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Floods kill three, leave millions without water

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Torrential downpours cause floods, mudslides and power cuts around the central Chilean Andes.

Who Is Abdul Sattar Edhi? Google celebrates philanthropist with its latest Doodle

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Search engine commemorates big-hearted late Pakistani known as the 'angel of mercy'.

Trump delivers verdict on Oscars fiasco: Ceremony got too political and it messed up

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

The US president said this year's Academy Awards 'didn't feel like a very glamorous evening'.

Billionaire Wilbur Ross confirmed as Donald Trump's secretary of commerce

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Senior Democrat Elizabeth Warren calls him 'a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat'.

Olathe, Kansas, shooting suspect 'said he killed Iranians'

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

The accused mistakenly thought he'd just attacked two Middle Eastern men, according to a 911 call.

'They escorted me as if I were a terrorist'

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Irene Clennell, a woman married to a British man for 27 years, has been sent back to Singapore.

El Salvador: Hippo Gustavito dies after a brutal attack in national zoo

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Much-loved animal suffered sustained beating with sharp weapons and blunt tools.

Tunisia attack inquest: British holidaymaker who went back

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Allen Pembroke, 62, tells his story as the Tunisia beach attack inquests come to an end.

Why is Geert Wilders so popular?

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

With just over two weeks to go before the Dutch election, the anti-Islam politician is still leading the polls.

Are motorbikes a barometer of India's economy?

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

As India is about to release its latest economic growth numbers, BBC News looks at why two-wheelers are seen as a barometer of the economy.

Takata agrees to pay $1bn penalty for concealing defect in millions of its air bags

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Japanese car parts company's deception led to at least 16 deaths and 42 million vehicle recalls.

MWC 2017: Wikipedia goes data free in Iraq

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

People will not have to pay mobile data charges to access the online encyclopaedia.

Conspiracy website Infowars given preview of President Trump's congressional address

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

Site notoriously propagated the Pizzagate fallacy that led a gunman to enter a DC pizzeria.

Early signs

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

It will have 7,000 signs that explain words used in academic and routine conversations.

Gentle Bones: Singapore's answer to Ed Sheeran

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

How choosing music over university paid off for singer-songwriter Joel Tan, aka Gentle Bones.

Sony World Photography Awards 2017: Open shortlist revealed in world's biggest photography competition

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

A selection of shortlisted images in the Open competition of the Sony World Photography Awards 2017.

Sony World Photography Awards 2017: Professional shortlist revealed in world's biggest photography competition

From : World. Published on Feb 28, 2017.

The Sony World Photography Awards represents the world's finest contemporary photography captured over the last year, and displays a huge diversity of extraordinary images in terms of genres, styles and subject matter.

Muhammad Ali Jr on being detained at airport: 'I felt violated'

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Ali Jr was traveling with mother when he was questioned for nearly two hours about his religion.

SpaceX to fly two tourists around Moon in 2018

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The US rocket company says the customers have already paid for the flight planned for late 2018.

North Korea had 5 security officials 'executed with anti-aircraft guns after enraging Kim Jong-un'

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

South Korea's intelligence services claim North Korea officials were punished for making 'false reports'.

Jewish community centres hit by wave of bomb threats

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Anti-Defamation League says at least 20 threats were reported across eastern states on Monday.

Syria opposition calls for Russian backing in Geneva

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Main opposition group hopes support from Moscow in negotiations will put pressure on Damascus.

Why Attacks on Jewish Cemeteries Provoke Particular Fear

By Emma Green from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Tarek El-Messidi had been planning to leave Philadelphia to visit family on Sunday night. But when he heard that Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery had been desecrated, he cancelled his flight. El-Messidi is Muslim, but he felt it was important to be with his hometown Jewish community at that moment, he said. “Both communities in America are being targeted right now. There’s a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said. “That could have just as easily been a Muslim cemetery.”

Just one week after a Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized, Philadelphia police reported that roughly 100 headstones have been toppled or damaged in the Mount Carmel cemetery. These are not easy monuments to knock down, El-Messidi said: He saw several toppled stones that were three or four feet wide at the base. El-Messidi and the local rabbis who showed up on Sunday night said their group observed far more extensive damage than police reported, with more than 500 headstones affected throughout the cemetery. It’s not clear when that damage happened, though, or whether it was all intentional.  

Like El-Messidi, Philadelphia Jewish leaders have been quick to condemn the vandalism as an act of targeted anti-Semitism. “After you start walking from row to row,” said Shawn Zevit, the lead rabbi at Mishkan Shalom, a local Reconstructionist synagogue, “it quickly moves from a random act of vandalism to something with larger intentions and a systematic approach to things.”

Proving those “larger intentions” of anti-Semitism may be harder than it seems. While the timing of the two acts of vandalism may seem deliberate and discriminatory, religiously motivated hate crimes are notoriously difficult to prove. What’s clear is that people are scared, and they see the destruction of cemeteries as an implicit threat. On Monday, 13 Jewish Community Centers around the country received bomb threats, according to a spokesperson, the most recent wave of threats since January. Muslims’ and Jews’ strong reactions to the cemetery vandalism underscores the heightened sense of discrimination both groups feel right now. As each community continues dealing with attacks like this, they may feel drawn to act together more frequently—in part because they’re operating in similar environments of religious hatred.

To prosecute an act of vandalism as a hate crime, law-enforcement officers face several important challenges, said Jack Levin, a professor emeritus of criminology at Northeastern University who studies hate crimes. First, they have to identify the culprits. Then, they have to provide evidence, from bigoted graffiti to suspects’ statements, that crimes were motivated by religious hatred. “In many hate crimes, the offenders are simply not that stupid to leave evidence of the motivation at the crime scene,” Levin said. “We may all think a hate crime has occurred, but prosecutors refuse to charge” because of a lack of evidence.

“Hatemongers don’t specialize.”

Sometimes, crimes like this are motivated by youthful stupidity. “Chances are, they are teenagers or young adults in a group who went out on a Saturday night looking for a little fun at the expense of the outsiders—in this case, Jews,” Levin said. He thinks Jewish institutions—including the many Jewish Community Centers that have been getting bomb threats in recent weeks—are often targeted because there are so many of them. The perpetrators may as well have chosen a Muslim cemetery, he said. “Hatemongers don’t specialize.”

And yet, the fear people have expressed in the wake of these cemetery attacks is distinctive. When headstones are tipped over in Christian cemeteries or family plots, it typically doesn’t become a national news story. “Why is there a stronger reaction to the desecration of a Jewish cemetery than to a Catholic cemetery?” Levin said. “The answer has to be given in historical context. Anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head for thousands of years.”

This history seemed to be on the minds of some of the rabbis and other community members who gathered at Mount Carmel on Sunday night.“It comes in the context of systemic anti-Semitism,” said Ari Lev Fornari, the rabbi at Kol Tzedek, a Reconstructionist synagogue in West Philadelphia, on Monday, referring to America’s political atmosphere. Levin cautioned, though, that “it’s kind of hard to make the case that [Trump] is in any way responsible for anti-Semitic hate crimes,” especially because the president’s daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Trump has condemned recent acts of anti-Semitism, and Vice President Mike Pence visited the Missouri cemetery last week following the vandalism.

If anything, Jews are experiencing an intensification of a hatred that was already present, as are American Muslims. According to the FBI, Jews and Muslims together account for the vast majority of religiously motivated hate crimes: In 2015, 51 percent were committed against Jews, while 22 percent were against Muslims—and those are just the crimes for which the motive can be proven. This isn’t even the first time Mount Carmel has been desecrated: In 1989, dozens of tombstones were shattered and scrawled with graffiti, according to a story from the time by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The silver lining in … this kind of eco-system of hate is that both communities are reaching out.”

What does seem to be new, though, is some Muslims’ and Jews’ urgent desire to collaborate in the wake of attacks. After the Missouri cemetery attack, El-Messidi, who runs a Muslim non-profit called Celebrate Mercy, started a fundraising campaign with the political organizer Linda Sarsour. He said they felt motivated by a story about Prophet Muhammad, who stood as a Jewish funeral procession went by as a sign of respect. The Missouri fund quickly reached its goal, and the pair plan to use the extra money to help out in Philadelphia. By Monday, El-Messidi said, the total was over $130,000.

Things haven’t always been this way. “The Jewish and Muslim communities in America haven’t worked that closely together before,” El-Messidi said. Issues like Israel-Palestine often divide the two communities, he said, but “I’m not asking about the politics of the dead people whose graves we’re trying to repair.” Despite the sadness of the desecrated headstones, he said, “the silver lining in this tragedy, and this kind of eco-system of hate, is that both communities are reaching out, getting to know one another, and standing together to defend each other against this kind of bigotry.”

That’s why the graveyard solidarity between Jews and Muslims is so significant: It suggests that at least some representatives of both groups, particularly those who are progressive and strongly anti-Trump, are looking to reframe their relationship. Although “the conservative voices in both Islam and Judaism, especially related to Israel and Palestine, have attempted to create a narrative that divides us,” Fornari said, “we long to be connected to each other. We are both religious minorities persecuted by white supremacy in this country.”

Zevit agreed that the atmosphere of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is bringing the two communities closer in Philadelphia, although he has worked with local imams for a long time, he said. “I won’t deny my own heartbreak in what I saw,” he said. “But I’m not feeling fear, because I know our similarities and our relationships are much stronger, and these incidents are bringing us together and forging solidarity.” This certainly wasn’t what the graveyard vandals wanted, he said. In fact, it is “perhaps the opposite.”

German-Turkish reporter arrested in Turkey for 'terrorist propaganda'

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Die Welt's Deniz Yucel is in pre-trial detention accused of producing terrorist propaganda.

US-China relations: Trump meets senior official Yang Jiechi

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Yang Jiechi "had an opportunity to say hi to the president", the White House says.

'Hundreds' of US Jewish graves attacked in Philadelphia

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The incident marks the second major attack against a Jewish cemetery in the past week.

Dow closes in on history as it hits new heights for 12th consecutive day

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

If the index rises one more time it will set a new record for longest run of record closes.

Dow Jones stock index hits best winning streak in 30 years

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The US Dow Jones stock index closes at a record high for the 12th day running on Trump spending plans.

MH370: Court of Appeal orders Malaysia Airlines to release documents on missing flight

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Next of kin of missing passengers demand to see papers and seek damages.

Elon Musk’s Moon Mission Would Vault SpaceX Past NASA

By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

SpaceX is planning to send two people for a trip around around the moon in late 2018, Elon Musk, the company’s CEO, announced Monday.

Two passengers—private citizens, not astronauts—will launch inside a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon Heavy rocket for a weeklong, 400,000-mile loop around the moon. The space tourists paid SpaceX a “significant amount of money” for the trip and will begin training next year. Musk wouldn’t give their names or genders, nor did he say how much the journey would cost.

For the mystery passengers, the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. For Musk, the mission, if successful, could establish SpaceX as the state of the art in human spaceflight. NASA is still a few years away from testing its Space Launch System, which is supposed to carry astronauts into low-Earth orbit, and even further away from testing the system with humans on board.

If Musk meets his deadline, the moon trip will take place during the 50th anniversary of Americans’ first-ever orbit around the moon. “Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” SpaceX said in a statement Monday.

Deadlines, of course, have not been kind to SpaceX. The company had to push several rocket tests from 2016 to this year following an explosion in September. The Falcon Heavy has never flown before, and is scheduled for a test launch this summer.

The news is bound to make the White House happy, even if it unnerves some inside NASA. President Donald Trump’s closest advisers want to return humans to the moon as soon as possible, and they’ve shown a preference for private space companies over traditional contractors with ties to the government. More and more, there’s talk of “New Space”—SpaceX, Blue Origin—gaining speed over “Old Space”—Boeing, Lockheed Martin. Musk’s announcement could earn him still more favor with Trump.

'White Helmets' bags Oscar on politically charged night

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Film on Syrian rescue group wins best short documentary in ceremony marked by reaction to Trump immigration policies.

Trump 'seeks $54bn increase' in military budget

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Proposal, which could entail big cuts in foreign aid and spending on domestic agencies, to fulfil key campaign promise.

Scientists have found a way of growing human tissue on apples

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Scientists at the University of Ottawa have developed a way of growing human cells and tissue on apples.

Abdul Sattar Edhi: Why Google honours him today

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Abdul Sattar Edhi, who founded the world's largest volunteer ambulance network, would have been 89 years old on Tuesday.

Blast near Mogadishu hours after al-Shabab vows attack

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Explosion hits close to army checkpoint after al-Shabab threatens attacks against new president, Mohamed Abdullahi.

Malaysian police seek Kim Jong-nam's mistress as part of murder probe

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

So Yong Ra is a former air stewardess with Air Koryo.

Trump lays out hike in military spending

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Donald Trump proposes a 10% military spending increase, paid for by deep cuts elsewhere.

Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for inciting hate against Roma

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 88-year-old founder of the far-right party, called members of persecuted minority 'smelly'.

Rebels return bodies of soldiers to Azerbaijan

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Government and rebels trade accusations after deadly clashes amid fresh tension over control of Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Is it real?

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The phone auctioned last week has proven controversial: some say it did not belong to the Nazi leader.

Forces push into western part of ISIL-held Mosul

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Troops take Gawsaq and reach strategic Fourth Bridge as ISIL fights back with anti-tank missiles and suicide car bombs.

John Major's double warning for Theresa May

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit is a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 


Austria's Kurz: Set up refugee camps in N Africa

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Sebastian Kurz says his country is overspending on refugees and migrants, but his German counterpart dismisses proposal.

The Deep State Comes to America

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The likelihood that a deep state exists in the United States seems far-fetched, argues CFR’s Steven A. Cook. However, as in Egypt and Turkey, Americans are turning to conspiratorial explanations to make sense of the often bewildering turn of events in a highly polarized and charged political environment.

Abu Sayyaf video 'shows beheading of German hostage'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Philippine army working to confirm reports that Abu Sayyaf fighters beheaded a German man they had seized in November.

Al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu al-Khair al-Masri reportedly killed in Syrian US drone strike

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Al-Masri was implicated in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

How Does Donald Trump Think His War on the Press Will End?

By Adrienne LaFrance from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

American presidents have often clashed with the press. But for a long time, the chief executive had little choice but to interact with journalists anyway.

This was as much a logistical matter as it was a begrudging commitment to the underpinnings of Democracy: News organizations were the nation’s watchdogs, yes, but also stewards of the complex editorial and technological infrastructure necessary to reach the rest of the people. They had the printing presses, then the steel-latticed radio towers, and, eventually, the satellite TV trucks. The internet changed everything. Now, when Donald Trump wants to say something to the masses, he types a few lines onto his pocket-sized computer-phone and broadcasts it to an audience of 26 million people (and bots) with the tap of a button.

It may be banal to point out how dramatically the world wide web democratized publishing. But to understand Donald Trump’s war on the press, you have to consider what has happened to American journalism since August 6, 1991, the day the first website launched. With that first website, the thick layer of mediation that once existed between the president and the masses began to evaporate. The influence of all those former intermediaries would undergo a profound cultural shift as a result.

Before, you couldn’t get the news without publishers, producers, editors, reporters, camera operators, technicians, truck drivers, and kids with paper routes. Today, any president can bypass all that. And he can say whatever the hell he wants.

Incidentally, 1991 wasn’t a great year for Donald Trump. It was the year of his first major bankruptcy. The Trump Taj Mahal casino was $3 billion in debt. Trump faced a staggering $900 million in personal liabilities. His spectacular financial woes made countless front pages. The bankruptcy was legitimate news. But also: Schadenfreude sells. He was eviscerated in the tabloids and trashed on late-night television. Newspaper columnists described him as a “poor little rich boy,” and a clueless confidence man responsible for the tailspin that brought him down.

That same year, the World Book Encyclopedia promoted the fact that Trump had been axed from its latest edition, “beaten out by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega,” according to newspaper reports at the time. Trump “makes interesting newspaper copy, but so far he lacks lasting significance for a World Book article,” World Book’s executive editor told The Chicago Tribune. The encyclopedia was promoting its product based on the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t in it. And for the first time since he’d become famous, Trump shunned publicity. His silence, as much as anything, seemed to signify how serious his troubles were. But it didn’t last.

There would be three additional bankruptcies, but none prevented Trump’s famous (then really famous) comeback. Once mocked by the New York City tabloids for exploiting his 15 minutes of fame in the 1980s, Trump is now the most newsworthy figure on the planet. His reputation for attention seeking hasn’t waned, but now that he is the president of the United States, he doesn’t have to appeal to news organizations to get the spotlight.

So here we are. Trump has used the ease of modern publishing technology—and his influence as president—to lead a full-on anti-press crusade. Since December of last year, when Trump first started tweeting about “fake news,” he’s been using every platform within his reach to attack journalists and news organizations.

No one has ever accused Trump of being overly nuanced, but his vitriol for the media is brazen—even for him. This brazenness seems to be the point.

Trump has long been masterful at commanding attention from tabloids and television stations. Declaring a “running war” with the media, turning “fake news” into a catchphrase, doubling down on his characterization of journalists as the “enemy of the people”—all of this is part of a larger strategy. “I want you to quote this,” Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s top advisors, said in an interview with The New York Times in January, “The media here is the opposition party.”

The “opposition party” bit made headlines, naturally, but Bannon’s insistence that it be quoted is just as telling. It’s clear the Trump administration wants people to focus on its disdain for the press. What’s less clear is how the president believes his war on journalism will end. But if you pick apart the strategy, it has all the earmarks of a classic Trump publicity blitz—the kind of campaign he has used in the past for financial, personal, and political gain.

Trump has tweeted about “fake news,” a term he uses for stories he doesn’t like, 20 times in February so far.
(Screenshot from the Trump Twitter archive)

First, there’s the appeal to emotion. Trump has picked an easy target by tapping into existing distrust for American journalism. Although it is shocking for a U.S. president to threaten a free press the way Trump has, his criticism may resonate with Americans—few of whom have a lot of confidence in information from professional news outlets, according to a Pew Research Center study last summer. One way to win people over: Tell them something they already believe. Trump doesn’t have many targets who are more unpopular than he is, but the media might be one of them.

Second, there’s the muscle flexing. Trump’s anti-press campaign is a way of simultaneously putting journalists on the defensive and exerting his own power—and there’s plenty of evidence that Trump relishes public demonstrations of might. (See also: The role he played on his popular gameshow The Apprentice, his taste for military parades, that intense handshake yank of his.)

Trump’s strategy operates on multiple levels: He attempts to undermine credible yet unflattering news reports by calling them “fake” or “dishonest.” Then, by provoking an alarmed response from journalists, he’s poised to brush them off further as hysterical. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, he chastised professional news organizations for not calling themselves fake. That, he explained, was proof that they were.

Similarly, calling the press “the opposition party” makes every unflattering story seem like confirmation that journalists are acting against him—rather than merely reporting the news and holding him accountable as an elected official. Trump is taking the naturally adversarial role between the press and the government, and attempting to recast it as a fight between political rivals. In this way, he is setting a stage so that any of his or his administration’s potential missteps can be recast as politically-charged criticism or outright  lies.

As a bonus to him, Trump’s hostility toward the press is a distraction from the actual work of the Trump administration. Which means Trump successfully leaves the impression that the press is busily focused on itself—rather than concerned primarily with the issues of the people. (Never mind that journalists continue to cover his administration doggedly, and will continue to do so.)

All of this is about making Trump appear strong and successful, no matter what. And that’s essential for a person who wants to stay in power. As my colleague Vann Newkirk wrote, “dogged by unprecedented public disapproval, confronting questions of legitimacy, relying on a base fueled by partisan conflict, and facing extensive grassroots opposition, Trump’s campaign will be indefinite.”

Trump is a master provocateur, perhaps because he has a reputation for being thin-skinned himself. He knows how to needle people. He knows which buttons to push. It’s why people adore him and despise him, because he knows how to get to them. He seems to have intuited that journalists, who believe deeply about the importance of their own work, will leap to defend the significance of what they do. Journalists writing about their own indispensability run the risk of underscoring the perception that they are elite, privileged, and somehow separate from “the people.”

It’s no mistake that Trump describes “the media” as a monolith, despite his recent insistence that only some news is fake news. This has a dehumanizing effect: These aren’t your fellow citizens questioning the people in power on your behalf, he suggests, they’re the media.

At the same time, Trump’s list of objectionable outlets appears to be expanding. With the exception of Fox, he has called every major TV news network “fake,” including ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN. The New York Times, in particular, has been an obsessive target of his lately.

Three months ago, Trump complimented the paper. “I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special,” he said in a November meeting with the newspaper’s leadership. (Trump also complained that the Times was “the roughest of all” in what he saw as unfair media treatment toward him, but concluded that the Times was a “great, great American jewel. A world jewel.”)

Today he refers to the paper as “the failing @nytimes,” on Twitter, evoking the nicknames he bestowed on political rivals like “crooked Hillary” Clinton and “lyin‘ Ted” Cruz. News organizations that were blocked from attending an off-camera White House press briefing last week included The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, BBC, CNN, Politico, and BuzzFeed News. “As you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Trump had said earlier that day in his remarks at Conservative Political Action Conference. “ doesn’t represent the people. It never will represent the people. And we’re going to do something about it, because we have to go out and we have to speak our minds, and we have to be honest.”

The absurdity of using the First Amendment as justification for repeated attacks on a free press raises a lingering question in all of this about whether Trump himself is faking it. It’s not such a stretch to see bluster against journalism as the ultimate Donald Trump performance—the product of a cultural convergence that includes pro-wrestling, reality television, conspiracy theories, and Trump’s singular talent for making up sophomoric catchphrase-insults. The temptation to see things this way is dangerous.

Because when you’re the president of the United States, you can’t pretend to tear down an institution without risking its actual destruction. And you can’t speak like an authoritarian and expect to avoid the suggestion that you are one.

“I love the First Amendment,” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody.”

“I mean, who uses it more than I do?” he added

He uses it all right, but to what end? Freedom of the press is not an institutional right, it’s a Constitutional one. It belongs to all American people—to you, and to me, and to Donald Trump. And no matter what the president says, no matter who he calls fake, the best journalists will be doing what they must. They’ll be reporting. Fearlessly, fairly, truthfully, and relentlessly. And nothing the president says will stop them.

What's behind South Korea's probe extension refusal?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Acting president refuses to extend investigation into corruption scandal that led to impeachment of Park Geun-hye.

Russia-backed rebels issue ultimatum to Ukraine

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Ukraine-run businesses to be seized in Donetsk and Luhansk if blockade does not end, say Russia-backed rebel leaders.

Viola Davis's Urgent Call to 'Exhume the Ordinary'

By Spencer Kornhaber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Viola Davis’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress began with a thanks to the Academy and this observation: “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered.”

Pause. Some viewers may have felt a queasy pang. Was the Fences actress about to give a sequel to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech? Was the next line going to be “this room,” so as to stand up for the presidentially denounced entertainment industry, so as to preach for truth and inclusion, so as to spark another skirmish about whether Hollywood is too self-regarding?

No. The next line: “One place, and that’s the graveyard.”

Whew. Davis’s speech quickly went viral and received wide acclaim for a lot of reasons, and prime among them was simply good writing. She opened with a question and gave an answer few would have guessed. She exploited the power of surprise, a power demonstrated amply elsewhere at the Oscars.

The speech also made self-evident why Davis deserves an Oscar. She seemed to be heaving with emotion, almost out of breath, and yet her words were clear and her sentences deftly paced. She gestured with the precision of her How to Get Away With Murder character Annalise Keating in law lecture, yet she showed the rawness of feeling that Mrs. Miller had in Doubt. But this was not acting. Or if it was, it was so good as to not seem like it. Which is, as Leonardo DiCaprio said from the stage elsewhere in the night, the definition of great acting.

Most remarkable: the speech’s content. Typically, memorable Oscar acceptances make explicit political points, feature gaffes, or mark milestones. But Davis’s commanded attention through the mere discussion of art, as well as through specific, heartfelt shoutouts to colleagues and loved ones.

“People ask me all the time: ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’” she said. “And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

The resonance with Davis’s work was obvious: Fences is based on August Wilson’s play about a 1950s black working-class family whose members aren’t famous, who simply strive and spar against the backdrop of society and history. Wilson “exhumed and exalted the ordinary people,” Davis said; his story was “about people, and words, and life, and forgiveness, and grace.”

But the resonance with other themes of the night, and the era, was also unmissable. The Best Picture nominees included many tales of the culturally invisible and frustrated: post-recession Texans bereft of opportunity in Hell or High Water, low-level NASA mathematicians mostly forgotten by history in Hidden Figures, orphans and destitute families in India in Lion. Most notably, Best Picture winner Moonlight unspooled the tale of a poor black gay man simply surviving, an ordinary life of the sort that is portrayed so infrequently as to seem extraordinary.

So there is, in fact, politics here, though subtle. In the context of conversations about diversity and inclusion at the Oscars and in America more generally, Davis’s praise of stories about common people of thwarted dreams necessarily has a political meaning: Portraying previously unportrayed struggles means that lives other than white, straight, well-off, and/or male matter.

The point was reinforced, lightly, as she thanked her sisters, remembering, “We were rich white women in the tea party games.” They played as white and wealthy, perhaps, because that was what society had told them to fantasize about. Davis has shown the power of offering alternatives.

Moonlight wins best picture Oscar after onstage gaffe

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Moonlight bags the best picture after an astonishing flub in which La La Land was initially named the winner.

Abbas: Defend two-state solution for a Palestine state

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

UNHRC member states told Israel moving towards 'apartheid solution' and cautioned against moving embassies to Jerusalem.

Equivalence makes sense for the City and Europe

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

If politics obscures mutual interests, Brexit will damage both sides

Dietary fad or healthy diet? The best foods to protect your heart

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

While a diet rich in fruit and veggies appears to be good for the heart many dietary fads should be avoided.

Syria al-Qaeda leader 'targeted in strike on car'

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Reports are unclear whether Abu al-Khayr al-Masri survived an attack on a car in Idlib province.

El Salvador's much-loved hippo Gustavito killed at zoo

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

While murder has long lost the capacity to shock in El Salvador, Gustavito's death has hit a nerve.

Caribbean swimming pigs poisoned by tourists feeding them alcohol

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Several famous swimming pigs from Exumas, Bermuda have been found dead in the last week.

Amazon is teaching Alexa to distinguish between users by their voice

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Sources claim Amazon is developing a system called Voice ID which will understand who is talking.

How Long Can Border Agents Keep Your Email Password?

By Kaveh Waddell from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

When you cross into or out of the United States, whether in a car or at an airport, you enter a special zone where federal agents have unusual powers to search your belongings—powers they don’t have elsewhere in the country. The high standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable searches, is lowered, and the Fifth Amendment, which guards against self-incrimination and prevents the government from demanding computer passwords or smartphone PINs, is rendered less effective.

These special rules allowed a customs officer at the Houston airport to ask a NASA engineer to give up the passcode to his smartphone last month. The engineer, Sidd Bikkannavar, was reentering the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile, but the device he had on him belonged to his employer, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He routinely used the smartphone for sensitive work, so losing sight of it for a half hour was a “huge, huge violation of work policy,” Bikkannavar told me.

After he was released, Bikkannavar immediately got a new phone from his employer and changed his PIN. But what if he hadn’t, and then traveled internationally again? If he were selected a second time for questioning at the border, the officer interviewing him would check at the record from Bikkannavar’s last run-in with Customs and Border Protection—which may include the passcode that he revealed to an agent.

• • •

The rules around what information can be retained after CBP inspections—and for how long—aren’t entirely clear-cut.

A notice published in 2008 in the Federal Register, the government’s official journal, describes the main database CBP uses for traveler information. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the kinds of data that the records system known as TECS—that’s not an acronym—hosts:

… full name, alias, date of birth, address, physical description, various identification numbers (e.g., social security number, alien number, I-94 number, seizure number), details and circumstances of a search, arrest, or seizure, case information such as merchandise and values, methods of theft.

In addition, if officials search an electronic device like a laptop or smartphone, they may create a copy of the device’s contents. Without probable cause, CBP can’t keep that data on record for longer than a week (although some circumstances allow the window to be extended to a month), except for information “relating to immigration, customs, and other enforcement matters,” according to an official privacy impact assessment released in 2009. A CBP spokesperson confirmed that this policy is still in place.

The list of data that CBP can keep doesn’t include “passwords” or “credentials,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t gathered and stored. Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, says that customs officials can enter miscellaneous information into records submitted to the TECS system.

The CBP spokesperson said that the agency can hang on to a password to facilitate digital searches once a device has been detained. The spokesperson did not say whether the password would be deleted from a traveler’s record after the search is over.

Generally, once a piece of information has been entered into the system, it can stay there for a very long time. According to the Federal Register notice, data in TECS can be kept for 75 years—or for the duration of a “law enforcement matter” or any “other enforcement activities that may become related.”

One of the few laws that would constrain how CBP would collect, keep, and disseminate personal information is the Privacy Act of 1974, which regulates how federal agencies treat sensitive personal data. But the Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency, exempted TECS from that law since at least 2009. Instead, CBP considers requests from individuals who ask to access records about them—a right guaranteed under the Privacy Act—on a case-by-case basis.

“Any limits would have to be derived directly from the Constitution or international treaties, not from statutes or regulations,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a travel expert and consultant to The Identity Project. “I am not aware of any case law limiting retention of this sort of data.”

To better understand how CBP collects and retains data, Hasbrouck requested his own travel records from the agency in 2007. He received incomplete responses and eventually stopped hearing back, so in 2010, Hasbrouck sued DHS to compel it to turn over the records he requested.

The documents he won in the lawsuit—some of which went as far back as 1992—show the detailed notes that CBP officials keep on travelers. Two records in particular showed the result of a pair of inspections Hasbrouck submitted to in 2009 and 2007. In one instance, Hasbrouck was interviewed at Boston Logan airport on the way back from London, because he “verbally declared” that he was carrying food. In the “inspection remarks” section, an official noted that “1 APPLE WAS SEIZED. BREAD WAS INSPECTED AND RELEASED.” (The “remarks” section is likely where a seized password might be entered.)

That information probably won’t come back to haunt Hasbrouck the next time he flies internationally. But once it’s saved, it’s fair game for use in future border encounters. Hasbrouck says he’s been questioned about the findings of previous inspections even years after the initial incident. If his records had contained any more sensitive information, they could easily have caused him trouble every time he traveled.

• • •

In October, a Canadian man traveling from British Columbia to New Orleans was taken aside for questioning at the Vancouver Airport. There, a CBP officer demanded the password to his phone and computer, according to a recent report in the DailyXtra, a Canadian LGBT news site. The man, identified only by his first name, André, turned over his credentials, and waited for “an hour or two” as officers searched through his digital life.

When the officer returned, he began “grilling” André about his emails, apps, and browsing history. The officer asked about André’s accounts on Scruff, a gay hookup app, and BBRT, a gay hookup website, in an episode the traveler described as “humiliating.” Ultimately, he chose not to enter the U.S. that day, and gave up his seat on the flight.

A month later, André tried to fly to New Orleans again. He was again singled out for secondary inspection at the Vancouver airport, where officers asked for his devices. But this time, DailyXtra reported, the officers didn’t ask for his passwords; they still had them saved from the previous inspection. They rifled through his devices again, and even though André had wiped them of most of his personal information, he said he was not let through and was told he was a “suspected escort.”

I asked several experts who study digital border searches whether they’d ever heard of a similar case. None were aware of a specific instance of a device or online password being retained—and reused—but each said he or she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that CBP has a policy of retaining passwords.

“Based on the policy and reported incidents, my best guess is that CBP agents have broad discretion to keep login credentials if they think they will have a reason to use them in the future,” said Catherine Crump, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley who has brought multiple cases against the government’s digital border search policy. “Bottom line: Change your passwords, people!”

For now, CBP is most likely interested mostly in passwords to physical devices, and not passwords to online accounts. Since the agency’s expanded authority to conduct searches is restricted to the border, lawyers say it wouldn’t cover a search of a traveler’s Facebook or Twitter profile. Doing so would request information from data centers located around the country or overseas—outside of the border zone—and would require a traditional subpoena, or some other type of court order.

But DHS Secretary John Kelly has proposed making social-media searches routine. At a hearing earlier this month, Kelly said he’d like to make it mandatory for visitors to the U.S. to turn over their browsing history and passwords to their social-media accounts. The proposal was met with intense opposition from human-rights groups and security experts, who say it would violate fundamental privacy rights, and could set a worrying precedent for other countries.

If such a policy were put into place, CBP could begin to compile the keys to travelers’ digital kingdoms, simply by asking for passwords at the border, jotting them down, and keeping them. Unless travelers change their passwords after a search, they may find that their input isn’t needed next time they’re stopped at the border.

Top Soviet Olympic gymnast Olga Korbut sells off medals

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The former gymnast, a darling of the 1972 Munich Olympics, auctions off her medals to pay the bills.

Palestinian diaspora creates new political entity

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Conference organisers establish new group to represent diaspora communities and strive for greater Palestinian rights.

Hungary begins construction of second border fence to keep out migrants

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Human rights activists have condemned the 'abusive, pointless, and cruel' immigration policy.

Apple consultant detained over Mediterranean cruise ship disappearance of wife, says she's in Greece or China

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

German husband Daniel Belling claims his Chinese-born wife left the cruise ship of her own free will.

Trump threatens to tear up the trade rule book

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Bypassing the World Trade Organisation would be a serious error

George W Bush attacks Trump Presidency, criticising travel ban and media war

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Bush said the free press was crucial to the balance of power and that he supported a welcoming immigration policy.

Trump vows $54bn military boost while cutting domestic programmes, foreign aid

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

US State Department and Environmental Protection Agency expecting to see deep domestic spending cuts.

Cabrini Green and Chicago's Public Housing Disaster

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green is a new documentary by America ReFramed that was filmed over the course of 20 years. It tells the story of Cabrini Green, a public housing development that sat on one of the most prime real estate areas of Chicago. In 1995, the development was demolished slowly and its primarily black residents were forced out. This excerpt from the film takes place at the very beginning of the intense protests to preserve the community. The full hour-long film is streaming online.

Turkmenistan Airlines flight T5429 continued journey to Birmingham with dead body on board

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Flight made emergency landing in Russian city of Volgograd and then continued en route to UK.

Donald Trump is a victim of 'McCarthyism revisited' says senior Republican

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Chair of House Intelligence Committee refuses to investigate Trump because there is 'nothing there'.

Rare disease Day 2017: Facts, history and why research can bring give patients hope

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The campaign takes place each year on the last day of February.

Apple to prompt all iOS users to turn on two-factor authentication?

From : World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Users of its iOS 10.3 beta are reportedly receiving push notifcations about 2FA.

Five Ways of Seeing Five Minutes of 'Real People' at the Oscars

By Spencer Kornhaber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

If the last-minute twist at the Oscars was seen to echo all the last-minute twists in American culture lately—the Super Bowl, the election—a silly five-minute segment earlier in the night should be noted for what it captured about the country’s ongoing tensions and tastes in iPhone peripherals.

Host Jimmy Kimmel’s team arranged for a sightseeing bus of supposedly “real” tourists to walk into the room, expecting a museum exhibit about the Oscars but instead finding themselves in the middle of the actual thing. “Welcome to the Dolby Theater,” Kimmel announced. “This is the home of the Academy Awards, which are, in fact, happening right now.”

The bit was both amusing and squirmy: a weird microcosm of Hollywood’s relationship with America, America’s relationship with the media, and Jimmy Kimmel’s ability to make everything a little more awkward than it needs to be.

The Hunger for Folk Heroes (and Memes)

At the front of the pack was the man who would be the moment’s breakout star, “Gary from Chicago.” In a room of tuxes, he wore basketball shorts, a baseball cap, and a “Hollywood” sweatshirt, with the gender-progressive touches of a purple phone case and a bag that might have been his fiancee’s purse. If the glitz ambush intimidated him, he showed no signs of it, happily introducing himself to stars and snappily replying to Kimmel’s jokes. On social media, pop culture’s craving for quirky symbolic everymen—see: Ken Bone, Joe the Plumber—quickly made itself known. So did the cravings of various corporate marketing teams.

Our Collective Phone Addiction

The dozen or so tourists seemed to realize what was happening at different rates, and with different emotions—fear, elation, nonchalance—but were united in keeping their phones in front of their faces. “You know we’re on TV so you don’t need to do that,” Kimmel said as Gary kept filming the room. His reply: “I know but I want to. I want to.”

The phone accessories themselves could make for a post-show fashion column: one woman had a sparkling jeweled case, another wielded a selfie stick as if it were a talisman. Devices in hand, the group pulled celebs in for selfies; Gary even handed his phone to Mahershala Ali as he posed with the actor’s Oscar.

For the tourists, it was a rare chance to see in the flesh people normally only ever seen on a screen. Yet they still insisted on having a screen between them.

Piercing the Hollywood Bubble …

In an era when Americans have become sharply aware of how isolated its various niches are—politically, socially, geographically—workaday citizens from around the country were literally bussed in for cultural exchange with the cultural elite. The stars received them warmly: Ryan Gosling offered up some sort of present to Gary, Jennifer Anniston handed over her sunglasses, Meryl and Mahershala and others grinned and hugged. Denzel Washington even “married” Gary and his fiancee Vicky, though it must be said this particular cinematic icon seemed in a bit of a hurry to return to his seat.

… or Reinforcing It

The alternate political reading of the moment was that the regular folks were treated patronizingly, expected to react with gratitude and awe at the mere fact of breathing the same air as famous people. Kimmel seemed a little too insistent that the tourists be wowed, and an awkward image was set when Gary started kissing actresses’ hands: He wanted to do it, but it looked a lot like royalty receiving a supplicant. “Well that was the most condescending moment in Oscars history,” the writer Walter Kirn tweeted. “Real people on parade. Weren’t they cute?”

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Oscars (Host) So White

The tourists were a mix of white and black and brown men and women. But Kimmel made the diversity seem anything but normal by using tired humor about “funny” names—which is to say, names unusual to white Americans. As the tourists entered the room, he had the crowd shout out “MAHERSHALA!,” the name of Moonlight’s Best Supporting Actor winner. Later, Kimmel reacted with horror when a woman of Asian descent told Kimmel her name rhymed with “jewelry.” When her husband said his name was Patrick, Kimmel replied with mock relief, “See, that’s a name.”

At an event that has recently been accused of white supremacy, this was a pretty tone-deaf shtick. But Gary, of course, helped deflate it. “I feel like you’re ignoring the white celebrities,” Kimmel said. Gary: “Because I am, though!”

The Insanity of Live TV

My stress reflexes were in full effect watching the segment, and judging from the cringing reactions on Twitter, I wasn’t alone. It’s definitely possible the tourists were just actors, or that they’d at least been coached to a greater extent than we were led to believe. But still, the spectacle of chaos in a space as highly choreographed, as widely watched, and as culturally fraught as the Oscars was riveting. At the very end of the night, viewers would be reminded of what makes live TV like this so electrifying—the potential for disaster, and miracles.

What Is a Populist?

By Uri Friedman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Why does Donald Trump exaggerate the size of his inauguration crowd, brag about his election win in conversations with world leaders, and claim without evidence that voter fraud may have cost him the popular vote? Why does he dismiss protesters who oppose him as “paid professionals” and polls that reflect poorly on him as “fake news”? Why does he call much of the media the “enemy of the people”?

There are explanations for these things that focus on the individual, characterizing Trump as a self-centered reality-TV star obsessed with approval and allergic to criticism.

But there is also an ideological explanation, and it involves a concept that gets mentioned a lot these days without much context or elaboration: populism.

What is a populist?

No definition of populism will fully describe all populists. That’s because populism is a “thin ideology” in that it “only speaks to a very small part of a political agenda,” according to Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia and the co-author of Populism: A Very Short Introduction. An ideology like fascism involves a holistic view of how politics, the economy, and society as a whole should be ordered. Populism doesn’t; it calls for kicking out the political establishment, but it doesn’t specify what should replace it. So it’s usually paired with “thicker” left- or right-wing ideologies like socialism or nationalism.

Populists are dividers, not uniters, Mudde told me. They split society into “two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people on the one end and the corrupt elite on the other,” and say they’re guided by the “will of the people.” The United States is what political scientists call a “liberal democracy,” a system “based on pluralism—on the idea that you have different groups with different interests and values, which are all legitimate,” Mudde explained. Populists, in contrast, are not pluralist. They consider just one group—whatever they mean by “the people”—legitimate.

This conception of legitimacy stems from the fact that populists view their mission as “essentially moral,” Mudde noted. The “distinction between the elite and the people is not based on how much money you have or even what kind of position you have. It’s based on your values.”

Given their moral framing, populists conclude that they alone represent “the people.” They may not win 100 percent of the vote, but they lay claim to 100 percent of the support of good, hardworking folks who have been exploited by the establishment. They don’t assert that the neglected people who back them should be kept in mind by political leaders just like all other citizens; they claim that these neglected people are the only people that matter.

“[P]opulists only lose if ‘the silent majority’—shorthand for ‘the real people’—has not had a chance to speak, or worse, has been prevented from expressing itself,” explains Jan-Werner Müller, a professor at Princeton University and the author of What Is Populism? “Hence the frequent invocation of conspiracy theories by populists: something going on behind the scenes has to account for the fact that corrupt elites are still keeping the people down. … [I]f the people’s politician doesn’t win, there must be something wrong with the system.”

One might expect this argument to fail once populists enter government and become the establishment. But no: Populists—ranging from the revolutionary socialist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to the religious conservative Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey—have managed to portray themselves as victims even at the height of their power, blaming their shortcomings on sabotage by shadowy domestic or foreign elites.

The notion of one virtuous people and one vile elite is a fiction, even if it does reflect real divisions and power dynamics in a given society. “There is no single political will, let alone a single political opinion, in a modern, complex, pluralist—in short, enormously messy—democracy,” writes Müller. It’s not that populists have some special mind meld with the masses. Rather, “[p]opulists put words into the mouth of what is after all their own creation.” As an example, Müller cites Nigel Farage, the former leader of the populist U.K. Independence Party, who called Britain’s vote to leave the European Union a “victory for real people,” as if the 48 percent of British people who voted to remain in the EU were “somehow less than real—or, rather, questioning their status as members of the political community.”

Populists “tend to define the people as those that are with them,” Mudde said. The mark of a populist isn’t which specific groups of people he or she includes in “the people” or “the establishment.” It’s the fact that he or she is separating the world into those warring camps in the first place.

Stylistically, populists often use short, simple slogans and direct language, and engage in “boorish behavior, which makes [them] appear like the real people,” said Pippa Norris, a professor at Harvard University who is working on a book on the rise of “populist-authoritarian” politicians around the world, especially in Europe. They are typically “transgressive on all the rules of the game.”

Is Donald Trump a populist?

Something fundamental in Trump’s approach to politics changed around the time that Steve Bannon, now the president’s chief strategist in the White House, joined the businessman’s campaign, according to Mudde. Trump had been condemning America’s allegedly incompetent political leaders for decades. But when Trump launched his presidential bid, he was not, in Mudde’s mind, a populist. Over time, however, he’s come to style himself as one, in ways that help illuminate why Trump does what he does and says what he says.

Trump’s initial political vocabulary included the corrupt elite but not the pure people. Instead, in rambling speeches, he focused on just one person: himself. “Our country needs a truly great leader ... that wrote The Art of the Deal,” Trump declared in announcing his candidacy. Gradually, however, his speeches grew more coherent and populist. His remarks at the Republican National Convention—which were written by aide Stephen Miller, who developed a taste for “nation-state populism” while working for Senator Jeff Sessions—marked a transitional moment. “I alone can fix” the broken system in Washington, Trump said, promising to serve as the “voice” of the “forgotten men and women of our country.” By Inauguration Day, the transformation was complete: Trump’s rhetoric was thoroughly populist. “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” he proclaimed. That speech was written by Miller and Bannon, who envisions Trump leading a new “economic nationalist movement” modeled on the “populism” of the 19th-century U.S. President Andrew Jackson.

In his presidential-announcement speech, Trump used versions of the word “I” 256 times. In his Inaugural address, he used those words three times.

Trump shifted from exclusively “selling himself” to presenting “himself as a vehicle of the people,” Mudde observed, and this allowed his supporters to feel part of something bigger than Trump. “You couldn’t be part of Trump, and that was what he sold before,” Mudde said. “That was where the genius came in. Before it was just one man standing against everyone. Now it was a movement that had him as its leader. That energized [people] much more.” (Norris pointed out that Trump usually portrays himself as a “paternalistic leader who will do things for the people” rather than seeking to directly empower them.)

The moral dimension of populism “explains why someone like Donald Trump, who clearly is not a commoner, can nevertheless pretend to be the voice of the people,” Mudde told me. “He doesn’t argue, ‘I am as rich as you.’ What he argues is, ‘I have the same values as you. I’m also part of the pure people.’”

And here’s where the ideological explanation for Trump’s seeming vanity comes in. If Trump is the only authentic emissary of the people, then how does he reconcile that role with unspectacular crowd sizes, weak poll numbers, the loss of the popular vote, mass protests by people claiming he doesn’t represent them, and critical media coverage of the policies the people allegedly want?

What, moreover, do these realities do to the mandate he claims from the people to take extraordinary measures like banning refugees and immigrants from whole countries, or pressuring Mexico into paying for a border wall?

As Trump told ABC’s David Muir regarding his fixation on the size of the Inauguration Day crowd, the media tries to “demean me unfairly ‘cause we had a massive crowd of people. ... Part of my whole victory was that the men and women of this country who have been forgotten will never be forgotten again.”

“The legitimacy of populists comes from mass opinion,” said Norris. Trump “doesn’t have legitimacy through the popular vote. He doesn’t have legitimacy through experience. He doesn’t have legitimacy through the [Republican] Party,” which institutionally has had a rocky relationship with Trump. “So he claims this mythical link to the people.”

Mudde remains skeptical that Trump is, in his heart of hearts, a populist. The chances he becomes more “elitist” in office are greater than for someone like the presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in France, who has been consistently populist for years, Mudde said. But “Donald Trump the politician today is a populist radical-right politician.”

While Trump has been inconsistently populist, Mudde noted, he has consistently opposed elites, demonstrated a nativist attitude toward immigrants, and exhibited “authoritarian streaks.” These could be described as his thicker ideologies.

According to Norris, who labels Trump a “populist-authoritarian,” nativist nationalism dwells on threats posed by outsiders, and revolves around “the idea that the country should come first, and that there are certain groups that are part of the people and they’re the ones who should get the benefits and rewards of that society.” (One recent study of European Union countries found that as the percentage of immigrants in a nation increases, so does support for right-wing populist parties; the journalist John Judis has observed that while left-wing populists typically defend the lower and middle classes against the upper class, right-wing populists defend the people against elites who they accuse of being insufficiently tough on a third group: outsiders like immigrants or radical Islamists.)

Authoritarians, meanwhile, think the primary role of the state is to enforce law and order, fear chaos more than anything else, and instinctively respond to problems by “cracking down” on the perceived source of the issue, Mudde said. Some authoritarians disdain democracy even if they maintain its trappings, but Trump doesn’t appear to be one of them, Mudde added. Trump “has never really attacked the democratic narrative that the majority of the people should elect their leaders,” he noted. The president seems to believe that “I have been elected by the majority of the people—which of course he wasn’t, but that’s his frame—and so now everyone else should just accept what I do because I have the mandate of the people.” He seeks to underscore his “democratic legitimacy” by publicizing “shows of support.”

“To understand the current administration, populism is as important as nativism and authoritarianism, because [Trump] fires on all three cylinders,” Mudde said.

So what if Trump is a populist?

There’s been little comparative study of whether populists deliver better or worse results for their people than other types of politicians, according to Norris. Not much can be said definitively, for example, about the effect of populist governance on a country’s GDP growth, though a number of prominent populists, particularly in Latin America, have pursued disastrous economic policies.

But what does often happen is that populists, when they come to power and “actually have to deal with things on a daily basis, they often become more moderate as they gradually learn that bomb-throwing doesn’t work when they’re trying to get things done,” Norris said. “And then they often lose their popularity over time as a result because they no longer have that appeal” of political outsiders.

Just because many of Trump’s policies—tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, for instance—may not actually help non-elites doesn’t mean he can’t be described as a populist, Norris added, noting that populists are “all over the place” on economic policy. Nor is Trump necessarily a fake populist just because he’s a billionaire who’s appointed a bunch of millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet. Populism as many scholars understand it is, in Judis’s words, more a “political logic” than a policy program or sincerely held belief system.

Sometimes, however, populists don’t moderate in office. And either way, empowered populists often pose challenges to the key components of Western-style liberal democracy: civil liberties, minority rights, the rule of law, and checks and balances on government power.

This occurs even as the popularity of populists exposes widespread dissatisfaction with the existing state of representative democracy. Populists are problematic for free societies, but they’re also responding to profound problems in those societies; they succeed when they tap into people’s genuine grievances about the policies pursued by their leaders. As Douglas Carswell, a member of UKIP in Britain, once told the BBC, “I think populism is a popular idea with which the elites tend to disagree.” Viktor Orban, the populist leader of Hungary, an EU member, recently put it more vividly:

In Western Europe, the center Right ... and the center Left have taken turns at the helm of Europe for the past 50 to 60 years. But increasingly, they have offered the same programs and thus a diminishing arena of political choice. The leaders of Europe always seem to emerge from the same elite, the same general frame of mind, the same schools, and the same institutions that rear generation after generation of politicians to this day. They take turns implementing the same policies. Now that their assurance has been called into question by [Europe’s] economic meltdown, however, an economic crisis has quickly turned into the crisis of the elite.

But in being anti-establishment, populists typically aren’t just “anti-the other party or anti-particular interests or particular policies, which is normal politics,” Norris said. “It’s really being anti-all the powers that be in a particular society,” from political parties and the media to business interests and experts such as academics and scientists.

And that’s why populists can endanger democracy. “You can’t compromise in a moral struggle,” Mudde explained. “If the pure compromises with the corrupt, the pure is corrupted. … You’re not dealing with an opponent. An opponent has legitimacy. Often in the populist mind and rhetoric, it is an enemy. And you don’t make deals with enemies and you don’t bend to illegitimate pressure.”

As a result, “Populists in power tend to undermine countervailing powers, which are courts, which are media, which are other parties,” Mudde said. “And they tend to do that through a variety of mostly legal means, but not classic repression.” In Hungary, for instance, Orban hasn’t banned opposition newspapers; rather, his government has directed advertising by state-run organizations away from critical media outlets and toward friendly ones. Orban’s government also lowered the retirement age for judges in an effort to fill those positions with loyalists.

Individually, these actions don’t seem so remarkable. But collectively, they “create an unlevel playing field in which it becomes increasingly difficult for the populist leader to lose elections,” Mudde said. Such leaders “by and large wear out the opposition,” he added, noting that mass anti-government demonstrations in Hungary have withered in the years since Orban took office. “After a while, it starts to become normal, you start to worry more about speaking out, and everything kind of falls in place.”

“Democracy in the sense of popular sovereignty and majority rule, where the people elect their leaders, even [Russian President Vladimir] Putin upholds this,” he said. “Even Erdogan upholds this. But they do that in a situation where it’s virtually impossible for real opposition to mobilize.”

“Populism knocks over some of the liberal-democratic safeguards,” Norris said. “What flows in when the door is open depends on the ideology that that particular party is putting forward.”

Populists are certainly not alone in seeking to consolidate political power. But unlike other power-hungry politicians, they can do so openly, Müller notes: “[W]hy, populists can ask indignantly, should the people not take possession of their state through their only rightful representatives? Why should those who obstruct the genuine popular will in the name of civil service neutrality not be purged?”

While marginalizing opponents, populists also tend to openly dole out favors to their supporters. “In a sense,” Müller writes, “they try to make the unified people in whose name they had been speaking all along a reality on the ground. … [P]opulism becomes something like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Mudde struggled to cite a populist elsewhere in the world who reminds him of Trump. Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines has a similarly authoritarian vision of leadership, Mudde noted, but he doesn’t embrace Trump’s narrative of democratic legitimacy. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy was also a brash, billionaire populist, but he was more ideologically moderate than Trump. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands is outspoken on radical Islam and active on Twitter, but he’s a skilled, professional politician. “The amateurism of Trump is absolutely unique,” Mudde said. “I honestly have never seen anything like that in an established democracy.”

Mudde said it was difficult to predict the impact Trump’s populist presidency could have on American democracy because the populists he’s studied in advanced democracies have ruled in parliamentary coalitions, meaning they haven’t held as much power as a president in the U.S. system does. The populists who’ve led presidential systems are largely in Latin America, which has weaker political institutions than the United States does.

“Trump is so unique in so many different ways that it’s very hard to [draw lessons] from other countries,” Mudde said. Still, he argued that the threat Trump represents for liberal democracy is an incremental one that could grow over the course of four or eight years, especially if Trump’s fellow Republicans, who at the moment have “more than enough power to stop Trump whenever he would push beyond what liberal democracy allows,” decide not to stand up to the president. Alternatively, the threat could expand in the event of a crisis. Consider what happened with President George W. Bush after 9/11, “when we were rallying around the flag of a liberal democrat in [2001], with the Patriot Act,” Mudde observed. Now imagine what might happen after a major terrorist attack in a country led by an “illiberal democrat.”

“All of these measures are small measures,” Mudde said. “And they have a cumulative effect over years. It is some oppositional newspapers that disappear; others start to self-censor. It is various forms of disenfranchisement, all the time a little bit extra, which drops off parts of the electorate. It is the appointment of more and more judges at all kinds of levels who don’t challenge the administration. … This is chipping away at protections.”  

Noting the low levels of public trust in the press and political institutions, and Trump’s sustained campaign to further undermine that trust, Norris foresaw not “an overnight revolution,” but a “drip, drip, drip” deterioration in America’s already troubled democracy. “Faith and confidence in your institutions,” she said, is the “cultural basis for democracy.”

The irony, Müller writes, is that populists, after coming to power, tend to commit the same sins they ascribe to elites: “excluding citizens and usurping the state. What the establishment supposedly has always done, populists will also end up doing. Only with a clear justification and, perhaps, even a clear conscience.”

6 times the Home Office broke up British families in the name of immigration

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Irene Clennell came to the UK in 1988, married a British man and had a family. In 2017, she was deported. 

Irene Clennell first arrived in London in 1988, before the Home Office’s younger staff members were even born. Soon after, she married a British man called John, and received indefinite leave to remain. They made their home in County Durham. They have two children and one grandchild. 

Now, though, Clennell is in Singapore, after being detained and forcibly deported on the orders of the British government

Her crime? She spent periods of time back in Singapore caring for her ailing parents, enough to invalidate her indefinite leave to remain. It seems the Home Office decided her parents took too long to die.

Clennell’s case matters – and not just because her husband last heard from her sobbing on a plane. Her family is the latest to be torn apart by the government’s stringent immigration rules. 

As well as an inflexible approach to the amount of time spent in the UK, the rules demand that British citizens must earn £18,600 a year to bring over a non-EU spouse – a rule that discriminates against women, who are more likely to work part-time for less pay, and those living in lower-paid regions of the country. 

With EU nationals facing an uncertain future, and the government desperate to meet immigration reduction targets, this inflexible approach matters. Here are some of the families that have felt the consequences:  

1. The father who can’t see his son

Toni Stew, from Worcester, met her husband Mohamed El Faramawi in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. But this was no holiday romance – they got married six years later, and have a young son.

But because Stew works part time, in order to care for her son, she does not earn enough to sponsor her husband’s move to the UK

El Faramawi has only met his son a few times since the birth 17 months earlier.

2. A couple trying to look after their parents

Kevin Draper, from Bristol, met his wife Mae, originally from the Philippines, through friends in Hong Kong. In 1995 they settled in the UK, but then a job came up in Dubai. 

In 2011, sad news summoned Kevin home – he needed to care for his mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Mae’s mother passed away, and she went to support her family in the Philippines.

She was advised to apply for a UK visitor visa, and finally received one in 2013 after two failed attempts. Having been reunited with her husband and daughter, she decided to apply for a spouse visa. But in 2014 she was told that in order to do that, she would have to return to the Philippines, and the process could take another two years.

3. A British father who was made redundant

Dominic James met his wife, an American named Katy, in 2005. After they married a year later, she managed to join him in Edinburgh for three years.

They moved out to Seattle, where they had a daughter, but the couple always intended to return to the UK. James managed to get a transfer from his employer to the Edinburgh office, but was made redundant shortly afterwards.

Despite Katy’s work experience in the UK, her visa application was denied because James, now self-employed, did not earn enough to meet the minimum income requirement rules. (The Home Office eventually granted Katy 30 months longer to stay).

4. A mother who thought the UK was home

Beverley Boothe arrived in the UK in 1979 as a teenager, to join her parents who had emigrated from Jamaica in the 1960s. 

According to Boothe, she received indefinite leave to remain in 1980. At some point in the next three decades, she lost the passport with the original stamp in it. But she assumed the Home Office had a record of her application.

It turns out they didn’t – records are only kept for 15 years from the date of the “last action”. Boothe, a criminology graduate, gave the Home Office her fingerprints and information about her family. Just before Christmas 2013, she was ordered to go to Jamaica or face deportation.

Not only did Boothe have no close family to return to, she had her own children in the UK. Although they all have British fathers, her youngest daughters were unable to obtain passports because of her status.

5. A father facing separation from his wife… and parents 

In 2012 AJ, an American, moved with his father to South Shields, Tyneside, when he went to join his new wife. There, AJ met Lian Papay, and fell in love. The couple discovered they were expecting, and married in 2013.

But Lian did not earn enough to sponsor AJ, and so her husband is forced to rely on short-term visas. Ironically, when AJ flys back to the United States, he leaves not only his wife and son, but his father and stepmother.  

6. A woman who wanted to care for her father-in-law

Gary Walsh, a Falklands war veteran, married his wife Xia Zhao, an accountant, more than 16 years ago and has two adolescent children. 

The family lived in Malaysia, but flew to the UK after hearing Gary’s elderly father was unwell. 

Xia Zhao came on a one-year visa, but after discovering how ill her father-in-law was, applied to stay and work so the family could care for him. Her application was refused, and she was advised to apply instead from China in a process that could take years. 

Irene Clennell Go Fund Me handout

'Moonlight, Best Picture': The Oscars and the Rare Power of Shock

By Megan Garber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Last year, the comedian Marc Maron brought the author Chuck Klosterman on as a guest on his WTF podcast. The two discussed many things (including Klosterman’s then-new book, But What If We’re Wrong?, which he was there to promote), but one of them was sports—and the particular thrill that they offer to audiences. Sporting events, Klosterman argued, promise that most dramatic of things: an unknown outcome. Unlike other widely watched events—the Super Bowl halftime show, the Grammys, the Oscars—the primary selling point of sporting events is that their endings are, by definition, unpredictable. Within them, anything can happen.

Well. While you can say a lot about the Oscars on Sunday, you can’t say that the glitzy awards show was boringly predictable. The 89th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, right at its conclusion, brought a mixture of confusion and shock and full, deep delight to its viewers as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway teamed up to announce the Best Picture winner and proceeded to, because of a backstage flub, announce the wrong movie. Chaos—and really, really good TV—ensued. Tired East Coasters were summoned back to their living rooms from their bedrooms, on the grounds that “ohmyGodyou’veGOTtoseethis.” Twitter erupted with jokes—about Bonnie and Clyde being at it again, about Schrödinger’s envelope, about “Dewey Defeats Truman” getting an Oscars-friendly update. It was late on a Sunday evening, and the unexpected had happened in the most unexpected of ways, and the whole thing was, as my colleague Adam Serwer perfectly summed it up, Moon-lit.

The whole thing was also, however, a reminder of how rare it has become for audiences to witness, collectively, something that is truly Unexpected. This was live TV, with all the potential human error that live TV can bring—chaos, correction, drama, grace—at its depths but also its heights. What happened on Sunday hewed to roughly the same mechanics that gave the world all those Left Shark memes, and those “Nevertheless, She Persisted” tattoos, and the term “wardrobe malfunction”: The Oscars evoked caring by way of surprise. The Best Picture flub has become infamous overnight for roughly the same reason its predecessors did: It is exceedingly rare, in the highly produced world of mass media, for expectations to be thwarted.

We know so much, nowadays. We are, in fact, sure of so much—about politics and human psychology and Hollywood awards shows and the correct ingredients of guacamole. During a time when Google has made so much information instantly attainable, knowingness has become a default presence in American cultural life. Oooh, that show is supposed to be excellent. That movie is supposed to be terrible. Poke bowls are the thing now. Big cultural events, the stuff of the Grammys and the Emmys and the Oscars, are in many ways the culmination of that posture: We know precisely what to expect of them. We can report, as they play out, that everything went according to plan, because we knew from the beginning what they were supposed to be; we can do that reporting, as well, with a note of disappointment. There are few things duller, after all, than met expectations.

In that context, the Beatty-Dunaway-Oscars flub was a gift to audiences (and perhaps to ABC’s future live-audience ratings). It was also Chuck Klosterman’s point to Maron, at once proven and proven wrong. Here was the anything-can-happen logic of the live sporting event, applied to Hollywood’s highest, most ceremonialized, and most expectation-driven, of rituals. That was a powerful thing: During a moment in the United States that so often takes for granted that “reality” is something that can be produced as well as experienced, the Best Picture Oscars flub was a powerful reminder that reality, still, has its own production values.

Yes, the flub was many other things, too: a shame for Moonlight, which so richly deserved to win Best Picture and whose victory threatens to be overshadowed by the mistake and its ensuing dramas. A shame for La La Land, whose producers delivered their full acceptance speeches before learning that their “win” had been announced in error. A field day for photographers both professional and non-, who snapped reaction shots onstage and backstage and among the celebrity audience. A moment of grace, as La La Land’s producer, Jordan Horowitz, met Jimmy Kimmel’s cheeky suggestion that everyone should get an Oscar with a politely defiant “I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” And also, sure: a metaphor for the slings and arrows of the 2016 election. A ratification of pop culture's current obsession with alternate realities. A vehicle for many, many jokes at the expense of Steve Harvey.

Mostly, though, it was a twist ending that arrived, by the looks of things, in the twistiest of ways: a shock that came not at the hands of a savvy producer, but at the hands of quirky reality. Twist endings may have been a defining feature of the events of 2016 and early 2017—the reality show that was the 2016 presidential campaign found its pundit-ratified frontrunner vanquished in the final episode; the 2016 World Series featured another victorious underdog; Super Bowl LI found the expected winners winning, but only after its game went into nail-biting overtime. Their twists, however, took place within events whose endings were, by definition, unknown. The Oscars was a ceremony, shockingly interrupted. It was expectation, compellingly thwarted.

And so: It was powerful in a way that few things can be, anymore, in a world that knows so much and expects, in the end, so little. In an essay for Screen Crush last year, Erin Whitney argued that “ours is a culture built on anticipation, where movies end with scenes teasing the next installment in the franchise, never allowing a moment’s rest to absorb what we just saw. We talk about movies years before they debut, we analyze TV plot twists, and anticipate albums for years before hearing a single song.” This whole process has led, Whitney argued, to “the slow death of surprise.”

The best evidence for that may be the fact that marketers have recently been focused on surprising consumers—capitalism doing its best to keep that particular kind of magic alive. The dropped album. The surprise TV show. The secretly produced trailer. The live-aired, anything-could-happen TV musical. They are trying to capture what Klosterman was conveying to Maron in that WTF interview: “Sports is a connection to authentic aliveness,” the author put it to the comedian. “This is not something that anybody can control or script. It’s this unknown thing.” He added: “There’s something real interesting about ‘nobody knows,’ because you just don’t experience that anymore.”

You don’t, until you do—until that mistake makes its way onto the glitziest and scriptiest of all of Hollywood’s stages. Sunday’s Best Picture flub is not only already iconic; it is also already the subject of conspiracy theories from a wide range of Oscar truthers who suggest that, among other things, the mistake was the result of President Trump exacting revenge on Jimmy Kimmel; or a prank pulled by Kimmel himself; or the dark dealings of Leonardo DiCaprio. They may have a point; it is unclear, for now, how the wrong card got into Warren Beatty’s hands. What they forget, though, is what Klosterman knows, and what all those delighted audiences, on Sunday, knew along with him: that the best conspirator is often people’s great capacity to make big, and dramatic, mistakes.

The Shadow of Trump at the Oscars

By Sophie Gilbert from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

President Donald Trump was 3,000 miles away from the Academy Awards on Sunday night, but his presence loomed larger in the Dolby Theatre than anyone else in the room. From Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue to acceptance speeches to the ads punctuating the ceremony, it felt at times like the Oscars were more focused on delivering an extremely public rebuke to Trump than they were on celebrating the art of filmmaking.

The question is how effective such forms of protest are, in a media environment in which more than half of Americans think the press is too critical of the current president. Kimmel was one of the few personalities in the room who mentioned Trump; others largely chose to subtweet, without saying his name. While jabs about the president and his Twitter fixation made for easy punchlines, the most cutting and memorable moments of the night were the ones that elected to show, not tell—to reveal how Trump’s policies stand in direct opposition to the spirit of art in general and film in particular.

Trump was an irresistible target for Kimmel, who laid into the one-time Oscar presenter right from the start. “This broadcast is being watched live by millions of Americans,” he quipped, “and around the world in more than 225 countries that now hate us.” He was briefly earnest, compelling everyone watching to reach out to one person they disagree with and have “a positive, considerate conversation, not as liberals or conservatives”—something that, he affirmed, could truly make America great again. But then it was back to business as usual: thanking Homeland Security for letting the French actress Isabelle Huppert into the country, pointing to Andrew Garfield’s drastic weight loss for a role as proof that Hollywood discriminates not against nationality, but against age and weight. An extended gag lampooning Meryl Streep’s “uninspiring and overrated performances” seemed directly ripped from Trump’s own critique of the actress after the Golden Globes.

The second award presented, for makeup and hairstyling, went to Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson for Suicide Squad. “I’m an immigrant. I come from Italy,” Bertolazzi said, accepting the award. “I work around the world and this is for all the immigrants.” His sentiments were echoed in more specific terms by the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who won best foreign-language film for The Salesman, but elected not to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s immigration ban on seven majority-Muslim countries. His award was accepted by the Iranian American astronaut Anousheh Ansari, who read Farhadi’s statement aloud. “Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fears,” she read, with Farhadi calling out the “inhumane” immigration law earlier this year. “Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”

One presenter, too, took the opportunity to put a human face on Trump’s policies. The actor Gael Garcia Bernal, co-presenting the award for best animated feature, slipped in a quick statement, saying, “As a Mexican, as a Latin-American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.” And last year’s winner for best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, briefly pondered how actors and filmmakers might work to unite Americans. “Opposition’s great in film and stories, it’s wonderful in sport, it’s really good in society,” he said. “The things these films made me remember and think about was the difficulty—something women seem to be better at than men—of opposing without hatred.”

But Kimmel’s well of Trump jokes never ran dry. The Marvel movie Doctor Strange wasn’t just nominated for visual effects, it was also “named secretary of housing and urban development.” Introducing the Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Kimmel noted how refreshing it was to have “a president who believes in arts and sciences.” At one point, noting Trump’s Twitter silence during the ceremony, Kimmel had his phone projected onto a screen at the back of the stage, and tweeted, “Hey @RealDonaldTrump u up?” at the president, followed by the hashtag “#merylsayshi.”

This was trolling on an expert level, with its purpose solely to belittle Trump, and to remind him that he’s more in disrepute in Hollywood than ever before. It’s cathartic, perhaps, but it comes from a place of power—there’s not much the president can do that directly threatens the film industry. But he can, for instance, defund the NEA, which has a long history of helping projects (such as the 2012 drama Beasts of the Southern Wild) and artists who later ascend to Academy glory. Pointing out the president’s personal failings will almost certainly lead to viral tweets, but pinpointing how his policies damage the arts and entertainment industries might have a more profound impact in the long run.

The most powerful moments of the ceremony, in the end, were the ones that illuminated the people excluded by the president’s policies. Accepting the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Moonlight, also the best-picture winner, Barry Jenkins had a message for the people the movie was made for. “For all you people out there who feel there is no mirror for you,” he said, “that you feel your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years ... we will not forget you.” In one of the most remarkable Oscar acceptance speeches of all time, Viola Davis explained her mission for making art. “You know, there is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard,” she said. “People ask me all the time—what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories—the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”

It’s this kind of message that seems poised to have the most impact over the next four years. For one thing, President Trump—for once—seemed remarkably resistant to all the trolling happening onstage. “Some of you will get to come up here on this stage tonight and give a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5 a.m. bowel movement tomorrow,” Kimmel said at one point. As yet, though, there’s been no such response.

Poland tries to rally opposition to Donald Tusk

From Europe News. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Warsaw may put forward candidate to stand against current European Council president

Reykjavik time-lapse captures overnight snowfall

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Reykjavik has seen its biggest snowfall in 80 years - one Icelander used time-lapse to capture all 51cm (20in).

Everything that is wonderful about The Sun’s HMS Global Britain Brexit boat

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

And all who sail in her.

Just when you’d suffered a storm called Doris, spotted a sad Ukip man striding around the Potteries in top-to-toe tweed, watched 60 hours of drama about the Queen being a Queen and thought Britain couldn’t get any more Brexity, The Sun on Sunday has launched a boat called HMS Global Britain.

Photo: Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd/Photos published with permission from The Sun

Taking its name from one of Theresa May’s more optimistic characterisations of the UK post-Europe (it’s better than “Red, white and blue Brexit”, your mole grants), this poor abused vessel is being used by the weekend tabloid to host a gaggle of Brexiteers captained by Michael Gove – and a six-foot placard bearing the terms of Article 50.

Destination? Bloody Brussels, of course!

“Cheering MPs boarded HMS Global Britain at Westminster before waving off our message on a 200-mile voyage to the heart of the EU,” explains the paper. “Our crew started the journey at Westminster Pier to drive home the clear message: ‘It’s full steam ahead for Brexit.’”

Your mole finds this a wonderful spectacle. Here are the best bits:

Captain Michael Gove’s rise to power

The pinnacle of success in Brexit Britain is to go from being a potential Prime Minister to breaking a bottle of champagne against the side of a boat with a fake name for a publicity stunt about the policy you would have been enacting if you’d made it to Downing Street. Forget the experts! This is taking back control!


“God bless her, and all who sail in her,” he barks, smashing the bottle as a nation shudders.

The fake name

Though apparently photoshopped out of some of the stills, HMS Global Britain’s real name is clear in The Sun’s footage of the launch. It is actually called The Edwardian, its name painted proudly in neat, white lettering on its hull. Sullied by the plasticky motorway pub sign reading “HMS Global Britain” hanging limply from its deck railings. Poor The Edwardian. Living in London and working a job that involves a lot of travel, it probably voted Remain. It probably joined the Lib Dems following the Article 50 vote. It doesn’t want this shit.

The poses

All the poses in this picture are excellent. Tory MP Julian Brazier’s dead-eyed wave, the Demon Headmaster on his holidays. Former education minister Tim Loughton wearing an admiral’s hat and toting a telescope, like he dreamed of as a little boy. Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns’ Tim Henman fist of regret. Labour MP Kate Hoey’s cheeky grin belied by her desperately grasping, steadying hand. Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s jolly black power salute. And failed Prime Ministerial candidate Michael Gove – a child needing a wee who has proudly found the perfect receptacle.

The metaphor

In a way, this is the perfect representation of Brexit. Ramshackle, contrived authenticity, unclear purpose, and universally white. But your mole isn’t sure this was the message intended by its sailors… the idea of a Global Britain may well be sunk.

Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd/Published with permission

Why the Battle for Leadership of the Democratic Party Mattered

By Shadi Hamid from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

During an unusually charged race for leader of the Democratic Party, analysts and liberal commentators argued that former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who won, was basically just as progressive as Representative Keith Ellison, who was backed by progressive standard-bearers Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But they missed the point. The race for DNC chair wasn’t about policy or, for that matter, facts. It was about ideas, ideology, and symbolism—the very things that mainstream liberals are (still) uncomfortable talking about.

As Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum has argued, the very fact that the race had become so charged was “ridiculous,” since Perez and Ellison are “about equally progressive.” Or as his colleague David Corn wrote: “There’s truly not much ideological distance between the two. They are both grassroots-minded progressives.”

Perez, whatever his positions, was encouraged to run against Ellison by the Obama White House, with Obama’s top aide Valerie Jarrett whipping votes and telling Democratic National Committee members “I’ll let the president know you’re with Tom.” This happened after Ellison had already established himself as the early front-runner, with strong union support and the endorsement of figures like Senator Chuck Schumer. The left flank was looking for evidence that it would be fully accepted and incorporated in a party that was known for neutralizing and ignoring its base. Instead, the Democratic “establishment”—is there anyone more establishment than the president?—worked to undermine the candidate of the party’s left.

After Hillary Clinton’s election defeat, liberal commentators have, by and large, done what makes the most sense for a center-left technocratic party: sought refuge in facts and empirical reality (against someone who clearly values neither). Facts are obviously good and necessary, but they don’t make a strategy. Moreover, focusing on empirical data creates incentives to downplay the role of emotion and feeling in politics. These are, after all, the things that are difficult to measure and fall out outside the scope of “rational” action.

The race for DNC chair took place after eight years, under Obama’s presidency, in which Democrats were decimated on the local and state levels and lost the presidency to arguably the most unqualified presidential candidate in the history of the nation. If you looked hard enough, of course, you could probably find a way to argue that Barack Obama’s ideas or even his style of governing had absolutely nothing to do with the sorry state of the Democratic Party. As Matthew Yglesias of Vox put it rather succinctly: “It’s structural.” You could similarly make an argument that there was simply no lesson to learn from Clinton’s defeat. After all, she “outperformed the econometric models.”

In “normal” times, such a straightforward, even optimistic way of looking at the world may have made sense. Yet, everywhere around the world—in the Middle East, in Europe, in India, in Israel, and in the Philippines—the unexpected, the ideological, and the idiosyncratic were shaping events. In an ever more prescient article they wrote before September 11th, my colleagues Dan Byman and Ken Pollack discussed that blind spot of the social sciences—the role of individuals, and their ideas, in changing history. “Individual personalities take on added significance,” they write, “when power is concentrated in the hands of a leader, when institutions are in conflict, or in times of great change.”

Donald Trump represents a number of ideological currents coming to a head, but he himself was, and will continue to be, ideologically promiscuous, borrowing from right, left, and center. At least until he became president, it mattered less what he said. What mattered was who said it and how, and it happened to be Trump.

So, it may be true that the Democratic establishment’s “best tactic for beating the left is adopting more left-wing stances,” but this presumes that the content of positions are enough. They aren’t. Bernie Sanders did, in fact, drag Hillary Clinton leftwards, but very few voters went on Clinton’s website to find out. She could have quite literally said the exact same things as Sanders and offered up the same vaguely “socialist” proposals, but it wouldn’t have persuaded his supporters. It wouldn’t have been convincing or credible.

Keith Ellison may be about as progressive as Tom Perez, but it’s what he represents that matters. It’s what he evokes and inspires, for both better and worse, and that’s not something you can quantify in a chart or plot on a graph. It’s definitely not something you can measure, and you shouldn’t have to.

Erdogan sews up his Turkish revolution

From Analysis. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

A referendum in April could give the president power beyond the scope of even Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Erdogan sews up his Turkish revolution

From Europe News. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

A referendum in April could give the president power beyond the scope of even Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Kim Jong-nam death: Four wanted N Koreans 'are spies'

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

South Korea's intelligence agency says four North Koreans wanted by Malaysia over killing are spies.

How Brain Scientists Forgot That Brains Have Owners

By Ed Yong from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

It’s a good time to be interested in the brain. Neuroscientists can now turn neurons on or off with just a flash of light, allowing them to manipulate the behavior of animals with exceptional precision. They can turn brains transparent and seed them with glowing molecules to divine their structure. They can record the activity of huge numbers of neurons at once. And those are just the tools that currently exist. In 2013, Barack Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a $115 million plan to develop even better technologies for understanding the enigmatic gray blobs that sit inside our skulls.

John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a new paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.”

He and his fellow curmudgeons argue that brains are special because of the behavior they create—everything from a predator’s pounce to a baby’s cry. But the study of such behavior is being de-prioritized, or studied “almost as an afterthought.” Instead, neuroscientists have been focusing on using their new tools to study individual neurons, or networks of neurons. According to Krakauer, the unspoken assumption is that if we collect enough data about the parts, the workings of the whole will become clear. If we fully understand the molecules that dance across a synapse, or the electrical pulses that zoom along a neuron, or the web of connections formed by many neurons, we will eventually solve the mysteries of learning, memory, emotion, and more. “The fallacy is that more of the same kind of work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not.

That’s because behavior is an emergent property—it arises from large groups of neurons working together, and isn’t apparent from studying any single one. You can draw parallels with the flocking of birds. Biologists have long wondered how they manage to wheel about the skies in perfect coordination, as if they were a single entity. In the 1980s, computer scientists showed that this can happen if each bird obeys a few simple rules, which dictate their distance and alignment relative to their peers. From these simple individual rules, collective complexity emerges.

But you would never have been able to predict the latter from the former. No matter how thoroughly you understood the physics of feathers, you could never have predicted a murmuration of starlings without first seeing it happen. So it is with the brain. As British neuroscientist David Marr wrote in 1982, “trying to understand perception by understanding neurons is like trying to understand a bird’s flight by studying only feathers. It just cannot be done.”

A landmark study, published last year, beautifully illustrated his point using, of all things, retro video games. Eric Jonas and Konrad Kording examined the MOS 6502 microchip, which ran classics like Donkey Kong and Space Invaders, in the style of neuroscientists. Using the approaches that are common to brain science, they wondered if they could rediscover what they already knew about the chip—how its transistors and logic gates process information, and how they run simple games. And they utterly failed.

“What we extracted was so incredibly superficial,” Jonas told me last year. And “in the real world, this would be a millions-of-dollars data set.” If the kind of neuroscience that has come to dominate the field couldn’t explain the workings of a simple, dated microchip, how could it hope to explain the brain—reputedly the most complex object in the universe?

This criticism misses the mark, says Rafael Yuste from Columbia University, who works on developing new tools for studying the brain. We still don’t understand how the brain works, he says, “because we’re still ignorant about the middle ground between single neurons and behavior, which is the function of groups of neurons—of neural circuits,” he says. And that’s because of “the methodological shackles that have prevented investigators from examining the activity of entire nervous system. This is probably futile, like watching TV by examining a single pixel at a time.” By developing better tools that can watch entire neural circuits in action, programs like the BRAIN Initiative are working against reductionism and will take us closer to capturing the emergent properties of the brain.

But Krakauer says that this viewpoint just swaps “neuron” for “neural circuit” and then makes the same conceptual mistake. “It’ll be interesting to see emergent properties at the level of the circuit, but it’s a fallacy to think that you get closer to the whole organism and understanding will automatically ensue,” he says.

He and his colleagues aren’t dismissing new technologies, either. They’re not neuro-Luddites. “These new tools are amazing; I’m using them right now in my lab,” says Asif Ghazanfar from Princeton University, who studies communication between pairs of marmoset monkeys. “But I spent seven years trying to understand their vocal behavior first. Now, I have some specific ideas about what the neural circuitry behind that might look like, and I’ll design careful experiments to test them. Often it seems that people do the reverse: They look at the cool tech and say, ‘What questions can I ask with that?’ And then you get these results that you can interpret in vague ways.”

This point is crucial. Unlike others who have levied charges of reductionism against neuroscience, Ghazanfar and his peers aren’t dualists—they aren’t saying there’s a mind that sits separate from the brain and resists explanation. They’re saying that explanations exist. It’s just that we’re looking for them in the wrong way. Worse, we’re arriving at the wrong explanations.

Consider mirror neurons. These cells, first discovered in monkeys, fire in the same way when an animal performs an action and when it sees another individual doing the same. To some scientists, these shared firing patterns imply understanding: Since the monkey knows its intentions when it moves its own body, based on the firing of the mirror neurons, it should be able to infer similar intentions upon whomever it watches. And so, these neurons have been mooted as the basis of empathy, language, autism, jazz, and even human civilization—not for nothing have they been called the “most hyped concept in neuroscience.”

Here’s the problem: In the monkey experiments, scientists almost never check the animals’ behavior to confirm that they genuinely actually understand what they’re seeing in their peers. As Krakauer and colleagues write, “An interpretation is being mistaken for a result; namely, that the mirror neurons understand the other individual.” As others have written, there’s little strong evidence for this—or even for the existence of mirror neurons in humans. This is the kind of logical trap that you fall into when you ignore behavior.

By contrast, Krakauer points to his own work on Parkinson’s disease. People with the disease tend to move slowly—a symptom that’s been linked to a lack of dopamine. Increase the levels of that chemical, and you can hasten a person’s movements. That’s could lead to new treatments, which is no small victory. But it doesn’t tell a neuroscientist why or how the loss of dopamine leads to the behavior.

Krakauer found a clue in 2007 by asking Parkinson’s patients to reach for objects at varying speeds. These experiments revealed that they’re just as capable of moving quickly as healthy people; they’re just unconsciously reluctant to do so. They suggested that dopamine-producing neurons that connect two parts of the brain—the substantia nigra and the striatum—determine our motivation to move. Deplete that dopamine, and we opt for less energetic movements for a given task. Hence the slowness. Later experiments in mice, in which modern techniques were used to raise or lower dopamine levels, confirmed this idea.

There are many other examples where behavior led the way. By studying how owls listen out for scurrying prey, neuroscientists discovered how their brains—and later, those of mammals—localize sound. By studying how marmosets call to each other, Ghazanfar has learned more about the rules that govern turn-taking in human conversation. Critically, these cases began with studying behaviors that the animals naturally do, not those that they had been trained to perform. Likewise, bats, sea slugs, and electric fish have all told us a lot about how brains work, because each has its own specialized skills. “If you pick a species that does one or two behaviors super-well, you can identify the underlying circuits more clearly,” Ghazanfar says. “Instead, mice are treated as if they’re this generic mammal that have smaller versions of human brains—and that’s preposterous.”

“I am thrilled to see this paper emphasize the importance of carefully studied behavior,” says Anne Churchland, who studies decision-making at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “I’ve seen in neuroscience that behavior is often an afterthought, studied with insufficient understanding of the animal’s strategy.” But she adds that such studies are hard. It’s difficult to get animals to behave naturally in a lab, because you might need to recreate aspects of their world that aren’t obvious to us.

Ghazanfar agrees. “If your goal is to understand the brain, you have to understand behavior, and that’s not trivial. I think a lot of neuroscientists think it is,” he says. “Perhaps one way forward would be to develop tools to help address the complexity of behavior” suggests Ed Boyden from MIT, who pioneered the breakthrough technique called optogenetics. “Behavioral investigation has a strong tradition in neuroscience and I hope it grows even stronger.”

For the moment, the problem is that it’s getting harder to publish such studies in flagship neuroscience journals. Behavioral studies get rejected for “not having enough neuro”, says Ghazanfar, and “it’s as if every paper needs to be a methodological decathlon in order to be considered important.”  

Marina Picciotto from Yale University, who is editor in chief of the Journal of Neuroscience, says it boils down to how studies are framed. If they’re just describing behavior, they’re probably more appropriate for a journal that, say, focuses on psychology. But if behavioral experiments explicitly lead to hypotheses about circuits in the brain, or something of that kind, they’re more relevant for the neuroscience field. But “the line between ‘pure’ behavior and neuroscience is fluid,” she admits, and she’s both appreciative of the new paper and open to discussions about the issues it raises.

To Krakauer, the current line demeans behavioral work, deeming it valuable “as long as it tells us where to stick the electrodes.” But it’s important in itself. “My fear is that people will say: Yes, of course, we should continue to do everything we’ve been doing, but also do better behavior studies. I’m trying to say: You’ve got to do the behavior first. You can’t fly the plane while building it.”

Bill Nye on the Nature of Regret

By Daniel Lombroso from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Bill Nye, of the popular former PBS show Bill Nye the Science Guy, had an untraditional path to stardom. He quit his engineering job in 1986 and started working for a television show. When a guest cancelled, Nye filled in doing “science stuff” under the moniker Bill Nye the Science Guy—which led to over five seasons of his own show. “In general, people regret what they don't do. They don't regret too much what they do do,” he says in this animated interview. “So I don't regret having quit my job, having taken these chances. I don't regret that for sure.”

The Future of Shopping Is More Discrimination

By Joseph Turow from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Two years ago, at a retail-marketing conference called “The Internet of Things: Shopping,” a consultant took the stage and predicted that by 2028, half of Americans will have implants that communicate with retailers as they walk down stores’ aisles and inspect various items. By 2054, he added, this would be true of nearly all Americans. The rest of the vision went like this: Based on how long shoppers hold an item, the retailer’s computers would be able to determine whether or not they like it. Other signals from the implant would indicate whether consumers are nervous or cautious when they look at the price of the product they’re holding—an analysis that may prompt the retailer to try to put them at ease with a personalized discount.

After hearing these prognostications, no one in the audience voiced any doubts that consumers would want such an implant. The attendees knew the retailing business to be changing so drastically and confusingly that such statements seemed plausible. By now it is industry consensus that brick-and-mortar merchants—the department stores, supermarkets, specialty stores, and chain stores that still sit at the center of the retailing universe—will succeed only if they turn those locations into facilities that track shoppers using wifi, Bluetooth, light beams, undetectable sounds, facial recognition, and more, even implants. Further, the people in charge of these retailers see it as a top priority that coming generations of customers learn to think of  this surveillance as natural, even welcome—who doesn’t like a discount?

This push pertains to a topic that in other realms is far more controversial: Policy experts, privacy advocates, corporate executives, and academics are arguing fiercely about the legality and ethics of data mining by online advertisers and the government. Meanwhile, retailers are doing the same thing and attracting comparatively little attention. As they continue, they are quietly sending consumers the message that offering up information about themselves is simply a prerequisite in a new era of shopping.

Even if retailers frame their increasing reliance on analytics as the natural next step of a competitive industry, there’s no law of shopping stating that sellers will treat customers better and better the more they learn about them. In fact, the fallacy of expecting that to happen becomes clear when examining how the act of buying things has changed in the past 250-plus years. Shoppers are entering a third stage of American retailing, one that has more in common with the 18th and 19th centuries than with the one that just passed.

The first stage was that of the peddler and small merchant. European sellers of the 1700s, for example, followed well-worn strategies to maximize their returns on goods. To remember what they paid their suppliers, peddlers marked the back or bottom of their products with symbols known only to them or close relations. In addition to keeping track of the prices and loans they negotiated, they kept track of their customers: They recorded people’s occupations, their spouse’s names, their family connections, and their social standing in their village. These records allowed peddlers to customize their sales pitches. Their “preferred” customers were getting especially good deals, the merchants could say, while keeping secret that those buyers were actually paying more than other groups.

As many European immigrants poured into North America during the 18th and 19th centuries, the peddling business migrated with them. When these salesmen were able to amass a bit of cash, some established small general stores or food markets. Settling down allowed merchants to develop more-personal relationships with their customers than they could going door-to-door or marketplace-to-marketplace. Yet personalized deals increasingly caused angst for shopkeepers, perhaps more than when they were itinerants. Customers suspected that grocers of ethnicities different from their own overcharged them or supplied them with lower-quality products. Many black people who frequented stores owned by whites were especially suspicious about this opacity of price and quality.

During the mid- and late 19th century, these strains helped produce America’s second stage of retailing: the era of posted prices. Although Quaker merchants had long believed it morally abhorrent to charge different people different amounts for the same items, a growing number of non-Quaker merchants began to adopt fixed prices because doing so saved them the trouble of teaching their clerks how to bargain—an important consideration during the growth, beginning in the 1840s, of multi-story, multi-department emporia with many employees (such as A.T. Stewart, Lord and Taylor, and Wannamaker).

It was a transformative time for shopping in other ways, too. The rise of department stores with posted prices fed into an entirely new philosophy of consumerism’s societal importance. Although the real incomes of many 19th-century Americans were growing, the distribution of wealth was lopsided; the captains of industry, a small group, controlled much of the nation’s assets. Some of those in power at the time seem to have wanted to draw public attention away from the criticism that the resources of a relative few were diminishing the democratic political power of the many. As the historian William Leach argued in his 1993 book Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, democracy was reimagined as material instead of political—as the equal right of each American to want the same goods and to pursue them in the same environment of comfort and luxury.

Leach’s phrase “the democratization of desire” encapsulates the ideology retailers promoted in the 20th century. Not only was everyone in the store presented with the same price, but they could all see the same goods, in beautiful surroundings ostensibly open to all; women especially were welcomed. Competing to win over customers, merchants tried to outdo one another, hiring designers and architects to appoint stores’ edifices with large display windows, carved wood, polished stone, imposing mirrors, fancy elevators, streamlined escalators, and central heating. (Macy’s, in Manhattan, and John Wanamaker and Gimbels, in Philadelphia, are some of the most well-known now, but several other cities were home to similar enterprises.)

Grocers followed suit, though at a slower pace. By the 1950s, Collier’s magazine could enthuse that America’s supermarkets

are the world’s most beautiful. They’ve gone into color therapy to rest the shopper’s eyes; installed benches to rest her feet; put up playgrounds and nurseries to care for her children; invented basket carts with fingertip control; revolutionized a packaging industry to make her mouth water; put on grand openings worthy of Hollywood premieres.

The reality, and it was very much a gendered, class-based reality, didn’t always match up with the ideology. Early on, department stores divided their clientele into two broad groups, the more affluent “carriage trade” and the poorer “mass” or “shawl” trade—welcoming the former on the upper levels and ushering the latter toward the basement. Store managers selected experienced and native-born women as salespeople for the higher-price departments, and placed neophyte and immigrant women into areas that sold less-expensive goods. As for the large grocery chains, store owners often avoided low-income neighborhoods, especially ones that were predominantly black. The supermarkets that did open up in those areas tended to be dirtier and have lower-quality food and less variety than those in more affluent districts. These disparities rarely made the headlines. When they did, notably with supermarkets in the 1960s, retailing executives offered excuses or promised to do better. But these businesspeople didn’t challenge the basic proposition that shopping should provide Americans with equal access to a wide range of consumer products.

Today, in the third stage of retailing, many executives are challenging this fundamental dictum. They are celebrating the routine profiling and discrimination that characterized the peddler era, and scaling up this discrimination with the help of data analytics. This third stage began with the commercialization of the internet in the 1990s, though a number of earlier inventions, especially the barcode, led up to it. The new-era merchants’ dogma is that differentiating individual shoppers is the best way to maximize profits. A retailing requirement is therefore to learn as much as possible about people and their shopping habits so the merchant can show them the right goods with the right messages at the right moments. Merchants can offer different people different prices for the same products—not only online but also in the aisles, via smartphones—based on what they know about them.

To those who get the best deals and service in such a system, this probably sounds perfectly acceptable. But for every person who feels that way, there will be plenty who don’t. People whose buying history shows they are mostly bargain shoppers who bring the retailer small or no profit margins will be shown few discounts, or maybe none at all. If shoppers are cherished regulars, special mirrors with cameras may remember their shape and help them match clothes without trying them on. Others may see a different side of recognition: Store cameras that identify people with criminal records might alert the store’s security team.

Even those who think they will end up better off under this new system may not be accounting for some possible outcomes they may not like. Retailers might hire statistical consultants to generate reports about people’s eating habits based on the food they buy, about their weight based on the clothes they look at online and in the store. They might make predictions about people’s health based on the groceries and over-the-counter drugs they purchase. The resulting portrait of each shopper may result in some personalized coupons to redeem now, or even ads from insurance companies that have determined someone to be a likely target for specific policies. But this picture may turn sour as one ages, when statistical formulas start to make unflattering inferences about one and one’s family. Consider, too, that some retailers sell or trade the information they compile about their customers in possibly unwanted ways; some even assign “attractiveness” scores to shoppers based on the data. And in the not-too-distant future, the knowledge that companies have developed about shoppers may lead news organizations to highlight, and even modify, certain stories for them, and advertisers to provide them free access to certain premium television programs but not to others.

Much of this will be happening—or is already happening—without Americans’ consent or knowledge. Yet this new stage of retailing—a stage that harks back to 18th-century strategies of price and product discrimination—is only beginning. Merchants, left to their own interests and in response to hypercompetition, will create a world where what individuals experience when they shop will be based on data-driven profiling. And at present, shoppers have little or no insight into the profiles and how they are used. The common connotations of the word surveillance have yet to encompass the world of retail.

Full disclosure

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Saidy Brown discusses the extraordinary reaction after she disclosed her HIV status on Twitter.

In Moonlight, the Oscars finally rewarded a great art film

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The director Barry Jenkins told me in October his film was "not in any way Oscar-bait". 

Film-makers lassoed to the treadmill of international press junkets are always being asked about their awards chances, especially if there has been some buzz, however faint, about the movie which they have temporarily abandoned their lives and their loved ones to promote. It doesn’t do to boast or gloat, however, and so the stock answer is usually something along the lines of: “Awards are flattering but I really haven’t given it much thought.” Or: “Just getting the movie made was reward enough.” In some cases it may even be true.

Barry Jenkins, the writer-director of Moonlight, which last night became the deserved winner of three Oscars including Best Picture, is a humble, softly-spoken man, interested as well as interesting. So when I interviewed him last October, I had no trouble accepting at face value his evident embarrassment at all the awards talk.

The nominations were still three months away from being announced. Sure, he was grateful for the chatter but what else could he say? “You’ve seen my film, right?” he asked me. “It is not in any way Oscar-bait. The very first line you hear in the opening song is: ‘Every n****r is a star.’ And you hear it twice, just in case you didn’t get it the first time. It isn’t shot like Oscar-bait and it isn’t structured that way either.”

He was right. So from this vantage point, it is shocking and encouraging that a film with an entirely African-American cast of characters and a gay protagonist has been voted Best Picture, but it is perhaps even more remarkable that the prize has been won by what is essentially an art movie. (Jenkins’s stated influences include Wong Kar-Wai and Claire Denis; as I wrote in my NS review of the film, there are also clear traces of Pasolini and Terence Davies.)

There is, of course, no objective "right" or "wrong", "good" or "bad". But it still feels for the first time in recent memory as if the right film, the good film (even the great film), was rewarded.

As someone who no longer stays up to watch the ceremony live (I’ve reached that time of life when making it to the end of Newsnight is accomplishment enough), I was hoping for some kind of upset to give the headlines some sizzle this morning. Isabelle Huppert winning Best Actress, say, for her remarkable work in Elle (which I’ll be reviewing in next week’s magazine).

That didn’t happen: Emma Stone won the prize for La La Land. But after months of the latter picture taking pretty much every gong going, the Moonlight win certainly counts as an upset.

The vagaries of voting have resulted in one of those weird anomalies - apparently Jenkins’s film is worthy of Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (for Mahershala Ali), but Damien Chapelle, who made La La Land, is deemed the superior director, good enough to pip Jenkins to that particular post. 

But let’s not carp. Let’s not quibble. Moonlight was properly acknowledged, as were Casey Affleck (Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea), Kenneth Lonergan (Best Original Screenplay for the same film), Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress for Fences) and Asghar Farhadi (Best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman). Cinema came out of it well last night.

Which is more than can be said for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company in charge of tallying votes and putting the right envelopes into the hands of the right presenters. It must take the blame for giving the Bonnie and Clyde stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty the wrong result to read out. You will have seen the clip by now. Let’s just say that rabbits in headlights all over the world have suddenly found themselves relegated to second place. 

The shock of seeing Warren Beatty looking mortified and vulnerable is the one which is resonating right now. He has excelled at playing the twit on screen—his two best performances, in McCabe and Mrs Miller and Ishtar, hinge on that very quality. But reality is something else. Beatty is, after all, the control freak’s control freak, a man who meticulously micro-manages all interactions between himself and the world at large. He’s so vain, he probably thinks this night was about him.  

For now, it is. Soon the memes will die out and the late-night talk show hosts will have exhausted their jokes. (Reds? That describes Beatty and Dunaway’s faces. Heaven Can Wait — and so, apparently, can the winners of Best Picture.) Moonlight, on the other hand, will still be shining on for years to come.


Togolese striker Francis Kone saves opponent's life

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Togolese striker Francis Kone saves the life of goalkeeper Martin Berkovec, who almost swallowed his tongue during a Czech league match.

Syria's war: 'Hope is all I have'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

A Syrian freelancer who lost his leg during a gun battle between rebels and regime forces shares his story of hope.

Winning business: changing markets

By Kerry Agiasotis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Internationalism has taken something of a hammering over the past 18 months, but constructive global citizenship should always be at its core. An internationalist foreign policy for developed nations would use their economic and technological wealth to promote a better and more prosperous world for everyone.

Whatever social caveats might have been mooted in global political discourse in recent times should not detract from the overarching benefits that a more connected world can offer to businesses. Here at Western Business Union Solutions, we operate with the ethos of opportunity. We are the facilitators; we want to build bridges, not walls.

Money, whatever spin you put on it, is ultimately what makes the world go round. Ensuring the fluidity of cash flow, therefore, should be a priority for any government or business. Cash flow was cited as the number-one concern and threat to growth facing UK companies in 2017. Currency volatility, meanwhile, is another worry, ahead of credit availability, regulation and even competitors. Late payment and debt recovery are also anxieties, and the time spent on payment processes across the UK’s micro, SME and lower corporate institutions ranges between 12 and 50 hours a week. Streamlining money matters, then, is surely crucial to boosting productivity.

Against the backdrop of Brexit, WUBS recognises the pressing need for the UK to maintain its role as a world leader, lest it be forgotten as a major player on the global economic scene. Almost half of all UK businesses expect growth in their international activity over the next six to 12 months, and so, outside of hope for a favourable set of terms post-Article 50, WUBS is committed to offering support with the necessary resources from both the private and the public sector. This will include intellectual/human capital, and financial, technological and information resources that SMEs especially will need to navigate these turbulent times.

Alongside a more nuanced approach to internationalism generally, the need for a deeper understanding of technology’s impact on businesses’ bottom line is paramount. There has never been a more important time to embrace and adopt technology and ensure UK firms are not standing on the sidelines as their revenues are reduced. Technological obsolescence, that is to say competition brought about by digitisation or innovation, poses a significant risk to lower corporate organisations in particular, with 25.5 per cent of their revenue threatened by competitors advancing ahead of them.

WUBS asks whether businesses are being taught to use technology effectively enough. Websites are admittedly commonplace nowadays, but how many of those cater for e-commerce? There is perhaps a potential role for government here in introducing set standards. In Germany, for example, it is compulsory for businesses to join their local chamber of commerce.

The full scale of the economic side effects of Brexit is yet to be confirmed, and it is for that reason that the UK must be prepared for either a hard or soft eventuality, a distinction plausibly defined by the country’s access or lack of access to the single market. In either case, the issue of exporting is suddenly thrown into sharper focus.

As the British pound moves in favour of exporters, a larger percentage of overall UK business is being derived from exports, with over a quarter (27.6 per cent) of current business revenue coming from these, a hike of 18.5 per cent on two years previously. Strong forward dated guidance will add to this share: 53.3 per cent of UK businesses expect to increase their proportion of export earnings relative to their overall revenue by roughly 8.3 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, exports make up a larger slice of the pie for the bigger UK corporations, with companies turning over between £20m and £100m per year indicating that a substantial 37.5 per cent of their revenue is owed to trading overseas. Though this figure has stayed relatively static for most larger corporations over the past year, 53.3 per cent anticipate the export proportion of their business to increase over the next year. As exports rise in importance and account for bigger proportions of UK businesses’ revenue, the roles of government policy and financial providers must reflect that, with frameworks for ongoing support and education.

Over 80 per cent of UK businesses have highlighted their renewed focus on international vendors and supply chains in the light of the country’s decision to leave the European Union, with a further 12.5 per cent saying that there would be considerable focus placed on their vendors going forward, emphasising the shift towards foreign partnerships and alliances over having a direct presence abroad. Given that the crux of UK business is service-led these days, rather than rooted in raw materials, striking the right partnerships, economically and technologically, is tantamount to a self-sustaining UK.

While the Brexit vote has understandably dominated the rhetoric surrounding the UK’s economic future, it would be disingenuous to suggest that this can only be discussed within the context of the EU. Indeed, the opportunistic largesse of the global economy was one of the key arguments of the Leave campaign. Apart from the historically developed countries outside the EU, China, India and Brazil represent three other potential trading corridors; and fostering fluid and positive relationships with these countries will no doubt be central to a post-Brexit economy.

In order to build those positive relationships, WUBS, at the forefront of any such possibility, urges the government and industry alike to nurture and develop their SMEs. It is they that form the spine of the economy, as they number the most. If empowered properly, they will achieve the growth that the UK requires.

Lord Price, Trade Policy Minister

“Trade is at the heart of government as we look to champion a liberal trade agenda that boosts our prosperity and helps UK businesses take advantage of new markets around the world. “Government is not acting in isolation, and we are speaking regularly to businesses large and small to ensure we give them the support they need to seize new opportunities – support like the new Exporting is GREAT hub, which gives businesses access to advice, financial and regulatory support and live contract opportunities.”

Quote taken from a New Statesman feature in print 17th Feb 2017

EDGE platform: wuedge

Twitter: @WUBusiness

White paper: docs/changing-markets.pdf

Western Union Business Solutions is an official partner of Exporting is GREAT.

Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Photo: Getty

How Paul Giamatti changed the fate of Pinot Noir

By Nina Caplan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The actor's prickly character in Sideways - a film about wine buffs - made us appreciate this tricky grape.

When Paul Giamatti, playing Miles in the 2004 film Sideways, started waxing lyrical about Pinot Noir, he changed his own fate and, surprisingly, that of the grape. It is hard to know which was more unlikely: the sexual interest of the beautiful, wine-loving Maya (Virginia Madsen) in this thin-skinned, temperamental loser, or the world’s heightened interest in this thin-skinned, temperamental grape.

“Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression,” Miles growled and, kapow: those patient winemakers suddenly found a bunch of film buffs queuing for their wine. Perhaps it was the character’s description of its flavours as “just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle . . . on the planet”. Perhaps it was the power of celebrity approval.

In fact, the correlation between finicky Miles and finicky Pinot is even closer than the script claims. Miles in California wine country doesn’t behave exactly like Miles back home in San Diego, and that is true of Pinot Noir, too. Everybody marvels at the tiny difference between one Burgundy vineyard and the next: how Pommard’s red wines have such power while those of Volnay next door have more elegance; how a wine such as Armand Rousseau’s Premier Cru Clos St Jacques – so good as to be almost indescribable – can differ in quality from surrounding Gevrey-Chambertins, which aren’t exactly shoddy either.

Perhaps the Sideways audience understood that no two of us are alike. Miles was talking about vulnerability, and the need to feel unique and uniquely cared for. No wonder Maya melted.

Given its variability and responsiveness, the best way to explore Pinot is to try several. So, I lined up bottles and drinkers from three continents and took a world tour without leaving the dinner table.

It seemed unfair to include a great Burgundy name, so I began with David Moreau’s Maranges 2014 from the southernmost part of the Côte d’Or. It had clean, redcurranty flavours but felt too young – trying to taste the terroir was like asking a lost toddler for their address. Still, when we moved on to a purplish Pinot from Bulgaria, a country still suffering the loss of the vast and uncritical Soviet market, the Maranges improved by comparison. We fled to America, where Oregon Pinots, particularly from the Willamette Valley, are much praised and steeply priced. Lemelson Vineyards’ “Thea’s Selection” 2013 was rich but lacked depth; I preferred the wild berries and marzipan of Elizabeth’s Reserve 2012 from Adelsheim Vineyard.

The difference between the two, just six miles apart, was their most interesting aspect, so we assembled another pair of neighbours: Ocean Eight 2012 and Paringa Estate 2013, both from Australia’s Mornington Peninsula, separated by a year and four zigzagging miles.

These are beautiful wines, the former full of blackberry, the latter spectacular, perfectly structured and with a scent to dab behind your ears. And here is the paradox of Pinot, which tastes of where it’s grown but is grown everywhere that stubborn individuals can persuade it to fruit.

The Mornington Peninsula is planted with Pinot because its patient winemakers claim their climate is similar to Burgundy’s – which would be hilarious if it weren’t, like Miles’s grandstanding, rather plaintive. This is a spit of land with water on three sides, ten thousand miles from France, as much like the landlocked Côte d’Or as I am like Virginia Madsen, which is to say that there are basic structural similarities but you’ll never mistake one for the other.

Ambition and imagination are qualities we don’t share with the vine – but plant those attributes in the right soil and the results can be delicious.


Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

By Maya Goodfellow from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.


NewsGrid - Al Jazeera's interactive news hour

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Live every day at 15:00 GMT, our interactive news bulletin gives you the opportunity to engage with our team directly.

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

This long-running debate tells us something important about science and ourselves. 

Plutarch was born a Greek and became a Roman. He was a priest in Delphi, where he served the temple of Apollo, but he was also a man of the world: a magistrate, an archon, an ambassador and even a celebrity of sorts, known across the Greek-reading world for his philosophical ponderings and biographies of emperors. He had a thick head of hair and an almost eerily symmetrical face – at least, the bust of him at the Archaeological Museum of Delphi, dating back to the second or third century, presents him that way. His marble forehead is dirty with what looks like ancient mud. Here he is serious, even sullen, and deep in thought.

This is the expression I imagine on his face when his friend Alexander the Epicurean, during a meal one day, asked him “that perplexed question, that plague of the inquisitive. Which was first: the bird or the egg?” Today, we are more specific about which bird – it’s a chicken we’re talking about – but that extra bit of detail hasn’t helped to settle the debate once and for all. Sylla, another friend dining with Plutarch and Alexander, suggested that “this little question” had far-reaching ramifications; indeed, it gestured towards the matter of “whether the world had a beginning”.

A few centuries earlier, Aristotle had fudged an answer, concluding that all creatures (including, therefore, chickens) had their first being in spirit, and anyway-what-if-both-chicken-and-egg-have-always-existed-did-you-ever-consider-that? Plutarch presented both arguments – that the egg was first as “it begets and contains everything”; and that the chicken was first because creation, in the very beginning, was “vigorous and perfect, was self-sufficient and entire”.

It’s a simple question and it should have a simple answer. Or so John D Morris at the Institute for Creation Research argued in a 2005 blog post, which channelled (without mentioning him) the 16th-century Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi and his insistence that “the hen did not come from the egg but from nothing”, because the “sacred books” said so. Morris wrote, in a somewhat unnecessarily strident tone:

According to the Creator of chickens, and the author of the Record of their origins, chickens came first. It was on the Fifth Day of Creation Week that He created “every winged fowl after [their] kind” (Genesis 1:21) complete with the DNA to reproduce that kind. Then He “blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply” (v.22) using that DNA. For the chickens this meant lay chicken eggs. Problem solved.

Although it’s hard to argue against anyone citing “the Creator of chickens” as a source, evolutionary biologists have largely backed the notion of the egg’s priority. Luis Villazon, a science writer at the BBC’s Focus magazine, summarised the Darwinian position as follows:

If you go back over 10,000 years, you eventually reach the wild ancestors of the domestic chicken, which were probably the red and grey jungle fowls of south-east Asia. You could draw a line there and say all ancestors prior to that were not chickens, but everything from that point on was. Whatever attributes qualified this individual to be a chicken, they were set at the moment the egg and sperm met. I would argue this means the egg came first.

It’s a plausible theory, but some scientists disagree. In 2010, researchers at the universities of Sheffield and Warwick announced that they had discovered the “proof that shows that, in fact, the chicken came first”. This had something to do with a protein – ovocledidin-17 (OC-17) – that was required for the formation of the shells of chicken eggs and was found only in chicken ovaries. I’m not sure how this settles the matter (those ovaries were in chickens, which must have come from eggs, which came from chickens, which came from eggs…) but the scientists had consulted a machine called Hector, and Hector should know, since Hector is “the UK's largest, fastest and most powerful supercomputer… capable of over 800 million million calculations a second”.

So, Team Chicken Priority has the backing of Hector (kind of – it just worked through a batch of data), many creationists and the “Creator of chickens”. Team Egg Priority has Darwin and the scientists who follow him. As with most seemingly irresolvable arguments, perhaps it just comes down to picking a side. But what I find most interesting about this “little question”, as Sylla called it (remember him?), is that the two sides seem to have engaged with the problem quite earnestly, and for centuries. Simone de Beauvoir once wrote that science “finds its truth if it considers itself as a free engagement of thought”, even if an absolute state of “being” could not be contained or possessed entirely. Sometimes not knowing can be as valuable as knowing, because it rouses the faculties to think.

In a recent animated video made for the Atlantic, the American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates says on the subject of journalism: “There are satisfactory answers but there are no right answers. And even the satisfactory answers, at the end of the day, ultimately just lead you to more questions.” The important thing, I suppose, is to ask.


Senior Taliban leader killed in Kunduz air raid

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Taliban confirms Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund's death, saying he was killed by a US bombing raid in Afghan province.

The worst Oscar-winning films of all time

By Ed Jefferson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

How hated movies have grabbed their space in the spotlight. 

Whilst the biggest surprise at last night’s Oscars was undoubtedly the part where they weren’t sure who’d actually won Best Picture, Suicide Squad also raised a few eyebrows. The critically-panned superantihero non-classic managed to take home an Academy Award, albeit in the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Which raises the question: is Suicide Squad the worst film to have ever won an Oscar?

Obviously, the quality of a film is an ultimately subjective measure. Suicide Squad is someone’s favourite movie; every film is someone’s favourite movie, except for Sex Lives of the Potato Men. But if we want to get an "objective" view, one was is to look at a measure of the critical consensus, like Tomatometer on the website Rotten Tomatoes, which counts the percentage of good and bad reviews a film has received from critics.

Here, Suicide Squad ranks at a lowly 26 per cent (with such glowing lines as the Wall Street Journal’s “an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment”), which is one of the lowest scores an Academy Award-winning movie has ever received. But not the lowest.

Michael Bay’s historically dubious epic Pearl Harbor, which managed a win for Best Sound Editing, has a rating of just 25 per cent. As well as its Oscar, Pearl Harbor won Worst Picture at "anti-Oscars" The Razzies, the first film to do so that also had one of the real awards.

This kind of "technical" award is a good route to unlikely Oscar glory. Middling John Lithgow-meets-Bigfoot comedy Harry and the Hendersons isn’t remembered as an award-winner, but it took home the gold for Harry's makeup job. It can sometimes be overlooked that most films are a massive team effort, and there's something heartwarming about the fact people can get still be rewarded for being very good at their job, even if that job is working on a mediocre-to-terrible movie.

Still, if no-one working on the actual film does their job right, you can always get someone decent to write a song. The not very good (score: 33 per cent) eighties "steel welder wants to learn ballet" movie Flashdance took an award home for the Giorgio Moroder-composed title theme. He would also later bring home a much better film’s sole award, when he penned Top Gun’s Take My Breath Away.

Picking the right song is how what may be the lowest-rated Oscar winner of all time did it: The Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor melodrama The Sandpiper has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 10 per cent, but win it did, for the song The Shadow of Your Smile (which isn’t even actually very good; Burt Bacharach’s What's New Pussycat? was robbed.)

Even an Oscar winner that is praised by contemporaries can be undone by the cruelty of time. One of the lowest-scoring winners is 1936’s Anthony Adverse, at just 13 per cent - not only did it win for Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress, Best Soundtrack and Best Editing, it was nominated for Best Picture. But however praised the historical epic might have been at the time, because Rotten Tomatoes aggregates reviews from online media, it does not appear to have dated well.

Perhaps awards can only ever reflect the critical mood of the time - Singin’ In The Rain has a 100 per cent Tomatometer score, but took home no Oscars. Best Picture that year went to The Greatest Show On Earth, now judged a 44 per cent mediocrity. Perhaps by the 2080s film critics will be stunned that the newly re-appreciated acting masterclass Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest only won for its visual effects, be baffled that the lauded classic Suicide Squad wasn’t a Best Picture contender, and be absolutely 100 per cent certain that Jared Leto was the finest actor of his generation. Maybe the apocalypse wouldn’t be so bad after all.


When Robots Take Bad Jobs

By Alana Semuels from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

INDIANAPOLIS—James Ford worked at various printing presses for decades, eventually becoming head pressman at a bookbinding shop in Michigan. But the industry was changing, and as the work required fewer and fewer people, he searched around for his next career. He settled on truck driving.

“I want to see America and get paid for it,” he told me in December, in the cafeteria of Celadon Driving Academy, where he was completing a six-week driving course in order to get his commercial driver’s license (CDL). Celadon, which is also a trucking company, offers a job to everyone who completes the school and receives a commercial driver’s license.

Ford is one of thousands of workers going through schools like Celadon, which promise to get people out on the road and into employment in short order. Every year, the trucking industry makes a big push to recruit new workers like Ford, bemoaning a driver shortage in a booming industry.

There’s a reason the industry has trouble finding workers: The jobs are low-paid and grueling. Average compensation for a new driver ranges between $35,000 and $45,000 a year, and truckers spend long weeks away from their families, often doing tasks for which they don’t get paid, waiting for loads or delivery appointments. Workers for many companies last, on average, six months, according to Steve Viscelli, the author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream. Some manage to stick it out for a full year, but often only because they owe the trucking schools tuition money plus interest, he said. The 800,000 or so workers employed by long-haul truckload carriers are often classified as independent contractors and are barely making ends meet.

“The job is terrible, and the companies know it,” Viscelli told me. “It’s brutal on your family, on your body, on your life.” Viscelli says that turnover at some of these companies is 300 percent, meaning the companies hire three people for one job over the course of a year. (Trucking jobs working for specific brands, such as Budweiser, are much different, he said, because they pay much better and treat their workers as employees, not contractors.)

Celadon spokesman Joe Weigel told me he thinks people entering the industry know what they’re in for. “They understand that it’s not an office job sitting behind a desk and that being a driver can be physically exhausting,” he wrote, in an email. Celadon tries to make drivers more comfortable, by outfitting trucks with comforts like refrigerators and auxiliary power units for controlling cabin temperature. The company, which trains people and then employs them, has a turnover rate of 125 percent, he said.   

James Ford studying in Celadon’s cafeteria (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

In not too long, these jobs may be a thing of the past. The White House released a report in December predicting that 1.3 million to 1.7 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck-driving jobs could disappear because of automation. That’s 80 to 100 percent of all truck-driving jobs. Though the White House did not specify over what time period this replacement would take place, some of the technology that will automate truck driving is already in use. In 2015, Daimler received permission to test a self-driving truck, the Freightliner Inspiration, on Nevada roads. A truck from Otto, Uber’s self-driving truck division, delivered cans of Budweiser to Colorado Springs in October. David Alexander, an analyst with Navigant Research, anticipates that most truck companies will gradually introduce automated driving technology in the next five to 10 years.

New jobs will emerge as a result. But they will essentially be in a different field—technology. Autonomous trucks use sensors and a navigation system to drive on the road. They brake independently and use radars and cameras to navigate around other vehicles. Alexander, of Navigant, says that automated trucks will still need people in these trucks, at least at first. But the jobs will be for people who can handle these systems’ on-board computers and fix problems that arise. “It will be less involved with physically driving the truck, and more with monitoring the truck,” he said.

Trucking companies are also experimenting with something called platooning, which is when vehicles use automated driving technology to drive closer to each other than they would with human operators, saving fuel costs and reducing emissions. The trucks talk to each other, slowing down when the lead truck slows down, speeding up when the lead one speeds up, without needing to read brake lights or other signs humans might use. Eventually, one driver in this group of trucks could operate the whole platoon, Alexander said. This driver would need to be more skilled than the drivers who currently operate one truck at a time.

This dynamic is at the core of automation: It doesn’t just get rid of jobs. It creates new jobs as well. Often, the jobs that disappear are low-paid, repetitive work and the new jobs are better, at least as measured by compensation. But the problem is that those new jobs are not ones that those low-skilled workers can easily fill, and those people are now out of luck. This, in turn, exacerbates inequality, said James Bessen, a lecturer at the Boston University School of Law who studies innovation.

“The people who can use the computers are seeing their wages rise,” he said. “The people who are not—their jobs are being taken away.”

Trucking hasn’t always been a hard-scrabble life. In the 1960s, the profession provided good, stable, unionized, blue-collar jobs. But in the 1980s, the federal government began deregulating the industry, according to Michael Belzer, an expert in the trucking industry and a professor at Wayne State University. Deregulation led to deunionization, wages fell, and a crop of new companies emerged that paid workers less and expected more out of them.

As the good trucking jobs disappeared, companies needed to replace the experienced drivers who left the industry or found jobs with niche firms that treated them well, Viscelli said. Trucking schools started popping up around the country. The schools, like Celadon, often promise good wages for people like James Ford with no experience whatsoever.

These schools advertise heavily on television and online, promoting the field as a place where people with no experience can find a career. Today, hundreds of thousands of workers still pour into “CDL mills,” as Viscelli calls the schools. Often, tuition is subsidized by the government via Pell Grants or Workforce Investment Act funds. “The public is basically subsidizing turnover,” Viscelli said.

Celadon trucks advertise for the school in Indianapolis (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Many of these new drivers, Viscelli says, think they’re going to earn a lot of money as a trucker, something they soon learn is not the case. Though trucking firms advertise starting salaries around $60,000, truckers with less than two years of experience actually earn around $30,000, according to Viscelli. Weigel, the Celadon spokesman, said that new drivers who complete a year of driving make $50,000 and up. Beginning drivers make anywhere from 21 cents to 25 cents a mile, he said, which amounts to about $25,000 to $30,000 a year. They’re paid less because they are in essence repaying the company for their schooling, which is tuition-free but includes housing. Graduates have to drive 120,000 miles at the lower pay rate, or owe the company $5,600. (They can get to 120,000 miles more quickly if they work as “team drivers,” essentially sharing the truck with another worker and resting while the other person is driving, covering more ground.)

In recent years, as trucks with automatic transition and gear management came online, the industry has hired lower and lower-skilled people, paying them even less than before. “Technology has enabled lower-skill drivers that [companies] can pay less money,” Belzer said.

These lower-skilled drivers are the ones who will likely be replaced first by automation. There’s a sense in which that’s not entirely a bad thing. “It’s good riddance to a lot of very bad jobs,” Viscelli, who worked as a trucker while researching his book, told me.

Of course, the automation of trucking is going to create some very real pain for the truckers who like their jobs, and who are treated very well by their employers.

But there’s a hopeful story here too. Rather than using government funds to get a commercial driver’s license, workers could be encouraged into fields where jobs will be in demand not just for a few years, but for much longer. It’s hard to know what those jobs are: The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that many of the jobs that will most grow between 2014 and 2024 will be in the healthcare field. But there will certainly be growth across sectors in computer-based jobs—coding schools are popping up across the Midwest, for example, helping people train for in-demand jobs in fields where developers are needed. Many of these jobs are better than trucking, in that they pay more and the lifestyle is not as demanding.

As America’s experience with manufacturing taught us, the country has not been particularly good at anticipating and responding to the changes wrought by automation. Millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past two decades to automation, and yet few of the workers who lost these jobs have been equipped to move to a new field, or to a new region of the country where new jobs are being created. It does not appear that trucking will turn out any better.

A tax on robots?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Unlike suggested, a tax on robots would not ease inequality and offset the social costs implied by automation.

The Business of Colonisation

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Philosopher Srecko Horvat looks at Europe's identity crisis and asks if the continent is colonising itself.

The 2017 Budget will force Philip Hammond to confront the Brexit effect

By Chris Leslie from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Rising prices and lost markets are hard to ignore. 

With the Brexit process, Donald Trump and parliamentary by-election aftermath dominating the headlines, you’d be forgiven for missing the speculation we’d normally expect ahead of a Budget next week. Philip Hammond’s demeanour suggests it will be a very low-key affair, living up to his billing as the government’s chief accounting officer. Yet we desperately need a thorough analysis of this government’s economic strategy – and some focused work from those whose job it is to supposedly keep track of government policy.

It seems to me there are four key dynamics the Budget must address:

1. British spending power

The spending power of British consumers is about to be squeezed further. Consumers have propped up the economy since 2015, but higher taxes, suppressed earnings and price inflation are all likely to weigh heavily on this driver for growth from now on. Relatively higher commodity prices and the sterling effect is starting to filter into the high street – which means that the pound in the pocket doesn’t go as far as it used to. The dwindling level of household savings is a casualty of this situation. Real incomes are softer, with poorer returns on assets, and households are substituting with loans and overdrafts. The switch away from consumer-driven growth feels well and truly underway. How will the Chancellor counteract to this?

2. Lagging productivity

Productivity remains a stubborn challenge that government policy is failing to address. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the UK’s productivity performance has lagged Germany, France and the USA, whose employees now produce in an average four days as much as British workers take to produce in five. Perhaps years of uncertainty have seen companies choose to sit on cash rather than invest in new production process technology. Perhaps the dominance of services in our economy, a sector notorious hard in which to drive new efficiencies, explains the productivity lag. But ministers have singularly failed to assess and prioritise investment in those aspects of public services which can boost productivity. These could include easing congestion and aiding commuters; boosting mobile connectivity; targeting high skills; blasting away administrative bureaucracy; helping workers back to work if they’re ill.

3. Lost markets

The Prime Minister’s decision to give up trying to salvage single market membership means we enter the "Great Unknown" trade era unsure how long (if any) our transition will be. We must also remain uncertain whether new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are going to go anyway to make up for those lost markets.

New FTAs may get rid of tariffs. But historically they’ve never been much good at knocking down the other barriers for services exports – which explains why the analysis by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research recently projected a 61 per cent fall in services trade with the EU. Brexit will radically transform the likely composition of economic growth in the medium term. It’s true that in the near term, sterling depreciation is likely to bring trade back into balance as exports enjoy an adrenal currency competitive stimulus. But over the medium term, "balance" is likely to come not from new export market volume, but from a withering away of consumer spending power to buy imported goods. Beyond that, the structural imbalance will probably set in again.

4. Empty public wallets

There is a looming disaster facing Britain’s public finances. It’s bad enough that the financial crisis is now pushing the level of public sector debt beyond 90 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP).  But a quick glance at the Office for Budget Responsibility’s January Fiscal Sustainability Report is enough to make your jaw drop. The debt mountain is projected to grow for the next 50 years. All else being equal, we could end up with an incredible 234 per cent of debt/GDP by 2066 – chiefly because of the ageing population and rising healthcare costs. This isn’t a viable or serviceable level of debt and we shouldn’t take any comfort from the fact that many other economies (Japan, USA) are facing a similar fate. The interest payable on that debt mountain would severely crowd out resources for vital public services. So while some many dream of splashing public spending around on nationalising this or that, of a "universal basic income" or social security giveaways, the cold truth is that we are going to be forced to make more hard decisions on spending now, find new revenues if we want to maintain service standards, and prioritise growth-inducing policies wherever possible.

We do need to foster a new economic model that promotes social mobility, environmental and fiscal sustainability, with long-termism at its heart. But we should be wary of those on the fringes of politics pretending they have either a magic money tree, or a have-cake-and-eat-it trading model once we leap into the tariff-infested waters of WTO rules.

We shouldn’t have to smash up a common sense, balanced approach in order for our country to succeed. A credible, centre-left economic model should combine sound stewardship of taxpayer resources with a fairness agenda that ensures the wealthiest contribute most and the polluter pays. A realistic stimulus should be prioritised in productivity-oriented infrastructure investment. And Britain should reach out and gather new trading alliances in Europe and beyond as a matter of urgency.

In short, the March Budget ought to provide an economic strategy for the long-term. Instead it feels like it will be a staging-post Budget from a distracted Government, going through the motions with an accountancy exercise to get through the 12 months ahead.

Chris Leslie MP was Shadow Chancellor in 2015 and chairs Labour’s PLP Treasury Committee





Gerald Kaufman dies aged 86

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Before becoming an MP, Kaufman's varied career included a stint as the NS' theatre critic.

Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton and former theatre critic at the New Statesman, has died.

Kaufman, who served as the MP for Manchester Gorton continuously from 1970, had a varied career before entering Parliament, working for the Fabian Society in addition to his flourishing career in journalism and as a satirist, writing for That Was The Week That Was and as a leader writer on the Mirror. In 1965, he exchanged the press for politics, working as a press officer and an aide to Harold Wilson before he was elected to parliament in 1970.

Upon Labour’s return to office in 1974, he served as a junior minister until the party’s defeat in 1979, and on the opposition frontbenches until 1992, reaching the position of shadow foreign secretary. In 1999, he was chair of the Man Booker Prize, which that year was won by JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.

His death opens up a by-election in Manchester Gorton, which Labour is expected to win. 

Photo: Getty

How Girls made an entire episode out of a single conversation about sexual assault

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

“American Bitch” is a claustrophobic and clammy exploration of horrible rape debates.

Recently, I was at a party in London that a friend had brought me to. I knew nobody else there, and was happily chatting complete nonsense with a total stranger. Somehow the conversation meandered to a problematic male celebrity accused of domestic violence.

I made an offhand comment about how I couldn’t support him any more. The man I was talking to objected. Should we believe everything we hear? In under five minutes, our conversation had reached a point where he said authoritatively, “Are you really going to confidently throw around statistics like ‘over one in 20 women are raped’? Listen, I know the legal definition of rape.”

The machinery in my brain gave a familiar, dull clunk. Oh, I’m in one of those conversations. One of those conversations where a man tells a woman about what counts as rape and what doesn’t.

It takes a few minutes to realise that the latest episode of Girls, “American Bitch”, is one of those conversations. It opens with Hannah approaching a lovely white pillared apartment block, politely telling the doorman “I’m here to see Chuck Palmer.” She reapplies her lipstick in the elevator. Is she interviewing someone for a magazine? Picking someone up for a date?

Chuck meets Hannah at the door, asks her to take her shoes off, line them up next to the others, without touching his suede boots, and mentions that the “special slippers” are “just for” him. In case we were in any doubt, he says “Yes, I’m that asshole.” We see endless copies of books with his name on the cover, and certificates branding them New York Times Best Sellers on the walls, a Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction, even a photo of him with Toni Morrison. This is a very famous writer.

When Chuck admits it was “good” that Hannah showed up, she replies, “I’m just surprised you found the article that I wrote. You must have an ass-deep Google alert on yourself, this was like a niche feminist website, it’s not the front page of the Times.”

“It’s just I’m hypervigilant these days,” he says. “Look, I’m not trying to get an apology out of you.”

“Ok, good.”

There’s a very specific edge to their conversation – we’re in familiar territory. “I’m obligated to use my voice to talk about things that are meaningful to me,” Hannah goes on. “And I read something about you that troubled me, that troubled me greatly – namely, that you’re using your power and your influence to involve yourself sexually with college students on your book tour, and whether all those sexual encounters were consensual or not –”

“Ok, hold up, because that’s where this line is pretty fucking messy, when words like consensual are thrown around.”

Oh, here we are. One of those conversations.

The scene carries on like this long enough for us to realise that this is probably a bottle episode - with limited characters and sets to keep costs down - like Season Two’s “One Man’s Trash”, featuring Patrick Wilson. That was another episode focusing solely on Hannah hanging out in the big luxurious apartment of a richer, older man. But this one is more of an ethical dialogue about the problems of accountability verses privacy. For the full half hour, Hannah and Chuck debate. Chuck claims his own kind of victimhood. His personal life has been invaded, a kind of groupthink has ended with the presumption of his guilt, and now, he can’t sleep, having nightmares about his daughter discovering the allegations online. “You remember what happened at Salem,” he says gravely. “I’m the witch!” (A few moments later, he compares himself to “some fire and brimstone preacher”, seemingly not noticing the irony.) Meanwhile, Hannah stands up for the girls who claim Chuck assaulted them, adding her own experience as a victim of sexual assault to the discussion to try and help him to understand.

Of course, this isn’t simply an ethical problem explored in dialogue. The texture of their debate is as telling as the basic argument itself. Chuck repeatedly interrupts Hannah, when she’s saying things like “women who have historically been pushed to the side and silenced an–”. He asks sarcastic, aggressive questions like, Did I put a gun to her head? Did I offer her a job?” and, even, “How does one give a non-consensual blowjob?”

At the same time, he also tries to charm Hannah, singling her out as special. “Listen, you’re clearly very bright, I could tell that from the first sentence you wrote,” he says casually, a minute or two into their first conversation. “Why would a smart woman like you write a very long and considered piece of writing on what is ultimately hearsay?” he says soon after. “Cause you’re smart, you write well, you write sharply,” he insists, when she asks why he invited her over instead of a different journalist.

And it works. Chuck is just self-deprecating enough that we see flashes of humanity in him. He asks Hannah questions about where she grew up, giggles with her, and talks about her dreams to be a writer. “Maybe one day you’ll be famous,” he says. “And a lot of people will know some stuff about you – some stuff. I mean, they’ll think they’ll know everything, but they won’t. Like what happened to me. You thought you knew everything, but you didn’t.”

Hannah shakes her head like a schoolgirl in trouble. “No, I didn’t,” she says.

At this point, I felt a squirming in my stomach. Viewers have always been quick to blur the line between fiction and reality when watching Girls, and we know that Lena Dunham has plenty in common with both Hannah and Chuck: yes, she’s a feminist writer who has spoken out about sexual violence, but she’s a famous writer who has faced a degree of public condemnation – and was even accused of sexually assaulting her sibling. “We just wanted to look at it from all sides,” Dunham told Vulture of the episode. Was Girls really telling the story of the poor, misunderstood, sexually aggressive male writer?

The next scene takes place in Chuck’s bedroom, where Hannah is awestruck over a signed copy of Philip Roth’s When She Was Good – Roth’s only novel with a female protagonist, Lucy, who repeatedly attempts to connect with and reform the disappointing men around her. “I know I’m not supposed to like him because he’s a misogynist and he demeans women,” Hannah says, in a comment that could easily refer to Chuck as much as Roth, “but I can’t help it.”

Chuck eventually asks Hannah to lie down on the bed with him – whilst encouraging her to “keep your clothes on to delineate any boundaries that feel right to you” – and when she does so, he unzips his fly, rolls towards Hannah, and flops his dick onto her thigh. Hannah surprises even herself when she touches it, panics, and tries to leave.

It’s a typical Girls moment - ridiculous, blunt, and sudden but still funny, and it reveals Chuck once and for all for the predator he is, whilst simultaneously portraying him as pathetic.

“People don’t talk about this shit for fun,” Hannah tells Chuck, and she’s right, these arguments are not fun. As Dunham told Vulture: “We’re having so many conversations about rape culture and assault and they’re really, really important conversations, but a lot of women walk around with a lot of shame about things that don’t look like rape in the traditional way.” Although there’s a grim humour in the familiarity of these scenes, this bottle episode feels claustrophobic and clammy, with shots of Hannah rubbing her neck or looking away awkwardly. It’s sweaty and stressful.

“Anyway, last year, I’m at this, whatever, warehouse party in Bushwick, and this dude comes up to me,” Hannah says earlier in the episode. The two are old schoolmates, and they talk about a former teacher, who Hannah calls out as a molester. “And you know what this kid said? He looks at me in the middle of this fucking party, like he’s a judge, and says, ‘That’s a very serious accusation, Hannah.’ And he walks away.” Yup. Sounds like one of those conversations.


Homes burned, shops looted in anti-migrant attacks

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Renewed anti-foreigner violence has raised fresh fears and uncertainty among members of migrant communities in S Africa.

SRSLY #83: The Awards Special 2017

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: all the action from the Oscars, plus our own personal awards.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s assistant editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links

Get on the waiting list for our Harry Potter quiz here and take part in our survey here.

Anna's report on the Oscars.

Our episodes about Oscar-nominated films La La Land, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Lion and Jackie.

For next time:

Caroline is watching MTV’s Sweet/Vicious.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we’ve discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #81, check it out here.


Le Pen, Trump and the Atlantic counter-revolution

From Europe News. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The two leaders share much, including nationalism, populism and protectionism

Scotland's next referendum will be uglier and nastier

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

But the sequel to 2014's Indyref may have a very different ending. 

Referendums are like buses: you wait three decades for one and then four come along at once.

That Scotland voted to stay in the European Union but England and Wales voted to leave was always going to punch that particular constitutional bruise. If Brexit does go awry, the prospect of leaving one union to rejoin – remain within – one union becomes more attractive.

Now Theresa May is braced for a second referendum on Scotland’s future, not after but during Britain’s exit talks, the Times reports.“Scotland to demand new referendum, No 10 fears” is that paper’s Ronseal splash. The story is already making itself felt on the currency markets, with sterling down yet further against the dollar at time of writing.

The PM’s options aren’t good. Although notionally the right to hold a referendum is power reserved to Westminster, the prospect of the elected government at Holyrood asking for another only to be refused by the Tory in London is the worst thing that could happen to the Union since, well, Brexit. In any case, there is nothing to stop the SNP holding a non-binding, Scotland-wide consultative poll, putting further pressure on the constitutional settlement between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Let’s say she decides that the best thing to do is go ahead with the contest. A lot has changed since 2014 and the No side's victory. Back then, Ruth Davidson said that a Conservative victory in 2015 was not “likely” and one of Better Together’s key themes was that a Yes vote would put Scotland’s EU membership at risk.

Now all the signs point towards a Tory victory that effectively rules out the chances of a Labour revival in 2025 as well, and Scotland’s EU membership is gone.

Then there’s the Irish dimension. Northern Ireland and Scotland’s constitutional affairs are not the same but in any referendum held during the European talks, the unionist side will have to explain why they are talking up the prospect of a open border between the North and the Republic while warning against a hard border between England and Scotland. What’s good for peace in Northern Ireland and for maintaining that bit of the United Kingdom is not good for the other.

That’s before you get to the questions of who would lead it: Labour are unlikely to want to get back on that particular train and in any case are not the force they were in 2014, to put it mildly, while a No campaign headed by a Tory feels like Nicola Sturgeon’s dream.

But equally it’s not as easy as it looks for the SNP. A second No campaign would go hard on difficult questions about EU budget rules, the Euro, and exports to the rest of the UK. In addition, questions about pensions (at risk) and immigration (likely higher than now) would all be weaponised in ways they weren’t before. Indy Ref 2: Indier Reffier would be an uglier affair than the contest that came before. Those Yessers to the SNP’s left are less inclined to fall in line with the big beast of the Yes side, too.

All in all, it would be a harder and more grueling contest for both sides. Which isn’t to say that the SNP’s chances wouldn’t still be significantly higher.


UK faces EU push on transparency of trusts

From Europe News. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

European Parliament set to vote for fully public registers disclosing beneficial ownership

A muse is for sharing: Fiona Sampson's Lyric Cousins

By Josephine Balmer from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

In her latest work, Fiona Sampson’s verse is alive to musicality.

“Songs,” according to Tom Waits, “are really just very interesting things to be doing with the air.” Much earlier, a vase made in the 5th century BC depicted Sappho with her book of poetry and the beginnings of a few scratched lines: “my words may be mist and air/but they are immortal”. For Fiona Sampson, whose thought-provoking study Lyric Cousins quotes Waits’s typically insouciant comment, breath is also all important, giving “musical sense to semantic content, and creating a grammar for sound”.

Yet Lyric Cousins, as Sampson stresses, has a far wider remit than song. Rather, her study considers poetic creation through the sounding board of musical theory, exploring the ways in which music – here mostly classical music or “art music” – and poetry might reflect on and illuminate each other. Sampson is not just a well-qualified but an entertaining guide. A concert violinist who became a much-lauded poet, she has also been the editor of the prestigious journal Poetry Review and is now a professor of poetry at the University of Roehampton.

Based on a series of Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures in 2009, her erudite and eclectic exploration begins with the various constituents of both genres, including musical time and poetic metre, form and phrasing, and the tricky issue of “meaning”. She then examines specific examples such as song, opera and the sometimes overlooked aspect of performance, including music notation, as well as extracts from poetry, contemporary and canonical alike.

As she explains, the brief here is to think about poetry “not as music but as if it were music” (her italics). And so a discussion of the “disobedient” notes of chromaticism leads to the work of the composer Olivier Messiaen; in poetry, she argues, such notes are “whatever’s put in the poem for sensory, rather than grammatical or denotative, reasons”, as in the “bat English” of Les Murray’s “Bats’ Ultrasound”.

For those who cannot pick out “Chopsticks” on a piano, this might seem like weighty fare. But Sampson’s lightness of touch waltzes us along as she “maps connections and intersections” between the two forms, combining high and low notes with ease. We move jauntily from Gabriel Fauré to Robert Frost and U A Fanthorpe via flat-pack furniture, or from W S Merwin through Marx (Groucho) to W S Gilbert. Meanwhile Charles Bernstein’s radical Language poetry is equated with Arnold Schoenberg’s atonality and John Burnside’s “breath slur” lines are set against Mendels­sohn’s use of fugue. Sampson’s own poetic voice remains perfectly pitched throughout; she sees the “turn” between the octave and sestet of a Petrarchan sonnet as being like “a hay-bale that needs to dry on the other side”, while her central image of a train journey, moving us through space and time, drives on her arguments.

It seems churlish to complain about omission in such a wide-ranging work. But given the tantalising references to translation dotted throughout, not to mention Sampson’s own experience as a translator of poetry, a chapter on these different performances of the texts would have been welcome. It is also a shame that, although there are passing mentions of Greek drama and epic, there is nothing here on poetry’s and music’s shared roots in ancient Greek lyric.

But these are quibbles. Sampson has the intellectual honesty to admit that there are no pat answers. In the end, like music, the writing of poetry, as well as the reading and the hearing of it, are all something to be experienced, “to be released by us”. How and why we frame that experience comes down to our individual consciousness, sometimes shared, sometimes separate, fluctuating with time. As Sampson’s train imagery underscores, it is not about the destination, but the journey; what matters is that “we are on the metaphorical train as it passes through the landscape”.

Sampson politely refrains from including examples of her own work in Lyric Cousins so it is intriguing to turn to her most recent collection, The Catch, published a few months earlier, to find new connections in her poetry. She adopted her trademark free verse and short lines, we now know, because of childhood bronchial infections (“How I breathe is how I think,” as Lyric Cousins explains) and yet her deep, resonant musicality remains.

True to form, some of the poems in the collection were commissioned for aural projects: “Stone Fruit” was set to music by the composer Sally Beamish and “Night Train” and “Neighbours” were written for the Festival of Sound at Magdalene College, Cambridge. In such poems language melts into sound, as with the “clustered voices” in “Night Train”, which become “overlaid in patterns/like birdsong or weather”.

Elsewhere she orchestrates a more overt intertextuality. For instance, the painted bowl of “Parsifal” returns us to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total artwork” – the subject of a chapter in Lyric Cousins. And in “Zoi”, a stray street dog in Greece is illuminated in the evening star of Sappho’s Fragment 104(a), “bringing back everything the bright dawn scattered”, as well as transporting the reader to the beginning of lyric poetry – and music. But most of all, Sampson scores the delicate symphonies of the everyday world, such as the “blur of steam” rising “like a breath” above a cup of coffee in “Daily Bread” with

the word lying below it

waiting to be spoken you can’t

quite make it out what is it

humming all day out of hearing.

Like many of its poems, The Catch hovers on the edge of waking, a time of the subconscious, the non-verbal. Its lush and trance-like beauty is heightened throughout by synaesthesia, a technique much discussed in Lyric Cousins: for instance, “the light that rose up like/the odour of plums and of vines” in “Harvest”. Subtle and sonorous, these poems arrive “once again at/astonishment/at the brink of dream”. And, beside the cypress trees in “Arcades”, they exist both within and outside meaning, beyond category of music or poetry, as sound and word merge until they

. . . do not

know the morning or the evening

when it comes

they only know this speaking

that rises and falls

in them like song. 

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. Her new collection, “The Paths of Survival” (Shearsman Books), is out in April


Bulgarian radio gets modern music back after dispute

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Public broadcaster is forced to play classical music, and sees its audience grow.

Can a pro-EU party thrive in Dutch elections?

From Europe News. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Liberal D66 polling well in a parliament set for a coalition, says leader Pechtold

Canada's own immigration ban

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Canada is trying to be an example for the world by welcoming refugees, but its doors are still not open to Roma.

The grandmothers running rural South Africa

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Almost 1.5 million or 11% of all households in South Africa are now run by women over the age of 60

Why Is Trump Silent on Islamophobic Attacks?

By Peter Beinart from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Last week President Trump condemned attacks against American Jews, which is good. So why won’t he condemn attacks against American Muslims? Why is there so little political pressure on him to do so?

Numerically, the problem appears roughly similar. In the ten days following Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center chronicled one hundred attacks—or threatened attacks—against American Jews and 49 against American Muslims. In its survey, which encompassed the period between election day and February 9, the progressive news site ThinkProgress counted 70 anti-Jewish incidents and 31 anti-Muslim ones.

The ratio of anti-Jewish to anti-Muslim incidents, in other words, appears slightly over two to one, which mirrors the ratio of Jews to Muslims in the population. According to a 2014 Pew Research Survey, 1.9 percent of Americans are Jewish; 0.9 percent are Muslim . That means that, if the SPLC and Think Progress tallies are correct, Jews and Muslims have a roughly equal chance of being victimized. In fact, Muslims are more likely to suffer an actual assault. Of the 70 anti-Jewish incidents that Think Progress catalogued, only one involved physical attack. (The large majority were bomb threats). Of the 31 anti-Muslim incidents, by contrast, nine did.

But if the scale of the attacks is roughly similar, the political reaction to them has been dramatically different. On February 15 and 16, reporters asked Trump about rising anti-Semitism in two successive press conferences. When Trump flubbed his answers, CNN reported that, “it was fast becoming politically damaging for Trump not to adopt a stern, public line against the [anti-Semitic] incidents.” Even after Trump specifically and forcefully condemned anti-Semitism on February 21, CNN declared that his words “can’t stop questions about his motives.” An NBC News report wondered whether it was “Too Little, Too Late?”

There’s been no similar pressure on Trump to condemn attacks on American Muslims. The press has certainly covered Trump’s attitudes—and those of his top advisors—toward Islam, particularly since he announced a ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim nations on January 27. But attacks on American mosques have received far less attention than the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers. As far as I’m aware, no reporter has asked Trump about them at a press conference. And no major network would suggest that Trump’s failure “to adopt a stern, public line” against Islamophobia has been “politically damaging.”

What explains the difference? One answer is assimilation. With the exception of African Americans, American Muslims are a largely immigrant community. By contrast, most American Jews came a century ago. That helps explain why Jews are better represented at elite levels of the press and government, and in a better position to press their community’s concerns. Among the people who appear to have nudged Trump into a condemnation of anti-Semitism are his Jewish-convert daughter, who tweeted about the JCC attacks, and his Jewish son-in-law. If Trump had a Muslim son-in-law and a Muslim-convert daughter, they might have pushed him to publicly condemn attacks on mosques. (In fact, they might have challenged his slandering of Muslims throughout the campaign). But the scenario is hard to imagine because the social distance between American Muslims and elite, native-born, families like the Trumps remains so large.

The second answer concerns the way anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigotry are discussed in American politics. In Washington, everyone who matters politically considers anti-Semitism an indefensible sin. If a Jewish reporter or activist claims that it is rising, neither mainstream liberals nor mainstream conservatives are likely to accuse her of ulterior motives. Liberals and conservatives may argue about the reasons for rising anti-Semitism. Liberals are more likely to blame the alt-right. Conservatives often link anti-Semitism to criticism of Israel. But neither side minimizes the problem.

Islamophobia, by contrast, evokes a bitter ideological struggle. It’s not that mainstream conservatives approve of vandalizing mosques. But many believe the left is whitewashing Islam. And they view accusations of Islamophobia as an effort to discredit Islam’s critics, e.g. people like them.

Search for “Anti-Semitism” in conservative publications like National Review, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary and you’ll find analyses of the phenomenon. Search for “Islamophobia,” by contrast, and you’ll find articles with headlines like “Islamophobia is a myth,” “‘Islamophobia’ Is Still Not the Problem,”  “The Islamophobia Myth Hits the FBI” and  “’Islamophobia’ or ‘Truthophobia.’” Often, the term itself is put in quotation marks. Victimization of American Jews is considered a  real problem. Victimization of American Muslims is considered a politically inspired hoax.

These publications aren’t Breitbart. They aren’t blanket apologists for Trump. But even anti-Trump conservatives tend to view “political correctness” as inhibiting an honest conversation about the supposed pathologies of Islam. And they thus ignore accusations of Islamophobia or actively deny them.

This helps explain why Trump faces so little pressure to condemn the spasm of anti-Muslim attacks. His initial failure to forcefully condemn anti-Semitism didn’t only spark criticism from the mainstream media, which Trump delights in belittling. It also sparked criticism from his own ideological side. The Zionist Organization of America, which invited Steve Bannon to its annual gala, insisted that Trump personally condemn anti-Semitism. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, whose founder spoke at Trump’s inaugural, urged him to do more. On CNN, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who endorsed Trump, said he was “befuddled” as to why Trump had not spoken out. Even Jake Turx, the Jewish reporter who Trump berated for asking about anti-Semitism, probably only got to ask the question at all because his publication, Ami, is sympathetic to Trump.

No pro-Trump Muslim publications have been invited to presidential briefings. There is no Muslim equivalent of the ZOA or Simon Wiesenthal Center. There’s no former Republican presidential candidate who is as philo-Islamic as Santorum is philo-Semitic. In other words, there’s no influential cadre of people who support Trump, and have earned his trust, yet care enough about attacks on Muslims to challenge his silence on the subject.

Trump was forced to condemn anti-Semitism because in 2017 appearing indifferent to the safety of American Jews is politically dangerous in both parties. In today’s GOP, by contrast, appearing indifferent to the safety of American Muslims is easy. It’s showing genuine concern that might entail a political price.

View from the South

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Speculation is rife and defectors are unnerved by the death of the North Korean in Malaysia.

A New Tool in a Century-Old Fight for Voting Rights

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Rodney Cruz was born an American citizen. He did a tour in Iraq during 10 years in the Army, and was wounded on the battlefield three times, eventually suffering a traumatic brain injury. His enlistment followed in the footsteps of many of his relatives, an unbroken line of military service. Five successive generations of his family have put their lives on the line for the country, but like four million other Americans in the U.S. territories, Cruz, as a resident of Guam, is constitutionally barred from voting in federal elections.

But with some help from a brand-new legal platform, Cruz intends to change that.

As the founder of the Iraq-Afghanistan Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, Cruz is one of the lead plaintiffs in the Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ case, a lawsuit seeking to challenge the prohibition on residents of U.S. territories voting in federal elections. The suit is one of several recent legal challenges around the issue of voting rights, sovereignty, and citizenship in the U.S. territories. After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled against the plaintiffs and denied a motion for summary judgment last year, the plaintiffs and a nonprofit voting-rights organization called We the People Project turned to crowdfunding to finance an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit court.

The arguments in the Segovia case rely on a complex, confusing, and sometimes contradictory history of legal precedent regarding voting rights in the U.S. territories. The first and clearest pieces of precedent are that voting is that there is no explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution and that only citizens who are residents of U.S.states have both voting representation in Congress and via electors in the Electoral College. The matter of whether Congress can extend voting rights to the territories—or whether not doing so violates the Constitution—has often been disputed in court. Currently, the only legal way for citizens born in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico to vote in federal elections is to move and change their residency to a state.

The strongest existing precedent on the legal status of the territories and voting therein comes from the “Insular Cases,” a series of Supreme Court decisions in the beginning of the 20th century pertaining to the country’s then-new territorial possessions. Those decisions were steeped in the colonialist and often racist legal logic of the era, with decisions referring to the “white man’s burden” and stating that the races were not created equal. They essentially held that the rights of citizenship, including voting, are not granted automatically to residents of the territories, and that territories are entities entirely dependent on Congress, which can grant or remove voting rights at will. (Though Congress, then as now, cannot revoke many basic constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens and non-citizens under the due-process clause.)

Those cases created a system where even the rights from territory to territory are not equal. Birthright citizenship, for example, is not granted to residents of American Samoa, who are considered U.S. nationals and cannot vote in any election even if they change their residency to a state. Recent cases, such as the Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle decision in the Supreme Court, have reaffirmed that the territories have no existing sovereignty or privileges beyond those granted by Congress.

The Segovia case pushes back against legislation crafted under that constitutional interpretation, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. That law establishes absentee-voting rights for service members, expatriates, and employees of the federal government who are allowed to vote in their home states but live outside of the United States. Curiously, its definition of “outside the United States” includes the Northern Mariana Islands, but not the other territories, which for the purposes of the law are considered “states.” In those territories, absentee protections are not afforded for people stationed or otherwise living there. And because none of those territories have electors or representatives, the act essentially strips away voting rights just for moving there. No explanation is offered in the legislation as to why the Northern Mariana Islands are exempt.

The common interpretation under the Insular Cases allows for this discrepancy, as well as further contradictions under state absentee laws, which list certain territories as legal for absentee voting but not others. For example, Illinois’s law adds American Samoa to its list of absentee areas, along with the Northern Mariana Islands and the states.

The plaintiffs in Segovia are former Illinois residents who live in the territories—like lead plaintiff Luis Segovia—and Cruz’s organization that represents both territory-born service members and transplants stationed in the territories. They argue that laws that disenfranchise residents—and citizens—of the territories violate the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the due-process clause. While the gist of this case is to challenge a specific deficiency of absentee voting for people who move to the territories, Cruz sees it as an opportunity to challenge the basic disenfranchisement of territorial citizens.

“I was in Iraq with other service members who resided in various territories,” Cruz said. “During the election, everyone had to stop what they’re doing and go back to the forward-operating base for the election. People were being directed to go to a processing center where you’d cast your out-of-state ballot. We were stopped at the door and told,‘You have to go back to your unit.’ We were segregated from the rest of our service members, and our brothers and sisters in uniform.”

We the People founder and president Neil Weare was also born in Guam, and his organization works to file strategic lawsuits to expand voting rights and civil rights for residents of the territories. "I wanted to come up with a new approach, which was for each of the territories and D.C. to work together rather than each working on their own,” Weare said. “So I founded We the People Project to advocate for equal rights and representation for all the nearly 5 million U.S. citizens living in the territories and the District.”

That strategy focuses on “impact litigation,” which is designed not only to test key arguments in court, but to raise awareness of the issues at stake in the court of public opinion, a strategy used to great effect in civil-rights struggles by groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. “Following in the footsteps of other civil-rights movements in recognizing that when you're marginalized politically, the court system can offer a more level playing field, as can public awareness,” Weare told me.

After the plaintiffs lost in the Illinois District Court, We the People Project considered more ways to both raise public awareness and continue to probe the legal system with an appeal. They found a way to merge both of those goals in CrowdJustice, a London-based website founded by former United Nations lawyer Julia Salasky in 2015, which allows people to crowdfund litigation. CrowdJustice has been successful in the United Kingdom, especially after it was used by several British residents and expats late last year to raise over £170,000 for a “People’s Challenge” to Brexit in the British high courts.

With the Segovia appeal as CrowdJustice’s second case in the United States, Salasky sees the lawsuit as an entry point for the platform. “In general,” Salasky says, “the raison d'être behind the platform is to increase access to the legal system with crowdfunding at its core, which tends to bring together people who need funding for cases with people who are passionate about the issue at stake.”

Though CrowdJustice is a politically neutral platform and organization, Salasky notes that thorny constitutional and civil-rights issues, raised in the era of Brexit in the United Kingdom and in the era of Donald Trump in the United States, make the idea of harnessing crowdfunding for litigation more appealing. “I think the courts are more important than ever in the sense that the challenges we're seeing here at the moment are having different outcomes in the courts than in the other political branches,” Salasky told me. That opportunity dovetails with Weare’s assessment that crowdfunded impact litigation is "a way to make sure that the Constitution's mandates are carried out.”

There are challenges ahead for all of the entities involved in the case. CrowdJustice may have a major opportunity in the United States after organizations like the ACLU raised record amounts of funds during a legal avalanche against the executive branch over Trump’s immigration ban. But the platform could feasibly be used to to mobilize citizens to silence political opponents and media as well, especially in an environment where nuisance lawsuits and third-party funding of defamation suits against journalists have emerged as lethal weapons, as evidenced in the demise of Gawker. Salasky assured me that there are safeguards against “frivolous” lawsuits pursued by the platform, but the definition of such frivolity isn’t clear, and those safeguards may not exist for any CrowdJustice competitors that arise.

For the We the People Project in Segovia, their main barrier to success is still the court system itself. Courts have reliably sided in favor of a narrow view of territorial rights, as decided in the Insular Cases. While a flurry of lawsuits by the territories over the past two years has garnered much attention—especially in this magazine—it has done little to sway legal precedent. Though an odd union of Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, left the door open for further consideration of territorial-sovereignty issues in a concurrence in the Sanchez Valle case, arguments brought to courts in favor of territorial voting rights have necessarily shifted from whether Congress can dictate the terms of territorial citizenship and sovereignty—it can—to whether such an arrangement, with its arbitrary assignation of full citizenship, violates the deeper natural rights and equal protection also guaranteed by the Constitution.

For Cruz, the battle is moral, and even a loss in court can help put the pressure on political leaders to make change. “As we’re preparing for 2020,” Cruz said, “we’re going to fight very hard to see a positive change and maybe we can convince Donald Trump to urge and put the pressure on Congress. … I’m serving my country, but it’s taking away dignity and equal citizenship. People call me a hero, but what good am I if I can’t vote for the commander in chief?”

Papers, Please

By Garrett Epps from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

American citizens had their introduction to the Trump-era immigration machine Wednesday, when Customs and Border Protection agents met an airliner that had just landed at New York’s JFK airport after a flight from San Francisco. According to passenger accounts, a flight attendant announced that all passengers would have to show their “documents” as they deplaned, and they did. The reason for the search, Homeland Security officials said, was to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a search for a specific immigrant who had received a deportation order after multiple criminal convictions. The target was not on the flight.

After days of research, I can find no legal authority for ICE or CBP to require passengers to show identification  on an entirely domestic fight. The ICE authorizing statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1357, provides that agents can conduct warrantless searches of “any person seeking admission to the United States”—if, that is, the officer has “reasonable cause to suspect” that the individual searched may be deportable. CBP’s statute, 19 U.S.C. § 1467, grants search authority “whenever a vessel from a foreign port or place or from a port or place in any Territory or possession of the United States arrives at a port or place in the United States.” CBP regulations, set out at 19 C.F.R. § 162.6, allow agents to search “persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof.”

I asked two experts whether I had missed some general exception to the Fourth Amendment for passengers on a domestic flight. After all, passengers on flights entering the U.S. from other countries can expect to be asked for ID, and even searched. Barry Friedman, the Jacob D. Fuchsberg professor of law and affiliated professor of politics at New York University, is the author of Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission, a new book-length study of intrusive police investigation and search practices. “Is this remotely constitutional?” he asked. “I think it isn’t. We all know generally the government can’t come up and demand to see identification.” Officers need to have statutory authority to search and reasonable suspicion that the person to be searched has violated the law, he said. Andre Segura, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told me that “I’m not aware of any aviation exception” for domestic passengers.

An ID check is a “search” under the law. Passengers on the JFK flight were not “seeking admission”—the flight originated in the U.S. CBP officials told the public after the fact that they were looking for a specific individual believed to be on board. A search for a specific individual cannot include every person on a plane, regardless of sex, race, and age. That is a general paper check of the kind familiar to anyone who has traveled in an authoritarian country. As Segura told me, “We do not live in a ‘show me your papers’ society.”

I asked a CBP spokesperson what legal authority the agency could show for the search. In response, the spokesperson said:

In this situation, CBP was assisting ICE in locating an individual possibly aboard the flight that was ordered removed from the United States pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. To assist ICE, CBP requested consensual assistance from passengers aboard the flight to determine whether the removable individual in question was in fact aboard the flight. In the course of seeking this assistance, CBP did not compel any of these domestic passengers to show identification. With much-appreciated cooperation from these passengers, CBP was able to resolve the issue with minimal delay to the traveling public.

It's quite legal for law enforcement to ask for “voluntary” cooperation. Anyone who follows criminal-procedure cases, however, knows that “voluntary” in legalese does not mean what ordinary people think it means. Supreme Court caselaw makes clear that officers may block an exit and ask for ID or permission to search. They aren’t required to tell the individual stopped that he or she may refuse, and they have every incentive to act as if refusal may result in arrest. The Supreme Court held in 1984 that “while most citizens will respond to a police request, the fact that people do so, and do so without being told they are free not to respond, hardly eliminates the consensual nature of the response.” Passengers deplaning after a long flight might reasonably fear they will be “detained” if they anger the law enforcement figure blocking their exit. That officer is under no obligation to tell them they can refuse.

I am a white, English-speaking law professor, affluent, privileged, articulate, and a native-born citizen. Such hair as I have is white and I can hardly seem like a threat to anyone. I have researched the matter, and feel reasonably confident that an agent would have to let me pass if I refused the demand for my papers. If not, I can afford counsel and my family knows excellent lawyers to call.

I am vowing here and now not to show papers in this situation. I know that it will take gumption to follow through if the situation arises. What will be the reaction of ordinary travelers, some with outstanding warrants or other legal worries? Should we expect heroism of people who just want to get off an airplane?

Justice William O. Douglas once wrote that a regime of liberty includes “freedom from bodily restraint or compulsion, freedom to walk, stroll, or loaf.”

A shadow is falling over that freedom, both for aliens and for citizens. Its loss will be devastating.

The Erosion of Truth

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

In his opening remarks at Politics Aside 2016, RAND president and CEO Michael Rich discussed a phenomenon he calls 'Truth Decay.'

Producer 'devastated' at photo mistake

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

In the segment which honours people from the film industry who've died, Oscar organisers use a picture of a woman who's still alive.

Kiribati rejects Russian's 'Romanov revival' plan

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Island nation turns down businessman's scheme to "restore Russian monarchy".

Let There Be Light

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Explores the competitiveness of India's domestic manufacturing across the supply chain; barriers and enablers to developing a domestic industry; and the cost of industrial policy support.

13 political statements from the Oscars 2017

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

In the age of Trump, Hollywood got satirical.

Yes, it’s that time of year again: when Hollywood’s best and brightest come together to celebrate themselves, and maybe throw in an oh-so-vaguely left-wing comment about how “we need the arts right now more than ever.” But in the era of Donald Trump, did things get more caustic at the 89th Academy Awards? 

Here’s a round-up of the big political shout-outs of the night.

1. “This is being watched live by millions of people in 225 countries that now hate us.” - host Jimmy Kimmel, above, in his opening monologue.

2. “I want to say thank you to President Trump. I mean, remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist? That's gone, thanks to him.” - Jimmy Kimmel, in his opening monologue.

3. “In Hollywood, we don't discriminate against people based on what countries they come from. We discriminate against them based on their age and weight.” - Jimmy Kimmel, in his opening monologue.

4. “Some of you get to come on this stage and make a speech that the president of the United States will tweet about in all-caps during his 5am bowel movement.”- Jimmy Kimmel, in his opening monologue.

5. “Meryl Streep has phoned it in for more than 50 films over the course of her lacklustre career. She wasn’t even in a movie this year – we just wrote her name in out of habit. Please join me in giving Meryl Streep a totally undeserved round of applause. The highly overrated Meryl Streep, everyone.” Jimmy Kimmel, referencing Trump’s comment that Streep (below) is “overrated”.

6. “Nice dress by the way – is that an Ivanka?” - Jimmy Kimmel to Meryl Streep

7. “Now it’s time for something that is very rare today: a president that believes in both arts and sciences.” - Jimmy Kimmel, while introducing Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

8. “Inclusion makes us all stronger.” - Cheryl Boone Isaacs

9. “This is for all the immigrants” - Alessandro Bertolazzi, above right, accepting the award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Suicide Squad.

10. “Flesh-and-blood actors are migrant workers. We travel all over the world. We construct families, we build life, but we cannot be divided. As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any form of wall that wants to separate us.” - Gael Garcia Bernal, while presenting the award for Best Animated Feature

11. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and from the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law which bans immigrants' entry into the U.S. Dividing the world into the 'us and our enemies' categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war.” - The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the ceremony over Trump's Muslim travel ban. His award was accepted on his behalf by former Nasa scientist Firouz Naderi and engineer/astronaut Anousheh Ansari, above.

12. “We are so grateful to audiences all over the world who embraced this film with this story of tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other.” - Zootopia director Rich Moore, while accepting the award for best animated feature

13. “All you people out there who feel like your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back. For the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.” - Barry Jenkins (above) while accepting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.


Now listen to Anna discussing the Oscars on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

“Bring Everything Crashing Down”: Bannon’s Reactionary Guard and U.S. National Security

By Iskander Rehman from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

A little over a year ago, I lost my grandfather. Born to a British servicemember who had stormed the limestone cliffs of Gallipoli and to a French woman from rural Perigord, he had something of an unconventional childhood. One of the few “papists” in his austere British boarding school, he would trudge several miles every ...

A Vietnam War Reading List, Brought to You by the War Hall

By WOTR Staff from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The War Hall is one of the two pillars of our new membership program. It is where members of the War on the Rocks tribe convene to talk about strategy, educate each other, chat about procurement decisions, share reading lists, participate in book clubs, and debate the future of international order. Soldiers, spooks, scholars, sailors, ...

“Extreme Vetting” Denies the Federal Government Outside Talent

By David Johnson from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

The recent withdrawal of Vincent Viola from his nomination to be Secretary of the Army denies our nation the services of a great American at a time when the Army could really use his talents. One can never fully know the machinations of the internal vetting process that worked to undo Viola’s nomination, but his ...

How Moonlight’s win led to the most shocking Oscars night in history

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

They gave Best Picture to La La Land first by mistake.

“This is not a joke by the way. This is not a joke.” You know things are bad when, at possibly the most anticipated cultural moment of the year, you have to keep insisting what’s happening is not a bad skit. Yes, La La Land was announced as the winner of Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards - but it later turned out that Moonlight had actually won the prize.

We often talk about “Best Picture shocks”, but this was an unprecedented moment in Oscars history: an extraordinary sequence of live television that ended in the makers of La La Land, led by producer Jordan Horowitz, having to hand over the most prestigious award of the night, mid-acceptance speech, to the Moonlight team.

But Moonlight’s victory is shocking in a more significant way than the deep, horrible cringe you feel watching the La La Land team’s celebrations turn sour. It’s shocking because a genuinely original and urgent underdog film about the coming-of-age of a black gay man won Best Picture. 

It’s tempting to see Moonlight’s win as part of a conversation that started last year, when the #OscarsSoWhite scandal began. But, of course, the Oscars has a much longer history of rewarding straight white stories and actors. This was the first Oscars in a decade with multiple black acting winners. Viola Davis became the first black person to receive an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win for acting, ever. In 2017.

This year's awards saw the continuation of a split result for the Best Directing and Best Picture gongs - something that was once relatively rare but has happened almost every year since 2013. But while La La Land did still pick up six awards, and Moonlight three, there can be no doubt that this was Moonlight’s night.

"All you people out there who feel like there's no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected… we have your back," director Barry Jenkins said when accepting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The biggest shock of the night wasn’t the seven-minute long fumble over who actually won Best Picture. It’s that a film about black gay love could move the voting members of an awards ceremony dogged by such a long history of racism. Oh, and that Suicide Squad is now an Oscar-winning film.

The full list of winners and nominees at the 2017 Academy Awards

Best picture

Winner: Moonlight
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Best director

Winner: La La Land - Damien Chazelle
Arrival - Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge - Mel Gibson
Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight - Barry Jenkins

Best actor

Winner: Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington - Fences

Best actress

Winner: Emma Stone - La La Land
Isabelle Huppert - Elle
Ruth Negga - Loving
Natalie Portman - Jackie
Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins

Best supporting actor

Winner: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel - Lion
Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals

Best supporting actress

Winner: Viola Davis - Fences
Naomie Harris - Moonlight
Nicole Kidman - Lion
Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

Best cinematography

Winner: La La Land - Linus Sandgren
Arrival - Bradford Young
Lion - Greig Fraser
Moonlight - James Laxton
Silence - Rodrigo Prieto

Best original score

Winner: La La Land - Justin Hurwitz
Jackie - Mica Levi
Lion - Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka
Moonlight - Nicholas Britell
Passengers - Thomas Newton

Best original song

Winner: La La Land - City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
La La Land - Audition by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Moana - How Far I'll Go by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Trolls - Can't Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
Jim: The James Foley Story - The Empty Chair by J Ralph and Sting

Best original screenplay

Winner: Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan
20th Century Women - Mike Mills
Hell or High Water - Taylor Sheridan
La La Land - Damien Chazelle
The Lobster - Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou

Best adapted screenplay

Winner: Moonlight - Barry Jenkins and Alvin McCraney
Arrival - Eric Heisserer
Fences - August Wilson
Hidden Figures - Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
Lion - Luke Davies

Best costume design

Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Colleen Atwood
Allied - Joanna Johnston
Florence Foster Jenkins - Consolata Boyle
Jackie - Madeline Fontaine
La La Land - Mary Zophres

Best make-up and hairstyling

Winner: Suicide Squad - Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
A Man Called Ove - Eva Von Bahr and Love Larson
Star Trek Beyond - Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo

Best documentary feature

Winner: OJ: Made in America
Fire At Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated

Best sound editing

Winner: Arrival - Sylvain Bellemare
Deepwater Horizon - Wylie Stateman and Renee Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge - Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
La La Land - Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Sully - Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Best sound mixing

Winner: Hacksaw Ridge - Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi - Gary Summers, Jeffrey J Haboush and Mac Ruth
Arrival - Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye
La La Land - Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A Morrow
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Best foreign language film

Winner: The Salesman - Iran
A Man Called Ove - Sweden
Land of Mine - Denmark
Tanna - Australia
Toni Erdmann - Germany

Best animated short

Winner: Piper - Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer
Blind Vaysha - Theodore Ushev
Borrowed Time - Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pear Cider and Cigarettes - Robert Valley and Cara Speller
Pearl - Patrick Osborne

Best animated feature

Winner: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Best production design

Winner: La La Land - David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
Arrival - Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock
Hail, Caesar! - Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh
Passengers - Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena

Best visual effects

Winner: The Jungle Book - Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R Jones and Dan Lemmon
Deepwater Horizon - Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange - Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
Kubo and the Two Strings - Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

Best film editing

Winner: Hacksaw Ridge - John Gilbert
Arrival - Joe Walker
Hell or High Water - Jake Roberts
La La Land - Tom Cross
Moonlight - Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

Best documentary short

Winner: The White Helmets - Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
4.1 Miles - Daphne Matziaraki
Extremis - Dan Krauss
Joe's Violin - Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
Watani: My Homeland - Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis

Best live action short

Winner: Sing - Kristof Deak and Anna Udvardy
Ennemis Interieurs - Selim Azzazi
La Femme et le TGV - Timo Von Gunten and Giacun Caduff
Silent Nights - Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson
Timecode - Juanjo Gimenez


Now listen to Anna discussing the Oscars on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:


When Regional Policies Fail

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Studies the effects of Indonesia's Integrated Economic Development Zone program which provides substantial tax-breaks for firms that locate in certain districts in the Outer Islands of Indonesia.

Terror from the sky

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

So-called Islamic State is using commercial drones to drop bombs as it fights to hold west Mosul.

World’s vainest people?

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

How the men of Chad's Wodaabe culture go about finding their brides at a desert festival where the stress is on make-up and clothes.

Into thin air

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 27, 2017.

Five years ago, Jonathan Spollen was travelling in India - then he vanished. What might have happened?

South Africa and Nigeria fight by proxy on the streets

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

The countries have a common interest in putting a lid firmly on xenophobia

Unilever’s best option may be to do nothing

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

After a bid attempt, the inclination to overreact needs to be resisted

Germany reveals frequent attacks on immigrants

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Assaults reached almost 10 a day in 2016, government data show

Chinese private security companies go global

From Analysis. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Beijing’s protection industry looks after workers in the most dangerous places

German business prepares to defend free trade in US

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Executives fear Trump administration is embracing protectionism

Bailout monitors’ return fails to lift Greek gloom

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Uncertainty puts business investment on hold despite prospect of fresh funding

The old British tactic of divide and rule in Europe will not work for Brexit negotiations

By Tom Nuttall from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

The other 27 governments in the EU may struggle to maintain a common line once the phoney war ends.

As usual, Yes Minister put it best. For 500 years Britain had pursued a single policy towards its Continental neighbours, Sir Humphrey noted to his baffled minister in an episode from 1980. The aim? “To create a disunited Europe.” Britain’s fondness for playing off one European government against another kept it out of the antecedents to the European Union for years; Konrad Adenauer and, in particular, Charles de Gaulle did not want to give Britain a chance to play “the old game”.

Once inside the club, Britain proved the old statesmen correct. In 2004, for instance, Tony Blair saw off the candidacy of Guy Verhofstadt, a floppy-haired federalist who is now the European Parliament’s Brexit pointman, for the post of president of the European Commission, marshalling resistance against a usually irresistible Franco-German consensus. Contrary to claims by the more rabid Brexiteers, Britain rather often got its way in Brussels.

Britain’s star has since faded in Brussels, and was wholly eclipsed by Brexit. But as Britain gets ready to do battle over the terms of its divorce from the EU, one sometimes encounters among its diplomats mutations of the old argument: that the government can secure a better settlement by boxing clever and cultivating special deals with other countries. It can buy off Poland with a promise to keep funding motorways, or Estonia with a pledge to contribute more to Nato missions. It can set countries that need a good post-Brexit trade deal against those that care more about national security. And it can seek to exploit distractions such as Greece, which may be heading for economic crisis again, or European panic over the chaos in Washington.

They have half a point. If the 27 other EU governments have held fast on Brexit since the referendum – surprisingly so – theirs is a thin sort of unity, grounded solely in defensive principles that tell Britain what it cannot do: no negotiations before notification and no cherry-picking from the single market. It is not hard to discern the hairline cracks. The institutions in Brussels are eyeing each other as warily as ever. Some governments, including the Germans, are keen to keep the European Commission, which will lead the talks with Britain, on a short leash. The governments themselves may struggle to maintain a common line once the phoney war ends; the EC’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has warned the 27 to be alert to British divide-and-rule tactics.

This is a risky road for Britain to travel. First, on one of the first orders of Brexit business, the bill for departure, the government will encounter an unheard-of ­alignment of interests between payers and contributors. All agree that Britain’s bill must be as high as possible; anything less, and either the rich countries will have to make up the difference or the poor will suffer cuts. Any old Brussels hand will tell you that nothing riles negotiators so much as arguments over money. British attempts to buy off this or that country are likely to founder – and could poison the well on a free trade deal.

Second, the mood towards Britain has hardened. Whatever British officials think, Eurocrats reckon they came close to breaking EU rules last year in constructing a ­settlement that David Cameron could sell to British voters. This time, Britain will be treated like any other third country; it has a certain leverage, but can expect no favours. In addition, the 27 want to make an example of UK suffering to put off others tempted by leaving. Theresa May felt the sharp end of this approach last year when she tried to strike bilateral deals to guarantee the rights of British nationals in EU countries, and vice versa. Fairly or otherwise, this was seen as a clumsy attempt to set Europe’s governments against one another. Her bid went nowhere, and the EU’s guard is now up.

That the 27 proved so bloody-minded on an issue of such obvious mutual concern is indicative. Roiled by one crisis after another, Europe’s governments are determined not to allow Brexit to tear them apart. If they are struggling to manufacture a common vision for the future – the March declaration, to mark the 60th anniversary of the EU’s founding treaty, will fall woefully short of expectations heaped on it – they will resist common threats. Governments inside the EU will always squabble and fall out. But today the stakes are unusually high. Even troublemakers such as Hungary and Poland know how much their prosperity and security depend on the EU holding together.

Still, if the government calibrates its tactics correctly, prizes may await: a better trade agreement, or (more realistically), the prospect of opening trade talks before the divorce terms are concluded, an idea the EC detests but Britain craves. Yet it is a gamble with high stakes; if the government misfires it will increase its chances of walking off the Brexit cliff without any deal at all. The withdrawal agreement needs approval by an “enhanced majority” of EU members (at least 20 of the 27 governments, representing at least 65 per cent of the population of the 27). Any subsequent free trade deal may require ratification in dozens of parliament across the EU. Sometimes unity works in Britain’s interests.

These days, no Brexit speech from a British minister is complete without a paean to the virtues of a strong EU. As well as good policy – only a fool would wish destruction on their largest trading partner – this is sensible politics. Under siege from enemies within and without, Europe’s politicians will hardly feel generous if they detect British perfidy across the negotiating table. That is why they will be hypersensitive to any ­attempt to play divide and rule. It may have worked for half a millennium, but it would be dangerous politics today. 

Tom Nuttall writes the Economist’s Charlemagne column


Fillon wins temporary reprieve in embezzlement probe

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Investigation now unlikely to finish before presidential election

Let's talk about Daniel Hannan, Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

The downside of Godwin's Law.

One of the enduring mysteries about Daniel Hannan is why he deletes so many of his tweets. The other is why, when he deletes so many, he leaves so many other absolutely clunkingly braindead observations on the internet for all to see. It's like he isn't ashamed of them. It's like he doesn't even know.

Anyway – one advantage of these lapses in Hannan's online hygiene is that it allows me to find out about particular highlights weeks after the event. So it was that Twitter user @eurosluggard tipped me off to this absolute gem from 31 January.

It's worth actually expanding every individual image there, just so we can really revel in the fact that Hannan chose to tweet so many lovely memes showing senior politicians as Nazis. (I'd embed the tweet, but I’m frightened the bugger would delete it.)

And, my personal favourite:

This is quite ludicrous enough in itself. That both the left, and online debate in general, are a bit quick to call people Nazis is not in dispute (Godwin coined his Law for a reason). That Daniel Hannan chose to highlight this by tweeting a picture showing the man who led his party for 11 years dressed as a Nazi is, nonetheless, objectively hilarious, and not in the way he presumably intended.

However – to really understand the full insanity of this tweet you have to scroll back a bit. Here's the tweet that kicked the whole thing off:

Which is some rather spectacular point-missing in action. Nobody, best I can tell, is talking about banning President Trump from the UK altogether (in stark contrast to his administration's policies, which genuinely would ban certain countries' citizens from the US). The argument was actually about whether he should get a full state visit with all the bells and whistles and posh dinners and the Queen.

Declining to lay out the red carpet for someone is not the same as preventing their visit altogether. This is the same sleight of hand that happens when the Brendan O’Neills of this world conflate "no platform-ing" with "the erosion of free speech". Nobody has so far offered me a $250,000 book deal, but sadly, I don't think this is because I am being deliberately censored.

Whether Hannan is being consciously duplicitous, or is merely a bit thick, is, as ever, an open question. At any rate, other Twitter users decided to point out that he was being a little bit cheeky.


And that's where we came in:

There's another sleight of hand here – another elision between two related, but distinct, concepts. Can you see it?

It's this: he's leapt from gerenic accusations of fascism to the specific one that Donald Trump is like Hitler. But Hitler wasn't the entirety of Nazism, which was in turn only one form of fascism. Something can be fascistic without necessarily looking anything like Naziism.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. But some of his policies, and much of his rhetoric – the rallies, the demonisation of outsiders, the attacks on the media, the swing to protectionism, "Make America Great Again" – contain enough echoes of fascism to, at the very least, make "Is Donald Trump a facist?" a question worth discussing.

Consequently it’s being discussed, rather a lot, by the American media. Hannan’s tweet implies that it is only silly hysterical lefties that could possibly be concerned with such matters.

There's another elision at work in Hannan's tweet. Comparisons between Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler are quite obviously ridiculous. So are those involving Mitt Romney, and John McCain, and David Cameron: none of them was a fascist, or anything like.

Donald Trump, though, might be. By placing him in that company, Daniel Hannan is implying that he is just another centre-right politician, being unfairly demonised by the left. He isn't.

I don't believe for a moment he's done this deliberately: Daniel Hannan is many things, but a fascist he is not. But in his heartfelt belief that everything must be the fault of the left, he's ended up implying that all liberal criticism of Donald Trump as an extremist is illegitimate.

There is a real downside to the tendency for online political debate to leap to words like fascist, as expressed in Godwin's Law: it deprives us of the language to describe the rise to power of something that genuinely looks like right-wing extremism. But just because we often cry wolf, that doesn't mean there's never a wolf at the door.


The unbearable whiteness of Washington DC

By Harry Eyres from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

How a new African-American history museum reveals the changing face of the US capital. 

You need to be new to a place to be struck by the obvious. The first thing I noticed about Washington, DC, wandering around the city as a wide-eyed neophyte last autumn, was its astonishing, almost blinding whiteness. The White House really is white, from its balustrades to its basement – at least on the outside. It is in fact constructed of light brown Aquia Creek sandstone from Virginia, but this was whitewashed for the first time in 1798, and then the temporary whitewash was replaced with successive layers of white lead paint. It was the white paint that gave the house its name, which only became official under Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

A couple of miles east, on its little hill, the shining white Capitol looks down along the Mall and on a succession of white marble monuments, museums and memorials: the magnificent, 550-foot needle obelisk of the Washington Monument, the neoclassical National Gallery of Art and, at the far end of the Mall, close to the Potomac, the white Doric grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial.

Is any other city in the world quite so white? St Petersburg could be a candidate, though the façades of the Winter Palace and other buildings along the Neva are varied with green, pink or gold. And there is Brussels, which struck Marlow, returning from the horrors of the Belgian Congo in Conrad’s
Heart of Darkness, as “a whited sepulchre”.

Aesthetically, Washington’s whiteness is rooted in the theory and practice of European neoclassicism first enunciated in the 1760s by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Winckelmann loved classical, and especially Greek, art and architecture for their “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur”. For Winckelmann, a critical component of that simplicity and grandeur was whiteness. His theories influenced such neoclassical architects as Robert Adam; neoclassical canons crossed the Atlantic and impressed the founders and architects of the new republic, including Thomas Jefferson and Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Not long after Winckelmann, other scholars and archaeologists, beginning with Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, began to point out that much Greek sculpture was brightly coloured. Even the Parthenon would originally – at least on the inside – have been a riot of colour.

So is Washington’s noble and inspiring whiteness built on a misconception, or a lie – or even a series of lies? Whiteness, of course, is not just a matter of aesthetics or architecture, marble or white lead paint. It is unavoidably symbolic as well as real.

Washington, demographically, is far from being a white city. It had a large majority-black population from the 1950s until 2011. The most recent figures show the racial breakdown as follows: 47 per cent black, 36 per cent white, 11 per cent Hispanic. What is striking is not just that many more black than white people live in Washington; it is also where they live. North-west Washington, where most of the monuments and museums, and the historic district of Georgetown, are located, and where most tourists are happy to be confined, is predominantly white. With gentrification, which is also to some extent a whitening process, formerly largely black areas such as Shaw (the home of Howard University, alma mater to so many of Washington’s black intellectuals, movers and shakers) are less black than before.

Many of the buildings here burned during the riots that followed the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. Further south and east, the Anacostia River marks an unwritten divide between white and black Washington; housing segregation was in force until the 1960s. Rather scandalously, the maps in my very white-looking Dorling Kindersley travel guide stop at this boundary.

This impression of the whiteness of Washington was followed by another. Maybe, I found myself thinking, as I began to assimilate not just the visual impact of buildings but the hum and patterns of voices, of looks and smiles and gestures and conversations and street music, this is a city – the city of Duke Ellington – whose soul is black.

Do all those white marble monuments feel ever so slightly cold? Well there’s a new kid on the block, or rather the Mall: the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a three-tiered glass structure (designed by the Ghanaian-British ­architect David Adjaye) faced with delicate, dark-bronze-coloured aluminium panels, which opened in September. It has proved such a success that it’s almost impossible to get in.

This is a museum constructed as an experiential narrative, and a pretty overwhelming one at that. You start below ground, in an underbelly of deathly slave ships, markets of human flesh, children’s shackles. The journey goes tortuously towards the light, through organised resistance, civil war and abolition; the horrors of Jim Crow laws, lynchings and segregation; yet more concerted and heroic resistance, the civil rights movement. An apotheosis comes with the election, and re-election, of Barack Obama.

As I emerged back on to the Mall, chastened and uplifted by so many stories of resistance to dehumanisation, I realised there is no uninterrupted march of progress; history is dialectical, not linear. Now there is a new, white president in the White House. This week, after many false starts, the White House said Donald Trump would visit the museum. Yet his closest adviser, Stephen Bannon, flirts openly with the language of white supremacism. Musing last year about police killings of unarmed black people, Bannon offered an explanation that can only be construed as profoundly racist: “There are, after all, in this world some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.”

If the White House is supposed to symbolise “a repository of democratic aspirations, high principles and ethical values”, as Clarence Lusane puts it in The Black History of the White House, then it looks as if black people, in the capital and throughout the United States, may once again be called upon to “make the nation live up to the egalitarian and liberationist principles expressed in its founding documents”. 

Arthur Greenberg/Alamy

Le Pen’s online army leads fight for French presidency

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Social media unit and shadowy networks use shock tactics to push National Front agenda

Centrist populists are by no means risk-free

From Europe News. Published on Feb 26, 2017.

Their inevitable failure can lead to the rise of the very worst type of extremists

O.J.: The Pioneer Before the Prisoner

By Daniel Lombroso from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 25, 2017.

Before O.J. Simpson’s polarizing murder trial in 1994, he was America’s most beloved and famous collegiate athlete. With his Chevrolet commercials in 1969, he became the first black athlete corporate pitchman, paving the way for stars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to represent brands on television. But when asked to join other black athletes in boycotting the 1968 Olympics, Simpson replied, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” Ezra Edelman’s Oscar-nominated documentary, O.J.: Made in America, highlights the paradox between Simpson’s efforts to de-racialize himself and the African American icon he became. “If you're a kid like me, growing up watching TV in the late 70's and early 80's there aren't very many black people on TV. So [O.J.] is providing a very meaningful image for black kids in black America,” Edelman says in this short animation. “He deserves his due for the way that he influenced culture beyond being on trial for murder in 1994 and 1995.”

The Handmaid's Tale has already come true - just not for white western women

By Glosswitch from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 25, 2017.

Why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying, is the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels causing so little outrage?

When anti-choice Republican Justin Humphrey referred to pregnant women as “hosts”, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether everything had got “a bit Handmaid’s Tale.”

I’m not alone in having had this thought. Since Donald Trump won the US election, sales of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel have spiked and we’ve seen a plethora of articles telling us how “eerily relevant [it] is to our current political landscape.” In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood herself said she believes the recent “bubbling up” of regressive attitudes towards women is linked to The Handmaid’s Tale’s current success: “It’s back to 17th-century puritan values of New England at that time in which women were pretty low on the hierarchy … you can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany.”

Scary stuff. Still, at least most present-day readers can reassure themselves that they’ve not arrived in the Republic of Gilead just yet.

For those who have not yet read it, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives under a theocratic dictatorship in what used to be the United States of America. White, middle-class and college-educated, Offred once enjoyed a significant degree of privilege, but now belongs to a class of women whose sole purpose is to gestate offspring for high-status couples. Much of the shock value of the story comes from the contrast between Offred’s former life – in which she had a name of her own - and her present-day existence. If this can happen to someone like Offred, it is suggested, surely it can happen to any of us.

Or so that is what a white, middle-class reader – a reader like me – might tell herself. Recently I’ve started to wonder whether that’s strictly true. It can be reassuring to stick to one narrative, one type of baddie – the religious puritan, the pussy-grabbing president, the woman-hating Right. But what if it’s more complicated than that? There’s something about the current wallowing in Atwood’s vision that strikes me as, if not self-indulgent, then at the very least naive.

In 1985, the same year The Handmaid’s Tale was published, Gina Correa published The Mother Machine. This was not a work of dystopian fiction, but a feminist analysis of the impact of reproductive technologies on women’s liberties. Even so, there are times when it sounds positively Handmaid’s Tale-esque:

“Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders – not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women”

Perhaps, at the time her book was written, Correa’s imaginings sounded every bit as dark and outlandish as Atwood’s. And yet she has been proved right. Today there are parts of the world in which renting the womb of a poor woman is indeed ten times cheaper than in the US. The choice of wealthy white couples to implant embryos in the bodies of brown women is seen, not as colonialist exploitation, but as a neutral consumer choice. I can’t help wondering why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying to western feminists today, the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels is causing so little outrage.

I suppose the main argument of these feminists would be that real-life women choose to be surrogates, whereas Offred does not. But is the distinction so clear? If Offred refuses to work as a handmaid, she may be sent to the Colonies, where life expectancy is short. Yet even this is a choice of sorts. As she herself notes, “nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.” In the real world, grinding poverty drives women of colour to gestate the babies of the wealthy. As one Indian surrogate tells interviewer Seemi Pasha, “Why would I be a surrogate for someone else if I don't need the money? Why would I make myself go through this pain?"

None of the feminists who expressed shock at Justin Humphrey referring to pregnant women as “hosts” have, as far as I am aware, expressed the same horror at surrogacy agencies using the exact same term. As Dorothy Roberts wrote in Killing The Black Body, the notion of reproductive liberty remains “primarily concerned with the interests of white, middle-class women” and  “focused on the right to abortion.” The right not just to decide if and when to have children, but to have children of one’s own – something women of colour have frequently been denied – can be of little interest of those who have never really feared losing it (hence the cloth-eared response of many white women to Beyoncè’s Grammy performance).

As Roberts notes, “reproductive liberty must encompass more than the protection of an individual woman’s choice to end her pregnancy”:

“It must encompass the full range of procreative activities, including the ability to bear a child, and it must acknowledge that we make reproductive decisions within a social context, including inequalities of wealth and power. Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice, not individual choice.”

It’s easy to mock the pretensions to pro-life piety of a pussy-grabbing president. But what about the white liberal left’s insistence that criticising the global trade in sexual and gestational services is “telling a women what she can and cannot do with her body” and as such is illiberal and wrong? “Individual choice” can be every bit as much of a false, woman-hating god as the one worshipped by the likes of Humphrey and Trump.

One of the most distressing scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale takes place when Janine/Ofwarren has just given birth and has her child taken from her:

“We stand between Janine and the bed, so she won’t have to see this. Someone gives her a drink of grape juice. I hope there’s wine in it, she’s still having the pains, for the afterbirth, she’s crying helplessly, burnt-out miserable tears.”

Right now there are women suffering in just this way. Only they’re probably not white, nor middle-class, nor sitting in a twee white bedroom in Middle America. Oh, and they’re not fictional, either.

The dystopian predictions of 1985 have already come true. It’s just that women like me didn’t notice until we started to be called “hosts”, too.

A woman in an Indian surrogacy hostel. Photo: Getty

Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 25, 2017.

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

Ellie Foreman-Peck

To the Commonwealth, "Global Britain" sounds like nostalgia for something else

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 25, 2017.

And the former colonial subjects have a less rose-tinted view of the past. 

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson became the first British foreign secretary to visit the Gambia since independence. His visit came a few days before the inauguration of the Gambia's new President, Adama Barrow, who has signalled his intention to re-join the Commonwealth - an institution that his dictatorial predecessor had left in protest at its apparent "neo-colonialism".

Accusations of neo-colonialism, regrettably, seem to be of little concern to the foreign secretary. After Johnson committed himself to facilitating the Gambia's Commonwealth re-entry, he declared that "the strength of our partnerships show that Global Britain is growing in influence and activity around the world". 

His comments are the latest example of the government's Brexit mission-creep in its foreign engagements. Theresa May mentioned "Global Britain" no fewer than ten times in her Lancaster House speech last month, reminding us that Britain "has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world" and emphasising the UK's post-referendum desire to "get out into the world". Ministers' repeated subsequent referencing of Global Britain has almost come to the point of re-branding Great Britain itself. But now the government seems to be directly equating Global Britain with the Commonwealth, the organisation comprising most of the former territories of the British Empire. If the Commonwealth is wooing back former members and seemingly growing in stature, that must mean Global Britain is doing the same. The Gambia's proposed re-admission to the Commonwealth is reconfigured as a victory for British clout and prestige in the face of the Brexit naysayers.

But the Commonwealth cannot be a vehicle or front for Global Britain, on either a technical or political level. The Commonwealth emphasises that it is an organisation of 52 equal member states, without any preference in decision-making. India (population 1.26bn) and Tuvalu (10,000) are treated the same. The organisation is headquartered in London, receives the most money from Britain, and its members share elements of history, culture and political systems; but it is not a British organisation and will not take orders from the British government. Commonwealth states, particularly poorer ones, may welcome UK political, financial and developmental support, but will reject the spectre of neo-imperialism. Diplomats remark that their countries did not leave the British Empire only to re-join it through the back door. 

And yet, shorn of influence following the decision to leave the EU, and the single market so instrumental to British jobs and prosperity, the government is desperate to find an alternative source of both power and profit. The members of the Commonwealth, with their links of heritage and administration, have always been touted as the first choice. Leading Brexiter Dan Hannan has long advocated a "union with the other English-speaking democracies", and Liam Fox has been actively pursuing Commonwealth countries for trade deals. But the Commonwealth cannot replace the EU in any respect. While exports to the EU account for just under a half of Britain's total, the Commonwealth receives less than 10 percent of our goods. The decline of UK trade with the Commonwealth was taking place long before Britain joined the EU, and it has in fact revived in recent years while being a member. The notion that Britain is restricted from trading with the Commonwealth on account of its EU membership is demonstrably false.  

The EU, the beloved scapegoat for so many ills, cannot fulfil the role for much longer. Indeed, when it comes to the Commonwealth, 48 of the 52 members have already completed trade deals with the UK, or are in the process of negotiating them, as part of their engagement with the EU. Britain could now be forced to abandon and re-negotiate those agreements, to the great detriment of both itself and the Commonwealth. Brexiters must moreover explain why Germany, with a population just 25 percent larger than ours, exports 133 percent more to India and 250 percent more to South Africa than we do. Even New Zealand, one of Britain's closest allies and a forthcoming trade-deal partner, imports 44 percent more goods and services from Germany, despite enjoying far looser cultural and historical ties with that country. The depth of Britain's traditional bonds with the Commonwealth cannot, in itself, boost the British economy. The empire may fill the imagination, but not a spreadsheet.

The British imperial imagination, however, is the one asset guaranteed to keep growing as Brexit approaches. It is, indeed, one of the root causes of Brexit. Long after the empire fell into history, the British exceptionalism it fostered led us to resent our membership of a European bloc, and resist even limited integration with it. The doctrine of "taking back control" for an "independent Britain" speaks to profound (and unfounded) anxieties about being led by others, when in our minds we should be the ones explicitly leading. The fictional, if enduringly potent victim narrative that we became a colony of someone else's empire, has now taken hold in government. The loss of our own empire remains an unacknowledged national trauma, which we both grieve and fail to accept. The concept of being equal partners with like-minded countries, in a position to exert real, horizontal influence through dialogue, cooperation and shared membership of institutions, is deemed an offence to Britain's history and imperial birthright.

The relentless push for Global Britain is thus both a symptom and cause of our immense global predicament. Through an attempt to increase our power beyond Europe, Brexit has instead deflated it. Britain has, in truth, always been global, and the globe has not always been grateful for it; but now the government preaches internationalism while erecting trade barriers and curbing migration. After empire, Britain found a new role in Europe, but with that now gone, Global Britain risks producing global isolation. Despite the foreign secretary's rhetoric, the Commonwealth, geopolitically and economically, has moved on from its imperial past. It is not waiting to be re-taken.

Jonathan Lis is the deputy director at British Influence.


Macron substitutes moderation for ‘revolution’

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Centrist French presidential contender outlines Nordic-style economic platform

The State of the World: Honoring the James H. Binger Chair in Global Governance

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Experts discuss the state of the world.

Russia: Rival or Partner, or Both?

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Experts discuss U.S. policy options toward Russia including continued sanctions, possible cooperation with Russia in Syria, and responding to increased tensions surrounding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Russia: Rival or Partner, or Both?

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Experts discuss U.S. policy options toward Russia including continued sanctions, possible cooperation with Russia in Syria, and responding to increased tensions surrounding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

May’s balancing act and the neutering of Ukip

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

British by-elections hold a lesson on how to keep populists at bay

Markets are alive to the sound of optimism

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Yet it is unclear how much US stimulus will come and who will benefit

Robot tax: Do androids dream of personal deductions?

From Analysis. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

A levy on machines, some say, could thwart job-creating technologies

Women’s Contributions to Peace and Security Processes

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

CFR's Women and Foreign Policy program and Center for Preventive Action co-convened a symposium to discuss how women improve security outcomes in conflict-prone areas.

The Politics of Historicide

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Preserving and protecting the past—preventing historicide—is essential for those who want to ensure that today’s dangerous zealots do not succeed, writes CFR President Richard Haass

The Politics of Historicide

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Terrorism. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Preserving and protecting the past—preventing historicide—is essential for those who want to ensure that today’s dangerous zealots do not succeed, writes CFR President Richard Haass

Part II: Global financial resilience in a time of uncertainty

By Barry Sterland from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Risks in systemic economies How fragile is the global economy today? Or as former United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner puts it, “Where is the dry tinder?” And how well placed are key economies to mitigate of economic or financial shocks through the use of macroeconomic policy? Up front, I should note that immediate risks […]

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.


Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  



Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say. 



Marine Le Pen refuses to be questioned by French police

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Far-right leader presents EU funds probe as a politically motivated plot

As I get older, my taste in music is leaning towards jangly new psychedelic guitar bands

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Nicholas Lezard's Down and Out.

A message arrives via a social medium from a young, LA-based beat combo, called Cosmonauts. They are playing a gig in London on Friday and have invited me, and two guests, to see them. This is incredibly exciting. Well, it is for me.

“Who they?” you may well ask. I discovered this lot when, bored one evening, I typed “jangly psychedelic guitar bands” into a search engine box and watched what YouTube threw out at me. It turns out that there are still loads of such bands, and new ones, at that, and Cosmonauts are among the youngest; but their music sounds as though they’ve been going through their fathers’ record collections and liked what they heard.

Listening to their work kept me going during a bleak period last year, when I had just about given up on listening to any new music, or finding any that I liked. A year after discovering them, I have yet to weary of them. It’s as if they have reverse-engineered their sound to appeal directly to me.

How did this happen? How has the world rearranged itself so that there seems no longer to be so much of a gulf between the tastes of the young and the tastes of the old? In my day, it was a given, and virtually uncrossable. In some cases it still is: precisely because of repeated exposure to them, I can still barely abide musicals, with the exception of The Sound of Music, and that’s only because it’s so ridiculous that it’s adorable. (At the opposite end of the scale lies Stephen Sondheim, who’s the kind of person who chooses his own music for Desert Island Discs and whose song “Finishing the Hat” makes me want to commit savage violence.)

It took me until I had left the nest before I realised, for instance, that Frank Sinatra was one of the greatest singers ever; until then I thought he was someone my parents liked because they were born too early to like the Beatles. But now? My daughter, who is considerably younger than me, is keen on joining me to go to the aforementioned gig.

The problem is that I have started sinking into the trap that makes you think you are younger than you are. If you’re only as old as you feel, then I suppose I’m eligible to vote but haven’t been so for very long.

Things have been slightly complicated by the fact that the 16-year-old has been staying with me for most of the past week. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Virgin Media to bring back the pleasures of books, family conversation and, possibly, sex, by thoroughly disrupting their broadband service in Shepherd’s Bush, he’s been hanging out here, where he can go on the internet and get dinner cooked for him gratis. (Unused to such extended visits to the Hovel, he asked how long he could stay. “Well,” I said, “I always think that a young man should start making his own way in the world when he’s 18.”)

Over the course of our conversations, it’s transpired that his schoolfriends, having looked my name up on the net, have been rather impressed to discover that his father is an irresponsible layabout whose bedroom is probably messier than theirs. Apparently immaturity, or a reluctance to face one’s adult responsibilities, goes down very well with people on the cusp of their A-levels.

But I can’t go on like this. Surely I can’t. One of my dearest friends had a nasty brush with the Reaper the other day: a phone call from the hospital saying they had checked his blood test results, and could he come to A&E right now. When the NHS swings into action like that, panic is justifiable. This friend is about a year younger than me, and, what’s more, spent pretty much all of January and half of February stone-cold sober.

Other friends seem to have devoted all of 2017 to plucking feebly at the coverlets, filling receptacles with sputum and calling for priests. Why I have not had any similar episodes is completely beyond me. I told the daughter the other day that a plain digestive biscuit could be improved considerably by spreading butter on it, and she sighed and said, “I’m going to have to put that on to the List of Things That Can Kill Dad.” Then she reminded me of the time when Homer Simpson’s doctor advised him to stop dunking butter in his coffee. Which actually sounds pretty good, now I think of it.

I trust I will survive long enough to go to the gig, although I’m fully aware that I will be, by a considerable margin, the oldest person there. It won’t be the first time it’s happened. 


Labour is condemned to watch helplessly as Theresa May consolidates power

By Jason Cowley from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The Zombie Party is too weak to win and too strong to die. 

Labour’s defeat to the Tories in the Copeland by-election in Cumbria, which the party had held for more than 80 years, is a humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn and his moribund party. This is the first time a governing party had gained a seat in a by-election since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives won Mitchum and Morden in 1982. 
The victorious candidate Trudy Harrison, who increased the Tories’ share of the vote in this former Labour “stronghold" by more than 8 percentage points, hailed the victory as “truly historic”, while Labour MP John Woodcock called it a “disaster”, and even the shadow chancellor and Corbyn ally, John McDonnell, conceded it was a “profound disappointment”. 
At a time in the electoral cycle when a credible opposition should be winning by-elections and riding high in the polls, Labour is in disarray: rejected, humiliated, ridiculed. It has all but collapsed in Scotland, where the Tory leader Ruth Davidson has emerged as the popular, unapologetic leader of Unionism. And in England the danger now is not that it will lose seats to Ukip — whose leader Paul Nuttall was rejected yesterday in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, which Labour held on a low turn-out after a dispiriting campaign — but to Theresa May’s Conservatives. 
The Copeland result was a vindication for Theresa May. When recently I interviewed her in Downing Street she had a simple message for Labour: we are coming after your voters – and she is. 
Because of its embrace of the radical left and internal divisions, May accused Labour of abandoning many of its traditional supporters. The party was not responding to their concerns on issues such as “the impact of immigration on lower income levels”.
True enough: Corbyn favours mass immigration and open borders yet is an economic protectionist – a classic Marxist position but electoral suicide in our new emerging post-liberal era in which populist movements are rising across Europe and an America First nationalist is in the White House.
“I hope there are Labour voters,” Theresa May told me, “out there who will now look at us afresh and say, ‘Labour hasn’t responded to our concerns, it hasn’t recognised what matters to us, but the Conservatives have seen that and are responding to it. I want our greater prosperity not to be confined to particular groups of people or a single part of the country.”
The polls suggest that more than simply disaffected Labour voters are looking at the Tories afresh, as we embark on the epic challenge of negotiating the Brexit settlement.
May believes that Brexit was not only a vote to leave the European Union but a demand for change from those people – many of them in places such as Copeland - who felt ignored and excluded from prosperity and greater opportunity.
Her vision is for a “Great Meritocracy” (whereas Corbyn’s is for a socialist republic) combining greater social justice with enhanced social mobility. It’s an intellectually fascinating and ambitious project and, if successful (and many doubt her, not least her own right wing), it has the potential to condemn Labour to electoral oblivion.
The collapse of the Labour party as a stable and credible political force is dismaying. Many of the party’s problems precede Corbyn, who is sincere and determined but is not a national leader. But then neither was Ed Miliband, who misunderstood the financial crisis, which he believed had created a “social democratic moment”, and misread the country he sought to govern. Miliband treated politics like an elevated Oxbridge PPE seminar and introduced the new rules by which the party elected its leader, disempowering MPs.
The distinguished Cambridge historian Robert Tombs has called the European Union a system of “managed discontents”. Something similar could be said of Corbyn’s Labour, except that its discontents are scarcely managed at all.

Most Labour MPs despise or are embarrassed by their leader. The MPs are divided and demoralised, with some pondering whether to follow Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed (whose resignations created respectively the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections) out of politics. The Corbynites are breaking up into factions (one hears talk of “hard” and “soft” Corbynites), and Corbyn himself is incapable of appealing to those who do not share his ideological convictions.
For now, the Labour leader retains the support of activists and members and, crucially, of Unite, Britain’s biggest union and the party’s paymaster. But even his friends must accept that he is leading the party in only one direction – into the abyss.
On the eve of the two by-elections, Corbyn posted a message on Facebook: “Whatever the results, the Labour Party – and our mass membership – must go further to break the failed political consensus, and win power to rebuild and transform Britain.”
The statement was received with derision on social media. The idea that Labour can win power any time soon (notwithstanding some black swan event) is magical thinking. Corbyn’s personal ratings among traditional working class semi-skilled and unskilled Labour voters are catastrophically poor. He appeals to students, affluent metropolitans with degrees, and minority groups. As for the majority of the electorate, forget it.
MPs are reluctant to challenge Jeremy Corbyn because they know any leadership contest would revitalize his leadership, as happened last summer when the Welsh MP Owen Smith mounted an ill-considered and doomed “coup”. Nor is there a pre-eminent candidate waiting in the shadows to strike, as Michael Heseltine was in the last years of the Thatcher administration.
So Labour will continue to be the Zombie Party: too weak to win but too strong to die. Its founding mission was to defend the labour interest and to create a fairer, more ethical society. But Labour has lost its role, its confidence and sense of purpose. Obsessed by identity liberalism, bewildered by Brexit and led by a radical socialist, Labour can only look on helplessly as the Tories start to win seats in its former heartlands and hunker down for another decade or more in power.

This column was originally published in the London Evening Standard.


Kenny’s ousting risks backfiring as Brexit looms

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

EU-savvy Irish PM looks likely to step down just before the UK triggers Article 50

Grey 'blob' takes seat in Ukraine parliament

From BBC News - World. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

MP brings mini copy of Dutch sculpture to parliament to shame absent colleagues.

How the jobless gap between nationals and migrants is wider in France

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Graph shows big difference between unemployment rates in EU states

In praise of Keanu Reeves, the nicest of meatheads

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The Hollywood star has embraced a life without pretensions. 

The Rolling Stone journalist Chris Heath once asked Keanu Reeves a simple question: why do you act? The star of The Matrix, Speed, Point Break and My Own Private Idaho paused the conversation to consider the matter. And he paused it for a long time. “Forty-two seconds, he says nothing. Not a word, a grunt, a prevarication, or a hint that an answer might come,” wrote Heath. But then an answer did come: “Uh… the words that popped into my head were expression and, uh, it's fun.” When Heath later asked Reeves if he ever wanted to direct, he waited 72 seconds for: “No, not really.”

Both Coco Chanel and George Orwell observed that by 50, we have the face we deserve. The Beirut-born Reeves is now 52 (the same age as Nigel Farage, as tweeters and bored bloggers periodically point out), but he looks pretty much the same as he has always looked: solidly handsome and straightforward, yet somehow vulnerable, like a Boy Scout who wants to do the right thing in a world that doesn’t. Jan de Bont, the director of the 1994 film Speed, called him “an action hero for the Nineties”. By this, I think he meant that, unlike the muscle-bound shit-kickers of the previous decade, a Keanu hero wouldn’t go out of his way to kill for fun. Where Arnold Schwarzenegger could, in Total Recall, shoot the woman he had wrongly believed to be his wife and joke, “Consider this a divorce,” Keanu always seemed somewhat conflicted while taking care of business – as if his eyes were saying, “Sorry it had to be this way.” The Nineties were the age of hunky romantics: Jason Priestley as Brandon in Beverly Hills, 90210, Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise. Keanu fit that mould. I suppose even guys with guns had to be sensitive.

And even dumb guys, too, with or without guns – for you don’t have to be able to think in order to feel. Reeves began his career describing himself as “a meathead”. “I can’t help it, man,” he said. “You’ve got smart people and you’ve got dumb people. I just happen to be dumb.” He specialised in playing benevolent meatheads, from Ted “Theodore” Logan in Stephen Herek’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to the spaced-out teen Tod Higgins in Ron Howard’s Parenthood (both 1989). Then he traded meathead simplicity for that of the likeable (and, as ever, sensitive) action hero in films such as Speed (1994) and Chain Reaction (1996). The Matrix series followed, as did a few smaller, more indie-ish movies (Thumbsucker, A Scanner Darkly). But the 2014 action film John Wick, whose sequel is in cinemas now, was widely welcomed as a return to form.

Reeves largely plays the assassin of the title as a primitive cinematic archetype, but he can't help but gesture towards something more profound. Wick, in both films of the franchise, is motivated by grief over the death of his wife. (In 2001, Reeves’s girlfriend Jennifer Syme died in a motor accident, a year after losing their child; perhaps the role had a personal resonance for him.) He might stab people in the head with pencils, break necks and shoot guns into crowded rooms like Chow Yun Fat after three espressos, but he’s ultimately a man of feeling.

This narrative of a career of sensitive but slightly dumb simplicity isn’t quite fair on Reeves, however. For he has, on occasion, been capable of delivering complex performances that rank alongside those of his more conventionally actorly peers. In 1991, he held his own opposite River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant’s road movie My Own Private Idaho; he has since appeared opposite Al Pacino as a wily defence attorney (The Devil’s Advocate) and Gene Hackman as a troubled sportsman (The Replacements). He has been directed by film festival favourites such as Francis Ford Coppola (Bram Stoker's Dracula), Bernardo Bertolucci (Little Buddha) and Sam Raimi (The Gift) – if not always successfully.

And he started his career not with excellent dudes, but with Shakespeare. When Reeves was 14 and living in Toronto, he was cast as Mercutio in a local production of Romeo and Juliet. An agent who saw him signed him up and secured for him a string of television roles, which swiftly took him to Hollywood. Reeves’s embarrassingly stilted attempt to portray the evil Don John in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing (1993) makes me fear the discovery of video footage of that version of Romeo. But the fact that Reeves’s life as an actor began in this way reminds me of his seriousness about his craft. He might not have much range but he has admirable ambition. Many years later, when the studios pressured him to sign on for a Speed sequel, he ran off to play Hamlet in Canada.

In 2011, the New Statesman’s film critic, Ryan Gilbey, observed in the Guardian that Reeves had “some claim to be the most enigmatic, as well as the most warmly adored” actor in Hollywood. That assessment was based in part on the “Sad Keanu” meme that had spread the previous year, in which a paparazzi photograph of Reeves morosely eating a sandwich on a bench led to countless expressions of sympathy online (more than 14,000 people joined a Facebook group called “Cheer Up Keanu”; 200,000 comments about the picture were left on Reddit) and to the declaration by fans of a “Cheer Up Keanu Day”, which apparently takes place every 15 June.

This weird adoration and the sense of enigma surrounding the actor are, I think, closely linked. We know relatively little about Reeves’s off-screen life, which he keeps well guarded, but what we do know suggests qualities that are, for one reason or another, vanishingly rare in entertainment gossip warm humanity and hidden depths. Hagiographic stories circulate of the actor donating millions of dollars to animal welfare charities and cancer research (his younger sister Kim was diagnosed with leukaemia); of Reeves offering stranded hitchhikers a ride; of a team of stuntmen being surprised with a gift of £6,000 Harley Davidson motorbikes, which he had quietly paid for.

“Money is the last thing I think about,” Hello magazine reported him saying in 2003. Not long earlier, he had reduced his pay by several million dollars so that the producers of The Devil’s Advocate and The Replacements could afford to hire Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, respectively. And, according to ABC News, he “handed over his valuable profit-sharing points” to the special effects and costume design team of the Matrix franchise, which he believed deserved the true credit for its success. (Some place the value of this donation at $50m.) By these accounts, Reeves is most definitely a righteous dude. He’s also a curious one. A few days after the Brexit vote, the New Statesman’s politics editor, George Eaton, was surprised to find him visiting Portcullis House as a guest of the Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi. It was “fittingly surreal”, George told me, and Reeves came across as “courteous” and “modest” when he posed for a group selfie with some of the journalists who happened to be there.

As Reeves’s star rose in the early 1990s, the American men’s magazine Details lamented: “Nearly all celebrities – nearly all people – like to talk about themselves [but] Keanu doesn’t.” I guess it’s frustrating for journalists that someone so clearly interesting should be reticent about telling us about himself.

But I don’t really have to know much about Keanu Reeves to like him, though I’ve never met the guy. And there are things that I can learn from him, too. In Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Alex Winter’s Bill S Preston, Esq., paraphrases Socrates: “The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.” To which Reeves’s Ted responds: “That’s us, dude.” That’s them – and every one of us with any sense, if we’re honest. We may think we’re smart and even persuade the people around us that we are. But in the end, most of us are meatheads. Reeves shows in his life and work that meatheads can live good lives, even in the face of disparagement and personal tragedy. Maybe Chanel and Orwell were on to something – he really does have the face he deserves.


Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one. 



Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation


Jeremy Corbyn's confidence shows he knows he's safe

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Even after the Copeland by-election defeat, Labour MPs believe their leader is unassailable.

A week after Tony Blair’s pro-Remain cry, Jeremy Corbyn rose to deliver a speech on “the road to Brexit”.  But it is the road to ruin that Labour MPs believe he is leading them along. The party last night became the first opposition to lose a by-election to the government since 1982. Were the Copeland cataclysm replicated across the country (and Labour traditionally underperforms at general elections), the Conservatives would win a majority of 114.

MPs believe this new nadir is not in spite of Corbyn but because of him. They blame his historic opposition to nuclear power (the seat’s major employer) and personal unpopularity for the Tories’ triumph (with the largest swing to a governing party since 1966). In his speech, Corbyn hailed Labour’s victory against Ukip in the accompanying Stoke by-election (though Paul Nuttall didn’t make it hard for them) and attributed the Copeland defeat to voters feeling “let down by the political establishment”. Yet in the Cumbrian constituency it was not a populist upstart that benefited but Theresa May’s government. Even the Prime Minister’s refusal to save local maternity services (“Babies will die,” warned the opposition) wasn’t enough to spare Labour. 

Asked by ITV journalist Chris Ship whether he had “looked in the mirror” and asked “could the problem actually be me?”, Corbyn flatly replied: “No”. He did not sound as if he was lying. “Why not?” pressed Ship. “Thank you for your question,” the leader said.

Corbyn speaks with the confidence of a man who knows that he is, for now, unassailable. In Labour’s internal conflict, it is not last night’s result that counts but last year’s leadership election. Corbyn emerged strengthened from that contest and MPs fear a similar outcome in the event of a new contest. Though activists express increasing anxiety about the party’s fortunes, most remain loyal to the leader they re-elected last summer. “We are a campaigning party, we campaign for social justice in this country,” Corbyn emphasised. Many voted for him believing, after the Tories’ surprise majority, that the 2020 election had been lost in advance. From this perspective, opposition is not the means to an end (government) but an end in itself. 

The bulk of Corbyn’s speech was a defence of the party’s decision to accept Brexit. In the post-referendum climate, Labour is being squeezed by the pro-Remain Lib Dems and the pro-Leave Tories (who have benefited from Ukip defectors). Though the party has championed amendments, such as one guaranteeing EU nationals’ rights, its commitment to vote for Article 50 regardless meant its efforts have struggled to acquire momentum. “No deal is a bad deal,” Corbyn declared of May’s threat to depart without an agreement. But that the Prime Minister can even float this possibility is a mark of Labour’s weakness.

A day may yet come when Corbyn faces a palace coup or reaches for the pearl-handled revolver. But Copeland is proof that his job is far safer than those of many of his MPs. 

Getty Images.

Copeland must be Labour's final warning

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.


How Native American culture fought back against the colonisers

By Erica Wagner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The British Museum's new exhibition reveals the resilience of First Nations culture.

In the Great Court of the British Museum stand two enormous cedar totem poles, acquired in the early years of the 20th century from the north-west coast of North America. One was made by the Haida peoples and the other by the Nisga’a, two of the nations that make up the many-layered society stretching through Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State in the lands which, today, are called the United States and Canada. These peoples, whose history dates back at least 9,000 years, have been remarkably resilient in withstanding European and Russian incursion from the 18th century onward. Besides the Haida and Nisga’a, there are the Tlingit and Kwakwaka’wakw, the Tsimshian, the Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth and Makah groups.

Now, for the first time, the British Museum is bringing together objects from these cultures in an exhibition that showcases one of the world’s most recognisable artistic traditions, and demonstrates how cultural identity can endure even in the most terrible circumstances. First Nation rights and identity are still very much under threat, as protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota show.

The exhibition takes its title from the legendary Thunderbird, who uses his strength and power to hunt whales – a skill he is said to have given to some of these communities. His legend persists into the present day. The Thunderbird can be seen here on a club collected by Captain Cook in the 18th century, and on a 1983 print made by the contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw artist Tony Hunt.

The objects on display are set in cases painted with a pale green wash to evoke the colour of fresh cedar bark. Some – such as the totem poles in the Great Court – evoke the power and majesty of these societies, while others are domestic items that combine beauty and usefulness in equal measure. In the first category are two potlatch “coppers”, shield-shaped plaques about a metre in height, made from what was an exotic and valuable metal. The potlatch is a ceremony, often days long, of feasting, dancing and giving of gifts. Such copper plaques, patterned with spruce gum in the sinuous “formline” design, which is as distinctive to the north-west coast as intricate knotting is to the Celtic tradition, were a significant part of the ceremony.

Equally intricately worked is a basket made of cedar twigs and cedar bark, used to catch fish. The bark on the basket is wrapped in an alternating sequence around the twigs: a technique that brings not only beauty but strength to what is, in effect, a delicate net. From these two objects alone, one can begin to grasp the sophistication of life on the Pacific north-west coast. The people of these cultures built highly complex and rich societies, all without the benefit of agriculture – evidence of the bounty of the bays and islands. In this lush geography, artists and craftsmen made works that are a source of wonder today: look for the joins at the corners of the elaborately decorated Haida box on display and you won’t find any. The chests are made from a single plank of red cedar, which is steamed until pliable; the two ends are then pegged together. They can be used for the storage of clothing, also as drums, or for cooking – or even for burial. They are a good symbol for the adaptability of the cultures of the north-west coast.

The new exhibition is laid out over a single room. One side of the room spans the earliest stone tools and historic weapons made in the region, up to objects from the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in the 1770s; the other features art and regalia from the museum’s collections, including contemporary work and examples from the modern era. The latter addresses what might plainly be called cultural genocide: the often willed destruction of First Nation populations, in both Canada and the United States, by disease; by the residential school system, under which children were taken away from their families to be “educated” out of their culture and beliefs; and by the attempted eradication of languages and religious practices.

One of these banned practices was the potlatch itself, outlawed in Canada from 1880 until 1951 – long enough for a culture to vanish. Yet it survived, the curator Jago Cooper told me, as a result of “people going into museums and studying, or grabbing a grandparent and asking questions. People were incredibly industrious when it came to restoring their culture.” The show opens with a video of a vibrant potlatch.

There is evidence of that restoration and revival in the regalia worn by Chief Alver Tait in 2003 when the Nisga’a totem pole was first raised in the British Museum after decades of storage. He and his wife, Lillian, performed a spirit dance “to bring life back to the ancestors in the totem pole because they had been resting for so long”.

Much of the material here has been seen less frequently than it might be. In Missing Continents at the British Museum, a BBC Radio 4 programme made last year (and still available on iPlayer), the artist Antony Gormley, a former British Museum trustee, argued that the cultures of Africa, Oceania and the Americas are overshadowed there by those of Europe and Mesopotamia, which take the lion’s share of permanent displays at the institution.

Temporary shows such as “Where the Thunderbird Lives” allow a glimpse of the museum’s hidden holdings, some of them simply too fragile to be seen very often, or for very long. At least one of the objects, a gorgeous yellow cedar cloak, collected in the last years of the 18th century on George Vancouver’s North Pacific voyage and painted with an oystercatcher and two skate figure images, is a “once in a lifetime” object – it can’t be exposed to light for long, so now’s your chance to see it. We don’t know who made it. Some of the others, such as the “welcome figure”, carved with open arms, can’t even be attributed to a specific culture. That is, of course, true of many items in the museum’s vast collection: we don’t know who made the Sutton Hoo Helmet, or carved the Rosetta Stone.

The past cannot be changed: it can, however, be acknowledged, as this exhibition gracefully does – for in the work of the contemporary artists here, one sees, in diverse ways, the continuation of their ancestors’ traditions. What looks like a traditional Tlingit spruce root twinned basket is made of glass, by the contemporary Tlingit artist Preston Singletary; a copper pendant echoes the great potlatch coppers but the image printed on its face shows a detail from a US$5 bill (this was made by the Tlingit artist Alison Bremner). Ownership of culture and definitions of culture are questions more hotly debated than ever before. “Where the Thunderbird Lives” is a thoughtful – and beautiful – addition to that debate. 

“Where the Thunderbird Lives: Cultural Resilience on the North-west Coast of North America” opens on 23 February and is at the British Museum, London WC1, until 27 August. Details:


Intel and Attributing Bad Acts: The United States Needs to do Better

By Ralph S. Clem from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Once more, the U.S. government has missed an opportunity to make its case in the court of public opinion on an important national security matter. This time the issue at hand is the Russian hacking of Democratic Party organizations and staff–along with the leaking of information from those hacks as part of a wider effort ...

My Love Letter to the Deep State

By Loren DeJonge Schulman from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

My Dearest, May I call you Deep State? Everyone else is doing it and it’s so hot right now. Such a brief and convenient nickname, which must make up for the fact that it’s wildly inappropriate. It’s a week after Valentine’s Day, D.S. (may I call you D.S.?), but I feel like it was time ...

President Erdogan’s new Turkey holds his fate in its hands

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

In battle over referendum, loyalists must decide whether to back more personalised rule

Millennial Man: How Emmanuel Macron is charming France's globalised youth

By Pauline Bock from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

At the French presidential candidate's London rally, supporters cheered for a reformist. 

If it weren’t for the flags – the blue, white and red of France, but also the European Union’s starred circle – the audience’s colourful signs and loud cheers could have been confused with those of a rock star’s concert. There even were VIP bracelets and queues outside Westminster Central Hall, of fans who waited hours but didn’t make it in. This wasn't a Beyonce concert, but a rally for France’s shiny political maverick, the centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. He arrived on stage under a thunder of applause, which lasted the full minute he took to salute the first rank.

Since he resigned from his position as François Hollande’s economy minister last August, the 39-year-old relative political newbie – he used to be a banker and only joined the French government in 2014 – has created his own movement, En Marche, and has been sailing in the polls. In this he has been helped by the fall from grace of Conservative candidate François Fillon. Macron, who can count on the support of several Socialists, the centrist François Bayrou and the unofficial backing of the Elysee palace, is seen as the favourite to face hard-right Marine Le Pen in the election’s run-off in May.

A screen displayed photos of supporters from around the world (Singapore, Morocco, United States, “We’re everywhere”) as well as the hashtags and Snapchat account for the event. Rihanna’s “Diamonds” played as a team of young “helpers”, en anglais dans le texte, were guiding the 3,000 French expatriates to their seats. “We’re about 90 helpers tonight,” said Pierre-Elie De Rohan, 23. A History student at University College London, he joined the youth branch of En Marche via a school group.

The movement has been very active among students: “We’re in all London universities, King’s, Imperial, UCL”, he said. “It’s exciting”, echoed fellow helped Arcady Dmitrieff, 18, from UCL too. “We feel like we’re taking part in something bigger than us.”

Hopeful millennials are flowing to En Marche en masse. Macron is young, attractive, and though, like most French politicians, he is a graduate of the elite École Nationale d'Administration school, voters still see in him a breath of fresh air. “He’s neither left-wing nor right-wing," praised helper 18-year-old Victoria Tran. Her friend Adele Francey, 18, agreed. “He transcends the political divides that have confined us for the past thirty years," she said. “And he looks sincere," added Lena Katz, 18. “He really believes he can make a change.” The Macron brand, a mix of smart marketing, cult figure (the first letters of En Marche are Macron’s initials) and genuine enthusiasm previously unseen on the French campaign trail, has given him momentum in a political system highly based on the leader’s personality.

For Katz, Tran and many of their friends, France’s 2017 presidential race is their first election. “I want to be invested and to vote for someone I like," Tran said. “More than the others, Macron represents our generation.” Their close elders are hoping for a political renaissance, too – perhaps the one that was supposed to come with François Hollande in 2012. “I really believe he can make it," said Aurelie Diedhou, 29, a wholesale manager who has lived in London for two years. “On many topics, he’s more advanced than his rivals, a bit like Barack Obama in 2008. In France, when a politician has the pretention not to be corrupt, or to have held a job before entering politics, they’re accused of marketing themselves. But it’s just true.”

Macron occupied the stage for a good hour and a half – during which his supporters never failed to cheer, even for boring declarations such as “I want more management autonomy”. He passionately defended the European Union, and pleaded for its reform: “I am European, and I want to change Europe with you.”

Such words were welcomed by French expatriates, many of whom have feared that their life in the UK may be turned upside down by the consequences of the Brexit vote. “Britain has made a choice, which I think is a bad choice, because the middle classes have lacked perspectives, and have had doubts," Macron said. He promised to stand for the rights of the French people who “have made their life choice to settle in Britain”.

As far as Macron's UK co-ordinator, Ygal El-Harra, 40, was concerned, that the candidate would make a trip across the Channel was self evident: “We’ve got people in Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, in Cornwall. And they’re not just bankers and traders: some work in delivery, restaurants, many are students... They perfectly represent French society, and we want to keep in touch with them.”

In 2012, London’s French community opted for Nicolas Sarkozy over Hollande, but the vote was very close (48 per cent to 52 per cent). Just as within France, where he appeals to both left and right-wingers, Macron’s internationally-minded liberalism, coupled with his fluent, fairly well-accented English, could win big among the expat. And they matter - there are about 100,000 votes to grab. “For us who are in London, it’s important to have an open-minded, international candidate," the teenager Tran said.

Rosa Mancer, a 45-year-old strategist who has lived in London for 20 years, agreed. “I loved what he said about Europe. We must reform it from the inside," she said. But she admitted her support for Macron was “a choice by elimination”, due to the threat of the far-right Front National and the corruption case surrounding Fillon. “He’s got no scandal behind him," she said. Unlike their younger peers, voters with more experience in French politics tended to choose the dynamic Macron because he was the least compromised of the lot. “It’s certainly not Marine Le Pen, nor Benoît Hamon, the sectarist Fillon or the Stalinist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who will rebuild our fossilised France”, said Roland Stern, a Frenchman in his sixties. “In 1974, Giscard D’Estaing didn’t have a party, either. But once he had won, the others followed him.”

British politicians had come to see the French phenomenon, too. Labour’s Denis MacShane and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sat among the VIPs. For the latter, the enthusiasm around a promising and brilliant politician rang a bell. Looking back on the 2010 general election, the former Liberal Democrat leader reflected: “Although my platform was very different at the time, the basis was that the status quo was letting people down and that we needed something different.” Clegg’s advice to Macron? “Make sure you seek to set and manage people’s expectations.”

As Clegg knows too well, there is a danger in bringing everyone together, and that is keeping everyone together without disappointing them all. If his name comes first on the evening of May 7, Macron’s real challenge will begin: forming a government with his supports for a broad political spectrum, and dropping vague pledges and marketing slogans to map out a clear way ahead.

In Westminster, hundreds of supporters were literally behind him, seated in tiers on stage. A massive screen showed a live close-up of Macron's youthful face. Something in his picture-perfect smile seemed to wonder what would happen if the crowd stopped cheering.  


5 things Labour has blamed for the Copeland by-election defeat

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Other than Labour, of course. 

In the early hours of Friday morning, Labour activists in Copeland received a crushing blow, when they lost a long-held constituency to the Tories

As the news sank in, everyone from the leadership down began sharing their views on what went wrong. 

Some Labour MPs who had done the door knock rounds acknowledged voters felt the party was divided, and were confused about its leadership.

But others had more imaginative reasons for defeat:

1. Tony Blair

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told Radio 4’s Today programme that: “I don’t think it’s about individuals”. But he then laid into Tony Blair, saying: “We can’t have a circumstance again where a week before the by-election a former leader of the party attacks the party itself.”

2. Marginal seats

In a flurry of tweets, shadow Justice secretary Richard Burgon wanted everyone to know that Copeland was a marginal seat and always had been since it was created in 1983.

Which might be true, but most commentators were rather more struck by the fact Labour MPs had managed to overcome that marginality and represent the area for eighty years. 

3. The nuclear industry

In response to the defeat, Corbyn loyalist Paul Flynn tweeted: “Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there.” He added that Copeland was a “unique pro-nuclear seat”. 

In fact, when The New Statesman visited Copeland, we found residents far more concerned about the jobs the nuclear industry provides than any evangelical fervour for splitting atoms.

4. The political establishment

Addressing journalists the day after the defeat, Corbyn said voters were “let down by the political establishment”. So let down, they voted for the party of government.

He also blamed the “corporate controlled media”. 

5. Brexit

Corbyn's erstwhile rival Owen Smith tweeted that the defeat was "more evidence of the electoral foolhardiness of Labour chasing Brexiteers down the rabbit hole". It's certainly the case that Brexit hasn't been kind to Labour's share of the vote in Remain-voting by-elections like Richmond. But more than 56 per cent of Cumbrians voted Leave, and in Copeland the percentage was the highest, at 62 per cent. That's an awful lot of Brexiteers not to chase...


Labour's trajectory points to landslide defeat, but don't bet on a change at the top any time soon

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The settled will among Jeremy Corbyn's critics that they need to keep quiet is unlikely to be disrupted by the result. 

Labour were able to tread water against Ukip in Stoke but sank beneath the waves in Copeland, where the Conservatives’ Trudy Harrison won the seat.

In Stoke, a two-point swing away from Labour to the Tories and to Ukip, which if replicated across the country at a general election would mean 15 Conservative gains and would give Theresa May a parliamentary majority of 40.

And in Copeland, a 6.7 per cent swing for Labour to Tory that would see the Conservatives pick up 52 seats from Labour if replicated across the country, giving them a majority of 114.
As the usual trend is for the opposition to decline from its midterm position at a general election, these are not results that indicate Labour will be back in power after the next election.. That holds for Stoke as much as for Copeland.

The last time a governing party won a by-election was 1982 – the overture to a landslide victory. It’s the biggest by-election increase in the vote share of a governing party since 1966 – the prelude to an election in which Harold Wilson increased his majority from 4 to 96.

To put the length of Labour’s dominance in Copeland into perspective: the new Conservative MP was born in 1976. The last Conservative to sit for Copeland, William Nunn, was born in 1879.

It’s a chastening set of results for Ukip, too. The question for them: if they can’t win when Labour is in such difficulties, when will they?

It’s worth noting, too, that whereas in the last parliament, Labour consistently underperformed its poll rating in local elections and by-elections, indicating that the polls were wrong, so far, the results have been in keeping with what the polls suggest. They are understating the Liberal Democrats a little, which is what you’d expect at this stage in the parliament. So anyone looking for comfort in the idea that the polls will be wrong again is going to look a long time. 

Instead, every election and every poll – including the two council elections last night – point in the same direction: the Conservatives have fixed their Ukip problem but acquired a Liberal Democrat one. Labour haven’t fixed their Ukip problem but they’ve acquired a Liberal Democrat one to match.

But that’s just the electoral reality. What about the struggle for political control inside the Labour party?

As I note in my column this week, the settled view of the bulk of Corbyn’s internal critics is that they need to keep quiet and carry on, to let Corbyn fail on its his own terms. That Labour won Stoke but lost Copeland means that consensus is likely to hold.

The group to watch are Labour MPs in what you might call “the 5000 club” – that is, MPs with majorities around the 5000 mark. An outbreak of panic in that group would mean that we were once again on course for a possible leadership bid.

But they will reassure themselves that this result suggests that their interests are better served by keeping quiet at Westminster and pointing at potholes in their constituencies.  After all, Corbyn doesn’t have a long history of opposition to the major employer in their seats.

The other thing to watch from last night: the well-advertised difficulties of the local hospital in West Cumberland were an inadequate defence for Labour in Copeland. Distrust with Labour in the nuclear industry may mean a bigger turnout than we expect from workers in the nuclear industries in the battle to lead Unite, with all the consequences that has for Labour’s future direction.

If you are marking a date in your diary for another eruption of public in-fighting, don’t forget the suggestion from John McDonnell and Diane Abbott that the polls will have turned by the end of the year – because you can be certain that Corbyn’s critics haven’t. But if you are betting on any party leader to lose his job anytime soon, put it on Nuttall, not Corbyn.


Photo: Getty

I could have sworn that the Lincoln City striker was my dustman...

By Hunter Davies from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Watching a game on tenterhooks to see if the manager picks his nose.

Too busy thinking about other things, so didn’t at first realise that I was witnessing possibly the greatest event in the history of civilisation. Or since 1863, when the FA was formed.

I had tuned in to watch Burnley v Lincoln City for the pleasure of seeing if the former’s manager, Sean Dyche, is ever going to pick his nose in public. His hand goes up to his nose every 30 seconds, gives it a rub, then when he’s about to start poking around inside, he thinks better of it, only to start again a minute later. He clearly can’t help it – it’s a nervous tic, which all managers have, though some hide it better.

Then I started studying the Lincoln team, none of whose phizogs, mannerisms or walks I know. By this stage in the season, I am pretty familiar with every regular Premier player, having grown accustomed to his face, his smile, his ups and downs. When it’s a Cup match with a team from a lower division, in this case a non-League team, the players are strangers. I would not recognise any of them in my porridge.

Then I saw someone I swore was our dustman, large and beefy, with Bobby Charlton hair. I thought he must have wandered on to the pitch from the burger bar – but, no, he was a Lincoln forward, the 16-stone Matt Rhead. Even on the couch, cradling my Beaujolais, I could hear Burnley fans shouting, “You fat bastard.”

Lincoln’s captain was called Waterfall, another player I hadn’t come across before, one of those footballers who spend their whole life in the lower divisions, becoming local legends, if they last long enough, but completely unrecognised elsewhere.

I googled his first name, and oh, my God, it’s only Luke. Luke Waterfall, how romantic is that? Straight out of Mills & Boon. Did he assume that name when he went into show business, Lincoln City Division?

I started thinking of all the fab new names in football, a source of endless reverie when the game is dull. I’m allowed to do this when watching on my own. When watching with my son or anyone else, I impose house rules, which state that all conversation must be linked directly to what is happening on the screen.

Jesus at Man City, what a gift from, er, God for the headline writers. He arrived in January for £27m, a bargain already, especially if he continues to work miracles, har, har. It says “Jesus” on the back of his shirt. His first name is Gabriel, after the archangel, presumably. The sub-editors will have fun with him for years – “Jesus saves”, “Jesus wept”.

I remember waiting in the 1970s when the Scottish player Gerry Queen joined Crystal Palace. I knew that events would turn him into a headline. Then he got a red card: “Queen sent off at Palace”.

The all-time classic football headline was used in February 2000, when Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Celtic 3-1. The result, one of the biggest upsets in Scottish football, led to the Sun headline

Super Caley go ballistic

Celtic are atrocious

In a lifetime of subbing, you don’t get many occasions when all the planets align so exactly.

The new names that I’ve been enjoying this season include Dunk at Brighton. Haven’t noticed him walking into a headline yet, and I can’t imagine what it will be – something to do with “Dunking donuts”, or “Dunk and disorderly”?

I’ve always liked Robert Snodgrass, now at West Ham. His name sounds so Dickensian. And Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk – wow, my Hollywood hero. Harry Winks at Spurs: what a shame he wasn’t given shirt number 40. When Jeffrey Schlupp appeared in the Leicester line-up last season, I couldn’t wait to decide if his name would fit a verb, a noun, a term of abuse, or a form of semi-sleeping, such as the way I schlupped on the sofa watching Burnley v Lincoln.

Then, blow me, I was wakened violently from my reveries. Just before the end, Lincoln scored – making them the first non-League team to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals in 103 years. And I was watching, sort of . . . 


Strategy after the by-elections: Labour and UKIP both give Tories cause for delight

By from European Union. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Main image:  IT IS a measure of Labour’s sorry state these days that losing just one of two seats that it has held for decades is treated as grounds for relief in the party. In the by-elections held yesterday, both triggered by the resignation from politics of centrist MPs known to despair of the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour held Stoke Central on a reduced vote share (37%, down from 39%) and lost Copeland to the Conservatives, whose vote share rose eight points to 44%. The Labour leader’s past opposition to nuclear power (the main employer in the Cumbria seat) and his party’s confused stance on Brexit (the seat voted to leave the EU) were both factors in the results.Still, the biggest loser of the night was UKIP. Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader (pictured above), put his credibility on the line by running for Stoke Central, which his party referred to as the “capital of Brexit” to honour its strong support for leaving the EU last year. But his campaign was a reminder that, for all the headlines UKIP generates, it is terrible at the dull and disciplined business of campaigning: Mr Nuttall’s ground operation was poor and his campaign was mired by claims that he had lied on his website. Some in the party must be wondering where it can win, if not in somewhere like Stoke Central.Yet to ...

European equity fund inflows hit 12-month high

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Improving economic and business data across the eurozone lure institutional investors

Labour loses Copeland to the Tories but clings onto Stoke-on-Trent Central

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

It is the first time a party in opposition has lost a by-election to a governing party since 1982.

Labour have lost the seat of Copeland, which they have held since 1935, to the Conservatives. 

Meanwhile, the party only narrowly saw off a threat from the right-wing populist Ukip leader Paul Nuttall in Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Jeremy Corbyn, who is to set out the party's path to Brexit today, tweeted: "Labour's victory in Stoke is a decisive rejection of Ukip's politics of division. But our message was not enough to win through in Copeland."

The Labour leader's unpopularity with the country at large is likely to loom large in the by-election post-mortem. In Copeland, an area heavily reliant on the nuclear industry, the Tories made much of Corbyn's unwillingness to counter further expansion.

In Copeland, the Tory candidate, Sellafield worker Trudy Harrison won with 13,748 votes, beating Labour's Gill Troughton by 2,147 votes. The Conservatives won with an increase of 8.5 points, taking 44.3 per cent of the vote.

The election was characterised as one of "nuclear vs the NHS", with locals also worried about a relocation of hospital services which could leave them travelling 40 miles for treatment. Despite a candidate who was a former doctor, and the NHS being Labour's bread and butter, the party failed to keep the seat.

In Stoke-on-Trent Central, by contrast, party activists will be relieved to see off Nuttall, who has tried to rebrand Ukip as the party of the working class. Nuttall is reportedly determined to carry on as party leader, but as my colleague Anoosh writes, the party will now have to mull over a fundamental question: if Ukip can't win in Stoke, where can it win? 

However, given Nuttall's reputational meltdown over a false claim to have lost close friends at Hillsborough, Labour's Gareth Snell only narrowly beat him.

Snell received 7,854 votes, compared to Nuttall's 5,233, a majority of 2,621. Labour squeaked to victory despite a 2.2 point reduction in its previous vote share.

In his victory speech, Snell said his constituency would not be divided by race or faith: "So for those who have come to Stoke-on-Trent to sow hatred and division, and to try to turn us away from our friends and neighbours, I have one message – you have failed."

Both Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent voted Leave in the EU referendum. However, the Liberal Democrats, which has styled itself the voice of Remainers since the EU referendum, enjoyed a surge in the by-elections.

In Stoke-on-Trent Central, the Lib Dems increased their vote share by 5.7 points, while in Copeland they did so by 3.8 points.

Lib Dem president Sal Brinton said of Stoke: “We would have done even better but for many voters, drawn to the Lib Dems, who felt they just couldn’t risk being represented by a Ukip MP, so reluctantly backed Labour."

Corbyn allies among the Labour MPs have tried to play down the loss of Copeland, with Richard Burgon describing it as a "marginal" (albeit one held by Labour for more than 80 years), and Paul Flynn taking a swipe at former Copeland MP Jamie Reed, tweeting: "Copeland MP is pro-nuclear right winger. No change there."





German political shift helps hard-left Wagenknecht

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Polarising leader of Die Linke could scoop senior ministerial role in coalition

Pence shows the path for Trump to follow on Europe

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

A constructive relationship is in America’s best interests

Germany and Italy back Brussels on Brexit

From Europe News. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Support for Barnier on Britain’s €60bn exit bill will be blow to Downing Street

How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York. 


"Michael Gove is a nasty bit of work": A Thatcherite's lonely crusade for technical colleges

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher's education secretary, has been in a war of words with one of his successors. 

When I meet Kenneth Baker, once Margaret Thatcher’s reforming education secretary, conversation quickly turns to an unexpected coincidence. We are old boys of the same school: a sixth-form college in Southport that was, in Baker’s day, the local grammar. Fittingly for a man enraged by the exclusion of technical subjects from the modern curriculum, he can only recall one lesson: carpentry.

Seven decades on, Lord Baker – who counts Sats, the national curriculum, league tables, and student loans among his innovations – is still preoccupied with technical education. His charity, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, oversees university technical colleges (UTCs), the specialist free schools that work with businesses and higher education institutions to provide a vocational curriculum for students aged 14-19. He is also a working peer, and a doughty evangelist for technical education and apprenticeships in the upper chamber. 

But when we meet at the charity’s glass-panelled Westminster office at 4 Millbank, he is on the defensive – and with good reason. Recent weeks have been particularly unkind to the project that, aged 82, he still works full-time to promote. First, a technical college in Oldham, Greater Manchester, became the seventh to close its doors since 2015. In three years, not one of its pupils passed a single GCSE, and locals complained it had become a “dumping ground” for the most troubled and disruptive children from Oldham’s other schools (Baker agrees, and puts the closure down to “bad governorship and bad headship”). 

Then, with customary chutzpah, came Michael Gove. In the week of the closure, the former education secretary declared in his Times column that the UTCs project had failed. "The commonest error in politics," he wrote, quoting Lord Salisbury, "is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies". Baker is now embroiled in a remarkable – and increasingly bitter – war of words with his successor and one-time colleague.

It wasn't always this way. In 2013, with UTCs still in their infancy, he told the New Statesman the then education secretary was “a friend”, despite their disagreements on the curriculum. No such bonhomie persists. In the course of our hour-long conversation, Gove is derided as “a nasty bit of work”, “very vindictive”, “completely out of touch”, and “Brutus Gove and all the rest of it”. (Three days after we speak, Baker renews their animus with a blistering op-ed for the Telegraph, claiming Gove embraced UTCs about as warmly as “an undertaker”.)

In all of this, Gove, who speaks warmly of Baker, has presented himself as having been initially supportive of the project. He was, after all, the education secretary who gave them the green light. Not so, his one-time colleague says. While David Cameron (Baker's former PA) and George Osborne showed pragmatic enthusiasm, Gove “was pretty reluctant from the word go”.

“Gove has his own theory of education,” Baker tells me. He believes Gove is in thrall to the American educationalist E.D. Hirsch, who believes in focusing on offering children a core academic diet of subjects, whatever their background. "He doesn’t think that schools should worry about employability at all," Baker says. "He thinks as long as you get the basic education right, everything will be fine. That isn’t going to happen – it isn’t how life works!" 

Baker is fond of comparing Gove’s heavily academic English baccalaureate to the similarly narrow School Certificate he sat in 1951, as well as the curriculum of 1904 (there is seldom an interview with Baker that doesn’t feature this comparison). He believes his junior's divisive tenure changed the state sector for the worse: “It’s appalling what’s happening in our schools! The squeezing out of not only design and technology, but drama, music, art – they’re all going down at GCSE, year by year. Now children are just studying a basic eight subjects. I think that’s completely wrong.” 

UTCs, with their university sponsors, workplace ethos (teaching hours coincide with the standard 9-5 working day and pupils wear business dress), and specialist curricula, are Baker's solution. The 46 existing institutions teach 11,500 children, and there are several notable success stories. GCHQ has opened a cyber-security suite at the UTC in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, as part of a bid to diversify its workforce. Just 0.5 per cent of UTC graduates are unemployed, compared to 11.5 per cent of all 18-year-olds. 

But they are not without their critics. Teaching unions have complained that their presence fragments education provision and funding, and others point out that hard-up schools in disadvantaged areas have little desire or incentive to give up children – and the funding they bring – at 14. Ofsted rate twice as many UTCs as inadequate as they do outstanding. Gove doubts that the vocational qualifications on offer are as robust as their academic equivalents, or anywhere near as attractive for middle-class parents. He also considers 14 is too young an age for pupils to pursue a specialist course of vocational study.

Baker accepts that many of his colleges are seen as “useless, wastes of money, monuments to Baker’s vanity and all the rest of it”, but maintains the project is only just finding its legs. He is more hopeful about the current education secretary, Justine Greening, who he believes is an admirer. Indeed, the institutions could provide Greening with a trump card in the vexed debate over grammar schools – last year’s green paper suggested pupils would be able to join new selective institutions at 14, and Baker has long believed specialist academic institutions should complement UTCs.

Discussion of Theresa May’s education policy has tended to start and finish at grammar schools. But Baker believes the conversation could soon be dominated by a much more pressing issue: the financial collapse of multi-academy trusts and the prospect of an NHS-style funding crisis blighting the nation’s schools. Although his city technology colleges may have paved the way for the removal of more and more schools from the control of local authorities, he, perhaps surprisingly, defends a connection to the state.

“What is missing now in the whole education system is that broker in the middle, to balance the demands of education with the funds available," he says. "I think by 2020 all these multi-academy trusts will be like the hospitals... If MATs get into trouble, their immediate cry will be: ‘We need more money!’ We need more teachers, we need more resources, and all the rest of it!’."

It is clear that he is more alert to coming challenges, such as automation, than many politicians half his age. Halfway through our conversation, he leaves the room and returns enthusiastically toting a picture of an driverless lorry. It transpires that this Thatcherite is even increasingly receptive to the idea of the ultimate state handout: a universal basic income. “There’s one part of me that says: ‘How awful to give someone a sum for doing nothing! What are they going to do, for heaven’s sake, for Christ’s sake!’" he says. "But on the other hand, I think the drawback to the four-day working week or four-hour working day... I think it’s going to happen in your lifetime. If people are only working for a very short space of time, they will have to have some sort of basic income.” 

Predictably, the upshot of this vignette is that his beloved UTCs and their multi-skilled graduates are part of the solution. Friend and foe alike praise Baker’s indefatigable dedication to the cause. But, with the ranks of doubters growing and the axe likely to fall on at least one of its institutions again, it remains to be seen in what form the programme will survive.

Despite the ignominy of the last few weeks, however, Baker is typically forthright: “I sense a turning of the tide in our way now. But I still fight. I fight for every bloody one.”


Macron proposes Nordic economic model for France

From Europe News. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Centrist presidential hopeful opts for blend of fiscal restraint and public spending

NAFTA under Trump—the myths and the possibilities

By Dany Bahar from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

NAFTA and Jobs From Ross Perot’s 1992 claim that the North American Free Trade Agreement would generate a “great sucking sound” as jobs moved from the U.S. to Mexico to President Donald Trump’s claim that the agreement is a job killer, it has been good politics to blame trade with Mexico (and more recently with […]

The World Next Week: February 23, 2017

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

President Donald J. Trump addresses Congress, the UN Security Council debates Kosovo, and the 89th Academy Awards are held.

Ex-IMF chief sentenced over Bankia card scandal

From Europe News. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Rodrigo Rato was chair of Spanish bank which offered incentives to top staff

There Are Echoes of the CIA’s Long War in Laos in Today’s War on Terror

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Joshua Kurlantzick discusses how the CIA’s secret war in Laos, waged with little oversight by Congress or interest by the U.S. public, was a precursor to today’s global war on terror. 

Baton Rape Case Fuels Anger over Racist Policing in France

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The sexual assault with a police baton of Theo L., a 22-year-old black Frenchman, has provoked both protests and calls for fundamental reforms in French policing.

Latin America’s flagging romance with the left

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Ecuador’s inconclusive vote shows the right still has some way to go

Jamie Reed: What it's like to stop being an MP

By Jamie Reed from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

As I approach the whips’ office through the tearoom staircase, a colleague shouts: “It’s Steve McQueen!”

Leaving parliament was never going to be easy. Having entered the Commons at a relatively young age – I was 31 – I knew that a parliamentary existence would be strange, even weird.

I knew that I would never be a “lifer”. A long Commons career followed by a sinecure in the Lords was never for me. This was informed by an aversion not to prolonged public service – the career in the nuclear industry for which I have departed parliament is just as dedicated to public service – but to the culture in which politics in Westminster is undertaken. There is a lot wrong with parliament. I arrived with a healthy contempt for its culture, behaviours and practices; I leave with the knowledge that this contempt was correct.

As a young MP, I felt like Carraway, never like Gatsby. Still, leaving the Commons has taken a huge mental and emotional effort.

21 December 2016

The news of my resignation breaks a few hours early because of a leak. The ­Guardian’s north of England editor, Helen Pidd, brings forward the publication of our interview as a result. Within minutes, my phone explodes. Twitter is unusable. My email server begins to creak. I watch with mounting ­anxiety. Ignoring calls from journalists – many of them friends – I talk instead with my fellow MP John Woodcock.

In politics, you acquire a sixth sense for who would be with you in the trenches at the worst moments. John is such a person. I don’t remember the conversation; I just remember hanging up and crying. I ­shower, dress and head for my in-laws’ farm. When I open the door, there are bottles of champagne on the step. That night, trying to avoid the news, I learn that I was young, popular, brilliant and talented. It’s like being at my own funeral. I drink the champagne.

24 December

I receive a text from Jeremy Corbyn wishing me and my family well. I thank him for his warm words on my resignation.

9 January 2017

I’m en route to the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Atlanta, Georgia, as a guest of NuGen. At Vogtle, Georgia Power is building two AP1000 reactors – the same type as will be built in Copeland. This is a project to which I have devoted 12 years of my life – from writing nuclear policy with the Blair government to making sure that Copeland was chosen as a nuclear new-build site and working to ensure that successive governments maintained the policies underpinning the nuclear renaissance that the Blair-Brown administration began.

Clement Attlee’s Labour government created the nuclear industry, the last Labour government created the nuclear renaissance and I am leaving parliament to return to the nuclear industry – yet Labour will be forced to fight the by-election in my former seat amid allegations of being anti-nuclear. There is nothing new in post-truth politics. Lies have always had the power to seduce.

23 January

It’s my last week in parliament and I’ve made arrangements to see the whips. As I approach the whips’ office through the tearoom staircase, a colleague shouts: “It’s Steve McQueen!”

1 February

I leave my home in Whitehaven for Sellafield at 6.45am. As I drive through the frost, an iridescent light appears on the horizon: a new dawn has broken, has it not?

I collect my pass and enter a whirlwind of meetings, inductions and instructions. Everyone is generous, welcoming and warm. It is at this point that, for the first time, I am faced with irrefutable proof that I am no longer an MP. I am reminded of my parliamentary induction. Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong told us, “Get in the chamber . . . Don’t hide . . . Sink or swim . . .” New Labour was no place for a snowflake. I am reminded, too, of my induction by the House payroll and expenses administrators. A year before the expenses scandal shook Westminster, they informed me: “All we ask is that you don’t buy any antiques . . .”

2 February

As when I entered parliament for the first time, I don’t have a desk. I’m hot-desking, or hot-podding, or hot-cubing. I remind myself that, for now, I remain the Crown steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

I bump into a colleague from my first time in the nuclear industry. “All right?” he asks.

“Getting there,” I reply.

“You know what they’re saying, don’t you?” he continues.

“No. What?”

“‘The bloody ego has landed.’”

I walk away wondering if it’s now my role in life to remind people of films set in the Second World War.

3 February

It’s a Friday and it strikes me that I have no constituency surgery. Everyone around me has their head down, meeting targets, solving problems. This is a £2bn-a-year operation. There’s no room for Gatsby here. This is why my new role excites me.

The self-immolating stupidity of Brexit, combined with the complex and growing needs of my family, contributed to my decision to leave parliament. Most of all, though, it was the opportunity to work in this organisation and help to drive change within it and my community that caused me to make the switch. My former constituency can and should be at the centre of one of the fastest-growing parts of the UK economy in the years to come. A changing Sellafield and a dynamic industry will be at the heart of this, and time is of the essence.

20 February

The by-election in my former seat draws near and my time as the Crown steward is running out.

I am repeatedly approached by the media for comment and I duck every request. This is for someone else now and I wish my successor well. None of us is indispensable. 


The European migrants that Britain depends on

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Even after Brexit, the UK must keep its doors open to EU workers

Geert Wilders suspends Dutch election appearances

From Europe News. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Employee of agency in charge of politician’s security arrested for leaking information

Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May in Downing Street, the Treasury is weakened, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Photo: Getty

Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

By Ed Smith from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 


Madrid weighs ‘nuclear option’ to halt Catalan vote

From Europe News. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Constitutional crisis looms, as Spain flirts with invoking Article 155 to stop ballot

Tracey Thorn: I’m nostalgic for revolutionary feminism and the whiff of patchouli

By Tracey Thorn from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Off the Record.

A couple of weeks ago I happened upon a BBC4 documentary called Property Is Theft, about squatting in the late 1970s and 1980s. Great old footage of Villa Road in Brixton was intercut with present-day interviews with the former squatters, reminiscing about those righteous, ideological times. Pumped full of theory, living out their ideals of deconstructing the nuclear family and opting out of capitalist society, they were a beguiling mix of the inspiring and the nutty.

Their fundamental point – that housing is a basic right and a nexus of inequality – still rang clear as a bell. They had inhabited buildings that were earmarked for demolition, and saved them. A three-bedroom flat in one of those houses now goes for half a million-plus. So much for the revolution they all believed was imminent.

But other aspects of their thought and practice seemed too niche to catch on, too purist to accommodate human contradiction. Their living conditions were pretty squalid, which probably put off any working-class families dreaming of a better life, and so the community consisted of young, highly politicised graduates, most of them white – the Rastafarians apparently all living in the next street along.

The old clips made the past seem both familiar and strange. You could smell the 1970s: the lentil bake and patchouli, the dope and the wet towels, all mixed up with a whiff of bullshit – cranky theories, a houseful of primal screaming. I was hooked and, on enquiring, discovered that this programme was the first episode in a series called Lefties, made by Vanessa Engle in 2006. I waited in vain for part two to appear, but eventually found it on YouTube. Called Angry Wimmin, it tells the story of the birth of late-1970s revolutionary feminism, and again, it’s full of cracking stuff.

It opens with Sheila Jeffreys singing a revised version of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” – “Men grow bald as they grow old/And they all lose their charms in the end./All men are wankers,/Said Christabel Pankhurst./WIMMIN are a girl’s best friend” – and moves on to tell of how feminists broke away from the socialist movement, defining women as a class of their own and declaring, “Men Are the Enemy!”

There are scenes of women sitting around a campfire and making the vagina sign with their hands; in full karate kit taking self-defence classes; and in dungarees, doing DIY, resolutely sawing and hammering, manlessly happy. The women relate how the removal of the word “men” led to the new framing “womben” – or, more usually, “wimmin”, which was soon adopted as a term of mockery. I remember how, in the early 1980s, Ben’s parents had a party invitation from the playwright John Osborne propped up on their mantelpiece, at the bottom of which were printed the words “NO WIMMIN”. Even then it made me fume.

The language policing sometimes went too far, demanding, say, that instead of “Oh God!” you should cry, “Oh Goddess!” Separatism led some to establish all-women households, which were then taunted by local lads, one neighbour posting a nude photo of himself through the letter box in a kind of early, analogue trolling.

Male violence led women in Leeds to set up Women Against Violence Against Women. It was the era of the Yorkshire Ripper. I was in Hull at the time, just near enough to feel the chill of his presence, and I remember the Reclaim the Night protests, and the resentment at the police advice not to be out alone after dark, imposing a curfew on the victims, not the perpetrators.

The documentary ends with Vanessa Engle asking if they are all still revolutionary feminists, and they mostly are, many working in the field of domestic violence. One woman asks Engle if she calls herself a feminist. Momentarily nonplussed, she replies, “Yeah, I’ve always thought so, but no one really asks me any more.” They laugh and conclude that feminists are “on their way to becoming an extinct species”.

Well. We’ll see about that.


Freezing the Status Quo Will Help Bring Peace to Syria

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Gordon argues that the Geneva talks on Syria must prioritize a ceasefire in place over more ambitious questions of constitutional reform and political transition.

Germany’s budget surplus hits record high

From Europe News. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Government coffers get boost from record-low unemployment and ultra-cheap debt finance

Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.


Commons confidential: Old friend or foe?

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Kevin Maguire's weekly dose of Westminster gossip.

Hoots, mon! The Scottish Nationalists are lining up behind Welsh Labour’s Chris Bryant to replace John Bercow when the Speaker vacates the big chair. The deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle remains the favourite to succeed Bercow, who is expected to survive the uprising by Donald Trump’s Tory Taliban though he is due to hand back the gown in 2018 or 2019, before the next election. But the Rhondda Roisterer isn’t hiding his ambition under a thistle, and is emphasising his Scottish links to court SNP MPs’ votes.

McBryant’s mother was from Glasgow, and one of his grannies was a Gorbals GP during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The clinchers may be the ownership of a kilt and his boasts that he once played the bagpipes.

So my snout predicts that unless Chorley Chortler Hoyle learns to toss the caber or replaces the mace with a skean-dhu, McBryant will have most Scottish votes in the sporran.

The Leave vote is strong among the Farages, as Nigel and his wife have opted to live “separate lives”. This has required Farrago to tweak his moneymaking repertoire. His stock jokes are “In the City, I worked hard every day . . . until lunchtime” and “Do you want to be dominated by Germans? I am!” – but since he parted from Mrs Farage (or “Kirsten the Kraut”, as she was called by Ukip’s Kipperosaurus), the German quip has been redundant. Perhaps Farage could recycle it with a French theme?

Tommy “Two Dinners” Watson loves his meat, but Labour’s deputy leader boasted that he made the ultimate sacrifice after encountering his teenage crush Chrissie Hynde on Andrew Marr’s Sunday sofa. The frontwoman of the Pretenders is a vegan and a supporter of the hardline animal rights group Peta. In deference to the rock legend sitting by him at breakfast, Watson ordered vegetarian sausages. I hear he counted them as two of his five a day.

In the lead-up to Ed Balls hosting his 50th birthday bash, I was instructed by a long-time friend of the former shadow chancellor on the code adopted to signify whether fans are pre- or post-Strictly. Foes jumping on the popularity bandwagon call him “a friend”, while comrades who stood by Balls in difficult days use “old friend” to describe themselves.

The junior defence honcho Harriett Baldwin, a product of the £35,280-a-year Marlborough College and the merchant bank JPMorgan Chase, raised MPs’ eyebrows when she described the Royal Navy’s proposed Type 31 frigate as being “in its pre-concept phase”. My matelot snout translated that as: “HMS Baldwin hasn’t a clue what it’ll look like.” Let’s hope this warship isn’t another navy equivalent of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 – some Type 45 destroyers overheat and stop working. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror


Illustrating a Model-Game-Model Paradigm for Using Human Wargames in Analysis

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Proposes and illustrates an analysis-centric paradigm (model-game-model or what might be better called model-exercise-model in some cases) for relating human wargaming to modeling and analysis.

Rumbles in the jungle: highlights from the Berlin Film Festival

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Upcoming releases include drama about a trans woman and an adventure in south America.

It was blisteringly cold for the first few days of the Berlin Film Festival but there was plenty of heat coming off the cinema screens, not least from Call Me by Your Name. This rapturous, intensely sensual and high-spirited love story is set in northern Italy in the early 1980s. The perky and precocious 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is drawn to Oliver (Armie Hammer), an older, American doctoral student who’s arrived for the summer to assist the boy’s father, an esteemed professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). Their friendship passes through stages sceptical, fraternal, flirtatious and hostile before arriving at the erotic.

Movies which insist that life was never the same again after that summer are a pet peeve of mine but this one is as ripe and juicy as the peach Elio snatches from a tree and puts to a most unusual and intimate use. (Think American Pie with fruit.) Luca Guadagnino has form as a chronicler of the holidaying rich, but his best-known films (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) discovered trouble in paradise. In Call Me by Your Name, it’s all pleasure. A distant sense of sadness is signalled by the use of a few plaintive songs by Sufjan Stevens but what defines the picture is its vitality, personified in a star-making performance by Chalamet which combines petulance, balletic physicality and a new kind of goofball naturalism.

The clammy heat of the jungle, with all its danger and mystery, are strongly evoked in The Lost City of Z, a stirring adventure based on fact, which catapults its writer-director, James Gray (The Yards, We Own the Night), out of his usual sooty cityscapes and into uncharted South America in the early 20th century. Charlie Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, a colonel who grudgingly agrees to referee the mapping of borders between ­Bolivia and Brazil on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society, only to be seduced by the legend of a city populated by a sophisticated civilisation. The film, which I will review in more detail next month, felt deeply satisfying – even more so than correcting American colleagues on the pronunciation of the title.

There was a less effective expedition movie in the main competition. Joaquim dramatises the journey of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (aka Tiradentes) from colonialist stooge and hunter of gold smugglers to revolutionary icon. There is an impressive level of detail about 18th-century Brazilian life: rudimentary dentistry, a haircut undertaken with a machete. Joaquim’s severed head provides a posthumous introductory narration, presumably in tribute to the ultimate expedition film, Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, which featured a noggin that continued talking after decapitation. Yet the hero’s conversion to the cause of the exploited Brazilians is confusingly brisk, and the film feels both inordinately long and too short to have sufficient impact.

We remain in scorching heat for Viceroy’s House, in which the director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) chronicles the events leading up to the partition of India in 1947. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson are Lord and Lady Mountbatten, pottering around being frightfully nice to the locals. Polite, lukewarm and almost entirely without flavour, the film closes with an uplifting romantic reunion that is somewhat eclipsed by the killing of an estimated two million people during Partition.

Away from the on-screen sun, it was still possible to feel warmed by two splendidly humane films. A Fantastic Woman is a stylish, Almodóvar-type drama about a trans woman, Marina (played by the captivating transgender actor Daniela Vega), who is subjected to prejudice and violence by her late partner’s family. Its Chilean director, Sebastián Lelio, made a splash in Berlin four years ago with Gloria, his comedy about a Santiago divorcee, but this new picture puts him in a whole other class.

The Other Side of Hope, from the deadpan Finnish genius Aki Kaurismäki, follows a bright-eyed Syrian refugee (Sherwan Haji) and the poker-faced Helsinki restaurateur (Sakari Kuosmanen) who takes him under his wing. Kaurismäki’s mixture of absurdity and altruism feels even more nourishing in these troubled times. On Saturday the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, went to On Body and Soul, a Hungarian comedy-drama about two lonely slaughterhouse workers. Still, Kaurismäki was named Best Director, while Lelio and his co-writer, Gonzalo Maza, won the Best Screenplay prize. Not too shabby.

Sienna Miller and Charlie Hunnam. Getty

Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”


Limping along: Europe’s securitisation market remains stunted

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Europe’s structured-finance market fails to live up to hopes Print Headline:  Limping along Print Fly Title:  Securitisation in Europe UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Limping along SECURITISATION, the bundling and repackaging of income streams as tradable securities, goes in and out of fashion. America is still dealing with the fallout from the disaster in one part of the market—sub-prime mortgages—in 2008-09 (see article). In Europe, the swings in popularity have been just as marked. During the crisis, European securitised assets were hit by only small losses but the market suffered from guilt by association. It has since enjoyed a limited renaissance. Leading the revival, oddly, are European regulators. They have sought not just to rehabilitate, but indeed actively to promote such “structured” finance. As early as 2013 ...

Politics this week

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Headline:  Politics this week UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Main image:  20170225_wwp002.jpg A series of terrorist attacks struck Pakistan, including one on a Sufi shrine that killed 88 people. The army blamed infiltrators from Afghanistan, sealed the border and shelled what it said were terrorist bases on the Afghan side. See article.  In Afghanistan, police surrounded the house of Abdul Rashid Dostum, the vice-president, in an attempt to arrest nine bodyguards, who have been accused of beating and raping a political rival. A former policeman from the Philippine city of Davao claimed he had run a vigilante group that had murdered criminals at the behest of the mayor at the time, Rodrigo Duterte, who became president in June. The IMF agreed to lend Mongolia $440m to help it weather a balance-of-payments crisis, paving the way for further loans from the Asian Development Bank, Japan and South Korea. See article.  China said it would suspend imports of coal from North ...

Rebuild, and they will come: To win Britain’s next EU referendum, Remainers must move on from the last

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  To win Britain’s next EU referendum, Remainers must move on from the last Print Headline:  Rebuild, and they will come Print Fly Title:  Bagehot UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Rebuild, and they will come Main image:  20170225_BRD000_0.jpg DURING his unsuccessful campaign to become president of the European Council in 2009, Tony Blair’s acolytes would boast that their man could “stop the traffic” in capitals. He was box office, he could turn heads, he could make people listen. In a speech in London on February 17th the unpopular former prime minister proved he still has that quality. Where other pro-European politicians waffle and prevaricate, he was crisp and frank: Brexit will be terrible for Britain, it cannot come “at any cost”, voters were “without ...

Debating Brexit: Letting the Lords have their say

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  The Article 50 bill will pass, but the real debate about Brexit is yet to begin Print Headline:  Lords-a-leaping Print Fly Title:  The Brexit process UK Only Article:  UK article only Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Debating Brexit Main image:  No French hens No French hens IT WAS certainly a majestic setting. The House of Lords was resplendent with gilt, glass, a bevy of bishops and many geriatric former politicians crammed onto its red leather benches. And there perched on a parapet just below the glittering royal throne sat Theresa May, on a highly unusual visit to the upper house. The reason for the prime minister’s presence on February 20th was that the Lords were starting to debate the bill authorising her to invoke Article 50, the treaty procedure for leaving the European Union. ...

Picking fights: Farmers may be among the first to feel the effects of Brexit

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Farmers may be among the first to feel the effects of Brexit Print Headline:  Picking fights Print Fly Title:  Agriculture and Brexit UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Picking fights Location:  BIRMINGHAM Main image:  20170225_BRP003_0.jpg IF THE Church of England is the Conservative party at prayer, then the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is the party at work. Unlike the prelates, however, farmers are already grappling with the adverse consequences of the referendum vote last June to leave the European Union. Worryingly for them, Theresa May’s government seems in no rush to help. Concerns are mounting among this core Tory political constituency that agriculture might turn out to be the patsy ...

The Gryfs of Europe: Europe is starting to get serious about defence

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Donald Trump wants Europe’s herbivores to spend more on defence Print Headline:  The Gryfs of Europe Print Fly Title:  Charlemagne UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  The Gryfs of Europe Main image:  20170225_EUD000_0.jpg THE triceratops had a gentle existence that belied its fierce appearance, keeping to itself and maintaining a strict vegetarian diet. But in his neglected classic Tarzan the Terrible, Edgar Rice Burroughs conjured the Gryf, a horrifying dagger-toothed descendant of the three-horned dinosaur that roamed the African plains and snacked on the locals. Europe is contemplating a similar evolutionary path as it gets to grips with an American administration that has tired of playing T. Rex alone. Can the herbivorous power of the past, which has long ...

Donald Trump intends to take on Iran. Right, but risky

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

CHAOTIC, fractious and bafflingly inconsistent though the Trump administration may be, on one issue it appears united: Iran. There is ample evidence that since the signing in mid-2015 of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has taken advantage of the easing of sanctions and the unfreezing of about $100bn worth of overseas assets to project its power across the region with greater boldness. Barack Obama, the new team believe, let it off the hook.

Since the deal, Iran has stepped up its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria to the point where, with Russian air support, his regime’s survival appears assured for the foreseeable future. Iran has also worked with Russia to supply Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia militia fighting in Syria, with heavy weapons. It has poured other Shia militias into Syria from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iraq, meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias are fighting alongside American-supported Iraqi security forces against Islamic State (IS). But once IS is ejected from Mosul, they will be a potent weapon in Iran’s attempt to turn Iraq into a dependent satrapy. In Yemen the...Continue reading

Iraqi forces face their toughest test in Mosul

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

IRAQ’S prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, had vowed to recapture Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS) by the end of 2016. In the weeks leading up to the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city, American military commanders echoed him: victory would be swift, they pledged. But with the jihadists still in control of half the city and the hardest part of the battle yet to come, these predictions now look naive.

In the rush to dislodge IS from its largest urban stronghold, Iraq’s security forces appear to have underestimated the militants’ ability to cause carnage. Although vastly outnumbered, the jihadists have used snipers, booby traps, improvised landmines and hundreds of suicide-bombers to bog down Iraqi security forces. Elaborate tunnel networks have allowed IS to escape bombing runs from American warplanes and to ambush Iraqi forces in areas supposedly cleared.

The grinding urban combat has taken a heavy toll on Iraqi troops. Some units of the country’s Golden Division—American-trained special forces that have spearheaded the assault on the city—have seen more than half their men killed or wounded. The UN said that...Continue reading

Western Sahara edges closer to renewed conflict

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

They say they want a referendum

ACCORDING to the map sold in the gift shop at the airport in Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, the territory belongs solely to Morocco. But the airport itself contains signs that this is contested land. Planes bearing the UN’s marking sit on the runway, while its soldiers, sporting blue berets, roam the arrivals hall. They are there to keep the peace between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a nationalist movement that has fought for independence for more than 40 years.

Fears are growing of a return to armed conflict. Provocations by Morocco have infuriated Polisario, which has responded in kind. Since last summer the UN has stood between the two enemies, just 120 metres apart, in the remote area of Guerguerat. Diplomats worry that an itchy trigger finger could restart the 16-year war that the UN helped end in 1991. “The threat to peace and security is probably the worst we have seen since then,” says a UN official.

Hostilities between Morocco and Polisario began shortly after Spain, the colonial power, withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, when Morocco annexed the...Continue reading

Liberia’s bold experiment in school reform

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

It says here, be good

AT A school in the township of West Point, Monrovia, a teacher should be halfway through her maths lesson. Instead she is eating lunch. A din echoes around the room of the government-run school as 70 pupils chat, fidget or sleep on their desks. Neither these pupils nor the rest of Liberia is learning much. Bad teaching, a lack of accountability and a meagre budget have led to awful schools. Fourteen years of civil war and, more recently, the Ebola virus have stymied reforms. Children’s prospects are shocking. More than one-third of second-grade pupils cannot read a word; since many are held back, teenagers often share classes with six year olds (see chart). In 2014 only 13 candidates out of 15,000 passed an entrance exam to the University of Liberia. In 2013 none did.

George Werner admits that when he was made education minister in 2015, “my heart sank.” But he soon got...Continue reading

Russia mobilises an elite band of cyber warriors

From Analysis. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Since the 2015 hack of France’s TV5Monde, the Kremlin-backed APT 28 has become bolder in its choice of targets

Why I slept on the street outside Downing Street

By Jon Bartley from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The government is trying to stop taking child refugees. This means condemning them to the sub-zero night. 

It’s hard to sleep on concrete, with rain threatening and the winds of an approaching storm whipping around you. As the cold reaches your bones, rest evades you. Being so exposed, with no shelter or safety from the weather and the world, the idea of slipping into unconsciousness feels impossible.

This is what I learnt as I slept rough outside Downing Street last night.

In the centre of London, I bedded down on the pavement alongside 60 activists and volunteers who work with refugee children. Some had come in their onesies, others with guitars. As we sat resolute yet hopeful on cardboard boxes and under umbrellas, all were happy to share their stories.

I heard from those who have worked in the Calais and Dunkirk camps, and with children on the streets. They told of the stress and desperation of the children both inside and outside the resettlement centres in which they have been placed following the demolition of the Calais camp. The children have no faith left in our government and feel betrayed. They told me the children's stories - children who had come from conflict zones like Sudan and Afghanistan.

With us was one refugee who spent six months in the Calais camp. He told me of his reasons for fleeing Syria, how he was kidnapped and detained by the secret service because he stood up to the Assad regime. He is now using his skills as an actor, to raise awareness of what is going on with refugees here in the UK.

I didn’t get much sleep. But at least in the morning I could go home to a warm bed and a hot shower. Compare this to the youngsters sleeping rough on the edges of Calais and Dunkirk, in woods and under bridges, with only a donated sleeping bag to protect them from sub-zero temperatures. Next to that, my night outside Downing Street was five star.

For those young children and teenagers, spending the night alone, frightened, cold and wet in a country that is not their own, is a daily reality. By sleeping out last night, I got just a small taste of that reality, and it was enough to know it’s not something I would want my children to have to do. It’s not something I would want any children to have to do.

The big scandal here of course is that the bulldozed "Jungle" camp in Calais, awful as it was, sheltered many of these children. The UK government was implicit in the flattening of the huts and shelters where roughly 1,300 unaccompanied child refugees lived. It is thought at least 90,000 lone child refugees arrived in Europe in 2015. Under the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act, there was the expectation that the UK would step up and take 3,000 of the extremely vulnerable children. But now the government has scrapped it, with just a tenth of this number set to actually arrive.

Is it any wonder then that children with no hope of safe and legal crossing to the UK have started to return to the site of the demolished camp in Calais? The majority of the minors bussed to centres in France weren’t even considered for transfer to the UK, and this combined with the Dubs closure has left them with little alternative but to attempt to come to the UK by other, more dangerous, means. We have pushed these children into risking their lives climbing onto trucks and, in many cases, into the hands of people traffickers.

We didn’t have to end the Dubs scheme, and it is nothing short of a scandal that less than 50 miles from the coast of our country there are children sleeping rough on the streets because we are not doing the right thing. Had the government committed to giving local authorities the resources they need to welcome refugee children, we could have provided shelter to thousands. We are the fifth richest country in the world, and while I know budgets are under pressure, I also know the government could afford this if it wanted to.

In spending a night outside Downing Street with teams from Help Refugees, Hummingbird Project and Voices for Child Refugee, we aimed to raise awareness of what is facing refugee children in Europe, and to demonstrate that we will not allow them to be forgotten. But we also want to see real action, real change. This morning the campaigners went into 10 Downing Street to give Theresa May a petition calling on the Government to rethink the closure of the Dubs scheme – and to say "we must be so much better than this". The petition is just the start of the ongoing struggle to make the government listen – and we won’t stop until it does.

Jon Bartley

Better a Stalemate Than Defeat in Afghanistan

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Without a major surge in force levels, the best outcome that the United States can hope for in Afghanistan is that the Taliban will tire of fighting and pursue peace, writes CFR’s Max Boot.

Hutchins Roundup: Marriageable men, Fed communication, and more

By Louise M. Sheiner from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that trade with China has reduced men’s economic status relative to women, the sentiment expressed in Fed communication affects interest rate expectations, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday. The shrinking supply of marriageable […]

When is the Budget 2017?

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Chancellor Philip Hammond will present the last ever springtime Budget to Parliament on March 8th. He has a tricky hand to play.

Fans of the Chancellor’s red box photocall outside 11 Downing Street are in for a treat this year - the abolition of the Autumn Statement means Philip Hammond will present not one but two Budgets to the Commons.

The first – the last ever Spring budget – will be published on Wednesday 8 March 2017. A second – the first Autumn Budget – will come later in the year, followed by a new Spring Statement, which will respond to forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility but will no longer introduce new fiscal changes. 

But what is likely to happen this time around? The Institute for Fiscal Studies set out a grim outlook for the chancellor in its "Green Budget" earlier this month. This year’s deficit will be higher than in 47 of the 60 years before the crash of 2008, the national debt is at its highest level since 1966, and the chancellor is still committed to the diet of austerity prescribed by his predecessor, George Osborne. With day-to-day spending on public services set for a real-term fall of 4 per cent between now and 2020 and those same public services already in a parlous state, Hammond has a difficult hand to play. 

Here's what to look out for:

Changes to business rates

MPs of all stripes have been pressuring the government to rethink its plans on business rates, which will see new rates based on updated property valuations introduced for the new financial year. 

Initially, the government maintained that three-quarters of businesses won’t see any changes to their rates at all. But the fact that rates for pubs, shops, GP surgeries hospitals could be set for increases as high as 400 per cent riled Tory backbenchers, several ministers, the CBI and right-wing papers including the Sun and Daily Mail

However, Theresa May’s government has proved adept at U-turning when it needs to – think the Brexit White Paper and Amber Rudd’s lists of foreign workers. So we will likely see a concession from the Treasury on controversial changes, which were slated to kick in from April. Communities and Local Government secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons that a solution would be in place by Budget Day. 

Reassurances for social care

Britain’s crisis-stricken social care system – and the vexed question of how we’re going to pay for our ageing population – also looms large. In the aftermath of the controversy around the government’s supposed “sweetheart deal” with Surrey County Council, local authorities and charities have been lobbying Number 10 for a new settlement – or at least some extra cash to ease the pain. 

Indeed, the Health Service Journal has revealed the Care Quality Commission is to be handed regulatory oversight for how councils manage their social care services, and a number MPs are increasingly convinced that the government could be set to unveil a modest increase in funding. Any such package would only be a sticking plaster.


The polls are bad, but Jeremy Corbyn’s office has a secret weapon

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

How a shake-up of the leadership team has steadied nerves at the top of Labour. 

If polling had existed back in 1906, Jeremy Corbyn quipped at one recent strategy meeting, the Labour Party would never have got started.

As far as Labour’s direction is concerned, it is that meeting at four o’clock every Monday afternoon that matters. The people who attend it regularly are the Labour leader, his aides, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as the party’s election co-ordinator, and their respective aides.

In recent weeks, the meetings have been stormy affairs, and not only because the numbers from the party’s own pollsters, BMG Research, mirror the uniformly bleak picture from the public polls. There is also concern over Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s office manager. Murphy is highly rated by Corbyn for having brought increased intensity and efficiency to the leader’s office. Corbyn often struggles to deliver bad news in person and appreciates that Murphy will intervene on his behalf.

Her intensity is not uniformly welcomed. “She could start a fight with her own reflection,” in the wry words of one friend. An argument with Jon Trickett – the Hemsworth MP whose unusual career trajectory took him from being a parliamentary aide to Peter Mandelson to the inner sanctum of Ed Miliband’s leadership and finally to the role of election co-ordinator for Corbyn – led to Trickett going on a two-week strike, recusing himself from vital meetings and avoiding any contact with Murphy.

That row eventually led to Trickett being stripped of his role and banished from the Monday meeting. Murphy had a similar turf war with the campaigns director, Simon Fletcher, which culminated in Fletcher resigning on 17 February. In a letter to staffers, he called on the party to “keep the promise” of Corbyn’s first leadership bid, a period when Fletcher was central and Murphy had yet to start working for the Labour leader.

All of which, in better political weather, would simply be part of the back-and-forth of office politics. However, set against the backdrop of unease about by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland, and a series of unhelpful leaks, it adds to a sense of vulnerability around the leadership. One loyalist shadow cabinet minister calls it “the most dangerous time” for Corbyn since he was first elected leader.

Why the danger? Contrary to popular myth, the backbone of Jeremy Corbyn’s successive landslide victories was not a hard-pressed twentysomething, struggling to find a fixed job or to get a foot on the housing ladder. The shock troops of Corbynism, at least as far as the internal battle in the Labour Party went, were baby boomers. Many of them were either working in, or on early retirement from, a charity or the public sector, deeply concerned about the rightward drift of British politics and worried about the next generation.

Corbyn’s decision to whip Labour MPs in support of triggering Article 50 – the process whereby Britain will begin its exit from the European Union – was, in their eyes, a double heresy. The vote signalled acceptance that the forces of the Eurosceptic right had won on 23 June, and it conceded that visa-free travel, membership of the single market and freedom of movement are over.

None of this is automatically great news for Corbyn’s internal critics – not least because the vote on Article 50 is rare in being an issue that unites Corbyn with most Labour MPs. Yet it adds to the sense that his leadership has passed its best-before date.

Adding to the general malaise is a series of unhelpful leaks. There was a story in the Sunday Times on 12 February claiming that the leadership was road-testing possible replacements for Corbyn, and on 20 February the Mirror claimed that the Labour leadership had commissioned a poll to find out whether or not the leader should quit his post. These stories are hotly denied by the leader’s office. Some in Corbyn’s inner circle believe they are the work of Trickett, embittered at his demotion.

It is true that Corbyn is not enjoying the job as much as he once did. However, if the conversation shifts from the minutiae of Brexit to his natural terrain of the NHS and the continuing consequences of government cuts on education and the prisons service, he could quickly find himself relishing the role once more.

Corbyn retains two powerful cards. His newly energised office, under Karie Murphy, is one. Although her brisk approach has generated some public rows, the feeling in the leader’s office is that a chief of staff was needed, and Murphy has assumed that role. The media team has also grown sharper with the addition of David Prescott (son of John), Matt Zarb-Cousin and the former Momentum spokesman James Schneider.

Corbyn’s second asset is more unexpected. His rivals inside the party now fear rather than relish an immediate end to his leadership. A former shadow cabinet member splits his supporters into two groups: “idealists and ideologues – the first we can inspire and win over, the second have to be got rid of”. In their view, the idealists have not yet moved away from Corbyn enough to guarantee victory; the ideologues, for their part, will slink off as Corbyn puts the demands of his office above their interests, as he did over Article 50.

Although self-defeating panic has never been a rare commodity in the Labour Party, the settled view of Labour MPs is that their leader must be given time and space rather than hustled out of the door. There is an awareness, too, that MPs who are united in opposition to Corbyn are divided over many other issues.

So, while the inner circle’s Monday meetings might be fraught, and Labour’s current polling would have given Keir Hardie pause, Jeremy Corbyn is safe. 


Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

Getty Images.

The rise of anti-Semitism in Donald Trump's America

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

On Monday, a Jewish cemetery was desecrated. 

Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise in America. Since January alone, there have been 67 bomb threats against Jewish Community Centres in around 27 states around the country. On Monday, a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri was desecrated, with over 100 headstones overturned. There has been a large increase in online anti-Semitic threats and hate speechSwastikas have been spray painted on the streets of New York.

Trump's poorly-executed "Muslim Ban" has closed the United States to people from seven majority-Muslim countries, including refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. But the divisive "them" and "us" rhetoric of the White House has had repercussions for other groups as well. 

Jewish people have not explicitly been the focus of any kind of executive order (after complaints about his lack of action, Trump called anti-Semitism "horrible"). Nevertheless, the new administrations appears to be implicitly pandering to anti-Jewish sentiment.

Take, for example, the official White House tribute issued on Holocaust Memorial Day in January. It failed to directly mention Jewish people at all. Jewish groups, including those representing Republicans, criticised the omission. Trump's chief of staff Reince Priebus defended the statement, saying: "I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including, obviously, all of the Jewish people.”

Superficially, one could attribute this to ignorance. But how politicians phrase their words matters. It is a common tendency of anti-Semites to play down, ignore or reject the idea that the Holocaust was targeted at Jews. It is hard to believe that no one within the White House would have been aware of the kind of dog whistle this omission sent to the extreme right. 

That White House staff includes Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was the executive chairman of Breitbart, viewed widely as the online news outlet of the "alt right".

Timing also matters. The decision to shut US doors to Syrian and and Iraqi refugees was announced on Holocaust Memorial Day. The irony of an order singling people out for their faith wasn't lost on Jewish groups, who know all too well how many German Jews fleeing the Nazis were turned away from other shores. 

Trump's response time sent a message too. When a Hasidic Jewish reporter asked Trump about the growing anti-Semitism at his press conference on 16 February, he responded as if it was a personal attack, calling the question "very insulting" and telling him to sit down. Despite tweeting vociferously about Saturday Night Live and his daughter’s clothing line being dropped by a department store, Trump only managed to issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism on Tuesday.

David Samuels is a prominent Jewish writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He told me: "American Jews are threatened by rising anti-Semitism on both the right and left, which FBI statistics show to be more serious and more deadly than any animus directed towards Muslims or any other religious group.

"I feel sad that this is now my country, not because I am Jewish but because anti-Semitism is a degenerative thought-virus that makes people crazy by promising to explain everything that happens in the world with reference to a single prime mover - the Jews.

"Because anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory, and not a form of social prejudice, it is fatal to rational thinking, in a way that simple racial or religious prejudice - including prejudice against Jews - is not."

Whatever the intentions of the Trump administration, the reaction in the country at large shows it is playing with fire. Americans must hope that Trump, who has three Jewish grandchildren, will come to his senses and rid his support base of any who seek to use the presidency to infect the country with their diabolical ideology. 

Lola Adesioye is a British writer based in New York. Follow her @LolaAdesioye.


The NS Podcast #199: Milo and Macron

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

This week, Helen and Stephen discuss the fall of Milo Yiannopoulos. Pauline Bock joins with an update on the French elections and Macron's performance in London. And Anoosh Chakelian reports on concerns in Copeland. Plus: get your by-election predictions here!

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed:, or listen using the player below.

Want to give us feedback on our podcast, or have an idea for something we should cover?

Visit for more details and how to contact us.


Sadiq Khan likely to be most popular Labour leader, YouGov finds

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The Mayor of London was unusual in being both well-known, and not hated. 

Sadiq Khan is the Labour politician most likely to be popular as a party leader, a YouGov survey has suggested.

The pollsters looked at prominent Labour politicians and asked the public about two factors - their awareness of the individual, and how much they liked them. 

For most Labour politicians, being well-known also correlated with being disliked. A full 94 per cent of respondents had heard of Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader. But when those who liked him were balanced out against those who did, his net likeability rating was -40, the lowest of any of the Labour cohort. 

By contast, the Labour backbencher and former army man Dan Jarvis was the most popular, with a net likeability rating of -1. But he also was one of the least well-known.

Just four politicians managed to straddle the sweet spot of being less disliked and more well-known. These included former Labour leadership contestants Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Hilary Benn. 

But the man who beat them all was Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of Lodon. 

YouGov's Chris Curtis said that in terms of likeability Khan "outstrips almost everyone else". But since Khan only took up his post last year, he is unlikely to be able to run in an imminent Labour contest.

For this reason, Curtis suggested that party members unhappy with the status quo would be better rallying around one of the lesser known MPs, such as Lisa Nandy, Jarvis or the shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer. 

He said: "Being largely unknown may also give them the opportunity to shape their own image and give them more space to rejuvenate the Labour brand."

Another lesser-known MP hovering just behind this cohort in the likeability scores is Clive Lewis, a former journalist and army reservist, who served in Afghanistan. 

Lewis, along with Nandy, has supported the idea of a progressive alliance between Labour and other opposition parties, but alienated Labour's more Eurosceptic wing when he quit the frontbench over the Article 50 vote.

There is nevertheless space for a wildcard. The YouGov rating system rewards those who manage to achieve the greatest support and least antagonism, rather than divisive politicians who might nevertheless command deep support.

Chuku Umunna, for example, is liked by a larger share of respondents than Jarvis, but is also disliked by a significant group of respondents. 

However, any aspiring Labour leader should heed this warning - after Corbyn, the most unpopular Labour politician was the former leader, Ed Miliband. 

Who are YouGov's future Labour leaders?

Dan Jarvis

Jarvis, a former paratrooper who lost his wife to cancer, is a Westminster favourite but less known to the wider world. As MP for Barnsley Central he has been warning about the threat of Ukip for some time, and called Labour's ambiguous immigration policy "toxic". 

Lisa Nandy

Nandy, the MP for Wigan, has been whispered as a possible successor, but did not stand in the 2015 Labour leadership election. (She did joke to the New Statesman "see if I pull out a secret plan in a few years' time"). Like Lewis, Nandy has written in favour of a progressive alliance. On immigration, she has stressed the solidarity between different groups on low wages, a position that might placate the pro-immigration membership. 

Keir Starmer

As shadow Brexit minister and a former director of public prosecutions, Starmer is a widely-respected policy heavyweight. He joined the mass resignation after Brexit, but rejoined the shadow cabinet and has been praised for his clarity of thought. As the MP for Holborn and St Pancras, though, he must fight charges of being a "metropolitan elite". 



Are celebrities deliberately messing up their award show performances?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

How the "accidental" tumble came to dominate awards season.

The first thing I saw about last night’s Brit awards is that during Katy Perry’s performance of her new single “Chained to the Rhythm” a dancer – dressed as a house – fell off the stage.

This housing crisis is the most meme-able and memorable moment of the entire awards ceremony, but not because it’s anything new. The house follows in the (tumbling) footsteps of Madonna, who in 2015 fell over on the Brits’ stage after a dancer stood on her giant, flowing cape.

If it seems strange that some of the world’s biggest and best known artists are prone to hiring clumsy back-up dancers, it should. Since I’m-so-normal-in-my-$4m-Dior-dress Jennifer Lawrence fell over at the Oscars in 2013, there has been a spate of televised celebrity mishaps.

In 2014, normal-oh-so-normal J Law decided to take another Oscars tumble. In 2015, Perry’s back-up dancer at the Super Bowl, Left Shark, shot to meme fame for its clumsy and out-of-time dance moves. This New Year’s, Mariah Carey gave a self-described “mess” of a performance.

So is this just a coincidence? After all, celebrities have always had live performance mishaps, the most famous being Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl. But in the late Tens, thanks to social media, mishaps have become the fastest and easiest way to get talked about. After all, when’s the last time anyone on Twitter recommended a mainstream celebrity’s performance because it was “so very touching and good”?

The proof is in the numbers. Left Shark’s dance moves helped 2015 to become the most Tweeted about Super Bowl ever, with numbers dropping dramatically in 2016 (where Coldplay had no mishap other than their continued existence). Tweets and statuses are one thing, of course, and money is another. After her 2015 performance, Perry started selling Left Shark merchandise in her official online store. Mishaps are profitable in more ways than one.

Social media has therefore revolutionised the celebrity mishap, but so too have the phones from which we post our updates. The fact more of us take our smartphones to live shows means that the public can catch mishaps that might traditionally have been brushed under the rug (or cape). It was an audience member, after all, that caught Perry’s falling house on camera.

Short of a shark/house whistle blower, however, there is no definitive proof of this new celebrity conspiracy theory. Yet when it is known that marketers deliberately outrage consumers to drum up publicity, we have to wonder what PR teams wouldn’t do? A small tumble, after all, is a small price to pay to reach new heights. 


Keep out: Lower immigration could be the biggest economic cost of Brexit

By from European Union. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Lower immigration could yet impose a big economic cost after Brexit Print Headline:  Keep out Print Fly Title:  Reducing immigration UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Wind and solar power are disrupting electricity systems Fly Title:  Keep out Main image:  20170225_BRP001_0.jpg DESPITE its vote to leave the European Union, plenty of Europeans still seem keen to move to Britain: in eastern European cities such as Kiev and Chisinau leaflets promising “English visas” still flutter. Marion, a lawyer who recently moved to London from Paris, says that Brexit barely featured in her decision. “I guess that emotionally I still find Brexit hard to believe.” Britain’s government, however, is busy thinking of ways to keep them out. Since June’s referendum result, many have wondered anxiously whether Britain will remain part of the EU’s ...

The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism

By McKay Coppins from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 24, 2017.

Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.

“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”

If this boosterism seems out of character for a primetime populist like Carlson, he doesn’t seem to mind the dissonance. He speaks glowingly of his Northwest Washington neighborhood, a tony enclave of liberal affluence where, he tells me, he is surrounded by diplomats, lawyers, world bankers, and well-paid media types. They are reliably “wonderful”; unfailingly “nice”; “some of my favorite people in the world.” If you’ve watched Carlson on TV lately, you know they are also wrong about virtually everything.

Indeed, throughout the 2016 election cycle Carlson routinely deployed his anonymous neighbors as a device in his political punditry—pointing to them as emblems of the educated elite’s insular thinking. He scoffed at their affection for Marco Rubio in the primaries, and he ridiculed their self-righteous reactions to the Republican nominee in the general. “On my street,” he wrote in Politico Magazine, “there’s never been anyone as unpopular as Trump.”

This shtick worked brilliantly for Carlson, catapulting him from a weekend hosting gig to the coveted 9 p.m. slot in Fox’s primetime lineup. He now regularly pulls in more than 3 million viewers a night—a marked improvement on the program he replaced—and he counts the commander in chief among his loyal fans. Just this past weekend, President Trump set off a minor international firestorm when he suggested Sweden was experiencing an immigrant-fueled spike in crime—a (dubious) claim he picked up by watching Tucker Carlson Tonight.

In an era when TV talking heads are more influential than ever, Carlson has suddenly—and rather improbably—emerged as one of the most powerful people in media. The question now is what he wants to do with that perch.  

To the extent that Carlson’s on-air commentary these days is guided by any kind of animating idea, it is perhaps best summarized as a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe. The country has reached a point, he tells me, where the elite consensus on any given issue should be “reflexively distrusted.”

“Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

Carlson recounts, with some amusement, how he saw these attitudes surface in his neighbors’ response to Trump’s victory. He recalls receiving a text message on election night from a stunned Democratic friend declaring his intention to flee the country with his family. Carlson replied by asking if he could use their pool while they were gone.

“I mean people were, like, traumatized,” he says. And yet, in the months since then, “no one I know has learned anything. There’s been no moment of reflection … It’s just, ‘This is what happens when you let dumb people vote.’” Carlson finds this brand of snobbery particularly offensive: “Intelligence is not a moral category. That’s what I find a lot of people in my life assume. It’s not. God doesn’t care how smart you are, actually.”

To many, of course, this populist posture will reek of phoniness—and the skeptics are not without evidence. Here, let the record show that Tucker Carlson was born and raised in the pricey beachside paradise of La Jolla, California; that his stepmother was heiress to the Swanson frozen-food fortune; that he attended an exclusive east-coast boarding school and married the headmaster’s daughter; that for a considerable period of time, he was famous for sporting preposterously preppy bowties. All of which is to say, if you are looking for a cable host with authentic blue-collar credentials, Carlson is probably not your man.

What’s more, Carlson’s politics have undergone more than one evolution over the course of his career in television. When he started out in the early 2000s on CNN’s Crossfire, he generally played the part of a mainline partisan—a champion of the Iraq War (he soured on the endeavor after a year), and an ardent Bush defender (he soured on the president after a term). After leaving CNN in 2005 he landed at MSNBC, where he morphed into a libertarian. And when his show there was cancelled less than three years later, he ended up at Fox News, serving as a utility pundit and eventually emerging as a mischief-making advocate for Trump-style nationalism.

A cynical soul might detect careerism in that trajectory. Carlson, for his part, readily admits that his worldview has transformed over the years. These days, he tells me, “I’m not much of an economic conservative, and I’m not conservative at all on foreign policy.” Nevertheless, he insists the evolution has been organic. “If your politics don’t change when circumstances do, you’re an idiot, you’re a reactionary.”

More to the point, he says, “My views are not super interesting.”

In a sense, he’s right. Carlson’s true talent is not for political philosophizing, it’s for televised partisan combat. His go-to weapons—the smirky sarcasm, the barbed comebacks, the vicious politeness—seem uniquely designed to drive his sparring partners nuts, frequently making for terrific television. Indeed, if cable news is ultimately theater, Carlson’s nightly performance is at once provocative, maddening, cringe-inducing, and compulsively watchable. Already, in its few short months in primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight has created more viral moments than it had any right to do.

In one early example, Carlson’s interview with Newsweek political reporter Kurt Eichenwald went so far off the rails that the host was reduced to asking the same question over and over again, while the liberal guest waved around a binder labeled, “Tucker Carlson Falsehoods.” When the segment ended, Eichenwald took to Twitter to vent his frustrations, ended up fighting with an army of conservative trolls, and ultimately claimed to suffer a seizure when one of them tweeted a flashing strobe GIF at him.

“I was shocked by the whole thing,” Carlson tells me, looking back on the episode. “I didn’t want to be mean to him. I really didn’t.” Though he has earned a reputation among his media antagonists for being an ambush artist—luring guests onto his show under false pretenses and then humiliating them with “gotcha” questions—Carlson says he’s always upfront while booking interviewees, and strives to avoid mean-spiritedness.

“If I find myself wanting to be mean to anyone, it’s time to stop,” he tells me.

“Does that happen sometimes?” I ask.

He glances down at his salad. “It’s happened once, yeah.”

“With who?”

“With, um, a woman from Teen Glamour.

I know instantly what interview he’s talking about. “You mean Teen Vogue?”


The segment is one of his most notorious—an interview just before Christmas with the liberal writer Lauren Duca. The discussion was supposed to focus on the harassment Ivanka Trump had recently endured during a commercial flight. But the segment got off to a contentious start, and it quickly descended into Carlson nitpicking Duca’s diction and taking petty shots at her employer. After mockingly reading a handful of headlines from Duca’s celebrity fashion coverage, he ended the segment by advising, “You should stick to the thigh-high boots. You are better at that.” The interview promptly went viral, and the host came off looking mean, sexist, and faintly pathetic.

Carlson says now that he regrets the way he handled the interview, and blames his bad behavior on his own lack of preparation for the segment. “I don’t ever want to get mad … I think it diminishes me and the show, and I don’t want to be that way.”

When I ask him why he was so infuriated by Duca, he thinks about it for a moment.

Finally, he answers, “It was the unreasonableness … It’s this assumption—and it’s held by a lot of people I live around—that you’re on God’s side, everyone else is an infidel, and by calling them names you’re doing the Lord’s work. I just don’t think that’s admirable, and I’m not impressed by that.”

Fair or not, this is the essence of Carlson’s case against the educated elites and well-heeled technocrats that comprise America’s ruling class (not to mention his neighborhood). They are too certain of their own righteousness, too dismissive of dissenters, too unwilling to entertain new ideas.

When Carlson first joined primetime last year, he assigned his show a mission statement: “The sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink.” To his critics, the slogan is crazy-making for the brazen hypocrisy they believe it displays. But the potency of the host’s performance is not rooted in personal purity—it’s in his ability to capture the sentiment of a rapidly mutating conservative movement.

Even as denizens of the right continue to sort out what they stand for in the Trump era, they remain united in their hatred of a common enemy, the smug elites who Carlson rails against every night. And while he may have spent his life happily living among them, he’s clearly demonstrated he has no qualms about taking them on.

“Putting smart people in charge of things is fine, but what you really want is wise people,” he tells me, and then quotes something his father used to say: “The beginning of wisdom is to know what an asshole you are.”

Ambling Blindly Back Into the Mountains: 5 Hard Questions for the Next Phase of Afghanistan

By Sameer Lalwani from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Gen. John Nicholson, who commands the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, recently made headlines when he called for “a few thousand” more troops and a deeper American commitment to the fight in Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. This echoes the calls from a number of other analysts, ...

The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Photo: Getty

7 adorably wrong retro visions of the future

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

With the future looking gloomier than ever, let's take a look at what could have been.

Ah, the future. The golden, glorious future. A time when food will be replaced by pills, walking will be replaced by hovering, and someone will have finally invented a printer that will print your black and white theatre ticket even though (even though!) you have an empty magenta ink cartridge. Who can wait? 

Unfortunately, what with the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (see: Trump, Donald J) the future seems less and less spectacular everyday. Is it time to build an underground bunker? Who can say? I can. The answer is yes.

But while you're waiting for your Spaghetti Hoops to heat up in your concrete hidey-hole, you'll need something to read. Here are seven futures that we could have had, if it wasn't for fascism (and also, I guess, the fact that some of these are really dumb).

1. Commuter helicopters

Popular Mechanics (1951) via

What they predicted: Personal helicopters which would transform commuting forever. 

Why it didn't happen: Because apparently Future Us are sufficiently advanced enough to create mini, personal helicopters, but not smart enough to have grasped the concept of a helipad. 

2. Instantly-cookable food

Via Reddit u/Jaykirsch

What they predicted: Food that can be heated or chilled instantly within its packet, by the turn of a knob.

Why it didn't happen: Remember in 2005 when Walkers Worcester Sauce crisps were recalled because it was thought they'd give you cancer? Yeah, that. 

3. Space puppies

Amazing Science Fiction (1958) via 

What they predicted: Space puppies. Puppies in space.

Why it didn't happen: Because God enjoys our pain.

4. The "Dinosaur Truck" elevated bus

The Practical Science For Boys And Girls (1949) via

What they predicted: Buses that could seamlessly glide over cars, carrying us onwards to a new and better future.

Why it didn't happen: It did! China have it. Well done China.

5.  A radio that prints newspapers

Radio Craft (1934) via

What they predicted: A radio that could print out your morning newspaper, with some kind of nice little red thing on top.

Why it didn't happen: All media is obsolete. You are not even reading these words. Unless you're my mum. Hi mum. 

6. A robot that hits children on the head if they don't listen in class

Computopia (1969) via

What they predicted: A robot that hits children on the head if they don't listen in class.

Why it didn't happen: Whilst our robotics are advanced enough, it turns out so too are our morals. Bummer.

7. Wrist computers

Byte (1981) via

What they predicted: Little computers that will sit on your wrist, like a watch.

Why it didn't happen: You might be gaping and gawping that someone in 1981 successfully managed to predict the Apple Watch, but you'd be wrong. Take another look - see that tiny keyboard? No one could use that tiny keyboard. What were our ancestors thinking? Idiots. 

Chicago Daily News

Katy Perry just saved the Brits with a parody of Donald Trump and Theresa May

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Our sincerest thanks to the pop star for bringing one fleeting moment of edge to a very boring awards show.

Now, your mole cannot claim to be an expert on the cutting edge of culture, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on in 2017, it’s that the Brit Awards are more old hat than my press cap. 

Repeatedly excluding the genres and artists that make British music genuinely innovative, the Brits instead likes to spend its time rewarding such dangerous up-and-coming acts as Robbie Williams. And it’s hosted by Dermot O’Leary.

Which is why the regular audience must have been genuinely baffled to see a hint of political edge entering the ceremony this year. Following an extremely #makeuthink music video released earlier this week, Katy Perry took to the stage to perform her single “Chained to the Rhythm” amongst a sea of suburban houses. Your mole, for one, doesn’t think there are enough model villages at popular award ceremonies these days.

But while Katy sang of “stumbling around like a wasted zombie”, and her house-clad dancers fell off the edge of the stage, two enormous skeleton puppets entered the performance in... familiar outfits.

As our Prime Minister likes to ask, remind you of anyone?

How about now?

Wow. Satire.

The mole would like to extend its sincerest lukewarm thanks to Katy Perry for bringing one fleeting moment of edge to one of the most vanilla, status-quo-preserving awards ceremonies in existence. 


Emmanuel Macron: a populist eruption from the liberal centre

By Jason Cowley from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The French presidential candidate has been compared with a young Tony Blair.

The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron came to town this week to meet Theresa May and address the London French community, whose votes he was chasing. In our age of extremes, Macron, who is 39, is that rare thing – a populist eruption from the liberal centre. A former merchant banker and economy minister in the failing Hollande Socialiste administration, he represents En Marche! (“Forward!”), which is less a party than a movement. His sudden rise would not have been possible in Britain, which is part of the stability and attraction of the parliamentary system but also its frustration.

Don’t be shy

I met Macron on Tuesday afternoon when he took questions from a small group of journalists at Central Hall Westminster. He is small and dapper, with short hair and a strong, straight nose. Because of the collapse of the Socialistes and the struggles of the discredited conservative contender François Fillon, Macron has emerged as the great hope of liberals and perhaps as the candidate to stop Marine Le Pen seizing the presidency. Unlike the Front National leader, Macron is an unashamed liberal globaliser in the model of Nick Clegg or a younger, less tormented Tony Blair. He is a passionate advocate of the EU and of the eurozone and, as a result, is under attack from the Russian media. He has been accused of leading a double life – his wife, whom he met when she was his schoolteacher, is 20 years older than Macron – and of being unwilling to admit that he is gay, or at least bisexual. His response to the Russian attacks was, he said, “to disclose the manipulation and kill the rumours”.

The far right in France has caricatured Macron as being “globalisation personified”, about which he is relaxed. In conversation, he criticised David Cameron’s referendum campaign. “His message was ‘Yes but . . .’ That is not the answer to ‘No’. I defend Europe and the four freedoms of the EU. If you are shy, you are dead.”

Not all relative

On Sunday, I received a text from one of my cousins. “The Lincoln City manager and his brother, the assistant, are called Cowley,” he wrote. “His father looks a bit like your father. Any relation? They are from Essex.” I am also from Essex, born and brought up in Harlow new town, which turned 70 this year. But I had to disappoint my cousin. My father was an only child, as was his father, so it’s highly unlikely that these Cowley brothers are even distant relations of mine.

Toast of the county

I already knew about the brothers, having been alerted to them by my seven-year-old son, who is a sports data enthusiast. Last season, Danny Cowley and his younger brother, Nicky, were working as teachers in Essex while coaching Braintree Town at weekends. This season, they have led Lincoln to an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, making them the first non-League team to reach the last eight in more than a century. Lincoln are also at the top of the National League (English football’s semi-professional fifth division) and in the quarter-final of the FA Trophy, the premier non-League cup competition. The Cowleys are reported to be subsisting on a diet of toast and Marmite as they rise early each morning obsessively to study videos and analytics and prepare for the next match. They have introduced a new spirit of openness at the previously moribund club: fans watch training sessions and attend press conferences.

It’s nonsense to believe, as some do, that only those who have performed at the highest level have the authority to coach the best. Wenger, Mourinho, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Roy Hodgson, André Villas-Boas: none of them were even remotely successful players. Asked once to explain his accomplishments, Mourinho said: “I’ve had more time to study.” More English coaches – so few of whom are working in the Premier League – would do well to follow his example.

It will be fascinating to see how far the Cowley brothers progress in the game. Whatever happens next, they have reanimated interest in the FA Cup and given the resilient yeomen of Essex a small boost.

Ignore the huckster

Boris Johnson accused Tony Blair of “bare-faced effrontery” for having the temerity last week to deliver an anti-Brexit speech, which itself was an act of bare-faced effrontery. Johnson is a huckster and narcissist whose vanities have been grotesquely indulged for far too long by his cheerleaders and paymasters in the media. (A standard question to Johnson when he was mayor of London: “You do want to be prime minister, don’t you?”) No one should take anything Johnson says remotely seriously. Should the same be said of Blair?

Yes, of course he is the author of his own misfortunes and many will never forgive the former Labour prime minister for the Iraq catastrophe. Yet of all the politicians I have spoken to in recent times, Blair was the most intellectually nimble and the most alert to the defining complexities of the present moment. As he demonstrated in his speech, he also understands better than most why, in an age of intensifying ethnic nationalism, the parties of the left are failing across Europe, none more so than the British Labour Party, which looks as far away from power as it did after the 1931 election.

Journey to the centre

As an energetic and charismatic liberal, Macron has been likened to the young Tony Blair. Can he seize the progressive centre, as Blair did, and destabilise the old binary divisions of left and right? “The anti-European and anti-globalisation extremes are winning elections,” he said, in a veiled reference to Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit. “But we don’t have the same political cycles as the others. It’s time for France to do the opposite.” With that said, he thanked his interlocutors and was hurried off for a meeting with another Essex man, Philip Hammond, pursued not by a bear but by the journalist Robert Peston. 


Replaced? Security Force Assistance Brigades vs. Special Forces

By Tim Ball from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

The U.S. Army recently announced it would be standing up six security force assistance brigades (SFABs), designed to provide the Army with units specifically trained to work as military advisors. As part of their training pipeline, these advisors will likely receive cultural and language training to facilitate working with their partner forces. They will have ...

Unspoken Legacy: The Perils of Letting Obama Off the Hook for Executive Overreach

By Danny Sjursen from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

Many Americans were fond of Barack Obama. He left office with some of the highest approval ratings of his entire term. On foreign policy, as in most matters, he seemed reflective, deliberate, and rational. An effective communicator, he maintained composure and presidential poise, no matter the topic. In rare moments of frustration, Obama channeled “disappointed ...

Hybrid Warfare in the Baltics

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 23, 2017.

This report considers the various possible forms of hybrid aggression in the Baltics and concludes that the major vulnerability of the Baltics is to conventional aggression.

The season of famine looms across Africa

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The making of disasters in four countries was there for all to see

Will Storm Doris affect turnout in the Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland by-elections?

By Stephanie Boland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The Met Office has warned of gale force winds on Thursday. 

Voters in Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland will turn out on Thursday 23 February to cast their vote in two hotly contested by-elections, where the incumbent Labour party is clinging on.

But they may feel less inclined to do so, if the Met Office is correct. It has predicted that Storm Doris will shake the UK on Thursday, with both Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland in the firing line

It's a commonly-held belief that adverse weather can affect the number of voters who make the effort to head to the polls. Ahead of the EU rerendum, the Telegraph ran a news article suggesting that thunder storms on the day could boost the Leave campaign, "which is most likely to benefit from a low turnout". Labour activists will be particularly nervous in Stoke-on-Trent Central, which has the distinction of being the sole constituency in 2015 where the majority of the electorate did not vote.

Even Anthony Howard once said that evening rain before the polls close "has always been a frightening prospect for Labour", as working-class voters would often go to the polls between tea and 10pm.

But does the weather actually have much of an impact? While evidence certainly suggests that it does in the US, a study published by Democratic Audit based on voter turnout in Sweden suggests that, as long as voting is convenient, weather does not affect turnout.

"Previous studies," the authors write, "focused on the United States, a country where the costs associated with voting are high in a comparative perspective". 

In Sweden, where voting is easier  registration is not required and election day is on a weekend – the results are different. "Even when using datasets covering almost 150,000 persons and very detailed rain data, we do not find any meaningful effects of weather conditions" the report says.

Using the same metric of difficulty, voting is "easier" in the UK than America, but more difficult than Sweden. So what happens in the UK?

According to Stephen Fisher, a politics researcher at Oxford University, there is little correlation between good weather and voting patterns. He told the BBC in 2002 that data from the last 15 general elections showed no link.

Even if there was some relation between the weather and turnout, Fisher points out, a higher proportion of people voting by postal ballot would diminish the effect.

There is one caveat, however. "If you had a January snowstorm", says John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde, "it would make a difference but for the most part the weather is mildly inclement at these times of year [when general elections are held]. So you might need to take a brolly with you or you might have sunshine but you won't have a howling gale or snow or serious travel disruption."

That last point is important. While rain might not put people off voting, difficulties getting to the polling station can. So a truly chaotic storm could affect a result.


A solid UK economy is showing a few cracks

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

There is little case for the Bank of England to raise interest rates

The Good Lieutenant is a haunting novel by a former war reporter

By Tim Martin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Whitney Terrell's third novel is a powerful, and sometimes heartbreaking, war story.

Most war stories are about battle plans that don’t survive contact with the enemy. The third novel by the former journalist Whitney Terrell offers a new spin on this gloomy maxim, employing a reverse narrative that pulls back, chapter by chapter, from a military disaster to show the plans and intentions – optimistic, cynical, self-deluding, pragmatic – that led its participants there. As in Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal and Gaspar Noé’s film Irréversible, the backwards chronology has a weird and dizzying effect. The book starts with a bang, and then begins its slow free fall back to boot camp.

The good lieutenant of the title is Emma Fowler, nicknamed “Family Values” by her all-male infantry platoon in a half-grateful, half-exasperated recognition of her desire to play by the rules. Fowler isn’t above using her reputation to her advantage: “Eggleston thinks it’s too dangerous,” she shouts at an uncertain soldier as they embark on a difficult rescue mission, “and I want you to explain to Eggleston that if Family Values Fowler is in on this thing, then there’s no fucking way it could be dangerous.” But the nickname provides a fair description of her doggedly selfless character. “If you’re strong, you help the weak,” she explains bluntly when challenged by a fellow officer.

Moralising place names litter the military landscape of occupied Iraq, with its Camp Tolerances and Patrol Base Fortitudes, but ethics such as Fowler’s are in short ­supply. “Have some fun,” a superior tells her in disgust. “Dislike someone. Find an enemy. All this happy talk about helping the Iraqis stand up and saving them for democracy? Not happening.” Instead, an infantry captain fakes affidavits from Iraqis which allow him to arrest and torture whomever he likes. Fowler’s commander makes her pick out dresses for his wife and disinvites her from an all-male regimental party. Platoon commanders blackmail each other.

In the deepening pit of a dubious war, the military depends less on the chain of command than on the battle for a persuasive argument. “We don’t need any fucking intel, ma’am,” says one soldier. “What I’m saying is we deserve a story that makes sense.”

Making sense of the story is also a task for the reader of Terrell’s narrative, which constructs its mysteries of character and event in reverse order. As the book opens, Fowler and her platoon are combing a field behind a house in search of the body of their platoon sergeant, kidnapped on an earlier engagement. Assisting them is a signals officer, Dixon Pulowski, who presides over a network of surveillance cameras, and an infantry commander Captain Masterson, who we learn has pulled a lot of “illegal crap” to find the location of this property. The mission soon goes wrong: Fowler shoots the house owner, the field turns out to be mined and Pulowski and another soldier are killed.

The subsequent chapters flow backwards to reveal the personalities behind this fatal engagement and their relationships with one another. Pulowski is hiding the truth about the circumstances of the sergeant’s kidnapping. He and Fowler have been having an on-off affair since they met at boot camp in Kansas. Masterson is not the helpful professional he appears to be. Fowler’s nickname twists the knife in her sense of guilt about her own family. The book steadily infuses its characters with depth and humanity and lays out the dubious intelligence and errors that led them to catastrophe.

Moving backwards from Iraq also allows the book to cover a lot of ground. Many novels and films have examined the aftermath of battle and the difficulties of reintegration at home; many more have begun by evoking an American innocence that their war sequences intend to destroy. Terrell’s approach allows him to have much of both cakes and eat them. After 160 pages of The Good Lieutenant, the reader is back with Fowler and Pulowski at Fort Riley in Kansas, but the barbecues and pre-deployment disputes are now tinged with the knowledge of the horrors that await their participants.

The effect is powerful and sometimes heartbreaking. Fowler and Pulowski grow ever closer as time spools backwards, and other characters rise from the dead and cycle through phases of diminishing entanglement with one another.

In the book’s final third, we encounter Fowler’s brother, a small-town slicker who sells sub-prime mortgages to those he calls “our triumvirate of morons”: blacks, Latinos and soldiers. The irony is thick as he mocks his sister – “Hey, I’m going off to war to save my country. Aren’t I awesome? Don’t I deserve to be thanked? No! You volunteered to get screwed” – and is laughed off.

Terrell was an embedded reporter in Iraq, an experience that could make anyone cynical. His achievement here is to keep his faith in those moments when it was still at least possible to imagine a different outcome.

The Iran Nuclear Deal: The Future of the JCPOA

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Experts evaluate the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, the issues that have arisen in the past year, and what the new administration should consider for the future of the deal.

What does it mean for Ukip if it loses in Stoke-on-Trent Central?

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The party’s prospects are in question if it fails to win over the “Brexit capital” in Thursday's by-election.

“The Only Way Is Up!” blasted through a hall in Stoke-on-Trent Central on a damp Monday evening earlier this month. It was the end of a public Ukip meeting, in which Nigel Farage and his successor and by-election candidate Paul Nuttall made their rallying cries to an audience of around 650 supporters.

But even then, a fortnight ago, the note of triumph in the dance classic was tinged with uncertainty. “We’ve won the war, but we’ve yet to win the peace,” Farage admitted to the sympathetic crowd. And while this message is supposed to make Ukip’s fight relevant even in the context of Brexit-bound Britain, it betrays the party’s problem: the battle that was its raison d'être is over.

Failing fortunes

Since then, the party has had more to contend with. Its candidate in the Labour seat has been caught lying about having “close personal friends” killed at the Hillsborough disaster. This comes on top of a number of other false claims, and an investigation into whether he falsely registered his home address as being in the constituency.

After these scandals – and a campaign seemingly unable to turn out apathetic voters (which I covered a couple of weeks ago) – Ukip’s chances in the West Midlands seat look worse than expected.

Initially the main challenger to Labour, Ukip is now being predicted for third or even fourth place in the seat, behind a Tory party that essentially stood aside to give Nuttall room, and to focus on a concurrent by-election campaign in Copeland.

It’s in Labour’s interest for the campaign to continue looking like a close Labour-Ukip fight, in order to keep hold of tactical voters. But both the Conservative and Lib Dem campaigns are feeling more buoyant.

“We are relatively confident that Ukip are not going to win, and that is quite a change,” the Lib Dem campaign coordinator Ed Fordham told me. “That has actually relieved lots of voters of the emotional risk of letting in what they perceive to be an unpleasant, far-right option . . . and voting for who they would like to represent them.”

One local activist chirped: “It will hopefully be a terrible result for Ukip.”

So what will it mean for Ukip if it loses?

Great expectations

Ukip has a lot riding on this seat. Farage called the by-election “absolutely fundamental” to Ukip’s future. Its new leader, Nuttall, took the risk of running as the party’s candidate there – riding his reputation on the by-election.

This created a lot of hype about Ukip’s chances, which the party has privately been trying to play down ever since. Even before the scandal surrounding Nuttall, he was emphasising that the seat had only been Ukip’s 72nd target, and told me he had taken a gamble by running for it. “The way it’s being written up as if this is the one – it wasn’t,” he insisted.

But Stoke-on-Trent, where 69 per cent voted Leave, has been labelled the “Brexit capital”. According to political scientist Rob Ford, the author of Revolt on the Right who has been studying Labour’s most Ukip-vulnerable seats: “It should be a pretty favourable seat for them, pretty favourable demographics, pretty favourable [negative] attitudes about the EU, very high Brexit vote there and so on.”

In other words, if Ukip can’t win here, against a weak Labour party, where can it win?

Struggle for seats

Brexit is central to Ukip’s by-election campaign. The party has highlighted Labour’s splits over Europe, pointed out the Labour candidate Gareth Snell’s Remainer credentials, and warned that the government needs to be held to account when negotiating Britain’s exit.

But Ford believes this rhetoric is unlikely to work, since the Tories are already pursuing a “hard” Brexit focused on immigration control. “A difficulty for Paul Nuttall and Ukip is that people are going to say: why would we vote for you when we’re getting what we want from the government? What’s the point right now?” he said. “I can have all the Brexity stuff, all the immigration control stuff, but with none of the incompetence and serial lying about Hillsborough – I think I’ll take that!”

So if rerunning the EU referendum doesn’t work, even in such a Brexit-heavy seat, this means trouble for Ukip elsewhere in the country. A Ukip councillor in a top Ukip target seat with similar demographics to Stoke believes it’s “crisis time” for the party.

“It is very sad to say, but Ukip has lost its way,” they tell me. “It’s still a strong party, but after losing Nigel, it’s lost a little of its oomph. The new gentleman [Nuttall] has been silly with the comments he’s made. That’s a big worry in some regards. You need to be a people person. It’s a serious situation at the minute.”

If Ukip can’t prove it can win parliamentary seats – even in favourable by-elections – then it will be difficult to prove its authority as a political party come the general election.

Leadership lament

Should Nuttall lose, Ukip’s leadership will come into question. Again. During a tumultuous time late last year, when the favourite Steven Woolfe left the party after a physical altercation, and Diane James quit the leadership after 18 days, commentators asked if Ukip was anything without Farage.

When Nuttall eventually took over, the same voices warned of his threat to Labour – citing his northern and working-class roots. It’s likely this narrative will change, and Farage’s golden touch pondered again, if Nuttall fails to win.

But rather than panic about its national leader, Ukip must look carefully at those who commit to the party in local campaigns. On the ground in Stoke, running Nuttall as a candidate instead of a local Ukipper is seen as a mistake.

“I don’t know why they did that,” one local activist for an opposing party commented. “If they’d run Mick Harold, they would’ve won. He’s a Stokie.”

Harold, the deputy chair of Staffordshire County Committee, and chair of Ukip’s Stoke-on-Trent Central/North branch, won 22.7 per cent of the vote for Ukip in the constituency in 2015. He insists that he stands by his decision to step aside for Nuttall, but does highlight that Ukip should increase its vote share.

“If we’re increasing our percentage share of the vote, we’re still moving forward and that’s how we’ve got to look at it,” he told me. “I got 22.7 per cent in 2015. I would think this time we’re going to certainly get somewhere around the 30 per cent mark.”

Would it have been more likely to achieve this with Harold as candidate? “Whatever happens, happens, we’ve just got to move forward,” he replied. “If you’ve made a mistake, you move on from it.”

I have heard similar misgivings from local activists in other parts of the country – people who have achieved impressive results in local elections and the general election, but haven’t had much thanks from the national party. “We need to get professionalised now,” one such campaigner said. “Because we’ve got grassroots people who are not career politicians [doing all the hard work].” They say their local party is fed up with leadership being dictated by “personal grudges” at the top of the party.


As I’ve written before, I don’t think this is the end of Ukip. Once Brexit starts to bite, and it’s clear immigrants are still needed to fill jobs, there will be resentment enough to make space for them again. But losing Stoke will highlight the challenges – of purpose, leadership and local organisation – that the party will need to overcome for its next stand.


What does François Bayrou's endorsement of Emmanuel Macron mean for the French presidential race?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The support of the perennial candidate for President will boost Macron's morale but won't transform his electoral standing. 

François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Democratic Movement and a candidate for the French presidency in 2007 and 2012, has endorsed Emmanuel Macron’s bid for the presidency.

What does it mean for the presidential race?  Under the rules of the French electoral system, if no candidate secures more than half the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off.

Since 2013, Marine Le Pen has consistently led in the first round before going down to defeat in the second, regardless of the identity of her opponents, according to the polls.

However, national crises – such as terror attacks or the recent riots following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man, who was sodomised with a police baton – do result in a boost for Le Pen’s standing, as does the ongoing “Penelopegate” scandal about the finances of the centre-right candidate, François Fillon.

Macron performs the most strongly of any candidate in the second round but struggles to make it into the top two in the first. Having eked out a clear lead in second place ahead of Fillon in the wake of Penelopegate, Macron’s lead has fallen back in recent polls after he said that France’s rule in Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

Although polls show that the lion’s share of Bayrou’s supporters flow to Macron without his presence in the race, with the rest going to Fillon and Le Pen, Macron’s standing has remained unchanged regardless of whether or not Bayrou is in the race or not. So as far as the electoral battlefield is concerned, Bayrou’s decision is not a gamechanger.

But the institutional support of the Democratic Movement will add to the ability of Macron’s new party, En Marche, to get its voters to the polls on election day, though the Democratic Movement has never won a vast number of deputies or regional elections. It will further add to the good news for Macron following a successful visit to London this week, and, his supporters will hope, will transform the mood music around his campaign.

But hopes that a similar pact between Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, and Jean-Luc Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front’s candidate, look increasingly slim, after Mélenchon said that joining up with the Socialists would be like “hanging himself to a hearse”. 

Photo: Getty

A Passion for Finding Talent

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Philip Carlson was a talent agent who signed and represented the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Claire Danes, Idris Elba, Viola Davis, and Liev Schreiber. His roster of acting talent is long and his career spanned decades. In this short film by Christopher Ming Ryan, Carlson reflects on the difficult and joyous process of finding talent. “I am looking for someone who just thrills me. Who is just…I cannot take my eyes off them because they are so deeply involved in what they do,” he says. “It just has to be filled with honesty, and humanity and a wish to be heard.” He has since left the talent agency industry and has written a book aimed at giving advice to aspiring actors.

You can see more of Ryan’s film work at his company’s website:

What actually is Article 50? The small print that will trigger Brexit

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Your handy guide to leaving the European Union. 

It’s actually not as complicated as it seems. Article 50 is one part of the Lisbon Treaty, a constitution written up in 2007 and ratified in 2009 with the intention of reforming an expanding EU.

Article 50 is designed to be a framework for allowing a country to exit from the EU. Once a country invokes Article 50, it has two years to negotiate terms with the EU. If those negotiations aren’t complete, the country leaves with nothing, unless both parties agree to lengthen the negotiation process.

A brief history of Article 50

Before the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, there was no formal way for a country to exit the EU. After the introduction of ten new member states to the EU in 2004, it was decided that a new treaty needed to be written up in order to solve the issue. The creation of a new treaty, however, wasn’t simple.

A first attempt at this treaty was made during the creation of the European Constitution. However, this was eventually rejected when France and the Netherlands failed to ratify it after national referendums. Rather poetically, the EU then entered into a "period of reflection" until a new constitutional framework could be written and agreed upon.

After adequate "reflection", the EU decided to introduce a replacement constitution, and that’s how the Lisbon Treaty came about. On the 13th of December 2007, the treaty was signed in Lisbon, and by January 2009, it was ratified.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a diplomat involved in drafting Article 50 has been outspoken about the uncertainties around Brexit. In a lecture at the University of Glasgow, Lord Kerr spoke of the protracted process of leaving the EU, and how there was still one in three chance the UK will reach the end of the two year negotiation period having not reached a deal with the EU member states.

What does Article 50 actually say?

There are five points to Article 50, digested here:

  1. That “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
  2. That the member state must inform “European Council of its intention" and in response, “the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State”
  3. That “[t]he Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification...unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  4. For these negotiations, “the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it". Also, what counts as a majority "shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union".
  5. "If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49”. This essentially means, if the UK leaves and wishes to return, it must apply in the manner any European country would - there’s no special treatment for once being a member. 

Has Article 50 ever been invoked before?

No. The entire treaty is fairly new, and the UK is the first country to have to use that section. This throws into question whether two years - a clause of the article - is long enough to negotiate leaving the EU. We’re in uncharted waters here.



Who will win the Copeland by-election?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Photo: Getty

The Daily Mail attacks its own campaign over Guantanamo Bay story

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

“Utter hypocrisy.”

Fresh from planning the metropolitan liberal revolution, in which he called on Britain to “rise up” against Brexit, everyone’s favourite former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has waded into public discourse again. This time, to attack the Daily Mail.

The Mail’s front page story today – headlined “I.S. Suicide Bomber You Paid £1million” – condemns “intense lobbying from Tony Blair’s government” for the release of a British-born Guantanamo detainee called Jamal al-Harith (or Ronald Fiddler, the name he was given at birth) in 2004, who has committed a suicide attack on behalf of Islamic State.

Blair is enraged by the “utter hypocrisy” of the paper – it was the Mail that led a campaign for al-Harith’s release at the time, running an article headlined “Freedom At Last For Guantanamo Britons” when he was freed.

“I would not normally respond to daily stories about events which happened during my time in office but on this occasion I will do so, given the utter hypocrisy with which this story is being covered,” Blair comments in a post on his website.

“It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British Government in 2004. This followed a Parliamentary and massive media campaign, led by the Daily Mail, the very paper that is now supposedly so outraged at his release and strongly supported by the then Conservative Opposition.”

He also points out that the Jihadi, who blew himself up in Iraq this week, was paid compensation under the Tory government in 2010.


Your mole realises that this story will cause much heartache for its leftier readers – so do address your dilemma by telling us who you side with in this Alien vs. Predator setup:

Anoosh Chakelian/Mail screengrab

What is the Scottish Six and why are people getting so upset about it?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The BBC is launching a new Scottish-produced TV channel. And it's already causing a stooshie. 

At first glance, it should be brilliant news. The BBC’s director general Tony Hall has unveiled a new TV channel for Scotland, due to start broadcasting in 2018. 

It will be called BBC Scotland (a label that already exists, confusingly), and means the creation of 80 new journalism jobs – a boon at a time when the traditional news industry is floundering. While the details are yet to be finalised, it means that a Scottish watcher will be able to turn on the TV at 7pm and flick to a Scottish-produced channel. Crucially, it will have a flagship news programme at 9pm.

The BBC is pumping £19m into the channel and digital developments, as well as another £1.2m for BBC Alba (Scotland’s Gaelic language channel). What’s not to like? 

One thing in particular, according to the Scottish National Party. The announcement of a 9pm news show effectively kills the idea of replacing News at Six. 

Leading the charge for “a Scottish Six” is John Nicolson, the party’s Westminster spokesman for culture, media and sport. A former BBC presenter himself, Nicolson has tried to frame the debate as a practical one. 

“Look at the running order this week,” he told the Today programme:

“You’ll see that the BBC network six o’clock news repeatedly runs leading on an English transport story, an English health story, an English education story. 

“That’s right and proper because of the majority of audience in the UK are English, so absolutely reasonable that English people should want to see and hear English news, but equally reasonable that Scottish people should not want to listen to English news.”

The SNP’s opponents think they spy fake nationalist outrage. The Scottish Conservatives shadow culture secretary Jackson Carlaw declared: “Only they, with their inherent and serial grievance agenda, could find fault with this.” 

The critics have a point. The BBC has become a favourite punch bag for cybernats. It has been accused of everything from doctored editing during the independence referendum to shrinking Scotland on the weather map

Meanwhile, the SNP’s claim to want more coverage of Scottish policies seems rather hollow at a time when at least one journalist claims the party is trying to silence him

As for the BBC, it says the main reason for not scrapping News at Six is simply that it is popular in Scotland already. 

But if the SNP is playing it up, there is no doubt that TV schedules can be annoying north of the border. When I was a kid, at a time when #indyref was only a twinkle in Alex Salmond’s eye, one of my main grievances was that children’s TV was all scheduled to match the English holidays. I’ve migrated to London and BBC iPlayer, but I do feel truly sorry for anyone in Glasgow who has lost half an hour to hearing about Southern Railways. 

Then there's the fact that the Scottish government could do with more scrutiny. 

“I’m at odds with most Labour folk on this, as I’ve long been a strong supporter of a Scottish Six,” Duncan Hothershall, who edits the Scottish website Labour Hame. “I think the lack of a Scotland-centred but internationally focused news programme is one of the factors that has allowed SNP ministers to avoid responsibility for failures.”

Still, he’s not about to complain if that scrutiny happens at nine o’clock instead: “I think the news this morning of a new evening channel with a one hour news programme exactly as the Scottish Six was envisaged is enormously good news.”

Let the reporting begin. 


PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

Getty Images.

Snap and the 21st century governance vacuum

From Analysis. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

In an era when innovators are prized, fewer investors are able to hold management to account

Why Nigel Farage is hoovering up all the women I know

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Beware young fogeys.

I can’t remember where I was when I first worked out that I was older than Nigel Farage. You’d think after that bombshell went off, you’d still be able to locate the crater. Anyway, there it is: the cut-price little Oswald Mosley is about a year younger than me.

I mention this not because I want to dwell on the nasty piece of shit, but because I’ve been having to face, at one remove, so to speak, the problem of young fogeyism. It seems to be all around. And not only that, it’s hoovering up women I know.

The first time it happened was with B——. She was going to come round last weekend, but then emailed to cancel the day before, because she was going to watch rugby – apparently there’s some kind of tournament on, but it never seems to end – with her boyfriend. How ghastly, I said, or words to that effect; I’d rather die.

She then made the Category One mistake of saying, “Rugby, cricket, all the same to me,” with a cheeky little “x” at the end of it.

I replied thus: Rugby is a violent and brutal game (the coy term is “contact sport”, which means you get to – indeed, are encouraged to – injure the opposing team as often as you can, in the absence of any other tactic) loved by fascists, or, at best, those with suspicious ideas about the order of society with which I doubt you, B——, would wish to be aligned. Also, only people of immense bulk and limited intelligence can play it. Cricket is a game of deep and subtle strategy, capable of extraordinary variation, which is appreciated across the class spectrum, and is also so democratically designed that even the less athletic – such as I – can play it. [I delete here, for your comfort, a rant of 800 or so words in which I develop my theory that cricket is a bulwark against racism, and rugby, er, isn’t.] Both are dismayingly over-represented at the national level by ex-public-school boys; cricket as a matter of historical accident (the selling-off of school playing fields under Thatcher and Major), rugby as a matter of policy. Have a lovely day watching it.

Two things to note. 1) This woman is not, by either birth or ancestry, from a part of the world where rugby is played. 2) You wouldn’t have thought she was one of nature’s rugby fans, as she considers that Jeremy Corbyn is a good person to be leading the Labour Party. (True, thousands of Tories think the same thing, but for completely different reasons.)

That’s Exhibit A. Exhibit B is my old friend C——, whom I haven’t seen for about five years or so but suddenly pops up from the past to say hello, how about a drink? I always liked C—— very much, largely because she’s very funny and, let’s be frank about this, something of a sexpot. She seems keen to bring someone over with her who, reading between the lines like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, I deduce to be her latest partner. The thing is, she says, she’s not sure he can come, because he might be going beagling.


Well, she does come round (alone, thank goodness) and she’s looking even better than I remember, and is even funnier, too, and she shows me some of the pictures she has put up on her profile page on some dating site, and they’re not the kind of photographs this magazine will ever publish, let’s leave it at that. (One of them even moves.) And, as it turns out – and it doesn’t really surprise me that much – the young beagler she is seeing is a good thirty years-plus younger than she, and his photograph shows him to be all ears and curls, like a transporter mix-up between Prince Charles and the young David Gower. Like B——’s young man, he is not called Gervaise or Peregrine but may as well be.

What on Earth is going on here? Can we blame Farage? I can understand the pull of the void, but this is getting ridiculous. Do they not quite understand what they’re doing? Actually, C—— does, because she’s had her eyes open all her life, and B——, her youth and political idealism notwithstanding, didn’t exactly come down in the last shower, either.

So what is it with these young wannabe toffs – one of whom isn’t even rich? “You’d like him,” C—— says, but I’m not so sure. People who go beagling sure as hell don’t like me, and I see no reason not to return the favour.

Well, I can’t thrash this out here. C—— leaves, but not before giving me the kind of kiss that makes me wish Binkie Beagley, or whatever his name is, would just wink out of existence.


When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes

By ProPublica from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.

That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.

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A cardiologist recommended that the man immediately have a coronary angiogram, in which a catheter is threaded into an artery to the heart and injects a dye that then shows up on special x-rays that look for blockages. If the test found a blockage, the cardiologist advised, the executive should get a stent, a metal tube that slips into the artery and forces it open.

While he was waiting in the emergency department, the executive took out his phone and searched “treatment of coronary artery disease.” He immediately found information from medical journals that said medications, like aspirin and blood-pressure-lowering drugs, should be the first line of treatment. The man was an unusually self-possessed patient, so he asked the cardiologist about what he had found. The cardiologist was dismissive and told the man to “do more research.” Unsatisfied, the man declined to have the angiogram and consulted his primary-care doctor.

The primary-care physician suggested a different kind of angiogram, one that did not require a catheter but instead used multiple x-rays to image arteries. That test revealed an artery that was partially blocked by plaque, and though the man’s heart was pumping blood normally, the test was incapable of determining whether the blockage was dangerous. Still, his primary-care doctor, like the cardiologist at the emergency room, suggested that the executive have an angiogram with a catheter, likely followed by a procedure to implant a stent. The man set up an appointment with the cardiologist he was referred to for the catheterization, but when he tried to contact that doctor directly ahead of time, he was told the doctor wouldn’t be available prior to the procedure. And so the executive sought yet another opinion. That’s when he found Dr. David L. Brown, a professor in the cardiovascular division of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The executive told Brown that he’d felt pressured by the previous doctors and wanted more information. He was willing to try all manner of noninvasive treatments—from a strict diet to retiring from his stressful job—before having a stent implanted.

The executive had been very smart to seek more information, and now, by coming to Brown, he was very lucky, too. Brown is part of the RightCare Alliance, a collaboration between health-care professionals and community groups that seeks to counter a trend: increasing medical costs without increasing patient benefits. As Brown put it, RightCare is “bringing medicine back into balance, where everybody gets the treatment they need, and nobody gets the treatment they don’t need.” And the stent procedure was a classic example of the latter. In 2012, Brown had coauthored a paper that examined every randomized clinical trial that compared stent implantation with more conservative forms of treatment, and he found that stents for stable patients prevent zero heart attacks and extend the lives of patients a grand total of not at all. In general, Brown says, “nobody that’s not having a heart attack needs a stent.” (Brown added that stents may improve chest pain in some patients, albeit fleetingly.) Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of stable patients receive stents annually, and one in 50 will suffer a serious complication or die as a result of the implantation procedure.

Brown explained to the executive that his blockage was one part of a broader, more diffuse condition that would be unaffected by opening a single pipe. The cardiovascular system, it turns out, is more complicated than a kitchen sink. The executive started medication and improved his diet. Three months later, his cholesterol had improved markedly, he had lost 15 pounds, and the chest pain never returned.

Now, listen to the story with the sad ending: Not long after helping the executive, Brown and his colleagues were asked to consult on the case of a 51-year-old man from a tiny Missouri town. This man had successfully recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but radiation and six cycles of chemotherapy had left him with progressive scarring creeping over his lungs. He was suffocating inside his own body. The man was transferred to Barnes Jewish Hospital, where Brown works, for a life-saving lung transplant. But when the man arrived in St. Louis, the lung-transplant team could not operate on him.

Four months earlier, the man had been admitted to another hospital because he was having trouble breathing. There, despite the man’s history of lymphoma treatment, which can cause scarring, a cardiologist wondered whether the shortness of breath might be due to a blocked artery. As with the executive, the cardiologist recommended a catheter. Unlike the executive, however, this man, like most patients, agreed to the procedure. It revealed a partial blockage of one coronary artery. So, doctors implanted a stent, even though there was no clear evidence that the blockage was responsible for the man’s shortness of breath—which was, in fact, caused by the lung scarring. Finally, the man was put on standard post-implantation medications to make sure he would not develop a blood clot at the site of the stent. But those medications made surgery potentially lethal, putting the man at an extremely high risk of bleeding to death during the transplant. The operation had to be delayed.

Meanwhile, the man’s lung tissue continued to harden and scar, like molten lava that cools and hardens into gray stone. Until one day, he couldn’t suck in another breath. The man had survived advanced-stage lymphoma only to die in the hospital, waiting until he could go off needed medication for an unneeded stent.

What the patients in both stories had in common was that neither needed a stent. By dint of an inquiring mind and a smartphone, one escaped with his life intact. The greater concern is: How can a procedure so contraindicated by research be so common?

When you visit a doctor, you probably assume the treatment you receive is backed by evidence from medical research. Surely, the drug you’re prescribed or the surgery you’ll undergo wouldn’t be so common if it didn’t work, right?

For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine—imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few—it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable—or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

In a 2013 study, a dozen doctors from around the country examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade—2001 through 2010—that tested a current clinical practice, from the use of antibiotics to treat people with persistent Lyme disease symptoms (didn’t help) to the use of specialized sponges for preventing infections in patients having colorectal surgery (caused more infections). Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced; 138 articles supported the efficacy of an existing practice, and the remaining 79 were deemed inconclusive. (There was, naturally, plenty of disagreement with the authors’ conclusions.) Some of the contradicted practices possibly affect millions of people daily: Intensive medication to keep blood pressure very low in diabetic patients caused more side effects and was no better at preventing heart attacks or death than more mild treatments that allowed for a somewhat higher blood pressure. Other practices challenged by the study are less common—like the use of a genetic test to determine if a popular blood thinner is right for a particular patient—but gaining in popularity despite mounting contrary evidence. Some examples defy intuition: CPR is no more effective with rescue breathing than if chest compressions are used alone; and breast-cancer survivors who are told not to lift weights with swollen limbs actually should lift weights, because it improves their symptoms.

A separate but similarly themed study in 2012 funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, which sought to reduce spending on needless procedures, looked across the same decade and identified 156 active medical practices that are probably unsafe or ineffective. The list goes on: A brand new review of 48 separate studies—comprising more than 13,000 clinicians—looked at how doctors perceive disease-screening tests and found that they tend to underestimate the potential harms of screening and overestimate the potential benefits; an editorial inAmerican Family Physician,co-written by one of the journal’s editors, noted that a “striking feature” of recent research is how much of it contradicts traditional medical opinion.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. The 21st Century Cures Act—a rare bipartisan bill, pushed by more than 1,400 lobbyists and signed into law in December—lowers evidentiary standards for new uses of drugs and for marketing and approval of some medical devices. Furthermore, last month President Donald Trump scolded the FDA for what he characterized as withholding drugs from dying patients. He promised to slash regulations “big league. … It could even be up to 80 percent” of current FDA regulations, he said. To that end, one of the president’s top candidates to head the FDA, tech investor Jim O’Neill, has openly advocated for drugs to be approved before they’re shown to work. “Let people start using them at their own risk,” O’Neill has argued.

So, while Americans can expect to see more drugs and devices sped to those who need them, they should also expect the problem of therapies based on flimsy evidence to accelerate. In a recent Stat op-ed, two Johns Hopkins University physician-researchers wrote that the new 21st Century Cures Act will turn the label “FDA approved” into “a shadow of its former self.” In 1962, Congress famously raised the evidentiary bar for drug approvals after thousands of babies were born with malformed limbs to mothers who had taken the sleep aid thalidomide. Steven Galson, a retired rear admiral and former acting surgeon general under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, has called the strengthened approval process created in 1962 the FDA’s “biggest contribution to health.” Before that, he said, “many marketed drugs were ineffective for their labeled uses.”

Striking the right balance between innovation and regulation is incredibly difficult, but once remedies are in use—even in the face of contrary evidence—they tend to persist. A 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association paper coauthored by John Ioannidis—a Stanford University medical researcher and statistician who rose to prominence exposing poor-quality medical science—found that it took 10 years for large swaths of the medical community to stop referencing popular practices after their efficacy was unequivocally vanquished by science.

According to Vinay Prasad, an oncologist and one of the authors of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings paper, medicine is quick to adopt practices based on shaky evidence but slow to drop them once they’ve been blown up by solid proof. As a young doctor, Prasad had an experience that left him determined to banish ineffective procedures. He was the medical resident on a team caring for a middle-aged woman with stable chest pain. She underwent a stent procedure and suffered a stroke, resulting in brain damage. Prasad, now at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, still winces slightly when he talks about it. University of Chicago professor and physician Adam Cifu had a similar experience. Cifu had spent several years convincing newly postmenopausal patients to go on hormone therapy for heart health—a treatment that at the millennium accounted for 90 million annual prescriptions—only to then see a well-designed trial show no heart benefit and perhaps even a risk of harm. “I had to basically run back all those decisions with women,” he says. “And, boy, that really sticks with you, when you have patients saying, ‘But I thought you said this was the right thing.’” So he and Prasad coauthored a 2015 book, Ending Medical Reversal, a call to raise the evidence bar for adopting new medical standards. “We have a culture where we reward discovery; we don’t reward replication,” Prasad says, referring to the process of retesting initial scientific findings to make sure they’re valid.

Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, says the situation with stents, at least, is improving. As a previous president of the American College of Cardiology, he helped create guidelines for determining when a stable patient might be a reasonable candidate for a stent. (Both Nissen and David Holmes, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and also a former ACC president, said that in cases in which patients have had bad responses to medication and persistent, life-altering chest pain, even a short-term reduction of symptoms may justify a stent.) Thanks to such guidelines, the frequency of clearly inappropriate stent placement declined significantly between 2010 and 2014. Still, the latest assessment in more than 1,600 hospitals across the country concluded that about half of all stent placements in stable patients were either definitely or possibly inappropriate. “Things have gotten better,” Nissen says, “but they’re not where they need to be.” Nissen thinks removing financial incentives can also help change behavior. “I have a dozen or so cardiologists, and they get the exact same salary whether they put in a stent or don’t,” Nissen says, “and I think that’s made a difference and kept our rates of unnecessary procedures low.”

Two years ago, a trio of Bloomberg journalists reported that Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City was scheduling “emergencies-by-appointment” for patients to get stents, because, the report said, insurance is more likely to cover the procedure in an emergency situation. (For a patient who is having a heart attack, a stent can be life-saving.) Mount Sinai’s catheter lab features annual reports that boast of how many stents are implanted, alongside patient testimonials, like one from 77-year-old Nelly Rodriguez, who notes that her doctor “reassures me that as long as I follow his instructions, eat healthy, and remain smoke-free, the stents he has put into my arteries over the years should last and I will feel well.” In most cases, every word of that sentence between “smoke-free” and “I will feel well” could be deleted and it would be just as true.

It is, of course, hard to get people in any profession to do the right thing when they’re paid to do the wrong thing. But there’s more to this than market perversion. On a recent snowy St. Louis morning, Brown gave a grand-rounds lecture to about 80 doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital. Early in the talk, he showed results from medical tests on the executive he treated, the one who avoided a stent. He then presented data from thousands of patients in randomized controlled trials of stents versus noninvasive treatments, and it showed that stents yielded no benefit for stable patients. He asked the doctors in the room to raise their hands if they would still send a patient with the same diagnostic findings as the executive for a catheterization, which would almost surely lead to a stent. At least half of the hands in the room went up, some of them sheepishly. Brown expressed surprise at the honesty in the room. “Well,” one of the attendees told him, “we know what we do.” But why?

In 2007, after a seminal study, the COURAGE trial, showed that stents did not prevent heart attacks or death in stable patients, a trio of doctors at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted 90-minute focus groups with cardiologists to answer that question. They presented the cardiologists with fictional scenarios of patients who had at least one narrowed artery but no symptoms and asked them if they would recommend a stent. Almost to a person, the cardiologists, including those whose incomes were not tied to tests and procedures, gave the same answers: They said that they were aware of the data but would still send the patient for a stent. The rationalizations in each focus group followed four themes: (1) Cardiologists recalled stories of people dying suddenly—including the highly publicized case of jogging guru Jim Fixx—and feared they would regret it if a patient did not get a stent and then dropped dead. The study authors concluded that cardiologists were being influenced by the “availability heuristic,” a term coined by Nobel laureate psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman for the human instinct to base an important decision on an easily recalled, dramatic example, even if that example is irrelevant or incredibly rare. (2) Cardiologists believed that a stent would relieve patient anxiety. (3) Cardiologists felt they could better defend themselves in a lawsuit if a patient did get a stent and then died, rather than if they didn’t get a stent and died. “In California,” one said, “if this person had an event within two years, the doctor who didn’t [intervene] would be successfully sued.” And there was one more powerful and ubiquitous reason: (4) Despite the data, cardiologists couldn’t believe that stents did not help: Stenting just made so much sense. A patient has chest pain, a doctor sees a blockage, how can opening the blockage not make a difference?

In the late 1980s, with evidence already mounting that forcing open blood vessels was less effective and more dangerous than noninvasive treatments, cardiologist Eric Topol coined the term, “oculostenotic reflex.” Oculo, from the Latin for “eye,” and stenotic, from the Greek for “narrow,” as in a narrowed artery. The meaning: If you see a blockage, you’ll reflexively fix a blockage. Topol described “what appears to be an irresistible temptation among some invasive cardiologists” to place a stent any time they see a narrowed artery, evidence from thousands of patients in randomized trials be damned. Stenting is what scientists call “bio-plausible”—intuition suggests it should work. It’s just that the human body is a little more Book of Job and a little less household plumbing: Humans didn’t invent it, it’s really complicated, and people often have remarkably little insight into cause and effect.

Axel Pfaender

Chances are, you or someone in your family has taken medication or undergone a procedure that is bio-plausible but does not work.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three American adults have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of how hard your blood is pushing on the sides of vessels as it moves through your body; the harder the pushing, the more strain on your heart. People with high blood pressure are at enormously increased risk for heart disease (the nation’s No. 1 killer) and stroke (No. 3).

So it’s not hard to understand why Sir James Black won aNobel Prize largely for his 1960s discovery of beta-blockers, which slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure. The Nobel committee lauded the discovery as the “greatest breakthrough when it comes to pharmaceuticals against heart illness since the discovery of digitalis 200 years ago.” In 1981, the FDA approved one of the first beta-blockers, atenolol, after it was shown to dramatically lower blood pressure. Atenolol became such a standard treatment that it was used as a reference drug for comparison with other blood-pressure drugs.

In1997, a Swedish hospital began a trial of more than 9,000 patients with high blood pressure who were randomly assigned to take either atenolol or a competitor drug that was designed to lower blood pressure for at least four years. The competitor-drug group had fewer deaths (204) than the atenolol group (234) and fewer strokes (232 compared with 309). But the study also found that both drugs lowered blood pressure by the exact same amount, so why wasn’t the vaunted atenolol saving more people? That odd result prompted a subsequent study, which compared atenolol with sugar pills. It found that atenolol didn’t prevent heart attacks or extend life at all; it just lowered blood pressure. A 2004 analysis of clinical trials—including eight randomized controlled trials comprising more than 24,000 patients—concluded that atenolol did not reduce heart attacks or deaths compared with using no treatment whatsoever; patients on atenolol just had better blood-pressure numbers when they died.

“Yes, we can move a number, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to better outcomes,” says John Mandrola, a cardiac electrophysiologist in Louisville who advocates for healthy lifestyle changes. It’s tough, he says, “when patients take a pill, see their numbers improve, and think their health is improved.”

The overall picture of beta-blockers is complex. For example, some beta-blockers have been shown clearly to reduce the chance of a stroke or heart attack in patients with heart failure. But the latest review of beta-blockers from the Cochrane Collaboration—an independent, international group of researchers that attempts to synthesize the best available research—reported that they “are not recommended as first line treatment for hypertension as compared to placebo due to their modest effect on stroke and no significant reduction in mortality or coronary heart disease.”

Researchers writing in Lancet questioned the use of atenolol as a comparison standard for other drugs and added that “stroke was also more frequent with atenolol treatment” compared with other therapies. Still, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 33.8 million prescriptions of atenolol were written at a retail cost of more than $260 million. There is some evidence that atenolol might reduce the risk of stroke in young patients, but there is also evidence that it increases the risk of stroke in older patients—and it is older patients who are getting it en masse. According to ProPublica’s Medicare prescription database, in 2014, atenolol was prescribed to more than 2.6 million Medicare beneficiaries, ranking it the 31st most prescribed drug out of 3,362 drugs. One doctor, Chinh Huynh, a family practitioner in Westminster, California, wrote more than 1,100 atenolol prescriptions in 2014 for patients over 65, making him one of the most prolific prescribers in the country. Reached at his office, Huynh said atenolol is “very common for hypertension; it’s not just me.” When asked why he continues to prescribe atenolol so frequently in light of the randomized, controlled trials that showed its ineffectiveness, Huynh said, “I read a lot of medical magazines, but I didn’t see that.” Huynh added that his “patients are doing fine with it” and asked that any relevant journal articles be faxed to him.

Brown, the Washington University cardiologist, says that once doctors get out of training, “it’s a job, and they’re trying to earn money, and they don’t necessarily keep up. So really major changes have to be generational.”

Data compiled by QuintilesIMS, which provides information and technology services to the health-care industry, show that atenolol prescriptions consistently fell by 3 million per year over a recent five-year period. If that rate holds, atenolol will stop being prescribed in just under two decades since high-quality trials showed that it simply does not work.

Just as the cardiovascular system is not a kitchen sink, the musculoskeletal system is not an erector set. Cause and effect is frequently elusive.

Consider the knee, that most bedeviling of joints. A procedure known as arthroscopic partial meniscectomy, or APM, accounts for roughly a half-million procedures per year at a cost of around $4 billion. A meniscus is a crescent-shaped piece of fibrous cartilage that helps stabilize and provide cushioning for the knee joint. As people age, they often suffer tears in the meniscus that are not from any acute injury. APM is meant to relieve knee pain by cleaning out damaged pieces of a meniscus and shaving the cartilage back to crescent form. This is not a fringe surgery; in recent years, it has been one of the most popular surgical procedures in the hemisphere. And a burgeoning body of evidence says that it does not work for the most common varieties of knee pain.

Something like the knee version of the oculostenotic reflex takes hold: A patient comes in with knee pain, and an MRI shows a torn meniscus; naturally, the patient wants it fixed, and the surgeon wants to fix it and send the patient for physical therapy. And patients do get better, just not necessarily from the surgery.

A 2013 study of patients over 45 conducted in seven hospitals in the United States found that APM followed by physical therapy produced the same results as physical therapy alone for most patients. Another study at two public hospitals and two physical-therapy clinics found the same result two years after treatment.

A unique study at five orthopedic clinics in Finland compared APM with “sham surgery.” That is, surgeons took patients with knee pain to operating rooms, made incisions, faked surgeries, and then sewed them back up. Neither the patients nor the doctors evaluating them knew who had received real surgeries and who was sporting a souvenir scar. A year later, there was nothing to tell them apart. The sham surgery performed just as well as real surgery. Except that, in the long run, the real surgery may increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis. Also, it’s expensive, and, while APM is exceedingly safe, surgery plus physical therapy has a greater risk of side effects than just physical therapy.

At least one-third of adults over 50 will show meniscal tears if they get an MRI. But two-thirds of those will have no symptoms whatsoever. (For those who do have pain, it may be from osteoarthritis, not the meniscus tear.) They would never know they had a tear if not for medical imaging, but once they have the imaging, they may well end up having surgery that doesn’t work for a problem they don’t have.

For obvious reasons, placebo-controlled trials of surgeries are difficult to execute. The most important question then is: Why, when the highest level of evidence available contradicts a common practice, does little change?

For one, the results of these studies do not prove that the surgery is useless, but rather that it is performed on a huge number of people who are unlikely to get any benefit. Meniscal tears are as diverse as the human beings they belong to, and even large studies will never capture all the variation that surgeons see; there are compelling real-world results that show the surgery helps certain patients. “I think it’s an extremely helpful intervention in cases where a patient does not suffer from the constant ache of arthritis, but has sharp, intermittent pain and a blockage of motion,” says John Christoforetti, a prominent orthopedic surgeon in Pittsburgh. “But when you’re talking about the average inactive American, who suffers gradual onset knee pain and has full motion, many of them have a meniscal tear on MRI and they should not have surgery as initial treatment.”

Still, the surgery—like some others meant for narrower uses—is common even for patients who don’t need it. And patients themselves are part of the problem. According to interviews with surgeons, many patients they see want, or even demand, to be operated upon and will simply shop around until they find a willing doctor. Christoforetti recalls one patient who traveled a long way to see him but was “absolutely not a candidate for an operation.” Despite the financial incentive to operate, he explained to the patient and her husband that the surgery would not help. “She left with a smile on her face,” Christoforetti says, “but literally as they’re checking out, we got a ding that someone had rated us [on a website], and it’s her husband. He’s been typing on his phone during the visit, and it’s a one-star rating that I’m this insensitive guy he wouldn’t let operate on his dog. They’d been online, and they firmly believed she needed this one operation and I was the guy to do it.”

So, what do surgeons do? “Most of my colleagues,” Christoforetti says, “will say: ‘Look, save yourself the headache, just do the surgery. None of us are going to be upset with you for doing the surgery. Your bank account’s not going to be upset with you for doing the surgery. Just do the surgery.’”

Randomized, placebo-controlled trials are the gold standard of medical evidence. But not all RCTs, as they are known, are created equal. Even within the gold standard, well-intentioned practices can muddle a study. That is particularly true with “crossover” trials, which have become popular for cancer-drug investigations.

In cancer research, a crossover trial often means that patients in the control group, who start on a placebo, are actually given the experimental drug during the study if their disease progresses. Thus, they are no longer a true control group. The benefit of a crossover trial is that it allows more people with severe disease to try an experimental drug; the disadvantage is the possibility that the study is altered in a manner that obscures the efficacy of the drug being tested.

In 2010, on the strength of a crossover trial, Provenge became the firstcancer vaccine approved by the FDA. A cancer vaccine is a form of immunotherapy, in which a patient’s own immune system is spurred by a drug to attack cancer cells. Given the extraordinary difficulty of treating metastatic cancer, and high expectations following the abject failure of other cancer vaccines, the approval of Provenge was greeted with ecstatic enthusiasm. One scientific paper heralded it as “the gateway to an exciting new paradigm.” Except, Provenge did not hinder tumor growth at all, and it’s hard to know if it really works.

Provenge was approved based on the “IMPACT study,” a randomized, placebo-controlled trial initially meant to see whether Provenge could stop prostate cancer from progressing. It didn’t. Three-and-a-half months into the study, the cancers of patients who had received Provenge and those who had received a placebo had advanced similarly. Nonetheless, patients who received Provenge ultimately had a median survival time of about four months longer than those who received the placebo. Due to the way in which the IMPACT trial unfolded, however, it’s hard to tell if Provenge was truly responsible for the life extension.

Because Provenge did not halt tumor growth, many of the patients who began the study on it also started to receive docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug that is well established to treat advanced prostate cancer. The cancers of the patients on a placebo were also progressing, so they were “crossed over” and given Provenge after a delay. Their cancer continued progressing, and after another delay, many of them also got docetaxel. In the end, fewer patients in the group that started on a placebo received docetaxel, and, when they did, they got it later in the study. So Provenge may have worked, but it’s impossible to tell for sure: Was the slightly longer survival of one group because they got Provenge earlier or because the other group got docetaxel later?

The year after Provenge was approved, the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued a “technology assessment” report examining all of the evidence regarding Provenge efficacy. The report says there is “moderate” evidence that Provenge effectively treats cancer, but it also highlighted the fact that more patients who got Provenge at the beginning of the seminal trial also received more and earlier chemotherapy. The report concludes that the effect of Provenge is apparent “only in the context of a substantial amount of eventual chemotherapeutic treatment.” In other words, it is unclear which effects in the trial were due to Provenge and which were due to chemotherapy.

“The people who went on docetaxel went on it because their disease was progressing, so you’ve already broken the randomization,” says Elise Berliner, director of AHRQ’s Technology Assessment Program. Prasad, the oncologist who advocates for higher standards of preapproval evidence, is less diplomatic: “If the treatment were Pixy Stix, you’d have a similar effect. One group gets Pixy Stix, and when their cancer progresses, they get a real treatment.”

The larger issue has nothing to do with Provenge specifically but about the way it gained FDA approval. Therapies are frequently approved for use based on clinical trials that can’t actually prove whether they work. “Clinical trials almost all have issues like this one,” Berliner says, “and it’s very hard to do randomized controlled trials after drugs are approved.” According to a new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology,even when cancer drugs clearly do work in trials, they often don’t work or work substantially less well in the real world, perhaps because subjects in trials are not representative of typical patients. Berliner is hoping to expand and improve registries that track large numbers of real-world patients as an additional source of information. “I’ve been here for 15 years producing these reports,” she says, “and I’m getting frustrated.”

Ideally, findings that suggest a therapy works and those that suggest it does not would receive attention commensurate with their scientific rigor, even in the earliest stages of exploration. But academic journals, scientists, and the media all tend to prefer research that concludes that some exciting new treatment does indeed work.

In 2012, a team of scientists from UCLA published an article in the prominent New England Journal of Medicine, the most cited medical journal in the world, showing that deep brain stimulation—delivered via electrodes implanted in the brains of Parkinson’s patients—improved spatial memory, a lot. The study was understandably small—just seven subjects—as there are only so many people with electrodes already implanted in their brains. It was covered in outlets like The New York Times (“Study Explores Electrical Stimulation as An Aid to Memory”), The Wall Street Journal (“Memory Gets Jolt in Brain Research”), and LiveScience (“Where Did I Park? Brain Treatment May Enhance Spatial Memory”). The NEJM itself published an editorial in the same issue noting that the study was “preliminary, is based on small samples, and requires replication” but was worth following up with “well-designed studies.”

Given the potential impact, an international team led by Joshua Jacobs, a biomedical-engineering professor at Columbia University, set out to replicate the initial finding with a larger sample. “If it did indeed work, it would be a very important approach that could help people,” Jacobs says. The team took several years and tested 49 subjects, so that their study would give more statistically reliable results. The scientists were rather stunned to find that deep brain stimulation actually impaired spatial memory in their study. It was a disappointing result, but they were encouraged to show that brain stimulation could affect memory at all—a step toward figuring out how to wield such technology—and they felt an obligation to submit it to the NEJM. That is how science is supposed to work, after all, because failing to publish negative results is recognized to be a massive source of scientific misinformation.

Replication of results in science was a cause-célèbrelast year, due to the growing realization that researchers have been unable to duplicate a lot of high-profile results. A decade ago, Stanford’s Ioannidis published a paper warning the scientific community that “Most Published Research Findings Are False.” (In 2012, he coauthored a paper showing that pretty much everything in your fridge has been found to both cause and prevent cancer—except bacon, which apparently only causes cancer.) Ioannidis’s prescience led his paper to be cited in other scientific articles more than 800 times in 2016 alone. Point being, sensitivity in the scientific community to replication problems is at an all-time high. So Jacobs and his coauthors were bemused when the NEJM rejected their paper.

One of the reviewers (peer reviewers are anonymous) who rejected the paper gave this feedback: “Much more interesting would have been to find a set of stimulation parameters that would enhance memory.” In other words: The paper would be better if, like the original study, it had found a positive rather than a negative result. (Last spring, ProPublica wrote about heavy criticism of the NEJM’s reluctance to publish research that questioned earlier findings.) Another reviewer noted that electrodes were placed on most of the subjects differently in the replication study compared with those in the original study. So Jacobs and his coauthors analyzed results only from patients with the exact same electrode placement as the original study, and the findings were the same. Three of the authors wrote back to the NEJM, pointing out errors in the reviewer comments; they received a short note back saying that the paper rejection “was not based on the specific comments of the reviewers you discuss in your response letter” and that the journal gets many more papers than it can print. That is, of course, very true, particularly for important journals. Neuron, one of the most prominent neuroscience-specific journals, quickly accepted the paper and published it last month. (It did not receive the media fanfare of the original paper—or almost any at all—although The Wall Street Journal did cover it.)

The same week the paper appeared in Neuron, Columbia University held a daylong symposium to discuss the replication problem in science. The president of the National Academy of Sciences and the director of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity spoke—so too did Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the NEJM. Jacobs was in the audience.

In the final Q&A, Jacobs stepped up to one of the audience microphones and asked Drazen if journals had an obligation to publish high-quality replication attempts of prominent studies, and he disclosed that his team’s had been rejected by the NEJM. Drazen declined to discuss Jacobs’s paper, but he said that “as editors, we’re powerless,” and the onus should be on the replication researchers, or “the complainant,” as he put it, “and the [original paper] author to work together toward the truth. We’re not trying to say who’s right and who’s wrong; we’re trying to find out what we need to know. Veritas, to advance human health, it’s that simple.”

Jacobs did not find the answer that simple. He found it strange. On a panel about transparency and replication, Drazen seemed to be saying that journals, the main method of information dissemination and the primary forum for replication in science, could do little and that “complainants” need to sort it out with de facto defendants. Many doctors, scientists, patient advocates, and science writers keep track of new developments through premier publications like the NEJM. The less publicly a shaky scientific finding is challenged, the more likely it becomes entrenched common knowledge.

Of course, myriad medical innovations improve and save lives, but even as scientists push the cutting edge (and expense) of medicine, the National Center for Health Statistics reported last month that American life expectancy dropped, slightly. There is, though, something that does powerfully and assuredly bolster life expectancy: sustained public-health initiatives.

Medicine can be like wine: Expense is sometimes a false signal of quality. On an epochal scale, even the greatest triumphs of modern medicine, like the polio vaccine, had a small impact on human health compared with the impact of better techniques for sanitation and food preservation. Due to smoking and poor lifestyle habits, lung cancer—which killed almost no Americans in the early 20th century—is today by far the biggest killer among cancers. Thankfully, public pressure to curb smoking has put lung-cancer deaths in rapid decline since a peak in the 1990s. Deaths from lung cancer should continue to diminish, as they are tightly correlated to smoking rates—but with a 20-year lag; that is, lung cancer deaths will decline 20 years after smoking rates decline.

The health problems that most commonly afflict the American public are largely driven by lifestyle habits—smoking, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity, among others. In November, a team led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital pooled data from tens of thousands of people in four separate health studies from 1987 to 2008. They found that simple, moderate lifestyle changes dramatically reduced the risk of heart disease, the most prolific killer in the country, responsible for one in every four deaths. People deemed at high familial risk of heart disease cut their risk in half if they satisfied three of the following four criteria: didn’t smoke (even if they smoked in the past); weren’t obese (although they could be overweight); exercised once a week; ate more real food and less processed food. Fitting even two of those categories still substantially decreased risk. In August, a report issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that obesity is now linked to an extraordinary variety of cancers, from thyroids and ovaries to livers and colons.

At the same time, patients and even doctors themselves are sometimes unsure of just how effective common treatments are, or how to appropriately measure and express such things. Graham Walker, an emergency physician in San Francisco, co-runs a website staffed by doctor volunteers called the NNT that helps doctors and patients understand how impactful drugs are—and often are not. “NNT” is an abbreviation for “number needed to treat,” as in: How many patients need to be treated with a drug or procedure for one patient to get the hoped-for benefit? In almost all popular media, the effects of a drug are reported by relative risk reduction. To use a fictional illness, for example, say you hear on the radio that a drug reduces your risk of dying from Hogwart’s disease by 20 percent, which sounds pretty good. Except, that means if 10 in 1,000 people who get Hogwart’s disease normally die from it, and every single patient goes on the drug, eight in 1,000 will die from Hogwart’s disease. So, for every 500 patients who get the drug, one will be spared death by Hogwart’s disease. Hence, the NNT is 500. That might sound fine, but if the drug’s “NNH”—“number needed to harm”—is, say, 20 and the unwanted side effect is severe, then 25 patients suffer serious harm for each one who is saved. Suddenly, the trade-off looks grim.

Now, consider a real and familiar drug: aspirin. For elderly women who take it daily for a year to prevent a first heart attack, aspirin has an estimated NNT of 872 and an NNH of 436. That means if 1,000 elderly women take aspirin daily for a decade, 11 of them will avoid a heart attack; meanwhile, twice that many will suffer a major gastrointestinal bleeding event that would not have occurred if they hadn’t been taking aspirin. As with most drugs, though, aspirin will not cause anything particularly good or bad for the vast majority of people who take it. That is the theme of the medicine in your cabinet: It likely isn’t significantly harming or helping you. “Most people struggle with the idea that medicine is all about probability,” says Aron Sousa, an internist and senior associate dean at Michigan State University’s medical school. As to the more common metric, relative risk, “it’s horrible,” Sousa says. “It’s not just drug companies that use it; physicians use it, too. They want their work to look more useful, and they genuinely think patients need to take this [drug], and relative risk is more compelling than NNT. Relative risk is just another way of lying.”

Even remedies that work extraordinarily well can be less impressive when viewed via NNT. Antibiotics for a sinus infection will resolve symptoms faster in one of 15 people who get them, while one in eight will experience side effects. A meta-analysis of sleep-aid drugs in older adults found that for every 13 people who took a sedative, like Ambien, one had improved sleep—about 25 minutes per night on average—while one in six experienced a negative side effect, with the most serious being increased risk for car accidents.

“There’s this cognitive dissonance, or almost professional depression,” Walker says. “You think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a doctor, I’m going to give all these drugs because they help people.’ But I’ve almost become more fatalistic, especially in emergency medicine.” If we really wanted to make a big impact on a large number of people, Walker says, “we’d be doing a lot more diet and exercise and lifestyle stuff. That was by far the hardest thing for me to conceptually appreciate before I really started looking at studies critically.”

Historians of public health know that most of the life-expectancy improvements in the last two centuries stem from innovations in sanitation, food storage, quarantines, and so on. The so-called “First Public Health Revolution”—from 1880 to 1920—saw the biggest lifespan increase, predating antibiotics or modern surgery.

In the 1990s, the American Cancer Society’s board of directors put out a national challenge to cut cancer rates from a peak in 1990. Encouragingly, deaths in the United States from all types of cancer since then have been falling. Still, American men have a ways to go to return to 1930s levels. Medical innovation has certainly helped; it’s just that public health has more often been the society-wide game changer. Most people just don’t believe it.

In 2014, two researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed Americans and found that typical adults attributed about 80 percent of the increase in life expectancy since the mid-1800s to modern medicine. “The public grossly overestimates how much of our increased life expectancy should be attributed to medical care,” they wrote, “and is largely unaware of the critical role played by public health and improved social conditions determinants.” This perception, they continued, might hinder funding for public health, and it “may also contribute to overfunding the medical sector of the economy and impede efforts to contain health care costs.”

It is a loaded claim. But consider the $6.3 billion 21st Century Cures Act, which recently passed Congress to widespread acclaim. Who can argue with a law created in part to bolster cancer research? Among others, the heads of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Public Health Association. They argue against the new law because it will take $3.5 billion away from public-health efforts in order to fund research on new medical technology and drugs, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s “cancer moonshot.” The new law takes money from programs—like vaccination and smoking-cessation efforts—that are known to prevent disease and moves it to work that might, eventually, treat disease. The bill will also allow the FDA to approve new uses for drugs based on observational studies or even “summary-level reviews” of data submitted by pharmaceutical companies. Prasad has been a particularly trenchant and public critic, tweeting that “the only people who don’t like the bill are people who study drug approval, safety, and who aren’t paid by Pharma.”

Perhaps that’s social-media hyperbole. Medical research is, by nature, an incremental quest for knowledge; initially exploring avenues that quickly become dead ends are a feature, not a bug, in the process. Hopefully the new law will in fact help speed into existence cures that are effective and long-lived. But one lesson of modern medicine should by now be clear: Ineffective cures can be long-lived, too.

From Loving to Gold, the films gripped by homebuilding in America

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

In all three films, capitalism, landowning and homemaking are inexorably linked.

If you’ve been to the movies in the last couple of weeks, you might have seen a film set in a Southern US state. In it, a man drives out into the countryside, and finds a square of untouched land. Maybe he brings his wife with him. He stands on the land and imagines a future in which he has built his own tiny empire on this patch of earth.

Gold, Loving and The Founder, all released in the UK in the last fortnight, are all twentieth century-set films that touch on ideas of the American Dream, and all contain variations of this scene.

Loving would be the story of a typical all-American couple living out their white picket fence dreams, if it weren’t for the regressive laws that invalidate their interracial marriage and see them banned from their home state.

We first catch a glimpse of the domestic life they long for when Richard Loving drives his girlfriend, Mildred, out into a field near where she grew up. “Whatcha think?” he asks her. “Do you like it?”

“You mean this field?” she replies. “This field not a mile from my house that I’ve been knowin’ all my life?”

“I want to put the kitchen right back here,” he says, before beginning to explain. “I bought it. This whole acre. I’m gonna build you a house right here. Our house.” The violins swell suggestively, and Richard proposes.

The scene functions as a way to both paint a picture of the idyllic life that Mildred and Richard were well on track to attain: only a few scenes later we’re abruptly reminded that the deception of the American Dream, perhaps particularly in this period, is that it’s open to all, “regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position”.

In Gold, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) begins to make his fortune when he builds a successful gold mine in Indonesia. Shortly after his discovery, he drives his girlfriend Kay into a field at Maggie’s Creek.

She steps out of the car with her hands over her eyes. When she opens them, Kenny announces, “It’s gonna be our place, away from it all, above it all, just like we always wanted. You like it?”

When she breathlessly says she does, he begins planning: “Ok, look. The house, right here, alright? The kitchen, facing there, the great room over here, two fireplaces…”

“Can we afford this?” Kay asks.

“Almost, baby, almost,” Kenny says. “We’re almost there. Now look at this, a couple of bedrooms on this end, couple on that end. Look at this playground for the kids! How many kids do you wanna have?”

Kenny’s financial success working the land in Indonesia and the domestic bliss he could achieve building his own home back in the States are intrinsinctly linked in one upward movement, dreams achieved through persistance, self-belief and the ability to visualise a perfect future.

In The Founder, we veer slightly from these familial images. We see the McDonald brothers lovingly sketch out the floor plans for their fast food restaurants over and over again with chalk on tennis courts.

“What if the fryer goes here?” they mutter, trying to find the perfect organisation of stations to maximise productivity and efficiency. Meanwhile, Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the man whose vision will ultimately eclipse theirs, drives out to a patch of land and grasps the earth in his hand, whispering to it.

We’ve seen tropes like this before: take the abandoned home trope, for example. In films like It’s A Wonderful LifeThe Notebook and Up, male protagonists adopt abandoned buildings their wives and girlfriends have romanticised in some way, and with physical, rather than financial, effort, transform these crumbling structures into a family house. There’s an idealistic quality to these scenes that suggest any American can stumble across the perfect home and move in, and present a communal attitude to landowning like something out of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.

But the scenes in these recent three films suggest something rather different - capitalism, landowning and homemaking are inexorably linked. The success of Richard’s construction business and mechanic work allows him to buy the land where he can build Mildred’s home, while Kenny’s goldmine enables him to purchase a shiny new estate for Kay. Ray’s emotional connection with the ground comes after he realises that he’s “not in the fast food business,” he’s “in the real estate business”. The McDonald brothers put the love, care and attention into the floorplans of their restaurants usually reserved for domestic homebuilding. There are tonal and contextual differences in these scenes, but they all see familial and commercial spheres merge over floorplans. 

But these movies also suggest that there is a lie inherent in the idea that rampant capitalism can lead to domestic bliss. Mildred and Richard are told that the life they have built together means nothing by a Virgina courtroom. Kay and Kenny’s relationship breaks down as his financial success becomes more and more impossible. And as for the McDonald brothers? Both they, and Kenny in Gold, must later face the gut-churning realisation that as their businesses are built on land owned by somebody else, they can be taken away from them, with little to no financial compensation.

There’s a nostalgia to these films – in the blissful life Richard and Loving begin to glimpse towards the end of Loving, after their court case has been won; in the pioneering, take-life-by-the-horns spirit of Kenny Wells and Ray Kroc that secures them their fortunes.

But the Woody Guthrie spirit of “This Land is our Land” has changed its meaning over time: written while Guthrie was paying rent to Donald Trump’s father, it’s now been adopted by protesters at anti-Trump marches. And all these films also cast a retrospectively sceptical eye over the social and economic contexts in which their stories are set.

In an America helmed by the ultimate real estate capitalist with his own regressive views, there is an eerily well-timed hint of cynicism at play. The ideals of the American Dream – that you can prosper regardless of your heritage or background if you just work hard – are fragile. And you can be locked out of your home, however hard you worked in building it. 

Gold trailer

Leader: Remainers have a right to be heard

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

One does not have to agree with Tony Blair to respect his right to make an anti-Brexit argument. 

On 17 February, Tony Blair spoke out against Brexit in a long, considered speech. The British people may have voted to leave the European Union on 23 June last year, he said, but: “It is their right to change their mind.” That it took an intervention from a former Labour prime minister greatly diminished in standing to restate this democratic truth is a mark of the vacuity of the Brexit debate so far. In truth, Mr Blair was performing a role for which he was never designed: the reluctant counter-revolutionary.

One did not have to agree with him to respect his right to make an anti-Brexit argument. Those who lose free and fair elections – or, indeed, binary plebiscites – are entitled to go on making their case. Mr Blair respects the will of the people. On the question of leaving the EU, that will is settled, even though Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. But so far, there has been little serious public discussion of Britain’s terms of exit. As Mr Blair told this magazine in November, the British people were “agreeing to a house swap without having seen the other house”. Theresa May, however, has said that she is prepared to walk away from the negotiations with the EU27 without a deal. She may yet come to regret this gambit. To allow Britain to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms would be self-defeating and foolish.

The passage of the Article 50 bill through the House of Lords, therefore, is a crucial juncture. It is a supreme irony that the anachronistic, undemocratic second chamber could secure amendments that ultimately inject renewed accountability into the process. Peers could achieve a meaningful vote for parliament on the final deal, something that the Prime Minister has resisted. This, as the former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell told peers, would spare Britain the indignity of watching the Belgian province of Wallonia having its say on a Brexit settlement before its own parliamentarians.

Unedifying for our democracy though it may be, the Lords is proving to be an effective check on the executive’s harmful impulses. In 2015, many Britons had reason to be thankful for Europe’s only fully unelected upper house when its rejection of George Osborne’s planned cuts to tax credits forced the then chancellor to rethink his misguided plans.

Having won the referendum, those on the Eurosceptic right ought to show some magnanimity. Their stridency and dogmatic certainties impede constructive debate. Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, said that Mr Blair’s intervention was “arrogant” and “undemocratic”. One would expect such banalities from one of the least successful leaders of the Conservative Party. Would Mr Duncan Smith and his fellow Eurosceptics have remained silent if the majority had rejected Brexit? Of course not.

By the time the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, it could have been almost three years since the referendum. For this reason, those opposed to a “hard Brexit” are entitled to keep making their case. And, should they want it – and should it be necessary – the British people are entitled to have their say again. 

Tony Blair with John Major during the EU campaign. Getty

The New Statesman Cover | The world after Brexit

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

A first look at this week's magazine.

24th February - 2nd March issue
The world after Brexit

The Brexit ministers who just realised reducing immigration is a problem for them

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Turns out there's a teeny tiny hiccup with reducing immigration...

On 27 December 2015, the then-backbencher MP David Davis declared he was "voting out" in the forthcoming EU referendum. Among his reasons was the "disastrous migration crisis". 

Fast forward 14 months. Now the minister responsible for Brexit, Davis has been spotted in the Latvian capital of Riga, with a slightly different message

He admitted it was not plausible that Brits would immediately take jobs in the kind of low-paid sectors like agriculture and social care currently staffed by migrant workers. 

Immigration restrictions "will take years" to be phased in, he added. 

Davis is only the latest minister in the Brexit government to realise that immigration might be down to more than some pesky EU bureaucrats. Here's when the penny dropped for the others: 

Andrea "Seasonal Labour"  Leadsom

During the EU referendum campaign, Brexit charmer-in-chief Andrea Leadsom told The Guardian that immigration from EU countries could “overwhelm” Britain, and that her constituents complained about not hearing English spoken on the street. 

But speaking to farmers in 2017 as Environment secretary, Leadsom said she knew “how important seasonal labour from the EU is, to the everyday running of your businesses”. She said she was committed to making sure farmers “have the right people with the right skills”. 

Sajid “Bob the Builder” Javid 

The Communities secretary Sajid Javid backed the Remain campaign like his mentor George Osborne, but when he was offered a job in the Brexit government, he took it.

Javid has criticised immigrants who don’t integrate, but it seems there is one group he doesn’t have any qualms about - the construction workers who build the homes that fall under his remit.

As early as September, Javid was telling the FT he wouldn’t let any pesky UK border red tape get between him and foreign workers needed to meet his housebuilding targets.

Philip “Citizen of the World” Hammond

So if you can’t kick out builders, what about that perennially unpopular group of workers, bankers? Not so fast, says Philip Hammond.

Just three months after Brexit, he said the government would use immigration controls “in a sensible way that will facilitate the movement of highly-skilled people between financial institutions and businesses”. 

As a Chancellor who personally backed Remain, Hammond is painfully aware of the repercussions if the City decamps to the Continent. 

Greg “Brightest and Best” Clark

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary backed Remain, and has kept his head down since winning the meaty new industrial brief. 

Nevertheless, he seems willing to weigh in on the immigration cap debate, at least on behalf of international students. Asked whether the post-study work visa pilot should continue, Clark said the government wanted to attract the brightest and best.

He continued:

"We have visa arrangements in place so that people can work in graduate jobs after that, and it is important that they should be able to do so."

Jeremy "The Doctor" Hunt 

The Health secretary kept his job in the turmoil of the summer, and used his conference speech to toe the party line with a pledge that the NHS would rely on less foreign medical staff in future.

The problem is, Hunt has alienated junior doctors by imposing an unpopular contract, and even those wannabe medics that do sign up will have to undergo half a decade of studying first.

Asked about where he plans to find NHS workers in Parliament, Hunt declared: “No one from either side of the Brexit debate has ever said there will be no immigration post-Brexit.” He also remained “confident” that the UK would be able to negotiate a deal that allowed the 127,000 EU citizens working for the NHS to stay. 

So it turns out we might need agriculture and construction workers, plus students, medics and even bankers after all. It's a good thing the government already has a Brexit plan sorted out...


Transport for the North: international connectivity is key to our success

By John Cridland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The Independent International Connectivity Commission Report says that better transport infrastructure in the north is a national necessity. 

If UK plc is to maximise its competitiveness, then unlocking the potential of the north of England could be one of the key factors for success. This was the take away message from the Independent International Connectivity Commission report earlier this month when Chair John Cridland unveiled a series of recommendations designed to release the latent capability of the north’s airports and seaports by improving connectivity.

As Chair of the report and the wider Transport for the North movement, he said the UK public’s decision to leave the European Union has only increased the need to invest in better transport infrastructure in the north. The Brexit vote,” he explained, “means that now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to improve and expand our international connectivity in the north, and in doing so support maximising the potential of UK plc on the world stage.”

Under the wings of Concorde in a special facility at Manchester International Airport, fellow panel member and the venue’s chief executive, Tim Hawkins, pointed out that since the morning’s presentation had started “around 3,000 business trips were being started or completed above our heads right now.”

Air passengers using the north’s airports increased by 9.1 per cent over the last year, contributing some £5.5 billion to the north’s total GVA. If the UK is to become self-sustainable post-Brexit, the report says, it needs to nurture its northern assets. Cridland added: “Well there’s your proof of concept. The north has airport capacity for 60 million more passengers annually, yet only 4 per cent of air freight comes through the north.”

The alleged confines of the EU were one of the driving forces behind Brexit. It would be fitting, then, to explore new trading opportunities with partners further afield – the likes of Brazil, Chinaand India – but London’s centricity is actually a barrier to progress on this front. Mark Parsons, chief customer officer at DHL, and one of the Commission’s panel members who also contributed to the report, rued its findings that 50 per cent of long-haul passengers from the north have to take connecting flights internally. He said: “The north’s international connectivity is important for the UK as a whole. We’re talking about moving people, products and freight. If your transport of any of those things is going through multiple access points, then it becomes very inefficient and expensive. Whether it’s through aviation or through seaports, what we need to make sure is that foreign companies are able to trade as directly as possible with domestic companies, while cutting out the middle-man, in this case London. Whether as a tourist passenger or an international tradesperson, if you’re moving through multiple airports, then you run the risk of lost luggage, delays or myriad other problems.”

The solution to greater internationalism would appear simple: use the northern transport hubs more and the UK will welcome fresh economic growth where it needs it and open itself up to a plethora of pan-global partners. So if it is that simple, why was there any need for the report? “Strategy,” Cridland admitted, “has previously been disjointed. It’s up to us to change that ‘business as usual’ mentality and reap the benefits from doing so. This could mean an increase to national GVA by £97 billion and add 850,000 jobs.”

That all sounds great, but surely it can’t happen overnight? The report is realistic in its vision – international connectivity starts on the ground. “The challenge isn’t finding a great northern airport,” Cridland said, “because there are plenty. The challenge is in getting to one of the north’s great airports in the first place. We need more people within a 90-minute commute. The fact is that we don’t have the infrastructure available to link up Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and the other wonderful northern cities to each other. It means that each of these cities exists in their own little bubble, rather than what we want which is a more joined-up network of opportunities.”

London, by contrast, profits from a talent and trade pool that encompasses the Home Counties as well as a prioritisation from all other major cities elsewhere to be quickly connected to it. The same such fluidity, worryingly, does not extend to the north. But a tailored model along the same lines could be made to work there too. Another Commission member, Sarah Stewart, chief executive of the Newcastle Gateshead initiative, said that a failure to provide suitable infrastructure was denying the northerners the same opportunities afforded to their counterparts in the south. “There’s a two-way flow that’s been neglected. Our (the north’s) citizens need to have the same access to holidays, the same access to activities. Business and leisure actually need to be intertwined. On the flipside, when people visit the north, we need to make sure that they’ve got access to things beyond the airport. We have so much to offer in our architecture, or national parks, our cathedrals, our universities. The north must be open to visitors and open for business.”

The magnetism of the capital, meanwhile, pertains thanks to businesses basing themselves there and a commitment to tourism. While the north is already home to 16 million people and 7.2 million jobs, there is a clear latency, nay duty, to do more.

Decisive action is needed to prevent a retirement crisis

By Jon Greer from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Most people aged 30-45 will not have enough money to retire unless the government addresses the intergenerational inequality of the current pensions system, writes Jon Greer, retirement policy expert at Old Mutual Wealth.

After years of slogging away at work, even those who love their jobs have days where they can’t wait for that magical period of retirement. But for a generation of the UK population, daydreams of holidays, rest and relaxation are being clouded by worries about whether they will ever be able to afford not to work.

Last summer, Theresa May promised to build an economy that works “for every one of us”, and the government established an Inclusive Economy Unit. But intergenerational inequality has continued to grow, due to the longterm shift in the pensions landscape.

There is now an entire generation – those aged 30-45, the “in-betweeners” – of people who are at a huge risk of under-saving for retirement. The previous generation has been provided for through a combination of funded pension provision and home ownership, and the generation after was introduced to auto-enrolment from a younger age, which should help to ensure that their income in retirement is at least adequate.

A closer look confirms our suspicions. The ONS recently found that while household incomes have increased for retirees in recent years, non-retired households still have less money, on average, than before the 2008 crash. At the same time, it released data showing overall income inequality had shrunk to levels comparable with the 1980s. This means that the gap between high and low earners has decreased, but the gap between the young and old has widened.

The generation following these in-betweeners has time on its side. Modelling by the Pension Policy Institute in 2015 showed that a median earner would need to contribute between 11 and 14 per cent of their earnings from age 22 to the State Pension age to maintain their living standards. Even then, this isn’t certain – these people only have a two-thirds probability of maintaining their standard of living.

For people who begin contributing later, the PPI says contribution levels to replicate working life living standards could be as high as 27 per cent. The average in-betweener would have been in their 30s when auto-enrolment was introduced, meaning they face a colossal challenge to make up the shortfall. Furthermore, the PPI report shows average employer contribution levels into defined contribution schemes were below four per cent of salary in 2014. While the minimum contribution levels are due to rise in 2018, the scale of the challenge for this generation is clear.

This growing intergenerational inequality has not gone unnoticed. Labour MP Frank Field has launched a select committee review of intergenerational fairness. In its preliminary report, the committee recommended the government undertake a forward-looking assessment of intergenerational income and wealth. Old Mutual Wealth has already embarked on the same process.

We recently conducted research with YouGov to better understand this generation – who they are, what their savings habits are, and how they feel about their retirement. Of the more than 3,000 respondents, almost nine out of 10 agree it is important to save/ invest for the future. But 22 percent save £100 or less per month. Why? After they fork out each month for childcare costs, student debts and rent or mortgage payments, they simply don’t have enough money left at the end of the month. The Bank of England says this trend is set to worsen: it predicts on record as households dig into savings to fuel spending.

Another key element of the problem is that this “in-between” generation keeps putting financial planning on the back burner. On average, those aged 30 said it would take them almost 10 years to start planning. As they moved through their mid-thirties, people began delaying even more.

This planning procrastination has resulted in just 13 per cent of 44- and 45-year-olds reporting to have a plan in place and we believe this is a key contributor to high levels of concern. Over half of the people surveyed feel negatively about their financial future.

The situation these in-betweeners find themselves in is not generally of their own making. The reasons are complex, but things that may have been taken as fairly straightforward by previous generations – owning your own home and building up a funded pension – are much more challenging for this generation.

At the moment we operate a ‘pay as you go’ system for state pensions, meaning the national insurance paid today funds the current generation of retirees. While the system has its merits, society has changed and it’s creating a problem. As society gets greyer, working-age taxpayers face a growing bill to cover the state pension.

Changes to the state pension were introduced, in part, in recognition of this. The package of changes included the triple lock, rising state pension ages and the abolition of the earnings-related part of the state pension. The underlying premise of these three changes was to replace the state pension with a new deal, in which the state pension started later but was of a decent amount, indexed at a reasonable level. The triple lock ensures that the state pension increases each year by either earnings growth, inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest. The issue with the triple lock is that regardless of what is happening to people’s earnings generally or the state of the economy, the state pension will ‘ratchet’ up by at least 2.5 per cent. This ratchet effect has been key to rectifying the relative decline in the state pension that occurred between the ‘80s to the ‘00s.

However, the scenario has changed again and policy needs to reflect that. There are some options that could ensure the social contract remains in place. For instance, now that the relative decline in the state pension has reversed, the triple lock should be reviewed from 2020 and replaced with an earnings link. In times when earnings fall behind price inflation, an above-earnings increase could kick in until real earnings growth resumes. The government should also consider future policy on universal pensioner benefits. Targeting these benefits more efficiently could help leave something in the pot for younger generations.

Another option for policymakers to consider is increasing auto-enrolment contributions to help this generation make ground more quickly. An agerelated approach to maximum autoenrolment contributions and the use of ‘nudge’ techniques to minimise opt-outs should be considered.

Doing nothing is not an option. If Theresa May wants to build an economy for all of us, she must not forget that a whole generation currently has little hope of escaping work and spending its days of retirement in the sun.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit:


Sir Ivan Rogers: UK may wait until mid 2020s for an EU trade deal

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The former ambassador to the EU had previously warned his colleagues about Brexit negotiatiors' "muddled thinking". 

Brits may have to wait until the mid 2020s for a free trade deal with the EU, UK's former ambassador to Brussels has warned.

Sir Ivan Rogers, who quit abruptly in January after warning of "muddled thinking", gave evidence to the Brexit select committee. 

He told MPs that his Brussels counterparts estimated a free-trade agreement might be negotiated by late 2020, and then it would take two more years to ratify it.

He said: "It may take until the mid 2020s until there is a ratified deep and fully comprehensive free-trade agreement."

The negotiations could be disrupted by the "rogue" European Parliament, he cautioned, as well as individual member states.

"Canada [the EU-Canada trade deal] not only nearly fell apart on Wallonia, it nearly fell apart on Romania and Bulgaria and visas," he said. 

Member states were calculating what the loss of the UK will mean to their budgets, he added - although many were celebrating the end of Britain's much-resented budget rebate. 

He also thought it unlikely the EU member states would agree to sectoral deals, such as one for financial services, if it meant jeopardising the unity of the EU negotiating position. 

In his resignation letter, which was leaked to the press, Rogers told his staff that "contrary to the beliefs of some, free trade does not just happen when it is not thwarted by authorities"and that he hoped they would continue "to challenge ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking".

Rogers said the comment was about "a generic argument on muddled thinking", which applied to "the system". He described how the small organisation he initially headed had been swamped by new arrivals from the newly-created Department for Exiting the EU.

The new recruits were enthusiastic, he said, but "they don't know an awful lot about the other end".

The UK needed to understand "we're up against a class act with the European Commission on negotiating", he warned. 

He said that if the UK reverted to World Trade Organisation rules - the option if it cannot agree a trade deal - it would enter a "legal void".

"No other major player trades with the EU on pure WTO terms," he said. "It's not true that the Americans do, or the Australians, or the Israelis or the Swiss."

The US has struck agreements "all the time" with the EU, he explained: "A very significant proportion of EU-US trade is actually governed by technical agreements."

Once the UK leaves the EU, it will be treated as a "third country", he added. This meant that the UK would need to get on a list to be allowed to export into the EU. Then individual firms would have to be listed, and their products scrutinised.

Rogers revealed he had debated "endlessly" with colleagues about the UK's relationship with the EU. "The core of the problem is not day one," he said. "The problem is day two, or day two thousand. What have you just captured your sovereignty and autonomy for?" Simply getting access to the single market would not mean a level playing field with EU companies, he explained.

He said: "The European Union is not a common sense agreement. It's a legal order."


Life with a smartphone is like having a second brain in your pocket

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Where there was once soul and body, now there’s also a phone.

On the morning of 11 March 2005, a judge called Robert M Restaino was presiding over domestic violence cases in his courtroom in Niagara Falls, New York, when a piercing sound disturbed him. It was a cellphone, ringing somewhere towards the back of the room. Restaino asked the owner of the offending item to come forward, but no one did. “Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now,” said the judge. He sent guards to find the phone but they returned empty-handed.

The stand-off ended with 46 people in jail. Though it was an appalling violation of the rights of those who were locked up (the judge was eventually removed from the bench), the incident had to it something of the reactionary fascination of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 film, Falling Down, in which an angry divorcé attacks the modern world with a baseball bat and gun. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks when confronted by police, having shot up gangsters, a fast-food joint and a white supremacist. Maybe Restaino asked the same thing when he got fired – because phones were a pain in the ass.

But that was then. Two years after Res­taino’s hissy fit, Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone for Apple at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Within another two and a half years, smartphones had reached 40 per cent market saturation, matching television as the consumer technology with the fastest adoption rate. There are now two billion smartphone users around the world, 204 million of them in India alone. Since Apple’s entry into the industry, the company’s market value has risen to $586bn; its closest rival, Samsung, is now worth £161.6bn. Jobs promised in 2007 that the “magical device” would “revolutionise” telecommunications. Yet it did more than that: it revolutionised communication itself.

Cellphones had become “smart” long before the iPhone. The first mobile device to offer some of the features we take for granted, such as email and a touch screen, went on sale in 1994. The IBM Simon, however, was clunky and expensive (it cost $1,100)and it had no web browser, which isn’t surprising, because Tim Berners-Lee had only come up with the idea a few years earlier. So the Simon remained a curiosity, an executive toy to place next to the Newton’s cradle.

Smartphones have since fallen in price, shrunk to pocket size and become, in effect, what the Harvard anthropologist Amber Case calls “our external brains”. “We are all cyborgs now,” she said in a 2010 Ted talk, arguing that mobile technology was “helping us to be more human, helping us to connect with each other”. People now use it to look for jobs, get directions, follow breaking news, play games, check social media and watch videos, among other things – often while pretending to be equally occupied IRL (“in real life”). Descartes posited that there was a dualism of soul and body. Perhaps there is now a third self, pinging between phones and internet servers.

Much has been made of the disruptive potential of this new mode of information access. In 2011, a University of Washington report concluded that social media, most of it through phones, had “played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab spring”. That year, I was living in east London as riots took place across England. From my window I watched kids throwing bottles at lines of police outside. Because my flat had a deep front alcove, young men would duck in off the street and hide there. I crept down the stairs and listened to them. “Where’re we going to go next?” said one. “Check BBM!” said another. Later, I looked up what BBM meant: BlackBerry Messenger. This was a cyborg rebellion.

For most people, however, smartphones have become an indispensable part of ordinary life, rather than a tool to fight the power. According to a 2015 Pew Research Centre poll, 46 per cent of Americans can’t “live without” a smartphone. A survey conducted last year by KRC Research found that 3 per cent would rather lose their wedding ring than their phone – and that 12 per cent would even sacrifice their “mojo”.

Another recent study, published in Computers in Human Behaviour, showed that 89 per cent of participants had felt “phantom vibrations”, in which they imagined that their phone was ringing when it wasn’t. In extreme cases, this can be a sign of neurotic behaviour. And according to the psychologist Kostadin Kushlev, more frequent phone interruptions make people “less attentive and more hyperactive”. So are we becoming too attached to our external brains? Researchers at Nottingham Trent University found in 2015 that the average user checks his or her phone 85 times a day. It’s worth remembering that an early nickname for the BlackBerry was “CrackBerry”.

If we can constantly access the world, the world can constantly access us. The Chartered Management Institute warned last year that, for many UK employees, time spent dealing with after-hours work emails cancels out their annual leave. There is also concern about the extent to which the security agencies can monitor our location and calls. (The Investigatory Powers Act, which extends the reach of state surveillance of phone and internet activity in Britain, was given royal assent last November; although the EU has ruled such indiscriminate collection of data unlawful, Brexit could render future objections by Europe meaningless.)

Amber Case and other evangelists for these new hyperconnected times argue that smartphones allow us to be more human, but I’m not so sure. Nietzsche encouraged “the good solitude” as a path towards the individual’s pursuit of reason. Yet this positive isolation seems ever more out of reach, ever more anachronistic – because, even when we are physically alone, our technology binds us to external concerns. Who can be fully present in his own thoughts when his attention is tugged one way and then the other by the competing appeals of emails, texts and social media alerts, all with the wearying undertow of Fomo (“fear of missing out”)? Call me a Luddite, but I’ll stick to my 15-year-old Nokia.


Novelty isn't enough for Emmanuel Macron and Martin Schulz

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The two politicians have caused excitement - but so far, neither has had to articulate a programme. 

Emmanuel Macron’s rally in London last night was overshadowed by polling that showed him slipping back slightly as he reaped the consequences of his excessive candour on the matter of France’s rule in Algeria.  Third with Elabe, and joint-second with centre-right candidate François Fillon with Opinionway and Ifop.

As far as the polling and French history show, what matters in this contest is the race to second-place and a ticket to the second round run-off against the hard-right Marine Le Pen.

Macron’s difficulties have intensified as this is the first Wednesday in months in which Le Canard Enchaîné has not brought fresh scandal involving Fillon and his finances. The question of why Penelope Fillon and the Fillon children were paid to act as parliamentary assistants while doing no work will run and run, however, so there may be a way back for him.

Macron’s problems have an echo in Germany, where for the first time since his return to German politics, Martin Schulz is facing serious criticism over his proposed changes to the Agenda 2010 reforms of the last SPD-led government. We wait to see what if any impact that row has on his standing in the polls.

But the difficulties of Macron and Schulz speak to a wider reason why their improved standing in the polls means that the talk of the end of the European centre-left’s crisis was just that, talk.

So far, neither of them has had to articulate a programme beyond “I’m new!” in the case of Schulz and “I’m new and attractive!” in the case of Macron.

We’ve seen that Macron, a neophyte politician, has put his foot in it when asked to add substance to his considerable style. He might improve and Fillon’s ongoing problems might give him a get out of jail free card. Schulz has been around for a bit longer but he has to keep this up until October. It’s a reminder that while being new and shiny is a useful asset for a leader – it isn’t enough on its own. 

Photo: Getty

The world has entered a new Cold War – what went wrong?

By John Thornhill from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War traces the accumulation of distrust between the West and Russia.

In March 1992 an alarmist “secret” memo written by Richard Nixon found its way on to the front page of the New York Times. “The hot-button issue of the 1950s was, ‘Who lost China?’ If Yeltsin goes down, the question ‘Who lost Russia?’ will be an infinitely more devastating issue in the 1990s,” the former US president wrote.

Nixon’s point was well made. At that time, Boris Yeltsin, who had acted as the wrecking ball of the Soviet Union, was desperately struggling to hold the splintering new Russian Federation together. An empire, a political system, an ideology and a planned economy had all been shattered in a matter of weeks. Western diplomats in Moscow feared that millions of starving people might flood out of the former Soviet Union and that the country’s vast nuclear arsenal might be left unguarded. Yet the West seemed incapable of rising to the scale of the historic challenge, providing only meagre – and often misguided – support to Yeltsin. Between 1993 and 1999, US aid to Russia amounted to no more than $2.50 per person. The Marshall Plan II it was not.

Even so, and rather remarkably, Russia was not “lost” during the 1990s. Yeltsin succeeded in stumbling through the decade, creating at least some semblance of a democracy and a market economy. Truly it was a case of “Armageddon averted”, as the historian Stephen Kotkin put it.

It seems hard to remember now, but for many Russians 1991 was a moment of liberation for them as much as it was for those in the Soviet Union’s other 14 republics. The Westernising strand of Russian thought briefly flourished. “Democratic Russia should and will be just as natural an ally of the democratic nations of the West as the totalitarian Soviet Union was a natural opponent of the West,” the country’s first foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, proclaimed.

When Vladimir Putin emerged on the political scene in Moscow in 1999 he, too, made much of his Westernising outlook. When my editor and I went to interview him as prime minister, there was a portrait of Tsar Peter the Great, who had founded Putin’s home city of St Petersburg as Russia’s window on the West, hanging proudly on his office wall. President Putin, as he soon became, was strongly supportive of Washington following al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States in 2001. “In the name of Russia, I want to say to the American people – we are with you,” he declared. Russian generals instructed their US counterparts in the lessons they had learned from their doomed intervention in Afghanistan.

Yet the sediment of distrust between the West and Russia accumulated steadily. The expansion of Nato to former countries of the Warsaw Pact, the bombing of Serbia, the invasion of Iraq and the West’s support for the “colour” revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine had all antagonised Moscow. But Putin’s increasing authoritarianism, hyperactive espionage and propaganda activities abroad drove the West away, as did his interventionism in Georgia and Ukraine.

Given the arc of Russian history, it was not surprising that the pendulum swung back so decisively towards the country’s Slavophiles. As a veteran foreign reporter for the Sunday Times and former Moscow correspondent, Peter Conradi is a cool-headed and even-handed guide to the past 25 years of Western-Russian relations. So much of what is written about Russia today is warped by polemics, displaying either an absurd naivety about the nature of Putin’s regime or a near-phobic hostility towards the country. It is refreshing to read so well-written and dispassionate an account – even if Conradi breaks little new ground.

The book concludes with the election of Donald Trump and the possibility of a new rapprochement between Washington and Moscow. Trump and Putin are indulging in a bizarre, if not grotesque, bromance. But as both men adhere to a zero-sum view of the world, it seems unlikely that their flirtation will lead to consummation.

For his part, Conradi does not hold out much hope for a fundamental realignment in Russia’s outlook. “Looking back another 25 years from now, it will doubtless be the Westward-looking Russia of the Yeltsin years that is seen as the aberration and the assertive, self-assured Putin era that is the norm,” he writes.

But the author gives the final word to the US diplomat George Kennan, a perpetual source of wisdom on all things Russian. “Of one thing we may be sure: no great and enduring change in the spirit and practice of Russia will ever come about primarily through foreign inspiration or advice,” Kennan wrote in 1951. “To be genuine, to be enduring, and to be worth the hopeful welcome of other peoples such a change would have to flow from the initiatives and efforts of the Russians themselves.”

Perhaps it is fanciful to believe that Russia has ever been “lost” to the West, because it has never been fully “won”.

John Thornhill is a former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times

Peter Conradi appears at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the NS, on 23 April.

Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War by Peter Conradi is published by One World (384pp, £18.99​)


Counter-Terrorism from Bush to Obama to Trump

By War on the Rocks from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

How has counter-terrorism changed from 9/11 to today over three presidencies? To answer that question, Ryan Evans sat down with two guests with deep perspective on counter-terrorism: Colin Kahl was the national security adviser to Vice President Biden and, earlier in the Obama administration, was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. ...

Insurgent Peace-Making: A New Approach to End the War in Afghanistan

By Theo Farrell from War on the Rocks. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

America should be wary of sending more troops to Afghanistan. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this month, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, called for thousands of more advisors to assist the Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban. U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for ...

Transformation of Taiwan's Reserve Force

From New RAND Publications. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

Assesses Taiwan's current reserve force and discusses steps that Taiwan can take to enhance the role of the reserves in deterring and, if necessary, defending against a cross-Strait invasion.

After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 22, 2017.

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 


The Worst and the Dimmest

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Politics and Strategy. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The U.S. under President Donald Trump does not actually seem to have a foreign policy. To be exact, it has several foreign policies — and it is not obvious whether anyone, including the president himself, speaks for the entire administration.

How a Carnival Dance Group Prepares to Take to the Streets

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

On London’s east side, a group of young dancers prepares for the carnival festival in Hackney. Their carefree energy and excitement is captured perfectly in this short film by Nick David and Jack Flynn. “Carnival for me, is the best time of the year,” says one participant. “Dancing is just going to be a thing for me forever I think.” The film follows the dancers as they train and practice, up until their climactic performance day.

The $143bn flop: How Buffett and 3G lost Unilever

From Analysis. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The story behind the failure of Kraft Heinz to win over the Anglo-Dutch giant

Trump’s troubling relationship with the press

By Marvin Kalb from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The Trump administration has declared war on the American press. It has also declared war on the judiciary, also on the Democratic leadership of Congress, sometimes even on the Republican leadership of Congress. But it is the press, or the media, to use its more fashionable moniker, that is the target of the president’s special […]

An equitable future can be built in Silicon Valley

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The digital disrupters must transform bad old business practices, too

Schulz’s return to roots of Europe’s centre left

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

German growth is enviable but low pay and job security are real fears

Why is Marine Le Pen getting more popular?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The latest French polls have people panicked. Here's what's going on. 

In my morning memo today, I wrote that Emmanuel Macron, who is campaigning in London today – the French émigré population makes it an electoral prize in of itself – was in a good position, but was vulnerable, as many of his voters were “on holiday” from the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Republican Party, and he is a relatively new politician, meaning that his potential for dangerous gaffes should not be ruled out.

Now two polls show him slipping. Elabe puts him third, as does Opinionway. More worryingly, Marine Le Pen, the fascist Presidential candidate, is extending her first round lead with Elabe, by two points. Elabe has Le Pen top of the heap with 28 per cent, Republican candidate François Fillon second with 21 per cent, and Macron third with 18.5 per cent. Opinionway has Le Pen down one point to 26 per cent, and Macron and Fillon tied on 21 per cent.
(Under the rules of France’s electoral system, unless one candidate reaches more than half of the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off. All the polls show that Marine Le Pen will top the first round, and have since 2013, before losing heavily in the second. That’s also been the pattern, for the most part, in regional and parliamentary elections.)

What’s going on? Two forces are at play. The first is the specific slippage in Macron’s numbers. Macron ended up in a row last week after becoming the first presidential candidate to describe France’s colonisation of Algeria as a “crime against humanity”, which has hurt him, resulting in a migration of voters back to the main centre-right candidate, François Fillon, which is why he is back in third place, behind Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen has been boosted by a bout of rioting following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man who was sodomised with a police baton.

As I’ve written before, Le Pen’s best hope is that she faces a second round against the scandal-ridden Fillon, who is under fire for employing his wife and children in his parliamentary office, despite the fact there is no evidence of them doing any work at all. She would likely still lose – but an eruption of disorder on the streets or a terrorist attack could help her edge it, just about. (That’s also true if she faced Macron, so far the only other candidate who has come close to making it into the second round in the polling.)

For those hoping that Macron can make it in and prevent the French presidency swinging to the right, there is some good news: tomorrow is Wednesday. Why does that matter? Because Le Canard Enchaîné, the French equivalent of Private Eye which has been leading the investigation into Fillon is out. We’ve known throughout the election that what is good for Fillon is bad for Macron, and vice versa. Macron’s Algeria gaffe has helped Fillon – now Macron must hope that Fillon’s scandal-ridden past has more gifts to give him. 

Photo: Getty

Emmanuel Macron offers Theresa May no comfort on Brexit

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The French presidential candidate warned that he would not accept "any caveat or any waiver" at a press briefing in London.

Emmanuel Macron, the new wunderkind of French politics, has brought his presidential campaign to London. The current favourite to succeed François Hollande has a natural electoral incentive to do so. London is home to 300,000 French voters, making it by France's sixth largest city by one count (Macron will address 3,000 people at a Westminster rally tonight). But the telegenic centrist also took the time to meet Theresa May and Philip Hammond and to hold a press briefing.

If May hoped that her invitation would help soften Macron's Brexit stance (the Prime Minister has refused to engage with his rival Marine Le Pen), she will have been left disappointed. Outside No.10, Macron declared that he hoped to attract "banks, talents, researchers, academics" away from the UK to France (a remark reminiscent of David Cameron's vow to "roll out the red carpet" for those fleeing Hollande). 

At the briefing at Westminster's Central Hall, Macron quipped: "The best trade agreement for Britain ... is called membership of the EU". With May determined to deliver Brexit, he suggested that the UK would have to settle for a Canadian-style deal, an outcome that would radically reduce the UK's market access. Macron emphasised that he took a a "classical, orthodox" view of the EU, regarding the "four freedoms" (of people, capital, goods and services) as indivisible. Were Britain to seek continued financial passporting, the former banker said, it would have to make a significant budget "contribution" and accept continued immigration. "The execution of Brexit has to be compliant with our interests and the European interest".

The 39-year-old avoided a nationalistic tone ("my perspective is not to say France, France, France") in favour of a "coordinated European approach" but was unambiguous: "I don't want to accept any caveat or any waiver to what makes the single market and the EU." Were the UK, as expected, to seek a transitional arrangement, it would have to accept the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Elsewhere, Macron insisted that his liberal economic stance was not an obstacle to his election. It would be fitting, he said, if the traditionally "contrarian" France embraced globalisation just as its counterparts were rejecting it. "In the current environment, if you're shy, you're dead," he declared. With his emotional, straight-talking approach (one derided by some as intellectually threadbare), Macron is seeking to beat the populists at their own game.

But his views on Brexit may yet prove academic. A poll published today showed him trailing centre-right candidate François Fillon (by 20-17) having fallen five points since his denunciation of French colonialism. Macron's novelty is both a strength and a weakness. With no established base (he founded his own party En Marche!), he is vulnerable to small swings in the public mood. If Macron does lose, it will not be for want of confidence. But there are unmistakable signs that his forward march has been halted. 

Getty Images.

SRSLY #82: Moonlight / Skam / Young Frankenstein

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: hotly-tipped Oscar favourite Moonlight, the Norwegian teen drama Skam and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s assistant editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links

Get on the waiting list for our Harry Potter quiz here and take part in our survey here.


The trailer for Moonlight.

The trailer for Medicine for Melancholy.

A good review.

Three Letters to Mahershala Ali.


A beginner’s guide to the show.

The trailer.

The show's website.


Young Frankenstein

The trailer.

Puttin' on the Ritz.

For next time:

Caroline is watching MTV’s Sweet/Vicious.

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

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PS If you missed #81, check it out here.

Renewed Conflict Over Nagorno-Karabakh

By Council on Foreign Relations from - Defense and Security. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The likelihood that Armenians and Azerbaijanis will clash over Nagorno-Karabakh in the next twelve months is high. This contingency planning memorandum details how the United States can prevent renewed conflict over the disputed region.

When will Brexit actually happen? An Article 50 timeline

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

Knowing the precise date of "Brexit Day" depends on the outcome of numerous untested laws

It’s the question on the lips of every Leaver - what is the date Brexit will finally happen? Article 50 is set to be triggered no later than March 2017. But reaping the changes of a full removal from the Union could take a lot longer. From rewriting legislation to negotiating the diverse interests of the European Union, Brexit is going to involve a lot of waiting.

Will it still actually happen?

There are a few things that could trip up an exit from the EU, however unlikely that might seem. The House of Lords, who have already started their voting process on Article 50 could potentially block the bill, but is more likely to threaten to block the bill in an attempt to leverage amendments - such as the position of EU citizens in the UK. Amendments that the House of Commons unilaterally failed to pass.

Julia Rampen writes about every Remainer’s dream - some sort of backdoor challenge that The People’s Challenge, a campaign group, believe exist. According to the founders, it is entirely reasonable to revoke Article 50 at the end of negotiations, if Brexit is not a done deal.

Okay, so if it does happen, when?

Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that she wants to trigger Article 50, a clause of The Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, which gives a country two years to decide the terms of the departure. This puts Brexit approximately happening in Spring 2019, providing all the negotiations are complete in that estimated time period.

But in effect, this only means Brexit will begin in Spring 2019. The results of leaving the EU, such as all the changes to laws that were once determined by the Union, will take years. As for the economic promises made by the Leave campaign, they may take even longer (if they even exist). This leaving process will begin with The Great Repeal Bill - an as of yet unpublished bill created in order to help a transition from EU laws to UK laws. This bill essentially states that the authority of EU laws will be revoked, and “where practical” will be transposed to domestic laws, able to therefore be adapted as appropriate for the UK.

A telling part of the Government's briefing on The Great Repeal bill is the quote that adapting EU laws for domestic use “may require major swathes of the statute book to be assessed to determine which laws will be able to function after Brexit day” (Brexit Day not being a national holiday of mourning, but the day the UK officially leaves the European Union). This is where the core issue lies, that in theory we could have left the EU by 2019, but in practice, the changes that will invoke won’t be in play for years.

The main ambiguity with Brexit lies in the fact that these are relatively new and untested laws. Since it was written in 2009, Article 50 has never been invoked, so the estimation of a two year negotiation period is largely a theoretical one. Various MPs such as Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, have noted that the process would likely exceed the two year framework - something that could be dangerous for the prosperity of the UK.


The 43 people Donald Trump listens to

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

Who are the people the US president follows on Twitter?

The US president Donald Trump is known for his free use of the social media platform Twitter.

Since taking office in January, the president has notably continued to use his own Twitter account @realDonaldTrump instead of switching to the official @POTUS account, instead choosing to tweet his views to his 24.9m followers.

Of the 43 accounts Trump is following, Piers Morgan, the British media personality, has the most followers, clocking in at 5.52m.

Roll over the table below to see how who these 43 people are - or read the whole story at



Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”


Katy Perry’s new song is not so much Chained to the Rhythm as Chained to a Black Mirror episode

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The video for “Chained to the Rhythm” is overwhelmingly pastel and batshit crazy. Watch out, this satire is sharp!

If you’ve tuned into the radio in the last month, you might have heard Katy Perry’s new song, “Chained to the Rhythm”, a blandly hypnotic single that’s quietly, creepingly irresistible.

If you’re a really attuned listener, you might have noticed that the lyrics of this song explore that very same atmosphere. “Are we crazy?” Perry sings, “Living our lives through a lens?”

Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren’t you lonely?
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough
Happily numb

The chorus muses that we all “think we’re free” but are, in fact, “stumbling around like a wasted zombie, yeah.” It’s a swipe (hehe) at social media, Instagram culture, online dating, whatever. As we all know, modern technology is Bad, people who take photos aren’t enjoying the moment, and glimpses other people’s Perfect Lives leave us lonely and empty. Kids these days just don’t feel anything any more!!!

The video for this new song was released today, and it’s set in a (get this) METAPHORICAL AMUSEMENT PARK. Not since Banky’s Dismaland have we seen such cutting satire of modern life. Walk with me, through Katy Perry’s OBLIVIA.

Yes, the park is literally called Oblivia. Get it? It sounds fun but it’s about oblivion, the state of being unaware or unconscious, i.e. the state we’re all living in, all the time, because phones. (I also personally hope it’s a nod to Staffordshire’s own Oblivion, but cannot confirm if Katy Perry has ever been on the Alton Towers classic steel roller coaster.)

The symbol of the park is a spaced-out gerbil thing, because, aren’t we all caged little hairy beings in our own hamster wheels?! Can’t someone get us off this never-ending rat race?!

We follow Katy as she explores the park – her wide eyes take in every ride, while her peers are unable to look past the giant iPads pressed against their noses.

You, a mindless drone: *takes selfies with an iPad*
Katy Perry, a smart, engaged person: *looks around with actual human eyes, stops to smell the roses*

She walks past rides, and stops to smell the roses – and the pastel-perfect world is injected with a dose of bright red reality when she pricks her finger on a thorn. Cause that’s what life really is, kids! Risk! At least she FEELS SOMETHING.

More like the not-so-great American Dream, am I right?!

So Katy (wait, “Rose”, apparently) takes her seat on her first ride – the LOVE ME ride. Heteronormative couples take their seats against either a blue heart or a pink one, before being whizzed through a tunnel of Facebook reaction icons.

Is this a comment on social media sexism, or a hint that Rose is just too damn human for your validation station? Who knows! All we can say for sure is that Katy Perry has definitely seen the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”:

Now, we see a whole bunch of other rides.

Wait time: um, forever, because the human condition is now one of permanent stasis and unsatisfied desires, duh.

No Place Like Home is decorated with travel stamps and catapults two of the only black people in the video out of the park. A searing comment on anti-immigrant rhetoric/racism? Uh, maybe?

Meanwhile, Bombs Away shoots you around like you’re in a nuclear missile.

War: also bad.

Then everyone goes and takes a long drink of fire water (?!?!) at Inferno H2O (?!?!) which is also a gas station. Is this about polluted water or petrol companies or… drugs? Or are we just so commercialised even fire and water are paid-for privileges? I literally don’t know.

Anyway, Now it’s time for the NUCLEAR FAMILY SHOW, in 3D, no less. Rose is last to put her glasses on because, guess what? She’s not a robot. The show includes your typical 1950s family ironing and shit, while hamsters on wheels run on the TV. Then we see people in the rest of theme park running on similar wheels. Watch out! That satire is sharp.

Skip Marley appears on the TV with his message of “break down the walls to connect, inspire”, but no one seems to notice accept Rose, and soon becomes trapped in their dance of distraction.

Rose despairs amidst the choreography of compliance.

Wow, if that didn’t make you think, are you even human? Truly?

In many ways – this is the Platonic ideal of Katy Perry videos: overwhelmingly pastel, batshit crazy, the campest of camp, yet somehow walking the fine line between self-ridicule and terrifying sincerity. It might be totally stupid, but it’s somehow still irresistible.

But then I would say that. I’m a mindless drone, stumbling around like a wasted zombie, injecting pop culture like a prescription sedative.

I’m chained…………. to the rhythm.


Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.


South Africa lets 100 mental patients die

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

IT HAS been a disaster in agonising slow motion. To cut costs, health officials in Gauteng province (South Africa’s economic hub, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria) decided to transfer psychiatric patients from specialised private hospitals to care homes run by charities. Family members, psychologists and advocacy groups all warned that this could be dangerous for the patients. They pleaded with Qedani Mahlangu, the provincial health minister, and even went to court to try to stop the move, arguing that vulnerable people were being rushed into dodgy homes. Ignoring their concerns, Ms Mahlangu went ahead. Some 1,300 patients were moved over several months last year. An ombudsman’s report described this process as a “cattle auction”, with care homes jostling over which patients they wanted. Some sent pickup trucks to fetch them. Disabled patients were tied down with bed sheets for transport. Families did not know where their loved ones had gone. Soon, patients were dying.

The extent of the horror is still being uncovered. Last week South Africa’s health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, told a parliamentary committee that more than 100...Continue reading

Constitutional expert: Scottish independence “sweet deal” for EU

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

The remaining member states know a bargaining chip when they see one. 

An independent Scotland could succeed in staying in the European Union, despite legally having little power to block Brexit, a constitutional expert has argued.

His comments come after the German MEP Elmar Brok, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the EU27 could “make a fuss” over Scotland in the Brexit negotiations. 

Jeff King is a professor of law at University College London, and a specialist in the UK constitution.

He said that the Supreme Court ruling on Article 50 had confirmed that Scotland would be unable to veto Brexit from within the UK. 

But he argued this did not mean Scotland would need to leave the EU. 

“Independence for Scotland could very well be a sweet deal for the rest of the European Union,” he told a European Parliament event.

“The independence movement, which has some extremely good politicians in it, is going to be in the strongest position they have been for a long time.”

A multi-layered game of bluff

The SNP's Brexit negotiations currently resemble a rather wooden play. It is being acted out for the benefit of Scotland’s sceptical majority, who, polls suggest, would not vote for independence just because of Brexit. They have to be convinced. 

The latest act is the Scottish government’s paper, Scotland’s Place in Europe. First, it asks for a Brexit Britain to stay in the single market (Theresa May has already ruled this out). Second, it asks for a different deal for Scotland, along the lines of the “Norway option”. And third, it asks for a share of the EU powers now being repatriated to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

According to Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the SNP’s trade spokeswoman at Westminster, the ball is now in the UK government’s court.

“As far as what happens next, we are really waiting for the government to confirm what their position is in relation to our document, Scotland’s Place in Europe,” she told me. “Are they going to agree to a differentiated agreement for Scotland, and if not, then a decision will require to be taken.”

If the SNP are reading their lines for the benefit of Scottish voters, they are doing so with one eye on Germany. As I’ve written before, at the time of the 2014 independence referendum, it wasn’t clear that an independent Scotland could stay in the EU. The SNP believe an intervention from Angela Merkel could provide the reassurance they need. They will be cheered by Brok’s words. 

But Germany is a negotiator too. As The Daily Record reports, there is goodwill towards Scotland in the EU27, but also an awareness that a constitutional crisis could blow up in the UK government’s face. 

If Merkel’s friends and allies continue to talk about their sympathy for Scotland, the idea that the EU considers keeping an independent Scotland in to be a "sweet deal" will seem commonplace. The question for Scottish voters then will be: but how sweet is it for us?



Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Photo: Getty

Brexit is an opportunity to rethink our economic model

By George Freeman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Feb 21, 2017.

Our industrial strategy must lift communities out of low-wage stagnation, writes the chair of the Prime Minister's policy board. 

With the long term fallout of the great crash of 2008 becoming clearer the issue of "inclusive growth" has never been more urgent.

Eight years after the Great Crash, it is becoming clear that the long term impacts of the crisis profoundly challenges the model of economy - and politics - we have become used to. Asset inflation and technological revolutions are entrenching untold wealth for a small global elite.

This sits alongside falling relative disposable incomes for the many, and increasing difference in the disposable income of different generations. Meanwhile, a cohort of "just-about-managing" citizens are working harder than ever simply to get by, despite falling rates of savings. All of this – along with a persistent structural deficit in pensions, welfare and health budgets - combines to create an urgent need for new economic thinking about a model of growth and 21st century economic citizenship that works better for all people and places in our country.

The main political parties have set out to tackle these challenges and develop policy programmes for them. Theresa May has set out a bold new Conservative agenda of reforms to help those of our fellow citizens who are working hard but struggling to get by: to build an economy that works for everyone, and for the people and places left behind.

But this challenge is also generational, and will need thinkers from all parties - and none - to talk and think together about fresh approaches. This is why this cross-party initiative on inclusive growth is a welcome contribution to the policy debate.

The Prime Minister leads a government committed not just to deliver Brexit, but also to the fresh thinking and fresh solutions to the scale of the domestic challenges we face, which clearly contributed to the scale of the Leave vote last June. As she has said, it's clear that as well as rejecting the EU, voters were rejecting a model of growth that wasn’t working for them.

The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was one of the most dramatic and significant political events in decades – for this country and potentially for Europe. It changes everything: our economic model, our long term economic prospects, the assumptions and mechanisms through which we