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.

Owen Jones: the self-delusion endures

Owen Jones

He still looks like a high-school kid – in fact, he’s 34 – but he’s been called “by far and away the most influential left of centre commentator” in all of Britain. To read him is to be baffled by the thought that anyone, anywhere, could possibly be influenced by him. The son and grandson of card-carrying Communists, he’s the ultimate knee-jerk ideologue, who, in his columns for the Guardian, his zillions of tweets, and his endless TV appearances, never comes out with anything remotely surprising, nuanced, perceptive, or thought-provoking. As we noted when we first wrote about Owen Jones on August 2, 2016, he has actually written the following sentences: “Modern capitalism is a sham.” “Democratic socialism is our only hope.” These two statements are at the core of his belief system. He is a fan of Cuban Communism and for a long time was a staunch defender of chavismo in Venezuela.

There’s more, to be sure. Jones is gay, and never tires of railing against right-wing homophobia; at the same time, however, he’s a big booster of Islam, and consequently a sworn enemy of right-wing “Islamophobia.” But what about the fact that sharia law calls for gays to be executed, and that several Muslim countries do indeed punish homosexuality with death, while others prescribe long prison terms and/or various forms of torture? Well, when confronted with those facts, he had this to say: “I’m done with people only mentioning LGBT rights when Islam is involved.”

The big walk-off.

This self-contradiction came to a head in June 2016 when a jihadist killed dozens of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Discussing the massacre on Sky News, Jones attributed the murders to the perpetrator’s homophobia, but refused to discuss the Islamic roots of that homophobia, claiming that to do so would be to diminish the atrocity’s horror. Jones further insisted that neither the host of the Sky News program, Mark Longhurst, nor his fellow panelist, Telegraph journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, were, as Hartley-Brewer later wrote, “entitled to venture any opinion on any issues arising out of this crime because we were straight and therefore could not presume to care as much about the deaths of 50 gay people as Owen.” In short, to quote our own summing-up of the exchange, “Jones was trying to use his gay identity to shut down any effort to link this mass murder to Islam.” Pressed on his refusal to face the simple fact that Islam has a problem with homosexuality, Jones walked off the show, later asserting that he’d done so because Longhurst had “repeatedly refused to accept that this was an attack on LGBT people” – which, as Hartley-Brewer put it, was “a blatant flat-out lie.”

Katie Hopkins

Jones’s walk-out drew many other media comments. In the Spectator, Rod Liddle, wrote that “the reliably idiotic left-wing columnist Owen Jones had a temper tantrum,” storming off the TV set because neither Longhurst nor Hartley-Brewer “would accept that the tragedy [in Orlando] was all about Owen.” In the Mail, Katie Hopkins drew a clear line in the sand: “Until Islam is tolerant of gay rights, we cannot tolerate Islam….LGBT rights or Islam….It is a binary thing.” Fellow gay writer Douglas Murray tweeted: “I’m sorry for Owen Jones. I would also feel guilty if I’d spent my life covering for the ideology that just killed 50 LGBT people.”

Douglas Murray

What happened on that Sky News show, of course, was that Jones was confronted with the irreconcilability of his pro-Islam and pro-gay stances. A more mature and honest commentator would have felt compelled to acknowledge this conflict and to do some serious rethinking. Instead, Jones sought to distract the TV audience from his predicament by throwing a fit and lying about his interlocutors. You might have thought that this pathetic display would have put a dent in his growing fame. On the contrary: it only enhanced his celebrity. Too many British newspaper readers and TV viewers, apparently, prefer his self-referential, ideologically reliable, and often hysterical commentaries to the views of more sophisticated, intelligent, reflective, well-informed people.

Margaret Thatcher

Anyone who expected that Jones, after his Sky News crisis, would actually work out his self-contradictions on Islam and homosexuality has been sorely disappointed. Incredibly, nearly three years after the Orlando massacre, he’s still toeing the same exact line. “Muslims and LGBTQ people should stand together, not fight each other,” read the headline on his Guardian column for April 11. In the piece, he took on a current controversy in Britain, where primary schools have announced plans to introduce “LGBTQ-inclusive education” and Muslim families have protested, in many cases successfully pressuring the schools to withdraw their plans. Jones harked back to “Section 28,” the long-dead law introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 to prevent the “promotion of homosexuality in schools.” Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and the prejudices that gave rise to it have almost entirely disappeared from English society – except, of course, in the rapidly growing Muslim community, where the reigning views of gay people are far more chilling than those held three decades ago by even the most bigoted member of Thatcher’s government.

British Muslims protest “inclusive education.”

But Jones is still unwilling to go there. Anent the ongoing Muslim campaign against “LGBTQ-inclusive education,” he writes: “The dangerous conclusion to draw from this saga is that Muslims and LGBTQ people are on a collision course.” But Islamic doctrines being what they are, how can he deny that these two groups are in fundamental conflict? As has been the case for years, Jones, being unable to honestly address this question, instead dodges it entirely and makes this move: “That is certainly the battle cry of ever more emboldened Islamophobes, who never talk of LGBTQ rights except when it becomes convenient artillery in their bigoted war on Muslims.” Note the wily wording here: Jones doesn’t exactly deny that being gay is a capital crime under sharia law; he just shifts ground, shoving Islamic homophobia out of the way and changing the topic to right-wing “Islamophobia.” There should, he insists, “be bonds of solidarity between two oppressed groups who are liable to have had abuse yelled at them on the streets by the same people.” But how often are Muslims in Britain actually victims of public abuse – and how often are Muslims the abusers? Is a gay person in Britain more likely to be harassed or beaten up by a Muslim or by a right-winger of British extraction? Jones doesn’t dare to ask these questions, the honest answers to which would upset his base, threaten his Guardian gig, and slow his meteoric rise to the top of the commentariat pack.

Gasp! The Guardian tells the truth about Mao

Mao Zedong

When we glance at the Guardian, the favored newspaper of Britain’s left-wing elites, we’re used to seeing nonstop demonizing of moderates, libertarians, and conservatives alongside articles in which the virtue of socialism is taken for granted and out-and-out Communism is whitewashed. So it came as something of a shock, last Saturday, to encounter a more than 3,000-word essay in the Guardian that presented a sane and sober view of Maoism. The author, Julia Lovell, whose book Maoism: A History has just been published, began by referencing “the strange, looming presence of Mao in contemporary China,” which, despite its radical economic changes over the past few decades, is, she explained, “still held together by the legacies of Maoism.” Even though the sanguinary utopianism of the Cultural Revolution era has been replaced by authoritarian capitalism, wrote Lovell, the ghost of Mao still hovers over the nation of one billion-plus, and can be found in, among other things, “the deep politicisation of its judiciary; the supremacy of the one-party state; the intolerance of dissident voices.” Moreover, Xi Jinping has resurrected the long-dormant personality cult of Mao.

Xi Jinping

And the West, warns Lovell, has largely failed to notice. For decades, observing China’s economic success from afar, many Westerners have assumed that China has been gradually changing, that it has been becoming a place less alien to us, a nation more like our own. Wrong, insists Lovell. “The opposite has happened,” she writes. She points out – and this hadn’t even occurred to us – that if the Chinese Communist Party is still in charge five years from now, it will have outlasted the reign of its Soviet counterpart.

But you don’t have to go to China to find Maoism. You never did. Maoism, Lovell reminds us, has inspired revolts in countries ranging from Cambodia to Peru – revolts in which, as she admirably underscores, millions of people died. For eight decades, Maoist thought has been “a pivotal influence on global insubordination and intolerance.”

Julia Lovell

And what is Maoism, as opposed to Soviet-style Marxism? Lovell is helpful here. Unlike Stalin, Mao presided over “guerrilla wars deep in the countryside.” He preached “revolutionary zeal” and “anarchic insubordination” and “a pathological suspicion of the educated.” Stalin was no less evil and bloodthirsty than Mao, but the USSR never had an equivalent to Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The most radical ’68ers in the West looked not to the Kremlin but to Mao, especially his “message to his youthful Red Guards that it was ‘right to rebel.’” Mao posters adored dorm rooms in American college; copies of The Little Red Book abounded. In fact, the Black Panthers – that terrorist group celebrated, then as now, in chic leftist circles in the U.S. – “sold Little Red Books to generate funds to buy their first guns.” In West Germany, the violent but trendy Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof group) parroted lines from Mao, such as “imperialism and all reactionaries [are] paper tigers.” Today, Maoist insurgents threaten peace and freedom in 20 of India’s 28 states, and “self-avowed Maoists” now rule Nepal. So much for Francis Fukuyama’s declaration after the fall of the Iron Curtain that “the end of history” was at hand. “Write Maoism back into the global history of the 20th century,” emphasizes Lovell, and you get a “different narrative from the standard one in which communism loses the cold war in 1989.” Bottom line: with China now challenging America’s economic superiority and global power, it makes no sense whatsoever to pretend that Communism lost out to capitalism thirty years ago.

Britain’s top Jew-haters

Netta

When Netta, a performer from Israel, won the annual Eurovision Song Contest on May 12, 2018, in Portugal’s Lisbon Arena, meaning that this year’s competition would be held in her home country, one thing was beyond doubt: that before the day appointed for Eurovision 2019 rolled around, Israel-haters from every corner of Europe would raise a stink about the venue.

Sure enough, in a letter published on January 29 in the Guardian, fifty members of “the creative industries” complained that although “Eurovision may be light entertainment…it is not exempt from human rights considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.” Because of this violation, they argued, the BBC – which airs Eurovision in Britain – “should act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against…freedom are not being committed.”

Jeremy Corbyn

The fifty people, most of them British, who signed this reprehensible document are a mixed bunch. Some are relatively obscure writers or musicians who have no prominent record of this kind of activism. Others are pretty famous actors or directors and have long histories of far-left political activity. Several are ardent Communists or former Communists. A number of them are involved in pro-Palestinian causes. Many are fervent supporters of Labour Party leader and notorious anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn. Here are some of the more familiar names.

Julie Christie

Roy Battersby, a film and TV director, is the stepfather of actress Kate Beckinsale and a former Communist who was active in the Workers Revolutionary Party (so we know that he has good judgment about human rights). Maxine Peake, star of a number of BBC series, is a sometime member of the Communist Party of Britain, won a 2014 award for an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism, and calls Jeremy Corbyn a “beacon of hope.” Alexei Sayle, a stand-up comedian and author, is also a former member of the Communist Party of Britain who still considers himself a Communist and considers Corbyn “morally incorruptible.” Actress Miriam Margolyes is a pro-Palestinian activist who has been active in a group called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Actress Julie Christie, now 78, won an Oscar for Darling (1965) and is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).


Caryl Churchill

Among the letter’s signatories, playwright and PSC patron Caryl Churchill has one of the most impressive records of hard-core Jew-hatred. In 2009, she banged out her play Seven Jewish Children in record time so it could be staged while that year’s Gaza crisis was still underway. Writing in The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg described it as “anti-Jewish agitprop” and “a drive-by shooting of a play” that contains a “not-entirely veiled blood libel” and seeks “to demonize the Jewish people.” In the Spectator, Melanie Phillips called it “despicable,” “a direct attack on the Jews” that denies the “Jewish claim to the land of Israel” and depicts Jews as “kill[ing] and persecut[ing] the Arabs out of some kind of strutting power complex.”

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel, formerly of the rock band Genesis, is no slouch either. Associated with Amnesty International for decades, he’s a co-founder of his own human-rights group, Witness, and, along with Jimmy Carter and others, is a member of a group called The Elders that seeks to resolve conflicts around the world. In 1992, along with such left-wing politicians as Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, he called for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; in 2014, he contributed songs to an album intended to aid Gaza. Film director Ken Loach has belonged to the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and the International Marxist Group, has been involved with Jeremy Corbyn and with the bilious Jew-hater George Galloway, has campaigned for a number of boycotts of Israel, and has condemned efforts to address anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is also a Corbyn supporter. And last but not least there’s Roger Waters, whose virulent anti-Semitism we’ve written about at length on this site.

In short, this campaign to steal Eurovision from Israel is an effort by the usual suspects. When one scans through the letter and picks out the familiar names at the end of it, it’s no surprise to see any of them there. This is what these people are. This is what they’re about. Together, they form an unsavory grab-bag, consisting of fervent fans of Corbyn and Galloway, of longtime card-carrying Communists, of committed Jew-haters. If you’re in search of a gallery of British useful stooges, look no further than this shameful roster of signatories.

Stephen Hawking: ALS wasn’t his only affliction

Stephen Hawking

On Tuesday, we looked briefly at the long and extraordinary career of the British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who may have done more than any other individual since Einstein to expand human understanding of the nature of the universe – and to try to spread that understanding, through books, television programs, and lectures, to the ordinary citizen.

And he did all this, as we noted, while bravely enduring the daily destruction caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the cruel wasting disease that he contracted as a very young man and, against all odds, managed to live with for half a century.

Jacob Bekenstein

But ALS was not Hawking’s only affliction. As we pointed out on Tuesday, Hawking, who usually exhibited a high degree of respect for his fellowman, had one very large blind spot when it came to his fellowman. It had to do with Israel, and with Jews. He was, alas, hostile to Israel, and, many would argue, to the Jewish people generally. 

It was not a lifelong affliction. In early and mid career, Hawking visited Israel several times. On one occasion he was a guest of honor at a reception held by the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities; on another, he traveled to the Jewish state to accept the Wolf Prize in Physics, which is awarded by an Israeli foundation. Most notably, he studied black-hole entropy and developed the theory of Bekenstein-Hawking radiation in collaboration with Jacob Bekenstein, a theoretical physicist at Hebrew University.

Noam Chomsky

More recently, however, Hawking fell under the baleful influence of Noam Chomsky, the world-class linguist turned massively influential far-left political commentator who is a notorious Israel-hater and fan of Palestine. According to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, it was Chomsky who persuaded Hawking to turn down an invitation to a May 2013 conference in Jerusalem hosted by the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres. In a Guardian article that appeared shortly thereafter, however, Hilary and Steven Rose maintained that Hawking boycotted the conference at the behest of Palestinian academics.

With Pope Benedict XVI

This claim is supported by the letter Hawking wrote to the conference organizers, in which he warned that the “policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster,” said that he had accepted their invitation so that he could “express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement” and “lecture on the West Bank,” and stated that he was withdrawing in accordance with the advice of “Palestinian academics,” who “are unanimous that I should respect the boycott.” This fracas did not mark the end of Hawking’s engagement with the Palestinians: last year, according to Al Jazeera, “he asked his millions of Facebook followers to contribute financially to the Palestinian Advanced Physics School – a physics lecture series for masters students in the occupied West Bank.”

Hawking at Intel with Lama Nachman, an Intel engineer

For all his scientific brilliance, Hawking’s palpable contempt for the only democracy in the Middle East cannot be described as anything other than sheer foolishness. Add to this foolishness a considerable dose of hypocrisy: as Jean Patrick Grumberg wrote after his death, Hawking professed to be observing the boycott of Israel promoted by the so-called BDS movement; in fact, however, the computer system that allowed him to communicate after the loss of his voice was a product of Israeli technology – specifically, of the Israeli branch of Intel. Hawking had been using the system since 1997, and by using it he was clearly violating the boycott. The moral inconsistency here, in short, is stark. To quote Grumberg’s summing-up: “It was through an Israeli communication system that Professor Hawking was able to announce a boycott of Israeli science and Jewish scientists.”

Top ten stooges, part two

Yesterday we revisited five of our top ten useful stooges of 2016. Here are the other five, who happen to have one thing in common: a readiness to defend Islam, the premier totalitarian force of our time. 

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Ben Norton

He hates Israel, calls the U.S. a “rogue state,” celebrates the legacy of the Black Panthers, and reflexively responds to each new act of terrorism by fretting about anti-Muslim backlash and smearing critics of Islam. He’s boy scribe Ben Norton, who when he’s not writing for Salon – an execrable enough venue – can be found at such vile pro-jihad sites as Electronic Intifada and Middle East Monitor. Instead of condemning the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in January 2015, Norton slammed the victims as racists. Instead of writing about the massacres in Boston, San Bernardino, and Orlando (media attention to such events, he argues, only boosts bigotry), he penned an entire article about a white lady who’d jumped a hijab-clad woman on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk.

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Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny was born into a prosperous family (both her parents were lawyers), went to a posh English public school, studied at Oxford, and was soon a highly successful journalist and author. But she’s still (as she constantly whines) a victim of sexism, a member of an “oppressed class.” And every man’s an oppressor – except, note well, for those Muslim males who act on the permission their religion gives them to beat, rape, and even kill women with impunity. So it was that when gangs of “refugees” committed mass rape in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, Penny turned her ire not on the rapists, but on the “racists” who responded to this crime by criticizing Islam. 

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Sally Kohn

It sounds like a set-up for a bad joke: a Jewish lesbian defending sharia law. But it’s no joke – it’s Sally Kohn, who after holding a series of jobs as a sleazy political operator and PR flack is now a CNN talking head. Even worse than her utter lack of a decent education is her utter lack of embarrassment about it: when an editor commissioned her to write about Amsterdam, she admitted she didn’t even know what country it was in – but that didn’t keep her from visiting it for a few days and banging out a piece accusing the natives of (what else?) Islamophobia.

owenjones
Owen Jones

“Modern capitalism is a sham,” advises British lad Owen Jones, and “democratic socialism is our only hope.” A Guardian columnist, Oxford grad, and son of Trotskyite parents, Jones is a consistent whitewasher of Islam who turns every act of jihadist terror into an excuse to denounce critics of Islam.

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Will Smith

Finally, there’s movie star Will Smith, who this year called for “cleans[ing]” America by eliminating Trump supporters. (He didn’t say how we should do it.) He also condemned America’s “Islamophobia” and extolled Dubai, which, he claimed, “dreams the way I dream.” Never mind that the UAE, where Dubai is located, is a sharia-ruled country where you can get stoned to death for being gay: Smith, a self-styled “student of world religion,” claimed that if Americans have a bad image of the place, it’s entirely the fault of Fox News.

Happy New Year!

Daddy’s girl

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Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill (57), one of the most famous journalists in Britain, describes herself as a militant leftist. During her long roller coaster of a career as a strident, attention-getting columnist, she’s bounced from the Sunday Times to the Mail on Sunday to The Guardian to The Times and back to The Guardian before then settling in at The Independent. (These days she appears frequently in the pages of the conservative weekly The Spectator.) Her departures from many of these papers were acrimonious in the extreme; she’s publicly slammed her employers and once or twice has publicly admitted that the work she did for them was lazy, tossed-off crap.

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher

Not only does she constantly outrage centrists and right-wingers; she also routinely incenses her fellow men and women of the left – standing up, for example, for Margaret Thatcher, for the Falklands War, for the invasion of Iraq, for Israel, and for Brexit. She has more than her share of prejudices and has been frank about them, insulting such groups as Irish people and transsexuals in sensational fashion. She’s converted to Christianity and then left it and pondered a conversion to Judaism; she’s claimed to have become a lesbian and then quit that after six months; she had one son apiece with each of her first two husbands (she’s now on spouse #3), and eventually abandoned not only the husbands but also the sons, the second of whom, tragically, committed suicide last year.

burchillbk3Many critics have suggested that Burchill’s chatty, heavily self-referential columns – which are often so packed with English slang and English pop-cultural references as to leave an American reader baffled – generate more heat than light and amount to a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. She’s admitted that she moved “from enfant terrible to grande dame without ever being a proper grown-up.” She’s obviously a pretty irresponsible human being, and she’s definitely an attention-seeking egomaniac; and, as she explained in her column for September 5, she was also, once upon a time, a useful idiot.

Stalin_Joseph
Josef Stalin

When she was 12, she wrote, she was a “daddy’s girl, eager to elicit some emotion from my loving but reserved father.” The only thing that really worked, it turned out, was idolizing Stalin as much as he did. A “gentle giant…who literally wouldn’t have hurt a fly,” Burchill’s old man, a distillery worker, was indeed a useful idiot who spent “much of his leisure time acting as the chief cheerleader of a man who was responsible for the deaths of about 20 million people.” To avoid being “bought by the bourgeoisie,” he turned down every promotion offered him, and at the end of his life counted it a victory “that he had not made any advancement up the class ladder.”

But Julie Burchill didn’t just pretend to be a Stalinist when she was in her father’s company. No, she took it with her when she went to London to become a journalist. More tomorrow.

The “Hampstead Marxist”

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E. J. Hobsbawm

During the last couple of days we’ve been looking at the worshipful tributes that issued forth in the mainstream media after the death of Stalinist historian E. J. Hobsbawm. The Guardian called him “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind.” A writer for the New Yorker praised the Kremlin apologist’s fierce determination “to save the world.”

It took the prolific British novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson to say what needed to be said about Hobsbawm. Noting the “fawning” panegyrics by the BBC, the Guardian, and other media, Wilson said: “You might imagine…that the nation was in mourning.” But, he added, “I do not believe that more than one in 10,000 people in this country had so much as heard of Eric Hobsbawm, the fashionable Hampstead Marxist.” (Hampstead is an upscale, artsy neighborhood in London.)

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A. N. Wilson

Unlike Hobsbawm’s admirers, Wilson recalled the historian’s “open…disdain for ordinary mortals,” his determination to mix “only…with intellectuals” and to avoid, in Hobsbawm’s own words, “the suburban petit bourgeoisie which I naturally regarded with contempt.” Wilson also foregrounded the 1994 TV interview in which Hobsbawm admitted his support for Stalin’s murder of millions of Soviet citizens. “Just imagine what would happen,” suggested Wilson,

if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews in order to achieve their aims. We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public again – or at least until he retracted his repellent views and admitted that he had been culpably, basely, wrong.

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Tony Blair

But what really happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? The opposite. 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. On this subject, Wilson was nothing less than eloquent:

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Josef Stalin

The tens of millions dead, the hundreds of millions enslaved, the sheer evil falsity of the ideology which bore down with such horror on the peoples of Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany, never occurred to this man. He went on believing that a few mistakes had been made, and that Stalinism was “disillusioning” – but that, in general, it would have been wonderful if Stalin had succeeded.

Any barmy old fool is, thank goodness, entitled to their point of view in our country. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany, Britain is a country where you can more or less say or think what you like. What is disgraceful about the life of Hobsbawm is not so much that he believed this poisonous codswallop, and propagated it in his lousy books, but that such a huge swathe of our country’s intelligentsia – the supposedly respectable media and chattering classes – bowed down before him and made him their guru.

More tomorrow.

The spectacular Stalinist

When the British historian E. J. Hobsbawm died on October 1, 2012, at the age of 95, the “respectable” media on both sides of the Atlantic joined in a chorus of hosannas to his memory. The BBC broadcast an hour-long retrospective. The Guardian ran thousands of words about him, including an exhaustive obituary by Martin Kettle and Dorothy Wedderburn, whose first few sentences made him sounds like something just short of a god:

January 1976: The British historian Eric Hobsbawm. (Photo by Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images)
E. J. Hobsbawm

Had Eric Hobsbawm died 25 years ago, the obituaries would have described him as Britain’s most distinguished Marxist historian and would have left it more or less there. Yet by the time of his death…he had achieved a unique position in the country’s intellectual life…he became arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind….Both in his knowledge of historic detail and in his extraordinary powers of synthesis…he was unrivalled.

No less fulsome was Hobsbawm’s New York Times obituaryby William Grimes, which overflowed with words like “masterwork,” “incisive,” “eloquent.” Nick Higham’s piece for the BBC website was equally fawning.

Kotkin at Harriman Institute in February 2015
Stephen Kotkin

And the New Yorker ran a cozy tribute by historian Stephen Kotkin, who, calling Hobsbawm “refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged—yet un-full of himself,” proceeded to celebrate Hobsbawm’s books, which “put considerable empirical flesh on the classical Marxist bones,” and closed with the admiring observation that “having embraced and never relinquished the passionate early Marx, E. J. Hobsbawm…was in it to change the world.” Hobsbawm, Kotkin concluded, had “long ago become probably the world’s best known living historian, with books translated into some forty languages.”

As those last few sentences suggest, to be sure, there was one ticklish little fact about Hobsbawm: he was a lifelong Stalinist. Most of those who extolled him in the “respectable” media did acknowledge this detail, but they all found curious ways to, shall we say, diminish its importance.

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William Grimes

While admitting, for example, that critics saw Hobsbawm as “an apologist for Soviet tyranny,” Higham was quick to add that the late, great Kremlin toady “was too shrewd, too open-minded to pursue a narrow Marxist approach in his work or his politics.” The Guardian obit proffered a strikingly similar “yes, but” formulation on Hobsbawm’s Communism: “Hobsbawm was never to leave the Communist party and always thought of himself as part of an international communist movement….Yet he always remained very much a licensed free-thinker within the party’s ranks.”

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Ed Miliband

Higham, indeed, referred neutrally and without irony to Hobsbawm’s “Marxist ideals” (can one imagine a writer for the BBC ever citing in this way someone’s “Nazi ideals”?) and quoted then Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s praise for Hobsbawm as “an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of his family” and as a man who “cared deeply about the political direction of the country.” Kettle and Wedderburn, for their part, even saw Hobsbowm as a victim – a man whose university career was hampered by “a very British academic McCarthyism” (read: a disinclination to allow a Stalinist to indoctrinate students).

More tomorrow.