One nation, under the gun
Just after seven-thirty on the morning of February 27th, a seventeen-year-old boy named T. J. Lane walked into the cafeteria at Chardon High School, about thirty miles outside Cleveland. It was a Monday, and the cafeteria was filled with kids, some eating breakfast, some waiting for buses to drive them to programs at other schools, some packing up for gym class. Lane sat down at an empty table, reached into a bag, and pulled out a .22-calibre pistol. He stood up, raised the gun, and fired. He said not a word.
Russell King, a seventeen-year-old junior, was sitting at a table with another junior, Nate Mueller. King, shot in the head, fell face first onto the table, a pool of blood forming. A bullet grazed Mueller’s ear. “I could see the flame at the end of the gun,” Mueller said later. Daniel Parmertor, a sixteen-year-old snowboarder, was shot in the head. Someone screamed “Duck!” Demetrius Hewlin, sixteen, was also shot in the head, and slid under the table. Joy Rickers, a senior, tried to run; Lane shot her as she fled. Nickolas Walczak, shot in his neck, arm, back, and face, fell to the floor. He began crawling toward the door.
Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School, in a Denver suburb, in 1999, American schools have been preparing for gunmen. Chardon started holding drills in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, when twenty-three-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, a college senior, shot fifty-seven people in Blacksburg.
At Chardon High School, kids ran through the halls screaming “Lockdown!” Some of them hid in the teachers’ lounge; they barricaded the door with a piano. Someone got on the school’s public-address system and gave instructions, but everyone knew what to do. Students ran into classrooms and dived under desks; teachers locked the doors and shut off the lights. Joseph Ricci, a math teacher, heard Walczak, who was still crawling, groaning in the hallway. Ricci opened the door and pulled the boy inside. No one knew if the shooter had more guns, or more rounds. Huddled under desks, students called 911 and texted their parents. One tapped out, “Prayforus.”
From the cafeteria, Frank Hall, the assistant football coach, chased Lane out of the building, and he ran off into the woods.
Moments later, four ambulances arrived. E.M.T.s raced Rickers and Walczak to Chardon’s Hillcrest Hospital. Hewlin, Parmertor, and King were flown by helicopter to a trauma center at MetroHealth Medical Center, in Cleveland. By eight-thirty, the high school had been evacuated.
At a quarter to nine, police officers with dogs captured Lane, about a mile from the school.
“I hate to say it, but we trained for exactly this type of thing, a school emergency of this type,” Dan McClelland, the county sheriff, said.
Danny Parmertor died that afternoon. That evening, St. Mary’s Church opened its doors, and the people of Chardon sank to their knees and keened. At the town square, students gathered to hold a vigil. As night fell, they lit candles. Drew Gittins, sixteen, played a Black Eyed Peas song on his guitar. “People killin’, people dyin’,” he sang. “People got me, got me questionin’, Where is the love?”
Russell King had been too badly wounded. A little after midnight, doctors said that they couldn’t save him…
… Read it all here
“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” -Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution
Whatever the merits of such notions about personal and national security (they are, to say the least, highly questionable in this day and age), it is important to note that the only kind of militia the Second Amendment expressly regards as consistent with security is a “well-regulated” militia. One may rationally and reasonably conclude that this applies both to an organized militia and an unorganized one. Otherwise, an armed citizenry consisting of men and women using guns for presumed high purpose according to their respective dictates of personal whim and political fancy is the stuff from which anarchy could result, and in turn the tyranny against which the private possession of guns is supposed to protect Americans.
The right to keep and bear arms (a term that connotes a military purpose) stems from the English common law right of self-defense. However, the possession of guns in the mother country of the common law was never an absolute right. Various conditions were imposed. Britain today has one of the strictest gun laws in the world.
There is nothing absolute about the freedoms in our own Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech is not freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is not freedom to have multiple spouses, or sacrifice a lamb in the local park, as religiously sanctioned practices. Similarly, whatever right the Second Amendment protects regarding the private possession of guns, for whatever definition of “militia,” is not an absolute right. It must serve the overall public interest, including (from the preamble of the US Constitution) the need to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.” Whatever right there is to possess firearms is no less important than the right of every American, gun owners included, to protection against the possession of guns by persons who by any reasonable standard lack the crucial credentials for responsible gun ownership.
- From a 1977 article by David J.Steinberg, Executive Director, National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy: “Does The Second Amendment Mean What It Says?”
- Socialists debate gun control here: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/4681
A discussion piece, cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website and the paper Solidarity: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/09/25/charlie-hebdo-muslims-and-how-defend-freedom-expression
By Yves Coleman
The author is a French socialist activist, involved in publishing the journal Ni Patrie, Ni Frontières (No Fatherlands, No Borders).
“If you insult Muhammad, it is as if you insult my own mother.” (A participant, during a debate on Radio Tropic FM, September 20, 2012.)
It all began with excerpts from a stupid video posted on the Net.
Then a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, intervened. This weekly publication has always been characterized by its bad taste, rude machismo supposed to be funny and popular, and its cheap anti-racism. This typical French form of pseudo anti-racism has a peculiarity: it conveys all racist or anti-Semitic clichés under the pretext of attacking… racism. This position makes ist “humor” often perfectly acceptable to extreme right people. One example is the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo: it shows a Jew with a traditional hat pushing a wheelchair in which sits a Muslim (or Muhammad?), with the subtitle “Untouchables” – which is also the title of a French film which won great popular success and was supposedly anti-racist. A first-degree understanding of this cartoon encourages the reader to think that Jews and Muslims are exempt from criticism in France, which obviously implies that:
- that Catholics (culturally dominant in France) are much more tolerant than the supporters of the other two religions of the Book
- French Jews, even if they are a small minority, form a powerful “lobby” (a thought which was also expressed by the Tropic FM “Muslim” listener quoted before)
- And finally, that “Muslims” have installed a reign of terror in France through their intellectual terrorism, their physical threats or even attacks.
In fact, Charlie Hebdo has only jumped on the opportunity given by The Innocence of Muslims to reinforce the “critical” current which tends to present all Muslims as fanatics or terrorists.
Fifteen years ago, the newspaper Charlie Hebdo was considered by the anti-globalization left, as a rare example of the “free press” (according to Serge Halimi, director of the Left anti-globalization monthly Le Monde diplomatique).
When this weekly came under the leadership of a former stand-up comedian and playwriter (Philippe Val), who became a vulgar court philosopher close to Sarkozy, of course radicals and left-wing people found that publication was no more trendy. And especially because a feminist reformist, Caroline Fourest, started writing in Charlie Hebdo, criticizing all religions, all fundamentalisms, including Islamic fundamentalism and therefore criticizing Tariq Ramadan, an anti-globalization and left icon for a while. Anti-Semitic “jokes” made by the cartoonist Sine (who had a long experience in anti-semitic remarks) allowed a false debate to take place between Sine supporters (supposed to be left, even far left minded) and Philippe Val supporters or Charlie Hebdo readers, supposed to be all Sarkozysts and “Islamophobes”. The terms of the debate were faked because none of the two camps really opposed BOTH anti-Semitism (including when presented as ”anti-Zionism”) and anti-Arab racism, even when it was concealed under a criticism of Islam. Finally, Sine was sacked from Charlie Hebdo and created his own satirical monthly, Val was appointed to manage a public radio station, where he soon distinguished himself by firing an two anti -Sarkozyst stand-up comedians (Didier Porte and Stephane Guillon), and Charlie Hebdo continued its muddled comments on all kinds of subjects.
It is obvious that the new issue of Charlie Hebdo devoted to caricatures of Muhammad or of Muslims (the previous issue with similar content, around the time of the “Danish cartoons” row in 2006) provoked an arson attack on its office, the protection of the police and several trials for “Islamophobia”) had only one main objective: to create the buzz in order to sell more copies of this weekly, taking advantage of the atmosphere created by the reactions to The Innocence of Muslims. “Freedom of speech” had nothing to do with this provocation.
In addition, we know that, during the recent years, in France as well as in Europe, the extreme right hides its fascist and racist ideas under the banner of the freedom of expression, and a critique of ”political correctness gone mad”, etc. So we must be conscious that freedom of expression often becomes an often adulterated commodity in certain hands.
At the same time, a tiny number of Muslims have fallen into the trap: they wanted to organize demonstrations, all banned by the “Socialist” government.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the National Front, took the opportunity to call for a ban on hijabs and yarmulkes on the streets.
In short, a new false debate was launched by the media, amplified by radio and community media, where we were required to take stands: either on the side of all “Muslims”, whatever their orientation was (Muslims whose religious representatives called to ignore the provocation and not to demonstrate) or the side of Charlie Hebdo, supposedly the main voice of the “Islamophobic” left.
Yet there is a plethora of more important matters today than discussing the opportunity to publish cartoons of a prophet-warrior who died 15 centuries ago. The wave of layoffs, rising unemployment, lack of teachers in schools, repression against undocumented people, policing of all those who receive welfare, increase of productivity and of accidents, increase of suicides related to the deterioration of working conditions, harassment organized by foremen and bosses, etc.., all these topics deserve hundreds of articles, dozens of radio and TV programms, and thousands of discussions.
But the media prefer to organize false debates with their auditors or with confused Islamophile or Islamophobic intellectuals, almost never inviting atheists or rationalists to express their views, to discuss the only topic of interest for them: freedom of expression.
The opinion expressed by the listener whose quote begins this article, and many other views expressed on the Net, are perfect examples of the current ideological confusion.
Personal insults against individuals are dealt within the frame of bourgeois justice. People who are insulted can complain if they feel defamed. And there is an entire legal arsenal for this purpose. No need to add more to these laws.
You can also use a quick solution, as seemed to suggest the quoted listener (i.e., to smash the face of the person who insulted your mother or religion) but is this really the best solution?
Finally, one can imagine how it could work in another society, where in the neighborhoods, in the schools, or companies, general assemblies, committees of residents or workers would meet to resolve such disputes without going by judges and lawyers … But this would imply that participants agree to settle their dispute by accepting a collective, non-violent solution.
Freedom of expression, contrary to what the Tropic FM listener believes, has nothing to do with a trivial personal insult. Freedom of expression depends on a fragile collection of collective rights that regulate all media, from a simple leaflet to a TV progamme, newspaper or book, but also the right to protest and organize - collective rights which have been won after decades of struggle by the working class and other democratic forces.
This freedom of expression is reduced to a minimum in the Western world, not because of some protests made by fundamentalist Muslims or some Islamist attacks, but because of the mighty power of capitalists. The banking, finance and industry magnates who control the media rarely encourage freedom of expression. And ther words of workers, unemployed and exploited are almost never heard, or filtered by journalists who carefully respect the interests of their masters.
The situation is also not so much better in the so-called left parties or large unions.
It is well known how the French Communist Party defamed, denounced to the cops and bosses, punched or sent to the hospital hundreds of Trotskyist and anarchist activists for decades. When it did not murder them, as it happened under the German Occupation, under Stalinism in the Eastern bloc, or during the Spanish Civil War.
We know that the French Socialist Party gives power and freedom of speech only to individuals coming from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.
This is reflected in the media which are linked to this party, in the social composition of its MPs, Senators and Ministers, in its current implementation of austerity, in its anti-immigrant policies carried out under the previous government, its support to the police forces, French armed interventions abroad, etc.
We know that the unions muzzle speech and freedom of action of workers hostile to their bureaucracies, when they do not exclude them, plain and simple.
We also know how the small pseudo left-wing and anti-imperialist group called “The Indigenous of the Republic” with the help of some intellectuals (Said Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian) recently prevented Caroline Fourest, a secular, anti racist and left-reformist feminist to talk and criticize the National Front at the Communist Party “fête”, on September 16, 2012, all that in the name of anti-fascism … and fight against Islamophobia. (To check the falsity of these two lies, one only needs to read Fourest’s book against Marine Le Pen or the one where she interviews Taslima Nasreen and expresses a much more moderate view than Nasreen!).
So let us be wary, too, about left or extreme left groups who want, in the labor movement, trade unions, or in the street, to impose their ideas with clubs or fists whenever it suits them. Or those who claim to defend freedom of expression, but are unable to practice it in their own unions and political organizations and their publications.
About the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, some “Muslims” wanted to have both the right to express their indignation in the street against the newspaper and also to protest against The Innocence of Muslims. The French government has banned several demonstrations, and the few which have been organized have been spectacular failures (from one to 150 protesters, according to the cities), showing that the vast majority of “Muslims” did not fall into the trap, even if they were offended by the film and/or the magazine.
As a supporter of freedom of expression, I do not see why I should support any ban by the French State. These demonstrations should be allowed to proceed without being banned by the state, whatever one thinks of their dubious or reactionary political or religious content. And activists should also have the right to protest against these demonstrations (it is symptomatic that the only “Muslim” demonstrator sentenced to prison after the September 15 demonstration has explained he wore a telescopic club to defend himself against… Jews. A typical example of the delirious anti-Semitism inspired both by Koranic anti-Judaism, fascist anti-Semitism and extreme right anti-Zionism.).
As a rationalist atheist, I do not see why I should support those who want to introduce in France a law against blasphemy, or limit the freedom of expression with regard to the criticism all religions, including Islam.
We know that both the Organization of the Islamic Conference (which includes 57 states), the United States and the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations want France to adopt new laws against blasphemy. We know that French government is regularly criticized as “anti -religious”, “Islamophobic”, because of the laws against the headscarf or niqab, and that they pretend that the Church of Scientology is persecuted in France.
The French state uses secularism when it suits its interests for domestic policy issues; it finances Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim cults, in several French departments.
It maintains Catholic churches, and its finances (religious) private instruction throughout the country. We have no reason to support the French government but we must also oppose all those who would like to impose laws restricting criticism of religions, supposedly because it offends believers, god or the prophets.
Similarly, without supporting a publication like Charlie Hebdo in its quest for sales and publicity, I see no reason to support those who want to destroy its headquarters, or physically threaten its cartoonists or journalists, or want them to be condemned by the bourgeois judicial system because of their bad taste and/or “blasphemy.”
As an atheist, I can only oppose any law against blasphemy, any restriction to the criticism of religions, if a government, left or right, wants to impose them in France.
Meanwhile, we should also denounce anyone, including in the Left, who is critical of one religion (Islam) while remaining silent or very secretive about other religions, so he can present as progressive his anti-Arab racism, or his support to French, European or American interventions in Africa, Libya or Afghanistan.
We must denounce Iran’s trial to recover the initiative it lost since, in Tunisia and Egypt, dictators were overthrown by the people, or are highly contested. Iran where a religious foundation linked to the regime immediately took advantage of the The Innocence of Muslims to increase the price on Salman Rushdie’s head.
We must denounce the National Frront attempt to participate to this debate in order to stir up hatred against the Arabs, whether Muslim or not, and against Jews, two elements of the National Front political patrimony.
Finally, we must denounce the obvious diversion organised by all media about these non-events. Several facist groups (including l’Oeuvre française et les Jeunesses nationalistes) organize a “ride” to Paris with buses and a “nationalist rally” on 29 September 2012, but the media have not shown any interest for this demo. Yet the themes of the meeting of 28th and demo of the 29th should alert all those so-called advocates of freedom of expression: Promotional material for the event calls for a “General mobilization of all the French patriots and nationalists. After the French natives revolt in Lyon, let’s participate to the French march on the capital! Against lawless areas, against the government’s anti-national policy, against anti-white racism: We want to be masters in our fatherland! Against immigration-invasion governments hirelings, against the violation of our interests by US-Zionist and euro-globalist forces, against foreign preference: let’s struggle to give France back to the French and become masters in our homeland! “
This disgusting prose is a significant example of the xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and fascistic form of anti-Zionism which flourish on the internet at every minute.
National, cultural and religious identities are being promoted by states, churches and all sorts of fascist and populist demagogues. But neither Muslim nor non-Muslim workers lose their free will, intellectual independence or critical faculties just because they are exposed to vicious hateful propaganda.
Workers have a choice: either they support their exploiters and their demagogic leaders who claim to share the same faith and/or culture, or they unmask all the political uses of their beliefs and background.
As atheists and non-believers, we must also stand against all left or right, populist or fascist currents who claim the heritage of the Enlightenment or human rights to better hide their reactionary or obscurantist projects!
NB: The term “Muslim” is put in quotation marks in this article, because journalists, demographers, sociologists and many radical, left-wing or anti-globalization activists generally stick the religious label of Muslim on the front of all those who come from countries where Islam is the state religion, or whose families are practicing islam, or simply those whose names sound “Arab”, as if there were no atheists among these so-called “Muslims.”
Dear Mr Bagley,
You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.
On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:
” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”
The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.
But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.
But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.
Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”
Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?
But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:
EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;
OR it was edited out by the Star itself.
If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.
I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :
Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.
A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.
This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:
- What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
- In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
- If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
- As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done - assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.
“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.
The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.
It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.
It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.
This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace – almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.
“But, now that we are all at last preparing to act, a new form of social organisation is essential. In order to avoid further uncertainty, I propose my own system of world-organisation. Here it is.” He tapped the notebook. “I wanted to expound my views to the meeting in the most concise form possible, but I see that I should need to add a great many verbal explanations, and so the whole exposition would occupy at least ten evenings, one for each of my chapters.” (There was the sound of laughter.) “I must add, besides, that my system is not yet complete.” (Laughter again.) “I am perplexed by my own data and my conclusion is a direct contradiction of the original idea with which I start. Starting from unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that there can be no solution of the social problem but mine” – Shigalev, a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed.
Anyone foolish enough (in the light of his pompous bleatings today) to take the self-important charlatan Assange at his own, inflated, estimation, should ponder the man’s willingness to grovel before autocrats and denounce their opponents to them, his evident belief that he should be above any law, his support for, and employment of, a notorious anti-semite and neo-Nazi, his crude sexism (whether or not he’s actually a rapist)…but most of all, this (from the Daily Tech):
David Leigh of England’s Guardian newspaper has leveled a shocking accusation against Mr. Assange in the special.
He recalls a meeting he was invited to about the publication of the war memos. He remembers pleading with Assange to redact the names of tribal elders and U.S. informants who were exposed cooperating with the U.S. and could be the subject of deadly retribution. He comments, “Julian was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them. And we said: ‘Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.’”
“And he said: ‘These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.’ And a silence fell around the table.”
Mr. Assange seemingly denied the allegation calling it “absolutely false… completely false.”
But he qualifies, “We don’t want innocent people with a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt.”
The possibility is left open that Mr. Assange views U.S. allies (such as cooperating tribal leaders) as culpable accomplices, and is obfuscating the fact that he indeed wishes them ill.
It is unknown whether the publications have caused any deaths, but Newsweek reported last year that the Taliban, a violent Jihadist fundamentalist insurgency in Afghanistan, were using the war memos as a rally cry. Allegedly they brutally murdered a tribal elder, whom they claimed the leaked documents exposed, and promised more executions.
PS: just a few things the reptillian attention-seeker had to say in the course of his bleating from the balcony today, are true – that Bradley Manning, Pussy Riot and the jailed Bahraini dissident Nabeel Rajab must be supported. They’re genuine heroes and victims. But as Bob points out, Assange’s attempt to identify himself with these honourable dissidents, may be yet another example of the man’s overweening cynicism.
PPS: it goes without saying that the UK government’s ludicrous and empty semi-threat to withdraw diplomatic immunity from the Ecuadorian embassy has only aided Assange’s claim to be some kind of “victim,” and provided grist to the mill of the the populist demagogue Correa’s “anti-imperialist” posturing.
Gore Vidal, essayist, novelist, political commentator, contrarian and patrician socialite, has died.
Above: portrait taken in 1978 of Gore Vidal for the Los Angeles Times.
Here’s what his one-time friend and admirer Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair in February 2010 (later included in Hitchens’ last book, Arguably). As will become apparent, Hitchens had long since fallen out with Vidal, mainly over the latter’s increasingly deranged and conspiracy-driven view of the world after 9/11. It is far from being a fully-rounded picture but – frankly – by 2010 Vidal thoroughly deserved such a demolition job. Enjoy:
More than a decade ago, I sat on a panel in New York to review the life and work of Oscar Wilde. My fellow panelist was that heroic old queen Quentin Crisp, perhaps the only man ever to have made a success of the part of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Inevitably there arose the question: Is there an Oscar Wilde for our own day? The moderator proposed Gore Vidal, and, really, once that name had been mentioned, there didn’t seem to be any obvious rival.
Like Wilde, Gore Vidal combined tough-mindedness with subversive wit (The Importance of Being Earnest is actually a very mordant satire on Victorian England) and had the rare gift of being amusing about serious things as well as serious about amusing ones. Like Wilde, he was able to combine radical political opinions with a lifestyle that was anything but solemn. And also like Wilde, he was almost never “off”: his private talk was as entertaining and shocking as his more prepared public appearances. Admirers of both men, and of their polymorphous perversity, could happily debate whether either of them was better at fiction or in the essay form.
I was fortunate enough to know Gore a bit in those days. The price of knowing him was exposure to some of his less adorable traits, which included his pachydermatous memory for the least slight or grudge and a very, very minor tendency to bring up the Jewish question in contexts where it didn’t quite belong. One was made aware, too, that he suspected Franklin Roosevelt of playing a dark hand in bringing on Pearl Harbor and still nurtured an admiration in his breast for the dashing Charles Lindbergh, leader of the American isolationist right in the 1930s. But these tics and eccentricities, which I did criticize in print, seemed more or less under control, and meanwhile he kept on saying things one wished one had said oneself. Of a certain mushy spiritual writer named Idries Shah: “These books are a great deal harder to read than they were to write.” Of a paragraph by Herman Wouk: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” He once said to me of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced, engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited “all the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.” Who but Gore could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates”? In an interview, he told me that his life’s work was “making sentences.” It would have been more acute to say that he made a career out of pronouncing them.
However, if it’s true even to any degree that we were all changed by September 11, 2001, it’s probably truer of Vidal that it made him more the way he already was, and accentuated a crackpot strain that gradually asserted itself as dominant. If you look at his writings from that time, thrown together in a couple of cheap paperbacks entitled Dreaming War and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, you will find the more crass notions of Michael Moore or Oliver Stone being expressed in language that falls some distance short of the Wildean ideal. “Meanwhile, Media was assigned its familiar task of inciting public opinion against Osama bin Laden, still not the proven mastermind.” To that “sentence,” abysmal as it is in so many ways, Vidal put his name in November 2002. A small anthology of half-argued and half-written shock pieces either insinuated or asserted that the administration had known in advance of the attacks on New York and Washington and was seeking a pretext to build a long-desired pipeline across Afghanistan. (Not much sign of that, incidentally, not that the luckless Afghans mightn’t welcome it.) For academic authority in this Grassy Knoll enterprise, Vidal relied heavily on the man he thought had produced “the best, most balanced report” on 9/11, a certain Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, whose book The War on Freedom had been brought to us by what Vidal called “a small but reputable homeland publisher.” Mr. Ahmed on inspection proved to be a risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering, his “Institute” a one-room sideshow in the English seaside town of Brighton, and his publisher an outfit called “Media Monitors Network” in association with “Tree of Life,” whose now-deceased Web site used to offer advice on the ever awkward question of self-publishing. And to think that there was once a time when Gore Vidal could summon Lincoln to the pages of a novel or dispute points of strategy with Henry Cabot Lodge …
It became more and more difficult to speak to Vidal after this (and less fun too), but then I noticed something about his last volume of memoirs, Point to Point Navigation, which brought his life story up to 2006. Though it contained a good ration of abuse directed at Bush and Cheney, it didn’t make even a gesture to the wild-eyed and croaking stuff that Mr. Ahmed had been purveying. This meant one of two things: either Vidal didn’t believe it any longer or he wasn’t prepared to put such sorry, silly, sinister stuff in a volume published by Doubleday, read by his literary and intellectual peers, and dedicated to the late Barbara Epstein. The second interpretation, while slightly contemptible, would be better than nothing and certainly a good deal better than the first.
But I have now just finished reading a long interview conducted by Johann Hari of the London Independent (Hari being a fairly consecrated admirer of his) in which Vidal decides to go slumming again and to indulge the lowest in himself and in his followers. He openly says that the Bush administration was “probably” in on the 9/11 attacks, a criminal complicity that would “certainly fit them to a T”; that Timothy McVeigh was “a noble boy,” no more murderous than Generals Patton and Eisenhower; and that “Roosevelt saw to it that we got that war” by inciting the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Coming a bit more up-to-date, Vidal says that the whole American experiment can now be described as “a failure”; the country will soon take its place “somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs”; President Obama will be buried in the wreckage—broken by “the madhouse”—after the United States has been humiliated in Afghanistan and the Chinese emerge supreme. We shall then be “the Yellow Man’s burden,” and Beijing will “have us running the coolie cars, or whatever it is they have in the way of transport.” Asian subjects never seem to bring out the finest in Vidal: he used to say it was Japan that was dominating the world economy, and that in the face of that other peril “there is now only one way out. The time has come for the United States to make common cause with the Soviet Union.” That was in 1986—not perhaps the ideal year to have proposed an embrace of Moscow, and certainly not as good a year as 1942, when Franklin Roosevelt did join forces with the U.S.S.R., against Japan and Nazi Germany, in a war that Vidal never ceases to say was (a) America’s fault and (b) not worth fighting.
Rounding off his interview, an obviously shocked Mr. Hari tried for a change of pace and asked Vidal if he felt like saying anything about his recently deceased rivals, John Updike, William F. Buckley Jr., and Norman Mailer. He didn’t manage to complete his question before being interrupted. “Updike was nothing. Buckley was nothing with a flair for publicity. Mailer was a flawed publicist, too, but at least there were signs every now and then of a working brain.” One sadly notices, as with the foregoing barking and effusions, the utter want of any grace or generosity, as well as the entire absence of any wit or profundity. Sarcastic, tired flippancy has stolen the place of the first, and lugubrious resentment has deposed the second. Oh, just in closing, then, since Vidal was in London, did he have a word to say about England? “This isn’t a country, it’s an American aircraft carrier.” Good grief.
If Vidal ever reads this, I suppose I know what he will say. Asked about our differences a short while ago at a public meeting in New York, he replied, “You know, he identified himself for many years as the heir to me. And unfortunately for him, I didn’t die. I just kept going on and on and on.” (One report of the event said that this not-so-rapier-like reply had the audience in “stitches”: Vidal in his decline has fans like David Letterman’s, who laugh in all the wrong places lest they suspect themselves of not having a good time.) But his first sentence precisely inverts the truth. Many years ago he wrote to me unprompted—I have the correspondence—and freely offered to nominate me as his living successor, dauphin, or, as the Italians put it, delfino. He very kindly inscribed a number of his own books to me in this way, and I asked him for permission to use his original letter on the jacket of one of mine. I stopped making use of the endorsement after 9/11, as he well knows. I have no wish to commit literary patricide, or to assassinate Vidal’s character—a character which appears, in any case, to have committed suicide.
I don’t in the least mind his clumsy and nasty attempt to re-write his history with me, but I find I do object to the crank-revisionist and denialist history he is now peddling about everything else, as well as to the awful, spiteful, miserable way—“going on and on and on,” indeed—in which he has finished up by doing it. Oscar Wilde was never mean-spirited, and never became an Ancient Mariner, either.
[NB: for a more charitable view, here's the New York Times obit - JD]
Some time ago (August 2010) Rosie proposed the following:
Some of the commenters have complained that we do not adhere to our stated comments policy. The policy and the complaints can be read here.
I would suggest that we enlarge on this policy, and before laying down some ground rules, would ask the contributors here, both bloggers and commenters, to read this draft position paper and suggest some amendments and improvements.
The data is mostly drawn from this site, though I have been influenced by other tendencies I have observed in the blogosphere.
Broadly, I would keep to a liberal comments policy, but would note that there are objectionable commenters that have to be dealt with by deletion, editing, abuse or mockery.
“Trolls” are a well-known type of commenter, and can be left out of this paper. But there are other kinds of objectionable commenters, who commit offences against the intellect, manners or morals. For methodological convenience, I shall divide them into the following categories:- “Cunts”, “Arses” and “Shits”.
Cunts are so defined for their intellectual dishonesty. They argue in bad faith, ignore any counter arguments, pile up straw men by the barnload, make stuff up, put words in your mouth that you not only have not said but would never dream of saying, make wild accusations eg if you write about the same topic as another blog, you therefore agree with that blog in every comma, full stop and hyperlink, and if you don’t write on a particular topic that for them is big news, you are creating a deliberate diversion and your non-coverage is a sinister ploy . (For an example of this kind of Cuntishness see here from comment 10 on.) If you quote from writer X, you therefore agree with writer X’s every utterance. If you quote from a reputable source, they will google mine that source until they find something discreditable it published back in 1973. They fill the thread with irrelevant matter, hoping to use tanks of verbiage to crush what they failed to shoot down with counter argument. They adopt a patronising and/or jeering tone. They will never answer a direct question, either weaselling out of it or ignoring it or saying that the reason you asked this question was another diversion. They are Poundstretcher Alastair Campbells, intellectual loudmouths who are absolutely incapable of admitting that an opponent may have made a telling point, or has any motive other than the lowest form of partisanship.
The chief Cunt on this site (and many others) is johng.
With Arses it’s not a question of their political opinions, which may be perfectly acceptable, but of manner of expression. Arses shout and swear and scream diatribes against all those who have annoyed them in some way, whether it’s the Pope, the Labour Party, the bloggers on this site and other sites, or fellow commenters, even inoffensive ones. They post pointless abuse, insults and violent fantasies in comment after comment so that reading through the thread is like picking your way between the pools of vomit along Lothian Road/Sauchiehall Street [insert your local street famed for drunken debauchery] on a Sunday morning. Arses are better people than Cunts or Shits (see below) but they are a nuisance and put off other commenters, just as any guy ranting impotent violent threats while holding a can of Carlsberg is probably a better person than George Galloway, but you would still rather not share space with him.
The chief Arse on this site (and many others) is Will.
With Shits it’s morals rather than manners or standard of debate. In the society outside the blogosphere, Shits two-time their partners, betray their friends, play politics in their jobs instead of getting on with the work, neglect their children and aged parents and are rude to people who are forced by their position to be polite (waiters, airline stewardesses and the like). There’s only a limited capacity for Shittiness on blogs, which are built out of words rather than actions and it is primarily implemented by “outing” someone who wants to stay anonymous or writing comments in their name expressing racist, sexist or otherwise disgraceful views. Chasing commenters around blogs to shout abuse at them on different sites or insulting tentative or daffy but harmless commenters crosses over from Arsiness to Shittiness.
Our last Shit was a BNP creep called Curious Freedom, who “outed” another commenter, one Willywipples or some such stupid name. The most famous blog Shit is Orlando Figes who used sock-puppetry to savage his rivals’ history books and praise his own and then set lawyers on the rivals when they rumbled him. Threats of litigation, though they can certainly be defended in some cases, are usually a sign of Shittiness. Andy Newman has started to dabble his feet in this kind of turdery in the Galloway/Viva Palestina case and now is threatening more litigation against another blogger who “made clearly libellous and derogatory remarks of an explicit sexual nature about [Newman], and two respected academics and bloggers“, so though I wouldn’t call him a Cunt or an Arse as a rule, he’s in danger of turning into a Shit.
I would therefore suggest the following blogging policy:-
Cunts:- given that they reveal their own Cuntishness with every lousy argument and lie they produce and in that way damage their own cause and reputations they should be allowed to comment but should be taken to task and ridiculed
Arses:- should have their comments edited or deleted. The unarsey comments they make should be allowed to remain.
Shits:- should be banned immediately.
There are also reasonable folk, the ones who disagree with the blog post and other commenters but who do so honestly, make a case for their disagreement, and can write with wit, cleverness, information or common humanity. They should be welcomed and engaged with.
(NB: since 2010 some names -JohnG for instance – have largely disappeared from our radar while new ones have arrived. As for Will…he seems to have turned to Jelly. Readers’ suggestions for a consistent comments policy for this site are welcome).
The grotesque freak-show that is the US Republican Party’s search for a Presidential candidate has already provided us with some almost unbelievable spectacles: a candidate who couldn’t remember his own policies, another who didn’t know where Obama stood on Libya, Mitt Romney cast as a “moderate,” Rick Santorum taken seriously and Newt Gingrich now tipped as the likely winner. Roll up, roll up: the GOP circus is in town!
But of all the weird and wonderful phantasms to have emerged from the foetid miasma of the Republican Party’s flatulence, none can match congressman Ron Paul. He won’t win the nomination, but in his way he’s making at least as big an impact as the front-runners. That’s in part because he’s outspoken, consistent and colourful. It’s also because, alone amongst the candidates, he’s attracting support from sections of the liberal-left in America and further afield.
The British New Statesman magazine, for instance, recently carried an article by Alec MacGillis (senior editor at New Republic) that suggested “Liberals must grapple with their mixed feelings about Paul.” The magazine’s cover billed Paul as “the left’s favourite libertarian.”
Meanwhile at the supposedly left-of-centre Salon.com, one Glenn Greenwald can scarcely contain his enthusiasm for Paul ; after an ass-covering disclaimer (“I am not ‘endorsing’ or expressing support for anyone’s candidacy”), Greenwold goes on to pen a breathless paean to “the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial…alone among the national figures in both parties (Paul) is able and willing to advocate views that Americans urgently need to hear.”
What are these views “that Americans urgently need to hear”? Well, Paul is in favour of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, opposes “destructive blind support” of Israel, is critical of the “War on Drugs” and…he’s on record opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “our annual Hate Whitey Day,” and considers that “we can safely assume that 95 per cent of the black males in [Los Angeles] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”
He considers gay rights campaigners to be the “organised forces of perversion,” and that “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” He has speculated about 9/11 [NB: correction; he was actually referring to the 1993 attack on the WTC -see comments below] being “a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects…” He believes that there are “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok (sic) for Mossad in their area of expertise.”
He has also given practical advice to militias on how best to organise: “You can’t kill a hydra by cutting off it’s head…Keep group size down…Keep quiet and you’re harder to find…Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. If you have more than one rifle, store it in a hideaway spot…Hide your best eggs from prying eyes. Destroy any documents or discs that become unnecessary…Bojangles Robinson ain’t the only one who can tap. Avoid the phone as much as possible…Remember you’re not alone.”
In fairness, it should be stated that these opinions (and many, many more along similar lines) appeared in a series of newsletters published under his name (“The Ron Paul Report”, “The Ron Paul Newsletter”, “The Ron Paul Survival Guide”) that he published in the 1980′s and 90′s. He doesn’t deny that he authorised the newsletters, or that they generated as much as $1 million dollars per year for him. His defence is (wait for it)…they were written by someone else in his name, and he didn’t bother reading them at the time!
Paul, of course stands in a long-standing US political tradition – one that reached its zenith in the late thirties and early forties: that of Lindbergh. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then listen to what former Paul staffer Eric Dondero says (in an article largely devoted to defending Paul):
“It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.
“Ron Paul is most assuredly an isolationist. He denies this charge vociferously. But I can tell you straight out, I had countless arguments/discussions with him over his personal views. For example, he strenously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews’ was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks on Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just ‘blowback’ for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.
“I would challenge him, like for example, what about the instances of German U-boats attacking U.S. ships, or even landing on the coast of North Carolina or Long Island, NY. He’d finally concede that that and only that was reason enough to counter-attack against the Nazis, not any humanitarian causes like preventing the holocaust.”
To get a full handle on how bad Paul’s record and positions are, here is a quick rundown. Ron Paul:
- Would abolish the income tax
- Would place the U.S. on the gold standard
- Would allow citizens to engage in trade using gold and silver instead of currency
- Would arbitrarily cut government regulations and believes that regulations only hurt businesses
- Would eliminate the taxation of foreign income
- Is a global warming denier
- Says that Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are unconstitutional
- Would eliminate antitrust laws
- Would eliminate the federal minimum wage
- Would eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act and the Copeland Act
- Would eliminate the estate and gift taxes
- Would tax all earners at a 10 percent rate
- Would eliminate tax credits to individuals who are not corporations
- Would eliminate the elderly tax credit, child care credit and earned income credit
- Voted to make it easier to decertify unions
- Opposes Federal Deposit Insurance
- Would revert government spending to 2004 levels and freeze it there
- Opposes raising the debt ceiling for any reason
- Would allow people to opt out of Social Security
- Says that widespread bankruptcy is the stimulus the country needs
- Opposed the auto industry bailouts
- Favors tort reform
- Opposes the regulation of tobacco
- Would protect the ‘privacy’ of online sexual predators and child pornographers on public wi-fi networks
- Would prevent federal courts from protecting citizens who have their rights denied
- Opposed the Motor Voter law
- Would allow states to ban gay marriage
- Sponsored the Marriage Protection Act
- Would repeal affirmative action
- Would limit the scope of Brown v. Board of Education
- Says that emergency rooms should be able to turn away undocumented immigrants
- Opposes the Americans With Disabilities Act
- Voted anti-choice more than 90 times as a member of Congress
- Voted to eliminate all international family planning funds
- Voted for the Stupak amendment banning abortion coverage by private health insurance companies
- Voted in favor of fetal personhood laws
- Would eliminate all funding for Planned Parenthood
- Would ban flag burning
- Would weaken regulation of dietary supplements
- Supports a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research
- Opposes subsidies for prescription drugs for seniors
- Opposes mandatory vaccinations
- Would expand offshore oil drilling
- Would increase mining on federal lands
- Would weaken the Clean Air Act
- Would repeal the Soil and Water Conservation Act
- Would weaken the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
- Would eliminate departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor
- Would eliminate the Environmental Protection agency
- Would eliminate FEMA
- Would eliminate the Federal Reserve
- Would eliminate the Occupational Health and Safety Administration
- Would eliminate AmeriCorps
- Would eliminate spending to combat AIDS overseas
- Would eliminate gas taxes
- Opposes the census gathering demographic data on Americans
- Opposed the dismantling of U.S. nuclear missile silos
- Wanted to withdraw the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
- Wants to claim the Panama Canal as sovereign U.S. territory
- Opposes the International Criminal Court
- Would withdraw the U.S. from the U.N.
- Supports the electoral college and believes that the U.S. is not a democracy
- Believes that we have no right to health care
- Would eliminate birthright citizenship
- Believes that law enforcement can’t help people, only armed citizens can prevent violence
- Would allow the legal sale of unpasteurized milk
- Believes that groups of people don’t have rights, only individuals do
- Believes that government cannot redistribute wealth in any way
- Believes in the concept of ‘jury nullification’, the idea that a jury can judge not only the facts in a case but the justness of the law itself
- Believes that social welfare should be in the hands of individuals only, not government
Anyone that still thinks that a “progressive” vote for Paul is a legitimate vote under any circumstances doesn’t know what the word “progressive” means. And a “left” that has even the tiniest tincture of sympathy for this thoroughgoing reactionary, racist, homophobe, conspiracy-nut and isolationist, is a “left” that has completely lost its moral and political bearings.