she routinely disses almost as viciously as she disses Jews, and managed to become one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, a status that has made her an instant star on the left. Of course the topsy-turvy notion of the Jew-baiting Omar as a victim is typical of our time, when a violent group like Antifa can be described in the mainstream media as peaceful and anti-fascist and when every act of jihadist terror brings another round of media hand-wringing over the possibility of anti-Muslim backlash by evil “Islamophobes.”

But back to the rally. One banner described it as “Black Women in Defense of Ilhan Omar.” Another banner read “Black Women in Defense of Progressive Women in Congress.” Those progressive women, of course, include not only Omar but her fellow Muslim, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only on the American left in the second decade of the twenty-first century can devout Muslims, one of whom wears a symbol of female subservience, be hailed as “progressive.” The other high-profile progressive Congresswoman, of course, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the former New York bartender who hates capitalism, hates ICE, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, sent the Senate a “green new deal” that was so wacky that absolutely nobody voted for it, and posted a video on social media in which she reported on her baffled encounter, in her new Washington, D.C., home, with a gizmo in her kitchen sink that made a scary sound when you flipped a switch. (She had never seen or heard of a garbage disposal before.) Also, although not a Muslim, she hates Israel almost as much as Omar and Tlaib do.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Anyway, the rally. One speaker described it as a gathering of “professors and labor leaders and artists and organizers.” Plus a whole lot of members of Black Lives Matter. The goal, explained one woman, was to “defend the right of black women to speak about and act upon what happens to black women in this country.” In particular, the idea was to stand up to Trump and the GOP, who had “put a hit out on Ilhan Omar,” who was described as a victim of “white supremacist violence” and of “racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, vitriol” on the part of white nationalists. But the protesters were also there to fight “Islamophobia” and to express solidarity with “trans people,” “black and brown people in the sex trades,” prisoners, migrants, and “our sisters and brothers in Palestine.” Attendees were told that the current crisis in Venezuela is the result of American foreign policy. They were also fed the revisionist version of Angela Davis’s criminal history, in which this felon is magically transformed into a victim. These were people for whom reciting chants like “let my people go” and “we aren’t going anywhere” and “hands off Ilhan” and listing the same dozen or so identity groups over and over again seemed to be a substitute for actual thought. America itself, of course, was depicted as an Evil Empire, a dystopia in which every problem ailing black women is the fault of racism and misogyny on the part of white people who are still, if only symbolically, “lynching” and “whipping” them. You would never have guessed that there exists any such thing as jihadist terror or black-on-black violence. All in all, a staggering display of ignorance, rage, willful refusal to face up to uncomfortable facts, and a claustrophobic, counterproductive fixation on group-identity labels.