Who Wrote Ron Paul’s Newsletters? Reason answered three years ago

It is odd that the Ron Paul newsletters story has managed to fly around for years without ever truly damaging the Republican libertarian. Largely because Ron Paul has never been taken seriously, never considered part of the mainstream. But now as he heads the polls in Iowa ahead of the primary, the issue is coming back to haunt him.

The fascinating background to this story is all in this 2008 article “Who Wrote Ron Paul’s Newsletters ?’ from the libertarian magazine Reason:

The newsletters’ obsession with blacks and gays was of a piece with a conscious political strategy adopted at that same time by Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. After breaking with the Libertarian Party following the 1988 presidential election, Rockwell and Rothbard formed a schismatic “paleolibertarian” movement, which rejected what they saw as the social libertinism and leftist tendencies of mainstream libertarians. In 1990, they launched the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, where they crafted a plan they hoped would midwife a broad new “paleo” coalition.

Rockwell explained the thrust of the idea in a 1990 Liberty essay entitled “The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism.” To Rockwell, the LP was a “party of the stoned,” a halfway house for libertines that had to be “de-loused.” To grow, the movement had to embrace older conservative values. “State-enforced segregation,” Rockwell wrote, “was wrong, but so is State-enforced integration. State-enforced segregation was not wrong because separateness is wrong, however. Wishing to associate with members of one’s own race, nationality, religion, class, sex, or even political party is a natural and normal human impulse.”

Read the full story here

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Did Hitchens ‘lurch to the right’ over Iraq?

A recurring theme in the critical reviews of Christopher Hitchens’ life – and a few of the friendly ones – was that the writer lurched to the right after September 11, specifically through his support of the Iraq war. While there is no no doubt that Hitchens made a decisive break with the ‘anti-imperialist’ left, the notion that support for the Iraq war was, in and off itself, right-wing, I believe needs challenging.

Hitchens always seemed unconcerned with defending the ‘left credentials’ of his position but in his many attacks on the anti-war movement, he, at least implicitly, did make the ‘left case’ for the war, by highlighting the principles that the left were supposed to hold dear.

Nick Cohen wrote, in his fine piece in the Observer on Sunday, that Hitchens took pleasure in his break with the anti-war left.

“I won’t give you any guff about the left leaving Hitchens rather than Hitchens leaving the left. He walked out and slammed the door with barely one regretful glance over his shoulder. He remained a friend of and inspiration to many leftish writers, but for the “anti-imperialist left” that embraced life-denying, women-hating, gay-killing Islamists, he had nothing but contempt. Its indulgence of religious reaction had ruined it beyond redemption.”

Indeed – and of course, while Hitchens did not aspire to be and was not asked to be, the leader of any sort of movement or tendency on the left, there were plenty of others who felt the same way, who could no longer tolerate the idea of ‘comradeship’ with those who, not to put too fine a point on it, had allied themselves with the other side. Hitchens himself addressed this in explicitly leftist terminology:

“The bad faith of a majority of the left is instanced by four things (apart, that is, from mass demonstrations in favor of prolonging the life of a fascist government). First, the antiwar forces never asked the Iraqi left what it wanted, because they would have heard very clearly that their comrades wanted the overthrow of Saddam. (President Jalal Talabani’s party, for example, is a member in good standing of the Socialist International.) This is a betrayal of what used to be called internationalism.

Second, the left decided to scab and blackleg on the Kurds, whose struggle is the oldest cause of the left in the Middle East. Third, many leftists and liberals stressed the cost of the Iraq intervention as against the cost of domestic expenditure, when if they had been looking for zero-sum comparisons they might have been expected to cite waste in certain military programs, or perhaps the cost of the “war on drugs.” This, then, was mere cynicism. Fourth, and as mentioned, their humanitarian talk about the sanctions turned out to be the most inexpensive hypocrisy. “ (source )

Many of us, who backed the war, continued to view ourselves as part of the left, in some way. We may have wanted to put a moat between ourselves and the anti-war movement, but we didn’t want to be viewed as right-wing, or conservatives (‘neo’ or otherwise) just because of our stance on Iraq. I am thinking of centre-left social democrats who didn’t go along with the anti-war consensus in the Labour Party, left liberals in the U.S. Democrat Party who didn’t like their opposition to George W Bush turn them into ‘Not in Our Name’ allies of ANSWER or the smaller group of Marxists who supported the overthrow of the Saddam dictatorship in Iraq on anti-fascist or broader humanitarian grounds.

Hitchens addressed that matter, sometimes in fairly direct terms: “You might think that the Left could have a regime-change perspective of its own, based on solidarity with its comrades abroad. After all, Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party consolidated its power by first destroying the Iraqi communist and labor movements, and then turning on the Kurds (whose cause, historically, has been one of the main priorities of the Left in the Middle East). When I first became a socialist, the imperative of international solidarity was the essential if not the defining thing, whether the cause was popular or risky or not.”

In fact, there were people, scattered around the left, in this place and that, who did have a regime-change perspective, who did carry out solidarity work with Iraqi trade unions and Kurdish democrats and so on. It was a minority, for sure, but by no means an insignificant one.

There were voices who saw no inconsistency between being in favor of removing Saddam from power whilst supporting policies aimed at helping the poor at home. It was, and is, possible to be ‘of the left’ and a supporter of the Iraq war.

The Iraq war argument is over — but it remains important to offer the occasional reminder that, there was dissent from the anti-war position on the left and that the notion that Hitchens was some sort of isolated renegade or eccentric on the issue is unfair and wrong.

Hitchens didn’t lurch right on Iraq — rather he was the most articulate exponent of the pro-regime change left.

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See also: Marc Cooper’s ‘Remembering Christopher’ which looks at the issue of the alleged ‘lurch’:

Hitchens’ trajectory since 9/11 and his support for the war in Iraq was much more one of continuity than of any radical shift or lurch. Unlike Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz liberals, Hitchens did not see the world as only a domestic struggle between nasty Republicans and weak Democrats. His view was that of an internationalist, a revolutionary (albeit of the cafe persuasion) who passionately identified with those fighting for liberation, be it against the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships or the totalitarian Stalinist regimes in Poland or Czechoslavakia.

‘Team North Korea’ is no joke

Let’s put the volume of ‘Team America’ gags and smart-arsed comments flying around twitter and facebook this morning down to a defence-mechanism that decent human beings have when they are faced with the most horrific of realities. Social media asks for instant reaction to major events and a quip or a light-hearted link is a more pleasant task on a Monday morning than a commentary on human rights abuses.

Lets be generous and presume that the New York Times just forgot to mention those human rights abuses (as if ‘abuse’ is anywhere near adequate to describe the horror of a gulag state) in it’s main 1,600 word report on the death of Kim Jong-il. It is a complex story to write about but one might have thought that the plight of the people in North Korea would have merited a line or two.

And it is tricky, I imagine, to describe the scenes of mass hysteria, such as in the video below. ‘Mourning’ is probably the first word that comes into one’s mind, even if the frightening scenes are a glimpse at what decades of efficient and effective brainwashing does to a population. If the people have been forced to cry, that would actually be slightly more reassuring than the thought that the propaganda that instructs the oppressed to love their oppressor has worked so effectively.

Perhaps we avoid these difficult discussions because North Korea really is quite unlike any other kind of dictatorship we have seen before – in both its longevity as a hardcore human crushing regime (no breaks for a spell of Khrushchev reforms, no brief ‘openings’, no hint of ‘glasnost’) and the intensity of its totalitarianism (and apparent effectiveness) which makes comparisons even with East Germany or Romania trite. We don’t really have the reference points or even the everyday political terminology to describe the place.

We only know what has been gleaned from those who have managed to escape the hell of what is rather weakly called a ‘hermit state’ (Which sounds too much like somewhere you might hibernate to, a place to just get away from it all).

A few samples:

N Korea ‘kills detainees’ babies’

….detention centres and camps where torture, chronic malnutrition and forced labour are commonplace.

One woman told of being forced to assist injection-induced labours and then watching as a baby was suffocated with a wet towel in front of its mother.

Many former prisoners told of babies buried alive or left face down on the ground to die. They were told by guards this was to prevent the survival of half-Chinese babies.

Another BBC report, which interviewed a former North Korean ‘chief of management at Camp 22’

‘I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,’ he said. ‘The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.’

The account gets worse.

There are no indications of any internal opposition to the regime, no Korean Vaclav Havel figure awaiting release from prison, no Solidarity trade union pushing at the weak-points of the state and outside intervention is highly unlikely. If change ever did happen, the ‘mourning’ of today indicates there would be a strong need for psychological as well as economic assistance to the long suffering North Koreans.

The Westerner is left then, to contemplate a grotesque regime which appears to be entrenched in power beyond the reach of any form of solidarity and out of range of intervention.

Poking fun at the dead dictator, is harmless enough – no oppressed Korean is going to be able to read the tweets and be offended or downhearted at such a response in any case – but it really is a way of avoiding confronting a horror show that there is tragically little, at the moment, anyone can do to halt.

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Update: Hopi Sen has a very good post on this theme:

We are tempted to focus on the life of Kim Jong-Il. His palaces. His private train, his kidnapping of Japanese actresses and film directors. His taste for fine food, and cognac.

The danger is that we ignore Yodok Concentration camp, where Kang Hwol-Chan was sent, aged nine, because his grandfather had been accused of disloyalty. The danger is we forget the public executions he witnessed as a child.

The danger is that we forget Bukchang, or Kaechon, or Camp 22, where tens of thousands of those the regime deems unreliable are sent, and where thousands of them die.

Opportunism in any language

You have probably seen by now the political ad, featured in this CBS report, which mocks Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney for his previously-held more liberalish political positions and for his ability to speak French.

“The mere fact that we can show him speaking French fluently, we believe, is going to irritate primary voters” says T.J. Walker, founder of the Democratic Party Super PAC that produced the video.

The aim is obviously to sow discord among Republicans and weaken the supposedly most electable candidate in the field. The excuse from Walker for the obviously philistine character of the attack is that it is payback for criticisms of John Kerry’s affection for France.

Pathétique, non?

Yet you will struggle to find much in the way of denunciation of this illiberal ‘Know Nothing’ approach. The supposedly sophisticated media commenteriat in Manhattan, wouldn’t dream of such an attack themselves but they aren’t going to stand up against it either.

The Guardian’s recently hired political blogger Ana Marie Cox, doesn’t seem to approve but, well, she isn’t exactly calling it out of bounds. In the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, does at least point out the problem ( It’s hard for me to condone an ad that furthers the ridiculous French-bashing we see during campaigns), but can’t get off the fence.

Does anyone seriously doubt that if Obama was attacked for foreign language skills (he doesn’t have any by the way) that we would be treated to lengthy sermons in the liberal press warning of the dangers of celebrating ignorance? Maybe a timely feature or two on the lack of language skills amongst Americans?

The idea of trying to encourage the worst instincts in Republican primary voters, to weaken a potential opponent, is just the kind of manipulative, unprincipled, scheme that turns people away from politics.

Sadly, it won’t be the last time in this election cycle that we see such rank opportunism from the Democrats.

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Update: T.J. Walker has been in touch, via our comments:

Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has written a 2nd column about the ad I created and he has proclaimed that it is in-bounds and fair. The Republican Party has become the “Stupid Party” and its voters aggressively penalize politicians who “act smart” by believing in things like science, global warming, evolution and yes, the ability to speak a foreign language.The ad brilliantly surfaces the current anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party.

But does it not also encourage Republicans in those instincts?

Is it clever, or opportunist, or both? Feel free to leave your views.

‘Judicious Pipe Suckers’

In his lovely piece on his late friend Christopher Hitchens, in Saturday’s Telegraph, Francis Wheen notes how popular Hitchens was in the United States and suggests viewers and readers found him a “irresistibly exotic figure” compared to their own pundits.

Unlike our own raucous and disputatious hacks, US commentators tend to be judicious pipe-suckers who take themselves (and their “insider” status) exceedingly seriously: not for nothing is the New York Times known as the Gray Lady. Over breakfast every morning, Christopher would glance at the NYT’s front page to check that it still carried the smug motto “All the news that’s fit to print” – and to check that it still irritated him. “If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be,” he wrote, “then at least I know I still have a pulse.”

It’s the headlines that do it for me with American newspapers – the tabloid influence on the quality press in Britain means that no paper would get away with the kind of dull and lifeless headlines seen in the U.S. papers. I am looking at one now which declares: ‘Spending plan OK’d but issues remain’.

But Wheen is surely right when it comes to some of the ever so serious commentators in the U.S. newspapers, particular the printed press, who seem to value that ‘insider’ status much more than they treasure the need to engage a reader with, at the very least, a lively introduction.

It is a very different story with television political pundits on CNN and Fox News though who in the rapid-fire format, rarely go beyond a soundbite and are hardly given a chance to develop a point, where you could perhaps cope with a little more ‘pipe-sucking’.

As with so many things in the United States – the land of the fitness freaks and the obese – it often appears to be one extreme or the other.

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Vaclav Havel

Matt Welsh at Reason, eight years ago, wrote one of the best profiles of Vaclav Havel who died today:

Like Orwell, Havel was a fiction writer whose engagement with the world led him to master the nonfiction political essay. Both men, in self-described sentiment, were of “the left,” yet both men infuriated the left with their stinging criticism and ornery independence. Both were haunted by the Death of God, delighted by the idiosyncratic habits of their countrymen, and physically diminished as a direct result of their confrontation with totalitarians (not to mention their love of tobacco). As essentially neurotic men with weak mustaches, both have given generations of normal citizens hope that, with discipline and effort, they too can shake propaganda from everyday language and stand up to the foulest dictatorships.

Unlike Orwell, Havel lived long enough to enjoy a robust third act, and his last six months in office demonstrated the same kind of restless, iconoclastic activism that has made him an enemy of ideologues and ally of freedom lovers for nearly five decades.

It’s well worth reading in full.

And if you want to read Havel himself – his collection of writings are here.

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