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.

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.

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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 20-year-old scourge of Brazil’s stooges

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Dilma Rousseff

In recent days we’ve been observing how Brazil – which, a few years ago, looked as if it was on the verge of becoming a prosperous, developed First World-style nation – has rapidly declined, during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, into an economic disaster zone. Meanwhile, the most massive corruption scandal in the country’s history has brought down one member of her administration after another. In the months after her re-election in October 2014, Rousseff dropped from an 80% to an 8% approval rating. Millions are now calling for her impeachment.

Among the most prominent of them is Kim Kataguiri, who turns 20 years old today.

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Kim Kataguiri, with a laptop reading “Less Marx, More Mises”

Just over two years ago, when he was an obscure college student, Kataguiri attended a history class in which the teacher attributed Brazil’s economic success – which would soon evaporate into nothingness – to the welfare-state policies pursued by Rousseff and her predecessor (and Workers’ Party colleague) Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva.

That just seemed wrong,” Kataguiri said in an October 2015 interview with Time Magazine, which named him one of the year’s most influential teenagers. To Kataguiri – a grandson of Japanese immigrants – it was obvious that Brazil’s growth was a result of “the commodities boom and our relationship with China.” In recent years, China had become Brazil’s #1 trading partner, with the value of trade between the two nations climbing from $2 billion in 2000 to $83 billion in 2013.

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The Free Brazil Movement’s logo

Kataguiri responded to his teacher’s sunny socialism with a You Tube video in which he spoke up for the free market. The video went viral. He followed it with other videos, in which, as Yahoo News has reported, he and a group of like-minded friends, who call themselves the Free Brazil Movement, “often don wacky costumes and dress up as political figures such as Fidel Castro.”

The Free Brazil Movement’s positions are clear. It calls for the introduction of a free-market system, with lower taxes, a smaller government bureaucracy, and complete privatization of publicly held companies. It also demands the impeachment of Rousseff, whose Workers’ Party Kataguiri (now a college dropout) views as “the nemesis of freedom and democracy.” His heroes? Politicians Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher, and economists Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises.

 

As Brazil’s economy faltered, and then, with terrifying rapidly, spiraled down into the dustbin, Kataguiri and his movement became increasingly popular. On March 15 of last year, when over a million Brazilians attended anti-Rousseff rallies, Kataguiri spoke to an audience of 200,000 at a protest in São Paulo.

CCbJYzSWgAAfp64Pointing out that he had himself “emerged through the Internet,” Kataguiri told Time that he has

a great hope that the internet can have a serious effect on the political world and can bring change. It can improve knowledge, participation and transparency in politics. Now, politics in Brazil looks very bad. Everyone steals. But I have hope that in 20 years things can be different. I have hope that our generation can change the ways things are done.

Václav Klaus: “champion of liberty” turned Putinist

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Václav Havel

In its brief history, the Czech Republic has had two presidents in a row named Václav. Both have been men of extraordinary substance. Václav Havel was an eloquent playwright and courageous dissident who, in a single profoundly perceptive essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” written in 1978, explained to his people, then suffering under the yoke of Communism, how totalitarianism works – and how individuals who consider themselves weak, terrified, and alone can contribute to its overthrow and help bring about their own liberation. Millions of citizens of Czechoslovakia and other Soviet satellites who read Havel’s essay (circulated by samizdat) and took his words to heart played an active role in the fall of the Iron Curtain. When Czechoslovakia won its freedom in 1989, Havel was as inevitable a choice to become its first president as George Washington was to become the first president of the United States. (Indeed, the National Assembly selected Havel by a unanimous vote.) When Slovaks decided they wanted their own country, splitting Czechoslovakia in two, Havel ran for and was elected president of the Czech Republic, a position he held until 2003. (He died in 2011.)

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Václav Klaus

Internationally, his successor, Václav Klaus, has been overshadowed by Havel. But Klaus, who served as president from 2003 to 2013, was also admirable in many ways. Havel was a poet; Klaus is a trained economist – a student of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and admirer of Margaret Thatcher who knows how markets work. While Havel supported the European Union, which he viewed as a means of keeping the peace in Europe, Klaus considers it an all too Soviet-style superstate run by arrogant political elites who don’t understand economics, aren’t answerable to the electorate, and want to have their fingers in every pie – who are driven, that is, by a compulsion to control, to regulate, and to tax. Havel was sympathetic to Nordic-style “market socialism”; Klaus is a strong enthusiast for free markets, period. If Havel was a hero to liberals everywhere, Klaus made a worldwide name for himself as an outspoken libertarian.

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Klaus: from Thacherite…

After he left office, however, it didn’t take long for Klaus’s international luster to start fading. Named in March 2014 a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute – perhaps the most respected libertarian institution – he was cut loose by Cato only months later. “The alleged reason for the split,” wrote James Kirchick in a December 2014 article for the Daily Beast, “is the former Czech leader’s slavish defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, as well as his hostility to homosexuality and cozying up to figures on the European far right.”

Slavish defense of Putin? Could this “champion of liberty,” as Cato’s president had called him, really have thrown in his lot with the Russian thug?

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during his meeting with Armenian President Serge Sarksyan in Yerevan December 2, 2013. REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (ARMENIA - Tags: POLITICS) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
…to Putinite?

Alas, yes. On February 21 of last year, noted Kirchick, “Klaus took to the website of his foundation to question Ukraine’s very right to exist as a sovereign country.” He called it an “artificial entity.” In May, Klaus commemorated the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory by visiting the Russian Embassy in Prague with what Kirchick described as “a bevy of aging Czech communists and old KGB informants.” At a July conference, Klaus “railed against ‘unilateral pro-Western propaganda’ and offered to help divide Ukraine based upon his own experience in the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia.” In September, speaking to free-market economists at an event hosted by the Mont Pelerin Society, Klaus brought up the subject of Ukraine on his own, blaming the “Ukraine problem” on the US and EU and absolving Putin of blame. At a conference sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, he said the following about the cold shoulder he’d gotten from Cato: “The US/EU propaganda against Russia is really ridiculous and I can’t accept it.”

More tomorrow.

Joe Stiglitz’s war on inequality

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Joseph Stiglitz

During the last couple of days, we’ve been pondering the career and views of big-government economist Joseph Stiglitz, who, among much else, is a fierce critic of American-style capitalism, an ardent fan of the U.N., a proponent of an international tax system (!), and a “point man” for George Soros, the gazillionaire bag man for the American far left. 

One of Stiglitz’s fixations, as we’ve mentioned, is income inequality. He sees it as the root of virtually all economic problems. Last April, Mark Hendrickson did a good job of putting Stiglitz in his place when it comes to this topic. Writing in Forbes, Hendrickson pointed out that Stiglitz is so down on income equality that “he looks more favorably upon the Great Depression, with its greater poverty but lower measures of inequality, than the 1980s, with its significant improvements in standards of living for the non-rich accompanied by higher measures of inequality.”

We’re reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s famous November 1990 retort in the House of Commons to a Liberal Democrat MP who complained about the rise in income inequality during her years as prime minister: “What the honorable member is saying is that he would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich….So long as the gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer. You do not create wealth and opportunity that way. You do not create a property-owning democracy that way.”

Stiglitz’s preoccupation with income inequality leads to some bizarre pronouncements. For instance, he attributes post-World War II prosperity to that era’s highly progressive tax code; Hendrickson replies, quite sensibly, that “I know of no accepted economic theory that high taxes create prosperity,” and ascribes postwar prosperity, more logically, to the “huge decline in federal spending after the war” that sparked “a flood of pent-up demand.” Similarly, while Stiglitz blames today’s greater economic inequality on the less progressive tax codes that were introduced during the Reagan era, Hendrickson retorts that “there is a much more obvious cause” for this inequality, namely government growth. Hendrickson sums up his differences with Stiglitz as follows:

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Mark Hendrickson

Joseph Stiglitz’s diagnosis is flat-out wrong when he argues that the middle class is declining because the rich are getting richer. That zero-sum view is atavistic mercantilist nonsense….for him to blame the rich instead of government for today’s problems reflects a partisan and ideological bias rather than objective economic analysis.

Indeed. In the next couple of days, we’ll take a closer look at Stiglitz’s partisan and ideological biases. Hold on to your hats.

Sullying the ivory tower

Campus Beauty shotsA few decades ago, American university campuses were arguably the freest places in the country – oases of liberty where even the most challenging and unorthodox ideas could get a fair hearing and be earnestly and vigorously debated. In recent years, however, that freedom has been eroded by “speech codes” supposedly intended to protect members of certain groups from offense. Speakers whose views are considered politically incorrect have been disinvited. During the last year or so, many students have complained about what they call “microaggressions” – gestures or statements that unintentionally give offense on an admittedly minor level but that nonetheless, they argue, need to be silenced.

All this policing of speech on American campuses has helped make them considerably less free than they used to be, and has been widely criticized. But another threat to the freedom of American universities – and their British counterparts, too – has drawn somewhat less attention. We’re talking about the morally questionable ties that college administrators, eager to rake in foreign money, have forged with undemocratic governments around the globe.

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Shaun Tan

Three years ago, Shaun Tan, who at the time was an International Relations student at Yale, published a highly illuminating article, aptly entitled “Dangerous Liaisons,” about this phenomenon. The article should have appeared in a high-profile place like the New York Times Magazine, and should have sparked national debate; unfortunately, it was posted at The Politic, a website written by and for students at Yale.

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Sir Howard Davies

Tan served up a raft of eye-popping anecdotes. In 2011, for example, Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics, “resigned in disgrace” when the media uncovered lucrative deals he’d made on behalf of the LSE with the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Tan noted that LSE, sniffing out the possibility of a big payday, had accepted Qaddafi’s son Saif as a Ph.D. student “despite his poor English skills and weak academic record,” and had accorded him “special privileges, including special assistance from professors and permission to use a personal assistant to help him with his thesis.”

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Anti-Qaddafi protest at LSE

In return, LSE cashed in, receiving “a $2.5 million donation from the Gaddafi Foundation in 2008, as well as a $3.5 million contract for a special exchange program to train Libyan bureaucrats.” LSE even hosted “a live video-link conference” with Colonel Qaddafi himself, who

took the opportunity to denounce the Lockerbie bombing as a “fabrication” of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, whilst the LSE moderator addressed him as “Brother Leader” and “the world’s longest-serving national leader.” At the end of his speech, Gaddafi was presented with a LSE baseball cap as a gift.

But we’re just warming up. More tomorrow.

Castro, Kushner, the Khmer Rouge: The Nation from the ’60s to 9/11

Professor Noam Chomsky of Linguistics and Philosophy. photo: Donna Coveney/MIT
Noam Chomsky

We’ve been taking a look at the history of The Nation during the Cold War, when it was, as the phrase went, “anti-anti-Communist.” Practically speaking, to be sure, there was little if any difference between The Nation‘s “anti-anti-Communism” and robust advocacy for (or, at the very least, defense of) Communism. Routinely, The Nation‘s editors and contributors wrote about the U.S. and USSR as if their people had, quite simply, chosen different systems, just as you might order a Coke and your best friend might order a Pepsi. And while The Nation tended to dance around the question of whether the Soviet system was inherently oppressive, it had no qualms about stridently denouncing the supposedly intrinsic evils of American capitalism – and supporting America’s enemies, the more tyrannical, it sometimes seemed, the better. In the 1970s, for example, it ran Noam Chomsky‘s defense of the Khmer Rouge from charges of genocide and supported the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Jesse Jackson with Fidel Castro

Among the other postwar-era low notes reprinted in The Nation ‘s special centennial issue: in a 1988 editorial, the Nation actually endorsed world-class shakedown artist and Castro crony Jesse Jackson for president of the United States – this, in the midst of Jackson’s public enthusiasm for Jew-baiting, gay-bashing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (whom Malcolm X’s own relatives publicly accused of complicity in his assassination) and in the wake of Jackson’s own disgusting reference to New York City as “Hymietown.”

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Tony Kushner

Then there’s gay rights. The Nation presents itself today as having always been at the forefront of the struggle for gay equality; but for years, in fact, its contributors were consistently, fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and other forms of what they considered gay “assimilation” into bourgeois institutions. In their view, the proper socialist objective was not to achieve equal rights for gay people in mainstream capitalist society, but to marshal marginalized gay people as far-left storm troopers in the battle to overthrow mainstream capitalist society. The anniversary issue reprints part of a typically jejune 1994 article by Tony Kushner that sneeringly rejects gay marriage and calls for gay people to be true to utopian socialist ideals of “liberation. (It is instructive, by the way, to compare the complete original article – which can be found here – to the expurgated version served up in the anniversary issue.) The bottom line about The Nation and gay rights is that Kushner and other gay stalwarts at the magazine fought tooth and nail against the social changes that have enabled gay Americans to live and thrive openly with far less difficulty than they could a generation ago; yet now the magazine happily, and deceitfully, takes a big chunk of the credit for those very changes.

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Mikhail Gorbachev

When the Iron Curtain fell, millions of Eastern Europeans wept with joy and rushed to embrace capitalism and democracy. But the folks at The Nation – like other stateside comrades of the Kremlin – offered no mea culpas and exhibited no shame. Quietly, they more or less dropped their longtime enthusiasm for the Kremlin down the memory hole. But they didn’t revise their poisonously anti-American attitudes, revisit their fierce hostility to the NATO policy of containment, or rethink their resounding contempt for the unapologetic pro-freedom rhetoric of Reagan and Thatcher, which they had repeatedly denounced as vulgar and dangerous. No, they just kept preaching their same old ideology, as if it had not been thoroughly discredited. They even allowed Mikhail Gorbachev, in a 2009 interview with Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and hubby Stephen F. Cohen, to cast himself as the hero of the end of the Cold War – and to depict the whole conflict, in the same old way, as a clash between two morally equivalent regimes. Entirely removed from the picture was the monstrous injustice and intrinsic evil of the Communist system, and the fact that that system ultimately came crashing down precisely because of its injustice and evil.

And what about 9/11 and its aftermath? We’ll move on to that disgraceful chapter of The Nation‘s history next time.